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between the click of the light and the start of the dream

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“Is this really necessary?” Stiles calls out as he trips over yet another exposed root. His eyes aren’t bad, and the moon’s almost full, but the forest is still too dark for him to see much of anything. He uses his cell phone for a bit of light, but it’s not doing anything but draining his battery. “Scott? Isaac? Erica? Boyd? Anyone, anyone, Bueller?”

Stiles starts when he feels more than sees something rush by him, and the lingering scent of perfume lets him know it was Erica. Plus, he hears her cackle as she runs away. “Funny, Erica. Real cute.”

He trudges on, his feet crunching in the fallen leaves. The late winter air is crisp, and he really should have worn more than a thin hoodie, but not much he can do about that now. And if the pack have their way (which they usual do, Stiles begrudgingly admits), they’ll be out here all night.

When he makes it to the top of a hill, he squints into the darkness. He thinks he sees the light of a cell phone in the distance and wonders if it’s Allison or Lydia. He contemplates texting them, but decides to just sit down instead. His feet are cold, his hands are freezing, and his breath is coming out in little foggy puffs. In sum, Stiles is miserable.

It had been Erica’s stupid idea. “Let’s go out tonight!” she’d said while they were all lounging around Derek’s loft bored after school. “I’m so tired of sitting here. The upcoming full moon has my skin crawling. Please, please?” When Stiles agreed, he thought they’d be going to dinner, to the movies, to the bowling alley. Not running around in the woods, half-wolfed out while the humans stumbled around after them. Allison followed Scott when they got here, and Lydia followed Allison, and Stiles – somehow Stiles ended up by himself.

He hears quick footsteps on the ground behind him, and then someone stops at his side. He looks up and sees that it’s Boyd. “Someone could trip over you,” Boyd says. Something scampers away behind Boyd, and Stiles thinks he sees a rabbit or a squirrel.

Stiles shrugs. “It’d serve them right.”

Boyd laughs before taking off again. Stiles considers texting Derek and asking him to come pick him up (because, like an idiot, Stiles had ridden with Lydia, Jackson, and Boyd instead of driving his own Jeep) but thinks the better of it. Derek would just gripe the entire ride home, if he came to pick him up at all.

Stiles is just about to get up and meander more in the darkness when he hears someone in front of him. He waits to see which pack member will approach him this time; he just hopes Jackson or Erica don’t try to scare or tackle him.

A twig snaps, and then he hears breathing and the rustle of leaves. He strains to get a better glimpse into the darkness, but it’s pointless. There’s nothing but a black void.

“Good try,” Stiles says, standing up and brushing off his jeans, “you’re doing a really shitty job with the whole werewolf stealth thing, just so you know. Need to work on your skills. My grandma can sneak around the nursing home better than you.” He only takes a step before he’s knocked onto his back so forcefully that he’s momentarily stunned. Oh, someone is definitely going to get it. Fuckers didn’t have to knock him down. He attempts to take a breath but realizes he can’t breathe because something on his chest is preventing him from doing so.

Suddenly, Stiles feels the most excruciating pain in his stomach he’s ever felt. It’s like his entire insides are being ripped out from him. He tries to scream, but when he opens his mouth, he realizes that he can’t make any noise because he’s choking on something metallic. Oh god, is that blood? he thinks in a panic, and even though he almost passes out, he raises up and looks down to see an arm sunk wrist deep in his stomach.

He can’t tear his eyes away from the arm, because despite the indescribable pain in his stomach, he just can’t believe this is happening to him. Sure, he always knew he’d probably die some horrific death – comes with the lack of healing powers – but he never actually believed it. Stiles tries to cry out again, but his mouth just fills with more blood as the arm pulls out a handful of what Stiles guesses is his guts. The pain is so horrifying that he can feel it everywhere, even in his eyes, which now feel like they’re going to pop out of their sockets.

He sobs, tastes the blood in his mouth and nose, and realizes that he’s about to die. He doesn’t know how he’ll survive since his intestines have just become some monster’s bracelet. The last thing he remembers before everything goes black is two large green eyes.

*

“Stiles!”

Stiles feels a hard slap against his face, and he sits straight up, trying to breathe and scream at the same time. He instinctively scoots away, confused and in pain and…and alive. He pats his stomach, even yanks up his shirt.

“Um, what is he doing?” Lydia asks.

Stiles almost cries from relief when he sees flat, pale white flesh, all still intact. No holes, no monster arms.

“Stiles? Dude, are you okay?” Scott asks tentatively, moving slowly like he’s afraid Stiles is going to flip out at any moment. Stiles is still staring down at his stomach and rubbing the smooth flesh like he’s in a daze.

“Stiles is always weird, but why the fuck is he stroking his stomach like some weird-ass pervert?” Jackson asks.

Scott grabs Stiles’ hand and pulls it away. “Stiles!” he growls and Stiles looks up at him.

“I’m not dead,” Stiles says.

“Unfortunately,” Jackson grumbles, and Isaac pushes him. Hard. No one even pays attention when Jackson ends up on the ground.

“What happened?” Erica asks.

Stiles looks up at them, realizes that everyone is staring at him and that he’s holding up his shirt. He pulls it down and shakes his head, like he’s trying to shake off something. “I don’t know. I was talking to Boyd – you did stop by me and mention how someone would trip over me, right?” Boyd nods, and Stiles sighs in relief, though he’s not sure why. The rest of it still doesn’t make sense. “Then I heard something in the woods, and then something was on top of me, and it ripped out my insides, right there.” Stiles points to the ground. “I can still feel the pain.” He rubs his stomach gingerly. “It felt so real.”

“You probably just fell asleep,” Allison suggests, “and had a nightmare.” She smiles, though it’s tight and too wide, and Stiles can tell she’s freaked out. They all are.

“Yeah, I guess so.” He pushes himself up, but his legs are so shaky they give out and he ends up on his knees.

“Fucking intense dream,” Isaac says. Scott tries to help Stiles up, but Stiles waves his hand away.

Stiles’ freak episode has all of them a bit rattled, so they decide to call it a night. Stiles couldn’t be happier. He’s full out shaking now, and he’ll go to his grave claiming it’s the cold.

“How did you find me?” Stiles asks Scott as they walk back to the cars. They’re further behind everyone else because Stiles’ legs are still not functioning properly and Scott hasn’t moved more than a foot away from him since Stiles woke up.

“I heard you screaming and felt your fear. We all did. You were lying on the ground, not moving. Just screaming.”

Stiles shakes his head. “What the fuck, man?”

“Worried about graduation?” Scott suggests.

“That’s still months away,” Stiles mumbles. Besides, he thinks that the knowledge of only being in high school a few more months is reason for a huge fucking party, not a cause for nightmares.

*

When Stiles gets home, he can’t quite shake his funky mood. If everyone hadn’t said that he was lying on his back when they found him, Stiles would have sworn that he’d been attacked. The whole thing felt like a memory, not a dream. He’s always had vivid dreams, so he knows how they feel. Sometimes he gets confused and has a sense of déjà vu, but he knows how a dream feels.

What happened to him? Doesn’t feel like a dream. It feels like a memory.

A pretty fucking awful memory. Stiles can’t get the image of that hand holding his insides out of his head, not to mention the pain. He feels the pain the same way he still feels old wounds: like when he broke his nose last year in a lacrosse game, when that Alpha from the Alpha pack tossed him out of a window, when Gerard beat him. It’s just as real, and right now, it’s still raw. He keeps absently rubbing his stomach in an attempt to make it better.

He’d never admit it, but he’s scared to go to sleep. But as much as he fights it, pretty soon he falls asleep watching TV.

*

Stiles tries to roll over, but he can’t. He goes to raise his arm to rub his eyes, but his arms are pinned on both sides. When he tries to move any of his limbs, he realizes that he is paralyzed. A heavy weight presses down on his chest, making it hard to breathe.

His first thought is that there is another kanima loose in Beacon Hills, but this feels different than his previous paralysis. And what does that say about his life, that he is now comparing the different states of paralysis he’s been in? Maybe he should just move already. But that would have to wait until after he gets the use of his limbs back.

Stiles doesn’t know how much time passes before he can move again, and then he wakes up in the morning with full use of everything. He doesn’t even want to fathom what freaky things are going on in his brain. He’s tired, his body fatigued, but he did spend half the night out in the middle of the woods with the pack, so that’s expected and he thinks nothing of it.

*

Derek buys pizza for everyone even though it’s not a pack meeting, it’s just a random Saturday night. Jackson and Boyd are on the living room floor arguing about what movie to watch, and Lydia, Allison, and Erica are discussing this fall’s fashion styles, and Stiles is picking absently at his pepperoni.

“Are you on an anti-pepperoni kick again?” Isaac asks from the floor.

Stiles blinks and looks up at him absently. “What did you say?”

“What’s with you?” he asks.

Stiles hasn’t told them that he’s been having nightmares every night for the past week. Horrible, vivid dreams straight out of the most sadistic horror movie you could think of. Most nights he’s woken up in a cold sweat, and last night he had another episode where he thought he woke up paralyzed.

“Did you have more nightmares last night?” Scott asks.

“You’re having nightmares?” Derek asks before taking a huge bite of pizza.

“No,” Stiles answers. “I didn’t have a nightmare last night, but…” He shakes his head. “Never mind.”

“What?” Scott persists.

“I could have sworn that I woke up and was paralyzed. I thought for a moment Jackson had turned back into the kanima.”

Jackson stops his argument with Boyd to whip his head around and glare. “Will you ever fucking let that go?”

Stiles cocks his head to the side. “Hmm, let me think about that. Um, no.”

“You’re just having crazy dreams. What happened in the woods was a fluke,” Scott says.

“What happened in the woods?” Derek barks. Isaac explains, and when he’s done, Derek looks at all three of them like he can’t decide whether to punch them or roll his eyes. “Didn’t you think that maybe I needed to know about this?”

“It’s no big deal,” Stiles finds himself saying although secretly he feels like it’s a big fucking deal. He’s freaked out, and he’s had very little sleep in the past week. He’s pretty sure the whole pack can feel that though, so, whatever. “Just a nightmare.”

Derek stares at him for a second too long, and it makes Stiles squirm. Finally, Derek blinks and turns away. “Let me know if anything else weird happens.”

*

Stiles runs through the woods. His heart pounds in his chest, his limbs growing heavier with each step. His body is gripped with fear, the hairs on the back of his neck standing up as he feels something right behind him. He tries to turn around, but he can’t. His body is stuck, and he trips and falls on his face.

When Stiles jerks awake, the first thing he notices is that he’s exhausted. The second thing he notices is that he’s not in his bed. He opens his eyes and finds that he’s lying on a pile of leaves in the middle of the ground in the forest. And it’s the middle of the night.

Well, he thinks to himself, I think it’s time to call Derek. Because this, this definitely constitutes weird.

*

It didn’t hit Stiles how absolutely terrified he was until he’d been walking for almost an hour. Barefoot. Because, apparently, whatever psychotic somnambulist impulse he had last night failed to bring along shoes or his cell phone. Which is why he is wandering around the woods in the dark wearing nothing but a thin pair of pajama pants like some lunatic, his feet scratched and his entire body numb from the cold. This is what happens to crazy people. Stiles never thought he was crazy, but maybe he is. If he is honest with himself, the last few years have yielded plenty of reasons for one to go crazy. It’s really a miracle that he’s lasted this long.

“Oh well,” he says out loud, because he’s scared and it’s too quiet and he’s crazy now and crazy people talk to themselves, “Graduating high school was such a lovely goal. And you almost made it, too. So close, Stiles buddy, but no cigar.”

He wishes he knew where he was. It doesn’t look like the preserve, but the preserve is freaking huge, and he hasn’t had the immense pleasure (note the sarcasm, he thinks wryly) of running through it like the pack. There are lots of trees and forests in Beacon Hills, and since he doesn’t remember how he got here, he could be anywhere.

He stops after two hours to rest. He crouches on a log and draws his knees up to his chest, wrapping his arms around them in a weak attempt at warming himself. His teeth are chattering, his body shivering, and he glances down at his feet to assess the damage. Gently, he touches each of his toes, notices even in the faint light from the waning moon they are turning blue. Yeah, that’s disconcerting.

Stiles decides that losing a toe in addition to going crazy and freezing to death in the woods on a school night would just be adding insult to injury. Overkill, really. And Stiles isn’t in the mood for any cosmic humor right now.

After he sulks on the log for longer than he should, he stands back up and starts walking. Now his feet are in even more pain, and he starts limping, favoring one foot for a few steps before switching. He’s contemplating just giving up when he hears something move behind him, and freezes. If getting eaten by a mountain lion gets added to the list of Things That Have Sucked For Stiles Tonight, he’s going to just kill himself and save the universe the trouble. Wouldn’t that be an amusing twist of events?

He tries not to breathe too loudly, and he hopes that even though he’s not hiding behind a tree and standing in the middle of a clearing that whatever is stalking through the underbrush nearby just passes by him.

“Stiles?” Stiles nearly collapses in relief when he hears Derek’s voice and sees red eyes through the trees. Derek’s by his side in a flash, wolfed out and eyes scanning over him. “What the fuck are you doing?”

“Went for a midnight stroll,” Stiles says sarcastically as Derek’s face shifts back to normal although his eyes remain red. “What the fuck do you think I’m doing out here? I don’t know! I just woke up in the fucking leaves and fuck, I’ve never been so glad to see you.”

“You look like shit.”

“Really, Derek? If I wasn’t so happy that I’m not going to die now, I’d punch you. Or say something really mean and witty.” Stiles takes a step but between the pain, the cold, and the relief, he gets a bit lightheaded and almost falls. Derek’s hand is immediately there to steady him. Stiles would feel embarrassed if he wasn’t so exhausted.

Derek grabs Stiles’ arm and bends down, causing Stiles to jerk away in surprise. “What are you doing?”

“Stop moving,” Derek orders as he tried to wrap his arms around Stiles’ legs. “I’m going to carry you to the car.”

“Like hell you are.” Stiles swats at Derek’s head, earning him an annoyed glare.

Derek stands up and huffs. “It’s over a mile back to the car, your feet are frozen, and you’re bleeding.”

“You are not carrying me anywhere.” Stiles crosses his arms, though he doubts it’s real threatening considering the fact he’s shivering and wearing monkey pajama pants.

“This is no time for pride.”

“This is exactly the time for pride!” Stiles exclaims. “You are not fucking carrying me like some bitch.” Derek grunts loudly and stares coldly at Stiles like it’s going to cow him into submission. Derek should know him better by now; that look doesn’t affect him anymore. Stiles rolls his eyes and makes a shooing motion. “Lead on, oh mighty Alpha.”

“Be careful not to trip over your fucking stubbornness.” Derek leads the way through the forest, walking slowly since Stiles can barely walk. If it wasn’t Derek or the principle of the whole thing, he’d gladly let Derek carry him. He almost gives in after he painfully steps on a pinecone, but he sucks it up even though Derek gives him a look like he’s a dumbass. Stiles is pretty used to that look.

After they walk for a few minutes, Derek shrugs out of his jacket and hands it to Stiles without a word. Stiles looks at it warily, and Derek shoves it towards him in exasperation. “Thanks,” Stiles mutters quietly as he slips it on. The jacket is warm from where Derek had been wearing it, and Stiles wraps it as closely around himself as he can to trap Derek’s warmth against his skin. It smells of leather and something musky, and all Derek.

When Stiles finally sees the road and the Camaro parked alongside it, he breathes out a sob and can’t be embarrassed about it. As soon as they get into the car, Derek cranks up the heat to full blast. Stiles glances at the clock and realizes it’s almost 3 a.m.

“What happened?” he asks, more gently than Stiles expects, his voice so low it barely registers above the quiet song on the radio.

“I don’t know,” Stiles responds, playing absently with the cuff of Derek’s jacket. “I just woke up out there.” He turns to Derek suddenly. “How did you find me? Why were you even out there?”

“Your dad,” Derek explains. “The whole pack’s looking for you.”

“Shit,” Stiles mutters as Derek pulls out his cell phone. He texts the pack that he found Stiles, then calls the sheriff.

“I found him,” Derek says. Stiles can’t hear what his dad is saying even though he leans closer to Derek and strains his ears. Derek pushes him away and hands Stiles the phone.

“Hey Dad,” Stiles says when he lifts the phone to his ear.

“WHERE HAVE YOU BEEN? ARE YOU CRAZY?” his dad yells, which causes Stiles to recoil a bit in the seat. Derek keeps his eyes trained on the road, though Stiles knows that even without werewolf hearing he could have heard.

“Dad,” Stiles starts, his voice breaking slightly. For the first time since he’d awoken, he feels scared and defeated. He slumps in the seat, propping his elbow on the door and rubbing his forehead wearily. “I’m fine. And I’ll be home soon. We’ll talk then. Okay? I gotta go now.”

“Stiles – “

“See you in a few, Dad.” Stiles ends the call and stares at the phone for a moment.

“You just hung up on your dad,” Derek says. Stiles breaks out of his trance and hands the phone back to Derek. Derek’s fingers brush his lightly, and he realizes just how much warmer Derek is, and how fucking cold he is still, even with the heat up. He crosses his arms tightly across his chest.

“I don’t feel like talking to him right this second,” Stiles admits. “That probably makes me an asshole, but we’ll be to my house soon enough and I’ll probably spend the rest of the night discussing what happened.” Stiles glances out the window. “Where was I?”

“Track Rock Forest.”

Stiles whips his head around and stares at Derek in disbelief. “You’re joking. You have to be fucking joking, that’s two counties away.”

“I’m aware of that, Stiles,” Derek says slowly and anything but patient.

“How the fuck did I – “ Stiles stops when he feels his chest start constricting, his breaths coming in short, quick gasps. No, no, no, nononono. This can’t be right, he thinks. Panic trickles through his limbs, freezing his mind on the empty fear settling in his stomach.

“Stiles,” Derek says, but Stiles barely hears him through the roar in his ears. He couldn’t have walked all the way to another county – Track Rock Forest was over twenty miles away. His head becomes dizzy as his breathing hitches higher and higher. “Stiles,” Derek says again, this time louder and stronger, and then he touches Stiles’ shoulder lightly. Stiles is so surprised that he momentarily snaps out of his panic and turns towards Derek. “Calm down.”

“Calm down? Calm down?” Stiles says hysterically. “How can I calm down? There’s no way…” Stiles shakes his head, trying to gain control of his breathing.

Derek hesitates before awkwardly squeezing Stiles’ shoulder and then quickly dropping his hand. “Did you have a nightmare last night?”

Stiles tries to remember, but his brain is fuzzy. It’s like there’s something on the edges of his consciousness, but he can’t quite grab it. “Maybe? I can’t remember. I think, um, maybe I was running? But that’s not an uncommon dream for me.”

Derek is quiet for a moment. “We’ll figure it out.” Stiles stares out the window and doesn’t believe him.

*

Stiles thinks just about every light in his house is on when Derek pulls into the driveway, but he realizes the lack of cop cars is a good sign. At least his dad didn’t freak completely out.

The sheriff is out of the house before the car pulls to a stop, and Stiles notices Scott, Isaac, and Erica hovering in the front door. Stiles barely steps out of the car before the sheriff pulls him into a tight hug. Stiles lets his dad hold him tightly, because he’s home and it’s late and nowhere is safer than with his dad.

“What happened?” his dad asks, much less angry than he’d been on the phone. Derek walks around the car and leans on the hood, absently messing with the keys in his hand. “Where were you?”

“Track Rock Forest,” Derek says. The sheriff has the same look on his face that Stiles believes he had earlier. He looks between Derek and Stiles like they’re playing some colossal joke on him.

“How…what…come again?”

“We don’t know, Dad.” Stiles runs a hand through his hair, finds a twig in it, and tosses it on the ground. “All I know is that I went to sleep in my bed around twelve, and then I woke up on the ground.”

The sheriff scratches his head. “But that doesn’t make any sense.”

“I’m aware of that, Dad.” Stiles starts shifting from one foot to the other, his feet sore and freezing.

“Maybe we should take this inside,” Derek suggests as he watches Stiles’ chilly dance, and the sheriff nods like he hadn’t thought of that.

He follows his dad and Derek and asks, “How did you know I was gone?”

“I woke up and saw the front door standing wide open on my way to the kitchen.”

Stiles’ legs protest when he walks up the few steps to the front door, and Scott smiles reassuringly as he pats Stiles on the back and Erica slides her arm through Stiles’. The house is so warm, and Stiles just wants to go to bed, but everyone herds him into the living room.

“I checked upstairs,” the sheriff continues, “and you were gone. I thought you had been kidnapped, but I called Derek first, just in case.”

“Thank god you did,” Stiles mumbles as he drops onto the couch while Scott and Erica surround him protectively, Isaac hovering behind him. Erica grabs the blanket from the back of the couch and drops it into Stiles’ lap, and he wraps it around himself, pulling his feet under him in hopes that they’ll dethaw. Erica disappears into the kitchen to make him a cup of tea while his dad and Derek take the two recliners nearby.

“You don’t remember anything?” Scott asks. Stiles shakes his head for what feels like the hundredth time. Now that he’s sitting down and getting warm, he’s fading fast.

“Look, can we do this tomorrow? I’m exhausted.” Erica hands him the cup of tea, and he takes a tentative sip. It warms him slowly as he swallows.

“That’s probably a good idea.” The sheriff rubs his eyes, and Stiles notices how worried he looks. Fuck, he thinks.

“School’s gonna suck tomorrow,” Scott says as he stands up. “There’s no use in even trying to go back to sleep for just a few hours.”

“I’m not going to school tomorrow,” Stiles declares, leaving no room for his dad to argue.

“Probably a good idea,” his dad says. “You should probably go to the doctor, get checked out – “

“Dad, I’m fine. Barring I don’t lose any toes, I should be good.”

“My mom is so not going to let me skip, especially since I’m failing trig.” Scott sighs.

“I think we should go see Deaton tomorrow,” Derek says, leaning forward in the recliner, elbows on his knees. Stiles glances at him and nods. Maybe he can figure out what is going on.

Stiles walks Scott, Isaac, and Erica to the door, and talks to them for a few minutes. Derek is still in the living room, talking quietly with the sheriff. Stiles slumps against the doorframe as the other three get into Erica’s car and leave. Derek walks through the door and pauses on the porch like he’s going to say something. Instead, he just looks at Stiles for a moment before jogging down the steps to his car.

Such a weird night. He closes the door, and when he turns around, he finds his dad staring at him. “I’m not crazy,” Stiles says, though he’s not sure he believes it. He’ll make his dad believe it, though. “And I’ll be fine.”

“I know, son.” The sheriff gives him a small smile before Stiles disappears up the stairs.

He’s in his bedroom before he realizes he’s still wearing Derek’s jacket.

*

Derek doesn’t show up at Stiles’ house until well after noon, and Stiles is grateful. He’d finally gotten to sleep around 4:30, after he’d showered and scrubbed all the dirt and muck off his body. Then, he’d checked out the status of his feet and determined all toes were safe, and then covered his numerous cuts with ointment so he wouldn’t get gangrene and lose a toe that way. Because he was cold and because he couldn’t quite calm the fear still tugging at him, he had put Derek’s leather jacket back on before he crawled into bed. It was soft on his skin, and the overwhelming scent of Derek every time he inhaled comforted him. But if anyone asked, he’d never admit that he slept in Derek’s jacket. Ever.

When Stiles meets Derek at the door, he immediately hands him the jacket. “Sorry I forgot to give it to you last night.” Derek takes it and shrugs.

Inside the car, Derek asks, “How did you sleep?” Stiles is momentarily thrown before he realizes the nature of the question.

“Nightmare free. Though, I was so exhausted that I don’t think I had the energy to have nightmares.” At that moment, Stiles’ stomach growls. Derek glances at him from the corner of his eyes, and Stiles smiles sheepishly. “I haven’t eaten yet. I’d just woken up when you drove up.”

Derek takes them to a local place near the veterinarian clinic. They both order burgers, and Stiles sips his Coke absently as he stares at the various things hanging on the walls. “Did you get any sleep last night?” Stiles asks when the silence is too much.

“A little bit,” Derek answers. “I don’t need much sleep.”

“Lucky.” Stiles had ended up getting seven hours, but he still felt wrecked. “Did Isaac go to school today?”

Derek nods. “He went back to Scott’s when they left your place. I don’t care if he went to school or not. I think he went just because Scott did.” Stiles snorts. Figures. “Why haven’t you been telling us about your nightmares?”

Stiles contemplates denying it, but there’s no use now. “I didn’t think they were a big deal. I still don’t.”

Derek’s eyes widen as his eyebrows lift in disbelief. “No big deal? Stiles, you ended up in the middle of the fucking forest.”

“We don’t know that’s what – “

“It has to be connected,” Derek says, almost to himself.

“I guess Deaton will tell us.”

“How are your feet? I’m guessing that’s what was bleeding.” The waitress sits down their plates and Stiles immediately stuffs the burger into his mouth, sighing contently as he chews.

“They’re sore,” Stiles replies. “And pretty beat up. I had a lot of cuts.”

Stiles tries to figure out the look on Derek’s face as he watches Stiles across the table. After a few moments, Stiles looks away and glances out the window, trying to ignore the way his limbs and face feel under Derek’s gaze.

*

Deaton stares at Stiles for a moment after he finishes explaining everything. Stiles tries to ignore Derek’s face – a mixture of anger and disbelief and maybe worry if Stiles squints enough – when he admits to the horrific nightmares and multiple bouts of maybe-paralysis.

“Well, Stiles, you have had an interesting few weeks,” Deaton finally says when he turns away. Stiles feels relieved. Everyone has just been staring at him over the last twelve hours – okay, maybe it was just Derek and Deaton, but both of those guys could win the gold medal in staring if it was an Olympic Event. Maybe it should be an Olympic Event, because it takes years of training, self-discipline, and practice to perfect it to the art form that Derek –

“Stiles.” Derek’s voice snaps him from his inner monologue. Stiles blinks at him.

“Huh?”

Derek rolls his eyes, and from where he’s seated at his computer, Deaton says, “I think I know what’s causing this.”

“You do? Thank god.” Stiles breathes out loudly, hoping that soon his troubles will be over.

“A hag.”

“A hag? Like an ugly woman? With warts and black teeth and matted hair who talks only to cats and small children?”

“No. A hag is a malevolent spirit who sits on a person’s chest at night and feeds nightmares into their brain. That’s why you felt the paralysis and why you’ve been having nightmares.” He swivels around in his chair.

“But why did I end up in the middle of the woods?”

Deaton sighs. “That, I do not know.”

“Okay, so maybe I am just crazy,” Stiles drones. “How do I get rid of the old hag?”

“That’s the thing. The lore isn’t consistent. There are many different remedies,” Deaton explains.

Stiles stares at him without comprehension. “So, what does that mean?”

“That means you have to try them all.”

“Oh great!” Stiles exclaims sarcastically. “Instant entertainment.”

Deaton hands him a piece of paper containing a list. “Try these first. If they don’t work, we’ll try alternatives.”

Stiles glances over the list in disbelief. He belatedly notices that Derek has come up behind him and is reading the list over his shoulder, Derek’s chest pressed against his back. Stiles tries not to get too distracted by the feel of it – and that’s something he’ll have to think about later, like when he’s home alone without a six foot tall werewolf pressed against him. Because that’s a disturbing train of thought he’d like to eradicate right away.

He shakes his head and scans the list again. “Where in the hell do I get an iron toothed comb used for the preparation of flax?”

*

Stiles rolls his eyes and huffs loudly so that maybe Derek will stop his meticulous inspection of his room. When Derek ignores him, Stiles finally says, “Dude, seriously? You’ve checked and double-checked everything like five times.”

Derek ignores him and continues peering at each possible entrance into the room. “We have to cover up all holes to keep the hag out.” Derek pulls the desk chair into the middle of the room and stands on it carefully as he reaches up to cover up the vent in the ceiling. Stiles tries not to stare at the small strip of belly visible while Derek’s arms are lifted, but he can’t seem to take his eyes off the smooth, pale flesh and light dusting of hair. He really hopes Derek is so intent on finding all the openings in the room that he won’t notice the sudden rise in Stiles’ body temperature. He’s pretty sure he’s a bit flushed now.

After he finishes the vent, Derek checks the window again, then re-checks the foam put in place to cover the cracks in the door. Finally, after half an hour, Derek turns to look at Stiles, who’s still sitting on his bed watching Derek, annoyed.

“Satisfied? I mean, that bordered on OCD. No one told me werewolves have OCD. I heard somewhere vampires have OCD, but not werewolves. How can you have OCD when you run carefree through the forest and eat small rodents all the time?”

“How many times do I have to tell you I don’t eat rodents?” Derek snaps before dropping into the armchair. “I think the room is secure. I guess we’ll find out.” Stiles doesn’t say anything, because now that it is close to bedtime, he is nervous. “Are your shoes aligned correctly?”

Stiles points to the floor beside his bed. “Laces towards me, toes pointed towards the door.” He glances at the clock, then back at Derek. For some reason, he really doesn’t want Derek to leave, but he’s not sure why. And he sure isn’t going to tell Derek that. “How will we know which one of these works?” Derek shrugs. “Do I just have to sleep in a secure cell with my shoes aligned perfectly for the rest of my life? Now who’s OCD?” Stiles adds as an afterthought.

“Deaton’s working on how to get rid of the hag permanently,” Derek says, running a hand over his face. Stiles notices he looks tired. Derek had said he didn’t get a lot of sleep the night before, but Stiles thinks he may have gotten even less than that. He doesn’t like that he’s the reason Derek looks so weary. “Until then, we’ll try to keep it away from you.” Derek stands and gives the room one final sweep.

“Thanks,” Stiles says awkwardly, because it’s the polite thing to do, not because he wants to keep Derek around for a few more moments. “For, you know.” Stiles motions around the room.

Derek nods as he opens Stiles’ bedroom door. Stiles hears Derek and his father exchange a few words, and then the front door shuts and Derek drives away.

A knock sounds on the closed door a few minutes later, and his dad sticks his head in. “Everything alright?” Stiles nods as the sheriff steps into the room and studies the foam around the doorframe carefully. “Derek really thinks this will work?”

“We’re hoping.”

His dad looks at him and smiles slightly. “Should I wish you sweet dreams?”

“Who knows, maybe that’s all I need to keep the hag away.”

“You’ll let me know if anything happens, right? Any nightmares or paralysis?” His dad has on his serious face, the one he uses for crime scenes, questioning people, and lecturing Stiles.

“Of course.”

His dad stands awkwardly for a few minutes before saying goodnight and then shutting the door. Stiles can hear him on the other side, checking the make sure all the cracks are covered before he walks downstairs.

Stiles drops back onto his bed and stares at the ceiling. He knows he should be worrying about the hag, but his mind is on Derek. He’d be lying if he said he hadn’t been attracted to Derek for some time. Someone would have to be dead not to be (and even then, Stiles was pretty sure vampires, ghosts, and zombies would still want him, and not even in the brains and blood way). But lately, Stiles has been feeling something…more. Not the usual teenage hormone-induced want, but a desire to be around Derek, talk to him, touch him in a totally nonsexual way. For fuck’s sake, Stiles had wanted to hug him last night in the forest, just to feel Derek’s strong arms around him.

All day, Stiles had been hyperaware of Derek around him. The heat coming off from him in the car, the way he looked at Stiles over lunch, his body pressed against him in Deaton’s office, the ripple of muscle beneath his Henley, the way his shirt slid up a few moments ago. Maybe it was the lack of sleep making him think crazy thoughts, but Stiles knows it’s something that has been simmering at the back of his mind for a long time. It just happened to pick the most inopportune moment to come to fruition.

Stiles sighs. It doesn’t matter anyway. It’s not like Derek is remotely interested in him. He’s just a member of the pack, nothing more.

As he falls asleep, Stiles thinks of Derek and hopes his dreams are filled with his face instead of any nightmares.

*

Derek calls him first thing the next morning. The sound of the phone ringing wakes him up, and he realizes there’s still fifteen minutes before his alarm goes off.

“What are you doing up?” Stiles answers sleepily. “Don’t you ever sleep?”

“Did it work?”

“Your voice is too loud and too…you this early. How does Isaac deal with it?” Stiles rubs his eyes and hears Derek grunt on the other end of the line.

“How did you sleep?” Derek tries again.

“How sweet of you to call and ask,” Stiles mumbles. His brain hasn’t completely woken up and he knows he’s talking nonsense, but that’s what Derek gets for calling him before his alarm goes off. “I slept fine. How about you?”

“No nightmares?”

“Not that I recall, but I did just wake up. I still doubt it, though. I’ve remembered all the others as soon as I woke up.”

Derek exhales loudly. “That’s good.” He pauses, and Stiles is still too sleepy to speak into the silence. “Um, well, have a good day.”

“You too, Derek!” Stiles says enthusiastically, mainly because he wants to hear the exasperated sigh on the other end. He smiles and rolls over until his alarm goes off.

*

Stiles yawns, even though it’s only 9:30 on a Friday. Lydia taps his face gently. “Wake up, sleepyhead. The night has just begun, and I personally plan on bowling until at least midnight. I’m going to wipe the floor with all of you.” She shoots up from her seat and saunters over to the bowling ball corral, grabs her pink ball, and then executes a perfect strike.

“I thought you were sleeping better,” Scott asks. He’s leaning into Stiles, studying him like he can see beneath Stiles’ skin to the root of all his problems.

“I am,” Stiles answers. It’s mostly true. He’s still having nightmares, though he hasn’t told the pack. Nightmares he can handle. Plus, it’s been almost two weeks with no paralysis or weird somnambulistic adventures. He figures the hag-proofing of his room has worked, and there’s no need to let on that his mind hasn’t quite caught up yet. “Just a bit tired. English papers and tests. The usual.”

Scott looks satisfied, but Stiles catches Derek’s eyes. He’s looking at Stiles’ intently, his head tilted slightly and eyebrows raised just an inch. Stiles makes a face at Derek, and Derek rolls his eyes and turns away. Obviously, his lie may have fooled Scott, but he’s pretty sure Derek saw through it.

During his turn, Stiles knocks down seven pins in all. Jackson and Lydia hackle him, and he shoves Jackson’s shoulder on the way back to his seat, which is now occupied by Isaac. “Really, dude? Seat stealing? Aren’t we above this now?”

“I was tired of standing. Now you get to stand.” Isaac grins and swivels the chair around gleefully. Stiles stands at the far end of the table. He’s of course the only one standing now. There are six seats at the table, but Erica and Allison are sitting in Boyd and Scott’s laps. “You can sit in my lap, Stiles. I won’t bite.” Isaac grins, his eyes flashing gold momentarily.

“That’s okay. I’d rather stand.” Isaac, Scott, and Allison laugh, and Stiles laughs mockingly along with him because he doesn’t think it’s funny at all.

When Derek goes up to bowl, Stiles drops into his seat.

“Brave,” Allison says. “You know he’s going to be mad.”

Stiles shrugs. “Apparently, Isaac started a massive game of bowling seat turnover, so every man for himself. Scott and Boyd are cheating, by the way, by having two people per seat.” They just grin.

“Get up,” Derek growls when he returns to the table.

Stiles pretends to think about it before shaking his head. “I don’t think you earned your seat. You only knocked down five pins. That’s horrible, Derek, really. I mean, you should be able to get strikes every time just by like honing your skills or something. There’s no excuse really.” Stiles grins while Derek stares him down, trying to look menacing. He even bares his teeth, but really, his normal teeth (or even his fangs, for that matter) aren’t really that threatening anymore.

“You’re obnoxious,” Derek says, standing right beside Stiles’ seat.

“You can sit in his lap,” Erica suggests. Isaac spits soda across the table, Scott looks horrified, and Allison giggles behind her hand. Stiles just tries to keep his heart rate steady because the thought of Derek in his lap – way too many ways that could end up.

“I do have a pretty tempting lap,” Stiles finds himself saying. Derek just glares at all of them and crosses his arms as he watches Boyd bowl.

When it’s Stiles’ turn again, he glances up at Derek. “You’re going to take my seat, aren’t you?” Derek’s eyes grow wide and his eyebrows rise comically as he lands his “you’re a fucking idiot” gaze on Stiles.

“Yep.”

“I could skip my turn, take a stand, well, a seat, against your table tyranny.” Stiles folds his arms across his chest, mirroring Derek.

Derek rolls his eyes. “Take your turn, Stiles, before I do it for you.”

“What? You’re going to throw the ball for me?”

“No, I’m going to throw you down the lane.”

“You wouldn’t hit any pins, not the rate you’re going tonight.” Stiles grins while Derek glares at him. Then, he finally gets up and Derek immediately sits down. “Cheater.”

“You’re the one who stole it in the first place.”

After Stiles throws a strike, he returns to the table. “Can I have my seat back?”

“Don’t you mean my seat?” Derek asks, eyebrow cocked.

“You could sit in Derek’s lap instead,” Erica suggests again. Everyone laughs, and Stiles makes a move, just to get on Derek’s nerves.

“Don’t even think about it,” Derek snaps, “unless you’d like to lose a limb.”

“So violent,” Stiles mutters as he pushes Derek’s shoulder affectionately. Derek tries to look annoyed, but Stiles thinks he doesn’t mind that much, so he swipes Derek’s soda and takes a sip from it.

Stiles steals the seat again when it’s Derek’s turn, and when he’s through, Derek just stands beside Stiles and picks up his cup, which Stiles has been nursing for the last fifteen minutes. When the cup is empty, Derek buys them another one, and after Derek takes a sip, Stiles is pretty sure he pushes the cup in Stiles’ direction.

*

Another week passes nightmare free. Stiles is still sleeping with the foam around the doors and his shoes positioned just right, but he’s starting to feel like himself again.

It’s Friday night, and he decides to go practice lacrosse with Scott. They haven’t hung out much lately, and the playoffs are coming up. It’s their senior year – they have to win. Stiles has improved quite a bit since his sophomore year, and even with Scott’s werewolf abilities, Stiles can get in a few decent passes.

When Scott blocks the ball before it enters the goal, Stiles feels a rage like he has never felt before. “What the fuck was that?” he yells as he charges Scott. Scott watches wide-eyed as Stiles jumps through the air and leaps onto him, knocking him down. Stiles rears back and punches Scott’s face a few times, his knuckles bruised and bloody when he stops. Then, in his fury, Stiles lifts his lacrosse stick and impales it into Scott’s chest. Scott cries out and gurgles, blood oozing around the crosse and out of his mouth.

Stiles jerks awake, and a moment later his dad flings open the door, gun raised. “Stiles! You alright?”

“What the hell do you think you’re doing?” Stiles yells, furious. His dad stares at him wide-eyed, and Stiles is so angry that his hands are shaking. He clenches his fist, but then seems to dissociate from the dream and stares at his dad guiltily. “I mean, I’m fine, Dad, sheesh. You can stop trying to scare my room now.” His heart is pounding in his chest. His body feels weird and his limbs are tingling. He’s absolutely terrified and looks on the floor just the make sure there isn’t a Scott-ka-bob lying there.

His dad glances around warily before lowering the gun and crossing the room. “You were screaming.”

“I was?” Stiles runs a hand over his face. “It was a nightmare.”

“I thought they were gone,” the sheriff says. He bends down to check Stiles’ shoes like they had mysteriously moved and let the nightmare in.

“Me, too.” Stiles glances at the clock and sees it’s a little after one. “Go get some sleep, Dad. You have work tomorrow.”

“Are you sure, son? You seemed pretty angry when I came in here. I can sit up with you and – “

Stiles shakes his head. “No need. I’m fine. Probably just a fluke.” The sheriff hesitates before nodding and leaving the room, closing the door securely behind him.

Stiles is reaching for his TV remote when he notices his hand. His knuckles are bruised and bleeding. Just like in this dream.

He tries not to think about it too hard as he throws on a sweatshirt and stuffs his feet into his shoes.

*

Stiles isn’t surprised that Derek is awake when he knocks on the door. Derek, however, is extremely surprised to see Stiles. Especially since he’s wearing pajama pants and hasn’t even combed his hair.

“What’s wrong?” Derek asks as he steps aside to let Stiles into the loft. Stiles rushes past him and into the kitchen. He’s hungry, and he knows Isaac keeps junk food around. He finds a bag of Doritos and drops onto a stool, still clutching the bag.

“What’s going on?” Isaac rushes into the kitchen, eyes shining gold. “Stiles, what’s wrong?”

Stiles lifts his hand, which is still bloody. “I had another nightmare, and I woke up with this.” Derek and Isaac both step close to inspect Stiles’ hand. “I don’t know whose blood it is,” Stiles says, trying to keep his voice calm.

“It’s yours,” Derek states, and Isaac nods in agreement. Stiles lets out a breath he didn’t know he’d been holding and slumps on the stool. He sets the bag of Doritos down and pushes them away. He’s suddenly queasy. “What did you dream?”

Stiles relates the dream to them, albeit a bit guiltily since he murdered his best friend in it. “My hand looks exactly like it did in the dream,” Stiles says, cleaning the blood with the wet paper towel Isaac handed him. “But I never left my bed. I didn’t punch Scott. But it felt so real, like I had actually done it. I woke up feeling the rage, and my arms were aching. I yelled at my father for fuck’s sake.”

Derek sits on the stool beside Stiles and stares at the island counter for awhile, deep in thought. Isaac grabs the bag of Doritos and starts eating. He offers the bag to Stiles, but he declines, not hungry anymore. Peter steps into the kitchen and eyes them all. “Slumber party?”

“Stiles had another dream,” Isaac says with his mouth full. Peter frowns, his brow furrowing, before he disappears. Stiles shakes his head and realizes that dude is still weird as fuck.

“You must have broken the seals on your bedroom,” Derek finally says. “Did you get up to pee at all after you closed your door for the night?”

“Ew, Derek, getting a bit personal here. But no. I didn’t. My dad even checked my shoes, and they were still in the same position.”

“This doesn’t make any sense,” Derek mutters.

“Maybe it just left you alone for a couple of weeks, but now it’s back,” Isaac suggests. “Like after the forest thing it had something else to go do.”

Stiles yells in frustration and bangs his head on the island repeatedly. Derek puts his hand under Stiles’ forehead to either make sure he doesn’t get a concussion or break his counter. Stiles lets his head lay on Derek’s hand, and Derek doesn’t move it.

“What now?” Stiles asks miserably, head still down.

“We keep trying things on Deaton’s list,” Derek says, gently lifting Stiles back into an upright position.

“You do realize the things on that list keep getting weirder and weirder,” Stiles says. Derek nods, and Stiles wonders how much more humiliating this can all get.

*
It took Derek by surprise, the overwhelming sense of Stiles that hit him when he slipped on his jacket. Derek opened it and leaned down, sniffing the liner. It smelled like Stiles, like he’d wrapped it around himself and somehow buried himself inside the fabric. When he caught a faint trace of Stiles’ soap instead of dirt, Derek realized that Stiles must have slept in his jacket.

Something about that image made Derek’s chest tighten. It was easier when this was one-sided, when Stiles was just an overly horny teenager flirting. But sleeping in his jacket, that was something completely different. Something Derek didn’t want to entertain.

Derek wanted to find the hag. He wanted to find the hag and destroy her, rip her apart from limb to limb, with his teeth. He didn’t like being out of control, unable to protect his pack – to protect Stiles. The night he found out about Stiles’ nightmares, he surprised Isaac in his bedroom. “Why didn’t you tell me?” he growled, too angry about everything.

Isaac shrugged like it was no big deal. “I didn’t know Stiles had been having nightmares.”

“No, about the night in the forest.”

Isaac ran a hand through his curls. “It wasn’t anything, really. Stiles was screaming, not moving on the ground. Then he woke up all weirded out – weirder than usual – and that was that.” He shrugged again. “Nothing to tell.”

“Isaac, I need to know these things! What if – “

“You need to know them because you’re the Alpha, or because it happened to Stiles?” Isaac cocked an eyebrow, disturbingly similar to Derek, and Derek wanted to punch him. Isaac grinned.

“You’re an asshole,” Derek snapped before leaving Isaac’s room.

“I love you, too, Derek,” Isaac called after him as he pelted Derek with a pen.

Derek watched over the other members of the pack in case something happened to them, too. He trailed after Boyd and Erica, stopped by Scott’s house, checked on Jackson, and stood outside Isaac’s bedroom to make sure he was sleeping. But they seemed okay, didn’t complain of nightmares, didn’t wake up god knows where.

Leave it up to Stiles to get haunted by a hag, to end up two counties away where Derek couldn’t get to him easily.

The night they hag-proofed Stiles’ room, Derek parked his car down the street and watched Stiles’ darkened bedroom window, just in case.