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Coming Undone

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“I don’t want to be like you.”

The look that crosses over Peter’s face at Stiles’ flat statement starts as surprise, moves onto a brief flash of disappointment, and then hardens into something like rage. It’s there and gone before Stiles can really process it, returning back to his typical blank look. There’s something unsettling about that look on Peter’s face, when his emotions run so deep and out-of-control. He turns back to the trunk of the car and opens it again.

“That’s a shame,” he said, his tone neutral. Stiles wants to run, but his legs won’t let him. The logical side of his brain reminds him that fast moves excite the predator, and running would only guarantee his messy demise. “I think that you would have made an interesting addition to my pack, Stiles.” He takes the nurse by the wrist and pulls her out of the trunk, letting her body drop heavy and lifeless to the floor of the garage. Peter studies her for a moment, then gives an ‘oh well’ sort of shrug and gestures at the newly vacated trunk of the car. “Get in.”

“What?” Stiles asks, more out of a lack of desire to comply than a lack of understanding.

Peter just gestures again. “Get in the trunk.”

Stiles hesitates, but only for a moment. There isn’t a lot he can do besides obey. So he folds himself into the trunk of the car. It smells, smells like death and decay and the smallest hint of the nurse’s flowery perfume. Stiles feels his stomach turn but clenches his teeth down over the sensation. Peter closes the trunk door over him, and he’s in darkness.

Breathing shallowly through his mouth, Stiles reminds himself to be calm. He knows where Peter is heading, after all, out to the Hale house. Stiles still isn’t quite sure what sort of game Derek is playing or whose side he’s on, and at the moment he doesn’t care. He just wants to get the hell away from Peter.

The car starts and then begins to move. It’s disorienting, in the darkness, not being able to compensate for the shifts and turns, but the Hale house isn’t that far. He’ll make it. The road is smooth for a while, maybe ten minutes, and then becomes bouncy. A dirt road, and the little four-door isn’t really suited for it the way his Jeep would be. Stiles sometimes wonders how Derek gets all the way to the Hale house without tearing the undercarriage out of the fancy sports car he drives.

The bouncing and the turning, combined with the foul odor in the trunk, make him feel even more sick. He keeps his eyes closed and tries to keep his dinner where it belongs. He’s suddenly glad he didn’t eat very much anyway. Too nervous about his date with Lydia – among other things.

After what seems like an interminable length of time, the car jolts to a stop, and then the engine goes silent. Stiles waits until he hears the door open and shut, and then bangs his fist on the lid of the trunk. “C’mon, let me out!” he shouts.

The only thing he hears in reply is a soft laugh. And then nothing. Not even footsteps.

The silence is creepy, but he’s okay, he takes a few more deep breaths and then remembers that that’s a mistake. He gags, but keeps everything down. With no way of knowing where they are, he has to assume they’re somewhere near the Hale house, and that Peter has gone off to collect Derek and finish his revenge. Scott must be around somewhere; all he has to do is wait.

Minutes trickle by, and he starts to shiver. While the car was running, some heat was seeping back into the trunk, but now it’s getting colder by the minute. He had been able to see his breath out on the lacrosse field, and he wasn’t exactly dressed for the weather. He wonders what time it is. He wonders all sorts of things, to be honest, his brain jumping from one topic to the next the way it always does whenever he hasn’t had his Adderall. His focus can be incredible, when it chooses to kick in, but right now his mind is just wandering.

There’s a sudden ‘pop’ noise, and he startles, almost hitting his head against the roof of the trunk. It’s the sound of a gunshot, he thinks, not at all close but still unmistakable.

Several minutes, each one longer than the last, drag by.

There’s another gun shot. Then another. And then three in quick succession.

Then silence.

Figuring that now is as good a time as any, and at least someone is nearby, somewhere, Stiles starts banging on the roof of the trunk again and shouting for help. He stops every minute or so, being methodical, straining his ears for the sound of anyone approaching. But there’s nothing. He shouts until he’s hoarse and his voice gives out altogether, pounds on the roof and sides of the trunk with both fists until his hands ache.

He’s thirsty, now, in addition to being cold. He thinks about whether it would be better to freeze to death or to die of thirst. How cold is it going to get? Thirties? Or even lower? At what temperature do people start to freeze to death? He adds this to his never-ending, always-growing list of ‘things he should look up’, for whenever he gets out of this.

Or what about suffocation? The trunk seems pretty solid, but he supposes that he’s getting air flow from the rest of the car. He doubts it’s airtight; to construct it that way would just be too much trouble. He thinks about looking that up someday, too, although he supposes it could be awkward to Google ‘would someone suffocate in the trunk of a car’. Then again, he supposes he’s Googled worse things.

Now that he’s thinking about, he thinks he read somewhere that in a lot of these newer cars, the trunks have some sort of safety latch in case somebody gets stuck inside. He feels around for anything, takes care to be methodical, tugs and pushes on every lump and knob he can find. But there’s nothing. If there’s any sort of mechanism, he’s not finding it. So he does it again. And again. The repetition keeps him calm.

It’s been far too long. Peter still hasn’t come back.

His feet and hands are the coldest. He can tuck his hands into his armpits, but there isn’t much he can do about his feet. He silently curses the flimsy dress shoes and thin socks he was wearing with them. He should have just worn his sneakers. Then again, this is not how he anticipated his evening going. Maybe he should have. That’s just how his life has been going lately.

He wonders if maybe Peter wasn’t planning to come back, but figured he would just leave him in the trunk to rot. But that doesn’t make sense, not really. If Peter had wanted him dead, he would have just killed him. No, he had some sort of plan, either to make Stiles suffer for insulting him, or some use for him that Stiles didn’t know about. Either way, odds were very good that Peter had planned to come back for the car. But he still isn’t back, and Stiles isn’t sure what that means. He thinks back to the gunshots, and wonders if Peter is dead. He wonders if all of them are dead. He’s fairly sure that Allison’s father wouldn’t have shot Scott, but not positive, and who knew about Derek?

Either way, he’d be missed before long. When the dance was over, his father would be looking for him, regardless of what the werewolves were doing. He might not worry until the next morning, teenaged boys being the way they were, but when he woke up and Stiles was still nowhere to be found, he would go looking for him. It was only a matter of time. All he had to do was wait.

All of this goes through his mind while he continues to feel around for any sort of release mechanism. He still can’t find one, and slams his fist into the floor in frustration.

He wonders what time it is, how long it’s been. He curses himself for leaving his phone in his jacket pocket, and his jacket draped over a chair at the dance. He curses his father for insisting he wear a nice watch with his suit, not his usual digital watch with the light up face. He can hear the watch going tick-tick-tick, but can’t see it in the utter darkness. He tries counting the seconds, but his focus is nowhere near good enough for that at the moment.

Things start to take on strange shapes, and every tiny forest noise makes him twitch and jump. He’s not used to things being so black and so silent. Even in his room at night, he’ll leave a fan running so he’s got that hum of white noise in the background, and it’s hardly ever really dark. The cold is numbing him; he’s huddled up as small as possible and hopes that will be enough.

Some time later, he realizes with a jolt that he’s dozed off. That obviously won’t do. He needs to stay awake, in case somebody comes by, so he can make some noise and someone can get him out. His legs have gone almost completely numb, both from the cold and the fact that he can’t move. He shifts as much as he can, trying to shake feeling back into them. It doesn’t do much good.

He yawns despite himself and falls back to sleep.

It’s hunger that wakes him, hunger and thirst and an unfortunate need to empty his bladder. The latter is just embarrassing, but the three together give him the feeling that hours have passed. It might even be morning. And still Peter has not returned. At this point it seems fairly obvious that Peter is not going to return. Either he’s dead, or has had to abandon his old plan for some new one and has tossed Stiles aside just like his nurse. No matter what’s happened, Stiles knows he’s on his own.

But he also knows that the body of the nurse will probably be found soon, if it hasn’t been found already. Part of a murder investigation is tracking the victim’s last steps, so presuming that they don’t just write her off as another animal attack, they’ll be looking for her car. That’s good, since he’s in her car. Of course, he still has no idea where the car is. If it’s parked on the side of some dirt forest road, as he suspects, it could be days or even weeks before anyone finds it.

Licking his cracked lips, he knows that he doesn’t have days or weeks.

It must be morning, he realizes. It’s not as cold. The sun must be beating down on the trunk of the car, warming the interior. It’s still freezing, but not quite as freezing. He makes a mental note about researching hypothermia and frostbite the next time he’s at a computer. Then he stares up at the darkness of the trunk, waiting for something to happen. The waiting is driving him mad. His mind, always ready to occupy itself with random junk, is spinning like tires stuck in mud. Nowhere to go, no traction to gain.

Do you want the bite?

It’s Peter’s voice, loud and clear like he’s standing right there, and Stiles startles and lets out a shout.

Was he dreaming again? He didn’t think he had been asleep. Hallucinating? Did hypothermia cause hallucinations? Did dehydration?

The panic is seizing him now, and he can’t break its momentum, can’t shake it, can’t stop it. He starts pounding on the roof of the trunk again, until his fists ache. Every time he takes a breath it only reminds him of the dead nurse, the way Peter casually tossed her body onto the floor, of the fact that he’s going to be just as dead as she is if nobody finds him soon.

He screams and screams until his throat aches and he can taste blood in his mouth, and then he keeps screaming until exhaustion overtakes him.

He can’t move, his leg is seizing and twitching now, cramped with the worst Charley Horse he’s ever had. He tries to reach down and massage it out, but he can’t really reach his calf very well, and in doing so only manages to pull a muscle in his shoulder, so now that hurts too. He would have cried if there was still enough moisture in his body, and with a flush of embarrassment despite the fact that he’s alone, he realizes that he pissed his pants while he’d been panicking.

There are no atheists in foxholes, he’s heard, so he tries praying for a bit, and drifts in and out of consciousness, and the blackness gets blacker and the quiet gets quieter with every moment that trickles by. He can picture it now, like grains of sand slipping between his fingers, and he’s starting to realize that he’s going to die, that Peter has left him somewhere that no one will find, that someday in the far future two kids goofing off in the forest like him and Scott will find this old broken down car with a skeleton in the trunk.

The cold sets in again, so he decides that it must be night. He shakes and shudders and tries gnawing on his own fingers to produce some moisture or maybe just keep them warm, but there’s nothing, and somewhere in there he loses track of everything. He floats away into a mass of conflicting thoughts and emotions, blurred dreams where Derek is berating him for his carelessness and Scott is breaking free of the radiator to try to tear him apart, dreams where he’s back in the hospital hearing the soft squeak of the nurse’s shoes, the murmurs of the doctors as they give his father still more bad news and nobody wants to look at him.

Then there’s a thump.

He startles awake again, although without much motion. He blinks at nothing and drifts away. Then, loud and startling, there’s a voice. “Yeah, this is the car all right. I’ll call it in.”

Stiles goes into a complete frenzy of banging on the door and shouting and kicking at the sides of the trunk. Or at least, that’s what he means to do, but he’s alarmed to find that his body just isn’t cooperating anymore. His legs twitch feebly; his arms won’t move. He manages a weak slap on the floor of the trunk and a faint moan, probably not audible more than a foot from his mouth. His throat burns and his mouth is almost sticky with the lack of moisture, counter-intuitive but true.

The man outside is talking on his radio, something about calling a tow truck, and now Stiles knows he’s really in trouble. If he can’t get the men to realize he’s there, he will almost certainly be dead before anyone finds him. He grits his teeth and summons his strength. His legs are hopeless, crammed into such a small space, so he concentrates on banging his fist against the floor of the trunk. It doesn’t move as much as he hopes, but as his muscles warm up a little, drawing on reserves of desperation, he manages to make a few decent sized thumps. The shouts are more like grunts, but he makes them anyway, forcing those pathetic noises past his teeth and into the fetid air of the trunk.

“Did you hear that?” one of the men says, as Stiles is pausing to pant for breath, wondering why he’s gasping after such little movement.

“Hnh?” the other one responds, clearly not paying attention.

Stiles slams his fist down with the last of his strength and croaks, “Let! Me! Out of here!”

“I – I think I heard something from the trunk,” the guy says, and little lights and flashes of the Hallelujah chorus go off in Stiles’ brain. There’s movement outside, and more talking that he doesn’t really hear, and then a crunching noise, a screech of metal on metal, and the trunk pops open.

Cold air blows in and the bright sunlight stabs at Stiles’ eyes to the point where he would have screamed if he had had the breath. He pushes himself up and nearly falls over the lip of the trunk, taking in deep breaths of the fresh air and celebrating the fact that hey, he’s alive, so things are definitely looking up despite the fact that he just nearly fell face first into a pile of leaves.

“Whoa,” one of the officers says, and grabs him before he can fall.

“Holy shit,” the other said, “that’s the sheriff's kid.”

Things happen very fast then, with lots of jabbering on radios, and Stiles doesn’t care about any of it because he’s out of the damned trunk. The light hurts his eyes and he still can’t feel much of his body, but none of that really matters. One of them takes off his coat and wraps it around his shoulders before lifting him out of the trunk and setting him down on the side of the road. Stiles presses his face into the ground and tries not to pass out. They offer him a little water, and he sips it carefully but then retches into the dirt and leaves.

“Shit, that’s bad, right?” one of them murmurs, and Stiles doesn’t think he would normally be able to hear him except his senses seems somewhat heightened by the prolonged deprivation. “When they can’t even keep water down?”

The ambulance jolts up the dirt road then and people are leaning over him and surrounding him and trying to wrap him in blankets, and Stiles can’t take it, he freaks out. They’re all too close to him, and he can feel the sides of the trunk pressing in around him, it’s almost as bad as being inside. One of them takes out a needle and his freak-out grows to epic proportions, and he finds strength that he doesn’t know was left inside him as he squirms and struggles and tries to get away from them. A familiar voice is thundering something, he can’t make out words, someone’s trying to pin him down but he’s not going to let them, he’s not going back in that damned trunk, he doesn’t care what he has to do.

“Stiles,” the voice says, and then louder and sharper, “Stiles,” and then a moment later, something he didn’t expect: his real name, his given name. He hasn’t heard it in years, probably, and it breaks him out of the panic and he blinks up at his father somewhat stupidly.

“Dad,” he whispers, scraping up shreds of comprehension, reassembling the world into some sort of order.

“God, Stiles, you – ” And Stilinski’s voice breaks in a way that Stiles hasn’t heard it do in a very long time, and he’s more than happy to let himself be gathered up into his father’s embrace, relaxing limp into the circle of his arms. After a moment, Stilinski clears his throat and says, “They need to get an IV in you, Stiles, because you’re dehydrated. Stop fighting them, okay?”

Stiles gives a little nod, which makes his head pound and throb, and the world do this funny loopy wavy thing. He flinches when he sees the needle again, and presses his face into his father’s shoulder so he won’t have to watch, and somewhere in between the feel of his father’s jacket against his cheek and the pinch of the needle, he passes out.

 

~ ~ ~ ~

 

Some time later, hours or days, he drifts back into the world to find someone rubbing his legs with burning hot towels. He lets out a little grunting noise and then squints until things come into focus again. He’s surprised, but not surprised, to see that Melissa McCall is the one abusing him. “S’too hot,” he murmurs.

“I know it feels that way, honey,” Melissa says, “but they’re actually only a little warm. You have frostbite on your arms and legs. We’re just trying to warm you back up.”

“Hurts,” Stiles rasps, and that was stupid, why did he say that? He thinks he might actually cry, and that is so many worlds of unacceptable. He tries to focus himself on other things, tries to remember all the things he wanted to know while he was trapped – but he shudders when he thinks of that, and pushes those thoughts away. “Is Lydia okay?” he slurs out. His tongue feels swollen, his mouth is still dry.

“Yes, she’s here, she seems to be recovering fine,” Melissa says.

“What ‘bout Scott?”

Melissa gives him a somewhat keen look at this, as if considering interrogating Stiles while he’s in his weakened state, but then apparently decides against it. “Scott’s okay too.”

Stiles tries to gather himself, tries to focus. The repetitive motion of the towel against the skin of his legs is starting to feel kind of good, and he’s way too far gone to feel embarrassment. He blinks, several times, slowly. “Thirsty,” he finally says.

Melissa glances at her watch, then checks the state of his IV. “I’ll give you a cup of water, but just a cup, and you have to promise to drink it slowly. Okay?”

“Okay,” Stiles says. Melissa brings him over a tiny plastic cup, but he can’t sit up to drink it, and she has to prop him up and hold the cup to his mouth while he takes little sips. “Nnnhgh,” Stiles tells her, as dizziness rocks him and his stomach roils.

“I know, you feel pretty crappy,” Melissa said, putting the cup aside still half-full and helping him lay down again. “You were really dehydrated,” she added. “No quicker way to make someone feel terrible.”

“How long was I – ” in the trunk, the words are, but he can’t say them, can’t even think them.

Melissa gives him a sideways glance and he realizes that nobody can really answer that question because nobody knows when he was put in the trunk. But she answers readily enough, “The last time anyone saw you was when you left the dance looking for Lydia. That was Friday night, around eight o’clock. It was about four PM on Sunday when they found you. You’ve been at the hospital about three hours.”

Two days, almost two full days, Stiles grasp of math supplies. Humans can go without water for three days and then they’re dead. So did that make him sixty-six percent dead when they found him? God only knew that he had felt a lot deader than that.

“Of course, we’re missing a lot of the story here,” Melissa says, still gently massaging the knots in his legs out with the towel, which no longer felt hot. “Lots of people have questions for you, especially your dad, but that can wait until you’re feeling a bit better.”

Stiles thinks he might throw up again, as his leg spasms a little, but manages to keep the water down. “Where’s my dad?”

Melissa lets out a little sigh. “He’s out working. A lot happened, some dead bodies were found, and . . . he wanted to stay, Stiles. He did. But his job is important to him, too, and I promised him that I would take care of you and not leave your side for an instant.”

Stiles wonders some other things too, like where Scott is, and why Melissa’s face had tightened like that when Stiles had asked about him, but everything is still too blurry and washed out for him to really care. He musters up some energy and mumbles, “Who were the bodies?”

Melissa frowns at him, clearly wondering why that mattered, but answers again nonetheless. “One of them was a nurse who worked at the hospital. Well – that’s how they found you. You were in the trunk of her car. The other was Kate Argent. Allison’s aunt.”

So Peter had gotten that far, at least. But if Peter’s body hadn’t been found, that meant he hadn’t been killed, or at least that whatever had been killed hadn’t been recognizable as human afterwards. Stiles takes a deep breath and tries not to show how shaken he is at this news. There’s no reason that Peter would come after him again. He had been a means to an end, nothing more or less. The panic creeps up on him regardless, invading every cell and overtaking every thought.

“Oh, honey,” Melissa says, and Stiles realizes that he’s shaking and whimpering like a beaten puppy. That was embarrassing. “You’re okay, honey, I promise, you’re safe here, you’re okay . . .”

It takes a while for the soothing mantra to sink in, but gradually, his body relaxes again. He takes a hiccupy breath and Melissa lets him have another sip or two of the water. Finally, he says, “You should, uh . . . you should call my dad. Because . . . I can at least tell him what happened to the nurse. I don’t know about Kate, but . . .”

Melissa rubs his shoulders and said, “Okay, Stiles, I’ll give him a call.”

Stiles nods, but as soon as Melissa leaves the room, he tenses up again, every nerve and muscle in his body starting to tie back up into that terrible knot. He wants her to come back, he wants his dad, he wants Scott, he wants anybody. He wants his mom.

She’s gone for less than two minutes, but by the time she comes back, half of her work has been undone. Still, she doesn’t chide Stiles for the way that he’s now curled up on his side, hugging his arms to his chest like he’s trying to hold all the emotions inside. She just straightens him out and goes back to work on his legs, and starts telling him about the science of it, the way they slowly reintroduce circulation into the skin cells and how rewarming therapy works. Scott’s mom knows him pretty well, and Stiles is able to focus on the information she’s imparting, fitting it into his own knowledge of science.

Either Sheriff Stilinski isn’t far away or he drives like a bat out of hell, because he comes jogging down the hall and into Stiles’ room less than fifteen minutes later. Stiles looks up when he comes in and sees the worry in his father’s eyes. He knows that the loss of his mother was devastating to both of them, and he doesn’t need to see the dark circles underneath his father’s eyes or the coffee stains on his shirt to know that the past two days must have been hell for him. So he puts a smile on his face and says, “Hi, Dad,” like everything’s normal and he’s perfectly okay.

Relief, immense, almost painful relief, washes over Stilinski’s face, so Stiles figures he did the right thing. He sits down in the chair next to him, and Melissa draws the blankets down over Stiles’ legs and just works on his feet. “How are you feeling, son?”

“Considering the circumstances, like a million bucks,” Stiles says.

Stilinski gives him a little frown and then turns a questioning glance on Melissa. She smiles at him. “He’ll be okay. He’s got some frostbite, but it’s only first degree, nothing too severe. His hands are pretty bruised,” she adds, and for the first time Stiles actually looks at his hands and realizes that they’re bandaged, “and actually a couple broken fingers, but nothing that won’t heal with time. We’re getting fluids reintroduced into his system. Two days is a long time to go without water, so we have to be careful and do it slowly.”

All of this is met with a little nod. Then Stilinski turns to his son and says, almost awkwardly, “What can you tell me?”

Stiles has to resist the urge to say, “Well, to start with, werewolves.” There might be a time and a place for that discussion, but he isn’t having it now. “Peter Hale,” he says. “He hurt Lydia, and abducted me, and killed his nurse. I think he probably killed Kate Argent, too, because she’s the one who started the Hale house fire. At least I think she was.”

Stilinski makes a little frown, but gestures for Stiles to go on. Stiles takes a deep breath and says, “I . . . I can’t tell you how I know most of this. Okay?”

His father narrows his eyes, but then nods and says, “Okay. At least for now.”

So Stiles tells him the pieces he had put together, some of which he had done in the trunk of the car without realizing it, while his brain ran in circles. His father ‘mm hms’ occasionally, but mostly stays silent. He twitches a little when Stiles gets to finding Lydia injured on the field, and then Peter abducting him and using him to find Derek so they could go find Kate. He leaves out werewolves, though, which makes it sound like Peter had physically overpowered him, and Stilinski finds this a little confusing, since the man had been a cripple in the hospital up until the week before.

“That’s quite a story, son,” he finally says.

Stiles stares at him and realizes, somewhat belatedly, how crazy it all sounds. Much like the delusional ramblings of someone who was dehydrated and frostbitten and had spent the last two days locked in the trunk of the car. He lets his head fall backwards, suddenly exhausted. “Yeah, Dad,” he mumbles. “Quite a story.”

“But,” Stilinski says slowly, “Peter Hale has been missing since around the same time that his nurse disappeared, and Chris Argent also said that he suspects his sister was responsible for the Hale house fire. So as crazy as it sounds, it might tie the pieces together.”

That’s unexpected – corroboration from Chris Argent. Stiles opens his eyes again. “What – what about Derek Hale?” he asks, not totally sure that he wants to know.

“Nobody’s seen him either,” Stilinski says. After a moment, he says, “You get some rest now. I’ve got work to do.”

“But – ” Stiles says, and then cuts the word off by snapping his mouth shut over it.

Stilinski hesitates. “Do you, uh, do you want me to stay?”

“No, it’s cool, I’m totally cool,” Stiles says. “You have work to do. Got it. I’m just gonna sleep anyway, so it’d be pretty boring for you to stay.”

“Well, if you wanted me to, I could – ”

“No, really, Dad,” Stiles says. “I’m okay.” He fakes a huge yawn. “Mrs. McCall doesn’t need to baby-sit me, either, she’s got work to do with other patients. I’m just gonna get some sleep. You go . . . bring justice to the world or something.”

“If you’re sure,” Stilinski says, and ducks out of the room when Stiles confirms that really, he was sure, the embarrassment is killing him.

Melissa gives Stiles a smile and said, “I’ve still got some work to do on your feet, anyway. So I’ll be in here a little while longer. It’s getting late, though, so you should get some rest. Tell you what, I’ll let Scott out of school tomorrow so he can come keep you company.”

Company sounds good. Werewolf company who could at least partially protect him from Peter Hale sounds great. Stiles nods and obediently closes his eyes. For a moment there’s nothing but the general hum of hospital noise. His eyes snap back open. “Can you turn on a radio or something?” he asks. Melissa nods and brings in the little radio from her desk. He falls asleep to the sound of her singing along with the Beach Boys. She can’t carry a tune in a bucket and doesn’t know half the words. It’s starkly real and strangely comforting.

 

~ ~ ~ ~