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The text message on Stiles’ phone burned against his eyes, but he couldn’t stop swiping the screen every time it went dark.  Where are you, Derek?  You said you’d be here soon.  That was forever ago.

Forever was relative.  The part of Stiles’ brain that kept up with his surroundings and catalogued everything for later had a helpful snapshot of the time, and it had only been about twenty minutes since he’d called Derek in a panic.  They’d been on the phone for at least five minutes before Derek managed to calm him down enough to listen to reason.  Reason.  Right, like I’m really going to just sit here and do nothing.  Things had stopped being reasonable a few weeks back. 

The screen on his phone darkened, and Stiles pressed his finger against the phone again, lighting it up and contributing to his battery drain.  The number the message had come from was unlisted, but the text made it clear who it had come from.  The Alpha pack.  More specifically, one of the sadistic bit players who’d taken great pains in toying with the Beacon Hills humans.

Come to the high school, or he comes home in pieces.

Attached was a picture of Stiles’ father.  Stiles’ bloody, unconscious father.  The Sheriff was supposed to be on duty tonight, but clearly things had changed.  The Alpha had gone after his dad. Reason wasn’t part of the equation anymore.

The sadistic shit-head had messed with them plenty before – but until now, the attacks had always been centered around them. He’d cut the brake line in Lydia’s new car, and it was only because Jackson was driving and got them both out that she walked away unharmed.  He’d done something they still didn’t fully understand to Allison’s crossbow, and caused a phosphorescent explosion the moment she released an arrow, that had left her face reddened with burns and her eyesight hazy for almost a week.  And just last week, Stiles had left school to find his beloved Jeep desiccated in the parking lot: missing doors, radio, wheels, the emergency kit of weapons and wolfsbane in the trunk.

But the worst part was the photographs that had been left on each of the seats.  Taken in the middle of the night through a night vision lens, one showed Stiles sound asleep from just a few feet away.  And the other had showed his father.  The son of a bitch had been in the Stilinski’s house.  While they slept.  And no one had even known.  None of Stiles’ friends had even smelled anything out of the ordinary. It was like being haunted by the ghost of stalker Matt or something.

Stiles had thought he’d gotten off as the lightest of the three.  He’d been threatened, but they hadn’t tried to kill him the way they had Lydia, and hadn’t been hurt the way they’d hurt Allison.  But he’d been walking cautious ever since.  And now they had his father.  They hadn’t let him off easy at all.  They’d been saving him for last.

The same clenching fear that had been curling in his belly since last spring reared up again, infecting his body like a parasite, claiming each individual part of him into one giant nerve of terror.  If anything happens to him…

If anything happens to him…

But he couldn’t finish the thought.  He couldn’t even begin to plan for a world where John Stilinski wouldn’t be there the next morning over Heart Smart waffles and complaining about the new officers transferred in to the police department.

The Alpha pack had poked around a bit during the summer, but they hadn’t become a full force of vengeance until the fall.  Until school started back up.  They’d become the latest in a long line of threats, and the worst part is that they were smart about it.  They never attacked the same way twice – they never challenged the Beacon Hills pack until they were divided.  Never sought the kill, only the wound.

It was test after test.  But it was more than that.  Each of the Alphas was unique, possessing their own particular skillset and subheading in the DSM-IV.  Some were brute force physical dominators, some were sly and cunning, and some were smart and strategic.  They still didn’t even know how many Alphas there were.  They kept to the shadows.  Even when they’d been torturing Erica and Boyd, they’d limited their numbers.  Even months after they’d finished playing with them, the werewolf pair still couldn’t say with certainty whether the trio that came in to torture them daily was a steady three, or a rotating cast of monsters.

We’re the mice, and they’re the cats just toying with us, Stiles figured.  It had been going on for months, and everyone was on edge ever since the bloody and beaten bodies of Erica and Boyd had been deposited right on the front steps of the Beacon Hills police department.  They’d kept them for the whole summer, mixing up the days of physical torture with the occasional mental challenge, and some days nothing at all.  It was like they were being tested.  Stiles still couldn’t say for certainty if they’d passed or failed. 

So the Alphas had abandoned the werewolves to the Beacon Hills PD, but all that anyone else knew was that two runaways had returned, beaten so badly they couldn’t even stand.  The department had gone on red alert that night.

A department his father hadn’t even finished staffing, after the events with the kanima, Matt, and Gerard.  From what Derek had said, it was only blind, dumb luck that Sheriff Stilinski didn’t learn about werewolves that night.  There had been a half hour window where Boyd and Erica had been able to control their features, refusing to shift. 

“Stiles.”  And just like that, he’s there.  Derek. But right behind him, pushing him out of the way in his rush to get to Stiles, is Scott.  His best friend, who’d become so much more in the last year.  More confident, more secure.  Gone was the boy who’d been obsessed with a girl.  Scott had very nearly become an Alpha all on his own.  Scott put his hand on Stiles’ shoulder and squeezed.

 “They really have him?” Scott asked, and there was a naïve hope in his voice that made Stiles flinch.  Like it was all a big misunderstanding, and Stiles was freaking out over nothing.  Scott had become a lot of things in the last year, but he still saw too much good in the world.  He still thought that the heroes always won.  That good always won out over evil. 

“They really have him.”  Stiles could hear how dead his voice sounded, but he couldn’t force himself to care. 

Derek stepped into the light then, red eyes glowing with a fierceness that looked odd on his features.  Not for the first time, a separate, terrifying surge hit Stiles right in the gut.  It had been happening more and more lately.  Things with Derek were…confusing.  Derek was confusing.  Stiles didn’t understand the pressure in his chest when Derek looked at him sometimes.  He knew it meant something, but he actively avoided it.  There were Alphas to worry about, plural, and Stiles would have all the time in the world for an identity crisis once they were dealt with. 

“We’ll get him back,” Derek promised, even though Derek didn’t have any business promising anything. 

The only good thing to come out of the Alpha Pack’s arrival was that it had forced the werewolves and associated hangers on to band together.  There weren’t two packs roaming around at half strength anymore, they were all in this together because the Alpha pack didn’t discriminate.  They were all targets.  The Alphas had managed to do what Derek hadn’t been able to do on his own.  What Derek still felt he wasn’t completely capable of doing .  Bringing the pack together.

He saw glimmers of it sometimes.  The leader that Derek could be.  But there was years of damage and trauma layered like scar tissue across the broad side of his personality, and though Stiles thought he understood him most of the time, others had trouble seeing what he saw.  Especially Scott.  But even before Allison had been hurt – an Allison who still kept a distance from all her former friends, though now it was shame and not grief that motivated her – Scott had fallen in line behind Derek.  They’d reached an understanding.

Stiles had the feeling he’d been a major point of contention between the two of them.

“They said to come alone,” Stiles offered, even though he’d already told Derek this several times.  At first on the phone, he’d tried to hold back the meeting place, but Derek kept pushing at him, kept yelling.  Yelling was safe.  It was familiar.  They always yelled at each other.

“They’ll say anything to get you away from the rest of us. They know we’re not going to let anything happen to you,” Scott said.  Scott was still clueless about many things, but something had given him a unique perspective on the Alpha pack over the last few months.  He seemed to grasp at some of their motives and tactics – the reasons why they struck the way they did.  Stiles wasn’t sure if it was all the time working at the clinic with all those animals – witnessing their behavior and seeing something he recognized – or if it had more to do with Doctor Deaton, the veterinarian who was still keeping far too many secrets.

“They might expect you to go on without me,” Stiles pointed out.  Derek was looking at him again, and it made him want to squirm.  “He proved he could get into my house without being noticed, y’know?  I tried to tell Dad we needed to put the house on the market, but he wasn’t having any of it.  I even pulled out the numbers, but he doesn’t care that the housing market is starting to settle and now’s a great time to buy.”

“He’s right,” Derek said to Scott, completely ignoring Stiles’ babble.  “Check the house and then meet me there.”  His eyes swung towards the only human in the room.  “Stay here.  I know you want to help, but the Alpha pack isn’t messing around.  We’ve been lucky none of you have been hurt yet.”

“Allison was hurt,” Scott growled, as if any of them had forgotten.

Permanently hurt,” Derek stressed.  “Allison recovered.  They knew she would.”

“Then you don’t know that they’re going to hurt me, either,” Stiles pointed out, even though it was the last thing he should be doing right now.  They wouldn’t notice anything about his heart rate, because his heart rate should be insane right now.  Endorphins were running rampant through his body, and on a chemical level he was quite possibly schizophrenic right now.  His systems were all out of whack.

“Really?  With that picture of your dad on your phone? You could have fooled me.”

Stiles looked over Derek’s black on black dress code, and snapped without any heat, “Primary colors fool you.”  Sarcasm was his only shield sometimes, but at a time like this, it just fell flat.

“I’m going to check with you,” Derek said suddenly, looking away from Stiles, as if the faint attempt at sarcasm was somehow too much to deal with right now.  The two of them started up the stairs, and Stiles exhaled.  This was going to be a lot easier than he’d expected.  He was out the front door before either of the werewolves could react.  It was pure dumb luck that they hadn’t noticed the almost finished circle of ash around the house.  Stiles hadn’t spent the fifteen minutes waiting on them just sitting on his hands. 

The message had said to come alone, and he was going alone.  One way or another.

It was a funny thing about mountain ash.  He’d used it to trap people inside a building before, but until the circle was complete, it was just dirt on the ground as far as the supernatural set was concerned.  But the minute that link was made, the whole thing lit up like the world’s best cage.

There was a snarl and a roar from the upstairs that said Derek had realized what Stiles had done but it was already too late.  He leaped the stairs, tucking and rolling until he came to the edge of the threshold, panting and snarling, his face wolfed out.

“Stiles!” he growled.  Scott bounded down after him, but he actually used the stairs like a normal person.  “Stiles, what are you doing?” Scott demanded.

“They have my dad.”  It was four words.  Four words that made all the difference.

“We’ll get him back.”  Scott held out a hand, like that was all it would take.  Like it was really that easy.

“Stiles…”  Derek’s growl was a low rumble in his chest.  “Don’t do this.”

Stiles had no delusions about what was going to happen tonight.  They weren’t luring him out to the high school to gain the advantage on some silly prank war.  They weren’t even luring him out to send some kind of message.  They could have done that any time.  There was a reason that they’d kidnapped his dad.  That they were using him as leverage.

Stiles had a healthy fear of the Alpha pack, but he also had a healthy respect for them.  And he knew that there was more to this move than just knocking a piece off the board.  They wanted him to come alone, to make sure.  They had to know that Derek and Scott would just get in the way, and Stiles would have no choice but to lock them down.  This was what they’d been after all along.

“Tell my dad—“  But there were no words that Stiles could come up with.  No proper goodbye that would make sense.  If his father even survived at all.  They might just kill them both. 

“No!” Derek’s features shifted back, though the fierceness and the rage were still just as striking.  “You’re not doing this.  You’re not using us to cheat yourself a final moment.”

“Dude, back off,” Scott said.

“Back off?  He’s walking into a trap.  Look at him, Scott.  He knows it.  That’s why he called.”  Derek’s eyes narrowed to dark little slits.  “When I get out of here, I’m going to tear your throat out with my teeth.”

“If I even have a throat left,” Stiles muttered humorously. 

A moment of silence passed between the three of them.  It was like they all knew that this had to come to an end, and maybe sooner was better.

Stiles gave up on any last words, but not one last request.  “If he makes it out, keep him safe?”

Derek was clenching his jaw so hard the bone was probably about to shatter.  All Stiles got for his trouble was a sharp nod, just one, but Derek wouldn’t look away.  The feeling in Stiles’ chest seized up again, and he knew if he let himself stand here, that it would win out over everything else he was feeling. 

“Stiles, it’s not too late, you can change your mind,” Scott pleaded.

Stiles made it to the rental car he’d been driving ever since the Jeep was trashed, and didn’t look even once.  He pretended that the snarling wolf howl he heard coming from his house was coming from Derek.

He made it in record time, and rushed through the front doors of the high school, a place he’d left only ten hours ago.  Normal kids were home asleep right now.  They weren’t hoping against hope that their only surviving parent was still, in fact, surviving and not bleeding out on the nasty linoleum flooring.

He didn’t have far to go. The front hallway lights were on, the only lights in the whole school in fact.  And leaning against the window sill, having watched him come in, was a teenager.  Probably about Stiles height, they were probably even the same age.  So not all of the Alphas are older.  That had been Peter’s theory, that the Alpha Pack was older, ranging from Derek’s age to Peter’s.  But if some of them were teenagers, it might explain a few things.  Like why the bastards went after his car.  Why they’d even care to touch his baby like that.

“Stilinski,” the Alpha teenager said, drawing out the sound of his name.  Stiles shifted, the panic making another surge for his brain.  The fight or flight response has been around for almost forty-thousand years.  Forty-thousand years of sizing up a moment of adversity and making a choice.  Offense, or defense.  It caused 1400 different physiological or  chemical changes in the body. Stiles imagined he could feel the surge of electricity running from the hypothalamus to his adrenal glands, prompting a surge of adrenaline through his system.

The hallway was empty aside from the two of them.  No sign of his father.  Then it’ll have to be fight, Stiles thought, even though he knew there was no choice at all.  There never had been.

“You’re the smart one, aren’t you?  The brains behind this little operation.  I like smart.”  The Alpha smiled.  On the surface, he looked like any other athlete that would have been on the lacrosse team.  “Smart’s gotten you pretty far.”

Tall, lanky, but the Alpha moved with a swagger that even the werewolves Stiles knew couldn’t match.  Even Derek held himself a bit in reserve.  Derek watched sometimes, waited.  He didn’t walk into a room like he was the biggest predator. 

This Alpha did.  He inclined his head, eyes narrowed slightly.  “How did you get rid of Hale and McCall?  And a sidebar, if I may?”  Stiles inclined his arm, as if giving permission, and the Alpha continued.  “Why Hale first?  You could have called Scott.  He’s simple, but he would have answered.  Why not Jackson?  Smarter for sure, and if I do say so myself, more than a bit devious.”

“You said to come alone.”  Stiles pressed down on his lips before he could say anything else.  It was his nature to ramble, to speak so fast that he could barely keep up with the stream of thoughts that slipped out past his tongue like the part of him that was Stiles, and the part that was Stiles’ voice were two separate creatures, always at odds. 

“And do you always follow directions?”

“Almost never,” Stiles said automatically, almost wincing but unable to stop himself now that he started.  “Just ask my dad.  You can do that, since you beat the crap out of him, y’know.  He’d tell you I’m the most disobedient kid he’s ever raised.  He’s also probably going to try to pistol whip the shit out of you when he wakes up.  No offense. “

“There it is,” the Alpha said, crouching down in front of him, a slow smile starting to spread across his face.  Stiles had the bad feeling that he’d just stepped into something he couldn’t step out of.  The fight-or-flight response was nearly screaming in his ears it had gotten so loud. “The mouth.  The only defense that a ‘one hundred and forty-seven pound boy with pale skin  and fragile bones’ has, yes?”  The smile widened as the terror in Stiles chest nearly tore a heart-shaped hole on its way out of him.  “Oh yes, Stiles, we’ve been watching all of you for a very long time.”

The words were familiar, but they’d happened long before they’d even known there was such a thing as an Alpha pack. 

“I’m smart, too,” the Alpha confided.  “You see, I know when to press the advantage, and when to wait for the right moment.”  He swiped his hands against his thighs, and the light caught just  right for Stiles to see the dried discoloration running along his nail beds.

Fight, indeed, he thought, while rushing forward, the knife he’d stuck in his back pocket instantly in his hand.  Not that it mattered.  Adderall and adrenaline were no match for Alpha moves.  Stiles was thrown back, slammed into a row of lockers, hitting them so hard he could feel the doors behind him caving in a little. 

“It was a surprise to find Deaton here,” the Alpha added, red eyes amused.  “But like I said, I’m smart.  I know better than doing something he could easily undo.  Deaton knows a lot about the world ,but he doesn’t know everything.”

Stiles struggled, God, how he struggled.  Sparks of light flickered at the edge of his vision, and the darkness started to seep in as the pressure on his throat wouldn’t release.  He was losing oxygen, desperately.  Quickly.  He’d never get to see his dad again.  He’d never get to say he was sorry.  His mom’s death had broken the man once before, and Stiles’ parting shot was going to break him all over again.  Scott wouldn’t know what to do.  And Derek.  God, Derek.  As if he needed another broken body on his conscience.

“Mountain ash isn’t the only herb out there with interesting effects,” the Alpha whispered in his ear.  He knew how I kept them away all along, Stiles realized.  He’d probably been watched since the moment the text message arrived.  Maybe even before that.

“Please,” he managed to gasp, before the pressure on his throat intensified and speech was all but impossible.  He begged for so many things.  Please don’t kill my father.  Please make it quick.  Please don’t make Derek find my body.  Please don’t hurt him. 

Please.

The pressure eased up on his throat, and Stiles didn’t care.  Couldn’t care.  He sucked in oxygen like it was the only thing in the world that mattered.  Like he couldn’t ever get enough.

“You can drop the Sheriff off now,” the Alpha said into a cell phone, “I have what I need.”  It was a bit galling that Stiles’ was so easily handled that the Alpha could do it with literally only one hand. 

“Normally, I like a mouth.  I appreciate humor.  I like to laugh.  What can I say, I’m only human.”  The grip around his trachea intensifies again, and the steady chug of oxygen dries up.  “But our priorities have shifted, and we need to make sure the Hales have more than enough to deal with while we’re gone.  Because we’re going to come back, Stiles.  But in the meantime, I’ve got something special in mind for you.”

The next thing Stiles knew, there was something being waved in front of his face.  The last thing he saw was the Alpha’s grinning face.  “I believe you said something about pistol whipping?  How about we start there.”

Stiles was unconscious before the assault began.  He never felt a thing.

 

******

 

He didn’t  awaken all at once.  It was like the seven layer burrito dip that was officially forbidden at Casa Stilinski after his father’s last checkup, it came in stages.  First there was the silence wrapped in consciousness, a feeling of knowing that the emptiness that was all around him was as quiet as his mind the day they buried his mom.  A quiet so profound that it tugged at the edges of Stiles’ mind, and though it reached for the thousands of inane facts that were armor against moments like this, today his mind reached for comfort, and found only emptiness.  Silence.

The pain was next, and it was a thick layer, hot like sticks of fire that had traced paths against his skin.  It was a reminder that he even had skin, and a body, and that it had become nothing more than a receptacle for the pain.

And then smells.  Hospital bleach, a smell that still haunted his nightmares and yet brought him closer to memories of his mother than ever before.  The cheap cologne that the Sheriff wore when he was on duty, because he’d never waste the stuff that Stiles gave him every year for Christmas.  He only ever wore that when they did things together, or there was something important going on.  Special occasions.    

Like funerals.

But awareness was next, and with it, a realization that there could be no funeral if there was no body, and all at once Stiles remembers that his name was still on the lease, and this body was still his.  And his first thought, his very first real, conscious thought, rode on a wave of relief that crashed through his body and made the pain forgotten.  Even for a moment.  His father doesn’t have to grieve for him after all.  Stiles is not dead. 

“What do we say to the god of death,” Stiles would have intoned, if he were awake, and also completely alone.  Scott had no appreciation for the finer things in life, and the finer things in this case being Game of Thrones.

“Not today,” he tried to say, but his mouth was filled with glue and brimstone, and something that tasted an awful lot like the protein shakes that Jackson always drank before weight training.

There were noises and sounds, squawks and screams, and in a rush the next layer slammed into place, and it was too much.  A cacophony of noise that brought tears to his unopened eyes, and Stiles couldn’t take this.  Screaming, crying, noises, braying, guttural groans and sibilant shrieks.  All too much and not enough, like frequencies out of tune.

Movement and feeling came next, the displacement of air against his skin.  That was movement.  Things around him were moving.  He opened his eyes, and it was such an easy thing but until this very moment, he hadn’t even remembered how to open them again.  And then all at once it was like the easiest thing he’d ever done.

The lights were bright.  Too bright.  Stiles winced, squinting up at the ceiling.  There was an increase in noises around him, sounds of panic and anger and fear, and the next thing he knew, the lights were more tolerable.  Dimmer, his mind said, explaining the difference.  The lights weren’t more tolerable.  They were dimmer.

A chattering of angry squirrels drew his attention away, and Stiles looked down to see his dad next to the bed, standing behind a doctor and nurse, who are both watching him intently.  The Sheriff has a fist in front of his mouth, the thumb and index finger pinched against his lips.  Relief and worry and an indomitable anger cross his face at random, and it’s disturbing.  His dad is almost always in control, always knows what he’s feeling, only now it’s like he can’t decide.

Suddenly there was a bright, burning light in his eyes, one of those pen things that doctors like to pull out, and Stiles snarled and flinched away.  “What the hell, I’m fine.” he said.

Stiles stopped.  That had been what he’d meant to say.  But that hadn’t…he hadn’t….it had sounded like…

The doctor clicked the pen off, and leaned forward.  Gibberish poured out of his mouth.  Stiles could hear cadences to the sounds, like a made up language that no one else could have understood.

This was some kind of prank.  His dad was getting him back for scaring the crap out of him.  “Ha ha,” he tried to say, but that wasn’t right.  “Zin ef la di ecks pa? Vend eroo jen ra. Ven ra?  Ven ra!”

The doctor kept talking, but Stiles’ panic had consumed him.  Something was wrong.  Something was very wrong.  This wasn’t a prank.  The doctor continued to talk, but the words were nonsense.  Crazy talk.  Babble.  And every time Stiles opened his mouth, more of the same.  In a panic, his eyes met his dad, and the fear he saw there made him start to shake.

Something’s wrong.  Oh god, there’s something really wrong with me.  Oh god, oh god.  What am I going to do?

He flailed, and shouted some more, but nothing made any sense.  His words, his father’s words, none of it was real.  Everything was scrambled.  Or maybe Stiles was scrambled.  His head was throbbing, and the part of him that was always cataloguing his surroundings was pointing to the curling fog at the edges of his consciousness, the feeling of apathetic awareness.  The drugs they’d pumped into him.

Someone put paper and pen in front of him.  Earnest faces stared.  But when Stiles picked up the pen, intending to write What’s wrong with me? the only thing that came out was scribbles and lines that he knew weren’t really letters.

Tears pinpricked his eyes, and frustration choked at him.  Something was wrong with his brain.  Something was wrong with him.  He was broken.  But even broken, he could still piece together the slivers of his old life.  Of what had happened that had landed him in the hospital in the first place.

“You’re the one who likes to talk,” the Alpha had said, right before Stiles lost consciousness.  “Let’s see what we can do about that.”

 

Chapter Text

The first few days were rough.  His father was there constantly, of course, but everyone kept screeching.  Stiles, who had never met a moment of silence he didn’t want to interrupt, could barely take it.  Not that he could tell anyone that, either.  No one understood him.  He didn’t understand anyone else.

They’d handed him newspapers, magazines, even his own chart, hoping to see some spark of recognition in his eyes.  But every time he looked it over, expecting to see words he’d read over a thousand times, the pages were nothing but squiggles and lines that he was sure kept changing right in front of him.

The doctor kept coming in, arms crossed in front of him and engaging in grave conversations with the Sheriff.  Stiles’ dad had been through an extended hospital stay before.  He knew how to fall asleep in the bedside chair, only to sneak out in the middle of the night to go home, shower, and change. 

God, he looks so tired, Stiles thought the third morning, when he’d woken unexpectedly early.  The sun still wasn’t even out yet.  It was hard to say if his dad had already left and come back, or he hadn’t even woken yet.

Stiles fumbled his way out of bed, and dragged the I.V. towards the bathroom with him.  He didn’t know what he was on, and it wasn’t like he could find out for himself, but he knew enough not to push the issue.  If they had him on something, they probably thought it was necessary.  Maybe the painkillers, he figured.  The headaches were still coming fast and furious.  Stiles and his dad had quickly fumbled their way to a makeshift sort of hand language, after the first time that the migraines had him curled up in the fetal position in tears.

He finished his business in the bathroom, carefully avoiding his reflection.  He didn’t want to know how bad it was.  Not when he couldn’t research the problem himself, and figure out what to do about it. 

Derek was in the doorway when Stiles walked out of the bathroom. His eyes were grave, lacking the contempt and disdain that had earned him the Sourwolf nickname in the first place.  He looked the way he had after the night in the pool.  The night where I saved your life, and don’t you forget it, Grumpy, Stiles thought to himself, a little uncharitably. 

Derek was the only one who didn’t walk into the room going a thousand miles a minute.  Stiles still wasn’t allowed visitors, but just the nurses and doctors were enough.  There was always so much noise.  How did people deal with this?

Stiles grabbed the pole of his I.V., and the two of them stared at each other.  Stiles tried to offer a small smile, a see, I survived smile, and then went into a panic.  What if I can’t even smile anymore.  He whirled around, threw on the bathroom light, and stared at his reflection.

The Stiles in the mirror wasn’t smiling though.  If anything, he looked horrified.  Terrified.  Even more gaunt than he’d been before.  He needn’t have worried about his head, though.  There was  a little bit of a lump, and they must have shaved his hair in certain spots because it was a little patchy, but his head wasn’t the mess of bruises that he’d been worried about.

His face bothered him though.  Like there were all sorts of clues that he was missing, and he just couldn’t be bothered to look them up.  But that wasn’t why he was here right now.  He tried to smile, hesitant and gruesome at first, but eventually it looked normal.  Real.  He could still smile. 

Derek had stepped into the room behind him, his face visible in the mirror’s reflection.  Stiles met his eyes, and held onto his soft smile.  I’m okay.  Maybe a little worse for wear, but I’m okay.  But Derek wouldn’t look away – even long after he should have.  This unabashed access to staring was something of a gift and a curse.  Because it let Stiles look just as much as Derek was.  But it also stirred up all those nerves in the pit of his stomach.  The nerves and uncertainty that had been circling around him for months.

It wasn’t like he was going to act on it or anything.  It wasn’t like at school, where he could act out and people would just roll their eyes and ignore him.  That’s what you did with the hyperactive reject kid.  Its not like Derek would be any different.  Sure, Stiles had helped him out before, but that was then.

I’m different now, he realized with a start.  There would be no more helping Derek out.  No more research, late nights, overdoses of Adderall meant to help him unlock the latest mystery.  Stiles was effectively useless to the Alpha now.

The smile slipped off his face. 

What if I never get better?  What if this is permanent?  Trapped inside his body for the rest of his life, a cage where he couldn’t reach out and communicate.  Stiles had been good at communication, he had been so good, and what was he now?  Trapped inside his head, with only himself for company.

His breath hitched.  But then he remembered that Derek was still behind him, and Stiles steeled himself.  He wouldn’t cry out in frustration.  Not again.  Not in front of Derek.  Not in front of anyone, he promised himself.  If he gave in to his tears, it would only worry everyone around him.  His dad.

He was already enough of a disappointment without adding this new fragility onto it.

Stiles started to turn, almost missing the look on Derek’s face in the mirror.  A look that was gone by the time Stiles could face him fully, although he hadn’t moved his hand far enough back in time.  Not moved, Stiles thought.  Recoiled.  Derek had recoiled from him.  That only continued to sour the already dark mood in his stomach.

 Stiles brushed past the werewolf on the way back to his bed, and by the time he’d hoisted himself back under the covers, Derek was gone.

He had to have imagined it.  That glimpse of Derek in the mirror.  It was just a trick of the light or something.  Derek didn’t do fear.  He was never afraid.  He never looked uncertain like that. 

Despite the fact that Stiles kept telling himself it was a mistake, that he must be interpreting faces wrong now, too, he held the image of Derek’s reflection in his mind the entire time until he drifted off back to sleep.

*****

There’s no real good way to pantomime ‘you need to have an MRI,’ as Stiles found out later in the day.  Magnetic Resonance Imaging. He knew what it was, of course.  They shoved you in a big tube and scanned part of your body.  Since it was an MRI instead of a CAT scan, they were interested in his brain.  Of course they were.  There was something wrong with Stiles’ brain.  He couldn’t freaking talk!  Stiles had seen a movie when he was younger where someone went into an MRI and they had something metallic inside of them and it had been ripped out and they’d died. 

…that was probably not going to happen to him.

He’d found himself rubbing a spot between the knuckles on his right hand.  He’d been doing it more and more lately, but he couldn’t figure out why.  There wasn’t a bruise there, no mark at all.  But the movement had become habit,  a thing he did whenever he was worried.

The doctor had come in and tried explaining to him what was going on, before they moved him into a wheelchair.  At least his dad had been there to try and mimic actions that made Stiles pretty certain that he was about to be chained to the roof as a sacrifice to Godzilla. That would fix everything, he thought darkly.

It all made sense once they brought him into the room with giant hollow tube, though.  Of course Stiles knew what an MRI was.  He wasn’t an idiot.  He rolled his eyes at the doctor when the speechifying started up again.  I hope this is for your benefit, he tried to communicate to his dad, sharing a long look.  His father looked like he wanted to smile, but every time he was about to start, he remembered where they were.

The doctor kept talking, but his attention was only on Stiles, as though he expected he was some sort of Doctor Whisperer, and he could get through to Stiles when no one else could.  The Sheriff looked pointedly at the MRI machine, and then went stiff like a mannequin. 

Stiles ignored the doctor, having to go so far as to walk around him so he could face his father directly.  He nodded his head, then jerked it back towards the doctor.  Why couldn’t he just say that?  The sheriff shrugged, and the two of them shared a small smile.  It was the first time he’d seen his dad really smile in days.  The next thing he knew they were hugging, and man but he’d missed this.  He wasn’t sure – those first few days were still mostly a blur – but he thought that this was the first time someone had touched him since he’d woken up in the hospital.

His father said something in his ear, syllables that could have been Russian or Etruscan, or whatever Wonderlandian language the Cheshire Cat spoke when he was done getting high.  But it didn’t really matter, because the important message was everything in the hug itself.  Stiles closed his eyes, held onto his dad as tightly as he was being held, and exhaled slowly. 

His dad was really okay.  That was all that mattered.  Stiles would deal with being mute, or whatever it was that was wrong with him, because all that mattered was that his dad was okay.  He pulled back, suddenly realizing what his brain had been trying to tell him for days.

In the photograph on his phone, his dad had a bloody wound on the side of his head, somewhere under his hair.  But despite the fact that Stiles forced his father’s head first left, then right, he couldn’t see any sign of the assault.

His father gently pulled his heads away, then turned his head to the side, clearly understanding what Stiles had been looking for.  He pushed back the hair and revealed a still healing scar that had been almost invisible at first glance. 

How is he healed that much already?  Stiles wondered.  It was only a few days out from the attack at the school. 

Or was it?

He remembered his reflection, and the way that it had bothered him the night before, so Stiles got up and stalked around the room, but he couldn’t find what he was looking for.  The doctor and his father watched him carefully, but neither tried to intervene.  Finally, Stiles went over to his father and mimed talking on the phone.

The Sheriff looked at him with worry, but slowly pulled his smart phone out of his pocket.  Stiles had been the one to insist that he upgrade – his dad would have been happy with the old school brick that he’d been carrying around since Stiles was in kindergarten.

Stiles pulled the phone up and studied the blank screen.  He didn’t turn it on, just used the reflective black to catch a glimpse of his reflection.  His hair was longer.  Longer than he ever let it get.  He’d been due for another haircut, but not like this.  Not this bad.

He nearly dropped his phone, but luckily his dad was there.  “What’s wrong with my hair?” he demanded in a panic.  “Ter dew ah je va go?” His dad had his hands around the hand holding the phone, and he was making noises.  Soothing, calming noises.  It wasn’t words, and it wasn’t syllables.  Just sounds.  Low, calming sounds.

But Stiles couldn’t be that easily contained.  He grabbed a handful of his hair, as if he could just rip it out and show his dad.  His hair should not be this long.  He never let it get this long!

Stiles might not have inherited his father’s respect for the law, but he’d definitely inherited a good part of the man’s intelligence.  Sheriff Stilinski was no moron, and he’d adapted well at trying to communicate with his son the past few days.  While never letting go of Stiles’ hand, his other hand reached up to touch the spot where his scar was.  Then he reached over and touched Stiles’ hair.  See the pattern, it was like he was trying to say.

His father’s scar had healed.  His hair was longer than it had any right to be.

How long was I unconscious? 

Stiles sank back into the wheelchair.

******

When he got back from the MRI, Stiles was exhausted.  He curled up on his side, turned away from everyone but his dad, and pulled the covers over his face.  He wanted to know so much: how this had happened, what had happened.  But without being able to talk to anybody, or without being able to do the research on his own, how was he going to be able to do anything?

Every time someone walked into the room and opened their mouths, Stiles woke with a start.  Voices were harsh, jarring things.  Most sounds were bad, but talking was the worst.  The closest that Stiles could figure it was that he felt like someone who’d spent their entire lives in silence, only to wake up one morning and realize that there was this thing called noise.  But they didn’t have a lifetime of reference in how to deal with it, so it was just all harsh, jarring decibels crashing into his eardrums.

The doctor kept bringing people in and lecturing to them.  About him.  It was obvious that was what was going on; but after the third time that Stiles had to make the “my head is killing me” motion to his dad, the Sheriff had physically removed everyone and shut the door behind him.  Even though they were muted, he could still hear raised voices, shouts and screams.  He hoped for the love of God that his dad wasn’t out there shooting up the place because the doctor’s had hurt his kid.  He trusted that he wouldn’t do that.  But it was hard to be certain.

He could still understand tones of voice – when sounds were meant to be soothing, when people were angry, when they were sad.  Not all the time, but a lot.  Scott’s mom stopped by in the afternoon dressed in street clothes, and the Sheriff pulled her out into the hall.  They talked for awhile, and Stiles had to pretend not to notice how they both kept looking in on him.

When his dad left a few minutes later, Mrs. McCall came in and sat with him.  The Sheriff must have warned her, because she didn’t say anything the entire time she was there, but she never once let go of his hand, either.  The quiet was nice, but it still felt too loud in the room.  Mrs. McCall was the sort of take-charge woman who always had something to say.  Who always had an opinion.  And it felt like it was killing her to keep her mouth closed.

That was the moment that Stiles realized that not all quiets were made the same.  That sometimes a person could be completely quiet and still, and yet so loud that you couldn’t help but look at them.  His dad did his best, but he fidgeted a lot.  When he came back a few hours later, it was a box that Stiles recognized from the station.  A box of old case files that the Sheriff worked on through the night.

Stiles got up twice to use the bathroom that night, but despite his hope that Derek would show up to check on him, he never did. 

*****

 

He gave them one more day of observation before Stiles lost his mind.  The I.V. had been taken out the day before, and the neurologist had come down to go over the brain scans with everyone, and whatever the news had been, it hadn’t been good.  This is permanent, Stiles figured.  There were a lot more tests that day, and his assumption about his fate was called into question the more he noticed the confused looks on the doctors’ faces.  More doctors were called in to investigate, and his room became so noisy that he spent half his time covering his ears.  There was lots of angry gesturing towards the MRI images.  How do I get Dad to ask if we can take those home, he wondered.  That didn’t seem like the easiest non-verbal communication out there.

Stiles still wasn’t allowed visitors, and that was probably a good thing.  Seeing his friends might be too much right now, pry the fragile bit of control he was holding onto out of his hands.  As much as he wanted to see Scott and the others, he could barely handle Mrs. McCall all by herself, and she was one of his favorite people in the world. 

That night he was restless, unable to sleep.  His father had nodded off hours ago.  Someone had offered to bring in a cot or something, but the Sheriff had waved them off.  He acted like he liked sleeping in the chair, even though Stiles had seen him wincing every morning since he’d woken up.  But it was like the Sheriff had decided that since Stiles was still suffering, then damnit, he was going to suffer too.

He was father was awesome.  But also an idiot sometimes.

He knew there was a gym somewhere in the building.  They called it a fitness center or a healthy living recreation area or something, but it was a gym.  If they wouldn’t let Stiles have visitors, and he couldn’t leave yet, then he was going to do something for god’s sake.  He’d done enough sneaking around the halls of the Beacon Hills hospital to make his way out of his room once he’d changed into a pair of sweats and an old tee shirt his dad had brought.

He prowled the halls, but the problem with his late night plan was twofold.  The first was that he couldn’t exactly follow any of the signage to the fitness center.  The second was that once he was several hallways away from his room, he couldn’t find his way back.  He’d almost turned back once, but by that point he was already lost. 

It felt like he wandered the floors of the hospital, avoiding every other human being he came across, before he stumbled upon the gym almost by accident.  He’d ducked into the doorway because he’d heard someone coming, and only when he turned around did he realize that he was exactly where he’d intended to go.

He didn’t turn on any of the lights, because he didn’t want anyone to know he was here.  But he climbed up on one of the treadmills.  Running a few miles might make him feel better – it would definitely tire him out, at least. 

But Stiles had barely started to warm up when he realized his legs were already sore.  Atrophy, his mind supplied.  It had been awhile since he’d been using his legs regularly, and he’d already walked for almost an hour.  There was no way he’d be able to start running without doing some serious damage.  More serious damage.

He had to settle for a slow walk, and the frustration of it all had him grabbing onto the hand rail and squeezing as hard as he could.  He didn’t walk far, maybe a tenth of a mile when the door opened in the corner of the room, and speared him with light from the hall.

Derek closed the door behind him and stalked across the room.  His expression was furious, but he was deathly quiet.  Werewolf grace at its finest. 

So he’s still mad about me going by myself that night.  Well, it’s not like he’s going to get an apology any time soon. 

Derek didn’t hesitate.  He moved to the front of the treadmill, and though his eyes weren’t flashing Alpha red, Stiles knew it was pretty close.  He met Stiles’ eyes and then raised one hand to point back towards the door.

Stiles shook his head.  No, he hadn’t come all this way just to go back to his room.

Derek pointed back towards the door, more forcefully this time.

Stiles compressed his lips and pointed down at the treadmill.  It wasn’t like he was setting some breakneck pace.  He was walking.  Just walking. 

The stalemate between them ended as swiftly as the lights being thrown on in the room.  A nurse – quickly followed by a frantic Sheriff Stilinski – came barreling into the room.  Derek’s expression changed in a moment.  The angry, frustrated Alpha look was replaced by a blank mask, indifferent and maybe a little smug. 

It was Derek’s “dealing with the authorities” expression.  And it was most likely the reason why the police department was still so interested in his comings and goings.

The sudden yelling managed to accomplish what Derek had been trying to do.  Stiles half-hopped, half-stumbled off the treadmill only to find his father nose-to-nose with Derek, and his father was furious.  He was yelling, face a dark red and veins popping in his forehead as he laid into a mulishly unaffected Derek Hale.

Oh.  His dad thought Derek had done something.  Or was responsible for Stiles’ midnight jailbreak.  He’d never gotten around to telling his dad about Derek, and the way they were sort of friends.  Stiles jumped in between them without a second thought, pushing them apart.  He faced his father, desperately begging him to calm down, to give him a chance to explain, but oh yeah, he couldn’t anymore.  The sound of the babble coming out of his mouth, again, was like a knife to the heart. 

How am I supposed to do this?  How could anyone do this? 

Up until this point in their relationship, it had always been words that had allowed Stiles to get through to his dad.  Those rare nights where he drank too much, where he mourned the woman whose wedding ring he still wore around his neck if not on his finger.  The nights where Stiles had gone too far, pushing the boundaries of the  father/son relationship.  Nights where he’d scared his father shitless, and only his raised protests had managed to sink through the rage that his dad had worked himself into.

What was he supposed to do when the words had failed him? 

Maybe his broken mouth had still managed to get through to him, or maybe it was the heartache that was tearing Stiles apart.  But either way, he was wrapped up in his father’s arms again, hugged so tight he was nearly choking.  Stiles slapped him on the back a couple of times, because that’s what he did, that’s what he was supposed to do.

Anger bubbled in his ears, and Stiles pulled away to see his father and Derek glaring at each other.  He imagined his father saying something along the lines of “stay the hell away from my kid,” and Derek’s fierce, stubborn resistance.

Maybe he couldn’t talk, but maybe he could fix this still.  He let go of his dad, pulled away, and grabbed one of Derek’s hand in his.  Alarm shot through the Alpha’s face, and it was almost enough to make Stiles laugh.  He clasped their hands together and then made an exaggerated motion of shaking it.  Friends, he was trying to say.  He looked at his father, then repeated shaking Derek’s hand.  See?  Friends.

The Sheriff shook his head, his face closed off in an over my dead body expression.  Stiles let go of Derek, who looked uncomfortably relieved, and crossed his arms in front of him.  A Stilinski standoff, then.  His dad wasn’t the only one who could show a stubborn streak.  Maybe Stiles couldn’t tell him that Derek was a friend, that Derek had saved his life.  Maybe he couldn’t tell him much about the relationship with Derek because if he was being honest with himself, he didn’t even know what it was anyway.  But there was one advantage to what had happened to him. 

He couldn’t lie to his father, either.  Stiles hated the lies, but he hated even more how easy it had become to lie to his dad.  So he started jogging in place, then doing various sorts of pantomimed exercises, first pointing to himself, and then pointing to Derek.

His father’s eyebrows traveled so far up his face when Stiles pretended to lift a weight bar off the floor, causing him to first bend over and then thrust his hips forward in the same motion.  Okay, maybe that wasn’t the most innocent of motions, but it’s not like Stiles did a lot of dead lifts.  Not like Jackson did, even before he’d become a weredouche.

Behind him, Derek made a noise that sounded far more scandalized than he had any right to sound.  Okay, maybe his exaggerated motions of exercise might be misconstrued by some dirty minded perverts, but now that Stiles was picturing the same kinds of acts, he was blushing.  He could feel it, scarlet shame spreading from his face to his chest, turning him into a spottled mass of blotches.

The Sheriff covered his face with a hand, the universal Stilinski sign for “God, give me strength to deal with my idiot son” and then Stiles was being led out of the room.

Behind them, Derek said something, and with a start Stiles realized that it was the first time that he’d spoken since coming into the room.  Even with his dad attacked Derek, the Alpha had never once stepped up to defend himself.   There wasn’t any harsh notes or discord in his tone, but whatever he said made Stiles’ dad stop in his track.  He looked over his son’s shoulder, nodding, but he wrapped an arm around Stiles’ shoulders and pulled him out of the room.

*****

Scott was the first non-family, non-medical person allowed to visit Stiles.  As it should be, of course.  Stiles caught a glimpse of Isaac lingering in the hallway, and it twisted his stomach around a little bit.  It was hard watching the friendship developing between Scott and Isaac.  Stiles always ended up feeling like a third wheel because he wasn’t a member of Team Werewolf like the other two were.

The Allison-absence in Scott’s life hadn’t immediately been filled by Stiles, as he would have expected.  They still spent time together, but now he was sharing Scott with Isaac.  And Scott never talked about what they did when they hung out.  Maybe it was secrete werewolf things, he wasn’t sure.  But Scott still talked about Allison like a religious man at prayer, so it wasn’t like everyone in Beacon Hills was undergoing a personality crisis.

It might have been easier if Scott had decided he was recently gay. Or bi.  Probably bi.  Then maybe Stiles would have felt comfortable talking to him about the Derek Problem.  But it was like the worse the feelings in Stiles’ chest got, the more time Scott spent with Isaac.  Maybe its me, Stiles had thought more than once.  Maybe he doesn’t like hanging out with me anymore.

But Scott had been the first to come in, and he walked hesitantly around the bed until Stiles got annoyed, climbed out and hugged him.  Idiot, he thought, but it wasn’t clear which one of them he was thinking about.  The hug had its intended effect, and the tension in Scott faded and then it was just….a mile a minute chatter that Stiles couldn’t understand.  He sank back, dismayed.  Maybe his dad hadn’t explained it properly. 

But Scott went on, oblivious to the expression on Stiles’ face, until about five minutes and a migraine later, he looked up with a smile to realize that Stiles was grimacing, trying to circumspectly turn away from the loud, strident sound of Scott’s voice.

It always sounded like people were shouting, but Stiles couldn’t tell if they actually were or if that was just how his ears were deciphering it.  Stiles saw the moment that Scott realized he was screwing up, when the happy puppy expression wilted, and he looked like Stiles had just kicked him.  He said something else, shaking his head as it must have finally sunk in that the Sheriff must not have been kidding with whatever he’d told Scott about Stiles’ condition.

Maybe he thought that a friendly voice would help.  Maybe he thought it was like coma patients, and how people said they could still hear even though they were unconscious.  Whatever it was, it was clear that Scott realized he’d screwed up.  He made a ‘zipping up his lips’ motion and then tossed the key somewhere under Stiles’ bed.

Idiot, Stiles thought fondly.

Scott brightened immensely when he remembered something in his book bag.  He pulled out a stack of magazines.  Magazines full of pictures.  They traded them back and forth for a few hours, pointing out pictures to each other and making mocking copies of the expressions of the models, athletes, and actors in question. 

It was the first time that Stiles felt almost normal since he’d woken up.

******

It wasn’t a surprise that Scott had been his first visitor, but it had blown him away that his second visitor had been Lydia.  Ever since the night Jackson died, Lydia had changed.  It was like the vapid, narcissistic mask she always wore had finally been torn off for good, and she’d revealed the girl that Stiles always knew had been hiding inside.

She’d become warmer, more caring, and even if she was still a little self-absorbed, Stiles didn’t mind.  But it was interesting, because the more real Lydia became, the more that Stiles seemed to fall out of love with her.  It was like a law of balances that had come into effect just for the two of them.  The more his feelings about her changed, the more time they spent together.  Her relationship with Jackson was stronger than ever, and somehow or another Stiles had become her replacement for Allison the way that Isaac had become Allison’s replacement for Scott.

Lydia didn’t talk the way that Scott did – all at once, like he was afraid Stiles wouldn’t be there the next day – but she kept doing it.  Kept forgetting.  Once or twice Stiles even pretended that something she said made sense, nodding encouragingly at her, only for her to remember and frown.

Lydia wasn’t a girl meant to keep quiet, and while Stiles appreciated her visit more than she knew, it was still hard.

*****

The one who’d surprised him the most had been Allison.  She hadn’t turned up until all of the others had left – Scott and Lydia had stayed the longest, but most of the others had at least popped their heads in: Jackson and Danny, Isaac, and a haggard looking Erica.  He wondered if she’d come of her own volition, or if Derek had said something to her.  Erica hadn’t recovered as quickly as Boyd had, and she’d become severely agoraphobic in light of the Alphas’ assault on her.  Her newfound werewolf confidence had shattered, and she barely left the house.

But she’d still come to see with her own two eyes that he was okay.

None of them could resist talking.  Maybe it was Stiles’ fault – he’d been an obnoxious babbler all his life, he couldn’t help but fill the silences in a room.  And now, that responsibility was up to everyone else.  And it was sweet that they were so eager to do it, Stiles just wished it didn’t have to kill him in the process.  Not only was the noise grating against his ears, but it was a constant reminder that he didn’t understand anything.

Allison had been the only one besides Derek who hadn’t said a word when she came to visit him.  And to be honest, he never would have expected to see her at all.  She’d gone away for the summer after the incident with the kanima, and according to rumors Scott had heard, she’d said she needed to catch her breath and figure out a way to put herself back together.

The Allison who’d returned in the fall, though, hadn’t done such a bang up job.  The murderous, psycho part of her was well under control, at least, but it seemed like Allison was the first person who refused to forgive herself for what she’d done.  She avoided every member of the Pack – even Lydia and Stiles – and skulked through the halls like she didn’t deserve to smile.  Ever.

When Argent and his hunters had gotten involved in the hunt for the Alpha pack, Allison had been there on the front lines, only this time she was fighting with her friends again, instead of against.  But it was nothing like old times.  Allison flinched every time one of them looked at her, and the one and only time that she’d run across Erica completely by accident, she’d disappeared for almost a week.

But she still showed up, and she sat with him during one of his dad’s increasing absences.  The Sheriff couldn’t be indisposed indefinitely, and Stiles understood that he still had to try and do some of his job.  At one point Allison turned on the television, hit the mute button, and they watched sitcoms that Stiles had seen a thousand times. 

Only now he was doing it without sound.  Trying to recreate the jokes and the dialogue in his head.

It wasn’t perfect, but it was a start. 

******

The first time that his dad had tried to sneak him in a burger and curly fries, with an order for himself, Stiles noted darkly, Stiles had raised holy hell.  There had been nonsense yelling, and fingers snapping, and anything he could do to call attention to his plight.  Someone probably thought he was having a seizure, with the racket he was causing.  When one of the nurses had finally come running, he’d pointed imperiously to the greasy burger caught between his father’s hands, and the deer in headlights expression on the Sheriff’s face.

Just because Stiles couldn’t talk didn’t mean he couldn’t communicate.  He’d glared at his father every chance he got for the rest of the night.  Then gruffly punched him on the arm when the older Stilinski looked at him with worry.

His father hadn’t cheated on his diet again, though.

That was the first night that Stiles was left in the room by himself.  His father had left and come back in uniform, and though it looked like it was killing him, it was clear that he had to go into the station.  Stiles put on a brave face, remembering his promise to himself.  I’ll be mute, and go through whatever I have to go through, as long as he’s okay.  As far as Stiles was concerned, that was a fair trade.

So he smiled, and made a shooing motion to his dad towards the door.  Which was how he came to be alone, and awake, when Derek hovered in the doorway later on that night. 

It was a surprise to Stiles when the insomnia came back.  Normally, he only had trouble sleeping when he overdosed on his medication, but that first night without his dad was tough.

They stared at each other for a few minutes.  Well, Derek stared at Stiles, but all Stiles could see was the big sour silhouette in the door frame.  He made a “come in” gesture with his hands, but either Derek didn’t understand common hand motions, or he was being petulant and refusing to do what Stiles was telling him.

Figures.  The Alpha would pick now to be obstinate about doing what he was told.  God how I miss sarcasm, he thought to himself, the same thought that coursed around his head a thousand times a day.  What was the point of being quick on his feet, always ready with a quick retort, when he couldn’t retort?

Hell was being trapped inside your own head, locked in a house without any doors or windows.

Derek didn’t say anything – hell, Derek wouldn’t even look at him.  But eventually, Stiles found himself curling up on his side, and eventually he slept.  And if knowing that Derek stood guard over him was the only thing that got him to sleep that night?

Well, he’d never tell.

 

Chapter Text

In a perfect world, sleeping in the same room as the guy who twisted up his stomach and made him want to vomit would have given him a night off from crazy dreams and intense nightmares. 

Stiles dreamed of the Alpha instead. 

It wasn’t quite a dream, though, and it wasn’t a nightmare.  There was a razor focus to everything, an attention to detail that his dreams never had.  It wasn’t dreaming so much as remembering.

He was remembering.

“Do you know how hard it is to give someone brain damage, Stiles?” the Alpha asked.  Lucas.  He’d introduced himself right after injecting something from a dark syringe in between the knuckles of his right hand. 

He had a weapon of some kind in his hand, but not something that Stiles had ever seen before.  It was about the length of a handgun grip, barely larger than the hand he kept wrapped around it.  Stiles watched the way his gestures were weaker from the hand holding the weapon, and guessed that whatever it was, it was extremely dense.

About two inches hung down below his hand, and it was this bottom piece that he lined up with a spot on Stiles’ forehead.  If Stiles had been born with horns, one of them would have been right where the Alpha placed the metal.  It was cold, and though he couldn’t say for sure, he thought it really was as heavy as he expected.

“You have to hit the person in just the right spot.  Just the right angle.  Just the right amount of force.  And even then, it’s a toss up if you’re looking for a particular effect.  Most times, the skull just cracks open like an egg, and the poor shmuck seizes to death.”

Whatever Stiles had been injected with was like his Adderall on Adderall.  Everything had taken on a faint golden glow, and damn the Alpha was a beautiful specimen of man.  Actually, everyone was beautiful.  His mind was working on overtime, and everything was so obvious and present that Stiles was sure he’d never forget.  Not in a million years.

He drugged me.  What is this?  He shook his head, trying to clear out his thoughts and think.  Derek and the others would get here sooner or later.  They would have called Deaton or Lydia, or even Scott’s mom sooner or later to break the mountain ash circle.  They could be here any time.

“Oh, I’m still going to do some damage to this tiny little skull of yours, don’t worry.  But we want something a little more permanent, don’t we?”  Lucas leaned down into Stiles face, and all Stiles could see was gorgeous green eyes flecked with brown.  Not as pretty as Derek’s, because no one had better eyes than Derek let’s face it, but his eyes were nice enough.  Pretty.  “Unfortunately, the side effect of this little herb,” and here he squeezed the spot of Stiles’ injection, and Stiles knew it hurt but he didn’t care, “is that for the next few hours you’re going to have the most impressive recall.”

“I don’t know what that means,” Stiles muttered, and his tongue felt heavy and wrong.  There was a slur to his words, a struggle to form them.

“It means that everything we do together is going to be burned into that maelstrom you call a brain.  You’re never going to be able to forget me, how does that sound?”

“I don’t want tit.  Tath. That.

“Unfortunately,” the alpha continued, without even listening to Stiles’ protest, “I can’t make it permanent.  But oh, what a hell for you that would be.  That would be a trick, wouldn’t it?  Permanent brain damage on demand.  I bet a lot of people would line up for my services.”  Lucas stood straight, and the air in the room changed.  Stiles winced on instinct.  “Until then, I’m going to have to wing it,” he snarled, and clubbed Stiles in the head.  He wasn’t sure what was louder – the sound of the impact, or the sound of his screams.

Stiles woke to silence.

He was breathing heavy, his body was covered in sweat, and he was alone.  There was no sign of Derek.  He closed his eyes, and started to sink back onto the bed when he realized just how soaked through with sweat it was.  Stiles crawled out of the bed, grabbed a change of clothes and headed into the room’s bathroom.  He needed a shower.  Maybe a few of them.

He remembered.  He remembered! It was like a page in a book that someone had just handed him, and he couldn’t believe he’d managed to forget it before this moment.  And right as he stripped out of his clothes and under the hospital shower with its terrible water pressure, Stiles realized the worst part of it all.

There was no one he could tell. 

******

When his dad came back that afternoon, the first thing the pair of them did was head outside.  After the freak out in the MRI room, it seemed like it was important for his dad to show him that the weather outside wasn’t so bad.  It was still fall.  Most of the leaves had started falling already, but he couldn’t have missed that much time.

The Sheriff nodded towards the hospital doors they’d walked out of, and Stiles looked back to see a pair of nurses – Mrs. McCall one of them – who were watching the pair of Stilinskis like they were suddenly going to make a break for it or something.

They were still worried about him.  And not just in the maternal Mrs. McCall kind of way.  He stopped his dad underneath one of the arches of the building and hesitated.  Trying to think.  How had he never played charades or Pictionary while he was growing up?  Why hadn’t he been better prepared for something like this?

Stiles bit down on his lip.  He held his hands out, like there was a stick clutched between them, and then he made a sudden breaking motion, snapping the invisible twig in half.  And then he pointed to his head.  Was he broken? 

His dad’s mouth moved, if trembling could be counted as movement, but the struggle to use words and the need to father him warred with one another.  They’d never been a particularly touchy-feely family, not since his mom had died, but now it seemed like his father couldn’t stop.  He felt the older man’s body shuddering as he squeezed him. 

I’m sorry, Dad.  I’m so sorry.  Jesus, I wish you didn’t have to go through this. 

His father pulled away so suddenly that Stiles stumbled.  The Sheriff’s face was flushed, and he looked so angry, but when he jabbed a finger into Stiles’ chest, he shook his head slowly, left to right.  No.  Never.

His dad didn’t let go of him all afternoon.  If it wasn’t a hand around his neck, it was an arm on his shoulder, or when they got back into his room, it was an arm resting on his leg, as his father read case files and jotted notes down in his notebook.

At one point his dad looked up and crossed the room.  He pulled down one of the brain scans that had been left behind – maybe his dad knew him well enough to have already asked if they could keep it.  Whatever.  He sat down at the edge of the bed, laying the scan between them.  He pointed to the scan, then repeated the same broken gesture that Stiles had used earlier, and then shook his head again.  Then he repeated the three steps again. 

Stiles picked up the scan and held it to the light, but it wasn’t like he had any idea how to read an MRI.   He’d memorized police codes the summer after his mom died, because they were on the internet and easily accessible.  But there was nothing about how to read a scan that Stiles had ever found.  Or ever had need of.  Until now.

His dad pointed to a certain spot on the scan, and Stiles looked at it, but didn’t see anything.  She shook his head and shrugged his shoulders.  The sheriff tapped it again, more forcefully this time.  Then he shook his head. 

Nothing there, Stiles interpreted.  They must have been looking for brain damage, and they didn’t find any.  He looked down at the scan, and then gave his father an inquisitive look, his fingers trailing over the brain in front of him.  Anywhere? He was trying to ask. 

His dad shook his head in the negative again. 

They hadn’t found any brain damage because there wasn’t any.  But that was just as frustrating as if they’d found something in the first place.  What do they think is causing it? He tried to gesture, but this was more nebulous, and it was clear after repeating the gestures several times that his dad had no idea what he was trying to ask.

He raised his palms to the sky, as though he was asking God why.  This gesture his father understood, but there wasn’t a good answer for it either.  He shrugged, shaking his head. 

How can they not know anything? How can they just sit there and parade a shit ton of people in my room like I’m just some sort of medical mystery?

An unexpected rage began to curl up inside of him, and he squeezed his hands into fists several times.  It didn’t help.  It wasn’t like there was anywhere he could go.  He couldn’t even find the fitness center without getting horribly lost.  He was trapped.  Stuck in his own fucking head. 

He flounced onto his side, because it was all he could stand to do right now, and pulled the covers up over his head.  Dad’s okay.  Dad’s okay.  Dad’s okay.  He forced himself to repeat the thought, again and again, because this was fair.  This was good.  He just had to figure out how to make this better for him.  Right now, there was nothing his dad could do for him, and they certainly couldn’t afford another insane hospital bill because the doctor’s didn’t know what the hell they were doing.

Tomorrow, he’d figure out how to convince his dad to take him home.

******

Derek was there again that night.  Sitting in his father’s chair.  The sheriff must have had to go to work again.  Had he really switched up his whole schedule so that he could work the night shift so that Stiles would be asleep?  He’d never noticed his father drifting off or anything, come to think of it.  At least for the last few days.  When was his dad sleeping?

The sight of Derek wasn’t a bad thing, of course, but at the moment all the worries about his father soured his mood.  Derek watched him, sitting still and silent in his chair like some kind of statue.

He climbed out of the bed and started moving around, his nerves giving way to a need to do something.  It always killed him when he couldn’t do anything to help.  There was nothing he hated more than being helpless.  Weak.  And yet that what as all that had been left to him. 

Derek watched him pace for a few minutes before he got up.   He didn’t look at Stiles as he passed, and for a moment Stiles panicked, thinking he was leaving.  But as he reached the doorway, he made a beckoning motion for Stiles to follow.

This time, the trip to the fitness center only took a couple of minutes.  Derek knew exactly where he was heading.  Just like the other night, they left the lights off.  Derek stood against the wall while Stiles climbed up on one of the treadmills, and started the slow process of warming up.  Even though it had only been a couple of days, his legs were already feeling worlds better.  Maybe it was muscle memory, or maybe he was just starting to heal. 

Either way, his fast walk started to become a slow jog, but every time he took the speed up past 3 miles per hour, Derek pushed himself off the wall, walked over to the treadmill, and punched the speed back down, glowering at Stiles in the process.  This happened three different times before Stiles gave up and stopped pushing his luck.  He gave Derek a grin, though.  Derek, predictably, didn’t smile back.

Stiles walked for almost a half hour before he started to feel the burn in his legs.  He’d barely started to wince before Derek came back over and punched the speed down even more.  Stiles accepted defeat and just hopped off the treadmill entirely.

Thanks, he tried to say with a smile and a nod, but Derek refused to look at him.  Stiles reached out, either to pat him on the back or shake his hand or something, only for Derek to very noticeably shy away from the contact.

Curious, that.

Oh god, what if Derek knew?  What if that was why he was being so…weird.  If the floor could please open up and swallow one Stiles Stilinski whole, that would be great.  Stiles kept his eyes on the floor, and didn’t look up at Derek again, though he was sure that he could feel his skin burning from the outside in.

He was back in his room and halfway to sleep by the time any of the nurses even noticed that he wasn’t alone.  Luckily whichever one it was that started blocking the hallway light had the good sense to coax Derek out of the room before she started talking to him.  Derek closed the door behind them.

Stiles fell asleep just as Derek came back.  He felt strong hands pulling the covers up over his shoulders, and then slipped into oblivion.

******

They don’t let him out of the hospital.  They don’t even pretend to consider it. 

And just like that, one tiny little rejection, and Stiles falls into a tailspin.  His dad is back and working again, and he’s stuck here, in this hospital where they can’t figure out what’s wrong with somebody but they keep running tests anyway.  Tests that Stiles is willing to bet their insurance carrier isn’t going to pay for.  And not like it does a damn bit of good anyway, because Stiles still doesn’t understand a thing. 

He was seriously going crazy.  The room was too small, too cramped, and though he didn’t fight them when they wouldn’t let him leave the hospital, he never stayed in his room if he could help it.  His dad had brought him headphones from home, at least he’d thought they were his headphones from home at first, but upon closer inspection they were new.  Heavy.  Stereo headphones that swallowed up his ears and….drastically cut out the sounds around him.  Turned the screeching and the shrieks down to mutters. 

Stiles roamed the halls.  He went anywhere.  Everywhere.  Day. Night.  It didn’t matter.  As long as it wasn’t his room.  His dad always managed to find him when he was there – Stiles had the feeling that some of the nurses were put on Stiles-duty, and he should feel bad about that, but being even more tied up than he already was made him impressively unsympathetic.

Once or twice he felt the panic start to get the better of him.  Hypervigiliance, Miss Morrell had called it.  He was waiting for the Alphas to come back and finish the job.  And, if he was being completely honest with himself (which he might as well be, since there wasn’t anyone else he could deceive), part of him wanted them too.

A week passed, and his dad’s visits got shorter and shorter.  Stiles wasn’t sure if his dad was giving up hope, or if something important was happening in town.  But Derek was there every night.  Derek followed him like a bodyguard, going everywhere he went.  Never saying a single word, somehow understanding that Stiles needed to be doing this.  Needed to be like this.

Not that it helped.  Stiles couldn’t keep his anger under control.  When one of those stuck up snob doctors came in with a group of interns to lecture about their mystery mute, Stiles threw the water pitcher at him.  He growled at the nurses (not Mrs. McCall obviously, because Stiles doesn’t have an actual death wish) when they came to draw blood for some stupid reason.  He even shoved at Derek once or twice, then ran for his life as though he could actually escape his werewolf stalker.

Derek never went away.  The nurses and doctors started giving him a wide berth, and his father gave him that concerned but weary look a couple of times, but Derek always showed up.  One night, Stiles took a swing at him, but Derek doesn’t hit him back.  He took him up to a handball court on the sixth floor.  It’s probably supposed to be used for people going through rehab (Stiles vaguely remembers Six being the rehab floor), but as an aggression outlet, it worked wonders.  Derek stayed there with him for hours as he hurled all his feelings at the wall over and over again.

They won’t let me go home, I just want to go home.

I just want to be normal again.

At the end, when there was nothing left in his body but limp muscles, humiliation, and defeat, he fell to the ground in a puddle.  Derek squatted down next to him, coming closer than he’d actually come in weeks.  He picked up the ball, dropped it in Stiles’ hand, and gave him a small, understanding smile.

I don’t think I can do this, Stiles thought to himself.  But Derek nodded, just once, like he knew what Stiles was thinking and completely disagreed.  Yes, you can, the nod seemed to say.

Or at least that’s what Stiles chose to believe.

 

******

 

The next day – Stiles didn’t even know what day it was anymore – didn’t start out well.  There was squawking in his room right at the crack of dawn.  New doctors, new squinty-eyed interns.  New annoying assholes who came into Stiles’ room and woke him up from a very confusing-yet-really-really-good-timey dream involving a pair of red eyes and his father’s handcuffs…and then the doctor came in and ruined it all.

It wasn’t like Stiles had access to any real privacy as it was.  There wasn’t a lock on his bathroom door, so he couldn’t even shower in peace.  It was like the nurses had some sort of Code Masturbation sensor, and every time Stiles even thought about touching himself, someone was knocking on the bathroom door to make sure he was okay. 

It was humiliating, but not quite as humiliating as having to bunch up the blankets on his bed so that none of the interns noticed that he’d been in the middle of a really, really good dream.

Someone needed to get him out of the hospital or he was going to jump off the god damned roof.  Which is what he tried to express to his dad when the Sheriff showed up early that afternoon, but the confused look on his face proved that the only thing he got out of Stiles jumping and flailing was that Stiles was desperately in need of doing the hokey pokey and turning himself around.

No one seemed to take him seriously, not even when he ran up and down the halls causing a commotion.  It had been Mrs. McCall who’d intervened then, wearing a stern expression and a finger pointed in his face.  Cut it out.  The message was clear.

The guard presence around him grew more heavy.  Now there was an orderly trailing around after him, always in the line of sight.  Never taking his eyes off of Stiles.  Stiles waited until the shift change, and then disappeared onto the roof.

Derek found him there, hours later.  He’d laid down, spread out like a starfish, staring up at the sky as it went from sullen autumn blue, to crimson, to black. 

I think I could do it,” he said, once he knew Derek was there.  ”Just walk off the edge of the building.  I can’t do this.  I thought I could, but I can’t.  I’m trapped in here, and no one understands, and I can’t do this!”

But despite his best pleas, and concentrating so hard he was giving himself a migraine, the words still came out a jumbled mess of sounds.  And Stiles wanted to give up.  God, how he wanted to give up.  It would be so easy.  Just a few steps.  And then…nothing.

Derek grabbed him the moment he climbed to his feet.  Stiles expected to be dragged inside.  He figured the older man would figure it out somehow, and panic, snarl and growl and yell at him even as he told the nurses to strap him down and restrict what little freedom he had left.

But Derek didn’t do any of those things.  Derek touched him, held him.  He stood behind Stiles, arms wrapped around his chest, and walked them towards the edge of the building.  His grip was tight, but not enough to hurt, just enough to remind Stiles that he wasn’t letting go.  That he wouldn’t let go.

He slid the headphones off of Stiles’ neck, tossed them to the ground.  And then he breathed into Stiles’ ears.  Slow, steady breaths.  He tapped the human twice on the chest, freeing one arm to make inhale motions with his hand while they breathed together.  Then exhale when they exhaled together.

He kept doing it, even long after their breaths were matched.  The strain started to unravel, slow at first, but more and more. 

They stayed on the roof half the night.  Derek never let him go.

 

Chapter Text

But then everything changed when the Fire Nation attacked…

Okay, so the Fire Nation didn’t attack, but the next day was when things really started to change.  Stiles couldn’t remember if he’d actually walked his way back down to his room, or if Derek had had to carry him.  But all he knew was that the next morning, he wasn’t in the mood to go anywhere.  He laid in bed, watched the muted television, looked out the window, but never left his room.

There were no interruptions, either.  No one came to lecture in his room, or check in on him.  But Stiles was too tired to care this morning.  Last night had been…confusing.  In a lot of ways.  At the time, Stiles had been thanking God that Derek had been behind him, hadn’t felt how Stiles’ body had chosen to react to the proximity between them. 

Derek would kill him.  Oh god, the whole thing was so embarrassing.

But why do I even care?  Twelve hours ago I was thinking about stepping off the edge of the roof. 

He might have.  He’d definitely been capable of it.  But on the other side of daylight, it seemed so extreme.  A low point.  Maybe that’s all it had been.  A low point.

Derek was just lucky that his headphones weren’t broken.  If he’d broken them by tossing them off Stiles shoulders last night, then he’d need every ounce of his Alpha healing to put himself back together.  Stiles smirked, leaning further into the pillow.  He knew he’d never really have a shot against the Alpha (or with the Alpha his lack of self-esteem whispered traitorously), but sometimes it was nice to pretend.

He’d tried not to think about the elephant in the room every time Derek showed up.  Maybe it was more than just Derek making sure he was okay, and keeping him safe in case the Alphas tried anything else.  Maybe he was there in case Stiles needed something – something only Derek could provide.

His dick surged unhelpfully at the thought, and Stiles scowled.  Not what he’d meant.  Just that…maybe Derek was there in case Stiles changed his mind about the bite.  Scott had phenomenal healing abilities, he’d seen him come back from a worse beating than the one that Stiles had received and been okay.

But that also raised other questions.  Would the bite heal any damage done at all?  Or only the damage done after the fact?  Would it make his injury go away?  Or would it only make him a supercharged werewolf with all the requisite werewolf senses, and still an inability to communicate with the outside world.

That would be hell on top of hell.  Hell squared.

Someone had closed the door to his room in the night, which was unusual in itself, but the constant stream of people across his windows – shadows that he caught out of the corner of his eye – caught his curiosity.  Stiles climbed out of the bed, and walked towards the glass.

Just some visitors, he realized, seeing a handful of people in street clothes streaming down the hall.  But there at the far end of the hall was his dad, talking to someone.  His finger pointing, pissed off father, in full Sheriff uniform.

What the hell? It wasn’t weird that his dad would be here, but normally he stopped by Stiles’ room first thing.  He padded into the hallway, walked towards him only to see none other than Derek on the other end of his father’s Angry Face.  The sound of buzzing voices scoured against his ear drums, making him wince.  Derek looked at him, only once, when his father had turned towards the window and scrubbed his hands over his face, and shook his head almost imperceptibly.  He didn’t have the usual “Derek dealing with the law” stubborn look on his face.  He actually looked a little contrite.

And just like that, Mrs. McCall was at his side, taking his hand with one of hers, and leading him back towards his room.  She gave a pointed look towards the hallway, once Stiles was back in bed, and then a soft smile, and a little bit of a shrug.  It’ll be okay, Stiles chose to interpret.

He hoped it would.  Because figuring out a way to get his dad to understand that Derek wasn’t the enemy would have been hard enough if Stiles could actually talk.

*******

His dad came in a few minutes later, looking distracted, a couple of newspapers tucked under his arm, and a duffel bag in his hand.  He ruffled Stiles on the head and then excused himself to the bathroom.  Stiles watched after him, nervously chewing on his lower lip.  Did his dad seem different than yesterday?  Maybe he was just tired?  Or had something happened with Derek?  Should Stiles intervene?

His dad emerged a few minutes later in a pair of jeans and a flannel shirt. Stiles, even though he was still apprehensive about whatever it was that had gone down between Derek and his dad, couldn’t stop his smile from widening.  His dad was getting off work, not going in.  That meant an actual day off. That’s probably all it is, then.  He was just tired.  Maybe Derek didn’t sneak out fast enough this morning, and Dad caught him or something.  That’s all.  It’s fine.

He wasn’t here more than two minutes before Melissa swung back around, now wearing a light jacket and carrying her purse.  She waved to the both of them as she passed, and mouthed something that made his dad nod.  Stiles looked between the two of them in a what the fuck was that motion, but his dad waved him off. 

But Stiles wouldn’t let it go.  His mind was going a mile a minute.  It was all he had to do in here, after all.  Why were they keeping secrets from him?  Were they secretly dating and planning to meet up later?  No, because if that was the case Stiles was pretty sure Scott would have shown up, flailing around about how his life was over and this was the worst thing to happen to him in forever.  Despite the Sheriff being just as big a part of Scott’s life as Mrs. McCall was to Stiles, Scott had really freaky opinions about his mother’s personal life.  In that she was allowed to have one as long as he didn’t have to know about it. Ever.

He kept pushing his dad with pointed looks and gestures towards the door, but the Sheriff just kept shaking his head, and finally lifted up his paper so he could block out Stiles and read the news at the same time. Eventually, Stiles gave up and leaned back in his bed, happy at least that his dad was getting an actual day off.

That he’s spending cooped up in the hospital, the dark voice in his head offered.  But Stiles didn’t care.  Brand new day and all that.  This would be a fresh start.  No more bad thoughts, Stiles told himself forcefully.  Sure, those thoughts end up with him on the roof being held by someone, but they also led him to think about jumping off said roof.  And that was stupid.

Stiles puttered around a little bit, glanced up at the tv here and there when he was bored, stared out the window, looked at the magazines Allison had left the last time she was here, showered and changed twice because he was bored, took a nap and then woke up just in time for lunch.  The nurse wheeled in the covered tray with a jello cup on the side.  Stiles held it up, jerking his head towards the dad.  The nurses all knew by now how crabby Stiles got about the Sheriff’s diet, and would bring him the sugar free jello when he was there.  But even still, Stiles always checked to make sure it was the healthier kind before he tossed the cup at his dad.

His dad checked his watch, standing up and stretching – Stiles had noticed him slump over and nap halfway through the paper – before he went to the little remote that controlled the TV and stared at it in frustration.  He fumbled around his person for his glasses, which Stiles had left on the table.  He reached over and handed them up.  His dad squinted at the remote, like it was some kind of foreign object.  Stiles shrugged.  He hadn’t bothered with the remote, other than to turn the TV off or on.  The Sheriff kept flipping through the stations until he found what he was looking for, settling himself back down in his chair like he was inordinately proud of himself.

Congrats dad, Stiles thought wryly, you mastered the remote control.  Just like they did in 1952 when they invented it. 

But Stiles was the one gaping just about five minutes later.  His dad had left the TV muted, of course, but he knew the pre-game warm up when he saw him.  There was a football game on today.  And because no one had ever called Stiles an idiot (and been serious about it), he followed the thought all the way through the end.   Sports.  Sports didn’t have to involve talking, or sound, or words.  Sports were just action, and awesomeness, and sunlight and heaven.

He could watch sports!  He could watch sports!!! Stiles made a sound that he thought still sounded like sheer delight, hopped out of his bed and tackled his dad, laughing all the time.  Why had no one thought about this before?  Everyone in here, including Stiles, was an idiot! (Okay, so maybe he called himself an idiot from time to time).

His father chuckled a couple of times, patting him awkwardly on the back, but Stiles didn’t care.  Sports!  That meant he could still enjoy his precious Mets!  He’d have to keep track of the score in his head, of course, but holy shit this was the best news ever!

Stiles clucked happily and settled into his bed.  He was feeling so generous he was even going to share his lunch with his dad.  That is until his dad settled the jello cup back on top of the tray and wheeled the whole thing away from Stiles.  He made a noise of complaint, even made grabby hands at the food, but his dad pointed to the television.

Was this some kind of punishment?  Ugh.  Forget all the nice things he was thinking.  His dad was the worst ever.

Every time during the first half that his stomach gurgled in desperation, Stiles shot his dad a pointed look and a scowl.  But his dad never looked away from the screen.  Every so often, Stiles would be absorbed in the game, protesting every time it looked like the ref made a bad call as he always did, and he’d feel his dad’s weighted gaze on him.  But every time when he turned to see, his dad’s attention was back on the game.

Despite the game, Stiles felt like there was something very wrong between them.  Like his dad was just going through the motions. Like all of this was a distraction while his dad worked through whatever it was that was weighing on him.  What if he knows about Derek?  What if he figured it out somehow?  If Derek had been in his room this morning when his dad walked, it would make sense that the Sheriff would have reason to lose his cool. 

But what if it was something else?  Stiles’ stomach bottomed out, and he didn’t want to think about it, but he couldn’t stop himself.

The football game didn’t seem as fun all of a sudden.

*******

It was just about halftime when Mrs. McCall returned, but this time she had Scott, and Isaac, in tow.  That it had taken this long for Stiles to realize what today was – only fully once he saw Scott and Isaac loaded down with containers of food and a foil wrapped monstrosity that could only have been a turkey – could probably be explained away by the fact that he’d had a lot to process in the last few weeks.

Thanskgiving.  Good god.  Today was Thanksgiving.  But that would mean…it had been almost two months since that night at the school.  He’d long since lost track of how long he’d been awake, but how had a handful of days turned into seven weeks?

Now he understood his dad’s reluctance to let him eat lunch.  And when the thoughts started to circle I’ve been like this for seven weeks, the new strength he’d woken with had responded no, a lot of that time I was asleep.  Probably a coma – maybe even one they put me in for my own benefit.  They did that sometimes. Medicated comas to make sure that the patient had enough time to heal properly before the brain was allowed to boot back up. 

It explained his longer hair more efficiently than anything else.  This might have been the only way he could have understood.  Weather in northern California didn’t get as bad as it did in the Northeast, some years they only got a little snow.  But it made the changing seasons a bitch to spot. 

His dad was looking at him in concern.  Stiles realized he was frowning.  That definitely wouldn’t do.  His dad had gone above and beyond, and somehow convinced Mrs. McCall to not only cook a Thanksgiving dinner (which had been Stiles’ responsibility at their house for the last few years), but to bring it to the hospital.   Scott clapped him on the shoulder and pushed him over in the bed until he could squeeze in, too.  Stiles laughed, but Scott did it every time he came.  If the bed was good enough for Stiles, it was good enough for Scott.

Isaac hung back by the door – he’d started growing out of the insecure, terrified boy they’d first known, and thankfully also out of the dickish bully he’d become after the bite.  But though his friendship with Scott kept getting stronger and stronger, Isaac was always oddly uncomfortable in group gatherings.  Stiles did the only thing he could think of, he grabbed the handball he’d swiped after that night with Derek, and pitched it high in the air towards Isaac. 

Isaac’s hand shot up even without seeing the ball coming from him, and he shot a look at Stiles, who gestured him forward.  We’re all here, bro, Stiles tried to say with the gesture.  Might as well join the family. 

Enh, he thought to himself as he saw Scott beaming at him, I can be bitter about you stealing my best friend later.  It’s Thanksgiving.

It wasn’t just the McCalls and a Lahey who stopped by for Thanksgiving, either.  Everyone did.  Some of the nurses who were friends with Melissa, and a couple of his dad’s deputies from the department.  Lydia and Jackson arrived together (of course) but each of them had brought something from each of their respective family dinners.  Even Boyd and Erica showed up, although they only popped in long enough to drop off a pecan pie that Scott’s flailing seemed to suggest that Boyd had made himself.

Scott and Isaac were some of the last to leave, and it was almost no surprise to Stiles at all that the minute they must have hit the parking lot, Allison showed up in his doorway, with her own Thanksgiving supplies.  She hesitated when she realized Mrs. McCall and his dad were still in the room, both spread out in some of the extra chairs that the nurses had brought in.  (As much as Stiles wanted to bitch about his father’s eating habits – seriously, the man didn’t need two slices of pumpkin pie!- he couldn’t.  Not today.  Not when there was football on the tv.)

Stiles hopped off the bed, because despite the overwhelming amount of food that people had been delivering,  which felt a little too uncomfortably familiar for Stiles’ benefit, he hadn’t had all that much of an appetite when he started.  So he wasn’t nearly as full, or as drugged, as his father in his tryptophan coma.  He took the plate from Allison with his biggest, broadest smile, and then wrapped her up in a giant hug.

Stiles had never really been a hugger before.  Neither of the Stilinskis were, but he had a newfound appreciation for it now.

He pulled Allison onto the bed with him, ignoring the fact that his dad was secretly awake and giving him the eye – and started picking at some of the food she’d brought.  He could say with certainty that he’d tried almost everything that people had brought, but no more than a couple of bites of each.  From the way that Scott and Isaac had dug in, and even Jackson when he got there, he knew the food must have been awesome.  But it didn’t have much of a taste to him.

But part of his newer, better living plan was to fake it as much as possible.  And that meant eating.  So he smiled, and ate, and he and Allison watched football together.  Eventually Mrs. McCall left, but she made Stiles help her take all the leftovers into the nurses break area, and a hilarious effort by her to explain that the nurses wouldn’t mind Stiles coming in and eating some of it later on, provided he clean his dishes.  Or else.

She even rapped his knuckles, in case he didn’t understand.

Stiles rubbed at the spot between his knuckles, like he’d been doing for weeks, even before he started to figure out it was the spot where the Alpha had injected something into his blood.  He didn’t have the first clue about how he was going to explain this to Derek, only that he needed to figure out a way. Maybe Derek would know something.  Or Deaton – he couldn’t forget that the Alpha had mentioned the vet by name.  Stiles wasn’t sure if Deaton had ever admitted any knowledge of the Alpha pack or not, but they certain knew him.

He laid back on his bed, once everyone was gone, but he refused to turn off the television.  His dad had found a sports channel, and he didn’t care that half the time it was commercials or commentary he couldn’t understand.  Sports.  Finally, something was going his way.

He settled back on his bed and waited for Derek to show up.

******

That was the first night in days that Derek never did show up, though. 

Stiles tried to pretend that he wasn’t pouting, but he was definitely irritated.  He’d had this big plan of dragging Derek into the nurse’s lounge, heating up a whole bunch of leftovers, and having some weird sort of midnight Thanksgiving, just the two of them, in his room.

He didn’t know why the idea appealed to him so much, but he’d really been looking forward to it ever since it occurred to him.  And then Derek and his stupid sourwolf self had gone and disappeared on him.  What if Stiles had needed him again like he had the night before? 

The truth was that Stiles was getting dangerously comfortable on having the Alpha stay the night with him.  He’d even come to rely on it.  And the fact that he’d disappeared, on Thanksgiving of all nights, really annoyed Stiles. 

His dad was there, though, bright and early.  Well, not bright and early, because he showed up in uniform and Stiles knew he’d been up with the Black Friday crowd, making sure no one did anything stupid.  “There’s more morons out on the street on a morning like this than any other day of the year,” his dad had said last year, when he’d been getting ready while Stiles was still awake and on his computer at 4 something in the morning.

Stiles had even tried to figure out some way to ask his dad what he’d talked about with Derek ,but all the practicing in his bathroom mirror didn’t go so well.  The closest he came to miming out “Derek Hale” was a vaguely Zoolander Blue Steel look that made Stiles look like he’d swallowed something sour but still wanted to make out.

Definitely not the impression he wanted his father to get while he was trying to ask about Derek.  So Stiles tapped restlessly on the bed, could barely pay attention to the game on TV, and wandered out into the hallway no less than thirty different times.

They wouldn’t let him take his medication, but Stiles didn’t know the reason.  Probably because they didn’t want to go messing with his brain chemistry when they still didn’t know what was wrong with his brain chemistry.  But the time he’d spent asleep in the hospital explained why he hadn’t felt himself going through withdrawal.  Most people who quit taking Adderall never went through withdrawal, but Stiles had a hazy relationship with the recommended daily dosage.  The last time he’d run out of pills on a weekend and his doctor hadn’t been in until Tuesday, it had been the worst weekend of his life.

He never felt like that now, but only because his body must have adapted without the drug or something.  But he still sometimes couldn’t concentrate worth a damn.  But his dad was used to it, so if Stiles wandered off for awhile, he went back to playing around with case files, or watching the game on TV.

Where was Derek?  Why wasn’t he here?  Maybe he could get someone to call Derek for him!  One of the crafty nurses had brought Stiles in some paper and colored pencils, and in a last-ditch-effort kind of way, Stiles would sometimes try to draw what he was getting across.  But he definitely wouldn’t be able to draw a red-eyed glowering badass (Even if said badass was in stick figure form) for his dad.  That just wouldn’t go over well. He’d have to wait for one of the werewolves, or Lydia, to show up.

But no one else came by that day.  Stiles got it – they all had family stuff to do.  And they’d all already gone above and beyond by showing up on actual Thanksgiving for him.  But he still couldn’t help sitting through the day, vaguely disappointed.

******

The next day he woke up with a migraine so sever, he punched the call button about a thousand times before cowering back underneath every scrap of covers he could manage.  A few minutes passed and then there was a tapping at what the nurse in question probably thought was his shoulder, but was in fact his ass.  Stiles squirmed around, still not leaving the sanctity of his blanket fortress, and exposed his hands.

Right after they first started figuring out how to deal with Stiles after he’d woken up, he’d taken the liberty of establishing the pain meds problem on his own.  When his mom had been in the hospital, the nurses always asked her how her pain was, on a scale of one to ten.  So Stiles had demonstrated with one of the nurses, and they’d worked out that he understood the question, and how the system worked.  But Stiles always lied, and never said that he was feeling worse than a three or a four, because he hated the idea of being drugged into a stupor.

But now, now Stiles held up nine shaky fingers before she patted the bed again (this time avoiding his body completely) and disappearing.

They brought him pills, and he managed to keep them down for a whole five minutes before everything in his stomach came back up.  After he stopped throwing up, they put him back on an IV and gave him something to help him sleep.

When he woke up, his dad was there.  Ravaged, white faced, terrified.  His uniform was rumpled.  He came right from the station, Stiles thought drowsily.

The pain was still there, but now instead of it being like he was standing in the middle of a current, it was like he was on the sidelines.  Or on the beach, maybe.  And the current was just passing him by.  Blood kept rushing into his head, and he laid there drugged out of his mind, in a stupor of third-person pain and lightheadedness.

Maybe a day passed.  Maybe two.  They kept the lights dimmed in Stiles’ room, and the door closed.  But the pain went away, and just as soon as he was capable of it, Stiles conveyed that the pain was back down to a 3.  And then gone completely.

His dad went back to work, and Stiles went back to his sports TV routine.  He still hadn’t seen Derek in days, and he knew he was still pouting, but he couldn’t stop himself.

Until Allison showed up, and everything changed.

******

His dad had come by late, not until after dinner had already come and gone.  He tapped his watch as he walked in, telling Stiles that he was on his way into work, not on his way out.  Which was fine.  He hung around for awhile, they watched a game that Stiles had already seen that morning, and Stiles made a point of ignoring the fact that his dad smelled faintly of French fries. 

It made him sad for a moment, because the ensuing argument was the kind of thing that Stiles loved best about his dad.  The give and take.  His dad would eat almost anything that Stiles put before him, but he’d also sneak a cheeseburger if he thought he could get away with it.  And he listened to Stiles’ grumblings about his health with a good natured nod.

But it was fine, now, because he was fine.  Getting better every day.  So when Allison showed up just as the Sheriff was leaving, well, that was a great distraction.  He made her sit next to him on the bed, and the watched sports – their friendship might be called into question, though, because Allison had the worst choice in teams that she rooted for.  He would have to buy her a Mets cap at some point and make it clear that he would not accept any treason from her on this end.

She’d brought new magazines, and they paged through them together.  He noticed that she always bought the magazines new – probably from the hospital gift shop.  There were no labels on the front or back that suggested she had a subscription.  How many magazines had she brought over the weeks?  He’d lost count.  But at least now he knew why she had no problem leaving them behind for him.

She picked the glossy ones, with lots of pictures, and occasionally one of the genre film magazines that Stiles would flip through when he was bored at the bookstore.  He liked those especially well, because they always had the cool shots of movie sets, or outlandish creations.  Not so much for the monsters, though.  He was good on monsters.

But he was flipping through some sort of men’s living magazine with a model who looked a little too much like a shirtless Derek on the cover for his liking, when something caught his eye.

Stiles flipped back a few pages.  …erectile dysfunction.

Oh my god! In his total moment of panic, Stiles flung the magazine away from him.  He’d read something!  He wished he’d read anything other than that, but he’d read something! Looking around wildly, he snatched the magazine out of Allison’s hands, eliciting an offended noise that was surprising to both of them.  Allison had rivaled Derek for being the quietest person to deal with.  She never slipped up.  Maybe it was her hunter training, or maybe it was just that Allison was a quiet girl now, but she never slipped up and made noise, because she knew how it hurt Stiles.

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“Holy shit!” Stiles shouted, laughing.  And then he was hugging Allison like he’d never hugged anyone before.  “Holy shit, I can read!  Oh thank god, I can read!  I thought I’d never get better, but this is great!”

And then Stiles slammed head first into the brick wall of reality.

The jabber coming out of his mouth was as familiar as it was unfamiliar.  He wasn’t cured.  This wasn’t a fix.  It was an improvement, but a minor one at best.

He turned over, fumbling in his nightstand for the paper and colored pencils that the nurse had left for him.  He slapped them on the table where his magazine had been resting a few minutes before, and started trying to write out a simple note.   I can read. But whatever had changed in his head still wasn’t translating properly to the muscles in his hands.  He could understand the letters, but he couldn’t make his hands draw them. 

Allison put her hands on top of his, and she looked scared and concerned.  Which probably wasn’t surprising.  Stiles went from shocked to ecstatic to stupefied and resigned all in the time it took the Steelers to fumble that pass in the third. 

Be rational, be logical, Stiles told himself.  He picked up the magazine again, scouring the page.  Allison gave him his moment, but he’d freaked her out. 

There.  Perfect.  He pointed to a word on the page, then pointed at his temple.  Head.  Then he scrolled down the page, and there was an eye.  So he pointed towards one of Allison’s, which widened significantly.

Stiles nodded, and god, there were tears in his eyes but he didn’t care.  There were tears in her eyes, and he didn’t care!

Maybe it was only a fraction of what he’d had before, but he could read! 

Allison climbed out of the bed and he could hear her sniffling as she went into the hall.  He dropped his head against his arms and wept until someone came in and wrapped their arms around him.  Derek.  Stiles started to smile, but when he looked up, it was Scott’s mom, and he couldn’t dare be disappointed right now, but he was.

Just a little.

 

Chapter Text

When Uncle Ben said “with great power comes great responsibility,” he should have added a caveat.  “With the tiniest bit of good news comes a whole shit pile of pain.”

The migraines came back before Mrs. McCall even had a chance to verify what Allison was telling them, about what Stiles could do now.  He felt almost like a side show creature, being forced to perform.  But the more that he looked at the words on the page, the worse the pounding in his head got.  At the edge of his vision, he saw the words starting to blur, and his first instinct was to panic.

I just got this back, you can’t take this from me!

But he managed to point out his head and match it to the word on the page, and next he saw the word jewelry, and he pointed to his ring finger, thinking of the wedding band his father still wore.  And then, right before the pain got really bad, he saw the word ‘horny’ and he couldn’t help himself.  He pointed to himself, and Mrs. McCall snorted and slaps him on the arm. 

Wow, that really was a family thing.  McCalls had an issue with arm violence.

After that, Stiles held up eight fingers and crawled back underneath the blankets.  But before Scott’s mom could leave, he grabbed her arm, thinking better of something.  His hands shook when he grabbed the colored pencils, and he quickly drew something that cracked at his already shattering heart.

A man in blue, holding the hand of a little boy with freckles on his face, standing next to a hospital bed where there was a woman with blonde hair laying down.  Stiles spent the most time on his mom, trying to make her as pretty as his meager drawing skills would allow.  Melissa looked over his shoulder as he drew, sucking in a breath once she saw what it was.

He looked up at her, and pointed to his dad.  Then he shook his head, touching it with both hands.  The “migraine” gesture they’d come up with.  And then he pointed to his mom.  Please, don’t make him come see me because it’ll only make him think of her. 

Then he tapped the IV, and the drugs that were already working their way into his system.  Melissa wiped at her eyes, looked down at his picture, and nodded once.  Sharply.  Then she reached down and kissed him on the forehead, and pointed at the pillow.

Stiles fell into a drug induced sleep, and didn’t dream at all.

******

Whatever kind of crazy bullshit rollercoaster Stiles was on, he would like to get off now.  Please and thank you.

He woke sometime right around dawn, and at first he assumed that the drugs they’d given him must have worn off, but he still felt half-out of it, so that wasn’t the case.  No, it was the lurking hulk of werewolf sitting on his bed with his hands on Stiles’ head.

The fact that Derek was here, finally here, almost made him forget about the migraine, the pain, the reading.  Derek’s hands were cool against his temple, a soothing balm against too hot skin.  But the longer he sat like that, the more the pain started to ebb away.

Scott had told Stiles about this before, of course.  Not that any of them had tried it on Stiles before.  Maybe the betas could only get it to work on animals.  Maybe it was something only an Alpha could do – take someone’s pain away the way that Scott helped puppies.

Maybe that’s why he shows up every night. Eventually, once most of the pain was gone and the drugs were busy knocking out the rest, Derek took his hands away, but he didn’t get up from the bed.  They looked at each other for a long minute.  Is this just some stupid responsibility to you?  Do you feel guilty or something?  Is that why you’re here?

But this was one of those times where Derek didn’t seem to understand what Stiles was thinking.  Of course.  When the questions became important, Derek was suddenly an idiot.  It figured.

Stiles wanted to show off, to do his trick with the words for Derek the way he’d done for Allison and Melissa earlier.  Maybe he’d even earn one of those rare smiles from Derek.  He’d never smiled at Stiles like that before.

Well, no, that wasn’t entirely true.  It was Derek’s damn smile that started all these problems in the first place.  The day after he’d bitten Erica, and she’d come to school, she’d walked out and gotten into Derek’s car.  And he’d given the two of them this giant, shit-eating grin, and Stiles’ stomach had dropped.  He’d been irritated for the rest of the day without understanding why.

He was starting to understand why, now.

Derek’s weight shifted, and Stiles snatched at his wrist before he left the bed.  He had a sense like he shouldn’t push the issue, and he didn’t.  He didn’t try to take Derek’s hand, or force him to scoot up further on the bed, or any of the thousand different thoughts that were coursing through Stiles’ brain thanks to a lack of amphetamine and dextroamphetamine in his brain right now.  God, he wanted his Adderall back.  If nothing else, maybe he wouldn’t be panicking the next time he got a midnight visitor.

Derek looked down at Stiles’ hand, and he looked almost…confused?  No, it wasn’t confusion.  He was wary.  Like somehow Stiles was a threat, or being here was a threat.  Which didn’t make much sense to Stiles’ tired mind, since Derek had basically moved into the hospital during the midnight hours, keeping him company.  But now something was different.  Something had changed.  Seriously, dude, I’m the one in the hospital and you’re the one with the werewolf senses.  Just shut up and hang out for a little while.  I’m sure your subway car will last without you brooding into it for a few hours.

Finally, Derek sighed, and nodded his head just a little.  Whatever was bothering him didn’t fade from his eyes, but he at least seemed resigned to staying for a little while. 

Stiles let go of Derek’s wrist, and settled himself back into the bed.  The werewolf didn’t get up, remaining exactly where he was.  Stiles smiled, even as he closed his eyes.

He smiled for the rest of the night, even long after Derek was gone.

******

When he finally woke up the next morning, the Sheriff was already there.  His uniform was rumpled and he looked like he hadn’t gotten much sleep.  But there was a blanket and a pillow discarded on the floor, so he’d grabbed a couple of hours at least.  But besides tired, he looked pissed.  Way more pissed than he’d looked that morning with Derek.

Uh oh.

His dad opened his mouth several times, finger pointing towards Stiles like he was right on the cusp of a really good rant, when he held himself off.  His urge to yell at his kid outweighed by his memory of Stiles’ condition.  Finally, whatever surge of anger was keeping the Sheriff going started to slip away, and he started to calm down a little bit.  The angry flush drained from his cheeks, but he still looked like he wouldn’t mind beating the crap out of Stiles just once.

Stiles suddenly had trouble swallowing. 

It took almost ten minutes for the Sheriff to figure out whatever it was that he was working towards, and it was basically the worst ten minutes of Stiles’ entire hospital stay.  Because he had to sit there, and wait.  Of course Derek ducks out right when I need him most, Stiles thought sourly.  All’s fair in love and war and all, and right now his dad looked like he was ready to bring the pain.  He could have shoved Derek in his dad’s direction and then run for the hills.

The picture that Stiles had drawn last night was on the little table in front of him, between his dad and him.  The Sheriff stabbed a finger down, pointing to the representation of himself in the drawing, and then pointed physically at himself.  Then he pointed to Stiles, and then to the Sheriff in the picture, before making a horizontal cutting motion with his hand.  He pointed to the kid-Stiles, and then to the real Stiles.  I am the dad.  You are the not-dad. You are the Stiles, goddamnit. 

Okay, so he added the goddamnit on his own. But he was pretty sure if his dad could talk, he’d have said it himself. 

Composing his reply didn’t seem to take Stiles half as long, though.  He pointed to his mom, then to the frown on picture-Dad’s face.  But the only thing he accomplished was in making his dad scowl even harder than he had before.

There was a good part about being in the hospital at least.  His dad couldn’t stay mad at him for long.  Stiles hopped out of bed and grabbed his chart from the door.  Ever since he’d first realized that he could read again, this moment had been in the back of his head.  He wanted to find out what was wrong with him.

He skimmed the file, though it was quickly apparent that he wasn’t skimming nearly as quick as he used to.  It took a lot longer for his brain to process the words, and almost immediately, he could feel a bit of the throbbing in his head.

Nestled in a paragraph all about how Stiles didn’t have any brain damage that showed up on the MRI, he saw the word ‘cranium’, and he repeated the process that he’d gone through with both Allison and Mrs. McCall.  Finding a second wasn’t easy, as it took Stiles awhile to try to read and comprehend the paragraphs.  But eventually, he found and pointed to the word ‘injury’ and then…floundered.

He looked down at himself, at his hands and arms, but he didn’t really have any noticeable injuries.  There was that lump on his head, but it didn’t really qualify as an injury anymore.  But then he got a stroke of genius, and he brushed his fingers against his father’s temple, where the fading wound in his hairline was.

His dad was smiling a little too broadly, a little too knowingly.  So he’d definitely known before Stiles started showing off.  He expected that, but it was still a little disappointing.  The nurses had already taken everything else from him, did they really have to take this, too?  This was the one bit of good news that Stiles had had in weeks!  Weeks!

Stiles showed off for just a little bit longer, both to keep seeing that smile on his dad’s face, and also to see what else he could figure out what was going on with him.

His communication problems were a form of aphasia, and there were several notes updated over the course of several weeks, where the doctors made certain observations.  One of the doctors had been obsessed with the timeframe, noting how long Stiles had been awake, and then several more notations specifying how much time there was left until it had been a month since the injury.

Why was that important?

There was also a note, that must have been added in just this morning, noting that his visual comprehension had seemed to return, but that his prognosis was still something to be concerned with.

Concerned?  He flipped several pages at random, trying to find out anything about rehabilitation or what else he should be doing, but the chart was a mix of lengthy medications, treatment options, and language that didn’t make any sense to him.  Not because it was gibberish (at least not at first) but because it was scientific gibberish.

He closed the file once his dad cleared his throat, feeling a little guilty.  He’d almost forgotten his dad was here.  And then he got an idea.  He mimed typing, like on a laptop.  His laptop, more specifically.

There was a nod, but they didn’t get to continue the “conversation” such as it was, because at that minute one of the doctors came in, following a nurse with a wheel chair.

Stiles groaned, lifting his face to stare up at the ceiling.  Wheelchair meant tests.  He’d hoped that his little breakthrough would have put an end to the hospital stay.  But clearly all it was doing was stirring up a whole new round of tests.

The Sheriff patted him on the back, and as Stiles was wheeled out of the room (he hated that part, but the hospital staff freaked out if he suggested he could walk on his own, god forbid), he caught a glimpse back, and saw the brave front his dad was putting up slip, just a crack, and his heart stuttered in his chest.

It made him think of Lydia’s party.  The things his dad had said.  It didn’t matter that it had all been some sort of wolfsbane hallucination.  He knew those words rattled around his dad’s head on days like today. 

And he thought about the chart, and the hospital’s concern with his prognosis.  Screw them, he decided.  He was going to recover one way or the other.  He didn’t have a choice. 

 

******

It turned out that Stiles’ miraculous recovery was a little less miracle, and more an advance on all the pain that was coming his way.

Some days, he could read for almost ten minutes straight.  Some days, he barely made it through a few paragraphs before his head started killing him.  He started making up lost time with all those meds that he’d denied himself upon first waking up.  More than once, he wished he was dead, because everything hurt, even his toenails.

Every night, no matter how sound asleep he’d been, he woke up the minute that Derek arrived.  He knew he was out there – maybe patrolling the floor, or maybe being an utter douchebag and flirting with all the nurses at the nurse’s station.  But he never came into Stiles’ room.  At least not when he was awake.

The meds only did so much to curb the pain in Stiles’ head, but yet every morning he woke up felling about a thousand times better than he had the night before.  He didn’t delude himself by believing it was the meds, or a good night sleep.

It took a few days for someone to sign off on getting him his laptop.  He didn’t know if the hesitation came from his dad’s side, or the doctor’s.  But either way, once again he had his baby, and he felt a little more like himself.

There wasn’t any progress on the other fronts, though.  Sounds, especially voices, were still incredibly harsh and debilitating to Stiles’ ears.  He could still think the words, but there was a chasm between his brain and his mouth, and nothing ever came out right, no matter how much he forced himself.

It seemed like the harder Stiles pushed himself, the harder his dad took it.  He looked more and more tired when he showed up, and Stiles had started surreptitiously sniffing in his dad’s direction whenever they got close to one another.  He was terrified his dad was going to start drinking again.

It was always bad when his dad was drinking.  He just…dove head first into a bottle and let everything in his head swallow him up.  When Stiles felt like lying to himself, he said that he was just concerned that his dad would get into an accident or something – even though the Sheriff was insanely careful when he drank and would never even think about driving a car.  But the truth was that Stiles was terrified that one night, his dad would start drinking, and all those hidden thoughts would just start pouring out, and he’d tell Stiles exactly how he felt.

Stiles had to get better before that happened.  He couldn’t take care of his dad if he was stuck in the goddamn hospital like some fucking invalid, okay?

******

That night the headaches got so bad Stiles was passed out before the sun had even gone down.  But it was like a sixth sense with him, knowing the moment that Derek showed up.  This time, though, Stiles wasn’t content to stay in his room and let Derek play his avoidance games. 

So despite the fact that his head was killing him, and he was pretty sure he was just a few seconds away from hurling up the little bit of dinner he’d managed to eat, Stiles set off in search of the Alpha.  It didn’t take him long.  He found Derek near the far stairwell in the rear of the building, with the door to the stairs open.

He recognized the Alpha’s posture before anything else, though, and it sent him scurrying backwards.  There was this stance that Derek got, every time he told Stiles to run the hell away.  And here’s the thing…Stiles always listened.  It was one of the few times that he actually listened to Derek without question.

And it was a good thing, too, because right before the stairwell disappeared out of sight, he saw the flash of golden eyes, belonging to whoever it was that Derek was blocking from the exit.

Usually, when Derek got into a fight, and he shifted into his Alpha form with the lumpy werewolf features and all, there was a lot of growling and snarling.  Animal sounds.  But this didn’t sound like that at all.  The sounds vibrated all the way down the hall, and even though Stiles ran for his room, and the safety it would provide, already Derek’s raised voice had caught the attention of the nurses, and one of them had gone running. 

Only once his door was shut, and he slumped on the ground in front of it, head throbbing worse than ever, did Stiles finally remember to start breathing again. 

Think, Stilinski.  If that’s another werewolf, this is the first place he’s going to come looking for you, idiot.  You need to find someplace else to hide. 

It wasn’t like he didn’t trust Derek to fend off whoever it was, but he knew the way that unexpected shit went down sometimes.  You rely on the Alpha to keep you safe, and then suddenly there are kanima that have paralyzing fingersnot, and suddenly you’re protecting the Alpha.

Stiles slid the door open.  The shrieking noises had stopped.  When he edged out into the hall, half certain he’d see Derek in a bloody pool on the ground and some random Omega stalking towards him with a vicious blood-soaked smirk on its face, he was disappointed.

The other werewolf was Peter, are you fucking kidding me with this?  Peter and Derek, and their stupid “Werewolf genes make us hotter than almost everyone” faces, no sign of whatever altercation they’d been getting into when Stiles had snuck up on them, were sweet talking the nurse, it looked like.

Stiles gave Derek a look of absolute disgust and then stormed back into his room.  If Peter Hale decided to show up and try to kill him or something, well, he could do it while Stiles was comfy underneath his covers.

It was like knowing Stiles had already seen him gave Derek some sort of room-entering courage, because it wasn’t ten minutes later that he was slipping in the room.  Alone, Stiles noted.  He turned his back on Derek, his head pounding too much to really try to analyze what must have been going on between the two men in the stairwell.  But when Derek approached the bed, Stiles grabbed his hand and set it against his head.

And maybe he scratched him a little in the process.  Because why the hell not.  Giving Stiles a panic attack about Omega wolves coming to attack, seriously?  And then he just strolled into the hospital room like he hadn’t been playing Avoid the Stiles every since Thanksgiving.

Derek grunted, which was just shy of being the kind of sound that made Stiles’ head pound even worse, and shifted the teenager’s head around until he could get both hands on his head.  Probably wishes it was my neck, Stiles thought, even as the hint of a shiver rushed up his spine.  He listened to Derek’s’ breathing, and matched his own to it, the slow and steady inhale that had helped me come back to himself so recently.

They sat that way for at least an hour.  Stiles didn’t look at a clock or anything, because what was the point, but he knew a lot time had passed.  The pain in his head kept getting lighter and lighter until finally it was still there, but only a minor complaint.

He could feel Derek hesitating, though.  Stiles sat up, and looked over at him expectantly.  Derek lifted Stiles’ arm, opened his mouth, and lightly placed his mouth around the skin just above the wrist.

The fact that Stiles’ body could explode into two completely different, yet equally as cataclysmic sensations probably should have overloaded his brain entirely.  He couldn’t put a thought behind the fact that Derek had his mouth on Stiles for the lightning bolt of sensation that fried every nerve ending in his body.  He didn’t know if it was a biting thing, or a Derek thing, or a mouth-on-his-body-part thing, but holy fuck, yes!

But there was a clenching panic that was a terrifying counterpoint to the moment, and that freaked at what was going on right now.  Derek could bite him.  Derek might bite him.  He shuddered, and not in a good way.  Derek’s eyes were watching Stiles, and when he pulled away he looked relieved. 

It offended Stiles almost enough to forget just how wide Derek could open his mouth, and the gateway that realization was to a whole line of thoughts that Stiles was going to have to investigate in his shower at a later date.

He poked Derek in the chest, not bothering to hide his irritation.  I’d be a damn good werewolf and you know it, assface. Way better than Scott.  Maybe not better than you, he conceded, but definitely better than all the rest, Peter included.

Derek rolled his eyes and nodded, and for the millionth time Stiles wondered just how much he was getting out of these “conversations.”  Because he always acted like he understood Stiles fluently, and no one did.  Not even his dad, and he came closer than almost anyone else. 

Derek pointed towards the hallway, and then made a flashing motion with one hand over his head.  Stiles looked towards the door and frowned, and then all of a sudden it clicked.  He jerked his thumb towards the door, made a scowly, growly face, and then repeated the flashing gesture. 

Derek sat back, nodding in relief.

Peter’s idea then.  Peter wanted to bite him.  Well, correction.  Peter still wanted to bite him.  Creeper.  Stiles shuddered again and made a bit X with his fingers.  That was so far off the table it was on the floor.  Of the mental ward where Peter should still be staying. 

Okay, he hadn’t been in the mental ward, but he clearly should have been.  Stiles hadn’t trusted this new, healthier, reformed Peter who only savagely murdered people they didn’t like.  He was glad to see that Derek still agreed with him.

Speaking of Derek, he got up to go, but Stiles held him off again.  He pointed to the chair, putting on his best “annoyed” face.  He even crossed his arms in front of him to make the point stick.  Derek huffed out a sigh, sounding so aggrieved, but he sat back down without complaint.

Stiles kept him as a captive audience for almost an hour, repeating the same tricks he’d shown everyone else.  But this time, when his eyes skimmed over the word ‘horny’ his breathing hitched, and a surge of panic had him flipping past the page in question until he all the way in the back of the magazine with the ads.

That night, he got Derek to smile.

******

His dad finally came through with the laptop, and Stiles (accidentally) became an even bigger pain to the doctors and nurses on staff.  If nothing else, they might discharge him early just to get him the hell away from them.

He read up on absolutely everything he could find on aphasia.  Potential therapies, complications, and he had a whole section of pages bookmarked with things that conflicted with what happened to him.  He might have only gotten a few minutes of work done a day, but he was relentless at it. 

They finally let him start using the fitness equipment on a daily basis, and his strength (what little of it there was) started returning to him.  Everyone probably assumed that having the outlet would make him more tired, and therefore more docile, but they clearly didn’t understand a thing about ADD.

Every night when Derek came by and used his magic fingers, once again coming regularly like there’d never been an interruption in service, Stiles would drag up his laptop and proceed to do another fifteen minutes of work.

By the time Christmas started to roll around, he could manage almost twenty minutes of reading at a stretch.  Progress, although it wasn’t the best.  The headaches were getting less severe, too.  They downgraded his medication, probably afraid he was going to pick up an addiction on his way out the door.

He kept pointing out the new therapies to treat aphasia that people were trying, and exercises they had their patients trying, but the doctors (three months later) were still completely flummoxed at how to communicate with Stiles properly.  The nurses, of course, had all dealt with the teenager enough that they’d all worked out the usual hand gestures amongst themselves, and translated as best they could.

The novelty of sports had started to wane, and Stiles left the TV off as much as possible.  He’d even started reading real books during his allotted brain time every day.  One night, after very carefully weaning himself off of the required reading list that he was missing in school, Stiles sat up patiently waiting for Derek to show up, and when he did, he found a headache-free Stilinski waiting with his laptop.

He forced Derek down onto the bed next to him, and wow, was that a challenge.  But when he queued up the movie on his laptop, Derek seemed to understand the point of it all.  It took some finagling – Derek was a big boy (and wow Stiles had to control himself when he started down that path), and the two of them could only fit if Stiles turned a bit onto his side.  He handed Derek a pair of ear buds, which he’d already plugged into the laptop to bypass the internal speakers, and let the movie play.

The Goonies had been one of his dad’s favorite movies when Stiles was growing up, and they watched it at least twice a year.  This year they’d had to miss it – Stiles had to miss it, at least.  But he still liked watching the actual movie part of the movie, even if he couldn’t listen to the words.

Derek smelled like aftershave, Stiles noticed after a while.  He’d never known Derek to put on aftershave before, but then he’d never really sniffed him, either. 

Derek stayed for the whole movie, and didn’t even push him away when Stiles started dropping his head onto the Alpha’s shoulder.

Baby steps.

 

Chapter Text

 

It never ceased to amaze Stiles just how terrible of a friend Scott McCall could be.  It also never ceased to amaze him what an awesome, perfect, kind of adorably naïve best friend Scott could be.  It took him literally a half hour to figure out a way to get across dude, if you don’t go to my house and get my medication, I am most likely going to lay a pox upon both of your houses, and then you and Allison will never get to have adorably confused little werebabies.  He ended up having to act out a scene from “Stiles took too much Adderall last night and stayed up researching” before Scott finally figured it out.

But like the best bud he was, he came through in the end, and that was all that really mattered.  It also gave Stiles a couple of hours to figure out exactly where he was going to hide the pills.  Which looked like his typical afternoon hyperactivity, so no one was really any the wiser.

The doctors had started doing more tests dealing with Stiles’ ability to communicate once someone got around to translating the hand crafted language he’d worked up with the nurses.  And a sneaky glance at his chart over dinner with Dad (who had picked up turkey burgers and fries – healthy enough that Stiles looked the other way) told Stiles that just like the source of his injury was atypical (in that it didn’t seem to exist) so too were his symptoms.  For the most part, it seemed like textbook aphasia, but there were more and more mounting irregularities, one of which was that they seemed to think that Stiles should have more difficulty in trying to communicate.

He could have told them that whatever Lucas had injected him was the reason why his brain was so messed up, but there was the freaking part where he couldn’t communicate with anyone.  But he still didn’t know where the Alpha’s plan ended, and the actual head trauma he’d experienced began.  Because there was a record of head injuries he’d had when they first checked him into the hospital, but they’d thought the prognosis had been good at the time.  Then Stiles hadn’t woken up right away, and his vitals fluctuated.

Scott stumbled into the room just as the Sheriff was trying to liberate some of Stiles’ fries out of his container.  The diner he’d gone to didn’t have curly fries, but he’d made sure to get Stiles a side of ranch dressing to dip his fries in, so it was an okay compromise.

He looked towards Stiles and patted his jacket, and…seriously?  Stiles was going to punch him in his Allison-loving face later.  His father was a Sheriff.  As in an officer of the law who pays attention to suspicious behavior because it’s his job! Patting your jacket and looking significantly towards your best friend was like Obvious Behavior for a thousand, Alex!

He knew he should have sent Lydia.  Lydia wouldn’t have been all obvious like this.  Lydia would have probably pilfered through half his room without his father being any the wiser.  Or Allison.  Allison probably could have snuck in while his dad was home, even, and gotten out with the pills.

The whole idea distracted Stiles for almost half an hour, in which he ran through various scenarios in which his friends would have to break into his room to retrieve the prize.  He even pictured a group effort, kind of an Ocean’s Eleven thing, but that went to hell when Jackson forgot to disable the security cameras because he was too busy flexing shirtless in a mirror.  Plus, no one remembered to put the iguana back on his leash…

The next thing Stiles knew, he looked down and there was Scott sitting at his side, and a styrafoam take out container that had been half full of fries, but was now just an empty shell of numiness.  At least Scott had the decency to look embarrassed – the Sheriff was focused on the television with a laser sharp level of guilt. 

Stiles grumbled, but Scott slipped him the pill bottle when his dad left the room to make a call.  Scott could stay.  He was a good friend.

******

He got Allison the next afternoon, and it was so much like shared custody that he shot her a speculative look.  Would they have really gotten together and divided up their Stiles time?  It was weird how they’d never once come in while the other was already there.  Scott just figured that Allison staked out the building and only showed up when she knew Scott was somewhere else.  And Scott could probably smell Allison in the room, so he just avoided it until she left.

His dad popped in for a minute before heading into the station, and with him, he brought a bit of a bomb.

Christmas came early that year.  Well, it was actually still on the twenty-fifth of December, which was actually the birthday of the Persian god Mithras before it was the birthday of Jesus.  (Seriously, how was his father coping with the fact that he didn’t have Stiles to tell him all these fascinating tidbits of human existence?)

His dad waggled his keys at Stiles when he walked in, pointed to Stiles, and then pointed towards the door.  Stiles lept to his knees, even though he was still on the bed, and managed to displace Allison a bit in the process, for which he felt bad, but….really?  Was his dad saying he was going home?

The Sheriff grinned, once Stiles managed to convey some form of please tell me this isn’t a joke, not like that time when I was eight and you told me that Santa wouldn’t come if I didn’t sleep and I almost drank the entire bottle of Nyquil before you realized what I was doing.

His dad’s smile was genuine, though, and Stiles crowed his happiness and leapt fully out of the bed.  He hugged his dad for a good five minutes, and when Allison tried to quietly sneak out around them, Stiles dragged her into the hugfest, too.  He was getting out!

But then the flaw in the plan.  It wouldn’t be until tomorrow.  So Stiles still had another night in the hospital.  Which would be the worst yet, he was sure.

But it actually wasn’t so bad.  There was an old game on TV that he and Allison watched, sharing a bag of popcorn that the nurses popped for them.  And then he kept himself busy after Allison left, anxiously waiting for Derek to show up.

So anxious he found himself drawing a picture, because sometimes pictures were easier than words, and he didn’t want to fumble his way through that again.  Even though Derek had an almost uncanny ability to read his mind, sometimes, a big announcement like checking out of the hospital deserved a little extra effort.

Derek arrived at the stroke of midnight, and Stiles found himself rolling his eyes at the entrance, nodding towards the clock.  Some days, he could read the clock no problem, and he’d set his laptop to chime out the hours like church bells, just in case.  But most of the time, the clock faces were blurred and he knew they told time, but he couldn’t figure out how to process the information.

Derek eyed the laptop but didn’t immediately come to Stiles’ side.  He’d been touchy ever since the night of the movie, weirdly conscious of where he was in relation to Stiles at all times.  Unless he was doing his freaky ‘pain touch’ thing, there was always a minimum of five feet between them. 

But Stiles had prepared for all that tonight.  He didn’t know what Derek’s problem was – and honestly, the fact that he couldn’t just confront him was so freaking annoying- but he wasn’t going to let it ruin his last night in the hospital.

His last night.

Those words were so sweet.  Besides, it wasn’t like Stiles had made a move on him or anything.  (Not that Stiles would have the first clue on how to make a move on someone like Derek).  There had been a sleepy head on stupidly muscular shoulders.  Nothing more.  It wasn’t like they cuddled or anything.  Which was a good thing, because Derek was probably deathly allergic to cuddling.  Only two things could kill him – wolfsbane and cuddles.  Which was a shame, because Stiles figured he’d be an awesome cuddler. 

Not that he had a lot of practice.

Derek took up a spot in the corner, and he huffed an aggravated huff.  Like how dare Stiles still be sitting up and waiting for him, just because he’d done it for the last week didn’t mean he was allowed to do that tonight.

So tired of your shit sometimes, Hale, he thought to himself, wishing he really could get in his face and run off at the mouth.  All the retorts he could have used, all the bitter words.  All of it burned in Stiles’ throat constantly, but he was so self-conscious about the sounds that he made that he went out of his way not to make any.

But sometimes, in the middle of a shower, or in the middle of the night after he was long sure that Derek was gone, he’d curl up on his bed, or he’d tuck himself into the corner of the shower stall, and he’d whisper things that only meant something to him.  Just to see.  Just to check.  Because he was relearning how to read, and maybe his words would come back just as randomly.

“I’m afraid of what Dad is doing when I’m not there to watch him.”

“I think the Alphas wanted me to kill myself.  I think that was their plan.”

“I don’t think this is the poison anymore.  I think this is permanent.”

“I’m always going to be alone.”

“Mom would have been stronger than this.”

But the words were never realized.  His voice hadn’t come back, and since they’d never been spoken out loud, Stiles could pretend that they weren’t true anymore. For now.

Derek huffed again, and Stiles realized he’d drifted off again.  Ugh, whatever.   He thrust the paper he’d spent so much time on forward, and then flopped back onto his bed to stare up at the ceiling.  He didn’t even care what Derek thought about it all, anyway.  Probably grateful, that he wouldn’t have to keep wasting his nights lurking around Stiles’ hospital room in case someone came to bother him.

Stiles had made the picture as clear as he could make it.  He’d drawn a terrible version of his house, a stick figure with a bad (his dad), a stick figure with an X over his mouth (Stiles) and a growly, red-eyed man standing on the roof (Derek). He had also drawn a bunch of lines and arrows showing that the Jeep had just pulled into the driveway, just like he’d done when he was seven and he didn’t understand that you didn’t have to stage direct your own pictures by drawing the arrows to show what happened.  His pictures were always normal affairs, and then there were complex line drawings he always added afterwards, choreographing a three-act play’s worth of drama and action.

Derek held the paper in his hands, but he didn’t react.  No smiles, no frowns, nothing.  And he was holding the paper by the corner, like Stiles had contaminated it somehow and he was going to catch something.

Fuck this, Stiles decided.  If Derek wasn’t going to appreciate all the awesomeness that was Stiles, he would just find someone who would.  Or he’d find a place to hole up until Derek left the hospital.  Stiles threw back the sheets and slid down off the bed.  If Derek wanted to act like a freak tonight, then he could do it by himself.

On some level, Stiles knew he was overreacting, but he was just suddenly so frustrated and angry.  And Derek showing up was supposed to make him feel better, not like he was some awkward freshman that had to get rejected for the first time.  This was not the way tonight was supposed to go.

The panic attack started as soon as he reached the stairwell.

And of course Derek had to be there to make things better. Because that was what he did: made sure Stiles didn’t fall off the shelf and shatter like the broken doll he was.  But now Derek was overly conscious of where he stood, and how close he got, his eyes lost in shadow.  Stiles could see him thinking out every movement, considering every consequence.  He made sure they were never close enough to touch.

Okay, so maybe Stiles overstepped his bounds with the head on the shoulder thing, but seriously, this was taking it way too far. I’m not going to fucking molest you, you…you…egocentric dipshit!  Just because Stiles couldn’t use his words didn’t mean he couldn’t use his thoughts.  He shoved Derek, planted both of his hands directly on Derek’s chest and pushed as hard as he could, his face scowled up in a rage.  You really are that arrogant, aren’t you?  Just assume everyone’s in love with your stupid werewolf ass.  Well, you’ve got another thing coming, buddy, because you’re actually a giant douche bag! 

The initial shove caught Derek by surprise, and he managed to get knocked back a couple of steps, but he was ready when Stiles swung at him.  And then swung again.  There was barely an inch of height between them, but Stiles’ hands were swallowed up inside of Derek’s when he caught the fists flying towards him.

Stiles fought.  Struggled.  Refused to accept any of that stupid Alpha bullshit.  He was so done.  Derek didn’t get to show up with his sour expression and some crappy “oh god, my precious virtue!” act.  I’ve seen you kill people, you dick!  You don’t get to judge me!

The rage was a hot, comforting blanket that kept him going for a few minutes, but the minute the shroud started to slip, the panic clawed its way to the surface, and then Stiles was shaking.  Trembling.  Through the shimmering in his eyes, he saw the conflict in Derek’s eyes.  Stiles did the only thing he could do – he slammed his heel down on Derek’s foot.  Which would have been a lot more effective if Stiles had been wearing shoes, and if Derek hadn’t been wearing boots. 

Derek’s eyes flashed red, annoyance was painted across his face, and he shook Stiles, once.  Hard.  And then the annoyance melted away, he exhaled, and all he looked was resigned.  Like there was nothing else he could do.

He switched his grip on Stiles’ arm, and held him by the wrist and led him up towards the roof.  It was colder outside tonight than it had been the last time they’d been up here.  Derek was grumbling, a raw and engine-like sound, like the earth being tilled or a forest being torn down.  But he slipped out of his jacket and put it on Stiles shoulders. 

And just like the last time, Derek stood behind him, but this time, he kept his hands on Stiles shoulders, and there was  a gap of air between their bodies.

Stiles closed his eyes.  Tried to breath.

It didn’t take as long as the last time for Stiles to pull himself together.  He wasn’t sure if it was being on the roof that helped, or having Derek here.  Giving in to his anger had kept the panic at bay, and while his insides were still surging around in electrified bursts like a game of Operation, it wasn’t unmanageable.  Maybe it was because Derek was here.  Or maybe Stiles was getting a better control over himself.

They didn’t stay outside long, maybe fifteen minutes or so.  Long enough to see the moon rise.  It was a few days past the full moon.  Stiles turned to look curiously on Derek, but the Alpha was pretending to ignore him.  Full moon, and he was here in the hospital with me instead of being with the rest of the Pack.  Why the hell would he do something like that? 

Every time he thought he’d figured out how he felt about Derek, the rug got pulled out from under him and changed his perspective entirely.

******

 

Every step forward seemed to come with a few steps backwards, and Stiles’ life was no exception to the rule.  He raced up the stairs the moment his dad pulled into the driveway of his house, like it was Christmas morning and he couldn’t wait for his presents.  Except in this case his presents were his own room, a door that locked, and a bed that didn’t smell like Grandma Stilinski.

His room.  His perfectly perfect room.  Oh, Stiles was in heaven.  At least until he realized that there was always going to be someone on Stiles duty.  Whenever his dad left for work, someone always “just happened” to show up to keep him company.  It was so freaking embarrassing, and of course his dad had something to do with it.

And probably make sure he didn’t have some sort of seizure in the bathroom, but whatever.  So it was only after four hours with Scott’s mom than who else but Scott showed up, and Stiles sat on the couch and huffed to himself.  The pouting session didn’t last long, though, because Scott flipped on the TV out of years of habit, and Stiles was assaulted by the explosion of sounds and voices, and had to flee up to his room.

The TV was muted long before Stiles made it through his doorway, but it took Scott almost five minutes to show up at his door looking shame faced and puppy dog sad.  Seriously, who said it was fair to have a best friend who could do that?  It had to be against the rules somewhere.  So Stiles brushed it off, like he always did, and smacked Scott on the arm.  The beaming smile he got in return made it almost worthwhile.

Of course he couldn’t have Scott just wandering around the house for hours, so a little while later Stiles physically pushed him out the front door.  While doing that he noticed the unmarked car two houses down, a tell tale cup of coffee sitting on the dash.  You’ve got to be kidding me.  His dad was having him watched?  Like Stiles would really not recognize the old Crown Vic the department used when it had a stakeout in progress and they wanted to keep things under wraps?  He’d stumbled on his dad on stakeouts all the time when he was younger!

The man was unbelievable.  And if he didn’t think Stiles didn’t know there was a double pepporoni pizza box in the fridge, then he wasn’t much of a detective after all!  They were going to have serious words in the morning.  Very serious words, of which none would be said out loud.  But there would be glowering, and finger pointing!  And if it really came down to it, Stiles was pretty sure he might start stomping his feet, or maybe even rolling around on the ground.

 But that was for tomorrow.  Tonight, he had the house to himself, and he had only one thing in mind.  He went back upstairs, turned the shower (with its glorious water pressure) up as hot as it would go, and preceded to take the world’s longest shower and stroke himself off no less than three times in a row.

At least he slept like a baby that night.  That was something.

******

When the Sheriff woke up the next morning, Stiles and Lydia were sitting at the dining room table behind his laptop, and a stack of research printed off the internet and a couple of library books surrounding them.

Lydia had showed up with the books first thing in the morning, and Stiles had attempted breakfast.  Which didn’t really go so well because they were out of the instant stuff and he had too much trouble trying to read anything remotely resembling a recipe.  So instead she’d (presumably) called Jackson, who showed up half an hour later with a breakfast feast.  She’d even remembered to get the healthy stuff so Stiles wouldn’t have to have a fit about his dad’s eating habits.

(Stiles did, however, raid the fridge and the pantry of every contraband item that had been on the list of foods his father should start limiting himself.  And as much as the idea of pizza sounded heavenly right now, he remained strong for the elder Stilinski, and threw the whole thing out). 

The few attempts at getting Stiles to learn actual sign language, as opposed to the crude, fabricated effort he’d made so far, had not gone so well.  Coupled with his ADD (at least that’s what he assumed), he couldn’t manage to concentrate for more than a few minutes at a time, and his recall was horrible.

But he couldn’t keep fumbling through existence without some means of telling people they were being overprotective jerks.  Speaking of dad.  Stiles gestured his dad to the food they’d set aside from him.  His dad raised an eyebrow and waved a hand at everything Stiles and Lydia had gotten together so far.  What’s all this? 

Lydia sighed and slid one of the books across the table.  It was the same book she’d brought to the hospital a few times in recent weeks, and she was irritated that Stiles hadn’t made more of an effort at it.  But part of him wasn’t willing to do anything extra until he got out of the hospital.  And another part of him was scared to admit that learning sign language was more like giving up than anything else.  Learning how to communicate like this meant accepting that he probably wouldn’t be able to communicate any other way.

And it wasn’t just something he would have to learn.  All the people around him would have to learn, too.  Hadn’t he asked enough out of everyone, already?  He just wanted to go home and try and pretend like everything was normal.  He could just become some weird shut in, and down the road kids would talk about old man Stilinski, who stayed in his house like a shut in, and couldn’t talk or couldn’t hear, and Stiles would be okay with that.

Well, he probably wouldn’t be okay with that.  But he’d try.

His dad looked down at the book, which was something along the lines of Sign Language for Dummes, shrugged his shoulders good naturedly, and then dug into his breakfast.  But Stiles knew that expression on his face.  That was his ‘contemplative’ face.  He was letting the idea bounce around in his head for a few minutes before he said anything.  Or in this case, mimed it.  Or wrote it.  Or texted it.

His dad started to say something, got half of a syllable out, and then it was like he remembered all over again.  He sighed, pulling one of Lydia’s papers towards him, and scrawled across the corner Tutor???  Lydia threw up her hands in a thank God one of you makes sense gesture, then gestured with a sweep of her wrist towards Stiles. 

Oh, right.  The tutor thing.  Stiles gave his dad a flat look and rubbed his thumb along his fingers.  Money, remember?  Stiles just spent two months in the hospital, and he didn’t even want to think about how much debt it was going to put his dad in.  He was pretty sure they were still paying off the bills from when his mom died.

His dad narrowed his eyes, and looked towards Stiles with irritation, but he didn’t push the issue.  But a few minutes later when he started fumbling around with his phone, and then Lydia’s phone went off, Stiles started to get mad.  But although Lydia’s smirk after reading the text message only managed to grow, neither one of them would tell him what they were talking about behind his back.

Stiles went back to his room to sulk, but though his dad was gone when he came back downstairs, Lydia was still there, and even worse, Jackson had come back and they preceded to double team him with diagrams of hand motions and gestures.

Why had he wanted to come home again?

******

Every time he thought he’d reached the worst part of the situation he was going through, something always happened to make things seem like they could still get worse.  Even though he was back on his medication, and even though he put way more effort into it then he’d ever put into his schoolwork, sign language proved to be something that Stiles was completely inept at.

He knew that according to the research on aphasia, it had more to do with the language centers in his brain, but he’d had no trouble fumbling his way through making himself understood before now.  So why was this so difficult?

He would spend hours practicing the same five signs, and then take a half hour break.  But when he came back to it, he’d be lucky if he could remember two out of the five.  And since half of his study involved the internet, and the other involved books that weren’t the most clear, what little progress Stiles made felt like it was too little, too late.

Lydia seemed to be picking it up just fine. She’d elected herself his unofficial tutor, and within two days she was already miles ahead of him.  And to think I used to be in love with you, he thought darkly one afternoon.

And to make matters worse, Scott and Allison had abandoned him.  One accidental meeting when Scott didn’t realize that Allison was already hanging out with Stiles, and they’d both started avoiding him rather than chance another meet up.  Was this really what happened to people in Beacon Hills without Stiles around to keep them in line?  Lydia was taking over his life, Scott and Allison were too chicken shit to see each other, and no one had seen Derek since Stiles had gotten out of the hospital.

It was, needless to say, a miserable two weeks. 

His dad was on his phone when Stiles came downstairs for dinner that night, but he got off as soon as he saw his son.  Which reminded him.  He hadn’t asked before, because it wasn’t like the anti-communicative him had any reason for one, but he mimed a telephone at his dad, then pointed to himself.  The Sheriff looked at him without understand, then confusion, then slowly slid his cell phone out of a pocket with a questioning look.

Stiles grunted.  No.  Not your cell phone, my cell phone, he gestured.

The Sheriff shrugged his shoulders to offer his cluelessness, then pointed towards the upstairs. In your room? Stiles shook his head.  He hadn’t seen his phone since that night at the school, but there wasn’t any way to tell his dad that.  So his phone hadn’t turned up at the hospital or anything?  That meant the Alphas might still have it.

What did the elder Stilinski even know about that night, anyway?  He’d been grabbed by the Alphas, knocked unconscious, and then hours later dropped off at the hospital like it was no big deal.  And then the same thing happened to his son.  Only his son hadn’t been so lucky.

 

******

 

When Stiles finally made it up to his room that night, guess what was sitting on his desk, right on top of his laptop.  Like he’d just happened to leave it there and forgotten.

You’ve got to be fucking kidding me.  He swiped his finger across the screen, and his phone exploded in a list of activity he’d missed out on, messages he needed to reply to, games he’d lost, and updates he was in dire need of.  So his dad hadn’t remembered to shut his phone off, either.  Well, that was good, at least. 

Heard you asking about this, Miguel had texted him.

Fucking Miguel.  Even though it was just a few days past New Year’s, Stiles threw open his window and growled out at the night. 

Stiles Stilinski was so done with your shit, Hale. 

Five minutes later, Stiles was freezing and the coward hadn’t taken the attention.  So Stiles pulled his phone back out and texted: if you don’t get in here in the next thirty seconds, I’m sending my dad outside and he. Will. Shoot. You.

He’d barely hit Send when Derek rolled into the room like an acrobat, like the show off he really was underneath.  He’d probably been waiting for Stiles to give in first, to get frustrated and demand he come inside.  Because Derek was a dick like that.

He shook the phone in Derek’s face, wanting some little bit of shame or embarrassment to peek through.  But if anything, he looked stubbornly annoyed as usual.  Stiles poked him in his big dumb chest, and then pointed to himself.  My phone.  Mine. 

Derek plucked it out of his hands like it was no big deal, and started flipping through the screens until he came across a picture Stiles had taken of Scott and Allison somewhere, Scott’s face blinded out by his eyes. 

Stiles grabbed for his phone, but Derek lifted it up out of his reach.  Then he turned away and kept poking through Stiles’ private communications, until he came to a message to Scott: Alphas went after Lydia.  She’s okay.  Jackson was with her.  Stiles’ spelling had gotten so much better once he started using the voice-to-text on his phone.  It was the only reason anything ever got spelled right.

Then another:  Why are all werewolves such territorial dicks?  That one had been to Allison, and he couldn’t remember what it was about, but he’d been talking about Derek, and the conversation turned to Scott (of course it did) and they’d commiserated their irritation.

Derek gave him that smart assed, wide eyed look that screamed did you want your dad seeing all this?  Really?

Stiles hated being outsmarted.  And he definitely hated being outsmarted by the stupid Alpha.  He humphed and then went back to what he’d been doing before dinner, which was watching sign language videos and trying to replicate the movements. 

He’d already watched the video thirty-one times today.  He could feel the next big tantrum building in his gut, only now he didn’t have a hospital full of nurses and orderlies to terrorize.  If he threw stuff, it would be his own stuff, and he’d be expected to clean it all up.

Derek had set up in Stiles’ desk chair, while Stiles was spread out on his bed, the laptop resting on his chest.  He went back to the video that ran through the alphabet, because at least that had twenty-six different movements for him to focus on.  Doing the same five over and over again was so boring.

Out of the corner of his eyes, he saw Derek stiffen up as Stiles started running through the letters, struggling with making his fingers fall into the proper shapes.  Somewhere around “R” he couldn’t focus anymore, and looked over at Derek to see the horrified look on his face. 

Stiles looked around quickly, because something had put that look on his face.  There was no one else in his room, and the door was closed so it wasn’t like his dad had stumbled in on them.  Stiles climbed off the bed, and when he approached Derek, the older man leapt out of his chair and backed towards the window.  So Stiles stopped, and Derek stopped, although that look of…was that grief on his face?  What the hell?

“Derek? What’s wrong?”  The words still came out as language soup, but Stiles couldn’t stop himself.  The sound of his own voice was foreign to his ears, and didn’t that stick out in his mind as something to freak out about later.  Right now was for a different kind of freak out.

He reached out again, and Derek stepped back again, so Stiles didn’t push the issue.  How am I supposed to help you when even the thought of being close to me makes your skin crawl?  He wondered in frustration. 

But he didn’t have to wonder long, because it was just like a flipping switch, and suddenly Derek didn’t care about any of that.  He stepped forward, and grabbed Stiles hand, and bent the fingers until they were in the sign for R.  Then Derek took a step back, took a deep breath, and started signing the alphabet.  It was slow going at some points, and it was clear that this was something that Derek hadn’t tapped into for a long time, so the movements were familiar, and yet rusty.  But he somehow got through it, and Stiles stared.

Derek knew sign language? 

Stiles had the most uncomfortable boner right now.

 

Chapter Text

Derek looked frustrated.  It was a new and unusual look that --- okay, so Derek almost always looked frustrated.  Or annoyed.  Or barely containing his rage.  Stiles could sympathize, he was definitely frustrated, too.  In the pants.  But even the old joke couldn’t make his mood swing back around. 

Derek tapped his phone against his chin, and it seemed almost reluctant the way he slid through several screens until he found what he wanted.  He looked at Stiles again, clearly weighing something that Stiles didn’t understand.

What was on his phone that would explain anything about the signing?  Because really, that’s all Stiles could think about right now.  (Well, that, and this uncomfortable little fantasy about a naked-as-a-jaybird Derek signing things to him under the covers and that wasn’t helping his crotch-ital tightness at ALL).

Stiles sat down on the edge of his bed and waited. Derek pulled the computer chair over and gestured towards Stiles.  I don’t know what you want me to do, he shrugged.  Derek rolled his neck, huffed out a breath, and set the phone down in his lap.  Then he started signing again, starting with A and getting all the way to F before he gestured towards Stiles to run through it.

But Stiles couldn’t do it from memory, the way Derek obviously could.  At first, he tried using the poster that Lydia had gotten him, but the gestures were too difficult to piece together in the drawings.  So he huffed out a sigh of his own (Derek wasn’t the only one who could announce his annoyance), and started the video over.

And it was hard.  And annoying.  Because he’d run through this how many times by now, and he still hadn’t gotten it down?  He was still as confused going from E to F as he had been the very first time.

Derek huffed again, but this time there was something else in his expression.  Something that made Stiles too uncomfortable to look at for long.  So when Derek closed his hands over Stiles’, and pushed them down into his lap, Stiles looked down immediately.  If he couldn’t master the damn alphabet, then what was the point in even bothering?

Derek slid his phone into Stiles’ line of sight.  There was his own awkwardly posed picture – he’d stolen Derek’s camera one afternoon when they’d all met up in Deaton’s office – and the text that Stiles had sent just a short while ago.

Stiles’ heart dropped out of his chest, bounced around on the floor a bunch, and then exploded into a shower of gore.

The text he’d thought he’d sent Derek?  The one he’d labored over to get out all his frustration?  He’d been sure that he’d spelled everything correctly, that even the damn grammar made sense.  But the text that Derek had got was…nothing.  Even the autocorrect looked like it had given up on him halfway through.

And just like that, the tiny little ball of comfort that Stiles had been wrapping himself up in popped, and he was faced once more with reality.  He wasn’t getting any better.  And sooner or later, everyone was going to smarten up and realize that he was useless, a waste of time and effort.

He probably would have started throwing something, or maybe just throwing himself out the window, but Derek intervened.  Of course.  His expression was placid, and it was a good thing, because if there’d been even a hint of pity on his stupidly attractive face, Stiles probably would have signed his death wish by punching him in his head.  With his laptop.

Derek held out his hands again, and slowly began working his way through the alphabet.  His eyes were locked on Stiles, though, and his expectations were clear.  To be completely honest, the last thing Stiles wanted to do was to get involved in another waste of time, but the fact that Derek knew sign language was killing him.  He wanted the rest of the story.  It wasn’t something he’d picked up recently, like he’d anticipated the fact that Stiles was never going to get better.  It was something he’d already known, and something he’d stopped using a long time ago.

It raised all kinds of questions, but at the same time it was brushing up against potential scabs and scars that Stiles wasn’t brave enough to poke at.  Not that he could do much good, anyway.

Derek made him run through the letters for over an hour, and once he found the flash cards that Lydia had made up (because of course she’d made flash cards), he started quizzing Stiles.  Which was a disaster.  After a while, Stiles could get the alphabet down because the movements were the same every time.  But asking for individual letters was a complete waste of time.  Stiles was terrible at it.

But Derek was surprisingly patient.  He kept them working on it until Stiles felt his arms shaking, and like he was about to drop. 

I just want to know why you’re doing this, he thought drowsily to himself.  I don’t understand.  You hate everyone.  So why are you here?  But Derek couldn’t, or didn’t want to, answer the thoughts in his head.  While Stiles crawled under his covers, Derek cut off the lamp in the room.  He hesitated at the window, and spoke so softly it was like paper torn in half, instead of the usual explosion.  Whatever it was that he said was important enough to be said out loud, when Derek never stumbled over that rule before.  But it was also in complete darkness, and in front of someone who couldn’t understand him anyway.

******

The incident with the cell phone completely dampened any effort Stiles made in terms of communicating.  At least for the next day.  He stayed in his room and pretended the rest of the world didn’t exist.

It was easier said than done, because people kept barging in like it was their house or something.  Seriously, how long was the babysitting going to continue?  His dad kept working nights just so he could be around during the day while all of Stiles’ friends were in school, but enough was enough. 

His dad was yawning through the news at noon when Stiles came downstairs.  Another thing that had changed – closed captioning was now the new standard on all the televisions, and almost all of them were kept on mute.  Just in case Stiles wandered in.

They were coddling him too much, too.  It only made his stomach clench even harder.  Stiles grunted, grabbed the remote and turned the volume up to ten, and then went back up to his room.  He locked the door behind him, and then curled back up in bed.  Every few hours, someone came knocking at the door, but Stiles pretended he couldn’t hear anything.  It was easier that way.

Which was all well and good until he rolled over in bed at one point after night had fallen, and saw Derek climbing in his window.  I need to remember to lock that, Stiles thought, and then rolled back over.  Whatever, Stiles wasn’t interested in any of Derek’s weird games.  He could play with himself for all that Stiles cared.

He didn’t even have time to laugh at that like the child he was, because Derek barely let him sulk there for a minute before he was being physically dragged out of the bed.  Stiles grabbed onto the covers for leverage, but all that did was pulled them free of the bed.

Derek looked furious, and it was such a welcome change from the resigned, annoyed Derek that had been haunting his room for the last few months that Stiles was almost happy.  Up until now, Stiles could only elicit brief moments of flashing red anger before he remembered that Stiles was fragile, and easily broken.

He shoved Derek, and then shoved him again when the first didn’t get the response he wanted.  Derek started a low growl, and Stiles shoved him again.  Backing him up to the window and out of Stiles’ life. Maybe for good.  His life would be so much easier if everyone just forgot about him. 

The next time he went to push him, Derek snatched his arm out of the air.  But that wasn’t going to stop Stiles.  He tried to do it again with his weak hand.  And Derek grabbed that, too. 

All he had to do, all he’d ever had to do was just open his mouth and yell.  You couldn’t get much faster response times than a protective Sheriff down the hall.  He contemplated it for a minute, and Derek watched him the entire time.  But he didn’t want to stir up the hornet’s nest that was the Beacon Hills PD’s interest in Derek.  Derek wasn’t the enemy, he was just an irritation.

He was just…tired.  Every time he thought he was making a little progress, it turned out he was just fooling himself, and he wasn’t much better off than before.

Stiles stopped fighting against Derek, and bypassed his now naked bed and walked quietly into the closet, and sat down in the corner, pulling his legs up tight against him.  In the hospital, he’d felt trapped a lot, like the walls and the ceiling were pressing in on him.  But here at home, it was that containment that he craved.  Hidden away, where no one would see him.

Except Derek huffed and let himself in behind Stiles, and squeezed in on the other side.  The two of them were an awkward fit, and Derek couldn’t tuck himself into a ball quite the way that Stiles could.  He had to settle for bracketing his legs on either side of Stiles.

Why won’t you just leave me alone?  Stiles had never wanted to have his voice back better than at this moment.  I’d be so much better if you weren’t here, pitying me.

Derek’s breathing was soft and even, and that was what Stiles focused on.  Listening to Derek breathe.  It made him feel better, somehow.  It soothed something inside of him that felt like it would never stop breaking.

For once, Derek fell asleep before he did, and Stiles knew he should wake him up, that they should leave the sanctuary of the closet and Derek should go home, but Stiles waited.  It wasn’t exactly the closet time he would have liked with him, but he would take what he could get.  It was probably the closest he’d ever get.

I’m just some stupid kid to you, aren’t I?  Are you doing this because you feel bad for me?  Am I some stupid project?

But eventually, Stiles felt bad about forcing him to fall asleep in a closet, so he shook Derek’s leg, and they proceeded to help each other to their feet.  When they walked back into Stiles’ bedroom, both squinting at the light, Stiles dropped down to the edge of the bed.  In a surprise, Derek did, too.  His leg was flush against Stiles’, sleepy and warm and awesome.  There was a moment where he thought Derek was going to slide down on the bed, and force Stiles to choose between doing what he wanted (curl up behind him) or what he should (sleep on the floor).  But Derek finally got back to his feet, scrubbing sleep out his heads.

On his way to the window, he tossed the alphabet poster towards Stiles with a pointed look. 

******

That was pretty much how January passed.  Derek showed up every night, even the nights surrounding the full moon, which still threw Stiles off kilter a little.  Together, they practiced the basics of sign language.  Hey, Lydia had told him he needed a tutor, she didn’t say anything about his tutor being accredited or expensive.

Speaking of Lydia, she still came by almost every other afternoon, pushing him with the sign language.  But thanks to the work he was doing with Derek, Stiles was finally starting to catch on.  A little.  After about a month of constant work (even his dad was getting in on it), Stiles could mostly remember the alphabet, and a few key words or questions.  It was about what all the kids in Spanish 1 had picked up their first week, and it had taken Stiles almost a month.

Stiles even resolved the Allison and Scott dilemma, and he did it without words.  Basically, it meant he was some kind of superhero now.  All it had taken was a text message sent to each of them.  The content of the message was just ‘I need help’ which had Scott, at least, tripping out when he stormed into Stiles’ house, already wolfed out.  Allison showing up a few minutes later, though, started to make it clearer.

Stiles had put on his stern face, and pointed to one of the calendars that Lydia had printed up for…something, Stiles wasn’t’ really sure.  When it came to Lydia, it was really just better not to ask questions.  Or argue.  Luckily, Stiles was good at both of those points by now.

Eventually, the two idiots figured out that they were supposed to divvy up visits with Stiles, which he personally still thought was a perfectly stupid idea, but no one was asking him his opinion.  They left soon after, Allison stopping to hug him, and Stiles saw them linger outside the door to Scott’s car.  Talking, and looking back towards the house.

He made sure to duck out of the way before they caught him spying.  But hey, at least they were talking.

******

It was a week into February when Stiles’ curiosity finally got the best of him.  He spent the entire day working out what he wanted to know.  It was frustrating how hard it was to make his brain work when it came to languages now – he practiced for hours to master something he would have memorized in seconds back in his old life. 

But Derek was surprisingly patient, which was never a word that Stiles would have used to describe him before.  Every night they started by going over the things that Stiles had already learned.  Once Stiles started to get the alphabet down, it made it easier to communicate at least a little.  He could sign the letters to spell out what he wanted to know.

But for this, he wanted to just ask the question, without having to stumble around it.  He felt like he knew at least a little by now, enough that he could fumble his way through the signing without looking like too much of a spaz.  (There had been several times when Stiles had tried to mimic something that Derek was showing him only for that little hint of a smirk to pop up on Derek’s face – not quite a smile, but definitely lighter than Derek Hale usually could be considered being).

But it was more than that, and he knew he’d have to push the issue.  So he spent almost the whole day practicing the same three sentences, trying to duplicate them as exactly as he could.  It wasn’t easy, especially when he had to keep flipping back between videos and pictures, but eventually he thought he’d gotten it down.

Who was deaf? He signed, barely even letting Derek take off his coat to reveal the mud colored henley underneath.  Derek froze in his spot by the window.  That’s what fight or flight looks like, Stiles realized, watching him carefully.  But he didn’t want Derek to run away, and even more than that, he didn’t want Derek to punch him in the face.

Why do you keep helping me? he asked next.  Please, I need to understand. 

Stiles dropped his hands, and he waited. 

Derek dropped into the desk chair and looked down at his own hands, as if the answers were going to suddenly appear there.  It made Stiles remember that first night, and the panic in Derek’s eyes when he’d seen Stiles trying to practice his letters.  It was someone in your family, wasn’t it?  But he didn’t know how to sign half of that, so he kept the question locked in his head with all the rest.

You can’t just look like that, you know, Stiles thought meanly.  All it does is make people feel bad.  Seriously, fuck you for looking vulnerable. 

But he didn’t actually mean any of it.  He held his breath, hoping that maybe Derek would just explain it all in a way that made it make sense for Stiles, and he could go back to figuring out his place in the world now.

Derek’s hands jerked a couple of times, a stutter of limbs that could honestly have gone either way.  He’d taught Stiles shut up on the first day, because honestly, it must have been driving him crazy not to say that a thousand times a day.  Stiles was even generous and taught his dad and Scott.  It was literally the only sign that Scott picked up, and every time he did it he beamed like he’d gone potty all by himself for the first time or something.  So of course he used it all the time .

But this was different. He wasn’t just going to tell Stiles to shut up and move along.  Stiles had the very real fear hit him that if Derek bolted out the window, he might not come back again.  Because Stiles couldn’t keep his big mouth (well, okay, hands) shut.

He signed the word for please again, and then sat down on the floor in front of Derek.  Waiting patiently, the way that Derek always waited for him.

My…sister, Derek signed. 

Stiles leaned back, the confirmation that it was someone in his family not doing anything for the shear amount of guilt churning in his stomach.  He managed to sign L-A-U before Derek shook his head. 

E-M-M-A. And then Derek made the sign for younger. Then he dropped his hands onto his knees, looking wrecked and caught up by memories that he’d probably shoved very far down inside.

I am the worst kind of asshole, Stiles thought.  His hand moved of its own volition, covering Derek’s, but the moment had barely had a chance to start before Derek slid his hand out from under Stiles’, a mask of composure back on his face.

I’m sorry, Stiles signed, because it was also one of the first things that he’d learned. 

Derek started to sign something back, but he stopped with a huff of frustration.  Then he spun around to the desk, and pulled up a piece of paper and a pen.  He wrote deftly, and it was so weird to watch him write, just the way it was weird to watch him sign, and Stiles was already developing a terrible crush on his hands, and now this was just getting obscene.

He handed Stiles the paper once he was done.  There were only a few lines on it, but it still took Stiles an uncomfortably long time to read and process.  Derek had nice, strong handwriting.  Neat for a guy, but

My younger sister, Emma.  She was born deaf.  We all learned it growing up.  I haven’t had to use it in a long time.  Don’t apologize.

And then at the bottom, Derek had added in a scrawl I’m here because I want to be.  Shut up and get to work.

When Stiles looked up, his mind still spinning through all the different thoughts about Derek.  About how Stiles must have been a painful reminder of his sister, one he’d probably tried to bury a long time ago.  And here Stiles was, acting ungrateful and spoiled all the time, about how hard his life was, when at least he still had a life, and Derek had to look at him, and god, he probably thought this kid survived and Emma didn’t ? But he’d never once taken it out on Stiles, even though he should have.  Everyone should have.

Stiles wanted to resist the impulse.  He really did.  But he didn’t know how to put anything into words, and the only tried and true gesture he’d learned that let people get that he appreciated them was hugging.  And Derek would rip open his throat with his teeth if he even tried it.  So Stiles wiped at the corners of his eyes (because damn allergies) and punched Derek on the shoulder, all compadre-like.

Derek gave him another one of those incredulous looks, like he might slam Stiles’ head into the steering wheel at the next available opportunity, but Stiles just smiled at him.

And then they began to practice.  Stiles worked harder than ever, and though that didn’t make it any easier, at least he knew that something had changed. 

******

Change was a stupid word, Stiles reconsidered the next morning, when he awoke to the sound of his father’s yelling downstairs.  He flipped out of bed on auto pilot, already fearing something like werewolves, or kanimas, or god who knows in this fucking town, and almost slammed into his closed door as he happened to see something looking in his window at him.

What the hell is that? Stiles wondered, taking a step closer.  It was the size of a volleyball or something.  But his investigation was cut short when he hear his father’s shouts get even louder.  Stiles booked it out of the room, panic driving even the hint of sleep from his body.  He might never sleep again, at this moment.

The front door to the house was open, and Stiles freaked out.  No, no, no, no.  They can’t come back.  They can’t come back yet.  “Dad,” he shouted, even though he knew no one would understand him.  But the terror in his voice, that was obvious enough.  Luckily for him, his dad appeared in the silhouette of the front door, gesturing Stiles to come join him. 

The fact that his father was so calm – well, he looked angry but he didn’t look dead or terrorized – okay, that helped out a little.  But when Stiles had to brush something out of his way in order to step out of the front door, and then when he got a look at the outside of the house itself, he started to have a better idea of what was going on.

The first thing he did was run up to his room and text Derek a bunch of key smashes in a row.  Because Stiles might fuck up the text anyway, and as long as he sends about four in sequence, Derek’s going to figure out its Stilinski for get over here right now.

******

Doll’s heads.  Hundreds of them.  They’d been hung from the porch rafters, set up against the windows, lining the porch railing, and even all over the roof (with a volleyball sized head stuck in Stiles’ window).  That was creepy on its own, especially since the cop who was supposed to be on duty keeping an eye on the house swore he hadn’t seen a thing.  But he never saw Derek, either, so that wasn’t a surprise.

But it was even worse than that.  Because someone (or a lot of someones) had spent an awful lot of time stitching up the mouths of all those dolls, as though silencing them.

When Stiles came back downstairs, he was ranting on the phone to someone, and Stiles could only imagine.  This wasn’t just some stupid prank – Stiles knew exactly where it had come from.  The Alphas were back.  But all his dad saw was someone mocking his son as blatantly as they could. 

Derek didn’t bother with stealth when he showed up less than five minutes later.  Now he speeds, Stiles thought absently, trying to make as blatant abort! Abort! motions behind his father’s back as he could.  But either Derek was ignoring him, or he didn’t care.

Stiles’ dad said something, once he realized who was coming up his front walk.  Derek, who stared at the doll heads with a dark (but thankfully human) glare, gave him a short response, then gestured towards Stiles.  The Sheriff turned towards him, and Stiles shrugged, but Derek was still talking.

Today, more than any other day, the sound of talking was cutting right through his head.  Stiles winced and stumbled back towards the doorway.  At first, neither his dad nor Derek really noticed, but whatever conversation they had going seemed intense.

Dad, please don’t interrogate the father of my babies, Stiles thought weakly, turning towards the living room and sneaking inside.  Once the headache started, it was like a locomotive gaining speed.  Five minutes later, Stiles was curled in a ball on the couch, with a pillow pressed against his head.

His dad came in at some point later, and brought Stiles his pills.  He swallowed them eagerly, washing them down with the water his dad offered.  And then he went back up to curling up underneath his pillow.  A few minutes later, someone came back and pulled a blanket over him.  He smiled, reached out, and snagged their hand until the drugs started to kick in, and he drifted.

Stiles slept.

******

 

When he woke up, his dad was gone, Derek was gone, and the house was void of doll’s heads.  But Scott was there, and Allison too, sitting across from him on opposite sides of the sofa.  Scott looked uncomfortable, but he smiled when Stiles woke up, slowly stretching.

He turned and looked out the window, seeing the unobstructed view.  Knowing the doll heads were gone took away the obvious threat, but Stiles wasn’t stupid.  He knew what it meant that the Alphas were back.

It seemed like Scott knew, too.  He already had a baseball game queued up on the TV, and this time he’d remembered to turn off the volume.  There were snack foods on the coffee table, and if Stiles’ nose was right, there was a pizza somewhere in the house.

It was a little much.  Especially when sometime during the bottom of the 3rd, Isaac just happened to show up and help himself to some pizza.  But his friends were trying, and Stiles got that.  He also got that having a pair of werewolves and a hunter’s daughter in the house was more about protection than it was about making sure Stiles’ feelings were okay.

His dad didn’t come home until almost midnight.  He walked in the front door and took one look at Stiles – a heavy, exhausted look that said there would be many conversations in their future – before he snagged a piece of pizza and trudged upstairs.

What was that? Stiles wondered, half rising out of his seat.  That look in his dad’s eyes…that wasn’t just a long day at the office.  Something was wrong.  Really wrong.  But Scott stopped him before he reached the stairs, and mimed sleeping.  Stiles tried to brush past him - that–was his dad—but Scott had werewolf strength and Stiles didn’t have the words to convince him otherwise.

That night, Derek didn’t make them practice.  He handed Stiles a stack of DVDs, and pulled up a spot on Stiles’ bed, with his back against the wall.  Stiles flipped through the movies he’d picked, and then shook his head.  Derek had picked a lot of thriller and horror movies, and he wasn’t in the mood.  Stiles rummaged around in his desk, finally emerging with a DVD.  Iron Man.  He showed it to Derek, who shrugged good naturedly, and Stiles beamed, his insane day temporarily forgotten. 

They got through not only Iron Man, but Iron Man II as well before Stiles started to drift.  When Derek started manhandling him into bed, Stiles groaned, but he quickly realized that Derek had taken up his spot at the bottom of Stiles’ bed, holding Stiles’ legs in his lap as he kept playing around with his laptop.

It was the longest that Derek had ever touched him, and his hands burned through  Stiles’ sleepwear.  But it was the best thing in the world, and even the Alphas couldn’t take that away from him.

 

******

It’s a funny story, the one about how Stiles found out he could understand speech again.  It involved a lot of loud voices, yelling, and coming downstairs to find his father standing in the foyer with his gun drawn.  A gun that was currently pointing at Stiles’ best friend, one Scott McCall.

 

Chapter Text

“…hell did you get my kid into?” His dad demanded, emphasizing his demand of a question by punching the gun forward. 

It was a shock, to say the least, that the words made actual sense to Stiles’ ears.  So much so that it overwhelmed his first instinct, which was to fly down the stairs and get in between them and figure out what the hell was going on. Because his dad threatened to shoot a lot of people, but Scott McCall was never on that list.  Or at least, he hadn’t been until today.

For his part, Scott looked like he was about ready to piss his pants.  Or like he got caught pissing on the carpet.  He looks scared, and ashamed, but Stiles knows it has nothing to do with the gun.  They never talk about their shared parenting situation, but if Mrs. McCall ever looked at him like that, Stiles would probably break down no questions asked.

Scott isn’t afraid of the gun, because Scott’s not exactly worried about bullets.  No, it’s the look on the Sheriff’s face.  There was a time not too long ago where Stiles’ dad admitted that he trusted Scott’s word more than his own son’s.

Clearly, that ship had sailed.

Stiles shook himself and leapt down the rest of the staircase, making a loud thud as he collided with the ground.  But even that wasn’t enough to deter his dad.  Stiles didn’t think about it, he moved in between them and put himself directly in the line of fire.

“Stiles, damnit!” his dad snapped.  Even Scott was protesting from behind him, telling him to get out of the way.  “Get out of the way.”

Stiles shook his head no.  He wasn’t going to get his hopes up again and try his voice.  It would kill him if it still wasn’t back.  He’d wait until later, until he was alone.  Besides, he was a little worried that his dad had finally snapped, and he thought Scott was a Cylon or something.  No, maybe not a Cylon.  Cylons were smart.  Maybe like a pod person? 

“Stiles, get out of the way!” Scott demanded.  It was like the shock of the situation had made them both forget that Stiles supposedly couldn’t understand English anymore.

Except when he could, which was apparently this morning.

Stiles shook his head in an exaggerated “No.”

“I want you to get the hell out of my house.  I ever see you in here again,” his father said, looking past Stiles to glare daggers at Scott.  His chest was heaving, and Stiles could only imagine how bad his blood pressure was right now.  His cardiologist was going to have fit.  “I will shoot you without a moment of hesitation, do you understand me?”

His sudden hearing wasn’t perfect, though, and it still took effort for Stiles to try and piece together what was being said.  A lot of it came out as noise at first, and it took him precious seconds to process that that noise was familiar.  That those sounds were words.  Words he knew!

The faster his dad spoke, the harder it was to pick out everything.  But he got the general gist of it.  Stiles turned back to his dad, frantically shaking his head, but Scott answered him with a resigned, “Yes, sir.”

“I don’t really give a damn if bullets can’t kill you.  They still hurt like a bitch,” his dad added.

And wasn’t that a kick in the teeth?  Stiles’ eyes widened.  Holy shit.  His dad knew.  How the hell did his dad know?  Stiles turned back to Scott, trying not to panic.  Okay, he was panicking, but he wasn’t going to hyperventilate.  Okay, he was hyperventilating, but it was a manly hyperventilation at least?

This was worlds of not good.  This was not how he wanted his dad to find out about…any of it.  There had been a plan, by which Stiles had planned on telling his dad the truth once there was no chance the Sheriff could get caught up in anything remotely supernatural, and Derek and the others patrolled the streets and stopped all the really bad crimes so that the worst the Sheriff had to deal with was parking tickets and public intoxication.

This, clearly, was not part of the plan.

Scott was watching him curiously.  “Stiles?  Are you…do you understand what I’m saying right now?”

Stiles thought about it for a moment. It was a step in the right direction, his doctors would say.  Maybe it meant he was finally healed, that whatever had happened to him was over, but in his gut Stiles knew that wasn’t the case at all.  The things that had happened to him hadn’t been the sort that would miraculously heal completely overnight, and they wouldn’t now.  It was almost like there’d been some sort of suffering threshold he’d had to meet, and once he hurtled that last little bit, another piece of the puzzle was farmed out to him.

Stiles was far too maudlin when he was stuck in his own head.  He looked up to see Scott looking at him expectantly.  Stiles, shrugged, then offered jazz hands and a weak smile.  Surprise!?  And then he looked back towards his dad, who pulled him forward and planted his hands on either side of Stiles’ face.  The gun had been holstered at some point after Stiles’ moment of panic, which was great, because he didn’t imagine having a gun mashing in his face would feel all that great..

“Do you…do you really understand me?” he asked, his voice barely a whisper.  There were tears in his eyes.  Stiles nodded, and then they were hugging, and Stiles clapped him on the back a couple of times because that was proper, and he really just wanted his dad to hold onto this happy moment and not the…whatever that had just been with Scott.  “Oh, kid,” his dad kept repeating like it was some sort of talisman, or some kind of prayer.

“You really know how to make an entrance,” his dad finally whispered in his ear. Stiles just squeezed him tighter, because the fact that his father was still terrified on his behalf doesn’t skip his notice.  The sheriff pulled away, and gave Stiles a hard look.  “But you’re still grounded until you go away to CalTech or Stanford or whatever.  And we’re going to have a very serious talk about what the hell you think you’re doing, running around with werewolves.”

******

This was how it went.  After Scott left (but not before Stiles pointedly gave him a hug in front of his dad), they sat at the dining room table.

“Derek…told me what’s been going on,” his father started.  Stiles gestured for him to slow down, and luckily his dad took the cue to heart.  He chose his words more carefully, and spoke at a slow pace.  “About how Scott was bitten.  How the animal attacks were really werewolves.”  His laugh was bitter and humorless.  “Werewolves.  Jesus Christ.”  His dad looked broken down, the way he looked on the nights where one tumbler of whiskey became two became three became heartache.

Stiles looked down at the table, at the scattered pile of Lydia’s flashcards.  All he wanted in this moment was to apologize.  To let his dad know how sorry he was.  Because even though this moment was something he’d wanted for over a year, and it was a terrible burden off of his chest, the fact that his dad looked so…overwhelmed was killing Stiles more than anything.

What he wanted to do more than anything right now was to pour every bottle of alcohol they had down the drain, but not only would that not solve the problem, but his dad could always just go out and get some more.  Besides, it wasn’t like the Sheriff was an alcoholic, but Stiles knew that that could change at a moment’s notice.  And he was worried that this might be the moment in question.

I’m sorry, he signed, but his dad wasn’t watching him.  He was staring at the wedding band on his finger.  What would your mother think about all this, Stiles can imagine his dad saying next.  And the sudden fear of having that question answered  - he’s never wanted to know something less because seriously if she would have been against it, it would break him and that would break his dad and that couldn’t happen – made Stiles knock his hand against the glass sitting at his nine o’clock.  He pretended to be distracted when the glass struck the wood floor, shattering into a thousand pieces.  But the moment of feigned clumsiness has the desired effect.  It immediately, and irrevocably drew his dad out of the reverie he’d stumbled into. 

Stiles would break every glass in Beacon Hills if he could make that effect permanent.  Because there were already too many broken things in the Stilinski household.  They had reached their quota.  They had paid their due.

Paid in full.

******

Stiles wasn’t surprised when Derek showed up a few minutes later.  But he was flabbergasted that he came in through the front door.  Sure, he figured Derek knew about front doors, but Stiles was under the impression that he’d never really mastered their purpose.  They were simply less direct, more cumbersome means of entering houses.  Why use a door when a window would suffice.

Stiles had just managed to finish cleaning up the glass by the time Derek arrived, and he changed the garbage bag as he eyed this strange new form.  Who knew that in addition to Beta and Alpha there was a third type of werewolf: Polite.  Stiles might actually swoon.  Except that would never happen, because the idea of a polite Derek made his skin crawl, if he was being completely honest.

Derek looked over at the two of them, then jutted his head back towards the door, his eyes on John. 

“He understands us,” his dad said simply.

Derek didn’t say anything.

Stiles sighed, turned, and nodded at the sourwolf.  He summoned up a bit of sarcasm that hadn’t been completely submerged, and signed shut up at him.

“Oh,” Derek said.

Oh.  Oh?  What the hell do you mean, “oh”, Stiles wanted to yell.  Who did Derek think he was, to just tell his dad everything. There were reasons that Stiles had been keeping the secrets he had.  All kinds of reasons that involved death, dismemberment, and destruction.

“He needed to know,” Derek said quietly, looking towards Stiles. 

Stiles crossed his arms in front of him and huffed out his irritation.  It wasn’t Derek’s decision.  It should have been Stiles’.  Or at least he should have been warned that this was coming.

“The Alphas could have killed you, Stiles,” Derek suddenly snapped.  The outburst of anger was healthy, having been suppressed for too long.  It was like Derek had been bottling it up for just this moment.  “They could have killed your dad.  And if they’re back, he has to be able to protect himself.”  It was hard to say if he was more angry than frustrated, or more frustrated than angry.

There was no sign language that Stiles knew that could properly express what he was feeling right now.  His dad knowing opened up a whole new avenue of fear: fear of what his father would do with this knowledge, fear of what could happen to him because of this knowledge.  None of them had walked away unscathed, there was always something new and horrific on the horizon.  And Derek had just walked his dad on into that world, and hadn’t stopped for one second to think about how he’d handle it.  Or how it would affect Stiles.

There was no easy way for Stiles to communicate exactly what he was thinking.  Actually, no, there was one way.  He shot up from the table, flipped Derek the finger and stormed out of the room.

******

“You need to get over it,” Derek said an hour later, when he let himself into Stiles’ room.  But it wasn’t just that he was talking, he signed what he said as well.  Stiles glared up from where he was trying to read through some of the stuff he’d printed out about aphasia. 

The first thing he’d done when coming upstairs was to go into the bathroom, turn on the shower, the sink, and flush the toilet.  And then, only after all three were as loud as possible, he’d tried to whisper out words under his breath.  And his heart tore and his stomach twisted when the stuttering, hoarse sound coming out of his throat wasn’t the declaration he was hoping it would be.

He’d known, though.  It wasn’t anything unexpected.  The problem was that he didn’t feel like he had any lingering brain trauma.  And the scans had proven that there hadn’t been any that they could find.  But still, Stiles struggled to be one tenth of the person he was, and little nibbles of who he’d been kept getting tossed in his path, but it was never enough.  Not even close.

“He told me what happened with Scott,” Derek added, sounding incredibly uncomfortable.  “He feels bad.”

Stiles gave him a dirty look that said well, that wouldn’t have happened if you hadn’t opened your big fat mouth, now would it?  Huh? 

Derek plucked the papers out of his hands and glanced them over, looking up once in the middle to study Stiles before he went back to reading.  Stiles could tell the part where Derek got to the ‘permanent brain damage’ part of the condition because of the way his face tightened up. 

“Stop feeling sorry for yourself,” he said, looking down rather than actually look at Stiles.  “You want to beat this?  Then beat it.  Stop half assing it.  Did you ever think that maybe this is what the Alphas wanted?  You’re supposed to be smart, Stiles.  If all they were after was saving me the headaches I get listening to the sound of your voice, then good job on them.  But they don’t seem to be doing me any favors.”

Asshole.  Stiles had his phone at his side, and hurled it at Derek.  But Derek pulled it out of the air like it was a magic trick, twisting his wrist with a flourish to present it back to Stiles. 

Stiles climbed off the bed, and went towards the door, where his bats were stuffed inside some kind of umbrella urn his mom had bought a lifetime ago.  He barely had one of the holster before Derek grabbed it, too, and kept him from drawing it out.  Stiles reacted, shoving at Derek again.  When it doubt, push Derek around.  Stiles was fragile, yeah?  The tables have turned, yeah?  So for once, Stiles was the one who shoved Derek against the wall.

And then stood there, panting, not sure what he wanted to do but knowing that Derek Hale was going to be the death of him in one form or another.  Derek studied him, being rather passive about the situation.  The same way he was every time Stiles let the anger and frustration get the better of him.

“I told him to talk to Deaton,” Derek said, barely a murmur.  “If Deaton’s smart, he’ll tell him about the Argents.  About wolfsbane.  I’m just hoping I can convince him not to shoot any of us in the process.”  The thread made sense.  If the Sheriff knew about werewolves, Deaton would probably confide in him at least a bit.  Tell him the score.  Which would lead him to the Argents.  Derek would never offer them up as an option himself, but he had to know where this would lead.  Stiles’ dad was a cop, cops used guns.  The Argents dealt in weapons.  Having the Sheriff “in the know” might actually work to their benefit.  And there was a good chance that Chris Argent would supply wolfsbane bullets. 

He didn’t trust Chris Argent because…well, it was obvious.  But he did trust his dad.  At least once his dad got over pointing guns at werewolves and telling them to get the hell out of his house.  But the problem in this whole equation was Derek.

Derek…had handed his dad a weakness like that?  That seemed uncharacteristic.  Stiles took a step back, disturbed.  Derek didn’t trust anyone.  Derek especially didn’t trust people he didn’t know.  This…whatever this was…it meant something.  It was an offering. Stiles closed his eyes, suddenly in need of the world’s longest nap.  What had his life become that Derek had become such a big part of it? They had never been friends before, not in the way that he and Scott were friends.  But even now, knowing that he spent more time with Derek than anyone, Stiles wouldn’t say they were friends, exactly.  He was just Derek. A big, obnoxious enigma that smelled like spices and woods and petrichor, the smell of dry earth after it rains.

Even if Stiles hadn’t just spent four months of near silence around Derek Hale, this was still one of the longest conversations they’d ever had.  At least on Derek’s end. 

He let Derek go, went back to the bed, and picked up one of the ASL For Dummies books that Lydia had brought. 

If he was going to do this, he was going to do this the Stiles Stilinski way.  And everyone else could go to hell.

 

******

The worst part about waiting for the Alphas’ next strike?  Was waiting for the Alphas’ next strike. February passed into March, and March had turned to April, and still nothing had happened.  It was like the prank at Stiles’ house had simply been a reminder that the Alphas were still around, and not to forget them. Not that Stiles had forgotten at all.  The way he figured it, it was all about keeping them off balance.  As long as Stiles and the others were on edge, waiting for the other shoe to drop, the Alphas could keep their attention focused elsewhere.

He wasn’t sure what was worse: knowing you had the attention of a pack of sociopathic werewolves, or knowing that you’d been put on hold from that pack’s attentions, but they’d get to you as soon as possible.  Stiles wasn’t the only one who was frustrated.

Other things changed, of course.  Stiles’ dad had apologized to Scott after the outburst with the gun, explaining that he’d just needed someone to hold responsible.  And as much as he’d wanted to lay that blame on Derek, Derek had been the only one to tell him the truth.  Once he realized that he wasn’t being bullshitted, the Sheriff quickly started reconsidering everything that had happened in his town in the last few years.

Derek had become an ally of sorts, and so Stiles’ dad turned his feelings of betrayal onto the only other werewolf he was personally connected to: Scott. That was the real heart of the matter.  Now that John Stilinski knew exactly why Stiles had been lying to him for over a year, there was bound to be betrayal.  But Stiles was still broken, and he’d never turn against his son.  Not like this.

But Scott still walked on eggshells any time he was around Stiles, and there was a new tension that curled into the air whenever he walked into a room with Stiles’ dad.  Stiles didn’t know how to fix it, so he did his best to keep them apart as much as possible.

His dad had also taken to looking at Derek as some sort of unofficial Yoda/deputy/son he’d never had. It rankled at Stiles, who had spent the last few years feeling like his relationship with his dad was a tight rope he had to walk, and here came Derek navigating it with a grace and poise that had nothing to do with his werewolf genes.  Seeing the two of them with their heads down, looking over some paperwork never failed to send a jolt of jealousy coursing through Stiles’ chest, but it was hard to say who he was more jealous of.  Truth was, until recently, he had been the one that Derek confided in.  The one that Derek went to when he needed help.  Now that relationship had been transferred over completely to his dad. 

His dad’s feelings on Derek seemed to be based around the fact that Stiles was (mostly) still in one piece.  Across the many nights discussing all the things that the Sheriff hadn’t known about what went on in town, there were discussions about how many times Stiles had been put into mortal danger, and how many times Derek had been there to get him out of it.  It was weird to look back and realize just how often that had happened, too.  Stiles had never really stopped to consider it, himself.  But it looked like Derek hadn’t either, from the look of shock that slipped across his face when he thought no one was looking.

Stiles and his dad had never actually talked about it, but the Sheriff was aware that Derek spent nights keeping an eye on the Stilinski house, and that most of those nights were spent in Stiles’ room.  Some nights they left the door open, and the Sheriff would putter back and forth.  He was always careful not to look like he was spying as he slipped past, but Stiles knew his dad better than that.  He was curious what they got up to when he wasn’t there.  Unfortunately, it wasn’t any one of the thousand different ways that Stiles would have liked to be occupied.  But even if Derek had even thought of him like that, he still treated Stiles like he was something fragile.  Something to be coddled.  And short of a full recovery, Stiles didn’t know how to make him realize that he was an idiot.

The only difference in the relationship with Derek was that Derek had to use the front door now, and every time he did, he looked like he’d swallowed a lemon.  It brought Stiles and adverse amount of joy, that was for sure.  He’d even taken to opening the door for him every night when he showed up, a beaming smile on his face.

The only thing that was a little weird was the way that Derek never, ever signed in front of any of the others.  When the Sheriff was home, he was always careful about not practicing with Stiles until after he was in bed, or stationary downstairs in front of a game.  More than once, Stiles had wondered if Derek was ashamed of what they were doing, even though he was pretty sure there were way dirtier things they could be doing if he wanted to really feel some shame.  But no one asked him his opinion.

Stiles…well, he didn’t master sign language overnight, but after several months of work he could at least hold competent conversations with Derek.  And he had TV back, which was glorious.  Derek hadn’t really appreciated the rest of their Marvel movie marathon, but he’d finally gotten onboard around The Avengers.  He made Stiles practice relentlessly, sessions that he assumed were even worse than the training sessions he had with the betas – which he did in the afternoons.

Stiles had also gotten Derek to take him on the long overdue meeting to see Dr. Deaton.  He said you wouldn’t be able to do anything, Stiles signed to Derek, hopped up on the exam table that normally was reserved for the animal wildlife (and occasional werewolf) that Deaton dealt with.  Derek relayed the message once Deaton walked into the room.  Deaton looked between the two of them, forehead crinkling with lines although Stiles couldn’t say for sure what he was thinking.  He seemed almost…amused?

“I’ve never seen anything like this before, that’s for sure,” Deaton said slowly, running a light between Stiles’ eyes and examining the pupillary response, as though that would hold some significance.  He did a lot of strange tests, which probably had something to do with the fact that he was a freaking vet and not a doctor. 

“I’ll keep looking into it,” the vet promised once he was done, with Stiles giving Derek a pointed see, I told you look.  Derek responded with a flippant shrug of his own, and then signed out use your words, pain in my ass, once Deaton’s back was turned.  But Stiles saw the vet’s eyes on them in the reflection of one of his cabinets.  He looked…thoughtful.

Stop calling me that, Stiles signed once they were back in the Camaro.  Pain in the ass had become Derek’s sign of choice whenever he was referring to Stiles.  Stiles was the only one who didn’t think it was hilarious. 

Stiles’ petulance earned him another Derek Hale patented laugh.  So maybe he stopped grumbling. A little.

******

The next hurdle that came up dealt with school.  After it was clear that Stiles wasn’t going to be returning to school anytime soon, he’d been quietly withdrawn by his dad.  But the idea of being held back a year was driving him crazy, and even though there wasn’t much he could do about it, Stiles knew his dad was right.  He’d already missed ninety percent of the school year.  There was no way he could make up all that work in two months.  Especially since he still wasn’t at a hundred percent. 

Besides, if Scott got held back because of his grades, he’d need someone to keep him company.  And then Stiles wouldn’t have to be separated from his best bud.

But there was still the issue of Stiles’ capabilities.  He could read, and he could hear, but actually writing was still a sticking point.  And that would make classes like English nearly impossible, because reading was only half of the curriculum.  So Stiles and the his dad had to attend a meeting with the school, to discuss their options. 

His dad had sat him down already to prepare him for what was going to happen, and what the school was going to suggest.  They had options.  Not about making sure Stiles graduated with his class, because that probably wasn’t going to happen.  But there was a school for the deaf not more than half an hour from Beacon Hills, and while not being deaf, exactly, Stiles’ inability to communicate put him closer to that end of the spectrum than this one. 

There were tutors, of course, but there was no way the Stilinskis would be able to afford that.  Online schools were an option, but the required writing elements were still going to be a difficult part of the equation.  And then there was the hail mary: hope that Stiles made a full recovery by summer’s end.

Nothing had to be decided today, but the school wanted to make sure that Stiles and his dad understood the reality of their situation.  I went from coasting through high school to not even being eligible to attend anymore, Stiles thought miserably in the car.

They were at the front doors of the school when his dad stopped him with a hand on the shoulder.  The Sheriff’s phone was going off, and he looked apologetically at Stiles.  “Five minutes,” he said, signing the words clumsily only after he’d finished speaking.  Stiles nodded, and made his way through the halls towards the guidance office.  He’d pulled his hood up over his head, tucking it down low over his forehead.  He really didn’t want to see anyone he knew while he was here.  His friends all mostly knew about the meeting, but there were still four hundred other kids at the high school that would no doubt make Stiles feel as awkward as possible.

He figured Miss Morrell just wanted to give him more speeches about not giving up.  Like anyone really understood what it was like not to be able to talk.  So he went in as soon as he reached her door, figuring it would give his dad a chance to finish his call while also giving her a chance to try to bolster his spirits.

He’d barely closed the door behind him when he realized that Miss Morrell was not a teenaged blonde jock who shared a leather jacket fetish.  Lucas sat behind the guidance counselor’s desk, his fingers grown out into werewolf claws, the only sign of his shifting.

“Long time no see, Stiles,” the Alpha said, calm and pleasant.  “Have a seat.”

 

Chapter Text

There were things that you did, when you were one of the smartest people you knew and your back was against the wall.  When your options were limited.  When you were at diminished capacity.  See, because Stiles was not an idiot.  Well, he could be an idiot, but he wasn’t one, generally speaking.

That was why there was a messaged saved in his drafts folder, pre-programmed with message that said simply “911” and texted every werewolf in Beacon Hills (and a few choice humans, of course).  It only took one swipe of his screen, and three key strokes to send out the distress call that Stiles had practiced so much that he could do it in his sleep. 

Or with his hands in his pocket.

“Make you a deal,” Lucas said casually.  “you invite your friends in, and I start collecting body parts.” He pretended to consider it for a moment.  “You used to be something important to them, didn’t you?  Almost like the Alpha’s right hand man.  So how about every wolf that walks through that door finds out what it’s really like not to have their right hand anymore?  Call it the literal interpretation of your little plight.  How’s that sound?”

Stiles stopped in the middle of the motion.

“Good boy,” Lucas beamed.  He got up from the desk, and came around to the other side, closing in on Stiles.  He took an instinctive step back, and the Alpha chuckled.  “Don’t be so timid, come and have a seat,”  he said, rubbing his hand against Stiles’ head like he was a good pet in need of affection.

Stiles squirmed, but he didn’t fight it.

“Your heart’s beating fast,” Lucas said, leaning back against the desk.  He left one chair for Stiles and then propped his leg up on the other.  “But those werewolf senses are a bitch, aren’t they?  I don’t think we want to take the chance that someone figures out that the racing pulse in the guidance office is their little own wounded bird.”  He held out his hand, making an impatient gesture.  “Give me the phone.”

Stiles handed over the phone without a second thought.  Lucas was right, his heart was racing.  But more than that, it was the fear choking him from the inside that made the situation worse.  He was about three seconds from dropping to the floor and curling into a little ball.  Every time Lucas moved, Stiles tried not to show it, but he flinched all the same.  Lucas had taken everything from him.

So what was this, then?  Did he come back to finish the job?  Finally, once Stiles was really starting to make progress in getting his life back? 

“What’s that adorable little name you use?  Sourwolf.  Now how apt is that?”  Lucas’ fingers flew over the touchpad of the phone.  “How does this sound?  Sourwolf yelling at the guidance counselor and my dad is basically worst moment of my life.  Ever. So embarrassed.”  He flipped the phone around, like Stiles would want to read the message for himself.  It was scary how one little word could make a text sound infallibly like Stiles, but it did.

Creepazoid fact number five thousand.  Lucas played head games with all of them because he was so goddamn good at it that they never had a chance.  Even Stiles would have a hard time deciphering that he hadn’t sent that text message, it sounded so much like him.

“You should really be happier than this,” Lucas chided.  “Normally, when I send a message, there’s a lot more blood involved.  But you?  You’ve played your part perfectly.  You did exactly what we needed you to do.  You kept them distracted.  Because if we could do this to you, then what have you ever really thought about what we could do to them?”

What do you want? Stiles signed, even though he knew it was probably a pointless effort.

“Oh, stop,” Lucas said, waving him off, “I have better things to do with my time then watch you flail around.  I silenced you for a reason.”  His expression grew severe.  “A lesser person would be angry that you’ve ignored my explicit instructions.  A lesser person would take it out on those around you.”  And then, like he really needed to belabor the point, Lucas fluently signed No communication means no communication.

And then just like that, his mood shifted, and Stiles realized something important.  Lucas wasn’t just a manipulative bastard.  He was also a card carrying psychopath.  It’s too bad Matt was dead, or the two of them could have gone off into the sunset together and had little crazy babies together…and then probably overthrown some South American dictator to establish their own little crazy town. 

Lucas held up a finger.  “Hurt Allison,” he said, then held up the matching finger on his other hand, “and Scott comes running.  Hurt Scott, and you and Allison both come running.  Hurt Lydia, and you and Jackson both come running.  Hurt Jackson, and Lydia comes running.”  He paired each finger with one on the other hand, and then held up his thumb. And then that sadistic smile returns.  “But hurt you?” This time he didn’t hold up the other thumb, but the whole hand.  “Hurt you and everyone comes running.  Do you know what we call that in my line of work, Stiles?”

He kicks the chair out from next to Stiles, and one moment he’s a normal looking teenager, and the next, he’s shifted into his werewolf state, and there are claws in Stiles’ face.  “We call that a sure thing,” the Alpha snarled.

******

Stiles had to sign I’m not hurt.  I’m fine.  I’m okay.  No really, I’m okay.  Stop touching me.  No seriously, stop touching me there, about a thousand times before the room full of werewolves got over themselves.

There was a scratch mark down his left cheek.  Not deep, in fact it had barely broken the skin.  Because, again, that was the point.  Lucas didn’t need to hurt Stiles to leave a message.  But he wanted them to know that he could. 

No matter how tough they made the restrictions around Stiles, no matter how much they beefed up his security, eventually, there was a moment where someone let down their guard.  And the Alphas exploited that moment every single time.

“Stiles, goddamnit,” his father shouted at one point, when his son was refusing a trip to the hospital for about the thousandth time. 

This time, Stiles exaggerated his signing.  He tried to channel just a fraction of Derek’s bitchface, hoping to get the message across.  I. Am. Fine.  Because he was.  But no one seemed willing to believe him.

Stiles turned to Scott and signed out D-E-R-E-K, and got Scott’s “thinking” face in response.  He slowly, jerkily, tried to sign out something that started with what or maybe it was supposed to be…actually, Stiles had no idea what it was supposed to be.  Scott finally gave up after it became clear that he couldn’t sign out his answer to save his life.  “He’s on his way.  He said it would be awhile, though.  I don’t think he was in town.”

Derek actually left town?  How was he going to keep his Town Creeper slot if he started abandoning his post?  A tiny of Stiles felt a stinging of betrayal, but it was immediately drowned by a rush of self-loathing.  Sure, Derek should have been here because Stiles couldn’t leave the house without him now.  He should have been there waiting on Stiles hand and foot, because, what?  He was Stiles’ personal assistant now?  Bodyguard?  It was an unfair situation to be upset about.  Stiles didn’t have any reason to feel betrayed.

But he still did, a little bit.  What if Lucas had been here to finish the job after all?  What if he’d died because Derek wasn’t here to make sure he was okay.

And at what point in his life had Stiles decided to put the responsibility of his safety onto Derek?  That wasn’t fair to Derek.  And if he was being honest, it wasn’t fair to Stiles either.  Because he didn’t need no man to protect him.  He was perfectly capable of finding someone to hide behind in times of stress. 

Ugh.  This would be so much easier if he could just babble out loud until someone told him to shut up.

“Stiles?” Isaac said, sounding a little bit hesitant.  Stiles looked up to see everyone in the room staring at him, many of them in concern.

Oh, right.  He shouldn’t space out in front of groups of worried werewolves, either.

“I just don’t get how they don’t leave a trail,” Scott muttered to Jackson, glancing fearfully towards Stiles.  Someone should probably remind Scott that his hearing wasn’t damaged like that, and he could still hear whispers.  But as long as Scott didn’t do the loud speaking/heavy enunciation thing, he’d let it slide.  Plus, he’d probably get to hear a lot of dirt that Scott wouldn’t normally share with him.

Unless it was about Allison, because he already had shared way too much on that particular topic and Stiles was never going to bleach his brain enough to get the images out.  He’d never even look at edible underwear the same again!

This bit of information, though, didn’t do much good.  He already knew that the Alphas had some way of masking their scent.  It was how they got around town without being hunted down the first time they acted.  They could sneak in and out of Stiles’ house without alerting anyone.  It was one of the reasons that Derek had probably set up camp in his house every night.

His dad crouched down in front of him, looking like he’d aged another decade since they’d pulled into the school.  “Tell me again what he said to you.”

Lucas had smiled at Stiles, the way an owner smiles at their favorite pet.  As long as he didn’t ruffle Stiles’ hair again, it would be too soon.  He could still feel hands in his too-long hair, and it creeped him out beyond belief.

“Do you know what I like about you, Stiles?” the Alpha asked, after scaring him shitless by scratching his face.  “You know your limitations.  This would have all gone down a lot differently if Derek would have just bitten you already.  But you’re not ready for that.  I understand.  You’re smart.  Too smart.  You still think you’re better off human.”

“Some of the others thought he’d just bite you and get it over with the moment you realized just how limited you truly were now.  I knew better, though.  You certainly do have a lot of sway with your Alpha, don’t you?  But every decision you make changes the game we’re playing.  There was a point where we might have just come in and leveled Beacon Hills to the ground.   We’ve done it before, you know.”  He tapped at his lips then, lost in thought, a small smile teasing the atrocities he’d committed before.  “Sooner or later, you’re going to try to figure out what it is we’re really after.  But that, I’m afraid, is just as mercurial a thing as your own actions.  We adapt based on your choices, and yet none of you ever acts quite the way we expect.  You make it a challenge.  I like a challenge.   And then I realized just how to get what we wanted.” 

And then he tapped Stiles on the nose.

Stiles shook his head, the nerves clawing up his chest at the memory.  He squirmed in the chair, looking anywhere but his dad’s eyes.  It was like he was dirty.  Like he’d been infected.  Again.  Like he’d done something to deserve all this.  That it was his fault he’d been tortured, and everything his friends had been put through was his fault.

He said he wanted to repeat the message, Stiles signed.  His hands only shook a little as his fingers manipulated the lie.  He didn’t want his dad to worry any more than he already did.  But maybe Derek was another matter.  Maybe he should tell Derek everything.  Tell him that, whatever the Alphas were planning, Stiles still heavily factored into their endgame.

It would probably drive Derek insane.  Or maybe Derek would finally realize that enough was enough, and he’d leave Stiles to his fate.  Whatever that was supposed to be.

His dad huffed out a breath, and then looked down at his watch.  “Let’s get you home, kid.”

*******

House arrest was a thousand times worse when everyone was blatant about it.  Now Allison never showed up without a bow and a quiver full of wolfsbane-tipped arrows.  There was always another werewolf in the house with Stiles, day or night.  And he wasn’t exactly sure about it, but he thought that the police car on stakeout outside was being supplemented by more werewolves.

Stiles had figured out that Derek would lose it when he found out what had happened in the guidance office.  Clearly, Stiles had been underestimating what was going to happen.

In one of his rare moments of wisdom, Scott went to intercept Derek before he showed up at Stiles’ house.  Which was a good thing, if the bruised and bloody Scott that showed up behind Derek an hour later had anything to say about it.  Stiles had seen Derek pissed off a thousand times before.  Hell, Derek had been pissed off at him at least that many times!  But he’d never seen him beat the crap out of Scott quite like this before.  They’d fought, sure, but those were always during periods where they were struggling for footing against the other.  Two betas who didn’t agree on anything, and later the alpha trying to solidify his position.  But never a strict beat down.

Stiles was alone in his room when Derek charged in.  In that moment, he looked so furious that Stiles had flashbacks to the Alpha encounter and flew out of his chair and onto the floor, and then scrambled back against the wall.  Derek didn’t even have to growl at him or anything, but in that moment Stiles got exactly what had happened to Isaac that night in the prison hall at the station, when Derek had saved his life.

Because Stiles was freaking terrified.

Derek’s eyes were glowing red, but he was still in his human form.  Even seeing how his arrival affected Stiles, he didn’t do anything to placate the teenager.  He just stared. Like he was committing Stiles’ face to memory.  Or like he was pondering just how he was going to kick the shit out of the defenseless kid in front of him.

The silence in the room lasted for almost five minutes.  Stiles was so scared he could barely breathe, and he was almost positive that his heartbeat was a terrified melody that called out to anyone with superhuman hearing, but no one came to interrupt them.  Not even Scott, his supposed best friend.

Finally, the rage just slid off of Derek’s face like it was a hallucination that Stiles had had, and he crouched down, holding out a hand to Stiles.  A gentle, peaceful hand. 

Stiles would later claim that his body wasn’t under his control, that he couldn’t think rationally, and therefore he shouldn’t be held responsible for his actions.  Because one moment, he was cowering against the wall, and the next he’d lunged forward and threw himself into Derek’s arms, and was squeezing him so tight that his arms started to hurt almost instantly.

Derek didn’t do anything to console him: there was no rubbing of a hand along his back, no soothing words whispered into his ear, no patting of the back.  But he held Stiles almost as tightly as Stiles was holding him, and they stayed together like that for almost as long as Derek had kept him pinned against the wall with his eyes.

Eventually, though, because he was Stiles and because sitting still had been an impossible feat since he was in diapers, he lost balance (even though he was on his knees) and started to fall into Derek when the Alpha decided to pick them both up and get them back on their feet.

Stiles closed his eyes, because he needed a second to collect himself.  He hadn’t cried, because a man was only supposed to cry at very crucial moments and this was not one.  But he still felt ragged and raw, in a way he hadn’t let himself feel in front of the others. And he still felt…gross.  There was one thing that he needed to do more than anything.  With a quick, speculative look at Derek that lingered on his lips (Jesus God now was not the time), Stiles went into the hall bathroom and dug around in the cabinet under the sink until he found what he was looking for.  The electric hair trimmer his dad had bought him a couple of Christmases ago, so that Stiles could save him ten bucks a month and trim his own hair instead of running to the barber.

He shaved off almost everything, having let his hair keep growing since the accident.  He almost didn’t recognize himself in the mirror anymore, but there were a thousand different reasons for that.  At the first sound of the electric razor’s buzz, Derek had appeared in the doorway.  He didn’t say anything, just watched as Stiles sheared away the feeling of Lucas’s hands in his hair.

And when Stiles fumbled with the hair on the back of his head, Derek gently plucked the razor out of his hands.  Stiles went still, as Derek traced lines up his scalp with the razor in one hand and the other holding Stiles’ head still.  Once he was done he cut the razor off, but his hands lingered on Stiles’ scalp, his thumb tracing a small circle behind his ear. 

Stiles pulled away first, afraid that Derek was going to look down and notice the awkward bulge in the teenager’s pants, and wouldn’t that just make today the worst day ever, even more than it already was?  He swept up the hair as quickly as possible, dumping it into the garbage can and taking a moment to run his fingers along his scalp, reminding himself that he was safe.  Lucas wasn’t here, and Lucas would never again be able to run his fingers through too long hair.  It felt like taking something back from the Alpha, and Stiles almost smiled.

Almost.

Derek lingered in the hallway when Stiles walked back into his room.  He climbed back onto his bed and sat cross-legged against the wall, signing can you shut the door once Derek came back into his room.

Once the door was closed, Derek signed something, but Stiles was staring holes into the floor, feeling the shame igniting his skin like mixing potassium permanganate with antifreeze would create fire.  (And they tried to say he didn’t learn anything useful in Chemistry).  Because seriously, not only had he just hugged the shit out of the werewolf for nearly the length of a round of Seven Minutes in heaven, but there’d just been a…something when Stiles had been shaving his head.  That thumb rub had been…something.  Stiles didn’t know how to interpret it, but it was freaking him out just a little.  Just a lot, actually.  Derek cleared his throat pointedly, then said out loud, “Stiles.”

Stiles looked up slowly, sure that his face was a scarlet mask by now.  Why did he always do this?  Make the situation as uncomfortable as possible?  It was clear that Derek was just humoring him.  Why would someone who looked like that want someone like him. 

“I should have been there,” Derek continued, signing along with his words.  He still hadn’t given himself up in front of any of the others, and Stiles wasn’t about to, either.

Where were you? Stiles asked after a significant pause.  He hoped Derek couldn’t read the petulant tone in his head, because really, he had enough trouble not looking like a brat in front of him.

“Deaton thought he might have uncovered something,” Derek said, his fingers actually signing the words before he spoke them.  It was like a tape delay, only it was throwing Stiles off a bit because most people lead with their words and caught up with the signs.  But to Derek, the signing was more important.  Or at least that’s how it seemed.

It’s not your fault.  And then, because he couldn’t hold it in any longer, he added, I didn’t tell them everything. 

Derek sat down on the other side of the bed, a healthy distance between them.  Stiles proceeded to tell him the rest of what had happened in the guidance counselor’s office, and the things that Lucas had said to him, along with the things that he’d implied.  Like it was an unspoken rule, Derek didn’t speak again, they let their hands do the talking.

Derek wasn’t happy with what Stiles had to tell him, of which he wasn’t surprised.  But if his freak out upon walking into Stiles’ room had any effect at all, it was that his reaction to the Alpha’s threats was substantially more controlled.  His eyes flashed red, but he didn’t growl or lose his temper or anything. 

So what do you think he really wants? Derek had asked, his eyes unusually wide and concerned.

Me? Stiles signed back.

Derek rolled his eyes.  Of course you, pain in the ass. 

No, Stiles shook his head.  I mean, I think he wants me.

Derek went still as his brain processed what Stiles was telling him.  And then he snarled and leapt off of the bed.  Stiles jumped after him, grabbing his arm before Derek jumped from the now open window.  It was cold for April, but that wasn’t the reason that Stiles shivered.  He was more afraid of what would happen to Derek if he did catch the Alpha.  Lucas didn’t strike him as the type who enjoyed interference in his plans.  And clearly, he was holding off for something in particular.

Please don’t go?  Stiles signed.

Derek hesitated, and it was just long enough that Stiles smiled to himself in victory and yanked on his arm to drag him towards the bed again.  Derek didn’t resist at all.

You’d better apologize to Scott, he signed a little while later, when they were done watching a movie on Stiles’ laptop.

Derek rolled his eyes again, but Stiles counted that as a victory, too.

******

People came in and out of the Stilinski house for the rest of the day, but no one batted an eye about the fact that Stiles and Derek seemed attached at the hip.  Even Scott didn’t seem like he was holding much of a grudge, though a couple of times Stiles had looked over his shoulder to see his best friend studying the two of them with a thoughtful expression.  If he didn’t know better, he would have thought Scott was having a perceptive moment.  But then again, this was Scott, so probably not.

There was a game on that night, and Stiles and Derek caught it (along with a rare pizza dinner that Stiles didn’t protest too heavily) with his dad.  It was almost like some weird sort of family night, and the sheer amount of normal going around freaked him out just a little.  But he thought avoidance and ignorance was the best way to handle the situation.  If he didn’t think about it, and pretended he didn’t even notice it, then nothing could go wrong and burst the little perfect bubble of an evening.

Later that night, after the Sheriff had gone to bed, Stiles was attempting to read when he got one of the (now rare) migraines that said he was pushing himself too hard.  He only winced a couple of times before Derek came over to sit on the bed next to him, and gently brushed a hand against Stiles’ head. The pain started to dwindle almost instantly, but Stiles knew that it was just a trick.  It was still there, Derek was just taking a bit of it away.  So he handed Derek the book – one of the texts he would have read, if he’d actually attended school this year – and signed read to me?

He knew he was pushing his luck, because really there was such a thing as taking the bodyguard thing too far.  But it was like Derek had been waiting for this, because he gave a long suffering sigh, and plucked the book out of Stiles’ hands.  There wasn’t even a moment of hesitation. 

Derek read to him about the love between Gatsby and Daisy, and the tumultuous lives of those around them.  His voice was low and soothing, and Stiles wondered sleepily how many people had ever heard him sound like this: soft and sweet, lacking the angry shroud that normally hung over him like a second skin.  He curled into Derek, and felt a scruffy chin brush against his head.

******

Lucas was there, in his dreams, and Stiles woke with a shout of terror.  His room was completely dark, the window was still closed and he was still blanketed on one whole side by a sleeping Derek, who woke at sudden noise.  His arm was under Stiles’ and it tightened on reflex, even as he scanned the room.  But it was like as soon as he realized that they were alone – that Stiles was still safe – that he settled back down, and pulled Stiles closer against him.

Cuddling.  They were cuddling. 

Stiles hid his sudden smile against the fabric of Derek’s henley, and pulled the comforter up over the two of them.  Derek muttered something in a sleepy voice that Stiles couldn’t understand, but it sounded like warmth and happiness and contentment, and it pried the last bits of fear out of Stiles mind. 

He let himself drift back off into the night.

******

That was how the next few nights proceeded, almost to a T.  They never spoke about it in the daylight, but Derek also didn’t push him away the way he always did.  Stiles took that as a sign of…well, he wasn’t sure what that was a sign of.  Only that Derek didn’t think he was some kind of waste of space, not really.

Everyone around them, Derek included, stayed on high alert, but Stiles could have told them it was pointless.  The worst part about the Alphas was that they were patient.  They didn’t have any reason to rush in and start a confrontation they weren’t prepared for.  They had the luxury of time.  And Stiles had to wake up every morning with the albatross hanging over him, knowing that Lucas’s visit wouldn’t be the last time one of the Alphas would come for him. 

And then the Omega turned up, and killed three people in a single night.  Christ Argent had distanced himself from the other hunters, but the trio of deaths (Stiles overheard his dad on the phone and the word ‘mangled’ had been used multiple times) hit him hard enough to get the gang back together.  Allison played the reluctant go-between for the two sides, mostly keeping Stiles’ dad aware of what was going on from the hunter’s side.

The Sheriff did get a supply of wolfsbane bullets from the Argents, and it seemed like an ongoing working relationship had grown between the two, if half the conversations Stiles eavesdropped on were anything to go by.  Allison passed along messages from Chris, but also referenced meetings and phone conversations that Stiles didn’t know about. 

Just exactly how close was the Sheriff getting to the Argents? Did Stiles need to worry?  And why wasn’t Derek more concerned?

For the next few days, everyone was stressed.  Stiles couldn’t blame them.  The werewolves were dealing with school during the day, lacrosse practice for some in the afternoon, and then trying to track the Omega at night.   Everyone was burning the candle at both ends.  More often than not, Derek was already asleep on Stiles’ side of the bed went he went upstairs at night.  The first night he’d felt weird about sleeping next to him without his consent (even though he’d done it several times before already) but Derek had rolled over and pulled Stiles up against his chest, and that was the end of that.

He knew his dad had to have walked past at some point and saw them, but no one said anything.  Like, there was a gigantic amount of not saying anything going around the Stilinski household.

When the attack came, it was an accident.  Just an absent moment where Stiles wasn’t thinking.  He went looking for his iPod, which he was pretty sure he hadn’t used since the fall.  He’d spent the afternoon tearing his room apart without any luck. 

He didn’t think anything of it when he stepped out the front door.  He was just going to his Jeep, after all.  Wasn’t even leaving the front yard. Derek was upstairs, his dad was on the phone, and Boyd was somewhere across the street.  Maybe he wasn’t the safest ever, but it was only for a minute.

The Omega sailed out of nowhere, and slammed Stiles against the side of the Jeep – his baby! – before Stiles had even realized something was wrong.  Hot, rancid breath washed over his face, and he gagged.  The werewolf smelled like it didn’t know the first thing about werehygiene.  At least Derek showered. 

“Lucas wanted me to say hello, and leave you a little present,” the Omega growled.  He raised a hand full of claws, and reached up for the cheek that Lucas hadn’t marked.  As if he was going to complete the set and leave him another matching scratch. 

Well, he would have.  Except that one moment the Omega had Stiles pinned against the car, and the next moment a blur from the second story came hurtling down on them, knocked Stiles to the ground, and the Omega into the street.

“Go!” Derek snarled, putting himself between Stiles and the rogue werewolf.  Stiles flew up the stairs and back into the house, running past his dad who had his gun in hand and trained on the werewolf.  But Derek didn’t give him the chance.  The fight was short but brutal, and Stiles winced every time someone slammed against one of the vehicles. 

He missed most of it, crouched down in front of one of the couches, peeking through the front windows.  But he saw Derek pivot around the Omega suddenly, and the way his claws slashed across the back of the werewolf’s legs, severing at least one of its hamstrings.

The wolf howled, but when Derek went in for the kill, the wolf recovered quickly.  It hadn’t been as wounded as Stiles had thought, only feigning a serious injury.  The Omega sidestepped Derek and slashed  its claws up Derek’s chest. 

Stiles shouted, terror choking his voice until it was nothing more than a gasp of agonized air.  Derek dropped, and he heard gunfire, but the werewolf bounded between the houses next door and vanished into the night.

Stiles ran for the door, but Boyd was there, blocking his path.  Stiles fought to scramble around him, to dart around him when he was distracted, even going so far as trying to tunnel between his legs, but Boyd was an immovable force.  If he’d had one of his father’s guns in that moment, he was pretty sure he would have emptied the clip into Boyd, friend or not.

After that, the house was once again abuzz with activity.  The police were called as a result of the shots fired, and Stiles was fireman carried upstairs by Boyd, who was really, really going to get shot with something the minute Stiles found himself a weapon, wolfsbane bullets or not.  And no one would tell him a single thing about Derek.  They shut him up in his room, and left Boyd there standing watch.  Stiles even tried climbing out the window, pulling a reverse-Derek, only to find Isaac already there, looking just as blank-faced and empty as Boyd was.

It was almost ten minutes later when Boyd finally let him out, and pointed down the hall to the bathroom, and one very pissed off, shirtless, Alpha trying to wash the blood off his now unmarked chest.

Stiles didn’t even really know what he was doing.  He ran, and then the door slammed shut behind him, and he was running his hands over Derek’s chest, making sure that every single trace of the injuries was gone.  That Derek really was unhurt.  Because he’d seen those claws rend flesh, and while part of his brain knew that werewolves (especially Alphas) healed fast, he’d still seen huge gaping claw marks that couldn’t be forgotten.

Derek was still a bloody mess, but Stiles didn’t care, because the next moment he threw his arms around Derek and held onto him until the shaking stopped.  He whispered things that weren’t words, just the jumbled sound salad that came out whenever he tried to communicate, but Derek seemed to understand.  He was more hesitant than Stiles to hug back, probably because of all the blood, but Stiles didn’t care. 

There were apologies in his words, too, though Stiles was too terrified, even now, to sign out the words that would make Derek understand.  But maybe he didn’t have to, because Derek kept repeating “I know, I know” to him in a soothing whisper.

A few minutes later, he pushed Stiles away from him, gently, his head cocked to one side and his eyes distant.  “They got him,” Derek whispered.  After a moment he shook himself and signed out the words.  “Chris and his people.  It’s okay.  You’re okay.”

If Chris had gotten to the Omega, that meant…Stiles was surprised by just how savage his relief was.  The Omega was dead.  The hunters wouldn’t have let him go.  The code that Chris lived by only affected werewolves that were a threat to their community.  Murderers.

Good, he thought coldly.  Lucas sent him, he signed to Derek, before realizing the other man was half naked and still half bloody.  Stiles flushed and turned away a little, because it should have been weird and gross and totally inappropriate to get hard while Derek still looked like someone had torn his chest apart.

Derek tucked a hand under Stiles’ chin and forced his head up slowly.  They looked at each other for a moment in silence before Derek said, “You’re okay.  It’s okay.”  Then he nodded back towards the door.  “I need to finish cleaning up.”  It was clearly a dismissal.

But Stiles didn’t care.  He was shaken, in a different way than the threat from Lucas.  In some ways, the Omega attack was almost worse.  It was familiar and normal and ordinary.  It wasn’t the mind numbing terror that Lucas inspired.  It was something Stiles had seen before.  He knew the kind of damage werewolves could inflict.  He’d seen what Peter had done to the people who crossed him, to Lydia, and Kate.  He’d even seen what the kanima could do, sometimes more than he could even handle.

He sat in his computer chair and stared down at his hands.  He couldn’t even leave the house anymore.  Not that he entirely wanted to, most days, but knowing he couldn’t made the walls press in the same way they had in the hospital.  Everything was constricting on him, and there wasn’t any air, and he was going to die in here because that’s what the Alphas wanted if he didn’t asphyxiate first which was a real possibility because Stiles sucked at holding his breath and Derek was probably going to blame him for dying because let’s face it Stiles was the most likely candidate to get randomly whacked by supernatural nutjobs.  He didn’t have werewolf strength, or healing, or awesome combat skills with a bow or anything.

When Derek finally walked into the bedroom, wearing a shirt that was too tight across his chest that Stiles was pretty sure was his dad’s, Stiles did the only thing he could reasonably think of.

He crossed the room, grabbed both sides of Derek’s face, and kissed him.

 

Chapter Text

Stiles would be lying if he said that they hadn’t been building up to this over the months.  Maybe it would have happened sooner if Stiles had recovered, or maybe it wouldn’t have happened at all.  But they’d been spending so much time around one another that he felt like he couldn’t help himself any longer.

Plus, he was in the midst of a full on panic, and acting impetuously had never steered him wrong before.  (Except for all those times it bit him in the ass – like the time when he and Scott went looking for a dead body and it ended up biting Scott in the ass.  Literally.)

Derek’s lips were softer than Stiles would have expected, the scruff on his cheeks rougher than he would have expected, too.  It was a strange contrast.  They were almost at an even height, maybe half an inch separated them, just enough that Stiles had to tilt his face up just a bit, and Derek had to turn his face down.

Derek’s lips parted easily, and Stiles grabbed him by the back of the head, deepening the kiss and also taking charge.  That Derek would let him do this, let him be the instigator was a surreal change of pace. 

And okay, Stiles didn’t have much experience in making out with other people, but he’d practiced enough on his hand, and the mirror, and Sourcub the wolf plush that had been banished to the far corner of his closet where neither of them would ever have to relive the shame of the last time Stiles had drank too much of his dad’s scotch and wandered into his room and let his imagination roam.

But kissing Derek was basically everything he’d thought it would be and…actually a little less.  Stiles pulled away, unable to stop the awkward chuckle that started the moment they separated.  He rubbed the back of his head, still getting used to the feel of the buzz cut against his fingers. 

Wow, you are really bad at that, Stiles signed with a broad grin plastered across his face.  Because really, everyone in Beacon Hills who had eyes could tell that Derek Hale had the body of a sex god, and if he was really that bad at kissing then someone had clearly mislabeled the package.  But it was cool, because maybe it was a good thing that Derek was so bad at that, because Stiles was already inexperienced in a lot of things, and they could figure it out together and then Stiles wouldn’t have to be embarrassed all the time about all the things that Derek knew or could do that Stiles would probably suck at (a lot) right at the start and probably still suck (a lot) for awhile until he was suddenly decent at it and by then they wouldn’t care because Derek would just roll his eyes and be like shut up, Stiles, you’re thinking too much again, and Stiles would grin and…wait.

Derek was not smiling, though.  Derek wasn’t even scowling. 

Derek looked horrified.  Like he was one step away from scrubbing the taste of Stiles’ off of his mouth once and for all.  He took a step back from Stiles, his eyes so wide they looked like they’d doubled in size, anime style.

“Don’t do that again,” Derek said, clearly so unnerved that he didn’t even sign his words.  “Ever.”

Oh god, he’s straight and this was all some huge misunderstanding and oh god he’s going to murder me in my sleep probably and what the hell is wrong with me why would I think that was okay.  Stiles dropped his head so he wouldn’t have to see that look on Derek’s face anymore.  He’d looked like that because Stiles had kissed him.  He’d looked at Stiles like that.  Like Stiles really was a freak.

Please go away, Stiles signed, still with his head down.

Derek huffed out a breath, and Stiles saw the jerk of his shoulders that said he was trying to crack his neck.  It was one of those weird Derek habits that he’d never really noticed before, but now it was like an exclamation point on all the shame that was welling up in his chest.

“You’re sixteen, Stiles,” Derek said at the door, like that was somehow a justification.  Like it would somehow swallow up the mortification that was threatening to explode out of Stiles’ chest like one of those Aliens from the movie.

I’m seventeen, Stiles though with irritation, because of course Derek wouldn’t remember how old he really was.  He hadn’t made a big deal about it when the pack had forgotten last fall.  Everyone had been more caught up in the hunt for the Alphas and their own personal drama.  There’d never really been a good time to remind everyone ‘hey, my birthday’s coming up.’  So Stiles had let it pass by without saying anything.

Scott had remembered, of course.  Stiles thought he’d forgotten just like the rest, but after school had let out, and Stiles drove Scott and Isaac over to Scott’s house, Scott had held back, digging out a terribly wrapped present from the depths of his bookbag.  The wear and tear over the course of the day had basically ripped off one corner of the package already, revealing the bright neon green that said it was a video game, but Scott had beamed at him nonetheless.  And Stiles felt guilty for all the mean thoughts he’d had about how Isaac was trying to steal his best friend, and how his best friend was allowing himself to be stolen.

So no, he didn’t expect that Derek would remember he was seventeen, or that his birthday was only like four months away.  In his head, clearly Stiles was just a stupid, confused kid.

For once, Stiles was glad he couldn’t communicate.  Because this might be the first time he was ever truly at a loss for words.

The door closed softly behind Derek.

******

To say that things were different after that was an understatement.  The constant camaraderie with Derek was over like it had never even happened in the first place.  The softer, quieter Derek Hale was like something that Stiles had hallucinated for the past few months, and in his place there was the real Derek: the pissy, sarcastic douche-keteer who made a point of reminding everyone constantly that he was the Alpha.

Stiles stopped eating his meals downstairs, because that was where Derek hung out now when he was over.  Derek hadn’t stepped foot into Stiles’ room ever since the kiss, and it was by unspoken agreement that they never talked.  Derek didn’t sign around him, and didn’t interpret even when he was in the room.

And then the weekend came, and Derek didn’t show up at all.  Scott and Isaac did instead, Scott with a sheepish look, and Isaac with a sleeping bag and a few uncomfortable looks around Stiles’ living room.

“Derek asked us to stick around this weekend,” Scott said, once he and Stiles marched upstairs and Stiles gave him a pointed, yet totally justified in his irritation, look.  And then there was one of those strangely perceptive looks of Scott’s, and he leaned forward a bit, lowering his voice.  Not that it mattered, Isaac could hear everything they were saying even if they were in the house next door.  “Is everything okay?”

Stiles shrugged his why wouldn’t everything be okay shrug, and kicked his copy of The Great Gatsby underneath his bed.  No point in finishing that, now. 

Stiles’ dad was home that night, so Scott went out and picked up subs, and they ate around the television.  Scott tried to interest him in a few games, but Stiles waved him off.  But he did watch as Scott and Isaac played for a few hours.  Isaac was terrible, really, absolutely no competition whatsoever.  But he improved steadily, and every time he did he flashed them both with his incredibly stupid, earnest smile.  Stiles faked a grin back at one point, because really, there was no point in being mean to Isaac.  He wanted to, but not because of anything Isaac had done.

He found himself communicating less and less with the people around him, as the days went on.  If something could be answered in a nod or a shrug, he opted for that instead of signing.  And when people signed at him, he only paid attention half of the time.

Most of the time he didn’t even feel like doing anything at all.  Or listening to people.  Or even being around them.  So he hid up in his room, and slept more than he’d slept in his entire life.

He was sure they were all talking about him, but every time someone tried to intercede, Stiles walked away.  That was very effective.  Walking away.  Stiles had his rude moments but he never just ignored people before.  They didn’t know how to handle it. 

He was isolated, and bitter, and resented all of them.  Scott and Allison continued their dance.  His dad and Melissa made eyes at each other and thought that everyone was completely oblivious.  Jackson and Lydia were still as dysfunctionally in love as ever.  And then there was Stiles.

Stupid, broken Stiles.

******

He was in the middle of an epic three day sulk, hidden underneath his covers, when someone barged into his room and dragged him out from the bed by his ankle.  Stiles went tumbling onto the floor of his room, already snarling in irritation.  Derek towered above him, his nose wrinkled in disgust.

Take a shower.  You stink. He signed.  Stiles wasn’t even worth his words anymore.  Message delivered, Derek spun around on his heel and started to stalk out of the room.

Oh no you don’t, Stiles fumed.  Who the hell was Derek to just walk into his room and tell him what to do like he had the right.  Like he had any right at all.  He was the one who’d been so disgusted by Stiles that he went out of his way to avoid him.  Sure, Stiles had misread the signs, but Derek was the one who acted like Stiles was a freak.

He flew off the bed and shoved Derek as hard as he could, straight through the hallway and into the wall outside his room.  Stiles knew less than nothing about how to fight with someone, but every fight he’d had with Derek had never been about doing damage.  It had just been about the actions.  The rage.  And Stiles had a lot of that to go around.

They’d been in this position several times before, and every time Derek had just taken it.  Just let Stiles vent onto him and communicate in one of the few ways he had left to him.  His dad had never hit him, not really, and if Stiles had been in his right mind it might have worried him how quickly he reached for violence as the solution to his problems.  But he didn’t care.  Derek shoved him into things all the time.  Or at least, he used to.  Before Stiles was both a freak to be avoided, and too fragile to assault.

But this time was not to be like any of the others.  Derek spun around with a snarl, and caught each of Stiles’ fists before they could land even one more hit.  Then he spun the two of them around, until Stiles was the one getting shoved against the wall.  Derek glared daggers into him, and there was shouting downstairs before his dad showed up in the stairwell with his gun drawn.  Because jesus, seriously.  Everyone in his house was on eggshells waiting for the next attack.

“It’s nothing, Sheriff,” Derek said, his words coming out rough and clipped over teeth that were temporarily too big for his mouth.  “Stiles got lost on his way to the shower.”

“Son, you alright?” his father asked, squinting up at them.  Derek didn’t break eye contact, not even for a moment.  Stiles could feel the anger in the other man, like it was an aura or a shroud that was affecting Stiles now, too.

He nodded once, because Derek had both of his hands pinned and he couldn’t actually say anything else.  Derek’s eyes flicked away, as if realizing that he was still keeping Stiles pinned against the wall.  He released him with another slight shove and then stalked into Stiles’ room.

“Ugh, it reeks in here,” Derek muttered.  He crossed to the other side of the room and opened the window, and for once it was like he was at a loss for words himself.  Not choosing to be silent or terse, which was typical for the leather wearing brooder, but like there were so many things racing through his head he couldn’t hold onto one long enough to get it to pass through his lips.

Stiles was still so angry that he had words in deep supply, though.  His hands were like a whirlwind.  He had never signed this fast, and he probably never would again, but he never once doubted a moment of what he was saying.  It was like for one, beautiful perfect moment, everything he needed and wanted to say was fluently channeled out of his fingers.

What do you care?  This is my room.  My house.  My life.  You made what you think about me perfectly clear.  You can’t even be in the same room with me.  I am D-Y-I-N-G here.  My dad could die every day, and there’s nothing I can do.  I’m trapped.  In my head.  In my house.  In this life. I can’t go outside, but I can’t breathe in here.  There’s never enough air. And he’s out there.  Laughing.  And no one can help me.  No one wants to help me, he added with a pointed look at Derek.

Derek, who said nothing.  Because of course he had nothing to say.  But he stared.  And stared.  And stared so hard that Stiles was uncomfortable.  Because seriously couldn’t they move past that Moment of Insanity?  It wasn’t Stiles’ fault.  He was just a victim to his hormones, and the fact that he’d almost died (again) and he’d seen Derek nearly dead (again) and there had been so much blood (again) and Lucas’s fingers had set everything in motion and that was weird because—

Stiles would never again say that Derek Hale didn’t know how to find the perfect moment…and then brood at it until it went away.  Because Stiles was this close to putting it together and finding that piece that he’d been waiting for ever since the guidance office, when he was unceremoniously yanked forward, and now Derek was the one with his hands on Stiles’ face, and he was kissing him.  And growling.  But kissing!

It wasn’t a gentle kiss.  It almost didn’t qualify as a kiss at all.  Because it was need and anger and frustration all bottled up into a duel of mouths, and lips, and tongues (tongue! There was a tongue in his mouth! And it wasn’t his!) and hands wrapping up around him like Stiles was something to be protected and kept safe and pulled tight and close and happy.  And Derek was still growling, but that was a little hot in a way that made Stiles uncomfortable (in the pants)  and okay, uncomfortable in the head-place too because growling was still locked up in thoughts of danger and memories of pain and glowing red eyes and Machiavellian manipulations.

Wait! Lucas!  That was right.  Stiles started to pull away, and Derek’s growling got louder, and the kiss deepened.  Stiles heard groaning, and only realized after a second that it wasn’t coming from Derek.  Neither was that whimpering.  The important thoughts were wiped out in a surge of hormones that…wow, Stiles couldn’t even remember what hormones.  Or what they did.  Because Derek kept rubbing the palm of his hand against Stiles’ neck and that was it.  Done. Game over.

They were kissing and the next thing Stiles knew the door to his room was being closed, and Derek had him pressed up against it.  They kissed, and seriously Stiles was keyed up that he was about three seconds from creaming his pants when Derek pulled away.

Stiles whimpered again, this time knowingly so, and chased his mouth, because seriously. Kissing!  What could possibly be better than kissing.

“I can’t do this,” Derek whispered into his ear, sounding broken and devastated. 

Yes you can, Stiles would have said, if he’d had rational control over his limbs.  But they were tangled up in Derek’s shirt, and in his hair, and one of his legs was wrapped around Derek’s leg like he was some sort of octo-Stiles with eight limbs and flexibility like the world had never seen before.  If he’d been in control of anything, there would have been a glare, and a finger poking Derek in his ridiculous chest.  Then they would have gone back to the kissing and the groping and the hands in new places and wow Derek’s butt was rock hard.  Stiles had never had a thing for butts before, but he was so curious.

Derek’s lips ghosted over Stiles cheek,  and Stiles turned his head, trying to start over.  But Derek pulled away, and there was a look that Stiles had never seen in his eyes before.  Through everything the two of them had been through, he’d never seen anything like the look Derek had now.  If it was anyone else, he might call it fragile. “I can’t do this.  Not to you,” he repeated.

Stiles heard the dismissal, heard the rejection, but his mind latched onto the last two words.  To you.  Not with you, which is what he’d say if he wasn’t into Stiles at all.  Or if he didn’t think of him like that.  To you.  Like Derek was hurting him, somehow.

I’m fine, Stiles tried to explain with his eyes, because really that was all he had going for him right now.  Maybe Derek thought that he couldn’t be with Stiles because of the werewolf thing.  Or because Stiles was still…broken.  Or because Stiles was hurting.  Or…he didn’t know.

Stiles took a deep breath, and wow, he smelled foul.  And yet Derek had kissed him anyway.  The thought was oddly sobering, and brought a small smile to his face.  Somehow, he managed to extricate himself from Derek, but he was still trapped against the door.  Boxed in, really.  Derek was breathing heavily, but he wasn’t looking at Stiles.  If Stiles didn’t know any better, he’d think that Derek was having a panic attack.

He grabbed him by the chin, because hey they’d just made out and he could do that now, and pulled his head down.  Then very carefully, he signed I’m going to clean up.  Then we’ll talk?  Derek pushed himself away from the wall, but he didn’t say anything, so Stiles decided that the flounce in his step was Broody Alpha for why yes, Stiles, that sounds perfect. You are so smart and handsome and I was a fool for not doing this months ago.

Stiles gathered up a change of clothes, because no way was he ready for the insecurity complex that would develop by letting Mr. Sex God see him naked.  Or even close to naked.  He wasn’t even really comfortable flashing an ankle right now.

But he was totally jerking off in the shower.  At least twice.

He looked back at Derek, who was sitting at the edge of Stiles’ bed, staring down at the floor like he was the world’s saddest sourcub. 

Maybe three times.

******

Derek was still there when Stiles came back almost half an hour later.  Almost in the exact same position.  Now, if he was being completely honest with himself, Stiles wanted to run across the room and throw himself on Derek like a horny spider monkey.  But even brain-broken Stiles had a few moments of good judgment.  He dropped the bundle of his dirty clothes into the hamper by his closet, stuffing it down rather than continue to let it overflow onto the floor.

And then he walked, barefoot, across the room and took up a spot on his bed.  A spot several feet from Derek.  It seemed like space was important.

“You’re sixteen,” Derek said, without looking at him.  There was a gravel curl to his voice, rough and cracking.  Like he’d used his voice too much.  Or he hadn’t used his voice enough.  There was a lengthy pause before Derek realized his hands were still stationary.  And then some of the awareness came back to him, and he looked around the room until he found Stiles.  That he hadn’t even noticed where Stiles had ended up said something for the turmoil running through his head.

And Stiles didn’t know how to fix him.  Stiles didn’t know if he could fix this.  Because he was broken, too, and maybe that was the way of things. Instead of waiting for someone to fix you, you went out and found someone else who was just as broken, and then you fixed each other. 

But that didn’t seem right, either.  Stiles played with the faded fringe at the end of his comforter, because he didn’t know what else to do and he had to do something. 

Derek repeated what he’d just said, signing it out. Stiles let him finish, and then signed his response.  I’m seventeen now. I have been for almost a year. 

There was a startled jerk from Derek’s side of the bed, and then his eyes snapped back to Stiles’ hands, like he could play back the words that he’d just read.

Everyone forgot my B-I-R-T-H-D-A-Y, Stiles had to spell it because he didn’t know the sign, because of the Alphas. I’m seventeen.

It was like sixteen had been the core of Derek’s defense, and without it, he was suddenly flailing for a response.  But if Stiles had hoped that it would smooth everything over and make it suddenly okay, he was sadly mistaken.  Because from the way Derek’s jaw clenched and his face got that flinty, stubborn look, Derek wasn’t about to give up on this without a fight.

You’re too young, he signed.   A kid. 

Stiles was not going to win this argument by being logical.  Do you think about me naked?

Derek’s eyes narrowed, and his irritation increased dramatically.  “This is exactly what I’m talking about,” he growled out loud.  As if that would somehow make their conversation more clinical.  Less invasive.

I think about you.  I thought about you three times, he signed with a meaningful look towards the door.  He knew Derek probably heard every gasp and sound that Stiles made in the shower.  He probably even suspected what Stiles was thinking about when he had his hands full.  But it was different to put it out there.

“We’re not having this conversation.”  But Derek didn’t get up from the bed.  Derek didn’t move at all.

Do you think about me? Stiles signed, and if he accidentally brushed his hand against his nipple, which was poking through the cotton of his shirt, then…oops?  Totally on accident.  Totally unintentional.

Derek didn’t miss the gesture, of course, and he swallowed, looking away.  “You’re still too young.  I won’t take advantage of you.”

I’m pretty sure I’d be the one taking advantage of you, Stiles thought to himself, but didn’t share with the rest of the class.  Because, let’s face it.  Seventeen year old boy.  Sex god.  The possibilities were endless.  But that didn’t mean that Stiles wasn’t going to try them all out, one at a time.

“No,” Derek continued, sounding firm.  “This isn’t happening, Stiles.” 

And he really thought it was going to stick this time.  Like he had not only convinced Stiles, but himself.  Stiles could see it in his eyes.  In the way he lifted his head, and stared at him without a scrap of emotion on his face.  This was it.  Derek had made his decision. 

It was done.

Stiles leaned forward, grabbed a handful of Derek’s shirt and pulled him forward.  In the same motion Stiles leaned back until he was laying down on his bed, and Derek was half perched above him.  He didn’t have to do anything else.  There was no teasing, no pressure.  Not a single thing more.  Derek shifted his weight, finished climbing his way over Stiles, sliding his legs in between the teenagers, and resting his weight on his elbows, fingers roaming over Stiles’ newly shorn scalp.

Derek kissed him again, and it was gentle, and earnest, and terrified all at once.

There was no going back now.

 

******

For as much as things changed, they stayed remarkably the same.  Derek and Stiles settled back into their typical routine, but now there was kissing.  As much as Stiles tried to push things to the step beyond kissing – because seriously, kissing was great and all but Stiles was out-of-his-mind horny every single day – Derek would not be swayed.  Stiles tried everything.  He waited to shower until Derek showed up at night, and not only did he strip in his bedroom, knowing that Derek was watching him, but he jerked off in the shower, and then came back to his room still dripping wet and half-hard, and spent agonizing minutes debating just which tee shirt he was going to wear to bed.

The more he was rejected – Derek always pushed him to the side, but there was a fondness to it – the more shameless it made him.  He tried sleeping naked at night, curling up against Derek who still read him to sleep every evening (even if they never got around to finishing Gatsby), but it really just became awkward because Derek stayed fully dressed and suffered Stiles’ attempts without reciprocating.

Stiles would almost have taken it to heart, decided that clearly Derek didn’t find him the slightest bit attractive and he was wasting his time, except that when they kissed, and when Derek was there, curled up around him in his bed, there was nothing further from his mind.

But there were also days where the voices in Derek’s head – the ones that kept reminding him that Stiles was still a minor – won out, and he pushed Stiles away.  Those were the days that they wouldn’t touch, couldn’t touch, but Derek always stayed close.  It was like he couldn’t help himself – he wanted to listen to the part of his brain that was telling him it was wrong, but he couldn’t pull himself away completely. 

On days like that, Stiles tried to be mature, and understanding, but it was hard.  He still didn’t know where this thing with Derek was heading – if it was just a chemical explosion that would simmer down in time or if it was something else – but he trusted in the connection.  Derek never walked away full stop, and Stiles never tried to rock the boat.  He just waited until Derek had worked through whatever it was and came back to him.

******

It was early in May and Allison had drawn the Stiles-duty that afternoon.  His dad was working the evening shift again, so he’d left before Stiles had gotten up (because having Derek with him every night made it harder and harder for Stiles to fall asleep before four in the morning), and when he’d finally stumbled downstairs, Allison was there.

It had never really escaped his attention that Allison was still on the outs with almost everyone.  Except Scott, but he was never really sure if Scott was avoiding her because he thought that was what Allison wanted, or because he thought it was what Allison was supposed to want.  Because it was clear to almost everyone that Scott was still just waiting patiently on Allison to figure herself out.

He wondered if things would have been different if he’d been there every day.  Not that he’d been missing, but Stiles was still kind of like a ghost in his friends’ lives.  He couldn’t really speak, and he couldn’t help them out with their problems, and he couldn’t do anything to make them better.  He certainly couldn’t manipulate Scott and Allison into getting over their trauma.  Although he was surprised that Lydia hadn’t already masterminded that reunion herself.  Maybe she’d been waiting for Stiles to bring it up.

Allison was quiet today, and the physics book that was open in her lap looked like it had about zero percent of her concentration.

So when Stiles heard the phantom sound of his phone buzzing from all the way downstairs, he didn’t think anything of letting Allison continue her reverie.  He bounded up the stairs and into his room where his phone was vibrating towards the end of his desk.  He used his phone mostly for texting, and even then it was rare.  Autocorrect still confused him implicitly, and he had trouble making connections between words guessed and the words he meant.  Sign language had become more reliable, even though it was a thousand times more difficult.

But it wasn’t a text message coming in.  It was a phone call.  A phone call from a number that Stiles didn’t recognize.

At first.

“Hey buddy,” Lucas’s warm voice bubbled through the phone.  “Take a look at your window.” 

But it wasn’t the window that he wanted Stiles to see.  It was the row of little metal objects that were lined up along the windowsill.  Inside the house.  Six tiny, chrome objects.  Stiles crouched down slowly, feeling like the weight of the world was suddenly shifting beneath him.

They were bullets.  And if his life depended on it, Stiles would bet that those bullets had wolfsbane in them.

“Let’s talk about the field trip we’re going on,” Lucas said.

Stiles closed his eyes. 

 

Chapter Text

“There’s a fun game I like to play, do you know it?  It’s called Six Bullets, Six Bodies.” Lucas hummed happily on the other end of the phone.  “You’ve fired a gun before, haven’t you, Stiles?”

Stiles couldn’t stop staring at the bullets.  He was pretty sure they were .40 caliber, exactly the same kind that his dad used in his firearm.  The department all had regulation guns that they handed out, but his dad had always used his own personal firearm. 

He didn’t respond, and not just because he couldn’t respond.  Lucas had already proved, time and again, how much the Alphas knew about Stiles and the others.  Too much information – sometimes utterly useless information, that they somehow always managed to make work to their advantage – and sometimes it really was like the Alphas were just pulling the strings and letting them all pretend to be in control of their own destinies.

How much of what had happened in the last eight months had been his choice?  His injury, obviously, was Lucas’s sadistic idea of a test, or something.  But how many of the little things?  The growing connection between Derek and Stiles?  The fact that his father now knew about werewolves? 

“Well, I won’t give away the rest of the game.  I don’t want to ruin the big surprise,” Lucas said.  And then the pleasant note fell out of his voice like a dropped chord, and suddenly it was all business.  Business, insanity, and a need to make things as awful as possible.

“Scott would never recover if anything happened to poor Miss Argent, would he?  I mean, he’d blame himself if anything happened to her.  But just think about how he’d feel if Allison died because she was in the wrong place at the wrong time.  Think about how Scott would look at you when you tried to attend her funeral.”  His voice took on a husky quality, like he was whispering sweet nothings across the phone line.  “Close your eyes, Stiles.  Picture it.”

Stiles couldn’t help himself, Lucas told him to shut his eyes and they snapped shut a moment later.  I can’t have Stockholm syndrome, Lucas didn’t have me long enough, he tried to tell himself.  But seriously, Lucas said jump and Stiles was already in the air.  That was how much the Alpha had worked him over, and he’d barely lifted a hand to do it.

Eight months of silence was a powerful weapon, though.

As usual, the Alpha wasn’t lying.  Scott wouldn’t just be devastated by Allison’s death, he’d be destroyed.  When his mom died, he and his dad had each other, but Scott didn’t have anyone that had a hold on him the way Allison did.  He couldn’t say how things would end, but he knew that whatever happened to Scott from that point on, it wouldn’t be good.  For anyone.  Especially not if Allison died because she was babysitting Stiles.  Scott might not want to believe that he’d hold that against Stiles, but Stiles was a lot more honest.  It would sever their friendship completely.

“So you’re not going to tell her about our little chat.  Or about the car waiting for you down the block.  Dip into your little jar of mountain ash and spread some on your way out of the house.  Wouldn’t want any werewolves tracking your scent, now would we?”  Lucas waited a moment like Stiles was about to give his consent.  “That’s a good boy.”

Stiles scooped up the bullets, pulled on his red hoodie, and snuck down the stairs and into the kitchen.  Allison was still in the front of the house, and Stiles had snuck both in and out of his house enough times that he knew where to step so the floor wouldn’t creak, and how to open the back door so it wouldn’t make a noise.

A dark haired werewolf in a sexy black muscle car was waiting with the engine idling a few blocks away, but for once it wasn’t Derek and it definitely wasn’t a Camaro.  There werewolf was a new face to Stiles, but he seemed to know who he was waiting on because he didn’t flip out when Stiles opened the passenger door.  The driver just smirked in an I would love to eat you way, because that wasn’t creepy at all, you doucheclown.  But he made a point of flashing his yellow eyes at Stiles before pulling out into the street, lest Stiles get any crazy ideas while they were on the road.

Right, like Stiles was really planning some sort of car coup right now.  He was just going to practice not vomiting up the grilled cheese he’d made for lunch.

Stiles managed to keep a decent hold of his panic.  Up until they passed the Now Leaving Beacon Hills sign.

Derek was going to be so pissed at him.

 

******

“It’s very simple, Stiles.”  Lucas said an hour later, in the middle of an industrial complex that was miles from any real civilization.  Seriously, Stiles would have better luck getting help from coyotes or something.  The warehouse – along with many of the buildings in the complex – was deserted, another victim of the market collapse that had hit California especially hard.

“You get six bullets.  By end of business today, I need six dead werewolves.  So it just depends on if they’re going to be the strangers tucked away inside,” he rapped against the door, “or if I’m going to have to take more familiar measures.  Don’t think of it as murder.  Think about it like every dead carcass you add to my collection saves a life of one of your dear, sweet band of morons.”

You really think I’m going to kill six werewolves? Stiles thought, but Lucas was staring at him with such a beaming, happy look on his face that Stiles realized, yup.  That’s exactly what he intended.  What is this, take your psychopath to work day? 

“But there’s more,” Lucas announced, like he worked on a game show.  “Each of the werewolves corresponds to a particular one of your little Pack. So be careful which ones you miss, because you still might lose the ones closest to you.”

He must have been in shock, because everything in Stiles’ head was too quiet.  Still.  There was too much pressure here, and whatever Lucas had planned, Stiles didn’t know if he could kill even one of the werewolves.  Let alone all six.

“Come on, let’s meet the other contestants,” Lucas said, ushering him forward.  There was a metal fire escape or something like it on the side of the building, leading to an exterior walkway that looked like it circled the building.  The Alpha went first, and then Stiles followed at his gestures.  The beta werewolf that had driven him here followed behind, as if to make sure that Stiles went all the way up.

It was a big hike, after all.  The walkway was probably fifty feet off the ground, lining the top floor of the warehouse building – a top floor covered in windows, most of which were shattered, crumbling messes of their former self.

Lucas stopped at the top of the stairs, and gestured for Stiles to go on ahead, which he did, because every part of his brain that would have protested had conveniently shut down.  Lucas and the beta stayed where they were, while Stiles crossed to the railway itself.  It was a little weird, but Stiles didn’t think anything of it at first.

Something about this isn’t right.  Obviously, the fact that Lucas wanted him to kill six people wasn’t right, but there was something more to it than that.  Something Stiles was still missing.

“I told you he wasn’t going to do it,” the beta laughed, a smirk worthy of Jackson slashed across his face.  There was a faint curling of Lucas’s upper lip, a hint of the snarl that was embedded in Stiles’ memory, but he couldn’t tell who the snarl was for: the beta, for speaking out of turn, or Stiles, for not rushing to do what Lucas had told him.

It’s like he’s trying to bond with me or something, Stiles realized in a bit of wonder, fingering the bullets in his pocket. Lucas jerked his chin, and the beta pulled a handgun out of his pocket and tossed it down on the railing in front of Stiles.  The gun continued to slide towards the edge, where it would have tumbled all the way back down to the ground, but Stiles slid his foot in front of it first.

He picked the gun up slowly, then glanced towards the broken windows in front of him.  Up this high, he could hear sounds of movement coming from the inside.  If there really were six werewolves inside, then why hadn’t they attacked yet?  Or if they were being kept there, why hadn’t they escape? 

And then Stiles looked at the ground between Lucas and him.  The two werewolves hadn’t left the top of the staircase, almost…

Almost like there was a line they couldn’t cross. Relief washed through Stiles.

Lucas smirked the moment that Stiles caught on.  “Oh yes.  I have a…vet of my own.”

The moment of relief didn’t last long, though.  Because the downside to Lucas being on the outside of a mountain ash circle was that Stiles was on the inside, and there were werewolves inside the warehouse who probably wouldn’t mind a Stiles-fillet. 

One thing you never wanted to be in the middle of, and that was a werewolf sandwich.  Everything about the situation still bothered him, though, but Lucas’s face was blank with confident joy.  Like he would get exactly the reaction he expected out of Stiles.

So when Stiles loaded the bullets into the gun, fumbling a bit but luckily not dropping any of those, either (there was probably no chance that Lucas would let him scramble back down to the ground to retrieve them), he waited for some sort of sign or clue about what Lucas really wanted here today.

Because it probably wasn’t for Stiles to murder six people.  That was a huge escalation in the order of things.

The beta had his back turned to both of them now, leaning over the railing and staring out at the industrial complex around them.  Like he was just killing time until Stiles was werewolf kibble.

Lucas didn’t even flinch when Stiles fired the gun.  If anything, his smile widened and he looked half a second away from clapping his hands in glee.  Maybe Stiles should have gone for Lucas first, but there was no way he’d have made the shot.  But he still couldn’t shoot someone execution style, either.  He settled for an alternative.

The beta spun around, form shifted and snarling, even as one of his hands cupped at his ass.  He snarled something that was probably Werewolf for you shot me in the butt who the hell are you, you stupid kid who shoots people in the butt what is wrong with you who raised you were you born in a barn.

Werewolf speech always struck Stiles as something that didn’t have enough punctuation.

Lucas threw back his head and laughed, a body shaking laugh that sounded so absolutely normal and human that Stiles almost forgot that he was a card carrying psychopath.  And then, as casually as if he was just going for a stretch, Lucas knocked his elbow into the beta, who went tumbling over the side of the railing and down the fifty feet to slap into the concrete with an audible, cracking thud.

“Oh, that was priceless,” Lucas said, still laughing so hard he had to wipe tears out of the corners of his eyes.  “Oh Stiles, you know how to liven up a party.”

But if anything, the laughing only ended up setting Stiles more on edge.  Lucas was more dangerous when he was in a good mood.  Lucas’s good moods gave people brain damage.

All sounds from the inside of the warehouse had stopped after the gunshot.  Lucas glanced down below him, then called out, “Break it!” to someone beneath them.  A moment later he nodded to himself, and crossed what Stiles had assumed was the barrier.  Then he walked past Stiles and into the empty window pane that served as an entrance into the warehouse.  “Come on in,” he said.  “Let’s see what you’ve won.”

What he’d won?  What was Lucas’s game?  Why bring him all the way out here?

Stiles started to piece it together once they were inside, and he saw the interior of the warehouse.  There was a cleared space in the center of the building, maybe half the size of the lacrosse field, and in it was a cage.  A giant cage.

And prowling around inside that cage were five very pissed off werewolves.

What the fuck are you doing with them?  Stiles wondered.  They walked the scaffolding until they came down to the interior stairs.  Lucas hummed to himself, but he didn’t say anything else, which meant that Stiles was probably supposed to infer everything on his own.  There was another hum, too, one that Stiles couldn’t place immediately, but one that was lower than the happy sound coming from the alpha.  Electronic or something.

Five wolves, so there were never six at all.  At the bottom of the stairs, there was an older man, maybe in his thirties, who went still at their approach.  He didn’t make eye contact, but it was clear his attention was completely focused on Lucas. 

“Troy’s been shot,” Lucas said like it was nothing more than an amusing anecdote.  “Don’t give him the antidote until he’s had a chance to properly suffer.  Have him dragged in here before you take him away, though.  He and I need a moment.”  The man nodded and hurried out of the warehouse, speed walking without actually running.  Off of Stiles’ confused look, Lucas laughed again.  “Troy might not know when to open his mouth, but he’s still useful for the time being.”

So he never had any intention of letting Troy die?  Stiles’ head was starting to hurt.  The man returned a few minutes later, along with another werewolf who dragged Troy in by the leg.  Stiles could see the enjoyment Lucas got out of watching his minion’s head slapping against the ground repeatedly.  But it wasn’t until Troy was laid out between them that Lucas looked up at Stiles again.  “That’s the problem with werewolves, though.  Most can’t be housebroken, and sometimes, they carry grudges.”  He brandished his claws, as if showing off for Stiles, and then sank them into the beta’s back.

“Did Derek ever tell you about what an Alpha can really do?”  Lucas’s face shuddered as a rush of pleasure washed through him.  Stiles thought he was going to be sick.  “Stealing memories, that’s the easy part.  Knowing which memories to steal, though, that’s the lesson.  As far as poor Troy is concerned, the two of you have never met.  I can’t have him going off for revenge. I mean, you did shoot him in the ass.  A guy tends to take that personally, I would think.”

Lucas was stealing his memories?  Of Stiles?  Why?

So many questions, and not enough answers.  Stiles still had the gun in his hand, loaded with wolfsbane bullets, but he never once thought about using it on Lucas.  He knew that he’d never make it out alive, and the odds of taking Lucas out were slim to none.  Wolfsbane wasn’t an immediate kill, and Stiles wouldn’t be able to manage any of the other ways on his own.  He certainly didn’t have the strength to cut someone in half.

Stiles happened to glance up at that moment, and saw two of the caged werewolves glaring at them.  With their red eyes.  One of them lunged against the side of the cage, and Stiles realized what the humming sound he’d heard was because there were sparks and then the werewolf flew backwards.  One by one, Stiles saw Alpha red eyes in each of the werewolves, like he was checking them off of a list.  But it wasn’t the rest of Lucas’s pack, that much Stiles could tell for certain.  So…what the hell was he doing?

Why was Lucas collecting Alphas?

This doesn’t have anything to do with me at all.  And just like that, that little moment that Stiles had probably realized a thousand times over since October, put it all into perspective.  Just like that, and he knew exactly what Lucas was doing with him, and where today’s field trip fit into it all.  It had never been about him at all.

It had been about Derek.

“I thought it might be you instead,” Lucas said from behind him, carefully plucking the gun out of Stiles’ hand.  “I figured, if Derek bit you, then all we’d have to do is make you kill Derek, and then we’d take you . But you can’t even kill a werewolf standing right in front of you.  How could you ever be an Alpha, Stiles?”  His voice was chiding, like he was reprimanding Stiles for ever thinking he could take Derek’s power away from him.

“It’s a pity, because you would have had a real appreciation for quiet one day.  But I’m looking for fighters, Stiles.  Not victims. Not weakness.”

Stiles knew the end was coming.  Lucas was going to kill him, and leave his body for Derek to find.  And Stiles would never get to apologize for putting Derek in this position, for helping make him a target when that was the last thing that Stiles would ever want to do.

His head exploded into pain.

******

The first thing Stiles heard was Derek’s voice.  No, that wasn’t exactly right.  It was almost Derek’s voice.

“Where the hell is he?  What do you want?”  Tinny, like it was coming through a phone.

Stiles opened his eyes, but they stung, and the moment he inhaled, he started coughing.  Smoke.  Lots of it.  He tried to stand up, to do something, but his hands were bound.  His feet, too.  Lucas hadn’t wasted much thought on it – Stiles was tied up against the bottom steps of the metal staircase at the side of the warehouse.  The Alpha cage was empty, with no telling what had happened to the werewolves inside.

And smoke.  Did he mention the smoke? 

“What I want is poetry, Derek,” Lucas said, catching Stiles’ eyes even through the haze.  He had a mischevious smile on his face.  “I’m afraid Stiles is a little….tied up right now, if you’ll forgive the pun.  But I thought this last goodbye would be fitting.”  His smile widened.  “Don’t you, Stiles?”

“Stiles?” Derek’s voice demanded through the speaker phone.  “Are you okay?”  He knew Stiles couldn’t answer but he still asked anyway. 

Stiles whimpered, but Lucas outright laughed.  “He’s fine.  For now.  But I’m afraid he’s not going to stay that way for long.”

“What do you want, Lucas?”

Lucas coughed, but it was as fake as the good humor he wore like a mask.  “I’m sorry, it’s just a little smokey in here all of a sudden.”

Stiles could almost see the thoughts processing in Derek’s head.  That horrible moment when he realized what was going to happen to Stiles. 

“I hate for this to be our final goodbye, Stiles, but you get why I couldn’t resist, right?”  Lucas tossed the phone – with Derek still yelling obscenities through the speaker – down on the ground in front of Stiles.  Just out of reach, even if he could move any of his limbs.  “Just as Derek starts to open his heart again, someone comes along to burn it all down.” 

Lucas disappeared into the smoke, and Stiles saw the flames creeping in.  It had taken almost an hour to drive out all this way, but Stiles didn’t think he’d have an hour before the fire caught up with him.  It wasn’t enough to kill Stiles, Lucas had to destroy Derek in the process.  It probably wouldn’t have mattered if it was Stiles, Scott, or even Jackson, watching any of his pack burn to death would be more than even Derek could take. 

Stiles couldn't reach the phone, and he couldn't really hear what Derek was saying, but he knew that Derek could hear him.  And that Derek wouldn't hang up the phone until long after...long after.  He'd hear every moment of what happened to Stiles.  And there was nothing that Stiles could do to prevent it.

Derek, he thought in despair. 

The smoke thickened.

 

Chapter Text

The smoke should have made it hard to think, but it wasn’t that way at all.  It was like all Stiles needed for was for Lucas to disappear before he suddenly started thinking clearer than ever.  Lucas didn’t expect him to fight.  If the sounds Derek was making on the other end of the phone suggested anything, he wasn’t sure Stiles was going to fight either.  But Stiles was damned sure about one thing.

There was no way in hell he was dying a virgin.

He pulled and twisted and tugged at the ropes binding him to the rails of the stairs, but there weren’t any lose or potentially breakable bars.  His ankles were bound to the bottom railing closest to the floor, while his wrists were tied two or three steps up.  Enough for Stiles to stay seated on the steps, but not enough to stand upright.  He only had a few inches of give in either of his hands. 

The only weapon he had at this point, ironically, was his mouth.  Stiles leaned to his left as far as his right arm would allow him, which was just enough to reach the nibbling edge of the knot.

The sounds of fire were getting louder: boxes and crates were splintering, and the fire wasn’t just spreading – it was consuming everything.  But there was a momentary lull, and in the gap of sound, Stiles heard Derek screaming, “I swear to god Stiles, you’d better be fighting,” before a rush of heat slammed into Stiles hard enough to throw his head back.

He could see the flames now.  They were spreading to the containers on the far side of the cage.  They’d inch their way around until they reached the staircase.  And then Stiles would roast alive.  The smoke was getting thicker – Stiles didn’t even realized he’d started coughing until a series of coughs went so long that he thought he was going to hyperventilate.

Stiles kicked off his shoes, because maybe that would give him some leverage, but he couldn’t move his foot enough to get the rope stuck between his foot and the stairs.  So he tried to shift towards the left, maybe hoping to slide the rope around the bottom of his foot at the very least.

But none of that would help too much if he couldn’t get his hands free.  So Stiles tore at the knot with his mouth – the way Stiles destroyed every day drinking straws, you’d think he’d be better at this – but the knot refused to give easily.

The fire crept closer, and Stiles started yanking his head back and forth like a dog refusing to give up his bone, because seriously things needed to start working out. Right. Now. Because Stiles was not going down like this.  No way in hell.

Stiles took a moment to catch his breath, and when he attacked the knot again, his head jerked forward in surprise as the first part of it gave way.  He shook his wrist around, banged it against the metal, and little by little the pressure on his hand eased up, and the knot started to give.  His spirits renewed, Stiles went back at it and within another minute, he had his entire hand free.

Stilinski for the win! He shouted in his head, pumping his now free fist in the air. 

But that was only one step in the process.  Stiles started on his other hand, but it was almost more difficult doing it with his hand than with his mouth.  Go figure. 

Some of the metal near the ceiling started groaning, and Stiles stopped what he was doing to look up in fear.  If the scaffolding started falling, some of it might land right on top of him.  Then it wouldn’t matter how much damage the fire did, because Stiles would be dead or unconscious for the whole thing.

But finally, he managed to get his other hand free, and then his feet.  Derek was still yelling into the phone, and Stiles scooped it up after climbing to his feet. 

“Stiles?”

Stiles panted happily into the phone, and then he realized that made him sound like a dog, so he stopped.  Fire had engulfed half of the warehouse already, but it wasn’t the half that Lucas’s cronies had entered from.  That meant there was still a way.  His limbs were a little bendy, and he balanced about as well as a newborn giraffe, but Stiles kept his head down and his hoodie up over his face and nose.  Maybe it would help a little.  Maybe it would keep him conscious long enough to find an escape.

“Stiles are you okay?  Damnit, answer me.” 

But Stiles couldn’t talk, and months of silence couldn’t be broken that easily.  He hummed into the phone, not in a creepy way like Lucas, but a steady, low monotone.  Derek seemed to take that for what it was – an acknowledgment that Stiles was okay.  At least for now. 

What if Lucas is still outside.  What if he’s waiting to see if I get out?  What do I do then?

But Stiles couldn’t worry about that.  Right now he had to get out of the warehouse, because if Lucas killed him in the lot, that would be a far, far better thing than letting Derek find his body in the warehouse’s burned wreckage.  There was no way he could let that happen to Derek.

Not again.

Stiles got about twenty feet away from the cage before he realized it wouldn’t be quite that easy.  There were crates and boxes stored fifteen feet high, creating their own hallway.  But luckily for Stiles, he’d shot someone in the ass today, and the bloody trail from when they’d dragged him in was still visible on the ground.  Stiles followed it all the way down, and then around a corner and to the loading dock doors where they must have brought him in.

But that was where the problems started. 

It wasn’t just one problem, it was two.  Stiles made it to the doors, pulled one of them open, and went to step outside only to find he…couldn’t.

There wasn’t one line of sand surrounding the building.  There were two.  One, dark like onyx and sand was familiar to Stiles.  Mountain ash.  But it was the one closer to him: light like light like white sand beaches and salt, that was causing the problem.  No matter how much Stiles tried to step over it, he couldn’t make himself move forward.

What’s the opposite of mountain ash?  Valley ash?  There was a clear line to victory, to safety, but Stiles couldn’t cross the perimeter of the building.  Whatever was in the second line was keeping him stuck inside, the same way the mountain ash circle would stop anyone else from getting in. There must have been a human equivalent – an herb that made boundaries stick for humans, the way mountain ash worked on shifters.

There had to be another way out of the building, but as Stiles turned back and saw the flames tearing up the sides of the building now, he wasn’t too sure. 

He whimpered into the phone, and Derek was there immediately.  “We’re almost there, Stiles.  Just hold on.  Get out if you can.”  And then his voice dropped, sounding very far away, and he heard Derek add, “Please be okay.”

But he wasn’t going to be okay! And the line of mountain ash on the other side meant that Derek wouldn’t be able to break through to him either.  Stiles looked around.  Maybe he could throw something, and it would disrupt the lines of ash.  There was a circular trash can, like the ones that people used as ashtrays.  Stiles braced the phone between his cheek and shoulder, and hefted the can up.  But when he went to throw it out the open door, his arms locked up and he couldn’t get his any momentum going.  He even tried to drop it, hoping it would fall over the lines and somehow snap the effect that was in place.

But that didn’t work either.  Stiles looked back towards the warehouse interior.  The fire was spreading faster now.  Having the open door was only going to get him so far. He could still breath but if he was still in here when the fire reached this side of the building, consciousness wouldn’t be a luxury.

 There wasn’t time to try to find another exit.  The fire was spreading too quickly, and if this exit was warded, then the whole building was probably surrounded.

For a foolish moment, he even considered the scaffolding leading back outside, but the barrier had kept out Lucas and Troy fifty feet up in the air as well as on the ground.  So that wasn’t going to work either.  Also, it was kind of on fire.  A little.

Stiles sank to the floor, still coughing, but he needed a minute to think.  He wasn’t giving up (he wasn’t!) but he just…he needed to be here in case Derek arrived in time. 

“Stiles, if  you give up I swear to god I’m going to tear your face off with my teeth.”  Derek’s growl came through the phone perfectly, and it startled Stiles so much that he almost dropped it.  He’d forgotten that Derek was even on the phone.  The smoke must have been getting to him.  He definitely felt a little more lightheaded than he did before. 

That was why it was so important to keep his head down.  It was years of instincts that were ground into everyone.  In case of a fire, get as low to the ground as possible.

It would kill his dad, of course.  And Scott, but he’d have Allison so he’d survive.  Lydia would be sad, Jackson would at least show up.  But if Stiles died in the warehouse today, Derek would be destroyed.  And that was exactly what Lucas wanted.

Which was more than enough reason for Stiles to make that impossible.

Once upon a time, Deaton had told him to have faith.  But as much as Stiles tried to believe with every fiber of his being that the lines were broken and he could slip into clean night air, the lines never wavered.

Stiles wiped away the sweat from his face – it was too hot for the hoodie but he couldn’t dare take it off.  He could feel the fire at his back, creeping closer and closer.  At some point the building was going to start to collapse, and that would only make things worse.  Make the fire more intense.

If not Derek, then maybe the fire department would get here in time.  But they were in the middle of nowhere, and if they hadn’t showed up already, Stiles was pretty sure they wouldn’t get here until it was too late.

The ceiling cracked above him, like a thunderbolt exploding into existence.  Something above him was heavy.  Very heavy, and it was weighing down part of the ceiling.  Stiles couldn’t even see into the interior of the warehouse anymore, the smoke rivaling the flames for obscuring everything.

Minutes, maybe.  Think, Stiles.  Think.

You have to believe, Deacon had said.

Lights flashed from somewhere outside, like headlights crossing during a car’s turn.  There were there and gone so fast that Stiles put it out of his mind.

Believe.  He closed his eyes, feeling how bad they were really stinging.  His throat was sandpaper rough, and attempting a deep breath only made him cough even harder.

He dropped down onto his hands and knees, staring at the two simple lines that were keeping him trapped.  I believe I can escape, he thought desperately.  I believe in freedom.

Stiles heard a rumble that ran against the fire, a deeper timber that made his bones want to shiver.  A growl.  A snarl.  Not quite a man, not quite a wolf.

Derek.

That’s what I believe in, Stiles thought, never more sure of anything in his life.  It was like something in him nodded, agreeing deep down beneath conscious thought and unconscious desires.  Something at the core.  Something real.

Stiles opened his mouth and screamed.

His tongue touched the roof of his mouth, and then his jaw flexed, finally his lips pursed.  His mouth shaped a word crafted out of need, and desire, and belief.  A word he’d probably used a thousand times before.  A word he’d thought a million times more than that.

A name.

Between one instant and the next, the world flipped on its axis.  The heat at his back was a frozen wasteland.  He was blinded by the darkness and terrified of the light. He smelled waterfalls and airplanes and heard a thousand song birds hungry for the day.  He floated and fell and screamed out a name.  Just one name.

“DEREK!”

A blast of wind shot over Stiles’ shoulder, no thicker than a pencil but as fast as a hurricane, and sliced through the lines of mountain ash and anti-mountain ash.  Stiles fell forward, smearing his face into the piles even as he tried to drag himself forward.  He coughed, and couldn’t stop coughing, but he moved forward an inch at a time.

Footsteps stomped against the concrete, reverberating in his ears.  Stiles was halfway out of the warehouse when someone lifted him up and carried him the rest of the way.

“You’re okay,” Derek whispered against his scalp.  “You’re okay, Stiles.  I’ve got you.”

******

There were a lot of things that got in the way of recovering, and those things included (but were not limited to): psychotically overprotective fathers, even more psychotically overprotective boyfriends (or the unspoken, yet-to-be-discussed pre-version of that), oxygen masks, paramedics, oxygen tanks, angry stalking pre-boyfriends, angry pissed off fathers yelling at aforementioned pre-boyfriends.  And the total and utter collapse of a burning warehouse.

Also, Stiles felt like fifty different kinds of disgusting right now – sweaty and slimy, covered in soot and grossness, and tired as shit.  But they’d left him hooked up to the oxygen tank, and meanwhile Derek and his dad were still fighting.  They’d moved far enough away that Stiles couldn’t hear a word of it, but he knew his dad’s pissed off face.  He knew it very well.

Derek probably wasn’t going to be invited to any more family meals, that much was certain.

Stiles never actually lost consciousness after he escaped out of the building, but he probably would have liked to.  Because he was still coughing, and seriously he had to have coughed up both lungs by now.  But breathing was difficult, especially when it was normal oxygen and not the crazy shit he’d been inhaling in the warehouse.  God only knew what kinds of stuff had caught on fire in there. 

He closed his eyes for awhile, lulled into complacency by the repetitive sounds of the machinery around him.  He didn’t open them again until later, when he felt a pressure on his ankle.  Derek was talking to one of the EMTs, but he’d rested his hand on Stiles’ leg as he talked.

At first, they’d wanted to take him to the hospital, but the holy fit that Stiles threw pretty much put the kibosh to that plan.  He didn’t know which one of them looked more aggrieved – Derek or his dad – but it was almost like they were commiserating in their annoyance.  It’s just Stiles being Stiles, their looks seemed to say.  Which Stiles didn’t appreciate at all.

Once the EMT walked away, maybe giving them a moment of privacy so that Derek could try and convince Stiles to just go to the hospital already – Stiles yanked the mask off and started sliding out of the back of the ambulance.

“Stop,” Derek snapped, “Put it back on.  You need to breathe.”

Yeah, and you need to--, Stiles then signed a gesture that started off with a middle finger and ended with a scowl.  He wasn’t going back to the hospital.

“You’re lucky I don’t borrow your dad’s cuffs and keep you chained to me,” he growled.

K-I-N-K-Y, Stiles signed back with a wan grin.  The truth was that he was exhausted.  Breathing in smoke was a terrible exercise plan, but he was wiped out nonetheless.

“Did he expect you to escape?”

Derek’s eyes were intense and narrow, like Stiles was the only thing in the world.  Stiles squirmed, tried to break away to drag anything else into view.  Oh look, his dad.  Hey dad, look over this way.  Pay attention to your son, not the fire inspector.

“Stiles! Did he expect you to escape?  Think.”  And even though Stiles understood the stress that Derek put on enunciating each word, the way he laced several questions in and out of this one, threaded like a tangled knot of need and knowing, he followed it up with more.  “What’s his endgame, Stiles?  What does he want?  This is more than just messing with us.  He wants something.”

He had Alphas.  A bunch of them.  In a cage.  Stiles paused, looking down at his hands.  The lie came easily to his hands.  Easier than any lie before.  He wanted me.  He wanted me to kill them, maybe take their place.  Like G-E-R-A-R-D would have done to you, after he’d turned.

They all knew that Gerard wouldn’t have settled for just being a Beta.  That killing Derek was the next step in his plan, but that Scott had beaten him to the punch by outwitting him.  Hopefully, Gerard was rotting in a grave somewhere knowing that he’d been outsmarted by the person voted Least Likely to Ever Outsmart Anyone, Ever in high school.

“He wanted to make you an Alpha?” Derek asked, but there was a catch in his voice.

Stiles nodded.

The Alpha pinched at his nose, looking even more aggravated than he had a few moments before.  “Just because you can’t speak doesn’t mean I don’t know when you’re lying,” he said after a few moments.

Stiles’ heartbeat intensified.

“Tell me what’s really going on.”

******

It was full on dark before they started back to Beacon Hills.  Since it was out of his jurisdiction, his father wasn’t actually running the crime scene, but through whatever collaborative magic that he’d been able to swing with the local authorities, they let Stiles go after only a modicum of questioning.

Derek was the one who got the privilege of driving Stiles home, and it only seemed like that happened because Stiles’ dad was still talking with the other law officers on the scene.  There was still tension between Derek and his dad, but Stiles was too wiped out to deal with it.

They’d gone maybe ten miles when Derek broke the silence in the car.  “You said my name.”

Stiles shrugged, and curled up against his window.  Derek had an arm waiting on the center console of the Camaro, but Stiles had avoided putting his hand on top.  It would be too weird and coupley, and Derek would probably get annoyed.  So Stiles stayed on his side of the car.  Maybe if he feigned sleep, Derek would leave this alone.

But there was no such luck of that happening.  “Stiles.  I heard you.” 

More than anything, Stiles would have wanted it to be true.  His brain to be completely fixed, and the words just spilling out like there was no tomorrow.  But he was realistic.  It killed him a little more every time he tried to speak and failed.  Every time the only thing coming out of his mouth was gibberish, it made his chest squeeze a little harder.  He wasn’t sure he could go through that again.  Especially right now.

And he would never experiment in front of anyone else.  It had become something he was ashamed of.  His voice.  There were teachers at school who were probably jumping for joy at the thought of Stiles being ashamed to talk.  But there it was.

It was almost a half hour before Derek pulled off of the highway and they stopped at a light.  Only then did Stiles turn in his seat and sign out to Derek, it was an accident. I think it was a F-L-U-K-E.

Derek’s lips tightened, but he didn’t push the issue. There wasn’t any time.  Stiles’ phone rang just as they were getting off at the Beacon Hills exit.

Stiles didn’t even need to look at the caller id.  Neither did Derek, if the sudden hand on his shoulder had anything to say about it. 

Lucas’s voice filled the car as Stiles flipped the call to speaker.  Stiles set the phone down in the cup holder, as Derek already started pulling the car off to the side of the road.

“Do you think I wouldn’t figure out there was a distinct lack of body count in tonight’s little adventure?” Lucas asked.  “Although I am impressed that you managed to get him out without any serious injury.  Has someone finally gotten soft and started trusting humans?”

“Is someone still too much of a pussy to take me on himself?” Derek asked in a dark growl.  The hand on Stiles’ shoulder squeezed painfully, like Derek needed the reminder that Stiles was still there. Still safe.  Still his.

“What fun is that, Derek?  Ask Stiles about my track record against other Alphas.  You’ve barely managed to keep yourself alive, let alone the refuse you swept up into a lackluster excuse for a pack.  You can’t possibly consider yourself a worthy opponent. They were all worthy prey.  Your darling sister, now that would have been a challenge.  Even your sneering sycophant of an uncle would have amused me.  Stiles might even have kept me entertained for a few days.  But I’m left with you.”

There was something about that, Stiles realized to himself.  Something about the Alphas.  If it was about hunting Alphas, then why would he keep them in cages like that?  Why keep them alive at all.  And why the games with Stiles and the others?  What was Lucas all about?

“Do you even think you’re worthy, Derek?  You were never meant to be a hero.  You were nothing more than a backup.  It was always about Laura.  Did you ever even tell her the truth?  Does she know what you did?”  A weighty laugh.  “What do you think she’d even say to you, if she could see you now.  Molesting a human.

The hand on Stiles’ shoulder snatched back suddenly like Derek had been burned.  Oh, hell no, Stiles thought, and grabbed Derek’s hand in between both of his own.  He squeezed as hard as he could, until his hands shook and his muscles screamed.  He couldn’t hurt Derek.  Derek would heal.  But Stiles wasn’t going to let him just…be manipulated like this.

“You don’t even know how easy it would be for me to tear you apart.  Tonight should have been an awakening.  They don’t see what I see.  You’re weak.  You and your emotionally deviated little pack of monsters.  You aren’t worthy.  None of them were worthy.”

Alphas, caged up and trapped.  Like a collection.  Stiles’ eyes widened. He released Derek’s hand and then waved in his face, demanding his attention.  Ask him why he needed to cage the Alphas.

Derek shook his head, not seeming to understand.  Maybe Stiles wasn’t signing it right, or maybe Derek didn’t just understand.  Regardless, he went through it again, punctuating each word as best as he could.

“Why did you lock them up?”  Derek finally asked.

Stiles almost slapped himself in the forehead.  Need. Need!  N-E-E-D.  Why is he keeping them.  Why are they alive.

“You don’t understand anything, you stupid mongrel-“ Lucas started, but Derek saw something in Stiles’ words, and his eyes flashed red as he interrupted.

“You’re collecting them,” Derek said, because no one could call him a complete moron.  “The tests, they’re about finding out if an Alpha is worthy.  You said it yourself.”

How do you make an Alpha pack, Stiles signed.  I bet it’s not a psych evaluation.

The corner of Derek’s mouth twitched upwards, and Stiles caught a hint of his extended teeth.  “You’re supposed to be finding your replacement, aren’t you?  That’s why the Alphas disappeared.  You went off book.  And now you’re being punished.  Only, they’re not making you pick out the switch they’re going to beat you with, they’re making you pick out your successor.  Survival of the fittest.”

There was a complete and total pause from the other side of the phone.  Stiles almost fist pumped at the air.  That was what Lucas was doing.  That was what this was all about.  Maybe it didn’t explain why he’d gone after Stiles specifically, but it explained the game playing of the last few months.  Why he kept turning up.  He was trying to use psychological warfare to weed through his competitors.

Would they do that?  Stiles signed.  Derek only shrugged.  It was hard to really say what motivated the Alpha pack, other than their penchant for being intimidating and wearing leather.  But then, that was more a werewolf thing than anything else.

“I’m going to gut your father with my claws, only I’m going to make it slow.  And you’re going to watch while the live bleeds out of him.  I won’t kill the hunter princess, but I’ll make her body a prison worse than even yours.  Two fingers in the right spot, and she’s paralyzed from the neck down.  Scott’s mother, the nurse will have to go of course, I’m thinking of going on a little rampage and letting her and the rest of the hospital try stitching up the entire emergency room.  Only how terrified do you think she’d be when  she realizes every person stumbling through those doors has a bite mark that’s sending waves of rage coursing through their limbic systems.”

“The strawberry blonde freak and the fungus she dates never met a mirror they didn’t like, so their punishment isn’t much more difficult than the patchwork quilt their faces can become with the right motivation.  Sometimes the wounds made by an Alpha never heal.”

“I will gut everything you love.  Everything you cherish.  And I’ll—“

Stiles hung up the phone.  He hung up the phone and got out of the car, even though they were in the middle of nowhere and it was a parking lot for some kind of Mexican restaurant that had probably closed in 1992 and there were boards in the windows and they said things like Free Bacon and Censor My Skateboard and things that didn’t make any sense except to the person who’d tagged them and Lucas was insane and unhinged and he didn’t know which was worse except that he knew that insanity was a legal term more than a psychological one and none of the words he could think of could really adequately describe what Lucas was and—Derek.

Derek was there, and even though they didn’t touch, Derek was a calming presence who stood there.  In arms reach.  But Derek didn’t reach for him, it was like all his movements had been eaten up just by getting out of the car.  And he didn’t say anything, but that wasn’t strange either.  Derek hated to talk, unless he was being a dick.  It was like he’d used up everything he knew about social interaction and so he just stood there.  Awkward. 

Stiles took pity on him and hugged him.  Derek’s arms were slow to wrap around him, but eventually they did.  And it was okay.  Stiles was okay.  Derek was okay, for now.

In the car, Stiles could hear his phone ringing.  They didn’t rush to answer it.

We have to stop him. Stiles signed, once he eventually pulled away.

“I will,” Derek promised, his finger movements slow and clumsy.

We. Stiles repeated it four more times.

They didn’t waste much more time than that.  The phone kept ringing until finally, Derek got pissed and answered it.  Lucas didn’t even get a word in edgewise.  “You couldn’t kill a seventeen year old mute, you stupid fuck.  I’ve met more capable Omegas.  So when I’m ready to deal with you, I’ll. Call.  You.” And hung up the phone.

Derek started the car in silence, but they still sat there for a couple of minutes.  Stiles looked anywhere except across the car at the driver.  He was scared, sure – Lucas had gone ahead and put into words all the horrible things he’d do to the people Stiles cared about – but he was also a little ashamed.  Because in some way it felt like this was all his fault.  Like he was somehow responsible for all the things that Lucas had done ever since he’d attacked Stiles.

It was stupid, and completely ridiculous, of course, but Stiles still couldn’t shake the feeling.  The guilt.  He was trying desperately to think of something – to come up with some kind of plan.  He wants Derek, but he wants Derek to suffer, too.  To break him.  And it wasn’t some sort of ego trip that reminded Stiles that he was the best bet for Lucas.  Whatever happened, Stiles would have to be there.  To sweeten the pot.  To draw Lucas in. 

He wouldn’t have to be the hero.  That he could leave to Derek.  But he would have to play the victim.  He would have to put himself on the line, and risk Lucas killing him for sure.  He’d escaped a certain death twice now, there was every likelihood that his luck would not hold out for a third time. 

And just like that, a plan started to form.  But Stiles didn’t say anything yet.  He let Derek drive them back towards home, only stopping once they started to approach the Beacon Hills animal hospital.  They would need Dr. Deaton’s help – well, Stiles would.  He had something else in mind for Derek – something Derek was going to hate more than…well, Derek hated a lot of things, but this would probably be the hate cherry on top of his mint chocolate hate sundae.  They pulled into the parking lot while Stiles started to explain what he was thinking.  It wasn’t so much a plan as it was a sneak attack masqueraded as a full frontal assault.  And it wasn’t so much a sneak attack as it was something else entirely, but Stiles kept that part to himself.

Derek gave Stiles a dirty look when they got out of the car, but while Stiles went right in the front door, Derek waited right outside to make a phone call.  Yup, Derek was never going to forgive him for having to make that phone call.  But if it would maybe keep Derek alive, Stiles would deal with it.  Happily.

“Stiles?”  Deaton was standing behind the front desk, wiping his hands off with a towel.  Stiles gave an awkward wave, gestured towards the door he’d just come through, and then waited.  Derek didn’t make them wait long.  The Alpha huffed, then explained in an annoyed monotone that Stiles had a plan.  He started going through the basics – bait, switch, etc.

But it wasn’t until Derek’s phone rang a few minutes later, that Stiles explained the rest of his plan to the vet.  The thing that Derek couldn’t know about, and the part that only Deaton could play.  Because Deaton was the only one who he knew that could help him with this.  He just hoped that Deaton would see things his way – he had strange ideas of honor and responsibility sometimes.  And he stayed out of things more often than he allowed himself to be involved.

Stiles had planned out the text message meticulously in his head before they’d even arrived.  He still had a little trouble translating words in his head to words on the phone, but he’d gotten a lot better then he’d been a few months ago.  The long drive back to Beacon Hills had given him time to plan out the wording just right.

Lucas capturing Alphas.  Wants Derek broken. Need to stop him.

And then he’d pantomimed exactly what he’d intended.  Deaton hadn’t needed much in the way of convincing, he slipped Stiles exactly what he’d been after just before Derek walked back indoors, with Allison and Chris coming warily behind him.

That Stiles had made him call Allison was still a prickling annoyance if Derek’s expression was anything to go by.  Things were still…strained between the two of them, three if you included Chris, which Stiles tried to do as little as possible.

“Oh my god, you’re okay,” Allison ran forward as soon as she realized that Stiles was there, and clearly in one piece.  She stumbled to a stop just a few feet from him, though, as the weight of the dark cloud over her head pressed her to a stop.  Stiles could see the exact moment that Allison reminded herself that she wasn’t allowed to feel things like happiness, or joy, or relief.   The stuttered crack that split her from the girl who laughed with them at lunch from the hunter who had almost killed several of her friends.

Fuck that noise, Stiles thought to himself, reaching out and grabbing her up into a hug and squeezing all the darkness out of her.  Or at least doing the best he could. 

Sorry I had to leave, he signed to her once he pulled away, slowing down his movements enough for her to track.  He watched her eyes, the way they trained on his fingers, nodding slightly to herself every time she figured out a word.  Stiles didn’t go on until she was caught up.  But I’m okay.  It’s not your fault.  He threatened you.

“Who did?” Allison asked, startled into speech.

Derek shot Stiles a dark look, a you’re really making me partner up with hunters look. I am, Stiles nodded back.  Derek’s jaw tightened, and he looked around the motley group that had been assembled.  “Stiles has some sort of plan.  Because only having one near death experience a night has gotten stale.”

He wants Derek.  It has something to do with Alphas.  I think he’s either trying to collect them, or he’s trying to break them, Stiles signed, shifting his position so he could sign to Derek and Allison both.  Surprisingly, Deaton moved himself so he also had a clear view of Stiles’ hands.  Scott had never mentioned anything about the vet knowing sign language.  He wanted to use me to remind Derek about what happened to his family, Stiles continued.  Allison’s breath caught, and Stiles felt terrible for that, but that was also part of the reason why he wanted the Argents here.  Not to make amends or anything as impossible as that, but so they understood what was at stake here.  Lucas is dangerous.  He’s been toying with us.  When he finds out I’m not dead like he wanted, we can’t know how he’ll react.

Stiles took a deep breath, then added.  So we need to draw him out first.  Confront him.  Somewhere along the way, Derek had started translating out loud.  Another surprise.  He’d been so careful not to let anyone else know that he signed.  Maybe it was the shock of what Stiles was suggesting, or maybe it was something else, but hearing Derek repeat everything he was thinking was strangely comforting to Stiles.  Even if Derek’s voice had that I stalk young teenagers because I’m a snarky creeper tone that he used when he was irritated.

He’ll hate that the fire didn’t kill me, and he’ll want to do something else. If he doesn’t know already.  He might.  But Derek’s going to get him to the high school and that’s where you come in.

“Why the high school?” Chris asked. 

Because that’s where it started. Lucas likes things to have meaning.  It’s where all this started.  So that should be where it ends.

“And what makes you think he’ll show up?” Deaton asked.

Because I’m going to offer myself up as bait, Stiles said.  And Derek is, too. 

Derek repeated the last of the words, but it was like he couldn’t seem to believe what Stiles was putting on the table.  There’s two solid seconds of dumb shock and silence before the sweltering anger swept across his eyes and locked in on Stiles.  “He tried to kill you tonight, Stiles,” he said, gesturing with his hand emphatically, ”you really think I’m going to let you do this?”

We have to end it, Stiles signed.

“Oh my god,” Derek exploded, his frustration unable to be contained any longer, “this is not happening.  I’ll have your father lock you up in a cell, or ship you to Mexico or something.  Because this is not happening.”

“Maybe Stiles is right,” Allison said hesitantly, as if she didn’t know if she was allowed to have an opinion.  “Maybe if we work together, for once, we can stop Lucas before he can do any more harm.  Or hurt anyone else the way he hurt Stiles.”  Stiles suffered more than any of us, she seemed to be implying with her words.  Stiles watched Derek’s face, and saw the tightness get washed away in a moment of pain, before the mask settled back over his face again.

Allison was watching too, and whatever it was that she saw made her nod again, just as slightly as before.  She’d been watching for something, but Stiles wasn’t sure what.  A hint that she could trust him, maybe?  A hint that he wouldn’t take out his issues with the Argents instead of focusing on Lucas? 

 “I think Stiles has made up his mind,” Deaton offered, in his paternalistic role.

“Oh my god,” Derek vented in frustration.  “You’re supposed to be some sort of advisor, so advise him that this is his stupidest idea yet. And trust me, he’s had plenty of stupid ideas before.”

Stiles gave him the finger.  Deaton gave him a cheery smile laced with a fuck you smugness.  Stiles was beginning to understand what Scott saw in him.  Deaton was the badass offspring of Santa Clause and Medea from the Tyler Perry movies, helpful and charming and yet there was a sharp undercurrent of dark humor hidden under the surface.

Things progressed quickly after that, with all of them talking strategy.  It was interesting, watching how they interacted.  Derek made a point of running everything through Deaton, rather than speaking to Allison or Chris directly.  Allison spoke up more than Chris did, and it was clear to see how much her family’s tutelage had taught her about strategy.  Stiles could have told them that strategy was useless against Lucas, because he was smarter than all of them.  Stiles could have told them that their plan to catch him unaware by keeping the participants limited wouldn’t work.  Five people or five hundred, Lucas would find a way to turn things to his advantage.  And when they discussed how to use the school’s layout to their advantage, Stiles could have told them not to bother.

Not because he couldn’t talk.  That had nothing to do with it at all.  It was because of the biggest thing that Stiles couldn’t tell any of them.

He couldn’t tell them that this entire plan was a distraction.  Stiles was using all of them.

 

Chapter Text

Stiles kept a dead man’s grip on the syringe that Deaton had given him.  Derek wouldn’t let him get more than a foot away before his hand reached out and snagged a handful of Stiles’ hoodie, and pulled him back, which Stiles didn’t entirely mind.  Once the conversation between all the adults was done – Derek and Stiles would enter the school while the Argents and a few select hunters would wait outside and enter once they were assured that Lucas was in the building.  They’d cut the power and go in strong, just the way they’d done when hunting Derek and the kanima both at the police station.

The synchronicity of the events hadn’t been lost on Derek, either, and if anything it made him dislike the entire situation even more. 

He never expected Derek to go along with the idea at all, to be completely honest.  But there was a fierceness in Derek’s expression, a white hot rage that he was trying desperately to conceal.  As much as Derek didn’t want to put Stiles in danger, he did want to tear Lucas limb from limb.  And Lucas probably wouldn’t show up if it was just Derek by himself: Alpha against Alpha.

There was a moment where Derek looked at him, and Stiles would have sworn that he knew: knew that Stiles had something else in mind for tonight.  That it was all just a ruse to get Lucas to show up.  But then he did that head jerky thing that he did, like he was working out a neck cramp or cracking his vertebrae, and the moment vanished.

Or maybe Derek had a plan of his own.

Chris hadn’t looked happy about handing Stiles a handgun after the four of them pulled up a block from the high school.  The lot was empty, and the building’s lights were off, but that wouldn’t stop them.  Stiles had stopped the Argents before they’d even finished suiting up outside Chris’s SUV.  But he focused on Allison, his expression severe.  If anything happens to him because of you…  he couldn’t finish the threat, though.  Because there weren’t words enough for what Stiles would do.  Maybe Scott would be a broken shell if anything happened to Allison, but if anything happened to Derek…Stiles wasn’t exactly sure what he was capable of, but he knew it wouldn’t be good. 

Scott had a good heart.  That was one of the things that Stiles loved most about him.  Stiles…Stiles wasn’t nearly as good.  Definitely not even close.  Scott cared about other people, his heart was bigger than his head by far.  He was noble and empathic and good-natured.  Stiles didn’t need to be a werewolf to know what untapped aggression was like.  How rage could spiral out of control. 

Maybe that was why he had tried so hard to maintain the connection with Allison.  He could understand that darkness.  Her mother’s death had rocked her so hard she’d fallen off her path and onto something much nastier.  And Stiles recognized that there was the same potential inside him, too.

His father was a Sheriff, the department had an armory, and Stiles knew how to break almost every lock in the building.  And in the last nine months Stiles had learned more than he’d ever thought possible about patience, and biding your time, and waiting for the perfect opportunity.  If anything happened to Derek tonight, because of the Hunters, then Stiles couldn’t say for certain how things would go down, but he knew they would.  Peter.  Gerard.  Matt.  The Alpha Pack.  Lucas.  Stiles had learned a lot about how to hurt people in the last few years. 

Hopefully, he wouldn’t need to use any of it.

Allison tried to reassure him with a smile.  Nothing will happen to him, she signed, after an audible swallow.  Things between Allison and Derek had never quite smoothed over completely, but she hadn’t tried to kill him in over a year.  Progress.

“You’re sure you know what you’re doing?” Chris asked, strapping an extra gun around his thigh.

Stiles offered him a confident smile that didn’t exactly reassure anyone else.  If anything, Allison looked more queasy than she had a moment before, and Chris more concerned.

“Get over here,” Derek snapped a moment later, wrapping his hand around the hood of Stiles’ shirt and dragging him away.  Apparently, he’d wandered more than the requisite foot away and Derek had to come and track him down.  Which, again, Stiles didn’t mind so much.

Everything’s going to be okay, Stiles signed.  He didn’t need to see Derek’s eyebrows twitch or to hear the sudden thrum of his heart in his chest to know that they were both aware of just how big a lie Stiles was telling.

“I’m going to tear that psychopath apart and then I’m going to lock you in your room for the rest of your life,” he growled in response.

Kinky, Stiles signed, because of course he’d had to figure out how to sign that word eventually. 

Derek huffed and rolled his eyes, but his hand never left the back of Stiles’ neck.  He led Stiles’ back to the Camaro and stood by the passenger door while Stiles climbed in, then closed the door for him before walking around to the driver’s side. 

Figures he has the world’s best manners on the world’s worst date, Stiles thought to himself.  The syringe in his front pocket slid a bit and jabbed against his stomach.  Stiles shifted around, crossing his arms in front of him to try and keep it casual.

He looked back at the vet’s office one last time before they pulled out of the parking lot and headed for the school.  There’d been one last thing that Stiles had needed from Deaton.  The vet had shaken his head at Stiles’ request, making excuses and protests that Stiles didn’t want to hear.  But eventually, he stopped arguing.  He refused to make any promises, though, he had warned.  So Stiles couldn’t rely on him as part of the plan.

That was fine.  The best laid plans always had a few contingencies.  Stiles saw tonight going down in two possible ways.  Neither one was ideal, but the whole last year of his life hadn’t exactly been fucking ideal, either.

“You don’t have to go inside,” Derek started, as soon as the car pulled to a stop.  Stiles shook his head, because that really wasn’t an option anymore, but Derek kept talking.  Kept putting ideas out there.  “One call, and Scott and the others will be here.  You know they will.  Or we can come up with a better plan.  Something that Lucas isn’t going to see through the moment he walks in the door.”

I want him to see through it, though, Stiles thought to himself.  That was part of the whole point.  He wanted Lucas to be so comfortable in deciphering all the little motivations and tricks going into tonight.  So Stiles was making it easy for him.  There was the obvious plan – confronting Lucas.  There was the “secret” plan – Hunters acting as a backup SWAT team.  And then there was the real plan – the one that Derek was really going to kill him for.

Everything will be fine, he signed.  Derek didn’t look convinced.  Stiles couldn’t blame him. 

There was an awkward pause between the two of them, and Stiles knew it was supposed to be filled with, like…declarations of love, or discussions about feelings, or something like that.  The poignant goodbye moment before the heroes go off to war.  But that really wasn’t his thing.  He was willing to bet it wasn’t Derek’s either.

If both of them survived the night, then they were going to have to come to terms with the fact that Stiles was probably a horrible boyfriend on paper.  Big, dramatic gestures and in depth conversations about feelings weren’t in his wheelhouse.

Derek led the way into the school, but only with one hand almost surgically attached to Stiles’ neck.  The familiarity of the gesture made Stiles think about his dad, though.  And the fear about what he would do if something happened to Stiles only hours after something had already almost happened to him. 

But Stile wasn’t going to give up without a fight.  And one way or another, this was going to end tonight.  He would make sure of it.

So when Derek dialed the number back that Lucas had been calling from, and the sound of a phone ringing started echoing down the hall, Stiles didn’t jump in fear, even though Derek tensed immediately.  He started sniffing at the air, like he would be able to smell Lucas approaching, but that never worked on the Alphas.  Stiles listened to the phone’s ringtone, which was surprisingly a Ke$ha song.  “Blow” wouldn’t have been his first choice for an Alpha’s ringtone, but it was certainly ominous enough.

“How’d he know we were coming here?” Derek whispered furiously.  His phone was still in his hand, and it was still ringing, and somewhere in the school, Lucas’s phone was ringing, too.  But he refused to answer it.

He feels comfortable here, Stiles signed.  Everything had happened here.  The original attack, then the trip to the guidance office.  Both times that Lucas really went out of his way to make an impact in Stiles’ life.  Then he’d broken the pattern by running Stiles all the way out of town. 

Or maybe he knew that Stiles would want the poetry of the school.  To end things where they had begun.  Full circle and all that.

Despite the fact that there was no power, the P.A. system crackled to life just as Derek and Stiles crossed into the main hall.  A moment later a low, throbbing laugh echoed and bounced down the school hallways. 

Derek turned at once to the left, facing the main office.  A low growl reverberated out of his chest, and Stiles shivered.  Every time he saw a little bit of Derek the Alpha, it hit him like a punch in the gut.  It wasn’t arousal, exactly.  More like a hardcoded awareness that Serious Shit was Going Down.

But okay, it was a little hot, too.

Stiles grabbed Derek by the leather jacket and tugged, because Jesus, it wasn’t going to be that easy.  He could be anywhere.  There are O-U-T-L-E-T-S all over school now.  The public address system was set up so that any teacher could tap into the system from their classrooms as needed.  All Lucas needed was a battery to power the main system in the office, and then he could mock them from anywhere.

“I’m disappointed in you, Stiles.”  Lucas’s voice was the very definition of a bad touch, a sinister caress that crept from the speakers like a seduction.  It was creepy uncle Peter all over again.  “This isn’t you.  Fighting back.  Struggling to stay alive.  For what?  A father drinking himself into an early grave?  Friends that forget about you a little more every day?  The only reason Lydia even knows your name is because piggybacking on your tragedy is going to give her one hell of an essay for whichever overrated school she decides on.  Or is this about your little Alpha?  The only person in this miserable town more screwed up than you?”

Derek’s growl intensified.  “I’m going to tear you apart!” he snarled, his words almost seeming to amplify the further they got from him.  The halls shuddered and echoed with it.  He didn’t notice when Stiles pulled away from him, just a little.

“You’re nothing but an experiment to him, Stiles.  A broken doll that isn’t quite real.  He can do to you all the things that she did to him--”

Derek froze in place the moment Lucas mentioned the she, and the responding growl drowned out whatever it was that Lucas said next. 

“—only thing your love can do is feed his own pitiful self-loathing.  Isn’t that right, Derek?  No one can hate you more than you already hate yourself.  You should have chosen different, Stiles.  You could do so much better.”

The worst part was that Stiles knew all this was coming.  He knew Lucas would batter at them with their weaknesses, taunt them until they made a mistake.  He had some inklings of what nightmares seared at Derek’s sleep night after night.  And he knew that Derek probably hated himself.  It was something they could bond over, because no one quite hated Stiles with quite the same level of passion that he himself did.

So that made it that much worse when Stiles calmly pulled the gun out and fired into Derek’s exposed back three times.

*****

Deaton had explained many times about the different kinds of wolfsbane – how different strains had different properties. Some, like the special rounds that the Argents hoarded, would eventually kill a werewolf.  But that kind of wolfsbane was in short supply, so there were other kinds.  Deadly in their own right.  Like the kind in the rest of the Argents’ ammo, which would hurt and weaken a werewolf, but it wouldn’t cause an immediate death.

But it would hurt like a bitch and keep someone out of the line of fire for a little bit.

Despite the fact that Stiles had just shot him in the back multiple times, when Derek collapsed on the ground he did it facing upwards, so that he could hit Stiles with the full effect of his betrayed look, which was apparently just as devastating as Scott’s ability to look like a hurt puppy. 

Stiles felt an immediate surge of regret, but the cold, rational part of his brain knew to expect this.  So he crouched down, stopped himself from wincing (barely) when Derek howled in pain and writhed in pain.

“Don’t…don’t do this,” he panted.  And Stiles didn’t have anything.  He didn’t have any words.  He couldn’t even summon up a simple flair of the hands, the expression of an apology.  Nothing.  Because Stiles knew that there was no way this would end if Derek was the one fighting his battles for him. 

Derek reached for him, and Stiles dropped down onto his ass and scurried back.  Because as much as he might want to kiss Derek goodbye (and seriously, if this didn’t work out the way Stiles hoped then it really would be a goodbye), but he couldn’t risk Derek and his stupid werewolf strength.  Or his stupid Alpha arrogance bullshit.  None of them had time for that tonight.

So Stiles did exactly what Stiles had planned to do all along.  He pushed up the sleeves of his hoodie, pulled the crimson hood over his head, and stalked the halls of Beacon Hills High looking for the big, bad wolf.

*****

“That was…exciting.”  The voice didn’t come from the loudspeaker this time.  Hot breath spilled over his neck.  Lucas smelled like smoke and spices, the same kind of fancy cologne that Stiles bought his dad for Christmas every year.

They were just outside the cafeteria.  Just like Stiles had expected, Lucas waited until he was alone to show up.  The Alpha was a psychopath, but at least he was consistent.  He liked doing things on his terms.  Removing Derek had been the only way this could go down.

“Betrayed again by someone he cared for.  Derek really does know how to pick them, doesn’t he?”  Lucas pulled Stiles tight against him, his hands squeezing painfully against Stiles’ arms.  But he didn’t cry out. He wouldn’t.  The only benefit to having your brain scrambled was that if someone decided to torture you to death, they wouldn’t get to hear you beg for your life. 

It wasn’t much comfort, actually.

“So what was the plan.  Come inside, hope to lure me out, and then send your little Hunter friends in to finish me off?” Lucas’s words were a silky rush in Stiles’ ears.  Stiles shook his head frantically, suddenly terrified for Allison and her father.  He may not have been Mr. Argent’s biggest fan, but he’d never forgive himself if they were hurt because of Stiles.

He couldn’t move his arms very much, but he could still sign a little.  Their.  Plan.  That was all that he managed before Lucas pushed him away with a sneer.

“And what’s your plan, little boy?  Beg me to spare your life?  His life?  Offer yourself up in exchange?  Offer to become the Alpha that no one wants you to be?  Kill yourself in front of me?  Tell me exactly what you think you can do to make me change my mind?”

Coward.  Do you want me to beg?  You’d like that.  Pervert.  You probably kill everyone you fuck, because it’s the only way you can get off.  Do you really think I’m scared of you?

Stiles shoved his hands in the pockets of his hoodie and stared at the Alpha.  He was just…done. Maybe he’d been afraid before.  Maybe he would be again someday, in nightmares that would never end.  But for right now, for this one night, he wasn’t.  Because there was too much on the line, and Stiles was tired.  So goddamn tired of everything that Lucas had introduced into his life in the past year.  He didn’t even recognize himself anymore. 

Lucas made it all too easy.  Stiles didn’t even have to do any of the work.  He lunged forward, into Stiles’ space.  And the needle that Stiles had been sweating bullets over for the last hour was pointed forward, his thumb on the plunger.  Lucas went for the attempt at immediate shock and terror, but got a gut full of kanima cocktail, all thanks to Beacon Hills’ very own super-vet.

Skin on skin contact worked the fastest on normal humans, but the spinal cord was the best target for a prolonged dose.  Somewhere in the middle was a good old plunge into the bloodstream.

Lucas had about five seconds of rage reaction, slamming Stiles back against a snack machine before the venom (whipped up into a saline cocktail to keep it from losing efficacy) started to take effect. 

And God, how much did Stiles love watching the shifting of emotions on Lucas’s face as he started losing control of his limbs.  Watching him, hovering there right in his eye line, for as long as it took him to collapse down onto the floor.

He wouldn’t have forever – Derek had been paralyzed for two hours at the longest, and this was a weaker dose in less than ideal settings – but it would be enough. 

Stiles crouched down until he and Lucas were eye to eye.  The Alpha’s throat gurgled.  Stiles smiled.  “Shhh,” he whispered, soothing like.  “Don’t speak.”  The words came to him naturally, like he had been waiting for just these particular circumstances before the word would untangle in his throat.  But he didn’t push it more than that. 

He didn’t have time to.

A throat cleared behind him.

Stiles whirled around, looking into the dim cafeteria.

The man was seated leisurely in one of the lunch room chairs, arms resting on the table like he was just waiting for the cafeteria to start serving the alternative vegan meatloaf with extra loaf that it served every Wednesday.  Someone should have told him that he was just about twelve hours early for that, though. 

He stood up, the pea coat flaring up around him.  The dude dressed like he’d ripped off Jackson’s wardrobe – jeans that cost more than the entire Prom budget, tighter than even Derek’s tightest pair.  This guy could definitely have given Derek a run for his money in the body department.  His sweater clung to the bulging muscles of his chest, and he had the broadest shoulders that Stiles had ever seen.  Even his boots were nearly flawless, with barely a scratch on them. 

He was older, not quite as old as Peter (or would that be young? Technically Peter had died and been born again, making him only a few months old, really)  But he had the same kind of scruffy good looks that would have made him fit right in as a Hale.   But Stiles was pretty sure he wasn’t.  Stiles was pretty sure he was evil.

This was the second part of what he’d asked Deaton to do for him.  The Alpha pack knew who Deaton was before they’d even come to town.  And Stiles was pretty sure that meant Deaton knew about them, too.  And whatever weird neutrality the vet had going for him, he hadn’t ever volunteered the information. 

But Stiles hadn’t asked him if it was true.  He’d bluffed, and Deaton hadn’t told him he was wrong.  And when he told the vet to reach out to the leader of the Alpha pack, Deaton had warned against it.  Had sworn it was a bad idea.  But Stiles had played his ultimate trump card.  If Deaton didn’t, Stiles would be dead anyway.  At least this way, he was giving Stiles a chance to live.

Looks like the vet wasn’t such an X factor after all.

 

“Nice to finally put a face to the trauma,” the man said, offering Stiles a smile.  “I’m Deucalion.  You can call me Duke.”  He eyed the Alpha on the floor between them, and Stiles saw the moment of calculation behind his eyes.  This man, Duke ,was a lot like Peter.  A manipulator.  Stiles saw it right from the start. “Now what are we going to do with him, hmm?  Thoughts?  Preferences?”

Stiles didn’t say anything.

“We’ve been looking for you for a long time, Lucas,” Duke practically purred.  “And here you are, trussed up like a sacrifice by the ‘worthless human’ you became so obsessed with.” His eyes flicked to Stiles, and all the warmth and humor slipped away.  Revealing the cunning Alpha underneath.  “You promised me that breaking the boy would break them.  But he doesn’t look very broken to me.”

Lucas was almost entirely paralyzed by this point, but Stiles got the impression that if he could have moved, he would be shaking.  He raised his hands slowly, carefully framing out the words.  This was the best chance to get Lucas out of their lives forever. 

“Translate, Lucas,” Duke barked.

“I…I’m sorry,” Lucas said through frozen lips, not bothering to translate at all.

In a single, fluid motion Duke slipped out of his chair and pushed himself up and over the table, clearing it by at least a few feet.  Stiles flinched, throwing himself backwards as quickly as he could.   Even though there was no point – if the Alpha wanted to grab him, the Alpha would.

 But Duke went for Lucas, instead.  One handed, he grabbed him by the throat and pulled him upright again.  Red eyes glared into the face of his subordinate as Duke growled, “Translate.  Now.”  Stiles could see the blood trails spilling out from where Deucalion’s claws had pierced Lucas’s flesh. 

Murderous eyes watched his hands as Stiles signed again, and this time Lucas repeated what he said.  “He wants to offer a trade.  You take me and leave the rest of them alone.”

Stiles frowned, but Duke didn’t waste a moment.  The grip tightened on Lucas’s neck, and he grunted and spluttered.  “You’re lying, little boy,” Duke hissed.  “Do you think I can’t tell?  Have you really been gone so long that you forget how things work?  You may be an Alpha because you killed your way down your family line until it passed to you, but I am still your Alpha.  And clearly you need to be reminded. Have you already forgotten where I found you?  Do you want to go back to Ravencrest?  I plucked you from the asylum and saved you from the hunters, and this is how you repay me?  ME?”

“No!” Lucas squealed, his breath coming faster and faster.  “I’ll do it.  I’ll tell you.”

Stiles started to sign again, haltingly, but there wasn’t any need.  Lucas wasn’t even looking at him, but he was saying all the things that Stiles would have said. 

And so in between coughs and gasps, Lucas admitted to pruning the list of Alphas that Duke had given him – killing some, destroying others.  Afraid for his own position in the Alpha pack, Lucas took it upon himself to weed through the competition.  In the event that someone did come in to replace him, Lucas had done enough reconnaissance to know how to exploit their weaknesses.  And he made sure that the only ones that survived where the ones he knew he could beat.

Until Derek, and Beacon Hills, and Stiles.  The original plan had been to break Derek, but Lucas had lost focus.  What he’d done to Stiles had captivated his attention, and he couldn’t help but fawn over his ingenuity.  His bad touch crush had even gotten so bad that he’d considered, briefly, replacing Derek with Stiles and claiming him for his own. 

But at every turn, Stiles and Derek had managed to survive.  Maybe not thrive, but close enough.

“Yeah,” Duke drawled, his eyes lingering on Stiles.  Maybe it was a villain thing.  Everyone stared at him like he was a go go boy at The Jungle, on display for their pleasure.  Creepy pleasures.  “Hale certainly knows how to survive.  But we knew to expect that.” 

The switch was sudden.  One moment, Duke is the creepy, menacing villain, and the next he was smiling. Friendly.  “Oh Lucas, my dear, dear boy.  Remember when I said that Beacon Hills was special?”  He tapped the other Alpha on the nose, emphasizing his point. 

Stiles’ instincts screamed a warning and he scrambled back and away, putting even more distance between them.  He didn’t know what it was, exactly, but he was scared in a way that Lucas hadn’t been able to make him.  The sweetness, the fondness in Duke’s voice.  That wasn’t faked.  But it was the rumble underneath, barely audible but still there, like a psychic warning or a subconscious alert. 

“You should have paid a bit more attention to your lessons, son.”  The claws tighten around Lucas’ neck, and he squeals again.  His face is nearly purple by now.  “I wanted to keep you around, but unlike you, I know which battles to pick.  And this wasn’t one of them.” 

The fear in Lucas’s eyes only lasted a few seconds before Duke happened to glance over at Stiles.  As though realizing that what he was doing might traumatize the teen, he carefully turned Lucas until he was facing away from Stiles completely.

“Go on, kid.  I’ll take care of Lucas.  Just remember that when we come back, you’re going to owe me one.”

Stiles’ confusion must have been obvious, because Duke sighed.  It was a huffy, Derek Hale sized sigh.  “I’m not going to kill you,” the Alpha continued.  “Not going to kill the Hale kid, either.  Or the Hunters you thought were some sort of trump card.”  He shook his head like he couldn’t understand the way simpler minds worked.  “Let’s just say that Lucas overstepped, and did some things that aren’t in line with our interests.  So I’m going to take care of him, and you’re going to go home.  And someday, this is all going to make sense.”

There was another pause, while Stiles was frozen in place. 

Duke huffed again.  “Unless you want to listen to him bleed out?  Go home, Stiles.”

Stiles ran.

*****

Duke didn’t know everything, though.  He certainly didn’t know that whatever Lucas had done to the speaker system to get it up and running, it was still going.  It had broadcast almost everything, ever since Stiles first split from Derek.  And it was still broadcasting Lucas’ last words, although Stiles didn’t know what they meant.

He was focused on running back the way he’d come, retracing his steps until he met with Derek.  Because whatever Duke may or may not have claimed, a part of him was worried that Duke or Lucas or maybe another Alpha entirely would have capitalized on the fact that Derek was bleeding and wounded on the ground, and taken him out.

“I told you not to mess with her,” Duke was saying over the PA system.  “Now there’s nothing I can do.  You interfered with what she had planned, and she wants you gone.  Maybe I could have mitigated this if you could have delivered Hale, but you couldn’t even do that right.”

“Please, De-Deucalion.  I’m sor—“

“Shhh,” the older man whispered over the speakers.  “Don’t apologize.  Just accept it.”

And then there was a sound of static, of feedback, gurgling and gasping and prayers without breaths to make them whole, and apologies.  The silences were just as heavy and sharp as the sounds.  And then the sound of something that could have been a knife tearing through cardboard.  And Stiles tried not to think about it, tried not to picture it in his head.  But he couldn’t help it.

Morning announcements would never be the same again.  Not after hearing the PA system broadcast a murder.  And from now on, he was going to eat his lunch outside.

 

*****

Scott was there with Derek when Stiles nearly tripped over the pair of them.  Derek had managed to pull himself towards one of the walls, and Scott was in the process of digging out the last bullet.  Stiles skidded to a stop, having to grab onto Scott’s shoulder to maintain his balance.  Which, of course, caused Scott to jerk his arm, Derek to hiss in pain, and both of them to look up at Stiles with an identical expression of fury and betrayal.

If looks like that from one of them was bad, then looks from both of them, at the same time, were nearly fatal. 

“What’d you do?” Scott asked in nearly a whine.  Like he was the one that got shot or something.

Stiles exhaled, and scrambled for something…anything that he could say. 

“I tried to tell him you did it on accident.  Like remember the time you almost shot me with the crossbow?” Scott said helpfully.

“Three times, Scott.  Even Stiles isn’t that big of a spazz,” Derek gritted out. 

It sounded like an argument that they’d been having for a while, with Scott trying to stick up for Stiles (and doing a pretty terrible job at it, let’s be honest) and Derek struggling to not tear out somebody’s throat.

“Who was that, on the speaker?” Scott tried next, because clearly he wasn’t going to be much help in the trial of Stilinski v Hale. 

His name is D-E-U-C-A-L-I-O-N.  Called himself D-U-K-E.  Leader of the Alpha pack.  Or maybe just one of them, Stiles signed. 

Derek’s lips compressed even further as Scott’s triumphant but soft “Ah ha” preceded him pulling out the last bullet with some sort of…tweezers.  Scott must have come from the vet’s.  Probably told to trail after Stiles and stop him from making any idiotic decisions.  But he was too late.  Stiles wondered if he’d been waylaid by Allison on his way into the school.

Heh.  Way laid.

Derek groaned, and tried to shift where he was.  Stiles flinched and darted back a few steps.  Scott watched the pair of them with a cautious look.  “And that was Lucas?”  Scott asked, without filling in the rest.  That was Lucas getting his throat ripped out right in the middle of our school?  That was Lucas getting what he deserved?  That was Lucas, who was still a human being on some level, getting tortured by his Alpha, someone he trusted?  That was Lucas, and now it’s just a body?

Stiles nodded.  He exhaled, sank down onto the floor and pulled himself up against the wall across from Derek, facing the two of them.

“You should call Allison,” Derek said a few moments later, “and tell her that it’s over.  Chris can help with the cleanup.”  He didn’t quite look up to meet Stiles’ eyes, but there was a moment when Derek at least acknowledged him.  “Then take Stiles home.”

“What?”  Stiles wasn’t sure if it was being forced to talk to Allison that Scott was resisting, or the part where he had to take Stiles home, but either way, Scott’s hesitation was clear.

“Just do it,” Derek snapped without any real heat.  “I’ll see if Isaac or Boyd will keep an eye on him tonight.  The Sheriff’s got to be wondering where he is by now anyway.”

“But don’t you think—“

“Just do it, Scott,” Derek said.

Stiles, predictably, didn’t say anything.

*****

The ride back to his house was awkward.  Like, a million times more awkward than anything that Stiles could possibly conceive of.  Because not only did Scott try to talk to him about what had happened that night, but he also tried to play weirdo relationship counselor when Stiles hadn’t even been sure that Scott knew that he and Derek were….well, he and Derek.

And he just kept talking.  And talking.  And talking.  Even if Stiles could still use his voice, he didn’t think he could have fit a word in edgewise, because Scott had taken up his old job and filled the silences.  Derek had pushed him aside, with good reason.  His father was going to probably murder him.  And Scott not only had a new best friend standing by, but now he was taking Stiles’ roll in all things.

But everyone’s safe.  That’s what matters.

He tried not to think about what Duke had said.  About the implications for when the Alpha pack returned.  About the plans that he’d already been factored into.

That could wait.  For now, he was going to go home, and hug the shit out of his dad.  And then he wasn’t going to come out of his room until July.  If even then.

*****

He tried to sleep.  Really he did.  But werewolves had been coming and going out of his bedroom window for months.  There was no such thing as a decent lock when it came to a second story window, because heights weren’t an issue to them.  And just the idea of laying on his bed and knowing that something could be peeping in on him…it just wouldn’t fly.

The headache started sometime after he laid down, tossing and turning.  By the time he’d gathered all his blankets and sheets and dragged them into the closet, it was a full blown migraine.  He whimpered, and wished for Derek, and waited, but despite the fact that the pain kept him up half the night, there were no sneaky werewolf visitors.  No one came for him.  And Stiles punished himself by sticking with the pain.  He could have taken something, could have made it go away, but that wasn’t right.  Wasn’t fair.

He deserved this.  He deserved so much worse than this.

 

*****

A day passed.  Maybe two.  Stiles stayed in his closet, and every time he even thought about leaving, the pain in his head intensified.  His dad came to check on him.  A lot.  Through the floorboards, he could hear others visiting.  Checking in on him.  But no one came to his room.  His dad must have known that Stiles needed to be alone.  Needed whatever it was that the closet gave him to get through it.

Everyone showed up eventually.  Scott more than most, but Boyd was there, Isaac.  Erica and Lydia and Allison.  Chris.  Even Peter, Stiles was pretty sure.  Everyone that is, except for Derek.  He tried to sleep, but the closest he came were periods of blacking out, and periods of haze where he was swallowed up in the pain.  And still Stiles refused to do anything about it.

The migraine lasted for almost a week before it broke, and Stiles had huddled under his blankets for so long in a stupor of pain that he barely realized that it had diminished and his thoughts were clear again until he felt the differences.  One moment he was sleeping and his dreams were black and red and the pain was still in his head, he was dreaming agony so thank you very much for that, brain damage.  And then, slowly, by degrees he started to realize he wasn’t dreaming anymore.  He was awake.

He trailed his fingers up his chest, and down, felt the hollow in his stomach and traced lines around his ribs.  And then he ran his fingers down unfamiliar territory.  Skin that was flush and warm and clothing that was soft and thin.

Skin that wasn’t his.

The door was still closed, the closet a black blanket that made the world okay, but Stiles knew he wasn’t alone now.  And with the pain gone, and the option of real sleep on the horizon for the first time in days, his mouth, his mind and his body were all operating on different levels.  So as he curled into the warm shell of Derek’s arms, his body succumbed to memories that felt like safety and comfort and care.  Thoughts about betrayals, hurt feelings and violence were tucked away out of sight, as he let out a soft, happy sigh.  And his mouth, his traitorous mouth, went the furthest off course.  “I thought you weren’t coming,” he whispered.

Later, he would remember the words.  Remember how deviated the whole situation was.  Derek didn’t owe him forgiveness.  He didn’t owe him the caretaker roll, the comforting presence at his side.  Stiles had been so far out of line that if Derek never spoke to him again, it would be a fair trade.  Stiles had betrayed him.  Hurt him.  He didn’t deserve forgiveness.  He certainly hadn’t earned the words spoken without thought, slipping out like prisoners from a jailbreak when Stiles’ head was still such a riotous mess.

But all Derek did was to press his lips against Stiles’ head, and whisper back, “Go to sleep, idiot.”  And Stiles did.

*****

Derek was still there when Stiles woke up.  His head was pressed against the Alpha’s chest, his heartbeat low and steady and solid.  Fingers carded along his scalp, where the hair was starting to grow long again.  He liked the way it felt, when Derek ran his fingers through it.  Maybe it was time for something different.

“How do you feel?”  Derek’s voice was sleep heavy and low, and Stiles couldn’t help but shiver.  He liked that sound.  He wanted to hear Derek like that more.  All the time. 

But he didn’t have a right to that.  Not now.

Ever since he’d been hurt, Stiles had been making bargains with himself.  He would deal with his traumas, because his father was okay.  As long as his dad was fine, Stiles would get through anything.  And then when it got to be too much, he bargained that a quick jump off the hospital roof would make things easier for everyone else.

Even losing Derek was part of a bargain.  If only to get Lucas out of their lives forever.  Keeping Derek safe for a little while longer.

“Stiles,” Derek prompted.  “I asked you a question.”

Clearly, Derek had forgotten how things worked.  How was Stiles supposed to sign in a room devoid of light.  How was Derek even going to see that?

Finally he grunted and fumbled around until he found Derek’s hand.  He pretended to ignore the sudden inhale when he reached a bit further south than he intended, although the sound of Derek’s gasp went straight to his dick, forcing him to shift around so that it didn’t jab Derek in the side. 

But finally, he found a hand, and he pulled it towards his face.  Let himself smile, as broadly as he could, and let Derek’s fingers trace over his lips.  Even though he was making the movement happen, the touch made Stiles shiver.  Made him want something he’d allowed himself to give up.

“Use your words, idiot,” Derek growled, soft and low.

Maybe Derek had brain damage now.  That was a thought.  Maybe he’d forgotten the last nine months and everything that had happened with Lucas, and Stiles in the hospital, and then later Stiles at home, and then the two of them on Stiles’ bed….no wait, if Derek had forgotten all that, then why were they cuddling right now?  Never mind the fact that Derek was a total cuddle slut, just like Stiles had always suspected.

“I heard you, twice that night.  At the factory, and then later at the school.  And then yesterday when you woke up.  Come on, Stiles.  I know that you’re scared but you can do this.”  And then he was pleading.  “Just for me, okay?  Just for us.”

Was he right?  Could Stiles beat this thing, finally after everything?  It wasn’t until Derek acknowledged his fear that Stiles remembered just how terrified he was.  How the words had stayed bottled up for so long, he didn’t know how to let them out anymore.  He’d been keeping so many things inside, fears he couldn’t face, truths he couldn’t defend against.  What if they had been building up inside of him?  What of if they tore him apart on their way out, having spent all this time growing stronger and darker and more painful until they ripped him apart?

And then, like a balloon with too much air in it so that a little slipped out on accident, Stiles found his voice again.  “I’m….I’m scared.  Derek.  I’m scared.”

A knot inside his chest shattered into a thousand pieces, shrapnel ripping through his insides.  And then he was shaking, and Derek had him, and he managed not to cry but he could feel his body heaving and breaking apart all around him.

Maybe he could talk again, but his body was still broken.  There was a hand on the back of his head, pushing him against Derek’s neck, and another one rubbing his back.  And Derek, the scary Alpha who’d been such an enigma for so long, whispering quiet words into his ears.  “It’s okay, Stiles.  You’re okay now.  Shhh.  I’ve got you.  Shhh.  Don’t speak.”

They stayed like that for hours, and somewhere in there Stiles tried to apologize and the words got tangled up in his mouth, and he did start to cry then, but Derek was patient and comforting and eventually the words came.  And there were quiet conversations, and it was a struggle to see which one of them had to work harder:  Stiles, who had to strain for simple words, or Derek, who preferred silence and brooding more than words.

Eventually, Stiles managed to pull himself together enough to risk his bedroom.  And Derek was there to help him make the transition back out into the world. 

But they didn’t speak again outside of the closet.  And Derek didn’t tell anyone that Stiles was getting better.  Because Stiles asked him not to. 

*****

It wasn’t like everything magically returned to normal.  Stiles wasn’t instantly cured, and Derek suddenly perfect, and their lives the epic poetry of the loveswept. 

He wouldn’t have thought it possible, but there was something worse than the dark storm that had ravaged his mind the past year.  A year without an outlet.  A house without any windows or doors.  Trapped.  Only to suddenly be…not.  Where there were impenetrable brick walls now there were open windows, not just bright but blinding and open and letting in so much air and scent and life.  It was more than that, though, but also summer breezes, and doors in his mind that had grown stiff with age, now thrown open and never fully able to close. 

Stiles could come and go as he pleased, no longer a prisoner in his own head.

And.

That.

Was.

Terrifying.

It was like he’d lived his entire life in a two dimensional world and suddenly there was a never ending sky, stars and planets looming up there like any one of them might snatch him away forever.  A darkness that he could feel pressing against his skin, hungering to taste him again.  It was  almost enough to drive him mad.

Almost.

*****

Stiles was different.  Some nights he locked himself in the closet, and those were the nights that Derek inevitably showed up, curling around him like a human security blanket.  Stiles was quieter than he’d ever been in his life, and it freaked out his dad, but he’d had almost a year to prepare.

Summer came, and Stiles began catching up on his life.  Missing the entirety of his junior year sucked, but he worked to find a way to make up the work over the summer.  Online courses at the local college could replace some of the classes, and it neatly bypassed his communication issues.  Stiles didn’t have to talk to email a paper about Stalin in by 3pm on a Friday.

He left the house, and spent time with his friends.  Sometimes Derek was there, and sometimes he wasn’t.  They didn’t act any different in public than they did at the house with his dad.  Neither one of them was prone to fits of PDA, and Stiles assumed the others knew but didn’t care.

But he never said a word, and Derek never told on him.  His friends all got better at signing, and so did Stiles, though none of them managed the fluency that Derek had.  And just like how Derek wouldn’t tell on him, Stiles never ratted him out either.  It was only fair.

One night in July they were tangled up on the couch downstairs.  His father was in his office, doing taxes or studying case files, or whatever it was that he did on nights like that.  He’d come to tolerate, maybe even appreciate Derek’s visits.  Because Stiles was better when Derek was around.  Maybe not cured yet.  But better.

Derek ran his fingers up and down Stiles’ arm, slow sweeps of his hands that left trails of heat in their wake.  Stiles started to drift off, the sound of the movie they were supposed to be watching too vague and uninteresting to capture either one of their interests.

“Remember the night you wanted to bite me,” Stiles asked slowly, his words halted and parsed.  He had to work hard to make himself understood, concentrate on every word to make sure it came out right.  Any time he got flustered, or frustrated, he ran the risk of pulling out any word, making what was clear in his head into a jumble of word salad.

“Peter wanted me to bite you,” Derek said softly, shifting just enough to listen for the sheriff.  “He thought it would cure you.”

“What did you think?”

“I wouldn’t risk it,” Derek said.  “I couldn’t do that to you.”

“Okay.”  And that was enough for Stiles.  They dozed there on the couch for another hour or so, but Stiles knew if he fell asleep now, he’d never get to sleep tonight.  So he forced himself off the couch, and a protesting Derek who looked extra grumpy now, and offered, “I’m getting a drink.  Want something?”

“Stiles?”  The sound of case files hitting the floor and his father’s shock made him freeze, and panic, and look to Derek for help. 

But Derek avoided his eyes, and before Stiles could react his dad’s arms were around him, and they were hugging and his father kept lifting him up off the ground and laughing, and maybe there were tears but none of them would ever admit to it.

But okay, it felt good that someone else knew.

*****

It didn’t get better overnight.  The better that Stiles got, the harder his relationship with Derek became.  There were a whole world of issues far beyond his injury to deal with, starting with the fact that while there was kissing (and Stiles would attest that it was the hottest thing ever), Derek refused to let it get any further than that.  And god forbid there be even a moment of grinding erections.

Derek had issues with intimacy, which was insane because he was a veritable sex god on two legs who could have probably plowed anyone he wanted in Beacon Hills if his reputation were any better.  And even still, with the reputation he had there were still probably people lined up on both sides of the sexuality highway, waiting for their chance.

But he didn’t want any of them.  For whatever reason, he wanted Stiles.

He just didn’t want Stiles.  And no matter how many late nights were spent in a closet confessional, where they could talk without judgment, Derek never answered the questions Stiles had.  But whenever Stiles got frustrated beyond belief, when their confessionals turned into long simmering arguments, Derek always turned around and got incredibly clingy, later.  They might have fought on a Friday, but hanging out with Scott and Isaac at a bonfire on Saturday, and then all of a sudden Derek was there, slinging his arm over Stiles’ shoulder and keeping him close.

But those were issues for another time.  Because Stiles was getting better.  And if he wanted to get back into school for the fall, he had to be his best ever.  So he practiced his words with Derek (and sometimes his dad), and when they told everyone that Stiles could talk again, his friends threw a party.  His dad even looked the other way when someone (Jackson) supplied the alcohol. 

By this time Allison and Scott had finally found their way back together.  Which, seriously?  How the hell had they stayed apart for that long was beyond Stiles.  And Erica overcame her agoraphobia and started hanging out more.  Even Derek was there, although he refused to drink, kept a possessive arm slung around Stiles the whole night and didn’t let him drink either.  But he was there, and Stiles didn’t mind quite so much.

It was late that night, when everyone else had started to nod off in the living room (just because the sheriff let them drink didn’t mean he was letting anyone leave afterwards), and it was just Derek and Stiles standing in the back yard, looking up at the sky.  It was clear tonight, and he could see the stars that had saved him those nights in the hospital. 

“You know, I always thought you understood me.  In the hospital.  No one else did.  Except you.”  Stiles shrugged.  “Maybe you were just better at faking it.”

Derek was behind him, arms around his middle, their cheeks pressed together.  He made a hmm’ing sound.  “It’s my curse,” he said, sounding completely serious and flat.  “I understand you.  Even when I don’t want to.  Even when you’re being a brat.”

Stiles elbowed him in the ribs.  Derek, to his credit, pretended to be hurt.  “Jerk.”

He could feel Derek smiling next to him.  “Idiot,” he responded.

Stiles was getting better.  Slowly. But that was okay, because he had Derek.  Infuriating, nearly asexual Derek.  And maybe when he was finally at a hundred percent, he could figure out how to get his hot werewolf boyfriend to let him tap that ass.  Or tap his ass. 

Whatever.

Stiles had time.