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Derek doesn’t really notice everyone leaving. Allison is long gone, of course, with Boyd and Erica behind her. They’ll let her go; he ordered them not to hurt her. It’s good for them to have something to chase, all the same. Wear them out so they stop thinking. Sleep better that way.

Scott and Isaac have just left, bundled out by Melissa. She looked for a moment like she’d leave Isaac behind, but Scott had two fingers twisted in the sleeve of Isaac’s sweatshirt, so she grabbed them each by a shoulder and pushed them out the door. Derek doesn’t resent it; he doesn’t mind being left behind. Everyone deserves someone to help clean their wounds, to watch the door when they sleep. Even his rag-tag pack. Especially his rag-tag pack.

Stiles is the last one left, sitting on his own just through the double doors of the community center. Derek watched them all go past him with a squeeze to the shoulder, a brush of the hand. Even his father is gone (“I’m fine, dad. Totally fine. Look, you’ve got the biggest coverup Beacon Hills PD has ever seen, you’ve gotta get on that. Go. I’ll see you at home.”).  The boy is bloody and bruised, but it’s nothing that won’t be mostly healed in a few days. 

Which is why Derek is surprised to come through the doors and to find him with his head bowed towards his knees, blunt fingernails digging into his scalp, gasping for air through gritted teeth. He’s sitting on the bench that’s screwed into the wall, an old church pew that usually serves as a bus stop on rainy days. It’s long, running all the way down the front of the building, and something about his crumpled posture and the long trail of golden wood surrounding him makes Derek’s stomach clench. He looks tiny and beaten and … insignificant. Something left behind, like a stain, a scratch on varnish.

Derek doesn’t think this, exactly. He doesn’t think in metaphors. He thinks in impressions: small, bent, torn, shaking, wrong, wrong, wrong.

He also thinks in responsibilities, which is what propels him around the corner to stand in front of Stiles.

“You’re okay, right?” His voice sounds loud and rough, an unpleasant counterpoint to Stiles’ hitching breath. “You’re not hurt or anything?”

“No,” Stiles forces out, hunching his shoulders further and covering his face.

“You’re in shock.”

“Yeah.”

“You’re having a panic attack?” Derek takes a step forward, thinks about reaching out to him, and moves back again.

“Yes, thank you genius, this is all very helpful.” How he manages to sniff and shake and still sound irritated, Derek doesn’t really understand. He watches for a long minute, but the shudders just get worse. Stiles folds up farther until his arms are locked around his abdomen and his forehead is pressed against his knees. If he thought in metaphors, Derek would see him as a broken piece of clockworks, gears grinding out of line, metal twisting and scraping against itself. Instead, all he can think is worn, weak, drowning, hurt.


It’s not weak, though, he corrects his brain. It’s not weak to be in shock, it’s just … it’s reaction. You can only push it away for so long; eventually you have to let it break you. If you’re good at it, if you’ve had enough practice, you can hold it off until you’re alone. Stiles was alone. Should be. Wants to be. Derek should leave.

But. Worn, weak, drowning, hurt rings against the side of his skull, and whether or not Stiles counts as pack may be up for debate, but that doesn’t keep the instinct at bay. Worn, weak, drowning, hurt. Before he knows what he’s doing, he’s stretched one hand across the back of the boy’s neck, where is bent over his knees. There’s the initial needle-prick sensation of physical pain, it almost feels like an itch running up his arm. He’s done this a few times, over the years. Did it for Melissa when she woke up from a blow to the head just hours ago. Physical pain is like fire ants running through his veins, but light. Temporary. Gone in a moment. The pain that follows is a deep ache, mercury filling his blood. It reminds him of the wolfsbane seeping into him from Kate Argent’s bullet, but in a few seconds it fades. It comes in waves, the longer he stands touching skin. 

Stiles gets his breath back in a few moments, and jerks upright, shrugging off Derek’s hand.

“What the hell?”

Derek jerks backward, snapping to alertness and trying to keep all the blood from rushing to his face.

“I—”

“Look, I’m fine. I’m fine. Just go … seethe somewhere, okay? I’m—” Stiles straightens up and presses a hand to his chest, breathing deeply. “I’m fine.” He stares at Derek, confused. “I’m fine?”

Derek shrugs one shoulder, entirely out of his depth.

“What did you do?”

“Nothing.”

“Derek.” Stiles breathes again, rolls his neck. “I feel—”

“Go home, Stiles. You okay to drive?”

Stiles watches him sharply, considering. The part of Derek’s brain that thought weak crawls into a corner, tail tucked between its legs. He doesn’t look weak when you look him in the eye.

“Yes,” he says, and the way he says it sounds like he’s talking about more than driving. Derek has no idea what that might be. 

“Okay, then,” he turns towards the woods at the edge of the parking lot.

“Derek?”

He turns. Stiles’ mouth opens once, shuts, twists, opens again.

“It’s not safe. Walking home alone. At night.” As soon as he’s done speaking his face turns red, teeth working his lower lip.

Derek has no idea what to say to that. 

“Okay.” 

Stiles nods, pulls his sweatshirt around himself, and heads for his Jeep. Derek watches him go, the impression of strange, what, strange, strong and strange echoing in his mind.