Stiles exhales heavily, his eyesight blurry around the edges. There’s something in his lowered hands, and there’s something wet cooling on his face. Everything around him is cast in a strange blue light, but it’s dark and he doesn’t know where he is.
A raspy breath catches his attention, and his heart begins racing at the sight before him. There’s blood all over the concrete, it’s dripping off the katana in his hands, it’s probably what’s on his face… The sword is covered in the blood of his family, his friends, of everyone he’s ever loved, his own father looking up at him with glazed eyes, his heart is racing, and he hears an ominous laugh in his head, he can’t stop it, he’s helpless again just like he was when his mother was sick, everyone he loves is dead and it’s his fault this time too and no one will ever know how this all happened, he wasn’t strong enough to stop this, he caused this…
A hand lands heavily on his shoulder before roughly spinning him around. He’s horrified to see his mother, blood on her beautiful face and her eyes narrowed in disgust. “Mieczysław… How could you? How could you do this? You know they trusted you, they loved you, and you betrayed them. I wish I could say I was surprised, but I’m really not because you killed me first, didn’t you? I always knew you were bad, you’ve had blood on your hands all these years and maybe now people will finally realize --”
Stiles woke up to being shaken violently, choking on the gasp in his throat as his eyes flew open. Derek’s face was close to his, eyes burning Alpha red. When they made eye contact, Derek’s grip on Stiles’ arms lessened, but he didn’t let go. Stiles’ chest heaved up and down both from the nightmare and from being startled awake.
“Tell me about it,” Derek said softly. After years of handling Stiles after Nogitsune-related nightmares, he knew what to do by now.
Stiles took a deep breath, readying himself to relive his nightmare. Derek rubbed a thumb over Stiles’ clammy skin, and the younger man stared down at his bedsheets, clenching the material in his fists, before looking up at Derek and letting it pour out.
Stiles put on the “Stud Muffin” apron in Derek’s kitchen that was designated as his. At first, it was just combination joke-and-serious gift from Erica, but it’s become a staple for nights like these. It was past 4am, but the Sheriff was well aware of how things were now with the pack and Stiles, so Stiles had just left a note on his nightstand before they went to Derek’s. The bearded man quietly put on his own red-trimmed apron, flicked on the radio to play softly in the background, and let Stiles take charge.
“Okay, we should make hazelnut brownies and apple pie,” Stiles said, his voice quiet.
Derek nodded and they started pulling out ingredients, neither of them acknowledging the way Stiles’ hands shook or the fact that his heart was still racing and tripping in his chest. It was technically Derek’s kitchen, but everyone knew that the most that ever happened in it was as Stiles needed. Derek made sure to casually touch Stiles as much as possible, brushing his arm as they moved around or lightly touching a shoulder to indicate he was coming up from behind.
Pausing in his chopping of the hazelnuts, Derek looked up at Stiles, who was cradling the bowl in one arm and steadily mixing with the other. He was pleased by the way Stiles’ shoulders had dropped at some point, and his eyes didn’t seem so dark and blank anymore. Derek made short work of the hazelnuts, and then brought them over to Stiles. Stiles silently paused and made space for Derek to pour them in, then switched from mixing to folding the batter.
When the brownies were put in the oven, Derek cleaned up a little bit while Stiles got started on the apple pie. This was part of their routine; as long as Stiles didn’t stop focusing on something, he would calm down midway through their second recipe. It was like clockwork and Derek had no intention of ever seeing a repeat of what had happened the first few times when they were still working it out. It’s been 5 years since the Nogitsune but Derek was very familiar with the way trauma dug in its claws and refused to be shaken off.
Stiles was mixing together the filling when Derek finished rolling out the dough. The alpha washed his hands and took out his phone, sending a quick group text to the rest of the pack: “Come over whenever. Hazelnut brownies and apple pie,” knowing that they would come when they woke up, as they always did.
Stiles’ movements were quick and sure as he poured the filling into the pie crust. The difference in Stiles’ mood was obvious as he hummed along to the radio, too quiet for human ears to pick up, but Derek could hear him just fine. He was always so relieved at this point in their post-nightmare ritual when Stiles starting showing signs of his normal self, even though they’ve gone through this so many times before, and will go through it again and again in the future. It was disconcerting to see Stiles so quiet, but Derek knew how Stiles was and how he needed to cope.
Derek cleaned the counter around Stiles, who was cutting vents in the top of the pie. The brownies were cooling on the counter and the oven was heating to a higher temperature for the pie. A glance up at the clock told Derek that it was almost 7am; the morning light was mostly blocked by the still-closed curtains. Derek took out the pastry brush and placed it on the counter, then stood back and leaned against the cupboards, watching Stiles prepare an egg wash. He was pleased with how Stiles seemed completely at ease, because it was a sign Stiles was doing better, though Derek knew that their ritual wasn’t over just yet and Stiles’ nerves weren’t quite settled.
After Stiles put the pie into the oven and set the timer, he dusted icing sugar over the brownies before taking the knife Derek handed him. He sliced them into squares, before taking the knife over to the sink and washing it. Derek took his place next to Stiles, drying the knife and everything else that Stiles washed next.
“My mom always cleaned up as she went or immediately after,” Derek remembered Stiles telling him years ago. “She said that if she told herself she’d do it later, she’d never get it done, and then it’d be impossible to wash after everything dried onto the bowls and stuff. I remember picking up after my dad with her, and we’d wash whatever he’d left behind together. She would wash and I would dry, and she told me that one day when I was good enough to cook and bake on my own, it’d be my turn to wash and she would dry.”
Derek remembered the way Stiles had stopped speaking then. He had looked down and let out a shaky breath. Derek always remembered, every time Stiles was in his kitchen and was washing dishes. The two of them knew the significance of letting Stiles treat the kitchen as his, even if Stiles didn’t know that Derek still thought about the day Stiles talked to him about Claudia.
As Derek finished drying the last few things, Stiles wiped the counter, putting away the last of the ingredients. Stiles put the fully-cooled brownies into a big container, stifling a yawn and wiping up the icing sugar as he finished, and Derek checked on the pie when the timer rang. He took the pie out, and made doubly sure that he’d turned the oven off. Stiles leaned closer to examine the pie, and Derek moved to turn off the radio. He didn’t miss Stiles triple-checking that the oven was off; he knew that Stiles was aware that Derek had already checked it twice. Stiles’ quiet concern was something Derek had found jarring and unfamiliar at first, but he quickly came to appreciate it, even if he didn’t always tell Stiles so.
Stiles nudged Derek to get his attention, yawning before making eye contact.
“Let’s go to bed,” he said, putting a hand on his arm.
Derek let Stiles go ahead first. He quickly brushed his teeth with the second toothbrush in Derek’s bathroom before flopping into his side of the bed. Derek followed behind after he turned off the lights in the kitchen. He quickly texted the pack: “Sleeping now. Be quiet when you come,” before placing it on his nightstand. Derek threw on a pair of sweats and took off his shirt before joining Stiles in bed.
“Thanks, Derek,” Stiles murmured, his breath ghosting over Derek’s collarbone.
Derek said nothing, but threw an arm over Stiles and rubbed his back in acknowledgment. The younger man shifted closer, and they quickly fell asleep, knowing that when they woke up, they would see their pack – their second family – sprawled around them.