it's getting late and the sun is falling,
who will catch her tonight?
i walk for miles over broken stones,
bleeding feet and aching bones.
but i won't stop tonight, while my body still has fight,
in case the daylight never comes
Snow Ghosts - And The Moon
It's pale, so pale, wide black eyes like holes drilled into its head but it's not blind.
It searches for him.
Tall and emaciated, human-shaped.
It's close, he can hear it, bare footsteps on tiles where he's cowering under a desk.
"I know you're there," it says, voice like a snarl, like it can only just make words through its lipless mouth.
Stiles is gonna make a noise sooner or later—
—it's smart, it knows this; it's just waiting.
"I'm just saying," Scott's saying, hasn't stopped just saying for the better part of the day. "It's the game tomorrow night so, y'know? Ambien is your friend."
Stiles has stopped answering him, head in both his hands and slumped over the cafeteria table. The only words he's got are sleep and bed, so what's the point? Two more hours and he can attempt both of those things.
Just gotta get through two more hours.
He learns precisely nothing about functions and/or roots and maybe a little about post-Cold War economics—something to do with strangled unions, something like that. He'll catch up later when he doesn't feel like ten tons of lead.
First thing that happens, literally ten seconds through the door, is the sheriff saying, "Looking a little pale there, kiddo."
"I didn't sleep well last night."
"You didn't sleep well the night before either, or the night before that." And then his dad looks apprehensive and Stiles would put money on knowing what comes next. "It's not—"
"No, there's nothing werewolfy goin' on, don't worry."
"I promised I'd tell you and I will, Dad." He won't pretend it doesn't sting a little that his dad still doesn't one-hundred percent trust him not to lie, but they're working on it. He thinks they are, anyway. "I swear I will."
It's laughable, really. His dad doesn't trust him not to spill about werewolves and dark druid sacrifices—yeah. Stiles swears, the speed his life pace changes is jarring as hell sometimes. That's probably it. Things are too quiet right now so his brain's relenting, creating monsters in his dreams because all there is to think about is algebra and what to get Scott for Christmas.
So he burrows into his mattress and thinks about the time they spent getting almost crushed to death under the nematon and hopes he might dream about US History instead of rake-thin creatures with eyes like pits.
It's dark here, the only lights are low and sinister emergency lighting and it makes his skin look sickly.
"Who are you?"
Stiles won't answer. He has this feeling that the answer is all it—all they—need and once he gives it, things are gonna get worse.
The thing growls, this wet, guttural sound like dry heaving.
"Who is he?"
He doesn't know what that means.
It doesn't see him yet.
It shines a flashlight down the length of the long hall and listens.
The whistle goes somewhere miles away, echoes like it's carried on the wind.
Dark shapes blur over him and his eyes feel filmy, his chest crushed and no matter how much air he pulls in it's not enough.
Everything's slowed down and waiting for him to catch up, muffled voices that sound like broken vinyl and in the corner of his cloudy vision, ink-black eyes—
"Stiles!" All the sound rushes back in like a tidal wave and he flinches and throws his arm out. "Ow, dude." Scott's voice. His fist colliding with Scott's nose. Scott's waving a hand about and Stiles' head hurts. "How many fingers am I holding up?"
"McCall, get outta the way, Jesus Christ—"
Stiles is on the field, the stick from some buffed-up jock on the other team still feeling like it's embedded in his sternum. He slips a shaky hand over his body to check because fuck, the pain feels permanent.
Someone lifts him onto a stretcher and he hears Coach's voice trailing off as he's moved away from the crowd, "McCall, would you get back here, he's not gonna die," and thinks that's highly debatable.
They give him painkillers and a nurse—who reminds him of his old neighbor who turned out to be a pyromaniac—pokes at his stomach until he wants to cry.
He calls her a harpy and she gives him a stiff smile that tells him she'd like to smother him then pokes him once more, just a little harder. She leaves him feeling sorry for himself, half sprawled over the table, bed, whatever. Too wired from the rush of pain adrenaline to do anything but try to breathe his lungs back into rhythm. It's hard, he's sore and winded and shallow breaths, deep breaths, either way he's gasping until the pills kick in.
It's the end of the game by then and Scott's first in to see him, followed closely by his dad firing on all cylinders.
"Bet I could bust that kid's ass on some kinda steroids charges, you just see if I can't," he rants. "Did you see him? I bet he's not even seventeen, probably got held back a decade because he's some kinda missing link."
"Dad, calm down." Stiles sits with a groan, Scott's hand between his shoulder blades for support. "It was mostly my fault, I wasn't concentrating."
"You were like, five miles away," Scott says restlessly. "What the hell's going on?"
"I think I'm sick or something, I don't know."
He really doesn't, that's the thing. Some disease might explain it away, or worse; it's not been nearly enough years yet to forget how bad an emotional trauma can mess up his brain waves, let alone a supernatural one. He remembers pain all over, inside him like something toxic and finding its way into every crack and weakness. Coming out in sporadic, violent bursts that left him crippled. Unexpected ways, panic attacks and sleepwalking and once he'd punched a kid three years his junior in the face and felt nothing but relief.
It's not a stretch to think it's happening now; Deaton warned them after all, and things have been going suspiciously too smooth lately.
"Come on, I'm taking you home."
That's fine, Stiles has a plan. It involves waiting until his dad's asleep, stealing hard liqueur from the cabinet and drinking himself into a coma.
Specifically, a dreamless one.
"You smell like a bar."
"I feel—like I walked into a bar. A big, metal one. And then I drank it, all of it. Every drop."
And fuck if teenagers aren't loud. Everywhere he turns there's someone shouting or slamming a locker or chewing obnoxiously; he's got a new-found respect for Scott and the other wolves putting up with all this bullshit.
"Alcohol didn't help you sleep?"
"Oh, it helped me sleep"—trapped all night, suffocating fear, can't wake up— "I just woke up even more exhausted."
"Well, I got one piece of good news. Or, you might not think so, but whatever," Scott says and now that Stiles really focuses on him, he does look suspiciously animated. He points over Stiles' shoulder. "Look."
Scott's pointing at Cora, stood with Allison and Isaac and looking less tense than she's looked the whole time Stiles has known her, and yeah, Stiles is gonna go with that being pretty cool news.
Still, he knows Scott better than that. If Cora's back that means Derek's back, too. "She's not the whole reason why you look so pleased, though, right?"
Scott shrugs a little sheepishly. "I was gonna head over and see him later, wanna come?"
"And interrupt your little wolfy bonding time? No thanks. Besides, I'll probably be dead by then; I genuinely don't think I'm gonna make it through today, Scott, seriously."
"Can I?" Scott holds out a hand and hovers it over Stiles' arm and it's still a little weird, this one particular thing. It feels more intimate than Stiles is entirely comfortable with which is weird considering how much time he spends up close with Scott's—well—everything. Still, needs must and he nods and tries not to get too hung up on the feeling of Scott taking something so very personal from him. "Better?"
God, much better, so much better, he could get down on his knees for Scott right now. "Yeah, much. What's the point if you can't use it to help your friends, right?" he says hoarsely.
He feels a little more well-equipped to deal with the day and much better equipped to watch Scott and Allison hedge around each other awkwardly while Isaac tries not to look like the guiltiest little wolf in the pack.
Cora rolls her eyes and shares a look with Stiles, a private, wry smile. He leans next to her against the row of lockers and feels genuinely glad to see her again. Beacon Hills without the Hales, despite all the trouble they bring, feels just a little too empty, he's willing to admit. Not that he's been pining or anything. Not at all.
"You're back, then?"
It's a stupid question but she humors him all the same. "Seems like."
"Passing through or here to stay?"
"Derek wants to stay," she says with a shrug. "I guess this is home, when all's said and done."
"Where'd you guys go?"
"What is this, an interrogation?"
"Am I holding a cattle prod?"
Cora barks a surprised laugh. "We got our photo taken with Mickey Mouse."
"No, you idiot. We did a little travelling, took a vacation, went to the beach, tried not to get ourselves killed. Your average family trip." A Hale family vacation, he's stuck on how bizarre that thought is. Until Cora asks, "What?" because he's staring off into space.
"Nothing. I just can't imagine Derek at the beach, is all."
"Question is," she drawls, pulling books into the crook of her arm, "why would you wanna imagine my brother at the beach?"
"I'm—I'm not! I don't. I don't normally do that."
It gets worse, he does a half-flailing little dance but Cora's not even talking to him. Isaac, she's talking to Isaac. She's tipping her head towards the end of the hall, do you wanna go to class, and Stiles slumps against the locker and feels more than a little dumb.
Allison asks him if he's okay and Scott answers for him. "He's hungover, don't mind him."
She feels his forehead. "You really don't look so good, Stiles. I mean, it's not—is it? Is it the, y'know?"
She means, is it the corrosive blackness eating away at his heart that the three of them never talk about like maybe if they don't, it'll be happening to a different them. Stiles aches, suddenly, one full-body shiver racking through him at the mere implication of it.
"No, no, no, I don't, don't think it's that," he says quickly, half stumbling over his words and obviously playing it off, changing the subject, but Allison looks just horrified enough that she brought it up to accept it. "I've probably caught a virus or something, got a little fever goin' on."
Stiles repeats, "Probably," and Scott echoes the sentiment and it goes around and around like that for a while, kind of lame how desperate they are not to acknowledge it.
This thing that's a part of all of them, now. The sickly darkness wrapped like a snake around his heart, opened up a crack in him wide and vulnerable, all tender at the edges like a gaping wound.
Thing about wounds is, they get infected.
It's—they—they're hunting him.
"We can wait, we have time."
He crawls along the tiles, edging the wall and keeping to the dark.
"There is no escape."
He stops and takes slow, measured breaths through his open mouth, as quiet as he can.
If he can get to the fire escape, get out onto field—
—if he can just get out of here, maybe it'll end, maybe it'll just. End.
Allison wants to know if Stiles' police radio still works and if that's not worrying enough, before he even gets to ask why, what terrible reason could she want to know that, Ethan barrels into them like something possessed. Wide-eyed and crazy and he can't find Aidan and that is bad, very, for everyone right now.
Everyone including the entire population of the school when Ethan loses it and tears every single one of them apart.
Lydia can't sense a thing from him, no one-twin-close-to-death transmission thing, and it was a reach anyway. She's worried, Stiles knows her worried face like he knows his own worried face but it doesn't bother him like it might have done once.
Anyway, they've got bigger problems. Like students in the halls and Ethan losing control because he's terrified. Stiles can see him wolfing out already, the glow of red in his eyes. He's shaking violently like there's something under his skin trying to claw its way out and Stiles pulls Lydia back to him like a finely honed instinct.
"We need to get him out of here," Allison says, quick and low, but Scott shakes his head frantically.
"No time, we've gotta clear the halls, now."
Lydia grips Stiles' wrist and pulls him, weaving in and out of bodies. Panic clears his fuzzy head better than a cold shower ever could, adrenaline kicking his body into high gear and he feels, actually, better than he has in over a week. If that doesn't just lend credence to how weird his life's gotten, he doesn't know what does.
Lydia skids to a halt at the end of the hall, in the doorway leading to the main building and effectively splitting the crowd in two directions away from Ethan. Stiles crashes into her, apologizes, then covers her from prying eyes while she pulls out a bottle of expensive-looking perfume and a lighter.
"It'll burn safely and it won't spread, but it'll burn quick," she whispers hurriedly. "I'll set it as soon as you pull the alarm."
He takes off in the direction of the plastic alarm case some thirty feet away and closes in on it, almost there—
—one second and everything slows, Stiles can hear his breath loud in his ears, his heart pounding a drum beat against his ribs like the world's taking a pause for him and him alone. This place is familiar, like something from a far-off memory, and it hits him, the place from his nightmare, this hall right here, and cold chills creep across his skin—
Lydia. Ethan. Got it.
He slips into the alcove with the case. It's really now or never and he doesn't have time to make sure nobody's paying too much attention, fuck it, Stiles fully expects to end up in the principal’s office for this one. He jams up the casing and pulls the lever and the shrill bell rings out followed by Lydia's impressive scream.
"Fire! There's a fire!"
He hangs back to avoid getting carried off in the tide of people running for the exit and when they've cleared, right at the opposite end of the hall Ethan's already gone half-alpha'd.
Scott yells, "Don't come any closer," and Stiles stands with Lydia near the flash-burning fire she's created, blue flame turning quickly orange and then vanishing while Ethan's claws scrape against the lockers like a shrill assault against the metal. He stands there, head bowed against them, his whole back rising and falling when he breathes but it doesn't sound like breathing, it sounds like growling.
In a split second he snaps and he's gone, turning on Scott and making a noise somewhere between anger and grief, an awful snarling howl. Scott gets in his face quickly, hands against Ethan's chest and shoving him back when he lunges, back smacking into the lockers.
He tries again, furious this time, and Scott shouts but it's not Scott's voice, it's nothing like Stiles has ever heard. "No!" Ethan falters, eyes going wide and Scott grips Ethan's shoulders and throws him down in his moment of hesitation, sending him straight to the floor.
And Stiles hasn't seen Scott fully alpha'd yet but there he is, red-eyed and truly mean looking, Stiles’ breath drying up in his throat because he was really only just getting used to his best friend having yellow eyes and retractable facial hair and yeah, he'd maybe gotten to thinking Scott looked kind of fluffy and slightly adorable when he was wolfed out, but now this—really—
Deaton had gone on and on and on about the power of a true alpha but it didn't feel like such a big deal until right this second.
He watches, now, as Scott looses a roar that rattles the fucking locker doors wide open and stands above Ethan who doesn't even try to get up. Ethan who's fully human again, shit, Stiles has seen what that guy's capable of so that right there is pretty frickin' awesome.
"Yes!" Stiles puts both hands on Lydia's shoulders and jumps up and down and even she grins at Scott, wholly impressed. "That was—oh, man! That was so—"
"What the hell are you kids still doing in here?" Every one of them flinches and turns. Someone—Stiles thinks the guy might be their new chemistry teacher, everything from the guy's odd Converse to his bright, patterned glasses and crazy, spiky hair screams quirky chemist—is stood right behind him and Lydia looking completely baffled. "Actually, what the hell are you kids doing?"
Ethan's lying on his back on the floor with Scott standing over him, Allison hastily tucking something—a knife, probably—back up under her skirt, and Stiles and Lydia jumping up and down twenty feet from the scene. So it's a good question, really.
"Evacuating, obviously," Lydia covers quickly. "Ethan was freaking out because apparently there's a fire. It's okay, though," she says with a sweet smile. "We calmed him down."
The guy narrows his eyes and Stiles jumps in. "Do we really have time to stand around being suspicious of each other here? There's a fire!"
Works for now, Mr. Chemist gathers them up and escorts them outside and Ethan's as calm as he's gonna get for now with Scott's hand digging into the back of his neck like a leash.
Ethan's last memory before his freak-out in the hall is of the lacrosse field.
He tells them something came at him and Aiden, fast as a bullet and huge. He can't tell them what it looked like, because it didn't. It was pitch-black and featureless, just a moving shape.
They split up, Allison, Lydia and Ethan. Scott and Stiles. Safety with an alpha and all that, plus these days Allison's usually got at least two knives and a flash bomb hidden somewhere on her person at any given moment; such is life.
Stiles is literally mid-gushing compliment when Allison calls Scott. Actually, he's been kinda going at it since he got Scott alone. "And that roar, man, I've never heard anything like it—" while Scott's smiling and trying not to preen and failing spectacularly; it's all pretty inappropriate given the dire situation they're in.
"They've found Aiden, it's bad," Scott tells him and it's not like Stiles likes the guy even a little bit but he does like Ethan and it goes without saying that he cares about Lydia.
"Is he dead?"
"No, but he's hurt, come on."
And hurt is an understatement—Aiden's black shirt is ripped and sticking into the bright red viscera of his torn-up stomach and those details are way too much for Stiles to be entirely comfortable with. He's hardly conscious and Ethan's demanding, "Is he gonna die?" and Scott doesn't have any answers for him, nobody does.
Scott calls Deaton and gets the green light to bring him in and Stiles should've known it'd be his Jeep that was gonna get soaked in blood. Lydia twisted around in his passenger seat and Ethan with Aiden in the back, holding his skin together like he might be able to save some of his brother's blood from draining out across the upholstery. Allison on the back of Scott's scooter following behind. The whole journey there is agonizing over Stiles' fraught nerves, his hands on the wheel are going shaky and all that blood—the result is some seriously dangerous speeding.
By the time Aiden's lying in Deaton's surgery, Stiles is running on fumes and he's almost out, collapsed onto a bench out in the waiting room just to escape the cloying iron tang of blood in the air.
Months of nothing and then this, all at once, and he's averaging three, four hours of sleep a night here. Waking up with his legs aching like he's actually been cowering in the dark. Clamoring snarls in his head like a bad case of tinnitus.
Scott sits next to him and knocks their ankles together and they exist in a comfortable silence until Stiles has drawn up the energy to speak. "Aiden?"
"Deaton says he'll live, but he's got no idea what could do that to him. Or what would even attack the twins head on in the first place."
"He warned us about this, y'know."
"Yeah, I know."
Stiles closes his eyes and tips his head back against the wall. "So every time someone gets hurt by something and we have no idea what did it, there's gonna be something even bigger coming right after."
"I know that, too."
"And you and me and Allison? We're damaged goods."
"Well, I wouldn't put it like that—"
"You realize we're probably gonna die, right?"
"Your attitude sucks, you know that?" Scott nudges him until he looks. "Hey, we've dealt with bad. Not to mention the fact that we've dealt with bad with way less favorable odds. I mean, three alphas? Derek, Isaac and Cora. A couple of highly trained, deadly Argent hunters and a girl who can sense death before it happens."
"And me," Stiles says dryly.
"Yeah, and you. The smartest guy I know." Scott grins that stupid grin and Stiles doesn't wanna get swept up in his positivity but it's hard not to, the charming bastard. "And the son of the sheriff."
Stiles goes quiet, picks at the seam of his jeans and thinks about saying something super angsty and terribly self-loathing but Scott's the alpha and a member of his pack was just viciously attacked and Stiles is only just beginning to truly realize how different Scott's wavelength is these days. How Stiles will never understand how these things affect him.
So he doesn't.
"Think I should tell him about this?"
Scott pulls a face like Stiles isn't gonna like this. "Definitely."
Yeah, it was a stupid question.
Neon green words in the dark.
He's six feet away from the exit.
The thing's close, slapping footsteps just behind him, around the corner.
He gets up into a crouch, edges closer and reaches for the push bar, so close now. He's desperate, fingernails scratching at the surface, horrible echoing scrape.
It's horror, the thing he feels. Pure seeping cold dread. He doesn't need to turn around to know what's happening.
He's trapped here. There is no push bar. There is no fire escape.
Cold, clammy hands around his throat, dragging him upright. He shuts his eyes tight; up close he can't look at them, they're too horrific, he'll never recover from their faces—those endless eyes, mouth like a gaping tear in its jaw—
"Who is he?"
Stiles shakes his head and still, still doesn't open his eyes.
"Him. The blue-eyed wolf. Who is he?"
"You're dreaming about Derek?"
"No, I'm not—I just," Stiles splutters, hands balling into fists against the plastic diner table cloth. His head’s a wreck and he’s woefully slow on his wits and Scott's eating a fucking burger and not taking this nearly serious enough. "Some monster from my worst Goddamn nightmare asked me about the blue-eyed wolf and I thought, maybe, just maybe, that it was a little weird all considering."
"Okay, okay, calm down."
"I can't!" But he needs to; he's already short of breath, working himself up into a frenzy because he's so at the end of his tether. So. Damn. Tired. "Look, did he say anything when you saw him? Was he worried about anything?"
"No, nothing. He was really, really okay. Happy, even. Like the trip with Cora did him the world of good."
Stiles sighs and buries his head in his hands, rakes his fingers over his face. "We should tell him about this."
"Stiles, look," Scott says and it's his voice of reason, the one that always starts with the phrase Stiles, look and ends with Stiles wanting to slap him. "I feel it, too. Okay?"
Stiles groans low in the back of his throat. He can't face this, not now. "Scott, don't. That's not what this is."
"It might be. I mean—sometimes I feel like it's trying to eat me alive, like some kinda depression that's not related to anything at all. Even if it was just that, it'd still make sense. But on top of that, your dad was almost murdered, we nearly lost our parents, our only parents—"
"Not technically true for you."
"You know what I mean. You used to have nightmares after your mom, right?"
"You don't have a sixth sense or something like Lydia, right?"
"Do you see where I'm going with this?"
Stiles rolls his eyes and sighs. "Yeah. But don't tell me you're not even a little worried that this is for real something."
"Yeah, I'm worried that everything could be for real something, but we don't know anything either way yet. For now it's Occam's Razor, man."
"Word of the day?"
"Well it was—word of last week, actually," Scott says sheepishly and pokes Stiles' milkshake across the table, against his bare arm. The shock of cold is almost painful, he's all too-sensitive. "We got one thing going on right now that we know for a fact is a threat, can we just focus on the big whatever that attacked Aiden? Like, one thing at a time?"
"I'm gonna be in no fit state to help you if I can't get one full night's sleep."
Scott finishes off his burger and grins. "That's why I've got a plan."
He's probably not as reassured by that as Scott was going for.
I don't know, I don't know, I don't know—
He's lost count of how many times he's said it and the reason, actually, why he's doing this in the first place, protecting—
"Go on. What is his name?"
He still won't look at them, it, the thing in front of him. Trapped in a classroom somewhere in the building and backed into a corner.
It's dark enough not to see but it digs its fingers into the flesh and bone of his shoulder and twists and Stiles screams and screams, one word, and then he remembers why—
He screams "Derek," and he's handed them something precious.
"Your plan? Sucked."
"It was worth a shot."
"My concussion would beg to differ." And his thumping headache, and his bruised cheek, and his slightly blurred vision, although that's probably a side effect of his exhaustion, it's hard to keep track. He has a vague notion, underneath all the other shit going on that's way more pressing, that he probably shouldn't be driving right now. "You know, my dad had to pour water over me to get me out of bed this morning. He thought I was dead."
He doesn't add the details that up until that point, some creature not even Clive Barker could cook up on acid had spent all night tearing into his helpless body. Scott would go all sympathetic on him, tell him dreams really can't come true or something equally as frustrating. He's got no patience for it today.
"You slept, though, didn't you?"
"No, Scott, I was unconscious, knocked out, and I still had nightmares."
"Well, now we know that punching you doesn't help, we can try something else. It's a—"
"Choose your next words very carefully," Stiles says through gritted teeth because he already has a feeling he knows what Scott's gonna say.
"A work in progress?"
"I am gonna get the sharpest stick I can find, and I am gonna shove it—"
"Stiles, the turn!"
Stiles jerks on the wheel and hammers the breaks and the Jeep skids sidelong three feet up onto the, thankfully empty, sidewalk. Stiles gets it back under control but just barely, reaction time shot to bits. He pulls up in the street beneath Derek's loft and he's shaking, pulling in stuttering breaths through his nose.
The silence stretches out painfully and Stiles fills it with awkward inner monologue: better not have fucked up the Jeep because he can't afford another trip to the auto shop and he hasn't felt particularly great about that place since Jackson murdered his mechanic, really, last thing he needs right now is more expense and more horrific PTSD possibilities—
"I can take it from here if you wanna go home," Scott says softly. He's worried, really worried, Stiles can see it all over his face and he really hates the fact Scott thinks he can't handle this, like maybe Stiles has finally reached his limits on weirdness or something.
He hates that Scott might be right.
"Did you know that being awake for even twenty straight hours can affect your road reaction time as much as having a blood-alcohol level of point-eight percent? That's legally too drunk to drive."
It's a few tense seconds before Scott answers him. "You pass out and I'm not carrying you up ten flights of stairs, I will leave your ass in the stairwell."
He doesn't pass out in the stairs, thankfully. Not that he had any doubt that Scott would actually leave him but he doesn't much like the idea of Scott carrying him like a drunk bride over the threshold of Derek's place; after all these weeks, it's not exactly the best impression he can give.
And, Derek. Well. Scott's right, he does look okay. Better than okay.
Sat back against the sofa and reading a thick leather-bound book, legs crossed at the ankles on the coffee table. Relaxed, is the word that comes to mind. Nothing tense about him, he's all loose and inviting, it's an appealing look on him.
"You could smell us coming from halfway up the stairs and you didn't even get up to offer us a drink?" Scott jokes and Derek smirks.
"This isn't exactly a social visit, though, is it?"
Derek's gaze skips off Scott and onto Stiles, a small crease appearing between his eyebrows and a heavy feeling tugging behind Stiles' ribs.
Scott goes on, oblivious. "Not really, there's a thing."
Derek's gaze sort of sticks and Stiles wants to ask him what? and thinks maybe this Derek, Derek 2.0, Mr Relaxed-and-took-a-trip-to-the-beach Derek, might even tell him. But then the moment's over.
"The thing that attacked Aiden, and I don't just mean attacked, I mean it savagely tore Aiden apart with no struggle whatsoever. We need Peter's bestiary 'cause I have no idea where to even start with this thing."
Derek gestures them over, leans forward and slides the laptop out from under the table to rest on top.
Stiles asks, "Where is Peter, anyway? I don't like not being able to see him, it makes me nervous."
"If you believe a word he says, he's at his apartment." Then, Derek mutters, "Having a lavender-infused bubble bath. Which was information that I didn't actually ask for," like he's slightly annoyed by that.
"Wow, it's weird that I can totally imagine that." Stiles really needs to stop saying things like that—Derek raises his eyebrows.
"You image my uncle in the bath often?"
"Get your mind out of the gutter, you're as bad as your sister."
"I don't even wanna know what that means," Derek says over the sound of the laptop booting up. "Scott, this thing, what did it look like?"
"Both twins said it was all black, like it had no features at all, and it kind of morphed like it wasn't a fixed shape. Aiden said that when it focused in on him, it grew double its size and charged him like a bull."
"A shapeshifter without a shape?" Derek muses. Stiles sinks into the sofa with a groan; damn, this thing is comfortable. He shuts his eyes and listens to Derek talking and tap-tappingon the keyboard. "Or maybe it has—shapes?"
"Multiple?" Scott asks.
"Ethan said it grew?”
“Yeah, double its size.”
“I've heard stories about stuff like this, people who can't settle on one thing so they spend their lives aimlessly shifting from one thing to the next. The older werewolves used them as horror stories for the kids, saying that they were selfish and attacked other shifters out of spite."
"What does the bestiary say?"
"Umm. Not much. They're not like us, they're not shapeshifters by affliction or birth. The only way something can have multiple shapes is by learning through magic."
The conversation floats over him and it's all quite calming.
He's oddly warm here—Derek gives off heat like a radiator sometimes—and practically boneless, slumped back into the cushions with the rough edges of his headache smoothing out. Safe, he feels safe. And useful just by being here, a part of whatever it is that's going on and he always feels like that here at Derek's, even when he's just sat on his ass doing nothing or waiting around for other people to get shit done.
Safe and useful and so heavy, slipping away like he's sinking into syrup.
"Hey." He jolts with a gasp, eyes snapping open. Derek clicking his fingers directly in front of Stiles' face and Stiles' heart racing like he's run a mile, everything in very sudden sensory overload; panic and Derek's hand huge and warm clamping over his shoulder. "Woah, Stiles, what the hell."
"Good, I'm good," Stiles mutters lamely but Derek doesn't move, watching him closely, still leant all up in his personal space.
"What happened to your face?"
Scott chimes in, distractedly, where he's perched on the table over the computer, "I did," and Derek raises his eyebrows. "It's no big deal."
"To you, it's not a big deal to you, Scott," Stiles amends.
"I told you, dude, Derek doesn't need—"
"I don't need what?"
"Need to know that Stiles is dreaming about you."
He feels like it's becoming a thing, Stiles burying his head in his hands like he can block stuff out this way, even though blocking stuff out has never been a gift of his; he feels every single one of Derek's fingers slip gently away from his shoulder.
"No, I guess, umm—I guess I didn't need to know that."
"Oh, for—not thatkinda dreaming," Stiles chokes out, then says directly to Scott, "And I told you, I don't think they're dreams."
"Wait, slow down, you don't think what are dreams?"
He's got the full glare of Derek's focus back on him, intent now, and Stiles has got a feeling, an understanding that Derek might be able to solve this puzzle for him and he knew it, he fucking knew they should have brought this to him sooner. He is always right, seriously, if there were medals for being right, he'd have like, hundreds.
"More like nightmares. Creatures, they look kinda human but really, really not. And they trapped me and then—then they started asking about you."
"What kind of creatures? What do they look like?"
"Real pale, umm. Black eyes. No, umm, no—" Stiles' voice cracks and he takes a breath containing precisely no oxygen.
He feels light-headed—it's insane how much these things scare the crap out of him and he's watched two huge dudes combine into one massive dude with glowing red eyes. He's watched his best friend's facial hair retract back into his face.
Stiles brings a trembling hand to his mouth and presses his fingertips against his lips and Derek's presence feels careful, he looks awkward like maybe Stiles is about to start crying or something.
"No lips. Skinny, like starved skinny. Ribs all sticking out. No hair, and, and tall, and—"
"Stiles," Derek interrupts him softly.
"And very naked."
They're both looking at him—Scott, too; he's on display like the star attraction at the freak show and in this room with these two, that is really saying something.
"Yeah, you get the idea."
"Wait, you think we're actually dealing with some kinda creature that can get inside people's dreams?" Scott asks.
"Peter did something like that to Lydia," Derek reminds him and Stiles could kiss him on the fricking mouth with how grateful he feels that someone, let alone Derek Hale, is finally giving this some of the weight Stiles is almost buckling under. "So if we are, this thing, things?" He looks at Stiles for confirmation and he nods. "These things are powerful."
"But Lydia's a—a something. Stiles is totally human. Plus, Peter bit Lydia, they had a connection."
Stiles snaps, suddenly, with an anger he didn't realize he had the energy for. "Why are you trying so hard to fight this, Scott?"
But Scott doesn't answer him, he looks—sad? Guilty? And instead asks Derek, "Why are you so quick to jump on this? You? Of all people?" and then it's Derek's turn to go evasive.
Fuck's sake. Stiles actually feels like throwing up his hands at both of them because that's what the problem is here, a seriously characteristic reluctance to communicate. Thankfully, one that Stiles has rarely abided by.
"Guys, I'm freaking out here, okay? Did you know that you can die from sleep deprivation? Huh? Because you can. And it's a shitty way to die!"
"How long's this been going on for?" Derek asks.
He looks surprised. "We should take this one to Deaton."
They both look at Scott—no, that's not quite right. They both look to Scott; there's a difference. A huge one. Comes with red eyes and apparently pretty good leadership skills. Except that this time, Scott takes one look at the desperation on Stiles’ face and agrees.
He and Stiles copy all the information about shapeless shifters from Peter's bestiary onto a USB, then they pack up to leave. Except Derek's tapping his fingers against his knee, watching them agitatedly and it's making Stiles agitated in return, making Stiles watch him right back.
Eventually, he opens his mouth to say something but Derek shakes his head imperceptibly. He looks pointedly at Scott and, okay, that's weird but then this whole visit has been weird. Stiles nods, digs his hand in his pocket and surreptitiously tosses his keys into the sofa cushions while Scott's not looking.
Halfway down the stairs, he makes a big show of forgetting them and tells Scott he'll meet him downstairs in a minute and Derek's sat with his elbows on his knees, swinging the keyring around and around his finger when Stiles goes back in, staring distractedly forward like he's chewing something over in his head.
Stiles feels like they're awkwardly starting an illicit affair or something.
"By the way, did I mention how freaked out I was? This bizarre behavior of yours really isn't helping, Derek. What—"
"And they were asking about me?"
"You told them, though, didn't you?" Derek looks up at him and then it's not a question. "Last night you told them my name."
Stiles goes numb, a dull trickle of shock spreading down through him slowly, his stomach sinking, displacing the rest of his organs. "How—how did you know?"
"I heard you screaming." And then Derek looks a little skittish, eyes turning down. "I thought it was a nightmare."
"What, and—I, I scream often in your nightmares?" he asks roughly and why is he angry? Derek says nothing and fuck, what the hell? "That's why you were so quick to believe me? Why couldn't you tell me in front of Scott?"
"Because you're screaming my name inside your head and I'm hearing it inside my head and that feels a little—" Derek pulls his hands through his hair. "—I don't know, a little private!" He's right, it does, it really does. It staggers Stiles a little, in fact. Makes him flush hot all over.
"Now's not the time for dirty little secrets, Derek."
Derek looks up at him sharply and the hair on Stiles' neck stands on end.
"You think I don't know that? I just wanted to tell you first. Alone. It felt." He pauses like he's searching for the words and suddenly Stiles wants, intensely, to hear them. "Like the right thing to do."
"Umm, thank you. That was—" Nice? Thoughtful? Really great of you? Unexpected? No, that's too back-handed. Thank you? He already said thank you. Charitable? No, he's not organizing an event. Can I stay here on your couch with you? No, that's weird, he doesn't know where that came from.
How long has he been stood here not talking?
Derek raises his eyebrows and looks unexpectedly amused. "Cool?"
"I'm lacking the mental capacity to write you a poem just now, sorry."
"That's okay, I can wait."
Stiles huffs a laugh. "Damn, could you save your cheerful humor for when I'm back to normal again, please? I'm worried you're gonna use it all up before I can really enjoy it."
"I'll be sure to save plenty for your poetry."
It takes Stiles way longer than it should to turn around and leave, stood in the middle of Derek's loft like an idiot, contemplating away about stupid things like how warm it looks in here with light streaming in the windows and how cold it is outside where he managed to curb-mount his Jeep.
He gets to the door but Derek says his name softly and suddenly he's right there, half a foot away and it hurts to look at him he's so earnest. He looks devastatingly young and it's easy to forget that sometimes.
"I don't know why it took you so long to tell them my name, and it might not have anything to do with me, but I appreciate it."
He wants to ask, are you having therapy? or what did Cora do to you while you were away? but he manages to hold back those impulses in favor of a much stronger one, the urge to not ruin this moment.
"Don't mention it."
"And, uh." Derek looks down and Stiles sways forward like he's pulled, dipping his head because he wants to see Derek's face. Then, Derek lifts his hand and gives him the oddest look because, yeah, Stiles' keys, in Derek's hand. Stiles had actually gone and forgotten his fucking keys in the end. "You're probably gonna need these."
Derek gives him a nod and drops them in Stiles' hand.
He closes the door and it's just Stiles and the stairs, his keys warm in his palm.