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Integral to Survival

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Derek is in the cell for about ten minutes before the lone door opens and a new body is tossed in. The person hits the floor with a grunt, rolls, and stands as the door is clanging shut.

“That’s really not the way to treat a guest!” the familiar voice rings out.

Derek groans and Stiles whips around, squinting in the low light.

“Derek?”

“Stiles.”

Stiles turns back to the door. “Hey,” he yells, “is there possibly any other accommodations? No? Hello?”

Derek runs a hand down his face and sighs.

-

Stiles walks the perimeter of the room for the tenth time. It’s small but big enough that Derek can sit against the cinderblock wall and stretch out his legs without hindering Stiles’ manic pace. His red tracksuit makes an annoying swishing noise as he walks. It grates on Derek’s nerves but he remains silent.

Stiles is muttering enough for the both of them.

“Concrete walls. Low ceiling. One door. No natural light. Cool. Must be underground.”

All things Derek knew before but he silently admits that Stiles is astute when he needs to be.

“No way out,” Stiles says, breath hitching.

Derek inhales, smells the anxiety, the fear, a hint of blood and sweat and not for the first time wonders what the hell Stiles is doing there.

He is human and these were hunters.

Before he has a chance to ask, Stiles gives up his inspection, turns around. He looks jaundiced in the ugly yellow light coming from above them.

“How’d they get you?” he asks.

Derek wordlessly points to his ruined shirt, caked in blood. “They shot me. A lot.”

Stiles nods, spastic. He points to his head. “They hit me. Once. But it did the job. Not as poetic as when Erica hit me with a part of my own car so, you know, no points for style but efficient all the same.” Stiles takes a breath, sinks down the wall across from Derek. “Not wolfsbane bullets, I hope.”

“No,” Derek answers.

“Good, I don’t think I have anything to cut off your arm with this time. I mean, I have teeth but the thought of that is making me gag,” Stiles says, wrapping his arms around his knees. “Are you healing?”

Derek peels his shirt away from his chest, grunts at the sticky pull of the fabric on his skin. The three holes have sewn closed, new pink skin where wounds used to be. He’s tired and needs rest but he’ll be fine.

“Yes,” Derek says. He thrusts his chin toward Stiles. “Are you alright?”

Derek watches as Stiles pokes at a bruised cut near his temple. Stiles winces. It bleeds a little, a trickle winding its way down Stiles’ cheek.

“I’m fine,” Stiles offers.

Derek raises an eyebrow.

“Fine. I’m freaked out. I’ve been kidnapped. I think that’s allowed.” Stiles taps his foot, shifts against the wall. “What do they even want with us?”

Derek isn’t sure but he knows they will eventually find out.

-

A few minutes later, the door creaks open. Derek pulls himself up quickly. Stiles scrambles to his feet, crosses the room and stands by Derek, gaze darting between Derek and the door.

Three men enter the room, fanning out and Stiles inches closer to Derek’s side. Derek notices and wonders at the intelligence of Stiles allying himself with Derek so quickly, especially since their kidnappers are obviously human as well.

“Oh good,” one of the hunters says cheerily, “I was hoping the wolf hadn’t killed you yet.”

The hunters make a move toward them and Derek steps forward, growl low in his throat.

“Excellent!” the hunter exclaims as if having an aggravated alpha werewolf in their midst is a great thing.

The taser is a surprise when it hits Derek in the chest. The second one follows shortly after and as his body arcs and drops to the floor, current running through his veins, he chastises himself for not hearing the charge of the electricity and for not smelling the ozone.

His body twitches and bows, flexes and cramps, as he writhes on the concrete. The electricity stops after a few minutes and Derek is exhausted and sore, panting, unable to move, much less fight.

As they drag him out, he sees Stiles fighting to get to him, yelling something that Derek can’t make out. They shove Stiles back but he keeps coming until they strike him hard enough to make him fall.

Derek is dragged from the room and his last thought as he catches Stiles’ frightened gaze is that he hopes Stiles will be okay.

He doesn’t think it odd though a part of him knows he should.

-

The next few hours are agony. The hunters know Derek’s limits and they keep pushing toward them until Derek is hanging limply from his shackles, body bleeding and trembling. The memories of Kate are thick in his mind but they are chased away, forgotten in the midst of pain and worry.

They don’t kill him though, and Derek supposes he should be grateful.

Derek is thrown back into the cell and he lands hard on the concrete and suddenly, Stiles is there.

“Derek?” he yells, frantic. His heartbeat is racing. He smells like sweat and panic. “Derek? Shit!” he says, hands fluttering over Derek’s body. “Fuck! What did they do to you?”

Derek breathes and it hurts. He tries to push himself up, but his arms are quaking and his muscles burn.

Stiles hands are on his shoulders. “Hold still, big guy,” Stiles commands, voice soft, concerned. “Don’t move.”

Derek flops back to the floor and concentrates on inhaling, trying not to black out despite the spots in his vision and the ringing in his ears. He can feel Stiles’ fingers running over his skin, searching for the wounds that are attempting to heal.

“Tell me what you need,” Stiles says.

“Water,” Derek responds. “Rest.”

“Sorry, I don’t have the water. I can do the rest though.”

Derek allows Stiles to manhandle him until Stiles is leaning against the wall and Derek’s head is pillowed on Stiles’ lap.

“Stilinskis make excellent pillows,” Stiles says.

Derek is drowsy, in pain, so he doesn’t disagree and he doesn’t say anything about Stiles’ fingers carding through his hair even though it should annoy him. He just lays there, limply, face pressed into Stiles’ thigh as his body knits slowly back together.

Derek knows that Stiles has never been one for silence and it is no surprise when he starts to talk. Derek also knows that Stiles is smart. He’s proven himself intelligent so he must realize they are probably being watched. Stiles doesn’t talk about Scott or werewolves or anything remotely supernatural. Instead, he launches into the history of lacrosse.

Derek drifts and Stiles talks until his voice is cracking and hoarse.

-

Derek comes back to himself slowly. Once the pain has been reduced to a minimal, dull ache, he realizes he is lying in Stiles’ lap. He jolts which makes everything flare into agony and he can’t stifle the groan as he flops back on Stiles’ legs.

“Whoa, whoa,” Stiles says. His hands are on Derek’s back and in Derek’s hair, petting and soothing. “Chill out. Where do you think you’re going?”

Derek tries to push himself up but his arms tremble and he resigns himself to Stiles’ ministrations for a while longer.

“Why are you helping me?” Derek bites out. It sounds like an accusation more than a question.

Stiles’ hands pause for a moment and then he sighs like he can’t believe Derek asked such a stupid question.

“Why did you push me out of the way of the kanima?” Stiles counters.

Derek frowns. “What?”

“In fact, why did you save me from Peter? Why did you make sure Scott grabbed me off the floor of the police station?”

Derek is too exhausted to try and make out Stiles’ rapid and shifting train of thought so he grunts in reply.

“Exactly,” Stiles says. “It’s okay to admit it. I know I possess a certain kind of charm. I get under your skin.”

“Like a parasite,” Derek manages.

“He’s making jokes,” Stiles says under his breath. “Hilarious, really. Monty Python levels of hilarity. Why can’t you just admit that you like me?”

Derek really doesn’t know how this conversation answers his question at all. He tries again.

“Why are you helping me?” he reiterates.

“The same reason you helped me.”

“Because I’m integral to your survival. Because you know the best way of you getting out of here is through me.”

There is a beat of silence in which Derek realizes what he just implied.

“Wait,” Stiles says, “I’m integral to your survival?”

Derek’s frown deepens as his own brain catches up to Stiles’ side of the conversation. “You like me?” he asks.

“Oh my god,” Stiles says, frustrated. “It’s like talking to Scott while Allison is within sniffing distance. Go back to sleep.”

Derek grunts again, shifts around until he is comfortable and does.

-

The door creaks open a few hours later and Derek shoves himself upright, startling Stiles out of some sort of half-sleep where he is still talking.

It is three men again but they don’t move past the doorway. A bottle of water and a wrapped sandwich are tossed in and the door is closed again.

Derek grabs the water, tears it open and takes a long gulp. He hands it off to Stiles who looks surprised that Derek would share and Derek doesn’t appreciate the implication. He merely pushes the bottle into Stiles’ hand and Stiles has to grip it or drop it.

Stiles takes a sip, enough to wet his mouth, then takes a longer pull.

They split the sandwich.

Derek feels infinitely better.

“Did they ask you anything?” Stiles asks, taking another sip of water then handing it back. “When they took you? Like, any idea why we are here?”

Derek shakes his head. “No.” He’s glad Stiles doesn’t bring up their disastrous conversation from earlier.

“Okay, I just… my dad will be looking for me. I was supposed to be home hours ago. I’m actually grounded because Harris keeps giving me detention for no reason whatsoever.” There’s an edge of bitterness to Stiles’ tone that Derek doesn’t like. “And oh man. My Jeep!” He scrubs his hands over his head. “My dad is going to kill me.”

“What happened to your Jeep?” Derek asks.

“It’s sitting in the grocery store parking lot with the door open, window smashed and blood splattered on the interior,” Stiles says, flailing. “I’m sure it was vandalized as soon as the sun went down.”

Derek is slightly amused about Stiles’ worry for his Jeep but thinks it might be a distraction.

The room’s temperature starts to drop and Stiles is pulling his thin jacket tighter around him and Derek realizes the late hour.

“He’s going to freak out,” Stiles continues. “He’ll probably call some of my friends.”

Scott.

Stiles is talking in code. Scott will find out that Stiles is missing and it will lead to Scott realizing Derek is gone too. The pack will be looking for them.

“Your friends are idiots,” Derek replies, because they are.

Stiles sighs, hunches. “Yeah,” he agrees, “but they are persistent idiots.”

Now that Derek has a chance to study Stiles, he can see the exhaustion evident in the circles under his eyes. His temple is bruised though the bleeding has stopped. His jaw is darkening with a bruise as well from his reckless and stupid attempt to keep the hunters from taking Derek.

“We should rest,” Derek says.

Stiles nods. He lays down on the floor, back to the wall, hands folded under his head. He yawns, eyelids fluttering.

Stiles falls asleep.

Derek keeps watch.

-

The next day follows much like the first. Derek jerks awake when the cell door opens and again Stiles gets to his feet, stands too close to Derek when the hunters come in.

Derek was expecting the taser so naturally it’s a tranquilizer dart in the neck that knocks him out.

Lying on the floor, yanking the dart out, Derek can hear Stiles yelling and again Stiles fights the hunters. Derek doesn’t see what happens before he passes out.

-

The hunters are more inventive this time around.

Derek feels all but dead when they throw him back into the cell.

“Oh my god,” Stiles chokes out, running his hands over Derek’s chest and back. “Okay, rest and water. I have water. I saved it from yesterday, just in case.”

Derek is weak, his whole body feels like lead. He shakes, forehead pressed to the floor and doesn’t think he could stomach water even if he could get in the position to drink.

Stiles seems to realize this and pulls Derek into his lap. His fingers are back in Derek’s hair, scratching across his scalp, fingers brushing his nape. Derek lays there, his cheek near Stiles’ hip, his arm draped over Stiles’ knees.

Stiles talks. This time he recites some of Grimm’s fairy tales.

His voice is weirdly comforting and Derek falls asleep to the story of Red Riding Hood and the steady beat of Stiles’ heart.

-

Stiles has a split lip. There is a bead of dried blood at the corner of his mouth and Derek remembers that Stiles fought again when they pulled Derek from the room.

Another bottle of water that Derek drinks most of at Stiles’ urging. They split another sandwich before Stiles curls up in a corner and tries not to shake.

Stiles looks fatigued and the cell is cold. Derek usually runs hot, it is part of being a werewolf, but he is chilled from all his energy being used for healing.

Derek sighs and crawls over to Stiles.

“Move over,” he says. His voice is rough and raw and Stiles blinks sleepily at him.

“What?”

“Move over.”

Stiles shifts.

Derek slides in behind him, his back to the wall. He wraps an arm around Stiles’ middle, tucks his knees in behind Stiles’ and pulls him close. Stiles is stiff in front of him, nervous. He understands. He hasn’t cuddled with anyone in a very long time, preferring to shy away from physical touch. It’s awkward, but necessary, and Derek tries to ease the tension from his own muscles to be more welcoming.

“For warmth,” Derek explains.

Stiles nods, relaxes little by little, and finally, Derek just tugs him closer.

“I didn’t know you cared,” Stiles says, all smart mouth, even in (especially in) dire situations.

“Shut up, Stiles.”

He does. He melts into Derek’s embrace, snuggles closer and sighs at the warmth. He falls asleep quickly, leaving Derek to curse his own inadequacies and wonder how they will leave alive.

-

The third day is more of the same. It has become a sick routine.

Derek lays in Stiles’ lap, his ribs broken but healing. Stiles is recounting some misadventure he and Scott had as children.

Through the pain, Derek manages to pick up an irregularity in Stiles’ heartbeat. He notices the fine tremors in Stiles’ hands as they run through his hair and down his back.

Derek furrows his brow and rolls over so he is staring up at the underside of Stiles’jaw.

“What’s wrong?” he rasps.

Stiles stops mid-sentence. He looks down, confused, one hand on Derek’s chest, the other tugging on Derek’s hair.

“Other than being kidnapped with an injured wolf in my lap? Everything is peachy.”

“You’re lying,” Derek says. “You’re trembling.” Stiles’ heart skips another beat and Derek frowns. “Did something happen while I was gone? Did they bother you?” The thought scares him more than he wants to admit and his own pulse spikes.

“No!” Stiles answers. “No, it’s, I haven’t had my Adderall in three days. Withdrawal.” Stiles shrugs.

Stiles lifts the hand that was on Derek’s chest and it shakes. “It’ll go away.”

Derek doesn’t know why he does it, maybe because he feels like he needs to reassure Stiles or maybe he needs the reassurance himself. He takes Stiles’ hand in his own, laces their fingers and let’s their entwined hands fall back to his chest.

Stiles gapes, mouth hanging open.

Derek closes his eyes, lets out a long breath that reminds him his ribs are far from healed. He grimaces.

Stiles huffs. “You with me, Sourwolf?”

“You and Scott were being idiots in the woods. Sounds familiar.”

For the first time in three days, Stiles chuckles.

“You made another joke,” he crows. “I can’t believe it!”

“Stiles?”

“Yeah?”

“Shut up.”

Derek can hear the smile in Stiles’ voice as he launches back into his story and for a moment, Derek relaxes and can imagine their routine as some kind of new normal for them and that he’s not locked in a cell at the mercy of insane hunters at all.

-

“They asked,” Derek gasps on the fourth day, “about the pack and the Argents.”

Stiles pets Derek’s head and Derek tries not to move into it and swallows the hum in his throat.

“What did you tell them?”

“Nothing.”

-

Stiles has a black eye.

Derek stares at it, sees the swelling and the way the blood has pooled beneath the thin skin.

He doesn’t like it.

“Next time they come,” Derek says, “don’t fight them.”

Stiles snaps his head up, meets Derek gaze, challenging.

“Why not?”

“Because you’re getting hurt.”

“You’re getting hurt worse,” Stiles shoots back.

“I’ll heal,” Derek answers.

And of course, because it’s Stiles, he can’t leave it alone.

“You don’t like seeing me hurt.”

Derek opens his mouth and Stiles cuts him off.

“And don’t give me that integral to survival crap. I know I’m a liability in here. I’m a spastic, weak, easily-injured human.”

Derek looks away. “You’re keeping me sane… human,” he admits. “I need you to be alright. I don’t want you hurt.”

Derek can hear the way Stiles throat works and he glances over to see Stiles looking at him, mouth open, bottom lip wet. Stiles understands the gravity of his confession and presses his lips together and nods.

“Okay,” he says. “Okay. I’ll be more careful.”

“Thank you,” Derek answers and is glad when Stiles accepts it with a small smile.

-

On the night of the fifth, Stiles turns in Derek’s arms and burrows his face in Derek’s chest. He shudders.

It was a difficult day with more questions and more broken bones and bruises. There was less water this time and less food. Stiles had pushed his share to Derek saying he wasn’t hungry.

Now, Derek can hear Stiles’ stomach growl.

“I don’t want to die in here,” Stiles says softly. His voice is shredded from talking and if Derek wasn’t so selfish, he’d tell Stiles to stop. Stiles wouldn’t though because Derek needs the familiarity of Stiles’ chatter and Stiles knows it, knows it grounds Derek and keeps him human while the hunters are pushing him so hard to be a wolf.

“I mean, it’s not on my top ten of ways to go. I’d more have preferred dying of old age in my bed. If it couldn’t be that, dying after a shockingly good orgasm would have been a close second. I just… don’t want to do it here. The company is not bad but the ambiance leaves a lot to be desired.”

Derek tightens his embrace. Stiles is strong, has always been strong and smart, but five days of tension and waiting and not knowing and Derek is starting to see the cracks.

“You’re not going to die.”

Stiles exhales loudly. “My dad must be going insane.”

Derek feels Stiles fist his hand in the remnants of Derek’s shirt.

“Your dad will never give up looking for you.”

“I know. I just hope he finds something left.”

Derek pulls Stiles as close as he can, until Stiles is flush along Derek’s body and his head is tucked under Derek’s chin. Derek doesn’t know why he presses the kiss to the top of Stiles’ head but he does.

Stiles’ heart stutters.

“Don’t give up on me,” Derek whispers.

Stiles sighs. “I won’t.”

-

“Stiles, wake up,” Derek says, shaking him.

There is something happening. Derek can hear more people than usual running up and down the hall outside their cell. He can smell panic.

Stiles wakes up slowly. He doesn’t look well, pale and fatigued.

“What?”

“There is something going on,” Derek says. “This could be our chance.”

Derek crawls over to the door, presses his ear to the slim crack between the door and the wall.

He hears shouting and unfamiliar voices.

“What’s happening?” Stiles asks, having joined him.

“I don’t know. Something.”

They wait by the door for hours. Sometimes they shout when Derek hears footsteps running past, just in case.

No one comes.

Not even their captors.

They go to sleep that night hungry and thirsty.

-

Derek has been wondering why the hunters had grabbed Stiles. On day seven, they find out.

They come in and Derek crouches, growls, fingernails growing into claws. He tries to make it harder for them each time but he’s weak. He needs to sleep for days and he needs to eat more than half a soggy sandwich.

This time, though, they grab Stiles.

“Derek!” he cries, as he twists and turns, scratches at the arms that have him.

Derek charges, growling, because they can’t have him. They can’t. They won’t.

Derek manages to swipe one of them with his claws. Blood splatters on the wall, on the floor, hangs heavy in the air and Derek goes for the one that has his arm clamped around Stiles throat while he drags him away.

Derek doesn’t get far before he is shot. It takes two bullets to knock him down and a third for him to stay there.

-

Derek pulls out the shrapnel. He heals. He paces. He worries and growls. He sits by the door and listens. He sniffs the air but he and the cell are drenched in Stiles’ scent.

Hours pass and Derek worries that Stiles might not come back.

He does though.

He staggers in and Derek is there to catch him when he collapses.

“Stiles?”

“I’m fine,” he says, “but I think our hosts really don’t understand hospitality.”

He’s not fine. Derek can smell the blood and the bruises.

His lip is split again. His jacket is missing and Derek can see the rust colored stains on Stiles’ gray shirt.

Stiles weakly pushes Derek’s hands away and Derek takes the hint.

He pulls Stiles into his lap. It’s awkward but they make it work so that Stiles is sitting sideways across Derek’s legs and his head is lolling on Derek’s shoulder.

“They asked about Allison,” Stiles says. “And the Argents. I think this might be some kind of hunter dispute.”

“What did you tell them?” Derek asks.

Stiles swallows. “Nothing.” His breath hitches in pain.

“I’ve got you,” Derek says. He nuzzles in, breathes deep.

Stiles pats Derek’s arm, comforting, selfless, realizing that Derek needs him as much as he needs Derek.

It’s intimate and odd and it makes Derek’s skin tingle and his heart pound which is strange since they’ve been cuddling for days.

“I trust you,” Stiles says.

The statement takes the breath from Derek’s lungs. He flexes his arms around Stiles’ frame, like he is fragile and precious, needs to be protected, like the trust that has grown between them.

“I know,” he answers.

“Good,” Stiles says.

Stiles shifts against him and bites back a groan that is loud in the silence of the cell.

“Hold still,” Derek says. He slides his hand under Stiles shirt, over the knobs of his spine. Stiles’ skin is surprisingly warm under Derek’s palm. He holds himself stiff and Derek can feel the tiny aborted flinches.

“What are you doing?” Stiles whispers.

“Taking some of your pain away.”

Derek does what he can, draws out the aches, absorbs it into his veins but his own body is weak and he can’t take too much before he is gasping. Stiles leans heavier against Derek’s chest but he seems more relaxed, his breathing easier.

After a few moments of silence, Stiles huffs. “I’d talk,” he says, voice muffled in Derek’s chest, “but I’m tired.”

Derek takes a breath.

He talks.

He tells Stiles about Laura, about how she always managed to get him in trouble even when she instigated it. How she was the only stability Derek knew in his life for a long time. How he misses her every day, her loss still immediate and raw. He tells Stiles about his dad and his mom and how Peter was a fun uncle who gave them dessert before dinner before he was burned away, literally and figuratively. Derek relays stories about his childhood, about running in the forest, climbing trees, playing hide and seek with his siblings.

Derek talks until his throat is dry and Stiles is asleep on his chest.

-

“If you could have any food in the world right now, what would it be?” Stiles rasps one night.

Derek thinks. “Eggplant Parmesan.”

“Huh,” Stiles answers. “I thought you were a meat and potatoes kind of guy, emphasis on the meat.”

Derek shrugs, holds Stiles closer. “My mom used to make it.”

“Oh,” Stiles answers.

“She wanted us to eat our vegetables just like any other mom.”

“She sounds like a good mom.”

“She was,” Derek answers. He nudges Stiles. “If you could have any food, what would it be?”

“A cupcake as big as my head.”

-

“You look like shit,” Stiles says. They are sitting across from each other and Stiles gives Derek a wry smile. His sandwich sits in front of him, two bites taken out of it then set down. Derek notices and worries. “I mean,” Stiles continues, “you normally have that whole brooding, dangerous werewolf look but now…” Stiles shakes his head. “You look like a hobo. A zombie hobo.”

Derek huffs, looks down at his tattered shirt, sticky with blood. He rubs a hand over his face and feels the beard growing there.

“Well, you look like an idiot,” he counters.

Stiles laughs. It sounds more like a cough. “Good comeback, Sourwolf.”

Derek smiles. His lip cracks.

“There!” Stiles says, pointing. “There! That is what I was looking for.”

Derek furrows his brow. “What?”

“You should smile more often,” Stiles answers. “It suits you.”

“So says the idiot.”

Stiles laughs again, then grimaces. “Fuck, that hurts. I can’t believe you waited until I was injured to grow a funny bone. Anyway, this is why you should keep me around.”

“Because of your expertise in zombie hobo fashion?”

“No,” Stiles answers. “Because I nurture your sense of humor. Because you could use some work on your social skills. Because I’m the human equivalent of a research engine. Because I’m awesome.”

“Stiles,” Derek interrupts before Stiles loses his voice again, “you don’t have to prove your worth to me.”

Stiles swallows.

“And I’m not leaving you behind,” Derek says. “We’re leaving here together.”

Stiles nods. “Good, good, because I also have some opinions about your choice of residences.”

-

Derek loses track of the days. They slide into each other and become an indistinguishable mess of time.

All he knows is that Stiles is deteriorating in front of him. They’re both dehydrated and starving and while Derek has the advantage of werewolf healing, Stiles does not.

Derek knows he’s losing Stiles and it hurts. It hurts more than the interrogations. It hurts knowing he should’ve tried harder to escape in the beginning of their captivity. It hurts knowing he’s too weak to do anything more than sit and hold Stiles, curl himself around him, trying to keep them alive.

Stiles was right. He’s managed to climb under Derek’s skin and take up residence there. And Derek has to admit, albeit grudgingly, that he likes it.

At night, Stiles sweats and shivers. His skin is hot with fever but he constantly seeks Derek out for heat. During the day, Stiles talks but his voice is nearly gone and he tells Derek about his mother and his father and Scott.

“Take care of my dad, okay?” Stiles rasps. “He doesn’t have anyone else and he needs to eat his vegetables and watch his cholesterol. Don’t let him drink too much. And watch out for Scott too. He needs to study harder and he needs people to play video games with and he needs someone to tell him when he’s being an asshole. He’s a socially awkward mess so he is going to need help with Allison. He fucks that up a lot and…”

Stiles rambles and Derek listens. He agrees to Stiles’ requests even if he feels like he is giving Stiles permission to leave.

It feels like goodbye.

Derek allows himself to press his lips to Stiles’ forehead.

Some indeterminate time later, Stiles is in Derek’s lap, curled up, asleep though he fidgets and talks to people who aren’t there. Derek pets him, runs his hand over Stiles head, down his back while he stares off and thinks about his family and his pack.

The door swings open and Derek doesn’t move, can’t move, and he slowly drags his gaze over.

His heart jumps in his chest and he never thought he’d be so fucking glad to see Chris Argent.

-

“I’ve got them,” Chris says, pressing a hand to his ear.

Chris approaches warily and Derek… Derek swallows. His vision is fuzzy but he can make out the outline of the gun in Chris’ hand. Chris smells like gunpowder and sunlight, it’s sharp and overwhelming in Derek’s nose and his steps are inordinately loud. He is new to the environment that they have been locked in and Derek’s werewolf senses balk at the intrusion. He’s having trouble controlling them, filtering out the pertinent from the excess.

“Derek,” Chris says cautiously.

Derek rolls his head against the concrete wall to look at Chris and he blinks heavily. His arms are no longer holding Stiles but resting on him. His limbs are lead and his legs are numb. He doesn’t know how long he’s been sitting there and he doesn’t know Chris’ intentions.

Chris studies him, puts his gun into a side holster and takes measured steps forward, hands in the air. Derek can hear Chris’ heartbeat, slow, steady, calm.

“He needs an ambulance,” Derek says, tongue thick in his mouth. “He needs… I don’t care what you do to me but he needs… hospital.”

Chris crouches, reaches a hand out and Derek can feel his fangs grow in his mouth, involuntary, threatened. He chokes them back, runs his tongue over the blunt edges of this teeth.

“Please,” he says again.

Chris nods. He presses against his ear again. “Call an ambulance.”

There are footsteps running down the corridor. “Why do they need an ambulance?” Scott yells as he stumbles into the room. Isaac is a step behind him.

“Scott,” Chris says, throwing a hand behind him. “Isaac.”

Scott skids to a stop, Isaac barreling into his back.

Scott. Derek knows Scott. Scott is safer than Argent. Scott will take care of Stiles. Isaac will help.

Derek is relieved, but Scott is not moving. Neither of them are moving.

And oh, oh! Derek realizes they think he is a threat, that he is going to lash out. He looks down at the way he has Stiles cradled against him, how his arms are wrapped around him. They are both covered in blood and sweat and he understands.

“Take him,” Derek says, nodding.

Chris waves Scott and Isaac forward and between the three of them they carefully maneuver Stiles into Scott’s arms. Stiles body is slack, limp and Derek can barely hear Stiles’ heart over the pounding of the others. But it’s there. Stiles is still alive and he is being rescued.

Derek aches with relief.

Isaac runs out calling for help while Scott carefully follows.

Stiles is safe. Stiles is safe. Stiles is safe.

“Yes, he is,” Argent says and Derek realizes he had been repeating that aloud.

Argent reaches out his hand.

Derek stares at it.

“Can you get up?” Argent asks, eyebrow raised.

“No,” Derek answers. “Whatever you’re planning on doing, do it. Now.”

Argent sighs. “The only thing I am planning on doing is getting you out of here.”

He lifts Derek’s arm, throws it over his shoulder and hefts Derek to his feet. Argent grunts as he pulls Derek from the cell.

Derek doesn’t look back.

-

Derek catches a glance of the ambulance as it pulls away. He hears the siren. He hears Scott on the phone to the Sheriff.

The group around him is Argent and his hunters. Allison is not present. Neither is his pack. Just Scott and Isaac working with Chris.

Derek doesn’t feel safe but he doesn’t feel threatened either. It doesn’t matter anyway. Stiles is on his way to the hospital. He is safe and that was Derek’s goal.

Argent manhandles Derek into his car.

“Where?” Argent asks.

Derek won’t lead Argent to his pack. He can’t go to the hospital. Too many questions wait there.

“Deaton,” he answers.

-

Deaton is waiting for him.

There is a cot with blankets and a pillow. An I.V. drip sits next to it.

Derek balks. It looks vaguely frightening and he knows he won’t feel safe lying there. He lurches from Argent’s grasp, fists his hand in the sheets and pillow and pulls them to the floor. He staggers to the corner of the room, falls into the bedding with a grunt and lays there.

He falls asleep to Deaton whispering low and the sting of a needle in his arm.

-

Derek reaches for Stiles and frowns in his sleep when he is not there.

-

Derek wakes abruptly and for a moment he doesn’t know where he is.

He sits up, presses his back against the wall, feet scrabbling in the sheets. For a split second, he is back in the cell and the fear is threatening to choke him.

“Derek!” Scott yells.

Derek lowers the hands he didn’t know he had raised and looks around the room. Scott and Isaac are staring at him, eyes round, and Derek realizes he’s fine. He’s in Deaton’s storeroom next to a pile of bags of cat food. He heaves a breath, wills himself to calm down. He clenches his jaw, manages to wrench himself back into control, and eyes both of his pack members.

Scott lets out a loud sigh.

“You scared the crap out of me,” Scott says. “You were growling like you were going to go Alpha on us any second.”

Derek narrows his eyes. He gets to his feet and realizes he doesn’t feel like utter shit anymore which is a good thing. His head no longer spins and his senses are fully in control.

He looks down and notices he is wearing someone’s blue cotton pajamas and he raises an eyebrow while pulling on the fabric.

“You smelled,” Isaac answers Derek’s silent question, wrinkling his nose. “Really bad.”

Scott stifles a laugh.

Derek glares.

“Stiles is being released from the hospital today,” Scott says. “I thought you might want to know.”

“Already?” Derek asks and his voice is gruff.

Isaac moves around the room and gets Derek a glass of water. He hands it to him and Derek takes a long slow gulp.

Scott shrugs. “Yeah. He’s fine.”

“He was beaten and starved,” Derek growls. “It takes more than a few hours to recover from dehydration and broken ribs.”

Scott blinks. “Hours? Derek, you’ve been asleep for three days.”

Derek chokes while drinking, sputters in surprise. “Three days?”

“Yeah. One of us was here with you the whole time. We took turns. Erica, Boyd, even Jackson.”

Derek licks his lips, stunned that he’s lost that much time. “Stiles?” he asks.

“Someone has been with him too.”

Derek nods, relieved.

“And the ones who did this?”

Isaac straightens in the doorway. “Taken care of.”

“How?” Derek’s voice is hard, guttural.

It makes both Scott and Isaac take a step back.

Scott recovers first. “Trust us,” he says. “They won’t be hunting anything for a long time.”

Derek doesn’t feel satisfied. He wants revenge. It itches under his skin. He flexes his fingers.

“Tell me everything.”

-

Derek takes a shower, scrubs the days of sweat and blood from his body. He washes his hair, finger nails dragging across his scalp and he tries not to think of Stiles’ fingers tangled in his hair, comforting after the hours of torture. He scrubs his skin until it is pink and then he scrubs it again.

As he washes, he replays the information Scott had revealed.

Stiles had been right. It was a hunter dispute. Some new hunters didn’t think that the Argents were doing a good enough job.

Derek had been captured as a gloat. They were going to torture him for information, research alpha physiology, and then kill him.

Stiles had been a mistake. They thought he was a beta but when they realized he was human, they couldn’t let him go. They found his and Derek’s interactions intriguing anyway. They hadn’t encountered humans in a pack before.

They were hunters without the years of knowledge and history the Argents had and it showed. They followed no code and Derek couldn’t help but feel the ghost of Kate looming over him.

It doesn’t matter now. He needs to see Stiles.

Derek towels himself dry. He shaves. He vigorously brushes his teeth. He dresses in clean clothes and they feel good against his skin. He rolls his shoulders but the tension that had been ever present since he had woken is still there.

He doubts it will ease any time soon.

Derek climbs into his car, sits in the driver’s seat. He sucks in a breath and wilts, rests his forehead on the steering wheel. He feels everything catching up with him. He feels exhausted despite the three days of sleep, mentally fatigued if not physically. He knows there will be new nightmares and they will mix with the old ones - fires and cells and electricity and the oppressive feeling of being trapped. New guilt and new responsibilities will weigh heavy on his shoulders.

He can’t lose it now though.

The absence of Stiles is a physical ache and he needs to confirm that he is alright. Derek needs to know that Stiles is protected.

On the way to Stiles’ house, Derek makes a last minute decision and swerves into the town bakery.

-

Derek debates whether to go to the front door or through the window.

In the end, he chooses the door. Stiles might not appreciate a surprise intrusion through the window. Derek doesn’t want to cause any distress so the front door it is.

The Sheriff answers.

“Derek,” he says.

“Sheriff,” Derek answers and suddenly realizes he has no fucking clue what the Sheriff knows.

He stands there on the stoop feeling awkward and anxious, cardboard box from the bakery in one hand, bag from the grocery store in the other.

The Sheriff looks at him then reaches out. Derek wills himself not to flinch and he thinks he is successful though the Sheriff’s expression tells him otherwise. The Sheriff’s hand lands on his shoulder and he gives Derek a comforting squeeze.

“Come in,” Sheriff Stilinski says.

Derek tentatively steps inside.

“I don’t know everything,” the sheriff continues, and there is some bitterness to his tone, but no accusation. “Scott and Chris Argent tried to explain. It doesn’t change the fact that my son got caught in the crossfire of whatever the hell is going on.” He’s angry. Derek can hear it in the tone of his voice and in the skyrocketing of his pulse, but Sheriff Stilinski takes a breath and calms, his grip on Derek’s shoulder easing. Derek knows the Sheriff has had several days to process whatever he’s been told thus his ability to compose himself relatively quickly but Derek inwardly winces at the thrashing Argent and Scott no doubt received. “But I do know that Stiles says he wouldn’t have survived without you.”

“I wouldn’t have survived without him,” Derek answers. It’s the truth.

The Sheriff nods. He runs a hand over his hair, a gesture that is highly reminiscent of his son. “I know you don’t have anyone looking after you, son. Are you okay?”

Derek swallows the lump that is suddenly in his throat. “I will be.”

The Sheriff nods. “Good.”

They stand there for a moment. Derek feels odd and uncomfortable but vaguely appreciative of the Sheriff’s concern. It’s a weird moment for him. He already feels emotionally fragile and now he feels young in a way he hasn’t since his family died. It’s almost too much.

“If you ever feel like you need to talk…” the Sheriff starts.

“I really don’t.”

“Oh, thank god. Stiles is upstairs.”

Derek receives a firm slap to the back.

-

The stairs creak under his feet and when he reaches Stiles’ door, he doesn’t know whether he should knock or not. He decides on a quick rap with his knuckles which is hard to accomplish with the box and the bag.

The door swings inward though and Stiles is standing there.

The sight of him whole and healthy in a pair of pajamas makes Derek’s heart skip a beat and he feels like the piece of him that has been missing since he woke up has slotted back into place. He lets out a relieved breath.

“Hey, man,” Stiles says. His voice is still raspy and he looks exhausted. The bruises on his face have melted into greens and yellows instead of the stark purple they were when Derek last saw him. He’s still pale but he looks significantly better. He no longer smells like infection and blood but of soap and medicine.

“Hey,” Derek answers. It is woefully inadequate as a greeting but dropping everything and gathering Stiles in a hug to make sure he is actually real would probably be frowned upon, especially since Stiles is shifting anxiously in the doorway.

“You want to come in?” Stiles says and opens the door wider. “I’m surprised to see you here. Well, not here, I mean, using the door. I thought you’d come through the window. But you used the door, like I said. Which means you talked to my dad. I’m sorry. I bet you wished you used the window now or maybe avoided the house altogether.” Stiles shakes his head and grimaces.

Derek feels like it is an accusation for not visiting sooner. “I was asleep,” he blurts.

Stiles blinks. “Hell of a non sequitur but I know. Scott told me.”

Derek raises an eyebrow and Stiles blushes. “I had a panic attack in the hospital when I couldn’t find you. They had to sedate me and uh… Scott told me you were alright when I woke up again so you know, I wouldn’t freak out.”

Stiles coughs, embarrassed, even though he shouldn’t be. Derek almost wolfed out on Scott and Isaac when he woke up.

Derek stands awkwardly in the room. It’s just as normal except Stiles has stripped his bed and his sheets and blankets are in a pile on the floor next to the wall. Stiles notices Derek’s gaze and quickly crosses the room.

He gathers everything up into a mound of fabric and pillows and tosses it on the bed.

“Weird, right? An entire life of sleeping in a bed and ten days of sleeping on the floor and now, it doesn’t feel right unless I’m on the floor and hugging the life out of a pillow. They gave me a million pills for sleep in the hospital but they all made me feel drugged and I don’t even know what I’m doing and…”

“Stiles,” Derek cuts in. Stiles stops talking and stops trying to maul his blankets into order on the bed.

He breathes slowly. “Yeah?”

“I brought you…” Derek trails off and shoves the box in Stiles’ hands roughly like it was a hot potato.

Stiles opens it and barks a laugh. A dozen cupcakes of varying flavors sit in the box.

“I know the size isn’t quite right,” Derek continues, “but they didn’t have any as big as your head.”

“I can’t believe you even remember that conversation. I guess this means I owe you eggplant parmesan at some point.”

“You don’t,” Derek assures quickly.

Stiles rolls his eyes and doesn’t comment. Derek instinctively knows he’ll be dragged to an Italian restaurant at some point in the near future hopefully when they both don’t feel like they’ll fall apart at any moment.

Stiles tugs Derek further into the room. They sit on the floor together and eat cupcakes. Derek pulls the half-gallon of milk out of the other bag and pops the top and they pass it back and forth. Derek doesn’t mind that Stiles smears chocolate frosting on the rim and Stiles doesn’t comment on the fact that crumbs are getting all over his floor.

They sit and they eat and drink and they try not to think about the ten days they spent together that irrevocably changed them.

Out of the dozen, they manage to eat five and a half. Total.

Days without eating anything substantial and now Derek can barely finish the half of his double chocolate cupcake without feeling like he is going to vomit. He takes another swig of the milk and passes it off to Stiles who is looking drowsy but pleased next to him.

Derek wants to reach out and swipe the white frosting that is clinging to Stiles’ bottom lip but he doesn’t. He really isn’t quite sure what to do next because he can’t classify anything that he is feeling. It’s all a jumbled mess and all he knows is that sitting next to Stiles, he doesn’t feel the tension in his muscles or the ache in his stomach.

“So,” Stiles says, leaning heavily against the bed, “where do we go from here?”

Derek frowns. “What?”

“Well, I’ve just spent a week and a half sleeping curled up with you every night… for warmth and I may have imagined it because let’s be honest, I was really out of it for a while there, but I think you may have kissed me? And… if something doesn’t start to feel normal for me soon I think I’m going to collapse in on myself and it’s not going to be pretty.”

Stiles hands are tied in knots. He smells like sugar and sweat and his heart rate is beginning to amp up.

“I could threaten you,” Derek offers. “Maybe throw you against the wall? That’s normal.”

Stiles laughs but it’s watery. “Again with the jokes. Don’t get me wrong, I like the lighthearted you but it is bizarre.”

Derek grins and it feels foreign.

Stiles is still fidgeting next to him. Derek pushes the box of cupcakes out of the way and moves the milk. He shifts closer so he is sitting shoulder to shoulder. He has a feeling that Stiles is just as confused as he is about everything and decides that maybe the best thing is to lay it all out there. It goes against every fiber of his being, because Kate changed Derek down to the marrow. But this is Stiles, the kid who held Derek up in a pool for two hours, who has no compulsion about putting himself in danger for the greater good, who allowed Derek to lie in his lap while he was healing and talked his voice raw to keep them both sane.

“Do you know why I came?” Derek finally asks.

“To bring me cupcakes?”

“Because I needed to see you. I needed to make sure you were protected. I needed to make sure you were alright.”

Stiles nudges closer. “Really?”

Derek nods. “You… you’re under my skin.”

Stiles grins. “Like a parasite?”

Derek rolls his eyes and doesn’t answer.

“I’m glad it’s not just me then. I was crawling out of my skin earlier because I felt like something was missing.” Stiles tentatively reaches out, his fingertips brushing over the back of Derek’s hand.

“So from here, we both recognize that we need each other,” Derek says, turning his hand over and offering Stiles his palm.

Stiles slides his hand into Derek’s and laces their fingers.

“Alright. You needing me is pretty normal,” he says with a small smile. “It’s a little more than research but I can handle it. Totally. Can totally handle it. Can we talk about the kisses?”

Derek rubs his eyes. Exhaustion is creeping back in. “No,” he says. “I thought we agreed on normal.”

“Alright. Resume normality and then we talk about the kissing.”

“Fine,” Derek agrees.

Derek hears Stiles’ heartbeat spike.

“I should go,” Derek says.

Stiles hand immediately clamps onto Derek’s in a death grip. “Stay,” he says.

“We both need rest,” Derek counters.

“Stay,” Stiles says again.

Derek would be lying if he says he isn’t tempted. Stiles reads the indecision on his face.

“Trust me on this,” Stiles says.

Derek meets Stiles gaze. “I do,” he answers. “I’ll stay until you fall asleep.”

Stiles beams at him and he is on his feet in a second, unsuccessfully hiding a grimace when he moves too enthusiastically. He grabs the milk from the floor and the cupcakes and is plodding down the stairs before Derek can stop him.

Derek can hear the conversation Stiles has with his dad. He hears the concern in the Sheriff’s tone and the reminder to take some pain medication.

While Stiles is downstairs, Derek makes the bed and kicks off his shoes.

Once Stiles comes back, he takes a few pills before sitting on the bed next to Derek. There is an awkward minute of arranging themselves but soon, they slide into what is familiar. Derek’s back is against the wall. Stiles is along his front, his body pressed close, his head on a pillow near Derek’s shoulder.

“I have to say,” Stiles says, snuggling closer, “you smell at least sixty percent better.”

Derek huffs in amusement. He pulls Stiles closer, his arms wrapped around him. It’s comforting and real and Derek feels himself edging toward acknowledging what he’s felt for a while. He leans in despite their earlier conversation and kisses Stiles’ forehead.

“Again with the kissing.”

“Shut up, Stiles. Go to sleep.”

Stiles relaxes against him, eyes fluttering shut, breathing evening out.

Derek knows that it is going to take much longer than a few days to recover and restore normality for the both of them. He knows it will be a struggle and there will be problems and misunderstandings but they will have each other.

They trust each other.

Derek burrows into the pillow and inhales deeply, letting Stiles’ scent soothe his frayed nerves. As Derek drifts off, Stiles a reassuring weight in his arms, his heart beating a steady background rhythm, Derek knows that they will be able to move forward from this and for the first time since their capture, he doesn’t dread the morning.