Stiles would find waking up to utter darkness unnerving under any circumstances, but waking up to utter darkness with a pounding headache, aching neck, and a strap holding him in place is something beyond unnerving. It’s a feeling that toes at the edge of a panic attack, which he swallows down and tries to ignore.
He presses a hand to his chest, fingers wrapping around the restraint and then following it down to what feels like a seatbelt release. He punches the button to unbuckle himself, hoping that the absence of the restraint will make him feel better about the darkness.
He reaches forward and his hand hits a steering wheel and then fumbles around until he finds the dashboard and a key. Turning it turns the car on, but the engine won't start.
The radio bursts to life with static and guitar and a voice that sounds distant and tinny through the shitty speakers and Stiles punches the power button to shut it off before turning the interior lights on so he can get a look around. The car isn't his - it's some sort of sedan, automatic rather than stick shift and much dirtier than his jeep usually is. On the passenger seat there's a piece of paper with a smiley face drawn on it, signed with the symbol of the Alpha pack. Stiles rolls his eyes.
The passenger window isn't closed all the way and something dark has fallen down onto the plastic lip of the door, but as Stiles leans forward to investigate he catches a glimpse of a body lying in the back seat and has to slap a hand over his mouth to keep from screaming.
He takes a moment to catch his breath before he looks again. It’s Derek, and he's covered in blood and dirt with several arrows sticking out of him at odd angles. Stiles decides to inspect the window first, and spends the time it takes him to crawl over the middle console convincing himself that Derek's not dead.
Fenris had mentioned that an arrow had to be removed from Derek’s mother before she could heal back in his E.R. in Wisconsin, so reason (or possibly panic-fueled hysteria) says that if Stiles removes the arrows, Derek will get better. That doesn’t make the blood less alarming, and it doesn’t make Derek’s skin any less pale.
Stiles' knee feels like someone stomped on it, so he takes his time getting into the passenger seat and touching the dark stuff on the door. “Dirt,” he says to no one in particular. His voice is hoarse and he coughs a little before speaking again. “I really didn’t want it to be dirt.”
He reaches up to stick his fingers through the crack at the top of the window and more dirt falls in.
"They buried us,” he says, with his voice pitched higher than usual. "Can you believe that shit?"
He turns to Derek for a response even though Derek hasn't moved or made a noise and could very well be dead. Stiles swallows several times but he still feels the panic building into a tight ball of pain in his chest so he shakes himself and crawls into the back seat with a lot more urgency than he used to get from the driver's seat to the passenger's.
He starts with the arrow in Derek's leg, but the first time he tries to pull it out he doesn't use nearly enough force and he ends up just making a mess and swearing and leaning over to dry-heave onto the floor. When his stomach stops convulsing, he sits up and swallows and tries to breathe.
"This is probably just a regular day for you, huh?” He doesn’t look at Derek for a response this time. “Whoops, buried alive, must be Wednesday."
This time when he pulls, the arrow comes out. It's bloody and tipped with silver and he stares at it for a moment, remembers how Allison used to knock them into her bow like it came as naturally to her as breathing. He lets it fall to the floor and moves on. There are seven. The one that goes clean through Derek's neck is the worst, and by the time Stiles is done he's splattered with red and Derek's still pale and motionless and Stiles can't tell if he's breathing.
He searches Derek's pockets for something useful or informative, like a cell phone or another note with a smiley face on it or a pulse, and he doesn't find any of those things but he tells himself that it doesn’t mean anything. He finds the keys to the camaro, which he doesn’t take, and a shopping list, which he does. He climbs back into the driver's seat and reads the list in the dim overhead light and laughs because it's so normal.
He’s not sure what he was expecting. ‘Sinister leather jackets,’ maybe, or ‘self-help books for the discerning asshole alpha.’ Instead it’s just food and hair products. “I didn’t have you pegged for a Lucky Charms guy,” he says.
Derek’s body stays silent.
“Yeah, yeah,” says Stiles, “you had to go with something. It’s not like they sell boxes full of frosted angst for you to munch on.”
Stiles folds the list back up and turns the car off and waits.
Ages slide past in the darkness while Stiles drifts in and out of consciousness. Eventually he turns the lights back on to check on Derek's wounds and they seem to be healing, so he turns the car off again and keeps waiting. It feels like it takes days - though he knows they can’t have enough air for that - and he spends the time swallowing down panic attacks and trying not to think about anything too long or too hard because it all leads back to how he's buried alive and he may never see the sun again.
Eventually he hears a groan from behind him, followed by the creak of leather and the whisper of something moving against the cloth of the seats. It's a few more minutes before Derek says, "Stiles?"
Stiles reaches forward to turn the keys and flip the lights back on.
"Where are we?" asks Derek, wincing as he sits up. In the rearview mirror he looks gaunt and bloodless beneath all the muck on his face, but his voice sounds confident so Stiles convinces himself that it's just poor lighting.
"Dirt's falling in through the window." Stiles reaches over and grabs the note with the smiley face and holds it out to Derek.
"There's blood on your hands.”
"Yeah, yours," says Stiles. He points at the floor of the back seat and Derek leans forward to look at the arrows and then swallows before taking the piece of paper from Stiles’ hand.
"Okay," says Derek, and it sounds like he's trying to think but Stiles has been choking on panic for hours and he's in a mood to take things the wrong way.
"Okay?" he repeats, his voice shrill. "It's not okay. We're going to die. We're going to suffocate and my dad's going to drown in bacon and have a heart attack and Scott won't have anyone to watch his back and I'm-" Stiles cuts himself off and slams his head back into the headrest. He covers his face with his hands and breathes in the smell of copper and earth and it does nothing to slow him down or lessen the pain in his chest. He whimpers without meaning to and hates himself for it.
Derek grabs his wrist and pries one of his hands away and Stiles tries to wrench it back but Derek won't let go. His hands are hot on Stiles' skin and they seem to get hotter for a moment before the pain recedes - not just in his chest, but in his knee too - and Stiles feels his panic draining away. His breathing slows and he turns to look at Derek, who seems smaller when he's tired and dirty, even if he does look too big for the back seat.
His pale eyes are bright beacons in the semi darkness and when he opens his mouth, he uses a tone that sounds like it's meant to be encouraging. "At least it's not cement."
Stiles bursts into hysterical laughter. "That’s it? That’s all you’ve got?"
Stiles looks down and realizes he's still holding the shopping list and hands it back. "Sorry," he says, "I was checking your pockets for a phone."
Derek takes the list without saying anything.
"I'm sorry," says Stiles again.
"For what?" asks Derek.
Stiles shrugs because he's not sure. "I didn't know you liked Hot Pockets."
"Does that matter?"
Stiles shrugs again. "Probably not," he says, but he thinks maybe it does. He's used to a Derek who threatens people and a Derek who wants to be powerful, and instead this is a Derek who says 'at least it's not cement' and has Hot Pockets on his shopping list three times.
Derek shrugs his jacket off.
"What are you doing?" Stiles asks.
"We can either sit here and suffocate on hope, waiting to be rescued, or we can break a window and climb out."
"How do you know the hope thing ends in suffocation?" asks Stiles.
Derek just looks at him, tired and annoyed, and says, "Are you coming with me?"
Stiles swallows and nods.
Derek tries rolling down the windows in the back seat but neither of them will budge.
“That one’s already open a little,” says Stiles, pointing at the front passenger window.
He leans away while Derek crawls up into the front seat and punches the button to lower the window. It goes down about a quarter of the way, spilling dirt into Derek’s lap, before it stalls.
Derek twists around to face the door, wrapping a hand around the far side of his seat and sinking down to place his feet against the glass. His first kick doesn’t land hard enough because he doesn’t have enough leverage, so Stiles leans over to brace his shoulders. The second kick lands a lot harder, and the third one breaks the glass.
They both cough on the sudden influx of dust and start shovelling as much dirt into the car as possible. They work in relative silence, though they have to stop twice for Derek to reach over and grab Stiles’ wrist and keep him from hyperventilating. Stiles wants to ask him how that works, how he can just pull the panic out, but he doesn’t. Eventually Derek says, “It’s time.”
“Yeah?” says Stiles. He doesn’t bother trying to sound like that doesn’t terrify him because Derek can hear his heart pounding anyway.
“Yeah,” says Derek. "You need to lose anything that's going to weigh you down, and tie your shirt around your head to keep the dirt out. Then just push the dirt below you and don’t stop until you break the surface."
Stiles nods. He strips off his hoodie and the flannel he’s wearing underneath and pulls his t-shirt off so he can tie it. It feels silly, but Stiles doesn't feel like laughing.
“You should go first,” says Derek.
“I can’t see,” says Stiles
Derek grabs his arm and tugs and Stiles lets himself be guided to the window. The dirt is looser than he expected it to be and he pushes himself into it, kicks off from the window and loses Derek and the car almost immediately.
Panic rises in him like bile in his throat as everything closes in around him, pressing against his skin and his face and his feet. He's sure for a terrifying, paralyzing moment, that he'll never reach the surface. He makes a noise that would be embarrassing under normal circumstances but then a hand wraps around his ankle and he feels that soothing warmth again and starts to climb, pushing the dirt down below him.
It's slow going, and as often as he feels like he's making progress, he feels like he hasn’t moved an inch. Like he’s suspended in some dark non-space, cursed to thrash uselessly forever. His lungs ache for fresh air and his muscles scream in protest and it feels like hours, months, years pass before a hand finally finds his.
Fingers wrap around his wrist and pull and he can feel air on his skin and he struggles toward it until he finally bursts free, gasping, and rips the shirt off his head so he can gulp down air. He's still half submerged and he looks up to see Scott, whose eyes are wide with fear and relief.
Kneeling behind him is Allison, wearing a similar expression.
"Hey," says Stiles, surprised. "Where's-" He feels something brush against his leg but it's not the sort of powerful movement he'd expect from a werewolf. "Shit," he says, and he starts digging down.
"What are you doing?" demands Scott.
"Derek," says Stiles, "Can you hear him? Help me, dude, he's not far."
Scott jerks forward and helps Stiles dig until they find an arm and together they pull and struggle until all three of them are lying on the ground, sweaty and gasping and, in Stiles' case at least, more than a little dizzy.
"We should go," says Allison after a few minutes, "in case they decide to come back."
"Were those your arrows?" asks Stiles.
"Ethan and Aiden stole them from me."
Stiles thinks about pressing the issue but he’s too tired, so he just says, “Okay.”
Scott helps Derek up and Allison helps Stiles, and together the four of them shuffle over to her car. Stiles doesn't really want to be in another car but he swallows down his protest and buckles his seatbelt and glances at Derek, who has his eyes closed.
"Why you and Derek?" asks Allison a little while later, when Stiles is watching trees and stars slide by outside his window.
Stiles opens his mouth to say that he doesn't know but before he can, Derek says, "They’re making a statement. They already challenged me by killing a member of my pack, but now they’ve made it clear that they don’t consider me a threat at all, and they’re not worried about the Sheriff either." He meets Scott’s gaze in Allison’s mirror and adds, “Or you.”
No one has anything to say to that.
* * *
Stiles dreams about the car.
He dreams about small spaces and the smell of sweat and blood and dirt. He dreams that Derek doesn’t wake up and he can’t get any of the windows open and Scott can’t find him in time. He dreams that there’s nothing outside of the car, that he climbs and climbs but never reaches the surface. He wakes up gasping, writhing, clawing at his chest with tears running down his face.
He develops a bad habit of pulling his chair over to his open window and falling asleep slumped against the sill, where he can feel the cold October air on his face. It helps a little, but he still wakes up in a panic at every slight disturbance, convinced that he’s being taken again.
On a cold night in mid-November he gives up on sleep around 2 a.m. and walks down to the grocery store to stock up on caffeine and energy bars for what’s sure to be a long, miserable day of classes. He finds Derek in the frozen foods aisle, glaring at one of the freezers as if it has personally offended him.
Stiles stands next to him, and neither of them say hello. Derek’s wearing his old leather jacket, the one with the shoulders that are loose and the sleeves that hang down over his hands. He looks lost inside that jacket, and lonely.
“Is it three different kinds of Hot Pockets?” Stiles asks, “Or three boxes of one kind? Or was it just repeated for emphasis?”
“Three different kinds,” says Derek. “Isaac’s chicken and bacon, Boyd’s cheddar and steak.” He points at himself and says, “Philly cheese steak,” and then points at the freezer, where there’s a blank spot in the display.
“Huh,” says Stiles. “Well, it’s your lucky day. I happen to have a box of those in my freezer, and I’ll let you have it for the low, low price of helping me carry a metric fuckton of caffeine back to my house.”
Derek glances at him. “You walked here,” he says, and it’s not quite a question.
The parking lot was nearly empty when Stiles passed through it and it didn’t contain any shiny black muscle cars, so Stiles says, “So did you.”
They buy energy drinks and junk food and walk back to Stiles’ house. There are two boxes of Hot Pockets in his freezer so he makes both, careful to open the microwave a couple seconds early each time so it doesn’t have a chance to ding and wake his dad. They take their food out to the back porch to eat, and neither of them say anything about it but both of them are more comfortable sitting on the steps where they can see the sky than they would have been at the kitchen table.
Stiles cringes after he takes his first bite and Derek looks ready to be personally offended on behalf of his favorite microwaveable stuffed pastry, so Stiles says, “I burned my tongue,” by way of explanation.
For a second Derek just gives him a blank look, but then he says, “It stays burnt.”
“Well, yeah,” says Stiles.
Derek starts snickering and Stiles glares at him, so Derek tries to focus on eating in the hopes that the act of chewing and swallowing will make his chuckling stop, but it doesn’t.
“You’re an asshole,” says Stiles, which only makes Derek laugh harder. “I’m not going to be able to taste anything for days and you don’t even know what that’s like.”
“Days?” repeats Derek, surprised, before dissolving into sleep deprived laughter again.
Stiles rolls his eyes and refuses to stoop to blowing on his food. “I hate you.”
“Then stop saving my life,” says Derek. He finishes his second Hot Pocket before Stiles manages to finish his first, and then he tries to reach under Stiles’ elbow to snag Stiles’ second.
Stiles jerks the plate away just in time. “Hands off the goods you damn dirty alpha.”
“You said you won’t even be able to taste it,” says Derek. “You’re doing it a disservice. I would enjoy it.”
“You’re a little shit,” says Stiles.
“Too bad you still need me to handle the alpha pack,” says Derek.
“Oh really? That’s why I pulled all your arrows out and waited around for you to wake up?”
“Now you’re definitely not getting my food,” says Stiles, and he picks up his plate and moves over to the bench swing. It’s closer to the house, so he can’t see the sky from there, but it has a cushion and he settles in the corner of it, where he can curl protectively over his food.
Derek gets up after a moment and walks over to lean against the railing in front of where Stiles is sitting. “I’ve never eaten Hot Pockets with someone who couldn’t heal.”
“I’m glad I could help you strike that one off your bucket list,” says Stiles.
Derek smirks but it doesn’t last long. “I guess I should go.”
“If you want,” says Stiles. He finishes his second Hot Pocket and sets the plate on the ground before tugging his sleeves down over his hands and wrapping his arms around his knees. It’s still a cold night, and he’s starting to feel it in his fingers and toes. “I don’t mind having you here when you aren’t talking or trying to steal food from the plates of hard-working American taxpayers.”
Derek snorts at that but he also crosses the porch to slump down on the other end of the bench. It swings a little and Derek pushes tentatively with his toes to keep the movement going.
The next thing Stiles knows, he’s waking up in his bed with his alarm going off. It’s the first bit of sleep he’s had in over a month that wasn’t interrupted by nightmares, and the next time he sees philly cheese steak Hot Pockets at the store he buys them out.