The truly frightening things are the ones we can’t quantify, can’t label, can’t point to and say, “See, this is it, this is the thing that is hurting me.” It’s the unknown, the shadows crawling through that dark and that never step out into the light. It’s the nameless ache in your heart and the raw edges of your soul. Those faceless, soundless demons that dart through the cracks in your mind.
The past few weeks had seen Stiles randomly appearing on his doorstep, shivering in the late September heat, with odd requests for a blanket or a hot cup of coffee. At first Derek was concerned that Stiles was ill, but he couldn’t smell any sickness on him. He'd step aside, let Stiles in and give him what he asked for. They'd usually sit in silence, waiting for Stiles to warm up, and then he'd leave with a quiet thank you.
This time was different. Stiles had burst in without warning, stopping in the middle of Derek's living room in a half crouch, wild-eyed and almost feral looking. Derek kept his distance, trying to figure out what the hell was going on. He stepped closer, an inch at a time, freezing when Stiles snarled at him. The shock on his face, the way his body suddenly went still and tight must have snapped Stiles out of whatever was happening to him.
“Derek?” Stiles' voice cracked as he whispered. He straightened slowly and looked around in confusion. “Where-what am I doing here?”
Derek let out the breath he’d been holding and stretched out his hand, palm up to Stiles. He tried to look as non-threatening as he could, tried to look small and gentle. Stiles should have laughed at that, especially when Derek tried to arrange his expression into one of concern. It felt comical to him. So why wasn’t Stiles laughing? Why wasn’t he taking this opportunity to call him some clever name and poke fun?
“Stiles?” He paused when Stiles flinched at his own name before closing the distance between them. “Hey, you’re safe. You’re ok.” His hands curled around Stiles arms and he frowned at how cold his skin was.
“I don’t know. Why am I in your house?”
“What’s the last thing you remember?”
Stiles shook his head and he started to shiver. Derek tugged Stiles to his chest and folded his arms around him, trying to warm as much of him as possible.
“Uh…driving home from Scott’s after school? We were working on a project for class?”
Derek's brow furrowed. Why did it sound like Stiles was asking him instead of telling him? He nosed Stiles' hair and froze for a moment before taking a step back and holding Stiles at arms length to look him over.
“Stiles. Why do you smell like blood?”
Stiles' eyes widened and he pulled away from Derek, hands patting down his body.
“I…I don’t know. I don’t think I’m hurt. Am I hurt? Derek? What happened to me?”
The anxiety on Stiles face and in voice made him restless, made him want to fix whatever was wrong with Stiles. “I don’t know. The blood smells like it’s yours but there’s something…different about it. It’s yours, but…not you.”
He inhaled deeply and the hair stood up on the back of his neck. He yanked his hands from Stiles' body like he was burned and stepped back, instincts screaming at him. He could smell gasoline and woodsmoke, musky perfume, sulfur, and gun oil. The last time he had smelled that combination was a year ago, when Kate had been in front of him, mocking and taunting him, chaining him to the wall, putting her hands and mouth on him, taping wires to his body, laughing when the electricity flooded his body and he howled in pain.
“Stiles. What did you do?” Derek tried to control his voice, but a tremor broke through.
His teeth lengthened in reaction to the onslaught of memories and his claws dug into his palms. A growl started vibrating in his chest, working its way to his throat and he tried to keep the rest of the shift at bay. He inhaled again, forcing his gag reflex down. Underneath the perfume and smoke, a faint trace of ozone and ash mixed with something damp and rotting tickled the back of his tongue.
“Stiles. What. Did. You. Do.”
The terrified look on Stiles’ face and the way he was shuffling away had Derek fighting to control his wolf, fighting the urge to lunge forward, go for the throat, eliminate the source of that smell that still haunted him.
“I don’t know. I don’t know what’s going on. Derek, what’s happening to me?”