You can only be put in mortal danger so many times before it stops freaking you out. And Stiles has always had a borderline abnormal response to danger, anyway -- he's been sneaking on to crime scenes since he was a kid, he's talked down his best friend from killing and eating him, et cetera ad nauseam. He actually considers it a natural extension of nerdhood. When you're stuffed in a locker on a daily basis, you either laugh in the face of mortal peril or you hide under your bed and stop going to school.
That being said, Stiles is terrified. And his terror doesn't start when the bag goes over his head and he's carted off to Gerard Argent's personal Guantanamo, but it helps a whole hell of a lot. Stiles isn't dumb; he knows he's bait. And he can't do anything about it except for pray that Scott isn't stupid enough to fall for it.
Except he knows Scott will, because Scott has a heart the size of Jupiter, and even if he knows it's a trap he'll come, and there's nothing Stiles could say to move him even if he had the ability or the chance.
If only he could rescue his damn self. If only he weren't always the dumb, blind worm on the hook for all these supernaturally powered teenagers to plunge after, probably to their doom. He doesn't want to see it happen again. He doesn't want to be unable to do anything as his friends suffer and maybe die. But that's always the situation.
God, why? What's the point? Why is he even caught up in this game when he can't do a thing to affect it, when his existence is an anchor dragging the people he cares about down?
No wonder he feels like he's drowning. No wonder he can't see the light anymore, no matter how much he pretends. The exhilaration of that game, the goals he scored-- he was almost desperate in his happiness. Like he knew it wasn't gonna last. Like it was the last meal of the condemned man.
Rumbles outside, and struggles, and Stiles presses his ear to the wall, but he can't hear anything but vague mumbling and the shuffle of footsteps. Have they caught Scott? What are they going to do with him? His panic reaches a fever pitch, and he leans against the wall, eyes closing. It's happening already. Everything he can't prevent is coming to pass, and he's just gonna stand there helplessly and watch it happen.
The door opens. Fangs and claws and red eyes tumble in headfirst, do a somersault on the ground and rise again, growling. Stiles plasters himself to the white blocks of concrete that line the cell; self-preservation renders him part of the wallpaper and he stays there, stuck and as flat as he can go, for a good 10 seconds before he realizes it's not Scott in the room with him after all.
Now he's confused. He was supposed to be the bait for Scott, and Scott was supposed to turn Derek over in order to save Stiles. But this is the room for the worms, not the big fish. They were supposed string Derek up and cut him in two, not stick him in the holding cell with the low-value detainee. What's going on? What happened to the middleman? What happened to the whole strategy?
Oh, God, it's worse than he thought. He's not only helpless, he has no idea what's going on.
"The hell are you doing here?" he manages as Derek returns to his not-quite-as-scary face.
Derek's eyes dart toward his. "Rescuing you, what's it look like?"
"Rescuing me?" Nothing about that makes sense, absolutely nothing. "OK, first of all, since when do you rescue me, and second of all, nice freaking job."
He gets another glare for that, and he deserves it, but so does Derek, because his next words are "Yeah, tell me about it." So the big fancy alpha wolf can admit he made a mistake, who knew?
Doesn't stop Stiles from experiencing a pang of compassion. "Yeah, well, they're tricky bastards. I'm, uh, I'm sure you did your best." It sounds pretty freaking lame, but what's he gonna do? Laugh in the face of a guy who could rip his throat out?
Derek sits in the far corner of the room, hands clasped around his bent knees, and stares at the door as though he could burn a hole through it. A very-very-very long time goes by without either of them saying a word. Stiles peels himself off the wall, slouches down to sit in his own corner, and stares at Derek. Derek, who’s not doing anything, just sitting and looking at the wall. It's so... out of character. So un-wolfy. If Stiles could do half of what Derek does, he'd never sit still.
Derek has been ignoring him, despite the blatant staring, but at the first words out of Stiles' mouth he turns his head and glares like he can shut Stiles down before he starts. Well, screw him. Stiles gets uncomfortable in silence. He goes on. "You got a plan, by any chance?"
"Working on it," Derek says, in those clipped syllables that say it tries my patience to even talk to you.
"You could share." Stiles edges closer, inching across the floor like cross-legged earthworm. "Believe it or not, I'm actually pretty good at plans. Seriously, ask Scott sometime. I'm the one who helped him in the beginning, you know. Before you did." What the hell is he doing? Bragging? Why is he bragging, when he's been sitting here moping about how helpless he is? "I mean, not that you didn't help him, but..." He waves his hand frantically. "Anyway, the point is, maybe I can help figure out how to get out of here."
Derek's gaze has gone from angry to vaguely curious. He looks like he's weighing something, and it's making Stiles' butt itch to get looked like that. He shifts on the floor, rocking back and forth a bit. "What?"
“I did what?”
“You helped Scott when he needed it," Derek says. His voice is bereft of its usual sting. "Thanks for that."
What? What in the hell is going on here? "Yeah, well... you're welcome," Stiles says, unfolding his legs and stretching out to touch his toes. Mostly so he can look down at them instead of over at Derek, who hasn't stopped looking at him. And that is getting seriously awkward.
He touches his toes, reaches up over his head and stretches to each side. "So?" he urges. "Plan. Tell me. Time to strategize, right?"
Nothing. Derek's still just staring at him. Shiiiit.
"You don't have a plan, do you?"
A shake of Derek's head plunges Stiles' heart into the pit of his stomach. "Great." Now he's gotta start thinking. There has to be something he can do. "Um, OK. What if I fake being sick? You know, they have to come in here, and then you can attack them and get out, and then--"
Oh hey now, that's creepy. Derek almost never says his name. Stiles stills. “Right. It was just a thought.”
He curls up against the wall again, this time the same wall Derek’s leaning against. They’re not quite next to each other, but they are at least looking at the same blank white surface. The lightbulb above them buzzes. Silence. God, Stiles hates silence. “So now what, we wait for Scott to come get us?”
“Scott’s not coming.”
Stiles’ eyes widen. “Wait. Really? Well, that’s good. I thought he was gonna fall for it, you know, they were gonna use me to get to him--”
“He’s not coming because he’s the one who put me here.”
“Exactly, see that’s why I... what?”
Derek’s face is blank. Or, rather, it’s completely opaque. there’s emotion there, but Stiles doesn’t have the first clue what it is. He scrambles over a few inches, tries to get close and see what the hell’s in that expression. “What the hell are you talking about, Scott put you here? I thought you said you came here to rescue me.” But that didn’t make sense either, especially if Derek had no plan, so why get yourself captured if you had no plan...
“He might as well have,” Derek says. “He was going to turn me over sooner or later. They had everything on him. They knew how to get to him. You. His mother. Allison...”
“So what, you just gave up?” Stiles gets it now, he sees what’s in Derek’s face, and it is the most bizarre thing ever. “Holy crap, Derek, you’re--”
The snarl doesn’t scare him, not with this piece of knowledge in his possession. “You’re pouting.”
Derek bares his fangs briefly and growls at him.
Couldn’t stop Stiles now with a full-on transformation, though. “You are. You’re pouting. You’ve given up. You decided there’s no way Scott wouldn’t turn you in, so you figured you’d just give yourself up.”
“I didn’t give up.” Derek snarls. “I did come here to rescue you. And my pack.”
“Wait, they have your pack? How did you let that happen? I thought you’d--”
Derek lowers his head onto his knees. Curled up, he stares daggers into the wall.
“Oh, jeez.” Stiles gets it now. His heart twinges, and it’s not something he wants to feel when he looks at Derek, because in his eyes Derek started out a killer, and then he became just a creep, and now Stiles doesn’t know what he is, but he knows he’s seen that look on his father’s face before, the day he got fired. The day Stiles got him fired. “What happened?”
Derek mumbles into his folded arms. “My pack left.”
Stiles blinks. “They did what?”
“They left.” He rocks to the side, cheek pressing against the concrete. “They wanted a …. a better alpha.”
“Oh, now that's just bull. I'm not even a wolf and I already know there's no better alpha than you--”
“You don't know anything about it,” Derek retorts.
It's a near-shout, and it goes through Stiles like an arrow. “You know what? You're right. I don't. I don't know a damn thing about it, and here I am watching you all hurt each other and go crazy and there's nothing I can do and--”
He stops. An idea catches hold in his brain and spreads like a fever, unstoppable. He's quiet long enough that Derek starts to squint at him, and Stiles rocks forward on his knees, leans toward Derek and speaks low, his voice trembling. “Give me the bite.”
Derek's half-scoffing, but Stiles doesn't care. “Give me the bite. Right now.”
“You said you didn't want it.”
Stiles scowls. “I don't. But you know what? I'm sick of being stuck on the side. Give me the damn bite so I can can at least do something besides sit here and watch you guys try to help each other and just end up getting yourselves killed for it.”
He pulls down the collar of his lacrosse jersey, bares his shoulder. “Right here. Just do it. Then we can get out of here. I'll get sick, and then when I come to I'll be a werewolf and we can catch them by surprise. It's a good plan. Just do it.”
He gets the darkest of scowls. “No.”
Derek takes a breath. “You need to stay human. Scott needs you as a human.”
“That's bull. What good do I do as a human? I'm just bait. Raw meat to throw at you whenever one of these hunters wants anything.” Stiles is starting to tear up. “I don't want to be that anymore. I want to matter. Come on.”
Derek turns away. Stiles grabs his hands. “Derek. Come on.”
“I can't. The bite could kill you,” Derek says.
“If you don't, they're going to kill you. How come you can take the fall for Scott and I can't? That's not fair. That's the whole problem. I can't help you because I'm not a wolf. It's not fair.”
“Scott can't afford to lose you.”
“Forget Scott. Forget about him for just one second. Look at me.” Stiles grabs Derek's face. “You need to do this, for you. For me.”
Derek looks at him mournfully and shakes his head.
“I am not just a Scott Support Device! I'm a person. I'm just like everyone else you turned. I'm weak, and I'm alone, and I can't do anything as I am. Derek. Come on. Give me the damn bite.”
“I'm not going to risk losing you!”
Stiles stops short. That was different. “Wait. You're not going to risk losing me?”
Derek turns away.
“No, screw that, look at me.” He pulls on Derek's shoulder. “What does that mean? How is it a risk to you?”
Silence. Finally, slowly, as though from a long way away. “I know you're a person.”
“Well... uh, that's a good first step.”
“Scott's not the only person you've been helping,” Derek says. “You do more than you think. You don't need the bite. You need to be just who you are.”
“I don't get it.”
Derek turns slowly. He grabs Stiles' wrists and tangles their fingers together. It's weird and intimate and warm, and Stiles has a rush of feeling to interesting places for no good reason. He swallows.
“Just the way you are,” Derek says, “is good.”
Stiles' lips tremble. The way Derek's looking at him – it's different from the way he looks at Scott, different from how he looks at his pack. It's – it's –
“But I'm--” What are the words he needs? What's the disqualifier here, why is it so wrong that Derek should want him to stay-- “I'm just Stiles, I'm just the weird, goofy stringbean of a kid who can't do anything--”
“You are smart,” Derek says. “And you are brave. And you --” He shakes his head. “This is stupid.”
“What?” Stiles needs to know what he was going to say. He'll pull the words out of Derek's throat if he has to.
“You don't give up.” Is that what he was going to say, originally? Stiles isn’t sure. He has a feeling something might have switched in midair. But whatever. He’s right. Stiles doesn’t give up. That’s why he’s in so much pain lately. He doesn’t know how to let go and let things go to hell, even though he can’t do anything to stop them. But if Derek thinks that’s a good thing, well... maybe it is.
“Then don't you give up, either,” Stiles says.
Derek's lips turn up. A slight, random, half-smile, more rueful than heartened, but it's there.
“I don't know what else to do,” he says. “I've already lost everyone.”
“You haven't. Scott's still on your side. I'm still on your side. And I count, remember? Even if I'm still just a human.”
No. He's withdrawing again, he's disappearing into himself, and Stiles can't have that, he can't allow Derek to go there. He flails desperately inside. He has to do something, he has to show Derek that he was on the right track there for a moment. That showing how he feels is the right thing to do.
He licks his lips, leans forward and pulls Derek into an embrace. It's the weirdest thing he's ever done, just giving a hug to the scariest dude he knows short of the psycho hunters and the lizard man, but he can't help thinking it's all he's got left. Sometimes you just need a hug. Maybe... maybe that's what Derek needs. Oh, God, he's thinking like an afterschool special. But Derek's arms have gone around him now, hands trembling on the small of Stiles' back, and Derek's head is pressing into his shoulder, and maybe Stiles has just done something really, really right for once in his life.
“It's-- It's OK,” he says in a thin voice. “It's OK. We're gonna get out of this. And you're gonna get your pack back. I'm... I'm gonna help you. All right?” Derek's muscles tense around him. “Derek?”
Derek's holding his breath. Stiles can feel the buoyancy of his chest. He's trying hard not to let something out. A sob or a scream or the urge to change. But not breathing never helps. “Breathe,” Stiles says, and runs a hand up through Derek's hair. “Come on. Breathe.”
A shuddering exhalation on his shoulder. Oh, thank God. Thank God.
“Good. Good boy.” Wow, that word would have gotten him thrown across the room a few months ago. Or a few hours ago. “Now, let's think, OK? Let's figure out how we're going to get out of here.”
“Right.” Derek pulls back. “Right,” he repeats, letting Stiles go. “One condition.”
Stiles grins. “We never talk about that again?”
“Exactly.” And there's the upturned mouth again, just briefly. But it's enough. There's hope. And weirdly enough, Stiles finds he’s not so terrified anymore. Maybe he’s just gotten that much more used to it. Or maybe there was a part of him that needed to hug as much as Derek needed to be hugged. That’s more afterschool special stuff right there, but whatever. If he feels better, what does it matter?