Derek snarls as Scott lifts his head, yellow eyes in the darkness shining bright for a second, too full of exactly what Derek is feeling; rage, anguish, inexpressible, just actionable. The two of them are crouched over a body: beaten, broken, blood a strong smell in the air, their doing. They could barely stop, but the man’s heart is still beating, his breath is still coming in and out of his lungs, and his fingers are still squeezing the blade he pulled out of his pocket to try and defend himself. Not a mistake on his part, but completely inefficient. He has no idea what fell upon him, two men angry and hurt taking their frustration out on him. And this man won’t even think about what he’s done.
It’s revenge. It’s easy, and it doesn’t change anything, doesn’t ease the ache inside either Scott’s or Derek’s chests, but it’s the only thing they can think of doing. One less petty criminal in the streets; it’s like they’re doing the city a service, and Derek has a feeling even if he’d caught them right now, Sheriff Stilinski would have a reaction quite different from expected.
After all, it’s the Sheriff’s son they’re avenging.
The day it happens, Stiles is riding the bus to work, the Jeep in the shop – ironically, Stiles deemed it almost dangerous to drive and wanted it entirely fixed before getting back behind the wheel. He’s standing in the back of the bus, new jacket on top of an old, thready hoodie, jeans cut up at the knees because of one too many tumbles in the woods, earphones ensconced deep in his ears. He’s not bothering anyone; he’s not even listening to his music loud enough to leak it out. There are three old ladies at the front of the bus, gossiping together as they clutch their handbags, and a couple making out, barely taking one seat they’re so close. Stiles looks away from them, curls his fingers around the railing to keep himself upright as the bus driver slams on the brakes near a bus stop.
The three kids that walk in look inconspicuous enough, but the dark looks they throw Stiles as they settle in the back of the bus are enough for Stiles to keep looking away, outside, the rain pitter-patting against the large window. He leans his forehead against the glass, thinks about what today’s going to bring; it’s been a while since serious trouble has hit town, but it never lasts. Since Derek came into their lives, now almost five years ago, things have fluctuated between strange to weird and bad to worse, but at least it hasn’t been boring. And even if nothing of importance happened in the past week in the dangerous world of werewolves and their human sidekicks, there was the tiny little matter of the kiss he shared with Derek the previous weekend – not so surprising than just a long time coming, the slow burn of their relationship finally reaching the right heat.
A hand tugs on the cable of Stiles’ earphones, and he looks up, blinks confusedly as one of the kids that got on is suddenly close, grinning darkly. “I said, nice jacket.”
“Thanks,” Stiles responds automatically, his mouth running off without him as always, “My dad got it for me, for my 21st. Never had a real leather jacket before, even though one of my friends swears by them and he’s only changed like, once in the past five years, and considering how much he enjoys running around in the woods, it’s quite an accomplishment. I don’t think I’ve ever seen him wear the same shirt twice because he keeps on ripping them.”
The guy in front of him seems taken aback for a beat, before he reaches out, curls his hand into the butter-soft leather of Stiles’ jacket. Stiles sees the knife at the same time as he opens his mouth, and in response he snaps his jaw closed, his heartbeat picking up. “I think you’re going to give it to me, and I’ll let you know if it’s such quality, okay?”
Nobody in the bus is paying attention to them, and Stiles tries not to panic. He could yell out, start kicking out, but the blade is pressing right into his side and it would be way too easy for it to go through his hoodie, his flesh, ripping right through him. Better be smart here, not make waves; he can always replace the jacket and get out unscathed.
It feels stupid. On a daily basis, since he was 16, he’s been fighting wolves, witches, hunters, fucking lizard people – he’s got really good at it, too, with help from the pack – he can hold his own in a fight now, even without supernatural powers. But this; he’s frozen in place, even though in his head he can exactly see the moves he could be doing, disarming, disabling, easy, efficient, quick. He can’t. He’s stuck.
The way the guy – and his friends, now – get Stiles’ jacket off him is also quick and efficient. Unfortunately, it also makes Stiles speak too much, because he’s scared, and he’s panicking, and there is no one around to help him, to push him through so that new habits can kick in.
“Hey, hey, come on now, are we really in a bad 90’s movie right now? I mean it’s just a jacket, I thought kids these days were going for electronics? Not that I have much, it’s only my phone, and I have no cash on me. I don’t get it, guys, I’m sure –”
He stops suddenly, a gargling noise escaping his mouth instead of words, the knife cutting through fabric and flesh and guts and Stiles can feel every inch of it, the searing white hot debilitating pain in his side, the blade moving through him slowly, so slowly. His jacket is over someone else’s shoulders and the knife is inside him, twisted, ripping him open once, and then again, higher, between his ribs, deep, Stiles can’t breathe, can’t breathe. He raises a hand, his eyes wide with shock and pain as they meet his attacker’s, who’s still grinning, deforming his face. He looks like a monster, and this hurts more than anything Stiles has ever gone through in five years of werewolves, blood is spreading all over his hoodie, dripping down into his pants along his leg. The bus driver brakes again, Stiles stumbles and falls, the three kids disembark, Stiles passes out, and doesn’t wake up for four days.
When it’s not Scott showing up at odd hours of the night it’s Derek. It’s like they’ve worked out shifts, because they’re never there together, but not evening goes past without one of them there. Sheriff Stilinski would know, because he is there every day, as long as he can, and comes back whenever he has a break, a moment. Despite his vehement protestations, he’s been pushed off the case, leaving it to his deputy because he is too close to it. He isn’t sure that once he catches whoever’s done this to his son, he will put them in handcuffs.
At the moment as he sits next to Stiles’ bed, his hand over Stiles’ arm resting on the bed sheet and Derek looming in the shadows. Sheriff Stilinski thinks he’d probably find more satisfaction in a more personal brand of justice, in getting this person’s knife and pushing it through their own guts so that they can feel exactly what Stiles has felt. He’d do it slow and with lots of blood loss, and he wouldn’t call anyone about it for 15 minutes - exactly the same as it’d happened to Stiles.
It’s a kind of justice and revenge he’s never wanted to exact before, because it wasn’t appropriate for his wife and the way she died, and he’d been hardened by his job enough that he could see past the anger. But not here. Not this. Not Stiles.
The Sheriff tightens his hand around his son’s arm and then lets go, his palm itching. He looks away from Stiles and into the dark corner in which Derek is standing, just a presence with burning eyes. He remembers how Derek, through the years and through closeness with both Scott and Stiles, had slowly but surely started smiling more, making jokes from time to time, the obvious knot of tension between his shoulders loosening up as months and years went by. At first, the Sheriff had looked on worriedly, but it became evident to him quickly that Derek was devoted to both Scott and Stiles – in entirely different ways. So he let it go.
But now, as he looks at Derek’s face, the storm lurking right underneath his eyelashes, the frown firmly back in place on his features, the Sheriff can’t help but hope that he will do something Sheriff Stilinski himself can’t do, nor ask for Derek to do. They nod at each other over Stiles’ hospital bed, and Sheriff Stilinski stands up.
“I’ll be back in the morning,” he murmurs to the room, bending to kiss Stiles’ forehead.
It’s easier to track Stiles’ attackers with Allison and Lydia’s help. Through all the years and the fighting and the misunderstandings, Stiles has never been the one on the verge of life and death, and having him there has made all of them realize just how much they need him.
Maybe it’s because it was a completely mundane act of violence, and they’re not used to that. They’re used to gruesome murders in the name of a grand scheme, sociopaths and monsters – sometimes their friends. All of it makes the violence dehumanized, makes them less sensitive. But Stiles’ attack was completely random, completely human, and Stiles was the random victim of an even more random act, which is exactly what they can’t wrap their heads around.
Which doesn’t mean they don’t want to avenge him – Scott wants little else than to be able to put his claws into whoever put his knife into Stiles’ side. Roping Allison into it means roping Lydia into it, which means roping both Jackson and Danny into it, too, and then information comes pouring in: sightings of a guy about their age wearing Stiles’ jacket come fast and strong. That’s almost enough for Scott; it should be enough, and it would be if Derek wasn’t around, asking for proof, wanting to make sure. They’re not breaking an innocent guy that just happens to be wearing the wrong jacket; Derek has learnt in the worst ways possible that impulsiveness rarely ever pays.
Jackson hears a guy boast about his new jacket, about how easy it was to get it, how the guy was just babbling not to cry, and that is it. Stiles almost died; found in the back of a bus in a puddle of blood and face stricken with tears – it was so easy, and as Scott thinks about it, death is as easy as flicking your fingers, and they took it for granted for years.
Stiles’ bedroom looks sad, Scott can’t help but think when he visits it, and as he holds one of Stiles’ shirts in his hands, he takes in the smell to be sure to land on the right guy. It’s only been a week, Stiles’ scent will not have dissipated completely from the leather of the jacket.
They found him. They’re doing this. Stiles would probably not agree.
Stiles wakes up after four days. He feels horrible; he can’t remember a time where he felt so much pain, besides the exact situation that got him in the position he is in now. He cannot see anyone in the room when he blinks his eyes open, groaning to himself at the overhead light. He starts trying to sit up, grunts of pain escaping his lips even when he tries to bite them off, his hands clutched tightly in the sheets under him.
“Don’t move,” he hears, soft, and he relaxes instantly, lying back on the bed. He opens one eye again, squints at Derek, now by his side, his hands hovering above Stiles, hesitant. Stiles turns his hand, palm up, and Derek reaches out for it, exhaling loudly. “How are you feeling?”
“Like I got stabbed,” Stiles murmurs, his throat dry. Derek brings a glass of water to his lips, and Stiles drinks eagerly.
“Hey, don’t drink too much or you’ll make yourself sick. I’m going to call the nurse.”
“Wait! How long was I out?”
“Did my dad find them? There were three of them. I can give a statement.”
Derek looks considering, for a moment, but then he sighs, sits down in the chair right by Stiles’ bed, grips Stiles’ hand with both of his. Derek breathes over Stiles’ skin, lips just brushing against Stiles’ index finger, his eyes boring into Stiles, trying to decipher something, Stiles isn’t sure what.
“You need to get better, that’s all that matters. Your dad will agree with me.”
Stiles breathes out, slow, moving his eyes to stare at the ceiling, bypassing the light, checking out the swirling pattern on the tiles that might make him feel sick in a second. He feels so helpless, it all feels so stupid; if he’d been a werewolf, this would never have been an issue. But he’s not; he’s the human component, the anchor that keeps Derek and Scott tethered, and he’s never wanted to be a supernatural creature anyway. He earned his own place into the Lacrosse team’s first line back in high school, got his job at the library to help pay for school by himself, fought and worked for everything he’s got, and never really wanted it to be easier.
But he’s never felt like he was going to die like he did four days ago. Of course he’s had the sense of foreboding, the panic attacks and the fear that everybody would die, but it wasn’t like that. He almost died for a jacket. For two hundred bucks, no plan no thought, the kind of crime he’d see in the news and be bewildered they still existed when the entire supernatural world roamed the nights. Anger surges through him, makes him clench his muscles, and it hurts, he suddenly groans, wincing. Derek is standing in a second.
“I’m calling the nurse.”
“Yeah, yeah, Derek, hey – Derek,” Stiles says, opening his eyes again, Derek’s green ones looking down at him intently. “You haven’t done anything stupid, have you?”
Derek huffs out an involuntary chuckle, and leans down, his forehead against Stiles’. Stiles can hardly breathe.
“Not yet,” he whispers against Stiles’ lips, then pulls back, letting go of Stiles’ hand and stepping away from the bed. Stiles can’t even ask him not to do whatever he’s got planned.
It’s pointless anyway.
Derek holds up Stiles’ jacket over the guy’s prone body, the wolf side of him threatening to come out, to let rip through this poor excuse of a man who deserves to die for what he’s done. Hurting the one person Derek and Scott both love, for almost killing someone that will always be so much better than any of them, than all of them combined.
That’s the thought that makes Derek stop, control the beast within himself, forces himself to stay human. Stiles would never approve, Stiles doesn’t want any of this, Stiles is too good for this kind of vengeance, for this bloodlust. Derek watches with dark satisfaction as the guy spits out blood, coughing out a tooth as he looks at both Scott and Derek over him, Scott’s claws, Derek’s eyes. He looks terrified and it’s satisfying – not enough, but almost.
“There is no hurting one of ours without consequences,” Scott replies immediately, which is one of these cliché things Derek said five years ago and had grown out of. Derek swallows, trying not to either laugh or growl, undermining Scott’s authority in any way; he stays silent, in the background. He doesn’t trust himself to speak anyway.
“You stole a jacket, about a week ago. Stabbed its former owner, too. He’s my best friend.”
Realization dawns in the guy’s eyes, and he starts trying to scramble back, putting his back against the alleyway wall, trying to make himself even smaller. It’s not working and it’s only making him more pathetic, but they made their point earlier, with punches and kicks and claws, unleashing the tidal wave of fear and pain they’ve been feeling since the call to tell them Stiles was in the hospital. It was sickeningly cathartic and now watching the bastard bleed on the ground feels like victory. Bittersweet, because Derek still wants to hurt him so much more, wants so much more blood on his hands, wants this man to suffer for the rest of his life for what he’s done.
“I’ll call the police,” the guy says viciously, and Scott barks out a laugh. He’s changed since Stiles almost got killed.
“No, you won’t. Because my best friend? The Sheriff’s son. Keep your wounds to yourself and if this ever happens again, if we ever catch wind of you again...it’s not going to be as pretty.”
Scott throws the jacket back at the guy.
Stiles squirms in frustration, sitting up with a wince as Lydia walks into his hospital room, giving him a smile as she strides forward, helping him as well as she can. She’s not the best nurse; she’s always thought pain and suffering could be eradicated with pills and enough denial, but he’s different from her, he’s always so different from her. What she blocks and forces away, he puts on his sleeve, for everybody’s benefit. It’s been unsettling to her too many times, once she started noticing it.
“Stop moving, you idiot, if you rip your stitches Derek is going to kill you, and then kill the rest of the Universe,” she lets out in a quick huff, and Stiles chuckles, sounding surprised. “What, you think we don’t know? We know, Stiles. Everybody knows.”
He licks his lips. “It hasn’t always been like that.”
“But it’s been like that for a while anyway. Even more obvious since...this. You. You know.”
It’s still hard to say, because while it wasn’t an accident, it wasn’t an incident, either. It was an attack, deliberate and scary, and every time Lydia thinks about it she thinks about Peter Hale and her breath quickens a little, involuntarily. Stiles shrugs, making a face, and she can see the bandages wrapped around his chest. Christ, he had a collapsed lung.
“Everybody knows, really? I mean, even my dad?”
Lydia smiles, gentle for once, raking her fingers through his hair. “You are an idiot, Stiles. How are you feeling?”
“Sore, tired. Can’t wait to get out of here, and it’s not happening for a while yet, I’m getting bedsores, for Christ’s sakes.”
For a moment she doesn’t say anything, just cards her fingers through his hair until his eyes are closed, and she knows for a fact if she keeps on he’ll start purring, lean into her hard until he’s almost asleep. She may still be with Jackson, have been for years, but since she sat Stiles down and explained to him that it would not happen between them and she’d much rather have him as a friend than lose him because of misunderstandings, they’d developed an easy friendship, especially after high school. Everything got easier after high school.
She pulls away before he falls asleep, grinning at him. “Well, I might have something that would make things easier for you.”
She produces a bag and leaves it with a flourish on the hospital bed next to his hand, perching herself at the end just to watch. Stiles oohs and aahs as he takes out an iPod loaded with his favorite music (she checked with Scott), a PS Vita which she took from Jackson, a full bag of marshmallows, and a family bag of M&M’s.
“You spoil me,” he has to say, his voice soft. Lydia smiles, patting his knee through the blanket.
“You deserve it.”
Scott wakes up in a cold sweat. The nightmare was another vivid one: he was in that bus with Stiles, and watched all of it unfold without being able to do a single thing about it, completely helpless, trying to reach the attackers but they kept on getting away, and space between him and Stiles stretched and inflated and moved, keeping him from being able to save Stiles. Scott watched him die, watched his last breath.
It’s not the first time he’s had such nightmares; he used to have too many of them back in the day where the Argents were still close to Beacon Hills and Allison. But they moved and she stayed, and when she was on their side completely, it was somehow easier; that they moved in together for college helped, too.
But whatever he does, whatever he tries to think, Scott cannot get over what happened to Stiles. Even after his and Derek’s adventure of the other night, even after knowing he scared the shit out of this guy, and that he’ll probably never attack anyone else once his bones are mended, Scott still can’t sleep right. He wants to run out and rip the world apart, can’t quite ease the ache inside when he thinks about how close he’s been to losing Stiles.
Maybe because he’s taken Stiles for granted for most of his life or maybe because he thought he’d always be able to protect Stiles. Both are true, and both are wrong, and it feels too late to make amends now, even though Scott will try, probably for the rest of his life.
A hand on his back startles him, but Scott manages not to jump and growl, a second of forcing himself to focus and he knows it’s Allison. He must have woken her up, shooting up in bed the way he did.
“Scott, you okay?” she asks, hooking her chin over his shoulder. Scott nods, because he has tried and he can’t find the words to explain just exactly how guilty he feels at the whole situation. Stiles is in a hospital bed right now, with Derek looking over him, the shadows of bandages under his paper gown too stark a reminder of how close it’s been.
“Yeah, I’m fine.”
“I’ll get you some water,” Allison whispers, kissing his neck before pulling herself out of the bed, and Scott watches her half naked form walk out of their bedroom, her miles long legs and her dark hair cascading down her back. Damn it, he would be completely gone off the deep end without her. If Scott didn't think that Stiles was too fiercely independent, he’d push Derek to keep to Stiles’ side at all times, but they all know what a destructive idea this would end up being. Better to let them get there at their own pace, and maybe that will be enough.
Probably not, but Scott can hope. He’s only got that and his guilt to hold on to.
Stiles stares. He’s not mistaking the blood on Derek’s hands, and for a second he can only wonder how did Derek manage to get into the hospital without being stopped. He doesn’t look inconspicuous with the smears on his shirt and the streaks over his fingers, but he probably climbed up the North wall, without breaking a sweat nor triggering a single camera.
“I tried to stop,” Derek says, his voice low and rough, like his words are broken glass on his tongue, and lead settles in Stiles’ stomach at the beginning of his whispered confession.
“Derek,” Stiles’ own voice cracks, “what happened? What did you do?”
He can guess, probably. And he’s not angry about it, not at Derek. At himself, maybe, but not at Derek. He holds a hand out and he doesn’t care that when Derek pushes his fingers between Stiles’ they’re tacky with blood; he holds on tight anyway and looks away from the dark red smudges they smear on his blindingly white bedsheets.
“Scott and I, we found the guy. We broke a couple of bones and gave him a good scare, and Scott was happy with that, I think. I tried to be too, Stiles, I did. Didn’t want to disappoint you.”
“Is he dead?”
Derek nods, refusing to look at Stiles even though his fingers are holding onto Stiles’ in a death grip. It hits Stiles like a ton of bricks, in the midst of the disappointment he can’t help but feel, the anguish that this is all of his fault, that he killed someone, that if he had been better, if he had been out of the hospital and able to move around easily, he might have done this himself. It’s not a side of himself he likes to look at, but the dreams were he was finding his attacker and this time, he had a baseball bat had been numerous.
They were just dreams, while Derek had actually done it, and Stiles lets the weight of the blame and the shame pull his head down, chin to his chest as tears cling to his eyes.
“I couldn’t deal – every time I thought about it, how close he’d come to killing you, nothing would have been enough. I could have killed him a thousand times over. I couldn’t stop, I tried to, but I couldn’t. I swear to you, Stiles, I tried to stop but it was just too hard, and if you hate me I get it, I get it, and I’ll go and confess to your dad if you want me to, because it’s not your fault; I don’t want you to think it is.” Derek ends in a strangled sob, which is a sound Stiles has never heard him make, in five years, through Laura and Peter and Erica and Boyd; he watches with muted horror as Derek crumbles, curling forward until his head is on Stiles’ lap and he’s breathing shallow and quick, his eyes closed tightly, not crying but so close that Stiles can barely think.
“If you go to jail I will never forgive you,” is what comes out of his mouth as his free hand moves to the back of Derek’s head, gently pulling him up until they’re looking into each other’s eyes, sharing breaths. “I might never be able to forgive you anyway but at least if you’re here you can take my ass-kicking until I get too old for it.”
Derek doesn’t say anything, and Stiles’ chest wants to burst with how much he loves Derek and how angry he is at him, too, emotions conflicting and battling in his head and in his throat. It’s oil on a fire, setting Stiles ablaze, making him feel invincible, the pain in his side all but forgotten as he pulls Derek to him and kisses him hard, breathless, tongue and lips and eyes tightly closed. Derek’s hand frames Stiles’ face and his thumb is digging into Stiles’ jaw, a counterpoint of pain to the onslaught of bliss Stiles feels, which is wrong, so wrong, because someone is dead because of him, and he shouldn’t love Derek like this, stupid and all-encompassing and hurtful.
He should hate Derek for this, but he can’t, because he isn’t sure what he would have done if their roles had been reversed, or if it had been Scott. Not this, he wouldn’t have done this, he knows, but it doesn’t mean he wouldn’t have done worse.
A kid disappears: Wade Tullings, 20, living in a trailer park, a record as long as Sheriff Stilinski’s arm. It wouldn’t even be reported if one of his friends didn’t get arrested and put the blame on Tullings never showing up to their rendezvous point. When they search his trailer they find a leather jacket, apparently new, with traces of blood on it; the Sheriff would recognize that jacket anywhere, because he chose it, he bought it, for his son, for Stiles.
His gloved hand brushes over the jacket, and he clenches his jaw before turning back to his deputy. “Let’s wrap it up. He probably just went on a road trip and will be back in a few days. We can check again then,” he says with a tight voice, and the deputy doesn’t even flinch, just nods and walks out of the trailer.
Sheriff Stilinski has never lied while on the job, has never buried evidence, has never tried to cover anything up. He’s always been a stickler for the truth and the rules and he was proud of it, proud of his job and his ethics. He’s not a cheat, and he’ll face the music when he needs to, even if it’s the most unpleasant thing he ever had to do, just like that day he had to tell Stiles and Scott they had a restraining order against them, or that day where he admitted he didn’t trust Stiles entirely.
But, without lies or deceptions, he will not be looking for this kid. This will not be his case, if someone wants to take it on, but Sheriff Stilinski will not remind any of his deputies about it. He has a slightly sick feeling in the pit of his stomach that Tullings didn’t really disappear, but for once he’s not going to do anything about it.
Because whatever happened to that kid, he had it coming.
Sometimes, even now, after knowing him for years, Allison doesn’t really know how to take Stiles. He’s so smart and witty, his words being his major defense, and she’s had trouble knowing exactly what to say to him before; the right words don’t always come easy to her, not like it does to him. She remembers a time where he intimidated her.
He doesn’t anymore, but she’s still wary sometimes; for a long time she’d felt in competition with him for Scott’s undivided attention. She’d learned to live with it, accept it, but the most recent events showed her just exactly how badly Scott would break apart if Stiles was torn away from him. A missing limb, a broken heart, an incurable illness; even she had been unable to help him sleep better during the four days when they weren’t sure if Stiles would make it.
But right now, she gets him. As she sits next to his hospital bed and looks at him looking at her with his jaw set and his eyes full of intent, she understands. The need to be stronger, to confront fears that would freeze you into place, that you didn’t even know you had, the desire to control them and yourself. She gets it, she’s felt it, and she worked through it in the past.
“So you’ll help me?” Stiles asks, and Allison nods, a smile on her lips.
“It’s just that Derek’s good at training and all, but he tends to forget that I’m not as strong as he is, and I can’t heal like he does, so I get thrown around a lot and I’d rather avoid that for the next....long time.”
He grins, looking unsure, and Allison wonders just how much this attack will change him; she’d changed drastically after her mother’s suicide, a reaction to events she couldn’t control, but she’d tampered it down with time, acceptance. She’d learned the hard way that traumatic events had this effect on people.
“It’s fine. I can definitely help you out. It’ll keep me in shape, too.”
“I just. I don’t want to ever feel that helpless again.” There’s something steely in his voice, and his eyes are harder, too, if only for just a moment. It’s long enough that she can see it. She nods, and her resolve is set, too; she wants to help him for his sake, for Scott’s sake, for Derek’s, for her own. They’ve had enough nightmares as it is.
“We’re not going to turn you into a superhero, Stiles, but I promise you, I promise you,” she says, absolutely sincere, her eyes boring into his, “you’ll never feel this helpless again.”