“I don’t want to alarm anyone,” Stiles said, “But I think the tide’s coming in.”
He pulled his sneakers out of the pooling water and glanced over his shoulder. Derek sat, propped against the cave wall, trussed up in the same fashion as Stiles. Their hands were shackled over their heads and their asses were freezing on the cold, hard floor. Unfortunately for Stiles, Derek had the advantage of slightly higher ground.
“They’ll find us,” Derek maintained.
“Your newfound faith in Scott’s pack is heartwarming, really, but that is not going to help me,” Stiles said. He knocked his head against the stone wall, trying to think. The cuffs were tight, biting into his wrists, and his arms had already lost feeling from lack of circulation. The salt water would cover up any trace of their scents, so it’s not like Scott could sniff them out. Even taking into account they missed their check in, it would take Scott at least half an hour to get to where Stiles’ Jeep was, and then to actually find them-
It was not a pretty picture.
“I don’t suppose you can see where the water line is, with your night vision?” Stiles asked.
Derek suspiciously said nothing, which meant it was well over both their heads.
“Fuck me.” Stiles groaned. This wasn’t completely his fault. Derek was partly to blame for them getting jumped, what good was a werewolf if he couldn’t use his wolfy senses to discover ocean nymphs culling for sacrifices to their god? Surely the rank stench of fish should have tipped him off way before they were both beaned in the brainpan and dumped for non-virginal sacrifices. “How’s the cuffs working out?”
“I told you,” Derek said. He gave a slight, hitching gasp, barely concealing tight pain. “They are coated in wolfsbane.”
“Stop struggling,” Stiles said. He tilted his head, leaning against his upturned arm. “You’re going to spread the poison faster. When they find us, one of us should be alive at least.”
“Shut up, Stiles,” Derek said. And if that wasn’t the god damn punch to the solar plexus. Derek was going to be forced to watch Stiles die right next to him, without being able to do a damned thing about it. And Stiles couldn’t do anything, couldn’t even twist away to die in peace. There was nowhere to go, and Derek was going to have to watch him die in one of the most painful ways possible.
Stiles swallowed hard, throat clicking in the almost silence of the cave. The roar of the ocean echoed further down, in the mouth, which most likely opened to the ocean, and let the tide come in. Which.
Holy shit that water was cold. Stiles suppressed a squeak of discomfort as ocean water swept over his seat, immediately soaking through the ass of his jeans. “Jesus.”
“The water,” Stiles said. He gritted his teeth. “It’s fucking cold, holy shit.”
He shivered maddeningly as the water rose slowly around him. It creeped into his jeans, sliding along skin and making the thick fabric cling to his legs. “Well,” he said through chattering teeth. “The good news is, I might die of hypothermia first.”
“Shut. Up. Stiles.” Derek growled this time, and Stiles heard his cuffs rattling against the wall.
“I mean it, dude, you’re going to make it worse,” Stiles said. “Just relax. Scott will find you.”
“Find us,” Derek corrected. The rate the water was rising would have something to say about that, but Derek couldn’t even feel it yet, and that was a marker of how much time they’d have between them. Stiles was already sitting in a substantial amount of water, if he said so himself, and he wasn’t looking forward to the next half hour.
“Yeah, i don’t know about that, dude,” Stiles said. He shifted, pressing his shoulders back against the rock to try and stop his spine-numbing shaking. “It’s cool, though. I like the water. The water likes me. I can hold my breath. Don’t you worry about me.”
Stiles’ phone went off, filling the cavern with the sounds of Peter Griffin rolling on the ground clutching his knee. Stiles winced, the hot flush of embarrassment providing a welcome relief to the chill of the ocean water. “That’s Lydia.”
“Can you reach it?”
“If I could reach it, do you think we’d still be sitting here?” Stiles asked. And then the water hit his hoodie pocket and the phone died in a static-y gurgle. Stiles took a few moments to hide his face in his arm, getting control of his breathing. A panic attack would help exactly nobody right now, and he really couldn’t afford to lose what little air he had left.
“It’s okay, Stiles.”
“It’s really, really not,” Stiles said, trying to keep his voice from breaking. The water climbed higher, clawing at the bottom of his ribcage. Somewhere above him, he heard splashing. It must have reached Derek.
“I won’t let you die.”
“I don’t think you have much of a choice in the matter,” Stiles said. He cleared his throat and tried pulling on the chains again. They didn’t give at all, and the metal dug into his skin painfully. At least he was up on his tetanus shots. “Unless you have some sort of SCUBA certification hidden in those eyebrows of yours.”
“You’re not going to die here, Stiles, I swear it.”
“Oh god, just shut up,” Stiles said. He tipped his head back against the stone wall of the cavern. “I appreciate the pep talk, really, but don’t make promises you can’t keep. Not to me, okay.”
Derek was silent, but Stiles could see his creepy nocturnal eyes staring at him in the darkness. It was just about the only thing he could see, and he found himself clinging to it desperately. He sucked in a desperate breath and tried not to think about how it stuck in his throat.
“Derek, listen, you gotta look away, all right?”
“What?” Derek narrowed his eyes.
“Don’t-” Stiles gritted his teeth. “Don’t watch.”
“Nothing is going to happen, Stiles,” Derek said. He inhaled sharply. “They’re coming for us. We’re going to get out of here-”
“You don’t have to sugarcoat it.” Stiles cut him off. “I know when we’re boned, and I just- I don’t want to be another nightmare for you.”
The water sucked at his armpits now, and he could barely get the words out, he was shaking so hard. He was numb. Everywhere. He couldn’t feel his legs, he couldn’t feel his arms, he couldn’t feel his ass. The only sensation he was aware of was the vice grip the ocean had on his chest, squeezing with its frigid grip. Threatening to suck the air right out of him. “P-Please don’t watch-”
“You can’t give up, Stiles-”
“I’m not g-giving up,” Stiles managed. “This is a s-s-strategic retreat.”
He chuckled, jerking as water licked up the sides of his neck. He could barely move to turn to Derek. His hands twisted restlessly in their bonds. “T-Tell Scott-”
“You tell him! Stiles don’t-”
“T-Trying to give my w-wishes here,” Stiles said. He tipped his head back, stretching his neck to try and stay above the creeping waterline. “Tell h-him to look after m-my dad-”
“Jesus, Stiles.” Derek shifted, sending ripples through the water between them. “Keep your head up.”
He sounded closer than he had been, but Stiles was sure it was just his imagination. They couldn’t have moved. There was no way those chains were budging anytime soon. They were made to be worn at, battered by the tides, and hold steady, even against super hot werewolf strength. Especially against super hot werewolf strength. Wait, what.
“Stiles!” Derek roared. There was no other way to describe the way the sound shook the cavern around them, vibrating the water with its force. Stiles jerked, sputtering.
“Whoa, dude, not cool,” Stiles said. He tried to push back the chill haze settling over his mind. “T-Trying to die in peace here-”
“Swear to god, Stiles, when we get out of this-” Derek cut himself off sharply.
Stiles waited, panting. The water was at an uncomfortable level, forcing his head up and back. He tugged on the chains over his head, but he was too weak to hold himself up for any length of time. He closed his eyes and focused on breathing as frigid ocean water licked at the sides of his face. He couldn’t stop the panicked whimper that tore out of his chest.
“I hear them-” Derek said. “I hear them. Don’t you dare give up on me, Stiles-”
“N-Not fair-” Stiles let out a hysterical laugh. He coughed and spat out disgusting salt water. “C-Can’t hear you l-lie-”
“I’m not lying, Stiles- They’re- Stiles!”
Stiles managed a breath before the water closed over his face. His ears popped and he shook his head, trying to settle against the rock and relax as much as he could. He could hold his breath. He could. For quite a while, actually. Like, a minute.
The weird ringing of the ocean pressed in on his eardrums, surrounding him in silence. He could hear the rapid fire thrum of his heart in his ears, fit to burst through his chest like some face hugger or undead vampire baby. He couldn’t slow his heart rate any more than he could slow his thoughts, racing with nowhere to go, trapped in his own head for as long as he could hold his breath. Which wasn’t going to be too long.
He was already feeling light-headed. The cold had managed to lull him into a fugue, and he wished he could just- get it over with. Just inhale and let it happen. But Derek was still right there. And his dad would never forgive himself. Never forgive him.
His chest burned, the ice water pressing in on him from all sides. He could hear Derek thrashing in the water near him, and a roar vibrated the water again. Bubbles slid out of Stiles’ lips unbidden. He gritted his teeth against the growing fire in his lungs. Breathing would just make him dead. Quicker. Make him more dead?
He swallowed down air bubbling up in his throat. He couldn’t remember any of the meditation techniques Deaton was so intent on teaching them, which would have helped now, but his brain couldn’t focus on anything. His chest lurched uncomfortably. Clenching his hands into fists, he slowly let out a few bubbles of air, trying to relieve the pressure in his chest.
It would have worked if he could have reached the surface, but the agony just grew, physically rocking him as his body tried to override his conscious efforts not to breathe. There’s no air. There’s no air here- Can’t breathe anyway. Stiles’ entire body bowed as his diaphragm tried to drag air in.
Despite his efforts, water slid up his nose and he snorted involuntarily. The reaction was instantaneous. The last of his air burst from him in a flurry of bubbles, and his body dragged a huge breath of water in.
Or tried to.
His throat closed violently against the invading water and he choked, panicking now. Briny water filled his mouth as his diaphragm forced his lungs open again. Fuck it hurt. Water flooded his airways, finally reaching his lungs and his chest exploded in fiery agony. Gagging violently, his body tried to purge the water and he gurgled out a hoarse cough to no avail. More water just swept into his mouth, into his throat, scraping him raw.
He heard his heartbeat. Slowing. He felt so full. His lungs were going to burst for sure, it felt like his chest was swelling, his throat gulping at ocean water. The last of his air bubbled out of his throat and he hung, drifting in the water, as his world went dark.
He came to exactly once, dragged to consciousness by crushing pain in his chest, the sensation of someone trying to put their fists through his ribcage and squash him flat. Coughing up the water was almost worse than swallowing it down, but his body was in survival mode. He couldn’t do anything but let the hands turn him onto his side as he retched.
When he became aware of himself again, he knew he was in a hospital. There was an IV stuck in him, and he could hear the steady blip of machinery beside his bed. Stiles peeled his eyes open and squinted against the harsh fluorescence of the hospital lights.
He took a deep, unhindered breath, and almost sobbed it back out. He was alive.
Stiles turned, and narrowed his eyes upon seeing Derek in the chair by his bed. “ ‘s my dad?” he managed.
Shit, he sounded horrible. Breathing salt water will do that, presumably.
“He went to get a coffee,” Derek said. He scooted (yes, scooted) his chair closer and reached for Stiles’ arm. He squeezed shaking fingers around Stiles’ upper arm and huffed out a breath of relief. He opened his mouth but closed it right away, leaving Stiles wondering.
He didn’t have time to dwell on it, however, because his father walked into the room and made a beeline for the free side of the bed. He swept Stiles up in a hug that jarred his fragile chest (ribs? Broken?). Stiles couldn’t bear the thought of pushing him away, and clung to the safety of his father’s arms.
Dad finally let him recline against the pillows, exhausted by the small effort of holding on for dear life. Dad kept one hand in his hair, though, as he sat down in another chair, opposite Derek. Stiles glanced between them. “Wha’ happened?” Stiles asked.
“Derek saved you,” Dad said.
Stiles flicked his gaze to Derek, and then noticed his wrist. “Jesus.”
Derek’s wrist was a mess of scarred flesh, twisted and scraped as if the skin had been peeled back and haphazardly stuck back in place. Stiles lifted wide eyes to Derek’s face, only to find he was avoiding his gaze. “What did you do?”
“You were dying,” Derek said, as if that excused everything. As if that was a legitimate reason for shredding his wrists on wolfsbane cuffs to try and save the weak link in their group. As if.
“He ripped the chains from the wall,” Dad provided. Stiles digested the information, and Derek actually met his gaze. “Yours and his.”
Stiles reached for Derek’s hand and carefully peeled it away from his arm. The palm looked even worse. Stiles couldn’t believe he retained enough dexterity to grip anything. Derek weathered the inspection silently, guilt rolling off him. Stiles didn’t have to be a werewolf to know.
“You shouldn’t have-”
“You’re alive because he did.” Dad cut him off. Stiles tensed, and his father went on. “So don’t start in about how he should have left you. He saved your life, Stiles. He pumped your lungs while Scott got an ambulance. He got you breathing again.”
“I’m sorry,” Stiles said, unable to listen to his father’s voice break like that. “Please.”
“Sir,” Derek said. Dad pressed his lips together but quieted, his hand never stilling in Stiles’ hair.
“Will it heal?” Stiles asked.
Derek lifted his shoulders, and turned their hands until he held Stiles’ in both of his. “It doesn’t matter.”
“It matters.” Stiles felt like he couldn’t breathe again. Like all the air had gone out of the room. Derek met his eyes.
“It doesn’t matter,” he said again, carefully enunciating. Stiles bit his lower lip but let the topic drop. He was too tired. He was too tired and Derek was too warm and his father’s hand was too comforting.
He drifted off, feeling safe, his fingers clenched tight around Derek’s.