It’s so unusual for Derek’s phone to ring in the middle of the night that his hand is clawed when he reaches for it.
“What?” he croaks, liking to think it’s with anger but he was just fast asleep.
“It’s me,” comes through the phone, tinny and faraway.
“What is it Stiles,” Derek sighs, already swinging his legs over the bed because Stiles never calls for nightcap-gossip. His toes curl against the cold concrete.
“I don’t know where I am,” Stiles says, or something like it. It’s hard to hear him. “I need someone to come get me.”
“And why are you calling me?” Scowling, Derek pulls his jeans on one-handed. He’s not even sure why, he should just leave him to live with the consequences of underage drinking or whatever he got up to. It’s just. If it were him calling Stiles––
Laughing high and off, Stiles interrupts his thinking. “You’re the only one who answers his phone.”
Derek doesn’t want to deal with the implications of Stiles’ answer, so he says, “It’s three am, Stiles. Where the hell are you, why can’t you drive home?” The t-shirt he slept in will have to do, and the leather jacket’s downstairs, Derek thinks. The keys to the Camaro will be in it.
“Just come get––fuck, I’m out of change. Derek, I think I’m off Twenty four and––”
“Change?” Derek demands, “Where’s your––” The phone blares three beeps at him and the line goes dead even though Derek stares at it in disbelief. It makes no difference.
He finds Stiles sitting next to a pay phone on a lay-by littered with trash and overturned picnic tables. There’s an overhang left where a gas station used to be, but nothing else. Derek had to drive with his window open and his head hanging out like a dog just to find him, and he’s pissed.
“What the fuck, Stiles,” Derek says. He feels like yelling but he never really learned how. Growing up around people with oversensitive hearing’ll do that to you. It’s when the wind picks up and a piece of trash drifts between them, that the scent of blood and fear curls into his nostrils. Derek stands nailed to the ground between the Camaro and Stiles for all of one second and Stiles is still not talking, not even looking at him, his eyes are closed and fucking fuck.
“Stiles?” Derek asks, gentle this time, his hand on Stiles’ neck before he’s even aware he’s moved. He pushes against Stiles’ jaw with his thumb and his head lolls to the other side. There’s no response and Derek has to listen, strain, to hear the whoosh-pause-whoosh over the highway noise. It’s too slow and from this close, the smell of blood is pungent.
The wound is under Stiles’ left arm. A knife, Derek suspects, and it’s still bleeding sluggishly. He wants to kill whoever left Stiles here, to bleed to death, to make a phone call he was only lucky enough to manage because he had change in his pocket. 911 is taking directions while Derek thinks about that, about Stiles calling Scott first, maybe the Sheriff next, the red head. No one answering. Or did he call Derek first, but then why would he.
“Don’t you die,” Derek is saying, doesn’t realize he’s talking until he tastes the scent of blood on the back of his tongue. “Don’t you dare, Stiles. Come on, open your eyes or your mouth at least, if that’s all you can manage.”
“D’rek?” Stiles mumbles and Derek wants to laugh but he still feels too much like murder so he doesn’t.
“Help’s on the way buddy,” he says, unsure if he should move Stiles and try to keep him warm or leave him be and not risk more damage. The way he’s slumped looks uncomfortable though and Derek figures it won’t do much harm to kneel next to him, wrap an arm around his shoulder, so Stiles leans against him and not some filthy pole hordes of men and dogs probably urinated against. Anger’s your anchor, he says to himself, use it.
Derek’s not accustomed to human fragility like this. Even the ones in his family never got seriously injured. Come to think of it, Derek never was near injury much until he came back to Beacon Hills. They were a peaceful family, until Kate burned them to death. Everyone seems to think Derek thrives on pain. He doesn’t. It’s just all that’s left.
“Hurts,” he thinks Stiles says, but he’s not sure.
“I know,” Derek tells him, moving the hand on Stiles’ shoulder to his neck when Stiles doesn’t say anything else. He feels clammy and cold and fevered all at once and Derek’s stomach lurches when he thinks about how long Stiles has been like this, what happened to him. Did he make his way here? Was he injured hours ago? Did someone drop him off here or did he crawl from fuck knows where, trying to find civilization. Is he going to die?
Stiles hums something else under his breath but if it’s a word, Derek can’t make it out. With a sigh, Stiles turns into him and Derek accommodates, twists his body so Stiles leans fully against him. It’s cold and sticky where the blood is starting to saturate his own shirt and Derek holds on tighter. “I will kill them,” he says. “I will kill whoever did this to you. I won’t even shift, I will do it with my bare, human hands.”
Stiles doesn’t say anything, and Derek holds his breath so he can listen to the slow and irregular rushing of his blood. His clothes are stained and torn, the knees of his jeans white with concrete dust or something, as if he’d been made to kneel. The thought makes Derek see red but he has to rein it in because he can hear the sirens in the distance.
“They’re here,” Derek says, “you’ll be fine. Someone will take care of you.”
“Mom?” Stiles murmurs, stirring just a little and Derek pretends he doesn’t hear it, tries not to be grateful when he’s pushed aside by the EMTs. The police officer accompanying the ambulance takes one look at Stiles, goes bone white and turns back to his cruiser. Derek hears him call up the Sheriff, give him directions to the hospital they’ll be taking Stiles to. They’re lifting Stiles onto a stretcher, after having ripped his t-shirt open. There’s an IV sticking out of his arm and a women with lanky brown hair is fitting an oxygen mask over his face.
“Do I have to handcuff you?” the officer asks Derek.
Shaking his head, Derek doesn’t take his eyes off Stiles. “I’ll come willingly,” he says, not knowing this tremor in his voice, “if it’s the hospital we’re going to.”
The guy only hesitates briefly. Derek guesses this isn’t procedure, but this is Stiles, and everyone at the station knows him. “Derek Hale, right?” He says and Derek nods, shouldn’t be surprised by this either. “I was one of the officers called in to the Hale fire.” This makes Derek look up at him. “I’m sorry for your loss. You can follow me in your car.”
The police officer is older, white haired, kind faced. Derek thinks this is the first time anyone has ever said that to him. “Thank you,” Derek says and he’s not even sure for which part.
It’s worse under the harsh glare of the hospital lights. There are purple and yellow-green marks all over, marks that are hours old, but there’s crushed looking skin too, swollen and shiny like the flesh of an overripe plum, where Stiles has been bruised harder, deeper, where it’ll take longer for the welts to seep to the surface.
The Sheriff’s hand curls carefully around Stiles’ where it rests motionless on top of the starched white sheet. Around each wrist is a thin, torn up line, already starting to scab over. “Do you know who did this?” the Sheriff asks, like tears cloy to his words but Derek hasn’t seen him cry.
“Not yet,” he says and the Sheriff looks up.
“Can you find out? Faster than the police?” His eyes are sharp and flick from Derek’s left eye to his right and back again. “I’m asking as a father.”
“Probably,” Derek says. “But they won’t be alive for you to arrest if I do.” He’s taking a risk here, but the Sheriff knows loss and Derek knows what it is to lose the last you have left.
The Sheriff nods once. It’s as much as a go-ahead Derek will get from him. It’s enough.
Boyd finds them first. He’s only so lucky because Derek sent him East from where he’d found Stiles, while he ran West. They’re in the closed down Chinese place at the strip-mall just outside Beacon Hills. And fuck that, there’s no way no one saw anything.
They’re just two junkies, stinking of alcohol and drugs, and more overwhelming than any of that, fear for Boyd who has them cornered and cowering in a puddle of their own piss. Derek can’t even blame Boyd for losing control over his wolf, is actually surprised these guys are still alive. The whole place reeks of Stiles’ blood. He can see it on the ground, on the wall. He can smell it until it echos around his mind, conjuring up images he never, ever wants to see again but that’ll probably never entirely go away.
“What did you want with him?” Derek barks but the men are too scared to talk. Beside him Boyd points at something. He’s too far gone to talk too and he’s vibrating like he’s fighting invisible restraints. “Go outside,” Derek tells him. “Get some air. You did good.” Boyd obeys and when he’s gone, Derek looks at what Boyd pointed at. It’s Stiles’ iPhone and his iPod. And beside it, plucked apart and content discarded and ruined, his wallet. There’s a picture, smudged and crumpled, of a nice looking woman, hair shorn short, face too thin. It has Stiles’ blood on it.
For a barely there second, Derek wants to be mad at Stiles for being out on his own so late, until he remembers where Stiles had been driving home from. Remembers Stiles calling him at three in the morning, while Derek sent him home four hours earlier. These guys either had him for hours, or it took Stiles that long to find his way to the payphone. There’s a track of blood from the middle of the floor to the door and Derek’s afraid that if he starts killing, he won’t stop.
Against the wall the guys are relaxing now that Boyd’s gone and one of them even straightens, says, “Hey dude,” but nothing else, because Derek grins at him, flashes his red eyes.
“Oh, don’t even think you’re safe now,” he says. “I am much, much worse.”
“We found two bodies,” the Sheriff tells him. Derek looks up, startled. He hadn’t heard him walk into the hospital room, he’d been too busy memorizing all the bruises visible on Stiles’ body, counting the reasons to stay away. The Sheriff stares at him. “They OD’d. Which I know you had nothing to do with because you were here all night. With me.”
“Yes, sir,” Derek says, his throat thick, suddenly. The Sheriff nods at him, and leaves.
He’d given the guys a wordless choice between their heroin-filled syringes and his claws.
He imagines Stiles’ll complain for not rescuing his phone. Or his iPod. Derek’ll buy him a new one. He’s just grateful he’ll get to hear Stiles complain again. Not that he’ll ever say that out loud.
With a sigh, Derek stands. Carefully he pulls the photograph out of his pocket and straightens it. He tried to get all the blood off but it’s still a bit stained. He lifts Stiles’ hand, puts the picture underneath and goes to leave, but hesitates. Stiles looks asleep, peaceful, and Derek runs his hand over Stiles’ buzz cut once. When he’s at the door, he hears him drift to consciousness.
“Derek?” Stiles sighs when he gets that Derek won’t turn around. “I don’t ever want to know what you did to those guys. Do you hear me?” Derek nods at the doorframe and swallows hard. He’ll always be the monster in the tale. He should stay away from this kid, make him stay away. “And Derek?” Stiles goes on, gentler. “Thanks.”
“Anytime,” Derek says, casting a quick look over his shoulder. Stiles’ eyes are closed again––or still––and he looks like he never even moved. Anytime. And that’s the problem. Derek can count on one hand the people he’d say that to. And he’s done losing any of them.