"You three are going to die." Deaton said it with the mundane tone of someone reading a grocery list. "If only for a few moments. It won’t take long to negate the power of your parents as guardians."
In front of him, Stiles, Allison, and Scott stood with wide eyes. They had their objects, their anchors, to help find and bind the power that their parents’ sacrifices might hold to their own. They were ready. Behind them, looking slightly terrified, were Lydia and Isaac. Their eyes showed simultaneously their fear and relief that it was not them that would be drowning in what Stiles thought looked like three incredibly large, human-sized mojitos.
"Are you ready?" Deaton asked, and Stiles stepped towards his particular ice bath, the one in the middle. Deaton held up a hand. "Before you get ahead of yourself, you each need something, or rather, someone." He looked at all of them, shifting his eyes from one to the next. "That person will be the one to hold you under, essentially until you are… well, dead. They need to be someone you have an existing bond with. Someone with whom you have a strong connection. Because, you see, while they have to be strong enough to keep you under, they also need to be strong enough to bring you back." The veterinarian-turned-druid-emissary paused. "A kind of emotional tether, a lifeline." He let the sentence fragment, having made his point.
Allison began to gravitate towards Lydia, and Isaac towards Scott. Stiles saw a problem here, having no ‘tether’ for himself.
"Uh, do I get someone, or am I supposed to, you know, just find something heavy?" The sarcasm and anxiety soaked his voice. Deaton gave a small smile, and footsteps sounded outside the door, as if on cue.
Stiles did not expect a relatively wide-eyed, surprised-looking Derek Hale to walk through the door. He knew instantly why the alpha was there.
Deaton looked from Stiles to Derek and back again. “Derek, you go with Stiles.” Stiles regarded the werewolf out of the side of his eyes, and caught the briefest glimpse of something on Derek’s face. It was a strange look, torn between affection and fear. What the werewolf had cause to be afraid of from this little venture, Stiles had no idea.
"You ready, Stiles?" Derek asked quietly, as the trio stood at the heads of their tubs.
Stiles scoffed. “Ready? Sure. I am totally ready to be drowned in an iced mistletoe mojito by the broodiest alpha werewolf I know, all on the off the chance that it might take away the power my dad has as a ‘guardian’ over me in order to prevent Jennifer fucking Blake from sacrificing him, or, you know, make the sacrifice not work, in some way.” The venom on his tongue did nothing to Derek, who just stood there, with a slightly sad expression on his face. Like he understood what it meant.
He does understand, you idiot. Stiles chided his inner voice for speaking at a moment like this.
Deaton spoke again, “I already explained, doing this will transfer power—” Stiles cut him off.
"I know, I know. Let’s go. This looks terrible." The druid closed his mouth instantly and set about readying the final preparations for the ritual.
Next to him, Scott and Allison both gasped as they put their feet into the water. Not to be outdone, Stiles stepped in as well. He chanced a small glance at Derek over his shoulder, who was considering the bath and Stiles with a wary, but concerned expression. Stiles wasn’t sure if it was the water, or the werewolf, that was giving him the chills at the moment.
You probably shouldn’t have been so mean. Stiles’ inner voice chattered at him. Clearly, the cold was beginning to take effect. It was probably right. Time to get this over with. Stiles lowered his body the rest of the way into the tub, hand clutching the sides of the metal tub. His left hand curled tighter around the hammered-out sheriff’s badge, pricking the skin. He could barely feel it as the rest of his nerves screamed as the water flooded through his clothes and into his skin. Hell, into his bones. When he finally reached the bottom, Stiles felt reassuring hands on his shoulder, clutched a little tighter than they should have been. His heart was racing, and his vision was flickering in and out of panic-attack mode. Stiles drew a few short breaths, and willed them to slow, to come more evenly, as the cold worked its way into his chest.
Deaton turned back around from the work bench, and looked sympathetically at the three teenagers, each prepared to make the ultimate sacrifice to save their family. His expression was knowing, sympathetic, and determined, all at the same time.
"Are you ready?" He asked. If Stiles wasn’t in the process of freezing to death from the inside out, he might have found some kind of retort for the druid emissary, who had asked that question like ten times since they got there. The only warm parts of him were the hands resting on his shoulders, holding on a little too tight, the hands that belonged to Derek. Stiles could feel the werewolf’s pulse through his skin. It was racing faster than his. If his face showed any sign of the stress, it betrayed no sign. Stiles sucked in air as he prepared to take the plunge, breathing in and out a few times quickly.
Derek gave his shoulders a slight squeeze, “I’ll be right here, okay?” He whispered to the human. Stiles decided to look up one last time, before he nodded slightly, and those hands, those warm hands, helped push him under the ice.
For a second, nothing happened. Stiles was holding his breath. It was instinct. So sue him. He closed his eyes and felt the tickle of a few bubbles escape his nostrils.
The longer you wait, the more this is going to hurt. The voice inside his head was being oddly calm, and it was not entirely his own. He felt the slight prick of Derek’s claws in his shoulders. You need to let it out. You have your anchor. Let it out.
Stiles clenched the badge in his fist tighter. He could feel his lungs begin to grow tight. The panic had not totally set in yet. So Stiles let his remaining air out, allowing the bubbles to boom through his mouth and out to float uselessly to the surface. Good, the voice said.
Stiles began to feel the panic settle in around his mind. It began to tighten. He willed his mouth to stay shut, to stave off the drowning as long as possible, even as his body began to scream for the oxygen that wasn’t there anymore. Instinct began to kick in. He shuddered. The claws in his shoulders held on tighter. His body twisted. Tighter still the claws got, to the point where they would have been painful, had Stiles’ body not been driven numb by the ice water.
Stiles began to flail. He kicked his legs, reached up with his arms to grab the sides of the tub, arched his back, splashing water over the sides of the tub angrily. His dad’s badge slipped out of his hand and sank succinctly to the floor of the tub with an audible clink of metal-on-metal.
Stiles didn’t hear it. He was too busy drowning. His muscles were beginning to spasm now, using whatever strength they had to try to lift him from the water, to free him from the viceg-grips on his shoulders, to get him to a place where he could breathe. But it was no use. He began to feel the water enter his nose. It burned, despite being near freezing. Like cold fire, it poured down his throat. He opened his mouth to gasp, and more water flowed in, adding to the flames coursing through his chest.
His body tried to breathe again, succeeding only in taking in more and more of the water. Stiles’ chest was on fire. He could barely think of anything, his brain closing in on himself. He could feel the darkness begin to sink in around it, begin to encroach on his vision behind his eyelids, begin to sink its full weight down onto his chest, immensely heavy, crushing, and dark.
His spasming muscles began to tense, each one screaming inside his limbs, but unable to move. The water stilled. Stiles managed one last time to open his eyes. The last thing he saw before the panic overtook his mind and the almost unbearable agony of death shunted his existence were Derek’s eyes.
They were red. And they looked, at least through the wavering water, like they were in pain. Then they closed, clenched tight by barely-noticed eyelids, and Derek’s face turned away from him as his hands tensed around Stiles’ shoulder.
Then everything went black. And Stiles’ mind ceased to think.
When it happened, and the water stopped moving, becoming as still as water on a lake during a hot, breezless day, Derek saw Stiles’ eyes open. Through his fingers, he felt the agonizing panic well up in the human’s mind, in his soul, and his heart couldn’t help but tighten in his chest. He began to feel hot sadness swell under his eyes, and they began to glass over in earnest.
And Derek saw the light behind the amber-brown irises begin to fade. He felt the human’s heartbeat rapidly fade, each thump taking longer and longer to happen. He clenched his eyes shut and turned away. The beating stopped. And Stiles was gone. Derek couldn’t watch the human leave this world, even if only (hopefully) temporarily. He prayed, to whatever gods he believed in, that Stiles would make it back. He dug his claws deeper into Stiles’ skin, hoping, pleading for Stiles’ consciousness to brush against his own. Frantically, he searched within the connection he made, for something, anything, that told him that Stiles was still there. In one fluid motion, Derek dug in his claws and pulled. He dragged Stiles out of the tub, the sopping wet human flopping down on top of him as he yanked him from his watery coffin. Derek scrambled out from under him, barely noticing as Deaton and Lydia did the same with Allison, and Isaac struggled with Scott. Almost by instinct, he crouched over the human’s chest, and placed his palms over the dip in his rib cage, just below his chest. Derek locked his elbows, and he pushed.
In a fit of control bereft of any beta or omega, the alpha slammed his hands into Stiles’ chest cavity with enough force to begin pumping his lungs of water, like slew from the bilge of a boat. He resisted the urge to use all his strength, not wanting to make matters worse. When the water flowed from his mouth and stopped, Derek ceased his compressions, and slid a clawed hand behind Stiles’ head. He allowed them to slip beneath the skin at the nape of his neck, and he closed his eyes, allowing his consciousness to dig for a sign, a heartbeat, a flicker, a spark, anything that told Derek that Stiles was still alive.
Somewhere deep in Stiles’ mind, a spark of life sprang into being. It wasn’t quite enough to allow him to form a thought, or to register the full extent of what was going on, but it was a spark nonetheless. It morphed, coalesced, and crackled, and began to engulf the nothingness. With the heat of it, Stiles began to return to himself. He felt himself take shape in the darkness. He felt the slight brush of a familiar consciousness, like a slight wind on his face on a warm summer night. He turned away from it, afraid at first. He felt it follow him, searching, grasping, until it engulfed him, whipping through him like a gale.
And Stiles began to feel again. But what he felt was not himself. Warmth, joy, relief, love, flowed with the blustering wind that was coursing through his soul. He felt his own fear begin to subside as he began to comprehend more and more on the wind. He stopped, and allowed the strange and familiar consciousness to wrap around him
Then he heard a familiar, growling voice.
Stiles, it whispered. Stiles searched for it, but it seemed to be coming from everywhere.
Stiles, come back, it whispered again. Even in the pounding of the wind, Stiles could hear the voice as if whispered behind his ear. It gave him goosebumps. And Stiles couldn’t tell you when it became possible, but he began running towards it.
Come back. As he got closer to it, he felt more and more emotions. Desire, happiness, true happiness, and hope hit him with each gust of wind.
When he found the source, all Stiles could see was a spark. It was flickering in the middle of the blackness, wavering in and out of light. But he reached out and touched it, extending a long finger to graze it. He barely felt its warmth when the darkness imploded around him, and he was once again returned to blackness.
He opened his eyes. The world took shape in shades of grey around him. He felt cold wetness clinging to him. He felt a hard surface beneath him, and he felt a sharp, yet comforting hand under his neck.
Over him, a face lingered. It was a familiar face. It was lined with stubble, and topped with jet-black hair. Its eyes were seafoam green and flecked with gold, and they were either very sad, or very happy. The mouth was moving, but no sound came out.
Then slowly, slowly, Stiles heard the sound. He wasn’t sure if it was passing through his ears or reaching up from his chest into his mind.
"Stiles," It yelled, "Stiles, come back." It was the same voice as before. Derek. Derek’s voice ceased immediately, and the werewolf pulled himself closer to the human’s face, and he began speaking again.
"Stiles?" The whisper was quiet, questioning, tinged with fear, relief, and something else.
Stiles coughed in response. “Derek?” His voice sounded hoarse and grated on his own throat. He could feel his heart beating faster in his ears.
Derek smiled. Stiles thought it was the most beautiful thing he had ever seen. “Did it work?” He croaked. Derek nodded weakly.
"Good." Stiles shaking hands reached up, searching through the air for Derek’s face right in front of him. They wrapped around it, spreading fingers along the back of his neck, reaching up into his hair, and pulled him in.
Somehow, Stiles managed to make their lips meet. He felt hot, shuddering breath against the inside of his mouth, warm lips slotting between his own like a key into a lock.
"I heard you inside myself." Stiles managed to whisper into Derek’s quavering mouth. Derek smiled slightly back, lips diving in for more of Stiles’ hungrily.
"I know," Derek said back, his words distorted by Stiles inhaling through their lips’ embrace.
Derek pulled back slightly, and slid his hand out from behind Stiles’ neck. It rested longingly on the side of his face, fingers trailing absentmindedly into the human’s wet hair. His eyes were flicking back and forth between Stiles’, as if making sure they were still there, that there was still light behind them. Derek laid his forehead against the human’s, turning the seafoam-and-gold-flecked eyes down away from the amber-brown ones.
"I’m sorry." The words seemed to come from Derek’s mouth so often, that Stiles barely registered that they were meant for him. He almost missed the fact that they were heavy with meaning, with feeling. It was an apology for everything, for not being grateful for Stiles’ help or strength, for hating him for too long, for hurting him, for hurting Scott, for hurting Allison, for almost dying too many times, for not truly seeing Stiles for the past year, but mostly, it was for holding him down and watching him die. Stiles placed his hands around Derek’s neck.
"It’s okay. It’s all okay," he whispered. "You brought me back."