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A Fool's Game

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He’s pissed at himself before he even has the chance to fully open his eyes.

He’s like 95% sure some bitch had gotten the drop on his when he was in the grocery store parking lot and really, Stiles? Like life hadn’t been kicking him in the balls enough recently.

Stiles cracks open his eyes slowly at first, and then nearly jumps out of his skin at the face not six inches from his own. He jolts backwards, his arms cuffed around his back, and the chair he’s secured to rocks dangerously on its back two legs before slamming back to all fours. The woman straightens up, crossing her arms and watching him with an amused smirk. She looks like an older version of some Lydia/Erica hybrid, with straight blonde hair and full, red lips. It’s enough to make him more than a little uncomfortable at first – and then entirely disgusted a second later.

“Really, lady? Ever heard of personal space? The bubble? That kind of thing?”

“Hm,” her eyes trail up and down his body, “You’re cuter than I thought you’d be.”

Stiles gives an experimental tug to the cuffs around the back of the chair, tries moving his legs only to feel his ankles tied to the chair. His head hurts a little, and when he looks up he can see the faintest edge of what is probably blood from his forehead hanging from his eyebrow. In place of a response to her creepy compliment, he glares at her.

“Don’t worry, Stiles. You don’t know me,” she steps back, walks in a half circle around his chair and stops behind him, frustratingly out of sight, “I’ve been watching you, though. Friends with werewolves and hunters and banshees. As far as I can tell though – you’re human. How very little red riding hood of you.”

He rolls his eyes, “How very creepy stalker bitch of you.”

She lets out a short, shrieking laugh that makes Stiles’s insides turn.

“You can call me Leah, if you’d like –”

“I’m good.”

“– and I’m curious, Stiles, just how long I’d have to keep you here before all of these friends of yours come running.”

“Well you’re about three weeks to late on that, lady. I’m not exactly on speaking terms with any werewolves anymore.”

It’s not technically a lie. He hasn’t talked to Derek since he left, hardly ever had much conversation with Isaac. He and Scott have been having some differences the last few weeks – haven’t talked much in general. But Stiles isn’t stupid enough to think that would ever stop Scott from coming for him.

“Please,” she steps back around in front of him, resting her hands on the arms on either side of his body and leaning down as he forces himself back as far as he can go, “Speaking terms or no, they’re all going to come running,” she whispers, her lips inches away from his ear. When she pulls back, her teeth are showing in a satisfied grin, “And that’s when the fun begins.”

“They’re not stupid,” Stiles hisses, yanking on the cuffs around his wrists, “They’ll know it’s a trap.”

“Well of course they will, sweetheart.”

She leans down, running a finger over his cheek and smiling, “That’s the thing about wolves that let humans in their pack. They’ll know it’s a trap in a second, but they’ll still fight life and limb to come save you. You keep them human. You keep them foolish.”

Stiles keeps his face schooled, firm glare still in place and jaw clenched.

She’s right.

She’s completely right and it’s going to get everyone Stiles loves killed.

Stiles isn’t sure he’s doing as good of a job as he had hoped, because she is straightening up and smirking down at him in satisfaction, one hand slipping into her back pocket and pulling out his cell phone, “You know, I’ve put a lot of thought into this.”

“Congratulations,” Stiles snaps.

“And your pack is really something special. Best friend Scott – the true alpha.”

Stiles yanks on the cuffs around his wrist again at the mention of Scott’s name, his insides boiling with desperation and a fierce protectiveness he hasn’t felt in a long time, “Don’t touch him, I swear to god –”

She shakes her head with a disturbing amount of fondness, eyes flicking up to him before dropping back down to his phone, thumb flicking up the screen, “And the Hales. I can’t lie to you, sweetheart – I was never a big fan of them even when they were all alive. And now there’s so few left that it’s – well, it’s exciting, really. More exciting knowing that I can get the big, strong, beta Derek here in one phone call.”

“He won’t come,” Stiles spits, twisting his ankle back and forth in an attempt to loosen the bounds, “He won’t come for me and he won’t come back to Beacon Hills. You’re wasting your time, lady.”

“Really?” she walks around him again, and the next thing he sees is her hands in front of his face, arms resting on his shoulders from behind. His phone is in her right hand, finger hovering over Derek’s name, and a knife in her left hand. Stiles pulls back, leaning right on instinct but she suddenly has a vice grip on him and the knife is pressed to his throat, her finger pressing down on Derek’s name.

In between panic and holy shit this crazy bitch, Stiles hopes like hell that Derek won’t answer.

But he feels it deep in his gut. He and Derek had talked a grand total of one time since Derek and Cora left three months ago, and that was one text from each of them – Derek apologizing for putting his dad in danger and all this other shit that wasn’t his fault, and Stiles responding with apologies of his own – bringing up Kate, for one. Derek had also told him to call if anything happened, and to make sure Scott and Isaac didn’t get killed.

Stiles hadn’t exercised his promise that he would call if shit went down, but there was little doubt in his mind that the second Derek saw Stiles was calling, he’d assume the worst.

The phone in her hand is dialing and she’s standing up, the knife still pressed to Stiles’s throat. The second ring isn’t even finished when Derek’s voice cuts through the line, a loud bark that Stiles hadn’t heard in months.

“What’s wrong?”

Above him, Leah grins even wider, “You want to take that one, cutie, or should I?”

She presses the speaker button and Derek’s voice is furious, “Who the hell is this?”

“Well that’s a boring question – I mean, I’m not going to give you all the time in the world to chat. You might consider narrowing your questions a little better. You do sound just as sexy as I thought you would, though.”

Stiles nearly rolls his eyes. Derek really can’t catch a break with the psycho women, and Stiles is supremely over it.

“Whatever you want, leave Stiles out of it.”

She saunters to Stiles’s front again, her wrist twisting to get a better grip, but the knife not falling once, “It’s a little late for that, Derek. But here’s the deal – I’ll tell you exactly where to find both of us once Stiles tells me I can. He’s acting like you won’t come for him, but something tells me we both know that’s just not true. Because the way I see it – there’s two options here. Stiles gives me permission to tell you where he is, or I kill him before this phone call is up. Let’s see if you can convince him.”

Stiles stomach hits the floor like a lead weight, because really – with those options? It’s him or them, and while he does have complete faith in his friends and in Scott and Derek, there isn’t any part of Stiles that can willingly risk their lives. No matter how the odds are falling for them, he’s just terrified enough to think that this bitch could get a drop on them. Especially with him as bait, because she wasn’t wrong.

He does make them foolish.

“Derek?”

“Stiles, don’t be stupid,” Derek hisses in response, just as much bedside manner as Stiles remembered. In the background Stiles can hear things being thrown around and Cora’s voice slightly far off and then it sounds like maybe a door is slamming, “Where are you? Are you hurt?”

As much as he won’t admit it, it kind of warms Stiles’s heart to hear a car starting almost immediately, “I – I’m fine, she wants you and Scott and I can’t – just, just don’t come back Derek, I’m serious,” Stiles’s words are falling over each other like he is afraid she will snatch the phone from in front of his mouth at any moment, but one looks at her steady hands and lit up eyes tell him that she is just enjoying the exchange.

It makes his heart pound in fury.

“Stiles, shut up. You’re not dying for this goddamn fight, do you hear me? Tell me where you are now!”

Stiles can feel the tears burning hot behind his eyes, but he won’t give her the satisfaction. He looks up and straight into her eyes, his jaw tight, “No. I won’t let her hurt you.”

For all his defiance, she looks utterly unsurprised. She smiles slyly and presses the knife down on his throat just enough to draw blood, “There’s a lot more I can do than kill you, sweetie.”

A strangled noise leaves his mouth, and he watches in horror as the knife in her grip flares bright red at the blade, her touch heating up the metal. And what even is this bitch? Stiles tries to scramble back, the chair leaning backwards but not falling because she has a grip on his shirt, holding him up, “What the fuck –”

“You can stop this all with a couple simple words, Stiles.”

“No, don’t – don’t,” her hands falls to his and he squeezes his palms together tightly, “Derek, please don’t – please don’t come back, I can’t – I’m sorry, I’m sorry,” his voice is shaking and he must sound fucking terrified, because Derek’s voice is as furious as ever – but it’s also trembling so slightly that Stiles almost doesn’t notice.

“Don’t touch him! Leave him alone! I will kill you, I swear –”

Stiles’s yelp cuts Derek off; Leah’s hand is prying his palm open and still holding the phone tightly. He tries to clench down tighter, but her grip is inhumanly strong and before Stiles can even think to speak, the red hot blade is pressing to his palm and she is squeezing his hand shut over it and he distantly realizes that the yells reverberating off the walls are his own.

He can literally hear his skin sizzling, and the phone is so close to it that he knows Derek can too.

It’s over as quickly as it began but it feels like an impossibly long time, and he’s left panting and his vision is blurry. She raises the knife to his cheek, still flaring hot. Over the phone, Derek is yelling for him and at her and Stiles faintly hears Cora trying to placate him, but her voice is shaking too.

“Derek,” Stiles croaks, his voice cracked and broken.

“Tell me where you are! You’re gonna be okay, you’re – Stiles, tell me, fucking tell me!”

“I can’t let you and Scott get hurt – I – I can’t watch it, I’m sorry, I’m –”

His apologies are choked with tears because he knows what he’s subjecting himself to. Leah actually rolls her eyes at him and he doesn’t have a chance to think before she presses the scalding knife to his cheek.

Stiles isn’t sure if he screams or cries or what the hell happens, but this time she holds it there for too long and it’s the worst thing he’s ever been through until it isn’t. When she pulls away, he’s terrified because he can’t even feel half of his face and he can’t open his left eye and he can only think that the burn severed any nerve endings he had there because he’s completely and entirely numb.

And Derek is still yelling for him.

It hurts too much to cry or talk or do anything except let his chin lull against his chest, closing his eyes.

He thinks he hears Cora’s voice take over, gentle and pleading with him and please don’t make us listen to you die, please. Stiles is too far gone to move of his own accord, thinks he must have nodded instinctively, because Leah is relaying an address over the phone before he has any know how to argue. His chest hurts from the inability to cry, and all he wanted to do was keep them safe but he’s going to get them all killed and it’s more than he can handle.

It upsets him even more because he thinks he’s probably going to die before they can make it anyway.

CƆ CƆ CƆ

The next time Stiles comes to, he’s flat on his back, the world around him is impossibly loud and he can tell before he opens his eyes that he’s still in the warehouse. Except when he finally manages to open one, he sees Scott and Allison hovering over him with terrified eyes.

“Shh, Stiles don’t move,” Allison says softly once his eye cracks open, “Close your eyes, you’re going to be okay.”

The pain rushes back to him all at once and he is terrified right along with them. She burned his face – she fucking destroyed his face and his hand. Stiles didn’t even have the mindset to be embarrassed at the pained whimper that leaves his throat. Immediately, a strong hand is cupping the top of his head and another is holding his good hand, Scott’s fingers running through his hair.

Stiles’s pain begins to numb.

“Jesus, Stiles –”

Scott’s voice is more choked than Stiles has ever heard it. He must really be fucked.

“I’m so sorry,” Scott whispers, “I’m so sorry, you’re going to be okay, you’re – we’re going to fix it, I – I promise, just –”

He cuts off and Stiles tries to open his mouth to comfort his best friend, but the second his lips part his face feels like it’s on fire and for a horrifying moment he thinks it really might be. But then Allison is leaning over him, her hand cupping his uninjured cheek and her eyes shining, and Stiles is like ninety nine percent sure that if he was on fire, Scott and Allison would probably be doing something to help him.

“Please don’t move,” Allison tries to order, but her voice sounds like sandpaper, “Oh god. Okay. Alright, we’re going to get you to the hospital and you’re going to be okay. Just focus on breathing, okay Stiles?”

Her voice is like a roar in Stiles’s head, and the pain is so intense he wishes he could pass out again. He wonders if he’s dehydrated or if the intensity of the burns is actually just slowly and painfully killing him, but he can’t produce tears even though he knows it would be logical of him to cry. There are pained gasps, little whines and whimpers in his ears and it takes him way too long to realize they are coming from him.

“Shh, an ambulance is on the way, you’re safe.”

Stiles can hear the tears in Scott’s voice too, and it hurts to think that Scott is crying.

Scott’s nails are still running over his head, and Allison has one hand on his chest to keep him still and the other is still cupping his cheek. The pain is still overwhelming, but it is dulling around the edges and Stiles hopes that Scott isn’t hurting himself by taking too much. He tries to shift closer to Scott, turns his face into Allison’s hand, and his best friends both just tighten their grip.

“You’re safe,” Scott repeats, “I’m not going to let anything like this happen ever again, just – just hang on, Stiles. I know it hurts, just stay with us, okay? I need you, buddy, you’re my best friend and – I –”

His voice breaks and Stiles hears him exhale in a half sob and then inhale loudly, breath shaking with his fight for composure and Allison picks up right where he left off in a seamless motion, her voice lulling him into a calm he knows can’t last.

He holds onto his consciousness long enough to hear the buzzing of an ambulance and feel trained hands guiding him before the world fades to black again.

CƆ CƆ CƆ

His dad is talking to him in what Stiles is pretty sure is the gentlest voice he’s ever heard him use when his surroundings come back to him. He tries to open his eyes, but the world is dark and for a second he is so overwhelmed with panic that he can’t breathe.

Blind. She blinded him, and oh god, oh god no

“Hey, hey, shh, it’s okay – they wrapped your eyes, you’re okay. Come on, kiddo. Just take a deep breath, you’re safe.”

Stiles relaxes slowly, turning into his dad’s hand on the side of his face. It comes back to him slowly – white hot pain, blinding light, Derek’s anger and his own fear. Scott crying and Allison running gentle fingers over his face and arms. He doesn’t remember coming here though, if here is the hospital. He doesn’t remember ever leaving the warehouse and he’d give just about anything in this moment for the chance to see just to make sure he really wasn’t there anymore.

But he’ll settle for his dad’s warm hands and affectionate voice.

“Dad –”

His voice is a pained croak, his mouth not opening as much as it really should to get the words out. Stiles can’t even think about how messed up he must look.

“Shh, don’t try to talk. You’re okay. I’m gonna get Melissa in here, and –” Stiles feels his dad leaning over him, maybe hitting the call button, before he settles again, “Jesus, Stiles. It’s really good to see you awake.”

His dad sounds exhausted and devastated and Stiles wishes there was more he could do.

“’M – sorry.”

Something a lot like an exasperated chuckle leaves his father’s mouth in a rush of air, the sound fond and undoubtedly reassuring, “You have nothing to be sorry for, understand?” His dad’s firm voice immediately belittles the previous amusement, “Stiles, none of this is your fault. I’m just –” he clears his throat, one hand falling to Stiles’s uninjured hand and squeezing it tightly, “We’re all just thankful you’re okay.”

Stiles feels like all the air has left the room at the words, the call with Derek coming back to him in a rush, her true motive – the reason he was there. He scrambles to sit up, but his dad pushes him back down with tough hands and reassuring murmurs, “Scott – Derek –”

“– are fine,” his dad interrupts, “Damnit, Stiles. Lay the hell back down. Scott and Derek are fine and safe. They’re just worried about you, okay? If you move again I’m going to have Melissa tie you down when she gets here.”

On cue, the door opens and Melissa’s voice is so relieved as she utters his name that Stiles feels all warm inside, “Stiles, sweetie. It’s good to see you’re already driving your dad crazy.”

Her gentle fingers pick up his injured hand, rubbing at the skin below the bandages, trying to get the blood moving. They are quiet for long enough that Stiles is certain she and his dad are having a silent conversation above him. He groans in frustration and Melissa brushes his hair off his forehead, “The doctor is going to come in here and check up on you, alright? The most important thing is that you’re okay. I don’t want you to worry about anything else right now.”

“How –” Stiles swallows thickly, the words stretching his skin painfully, “– bad?”

Melissa’s fingers still. His dad’s voice is sad when he responds, “The doctor will be here in a sec, kiddo.”

So, bad.

Not even two minutes later, a doctor with a kind voice and cold hands comes into the room to check him over, talking and bustling around with fake optimism until Stiles weakly demands to be told the truth about his injuries.

He sits in silence as the doctor gently explains that he probably won’t ever get his vision back in his left eye. His dad holds his uninjured hand while he’s told that his burned hand will never be to full capacity, that he’s already had two surgeries, skin grafts, that it will probably be partially numb for the rest of his life. That his face will never look the same but that the skin is healing slightly better than expected.

Afterwards, Melissa kisses his forehead and tells him that it isn’t anything that anyone cares about. That they are all beyond grateful that he is alive and that he fought so hard to come back to them. That Scott and Derek and all his friends are desperate to come in and see for themselves that he’s okay. His dad stays with him even when he asks to be alone for the night – when he refuses to let his friends in to see him. His dad refuses to leave even when he can’t cry because the bandages are so tight on his face that the tears hurt.

His dad tells him he loves him and that he’s safe.  He sinks back into his chair when Stiles’s breath hitches in panic when his dad stands to go to the bathroom.

In the morning, the bandages are taken off for a few hours and adjusting to the world around him with limited vision is the strangest thing he’s ever experienced. But then his dad cracks a joke about him being even clumsier without peripheral vision and Stiles can’t help the startled laugh that escapes his throat.

A knock on the door surprises the laughter from him, and he cowers back into his dad for half a second before Scott pokes his timid head in.

“Hey, I – I know you didn’t want to see anyone, but I just… I had to see that you’re okay. But I can go now, and –”

“Scott,” his dad interrupts firmly, that fondness creeping back into his voice, “Get your ass in here. I need a cup of coffee.”

Scott’s grin is so big that Stiles can’t imagine how he could have ever not wanted his best friend here. Scott’s smile doesn’t fade as he walks slowly to stand next to Stiles, and he even manages not to look anywhere but into Stiles’s eyes. Scott’s gaze never drops once to the burns on Stiles’s face or the wrapping around his hands. In fact, Scott looks so damn relived to see him that Stiles actually believes for a moment that maybe they really don’t matter.

The second Stiles’s dad leaves the room Scott drops into his vacated chair with an exhaled “dude” and drops his forehead to Stiles’s arm, squeezing his hand tightly.

Stiles feels the pain dull into a weak ache. He squeezes back and picks up his injured hand, resting it on top of Scott’s head for a moment, careful not to drop all his weight down. When Scott finally sits up again, his eyes are red.

Dude,” Stiles mimics, voice hoarse but lips smiling slightly, “Don’t cry.”

He’s still keeping it to short, simple sentences, but Scott seems to get everything that is truly behind the bare words.

Scott laughs, the sound watery, and shakes his head, “You’re so stupid, you know that? So stupid and I just – I don’t care if we haven’t talked for like, years, you can’t – Stiles,” his voice cracks, and Stiles gets it. He really does. But Scott keeps going, looking away and clenching his jaw, “You’re my best friend in the world, man.”

Stiles fumbles for Scott’s hand, “I’m okay, Scott,” he says empathetically, squeezing tightly.

Scott squeezes back in response, finally looking Stiles in the eyes, “You can’t do this again, okay?”

“Scott –”

“No, man. I’m serious. There isn’t anything you could tell anyone that’s worth more than your life.”

“I never won’t cover for you, you know that –”

“Damnit, Stiles! What do you think Derek would have done if he had to listen to another person he cares about die? What would your dad have done? What would I have done, dude? You think you’re expendable, but – but you’re not. You are so, just – you’re so far from expendable I can’t even –” Scott groans in frustration but when he looks back, his eyes are bright, “I need you.”

“I’m sorry.”

Stiles’s voice is raw with guilt, pained and wrecked, but his heart skips.

He’s lying.

Maybe not about what he could have potentially put them through (what they did go through), but Stiles definitely isn’t sorry about protecting them. And this is exactly the problem. Scott looks away, blinking back tears at the sound. Stiles isn’t sorry for that, not at all. He’ll do it again in a heartbeat, and how unfair is it really for Scott to be angry at him for that? There is literally nothing in the world Scott won’t do to keep Stiles safe, and he’d be a fool not to expect the same from his best friend.

Except Scott can heal from a bullet, from a knife, from a burn.

Stiles would be holed up in a hospital bed, scarred for probably the rest of his life. Stiles would have died had the hunter fired that gun or dug that knife in farther.

It’s a thought Scott can’t afford – one that is literally painful.

But Stiles sounds distraught, has been through more than enough in the last twenty four hours, so Scott doesn’t have the heart to press the matter. He certainly isn’t going to be the reason his friend is even more distressed. So instead Scott nods, his features softening, and moves his hand up to Stiles’s arm again, leeching his pain slowly and deliberately.

Scott holds on until the drugs lull Stiles into a dreamless sleep.

CƆ CƆ CƆ

Stiles wakes up with a moan and an overall pain that makes him immediately squeeze his eyes shut again. Not a minute after he regains consciousness, a huff suddenly accompanies a hand gripping his shoulder, startling him.

“Take it easy.”

“Ugh, dude,” Stiles groans, relaxing under Derek’s grip as the pain centralizes to his shoulder and then escapes from his body, “Better than morphine, I swear,” he mumbles.

He cracks open an eye to Derek’s disgruntled face. He’s seated in a chair to Stiles’s left, his closest hand on Stiles and his other hand fisted in his lap. Stiles swallows thickly, sighing and sinking further into his pillow, “Are you here to lecture me too? Because Scott already has that covered.”

Derek pulls his hand back and Stiles whimpers against his will at the loss of contact. Derek’s eyes trail down from Stiles’s eyes to the left side of his face. To the gauze that has been replaced there, covering burned flesh and then continuing down to a similar situation on his hand. Derek finally clenches his jaw, turning his head away.

They are quiet for a long moment before Stiles looks back over at him, stretching his injured hand out towards Derek until he grabs it gently. Derek sets it back on the bed, his hand lingering on Stiles’s forearm. When they make eye contact for the first time, Derek can feel the guilt on Stiles, feel the pain and the distress. But most of all, even though he isn’t a werewolf, Derek is pretty sure Stiles can feel it all rolling off of him too.

“I’m sorry,” Stiles finally says, his voice soft, “I’m sorry she called you, sorry you had to – to listen.”

“You should be,” Derek snaps, huffing out a breath and closing his eyes, “Don’t ever do that again. If this ever happens – you tell them anything they want to hear, understand?”

“Dude if it happens again, I’ll gladly give it all up.”

Stiles says it to lighten the mood, but they both know it’s not the truth.

Derek chooses to ignore him, black tendrils lacing up his forearm again, “You won’t heal.”

Stiles flinches at the words, turns the injured side of his face into the pillow in something similar to embarrassment, “No shit, Derek. No wolfy healing mojo here.”

“Don’t,” Derek responds, nudging Stiles’s chin with the back of his hand, “You didn’t have to do that, to – to protect me. Us. I just. I couldn’t listen to it, to what…” Derek takes a deep breath, turning away, “To what she did to you.”

The words echoing too much like last time go unspoken, but Stiles feels them all the way down to his bones. Derek may not always be his biggest fan, but Stiles is damn sure he cares enough about him that listening to his burning flesh brought back a painful memory or two. And here comes that guilt again, gnawing away in Stiles’s stomach. He had done it to protect Derek – to protect Scott – but he hadn’t thought what it would actually do to them in the process.

“I’m sorry,” Stiles repeats quietly, “I never meant for you to hear that.”

The moment of silence that follows stretches so long that Stiles closes his eyes, exhaustion playing a seemingly never ending roll in this lovely hospital stay. Derek stays with him, hand gripping his forearm and leeching his pain every so often. Eventually, right before Stiles thinks he’s going to give in and go to sleep, Derek’s gruff voice breaks the silence, quiet and as genuine as Stiles has ever heard it.

“I’m glad you’re okay.”

Stiles forces himself to open his eyes and smile, rolling his head towards Derek groggily, “Soft wolfy.”

Derek rolls his eyes, but his lips turn upwards into something that was slightly less than the frown he used to sport, “Go to sleep. You’re safe now.”

“You’re back?”

It’s a loaded question. Back for now? Back for good? Not leaving Beacon Hills again? Derek doesn’t have the answer for the long term, but he has the answer for now. Clearly, he’s needed in this town again, no matter how hard he tries to fight it. Stiles clearly needs someone to keep his dumb ass out of trouble. Derek imagines that Scott and Isaac aren’t much better half the time.

Beacon Hills is a mess and for the first time in a long time, Derek thinks maybe his presence won’t be such a bad thing.

Maybe he’ll even be able to help them.

Derek leans back in the chair and gives Stiles’s arm a quick squeeze. He watches Stiles’s eyes flutter shut, his entire body shifted just slightly towards him. Derek sighs, the sound half way to fond.

“Yeah, Stiles. I’m back.”