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Stuck in This in Between

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“Consider this ‘getting off easy,’” Potbelly spat in Stiles’ face.  “Each day you don’t talk, the worse it’ll be for you.”

Stiles moved his hand up a hair’s breadth away from his shoulder, not quite touching it but giving the illusion of cradling it and hoping that might help with some of the psychic pain.  Spoiler alert: it didn’t.  Like at all.  “Is there some sort of Kidnapper’s Handbook you all paraphrase from?”  His eyes threatened to roll back, the pain momentarily overpowering him.  He pulled it back after an awkward pause.  “Because I gotta tell you, it is not doing as effective an intimidation job as you all seem to think.  It’s a bit too hackneyed.  Branch out, man, go for an original thought.”

Potbelly only sneered.  Crispin didn’t seem to be paying either of them any mind, his flinty eyes darting around the underground tunnel they were stumbling through.  Potbelly gave up on forming words of any kind and shoved Stiles into the cell behind him – taking Stiles by surprise as he hadn’t even known it was there.  Potbelly’s fat hand had fitted right over the dislocation of Stiles’ shoulder, too.

Stiles didn’t scream but he couldn’t help the whimper that slipped out when he stumbled and fell to his knees.  His hand was incapable of doing anything but dealing with the pain throbbing all through his left side, meaning he’d been unable to brace himself.

His knees stung even through the denim but it was his shoulder that was the true source of agony.  The door slammed shut and Stiles barely even noticed it, which was shoddy observation work on his part but pain was a powerful distractor.  The muscles in his torso were stretched oddly, only just beginning to twinge in discomfort, and under his armpit was ridiculously sore.  Who knew that was a thing?

His vision was beginning to fuzz at the edges.  He mentally listed out what he knew to keep himself alert.  He was certain it had been less than twenty-four hours since he’d been taken but he thought his dad might have noticed already.  Since the big reveal, he called regularly.  Often.  Obsessively.  Manically, one might say if they were short on time.  Scott wasn’t the greatest Alpha and they’d never tested his bond between the human members of the Pack but maybe that would pay off too.  He hadn’t had plans that night though.  There hadn’t been many plans since the whole losing his mind thing.  Plans now just seemed like something to laugh about – loudly and bitterly.  Because they only seemed to exist to be fucked over by the universe at large.

Maybe sixteen hours, he thought, and one round with Potbelly and Crispin.  It had been pretty tame all things considered.  Less than Gerard had done at least.  He thought he might be outside of Beacon Hills, but not far.  The drive had taken maybe forty minutes.  Tied up and blindfolded in the trunk, he’d tried to keep count.  Keep reality at the forefront and his mind on the numbers.  He’d never been more annoyed with himself for not taking his Adderall, as he was distracted by every bump in the road.

He’d been blindsided, hit with something heavy and blunt near his temple, woken up in a trunk, disoriented and with his hands tied together in a rough and bristly rope and a sash over his eyes.  Forty minutes outside of Beacon Hills.  What the hell was just outside of town?  The empty chemical plant came to mind, but did that have an underground?  Stiles had no idea.  He hadn’t ever snuck out here to drink, get high, make out or have sex.  This was just another on a long list of reasons why that was a gross oversight on his part.  And his dad’s part.  And all the girls in town’s part too.

So he had: Maybe chemical plant.  No phone.  No more binds or blindfold.  No proof anyone knew he was gone.  A pounding head and injured shoulder but no serious injuries.  No concealed weapons or homing beacon – he really needed to start thinking more like James Bond with the pen gun and the piton belt.  Underground, he was pretty sure on that one.  Metal bars on the cell, cot with a metal bed frame, bare mattress and flat pillow, a metal sink and a metal toilet – metal appeared to be the theme they’d chosen; Stiles would’ve voted for cashmere.   No Adderall.  No guarantee his mind would be able to help him through this.  No clue who his attackers were, other than fat and thin.  Potbelly and Crispin Glover.

That wasn’t a whole lot to go on.

First things first.  His dislocated shoulder.  That was going to have to be dealt with before he even thought about what to do next.  It seemed to pulse in preparation for the pain it knew was coming.

“Okay, okay.  I can do this.”  Stiles took a deep breath in and sat himself on the floor in the middle of the cell.  He brought up his knees so they were almost touching his chest.  He whimpered as he pulled up both hands, lacing them together over his knees so his palms were facing him.

He chugged up a few breaths, gearing up, and then slowly he began to lean back.  Agony exploded throughout the entirety of his left side and he grit his teeth, grinding down too hard as his whole body seemed to scream for him to stop.  His chest heaved as his breaths got more erratic and he kept leaning back inch by inch.  His face screwed up, red and hot, and Stiles could feel tears prickling behind his eyes.

Pop.

He could actually hear it when the counterweight finally – finally – popped it back into place.  Fuck.  His arm was stringy, feeling mostly weak and useless, but back in proper position.  That was a step in the right direction.  He felt weary from the demonstration and sat down on the mattress, cross-legged, trying to will away the headache banging away between his temples.  He took everything he knew and attempted to arrange it in a way that would either get him help or enable him to help himself.

His focus was shot.  His mind wandering away from the point and back again and then the air fractured, became… different.  Cold, stale, vicious.  “No.”  Stiles clenched his jaw, squeezing his eyes shut.  “No, we’re not doing this.  Not now.  There’s no door, there’s no way out.  It only goes deeper.  You know this.  The deeper you get, the harder it is to follow the breadcrumbs back out.  Not.  Now.”  He opened his eyes again but the door was still there.  The door, which looked remarkably like the one in his bedroom, was cracked slightly and light was spilling out from behind it.  “It’s.  Just.  A.  Dream,” Stiles gritted out to himself.

Unless this wasn’t the dream.  How likely was it that he’d been kidnapped by a fat guy and a skinny guy, the kidnapping and burglary archetype – Home Alone and 101 Dalmatians could attest to that.  It was like it had been plucked from an amalgamation of his own memories.  It wasn’t real, it was figment.  Yes.  Wasn’t it just as likely – nay, more likely – that he was at home, in bed, and staring at his own open bedroom door?

He’d been alone and attacked.  Why was he alone again?  The fragments of reality – dream? – were slipping away from him.

He should go to the door.

Whatever was behind it, it was better to know.  Better to arm himself against it.  And if he was in a cell then maybe the door would lead him out.  The door was open.  Because when is a door not a door?  All he had to do was close it and the riddle became moot.  All he had to do was close it.

Stiles stood up, hand already stretching out toward the knob even though he was a ways from it when something clambered through.  It was bulky, off-balance, and it had sharp, bloody teeth.

“Fucking dog clawed me,” some twisted voice said, violent and cold.

“‘S just a mangy Beta.”  There was a thump and a whimpering sound and Stiles’ eyes were open but all he could see was the light coming from the door.  It was like it hadn’t moved, still cracked the same distance, still waiting for him to make his move.  The sound was happening right next to him but the images were far away.  Someone snarled, “Wrap it up and keep your fucking wits about you.  It’s an animal and you smell like a threat.  Maybe you’ll fucking keep that in mind next time.”

“Yeah, yeah,” the twisted one said darkly.  There was a scuff of rubber on concrete.  “This’ll be a fucking bloodbath.  He knows that, don’t he?”

A chuckle.  “I don’t think he paid a security deposit on the place and he sure as hell isn’t planning on cleaning it up himself.”

Stiles’ mind reoriented with a snap.  He turned away from the door but he was still staring into his empty bedroom, only he wasn’t in his bedroom.  He was in a cell, with impenetrable metal bars, and something that was going to cause a bloodbath.  Crispin and Potbelly were arguing but he couldn’t see them.  He couldn’t see what fresh hell they’d unleashed on him.  He couldn’t protect himself.  He was frozen in the dream, fucked up on some kind of dopamine imbalance and paralyzed in the hallucination until it decided it was through with him.

The voices were still just as strong, just as close.  “Doesn’t seem much point to it if all we brought ‘em here for was to watch some wild animal tear into the kid.”

Stiles’ blood ran cold.

Crispin – Stiles was pretty sure it was his voice – said uncaringly, “Pretty sure he considers it some kind of social experiment.  Proof they’re rabid.”  There was a pause, assessing, clinical.  “Mindless.”

Stiles swallowed.  What was rabid and mindless and capable of tearing into him and creating a bloodbath?  The Nemeton had drawn so many things to Beacon Hills that it could be anything.  None of which Stiles would want to meet in some eight-by-ten cell.

There was the sound of a throat clearing.  “Doesn’t mean I want to fucking watch it.”  The door slammed behind the footsteps out, scraping metal on metal while Stiles fought against the delusion he was drowning in.  His room started to flicker, an artificial light he couldn’t see the source of growing brighter, a low snarl just under the hum of it coming up.  He could hear it getting louder as the world around him shook.

His eyes shot open and he scrambled upright on the cot immediately, the metal squeaking under the shifts of his weight as he tried to get the wall at his back.

There was someone – a person, a man – in the corner across from him, crouching and head bowed.  The hair was tousled, dark, clumped together in odd mounds like someone had been tugging at it.  His arms were caked with dirt and dried blood, shirtless and chest sporting pink scratch marks, jeans soaked with mud and dripping.  He was barefoot, pale toes poking out from under the wet and scraggly hem of the jeans.  The snarl was coming from him, nonstop and uninterrupted, loud and long.

Stiles’ heart was beating in his throat and he tried to gulp it back down into his chest.  “Hello?”  Nothing about the man in the corner changed, the snarl or the stance.  “My name is Stiles Stilinski,” Stiles told him.  “I’m sixteen and I really don’t want to be cannibalized today.  Or any day.  I’m pretty much against the whole idea of being eaten actually.”

The head jerked up, red eyes glowing in a dirt-streaked, scruffy face.

“Holy shit!  Derek?”  Stiles clutched his hand over his heart and breathed more freely, melting back against the wall.  “You could’ve said something, you douche, I was freaking out over here.  Also, I thought Scott said something about you being a Beta again?  I mean, I know he has his ditzy moments but I was still pretty sure he had his primary colors down.  I’m sitting him down and getting out the Crayola chart when we get out of here.  By the way, you can make with the bar bending any time you want, big guy.”

That reminded Stiles, Crispin had clearly been under the impression Derek had lost his status too.  Stiles grinned to himself.  Potbelly had better hope Derek hadn’t cut too deep with those claws of his.

Derek’s growl got louder, sharper, and Stiles nearly had to clap his hands over his ears to shut it out but it leveled out to the steady snarl barely a second later.  Stiles gazed at him, taking in the reality of the situation.  “Okay, okay,” he said, running both hands through his hair.  He licked his lip, scooted to the edge of the mattress – the growl going deeper, and held up his hands.

Derek was filthy and he had obviously been through a hell of a fight, and potentially an equally as harrowing escape.  Only to be snatched up by Tall and Squat.  That wasn’t great.  He wasn’t visibly injured so far as Stiles could see but there was still pink skin that was clearly only just healed and who knew how long ago those wounds had been inflicted and by whom?  He was covered in patches of blood, either his own or someone else’s – or both.  His eyes were red, his fangs were descended and Stiles could see the sideburns and lack of eyebrows now he was really looking.  His claws were balancing him in his crouch on the cool floor of the cell.

Rabid, they had said.

Stiles swallowed.  “Derek?  Can you understand me?”

The eyes flashed away and back, looking cornered and vicious.

Stiles deflated, scrubbing at his barely there stubble with his knuckles.  It was prickly and aggravating.  “I’m taking that as a ‘no.’”  Stiles heaved out a sigh, leaning back.  He closed his eyes for a long moment and then snorted.  It turned into a chuckle he almost couldn’t reel back in.  “Jesus, bad luck really follows you around, doesn’t it?  It’s not Beacon Hills, man, it’s you.  How disappointing is that?  Seriously though, how many black cats have you crossed while passing under ladders and smashing mirrors?  That shit has karmic retribution written all over it.  Either that or there’s just some smarmy little man locked up in a room somewhere who is just storyboarding disaster after disaster for you.  And that’s… shitty.  You’d think he would’ve got bored of you by now, you know?  Found a new punching bag.  If only because ruining your life has started to feel like it was repetitive and stagnating.”  Stiles slumped down, digging his thumb and forefinger into his eyes, popping them back open wide.  “Sorry, man, no Adderall in a few days.  Tangents are a thing that happen.”

Derek didn’t seem to care one way or the other.  Silent or rambling against it, the growl was still there, the flinch and bared teeth every time Stiles so much as shifted occasionally accompanying it.  He wasn’t Derek, not really.  He was an abused and violent creature and the blood, the filth, the primal growling only served to remind Stiles of that.  There was a part of him that wanted to try to check Derek over for injuries, make sure he wasn’t slowly bleeding internally or something, maybe try to scrub off some of the blood or dirt, but he knew better than that.  After Derek’s reaction to him even moving to the edge of the bed, it was safe to say that he’d staked out his territory and Stiles wasn’t to cross into it.

Clearly wolves weren’t built for tactical decisions because his side was the one with the bed and the sink.  Which just proved Derek kind of sucked at looking after himself.

They seemed to split the toilet.  That would be interesting.

Stiles leaned back against the wall, slouched down low and eyelids heavy.  He stared at Derek who stared back at him, red phosphorous glowing in the dark like the world’s creepiest nightlight.

The scrape of metal on concrete screeched into his dream.  He didn’t remember it as soon as his eyes opened to the dank, weak light of the cell but his head was stuffy and his wrists were pulsing in time with his heartbeat.  Potbelly was standing in the door with a long, silver rod in his hand.  Stiles shot upright, scrabbling back to the corner of the mattress, the springs squeaking horribly.  Potbelly grinned at him, maniacally happy and yellow-teethed.  “Not today, kid.  You got it yesterday.”  His gaze cut across to Derek.  He was snarling, gnashing his teeth and looked close to pouncing.  “Today it’s his turn.”

Derek lunged forward and Potbelly, with faster reflexes than Stiles would have thought him capable of, rammed the pole into Derek’s abdomen.

It sparked up and Stiles could see the electricity wrack his whole body.  He was still shuddering violently when Potbelly started to drag him out.

Stiles leapt into action, jumping off the bed and planning to—he didn’t know what, shove Potbelly off Derek maybe and hope Derek didn’t turn around and try to tear him limb from limb in response?  It was rendered moot because Crispin had slipped in right behind Potbelly, silently and unnoticed.  He stopped in front of Stiles and Stiles stilled instantly, a small switchblade pressed to his stomach.  It was casually done, like Crispin was offering him a Mars bar or a ticket stub.   He was grinning from ear to ear.  “Nothing bleeds like gut wounds.”  He tapped the knife tip against Stiles’ gut and Stiles couldn’t hold back his flinch.  “They draw out the agony past the threshold of what the average human can,” he pressed in with a laugh, “stomach and yet you’re conscious for nearly every moment of it.  By the time death comes, you’ve been begging for it so long your voice is hoarse.”

Stiles tried for an impish smirk.  “You give that pretty little speech to all your hostages or am I special?”  He batted his eyelashes.

He barely saw Crispin’s elbow before it was striking him hard across the face.  Blackness rose up to meet him before he could even hit the ground.

The vines of the Nemeton had crept up his arms while he was unconscious, chaining him, hauling him towards the stump.  The face of it was open, the rings rippling back and revealing a dark abyss inside it.  Stiles struggled against the pull, rocks and dirt and dry leaves tumbling under the drag of his ass over the ground while it tried to suck him in.  He could feel the air getting thin as he neared, like he was entering a vacuum and he tried to hold onto his breaths for longer before releasing them.

His heels dug into the crags in the roots but it only seemed to make it easier for the vines to lever him up, make him face the darkness he would spend eternity lost inside.

Something sharp pierced into his weaker shoulder and he could feel blood dripping down his arm.  The pain got clearer as it dug in deeper and then the gray floor of the cell was swimming into focus.  His cheeks stung on both sides and he worked his jaw, it feeling stiff and like it was still in beta-testing.  He tried to sit up but the sting in his shoulder was holding him down.

The sting which was Derek’s claws, dug into him as far as they would go and unforgiving.

Seeing it made the pain a thousand times less removed until the ache was visceral and he could taste it in his mouth.  He’d lost consciousness on Derek’s side.  His fangs were bared and he was leaning into Stiles’ space, nostrils flaring and nails biting.

He reared back on a particularly intent inhale and ripped out his claws and shoved Stiles back over.

Stiles whimpered, cradling his arm, biting his lips to keep from howling.  “Fuck,” he hissed, picking the cloth of his t-shirt out of the gashes in his arm.  They were tender and the fabric stuck and peeled away painfully but eventually he could get a good look at them.

He reached up and awkwardly and one handedly dragged the cover off the pillow.  He folded it up and pressed the square to his arm to stop the bleeding.  Stiles opened his eyes, head hazy with the remnants of the dream and his own shit situation, and glared at Derek.  “Fuck you, dude.”

His cheek started to throb.  The one that had smashed into the concrete floor.  The ache shot through that whole side of his face.  He opened his mouth and made an ‘Ah,’ exhalation of pain, framing his jaw with his weaker hand.  The headache, which had been dropping off, was back in full force.  Everything – everything – was beyond sore and tender and giving up sounded really, really good.

Derek prowled along the line he’d imagined between them, low to the ground and snuffling and snarling.  His perma-red eyes flashed up at Stiles from every angle so he could never forget his every move was being gauged.  Occasionally he would brush up against the line, cross a hand over it and he would stare up at Stiles, watch him for a long moment, before taking it back.

Stiles closed his eyes again.  “I don’t care what you do, dude,” Stiles told him, “just try to keep the claws and the fangs out of me.”  He was pretty sure he wouldn’t turn like this.  He hoped at least.  He didn’t feel any different, still wrung out, still weary down to his bones.  The way the Argent’s bestiary told it, it had to be a pretty fucking serious wound inflicted by a werewolf’s claws before you had to fear you might suffer ‘its curse.’  Lovely vernacular in that thing.

Stiles pulled the pillow cover away.  This sucked but it would be done bleeding within the hour.  That didn’t strike him as all that serious, which meant he probably wasn’t on track to becoming a creature of the night.  Huzzah.

It felt like the force of everything – the throbbing in both sides of his face, the crick in his jaw, the fuzzy leadenness of his whole left arm from shoulder to fingertip and the deep puncture wounds – hit him at once and he was winded by the pure physical torment he’d gone through in barely a day.  He snorted to himself, slurring out the words, “And it’s my turn tomorrow.  Kind of them, don’t you think?  Making us feel like the prettiest girl at the dance, picking us up one at a time.”  His chin lolled down onto his chest and Stiles walked two fingers listlessly across the bare mattress, blinking down at the blur of the motion.  “The ants go marching one by one,” he said under his breath just before sleep claimed him.

This time, Stiles didn’t think he dreamt at all – something that hadn’t happened since long before he and Scott and Allison had recklessly decided to be surrogate sacrifices for their parents.  It was completely ironic and so his life that the best sleep he’d had in weeks came in a prison cell while being held hostage by two vaguely menacing ruffians.  In fact, he couldn’t figure out what could’ve woken him from such a restful slumber until he felt it again.  The rough, slow drag of a tongue that started at the top of his palm and went a few inches up his forearm.

More pressing than the wet and the weird and the goosebumps it caused was that it hurt.  The texture of the tongue was harsh and rasping and for some reason Stiles’ skin was tender.  He looked down to find Derek on all fours, as far back as he could be while leaning forward and licking at the raw redness around Stiles’ wrists.

Stiles gasped and yanked his arm away.

Derek looked confused, head tilting to the side and staring at Stiles’ hand like it was an entity all its own and it was fleeing him before he was ready to let it go.  He leaned further in and nudged his nose into the crevice of Stiles’ palm, pushing in and sniffing.  He huffed, getting hot breath and snot on Stiles’ hand.

Stiles groaned.  “Seriously, dude?”  He brought his palms up out of reach, leaning back against the wall and staring down at his wrists.  There were red rings around both of them, the skin pink and slightly torn, clearly irritated, likely from the rope they had thrown him in the trunk tied up in.  But that wasn’t all.

No, now there were uneven lines of dotted blood that had been etched into the wounds randomly and haphazardly.  It was clear from the fat pink paths what had happened.  Stiles had been scratching at them in his sleep, scratching so hard that he drew blood and tore the skin further.

And Derek had stopped him, tried to soothe the aggravated redness the best he knew how.

Stiles eyed him a little more carefully.  “Not such a fearsome beast after all, eh?”  He pushed himself to the edge of the bed and Derek backed up carefully, keeping a weather eye on him as he marched over to the sink and ran the water.

It came out in uneven bursts and no matter which handle you used or how you fiddled with them, the only temperature was freezing.  There was no soap or mirror or anything other than a standing sink jutting out of the wall.

Even so, Stiles felt less like he was sliding Derek’s snot between his fingers.

He wiped his hands on his hoodie and held up a wrist so the fragile inside was facing Derek.  “Thanks for, uh, this.”

Derek stared at him.  Blinked.  Backed away to his side and Stiles was struck by how animalistic his movements were, sleek and fluid and with power behind every bit of them.

“Right,” Stiles said, rubbing at his forehead, “Right.”  He knew he was awake – well, as much as he ever did these days – but he still felt like his thoughts were trudging through molasses just to form.  He was in that in-between state, dozy and useless, and his wrists throbbed and his cheeks were sore and the door was scraping open.

“Ready to answer our questions, Piglet?”

And the nickname was really only fair because Stiles had given them Potbelly and Crispin.  The only difference was that he was pretty sure they knew his name and were purposefully choosing not to use it.  Stiles blinked, slightly unequally, and squinted at Potbelly.  “How come it always seems that the guy with the lowest IQ and the largest gut has the biggest mouth?”

Crispin actually laughed at that from behind Stiles, where he was keeping Derek cornered with the cattle prod.  Stiles had no idea if he would’ve tried to help anyway.  The cell would certainly be a lot more livable with one less person in it.  Regardless, the oily laugh was the last sound Stiles heard before Potbelly was slugging him.

His vision was blurry, watery from tears he hadn’t cried and his arms were strung up above his head, his toes just barely reaching the ground.  That first day had been bush league compared to this.  He’d sat in a chair, rubbed his wrists and looked scandalized, while William Barrow stalked around him with that stilted and jolting movement of his and asked him how many werewolves were left in Beacon Hills.

Zero, because werewolves don’t exist.  Did I get it right, Bob?  Let’s see that board!  Come on, Free Pass, come on, Free Pass.  No Whammies, no Whammies, stop.”

Now he was being suspended by wrists that hadn’t even begun to properly scab over.  He could feel blood dripping down his forearms from the shallow slices he’d made, his sneakers skimming and sometimes catching on the concrete but not enough to offer him any relief.  Potbelly had said it, that this was a downhill slope he was on.

Barrow had a taser in one hand and insanity in the other.

Stiles could’ve guessed his chances here weren’t great.

The taser in his hand was buzzing.  “Electric currents for humans, it’s a simple design, affecting muscle control more than anything else.  I use a low current,” Barrow jabbed forward with it, a quick, hard stab to Stiles’ side and it didn’t hurt so much as it tingled and made his muscles jump and twitch at odd intervals, “and it’s barely a shock to your system.”  Stiles shuddered in the chains, pulling on all the wrong parts in all the wrong ways.  “However, if I were to increase that current,” the taser in his hand vibrated hard and Stiles could see the current dancing at the tips of it.  Barrow tilted his head, staring at him like he was a fly caught in flypaper, “I could burn your insides out.”

He grinned madly, his smile too wide and dark for his face.  Like a gaping hole blown out where his mouth should be.  Not quite right.  Not quite human.  “But it’s simple biology.  There’s no mystery to it, no paranormal side.  Your muscles spasm while the impulses to your brain fail to have any effect on them.”  His eyes lit up.  “Those monsters though, with the glowing eyes and the sharp teeth?  Those do something interesting.  You wire them up with enough volts and, yowza, you got yourself a show.  They lose all sense of self, revert back to what they really are – mutts in need of collars.”

Stiles swallowed, trying for a grin but his mouth wouldn’t fumble into it right.  “Aren’t you the man with the plan?” he said blithely.

“Tell me who they are.  The kids with the glowing eyes.  You smell hurt more than the others, broken.”  He dragged the taser down the center of Stiles’ torso, zigzagging down.  Stiles braced himself but it was inert for the moment.  Barrow kept staring at his chest, like he could see through it.  “All cracked inside.  I know it’s because you know them.”  Barrow blinked, catching Stiles’ gaze – which was caught somewhere between judgmental and terrified because Barrow was well and truly out of his mind and out of their mind guys did not respond well to logic.  “You think they care about you, don’t you?  Accept you?”  Barrow clicked his tongue.  “They’re destruction cloaked in fur.  Even when they don’t mean to, they’re like bulls in china shops with humans.  They don’t understand the way you bruise.”

Barrow fitted his hand over Stiles’ forearm and squeezed so hard and so tight and so long that Stiles couldn’t help but cry out, feeling the bone begin to creak.  Barrow released him, leaving behind the imprint of his hand in dark pools of blood.

“They don’t understand the way you bleed.”

Barrow used a ragged thumbnail to slice a small cut into his neck.

“They don’t understand human aches,” a slap with the flat side of the taser into his already tender cheek, “or human pain.”  He tugged on Stiles’ wrists, making the shackles scrape against the raw skin.

Barrow’s eyes were too wide.  “I understand all of what you’re feeling, the agony coursing through you.  Your friends have hurt you in all the same ways but they do it under the guise of love.”  His lip raised but on him it looked less purposeful and more like a muscle twitch.  “One isn’t better than the other, however much you may believe it so.  Either way, you’re in constant pain, Stiles.  I’m only seeking to end it.”

Stiles had wanted to scream, whimper, squeal.  Instead he kept his mouth shut and tried to think of curly fries.  It accomplished what it needed to.  Saliva rushed to his mouth and he spit a nice, healthy glob into Barrow’s face.  “Go to hell, you motherfucking psychopath.”

Barrow calmly wiped the mucus-y saliva from his face with a smile.  “I thought you might say that.  It’s a shame, too, because soon you’ll tell me.  You’ll tell me because you’ll want them gone as much as I do.”  He shook his head, an odd, almost animatronic lack of smoothness in the movement.  “It’s only your own doing that you’ll have to go through so much suffering first.”

He pressed the taser to Stiles’ side and this was no tingle.  This time it felt like his lungs were on fire and he would open his mouth and breathe smoke.  Unconsciousness was a long time coming and Stiles was forced to watch his own skin sizzle long before it came.

Barrow didn’t ask any more questions.  The pain was about impressing the point rather than dragging out answers.  Stiles had already chosen.  Today he’d chosen Scott and Isaac and even Aiden and Ethan by default.  He hoped he would do the same tomorrow.

He woke up on the cot, the mattress so thin he could feel a spring pressing into the undoubtedly impressive bruise on his cheek.  He groaned, his arm flung over the side and the knuckles of his fingers touching the cool, smooth ground.

He was alive, at least.

He was already at the point where he wasn’t sure if that was a victory or not.  He sat up and was about to lower his feet to stand when he blinked down at the shape over the edge of the cot.  His knuckles hadn’t been brushing the floor.  They’d been brushing Derek’s shoulder.

He was curled up around his own stomach, knees brought up protectively and arms out in front of him.   He looked like a beaten animal, hair still clumped together with mud and whatever else, streaked with dirt and blood.  His lip was raised in his sleep, like he was frozen mid-snarl, and it was almost like he was keeping vigil over Stiles.

Stiles hadn’t gotten to the cot by himself but he equally doubted that Potbelly or Crispin or Derek had put him there.

Stiles scootched down to the end of the bed so he could reach the floor with his feet and Derek’s head shot up and red eyes fixed on him, watching him warily.  “Hey, buddy,” Stiles said.  He was going for soft, soothing, but what came out was strangled and pained.  He’d been screaming towards the end.  Not words – he wouldn’t ask a psychopath to stop psychopathing as it would be the worst waste of breath.  No, he was just vocalizing the worst of it.

Silently, he wondered if Derek had heard it.  He hoped not.  The man had enough to deal with without adding Stiles’ pain on top of his own.

Stiles frowned down at him.  “So I guess Barrow did this.  Ran so much electricity through you that your mind splintered.”  He leaned back against the sink.  “I hope your famous wolfy healing can fix that, too.”

Derek’s answer was a low-level growl and a distrustful glare.

Stiles supposed that was fair enough.  Derek didn’t have the best track record with humans.  He turned around and thankfully the sink had a plunger.  He pulled it and filled it halfway, washing what felt like a week’s worth of grime off his face and neck and arms.  He wished Derek would let him do the same but he held no illusions about that.  He let the water out and watched it drain before doing the same thing over again.  He cupped his hand around the tap and drank as best he could from it before leaning down and drinking straight from the stream.

When the water had filled about half the basin, he stepped aside.  “Hey, buddy, you thirsty at all?” he asked, watching as Derek’s eyes flicked from him to the sink.

Stiles melted back down onto the bed.  His whole body hurt and his muscles kept twitching randomly and tears of pain and frustration were welled up inside but to cry them would only aggravate every tiny ache he was feeling.  He laid back down, feeling weakened and boneless.  His only profitable skill at this point was silence and he was terrible at it.

Was that irony?

He closed his eyes, facing the wrong way on the bed and buried his bruised face in the mattress.  He heard a clatter and peeked one eye open.  Derek had managed to perch himself with his hands framing the sink and he leaned down to sniff before taking a tentative taste of the water.  After it had met with his approval, he lapped away happily, sloshing water over the sides and down his own chest.

Stiles shivered just imagining the icy trail and pulled his hoodie tighter around his middle in response before falling into sleep again.

Something woke him up hours later, groggy and at what felt like the darkest part of night.  Derek was curled up at the side of the bed again.  Stiles reached down, dreamlike and weightless, and let his fingertips brush against his bicep while Derek scrunched up tighter in response.  Slowly, slowly he relaxed again.  Stiles’ lips twitched and he laid back down, leaving his fingers exactly where they were.

When his eyes peeled back open, Potbelly and Crispin were already in the cell and Derek was crouched and snarling at both of them.

Stiles shot off the bed to get between them and, fuck, was that a mistake.  The extent of his injuries hadn’t yet taken their toll day of but now, now every movement reminded him of every last one of them.  He drew in air through his clenched teeth and tried not to look as weak as he felt.  “What the fuck can he tell you now?” he hissed.  “Barrow broke his fucking mind.  You can ask him all the questions in the world and all you’re going to get is bared teeth.”

Crispin’s smile spread like spilled oil over his mouth.  “You really think he’s working off the same agenda with the two of you?”  He quirked an arch brow.  “Even if the dog could talk, who would want to hear what it had to say?”  He took a step forward and Stiles reactively took a step back, bumping into Derek.  Stiles swallowed, really hoping Derek could grasp the whole ‘sides’ concept – beyond a line down the middle of their shared cell.

As it was, his growl momentarily faltered when Stiles ran into him but then it came back stronger from behind the cage of Stiles’ legs.  Stiles really hoped the warning wasn’t for him because there weren’t exactly many places he could go.

Crispin’s smile widened until it showed teeth.  His dark eyes flitted down to Derek.  “It is an experiment, to find out what exactly their threshold for pain is.  When the hurt is too hurt to heal from.  If you can use it up, the healing, the glow in their eyes, the fangs, the claws.”

“You’re sick,” Stiles spat.  In fact, he wasn’t sure he’d ever been more disgusted by anything in his life.

Potbelly shrugged.  “‘S a wild animal, isn’t it?  People hunt those things for sport.”

Stiles pulled a face.  “Which is just the same as ritualistically torturing someone just to see how they react to it,” he said sarcastically.  He wasn’t even particularly surprised when the cattle prod in Potbelly’s hand found his side and the ground rushed up fast to meet him.

There was a door at the end of the hall, just slightly cracked, light spilling out from all around it.  Something in Stiles, something deep and primal, told him to close it.  Close it before it could open any further.  When he got close though, the whispering started.  The whispering beyond it.  He frowned and instead of closing the door, he was easing it open.

Light ate away at defined edges before his eyes slowly adjusted.  He was staring at his dining room table.  His father at one end, his mother at the other, and an eight-year-old Stiles kicking his feet under the table.

“I don’t know what to do with him anymore.”  His mom looked haggard, her skin an inhuman gray and hair limp.  She darted her eyes towards Stiles.  “This is the third school in three years.”

His dad frowned.  “We’ll figure something out.  Get him into therapy or to a doctor, something.”

Child-sized Stiles was oblivious to all of it, his feet still swinging while he rolled his brussel sprouts around on his plate, occasionally popping one into his mouth.

His mom’s mouth twisted.  “I almost wonder if he’s more trouble than he’s worth.”  Her gaze cut over to Stiles.  “Genim, enough.  Stop playing with your food and eat it!”

Teenaged Stiles felt a catch in his throat as his breaths started coming in more shallowly, less frequently while child-sized Stiles glumly ate his food with his fingers.  It was barely another minute before he was back to rolling them around though.

His mother’s shoulders slumped.  “I’m exhausted, John.  He’s so exhausting.”

His dad’s hand shot out with lightning quick reflexes and stabbed a fork down through Stiles’ hand, pinning it to the table while blood gushed out over the wound.  His dad bared his teeth in a grin.  “See, easy solutions to every problem.”  He reached out a hand across the table and his mom’s fitted into it perfectly.

Stiles could feel himself starting to panic, his chest was heaving, vision blurring, while his parents held hands and gazed into each other’s eyes lovingly and the blood rushed from child-sized Stiles’ hand like that scene from The Shining when the red wave explodes out of the elevator.  He didn’t look scared, pouty but not afraid.

Everything doubled, tripled while he wheezed over himself and he had to get air in.  The room started to shake and the light got too bright again and then something was driving into his face.

He blinked and found himself face to face with Derek’s ear.  He was headbutting-slash-nuzzling the juncture near Stiles’ neck and jaw, making a low whine in the back of his throat and Stiles realized that while the dream was fading, the panic attack wasn’t.

Reality came rushing back.  He was trapped in a cell.  With Derek, who was mindless and feral and being tortured like this was some kind of Nazi-esque camp for werewolves.  Stiles’ turn would come tomorrow.  They’d been given no food and no one had found them, nor were they likely to.  None of this was helping the panic attack subside.

Derek whined louder, leaning over him, claws pricking the mattress, obviously trying to figure out why Stiles’ heart was going haywire.

Stiles reached up and fitted his hand over Derek’s bare chest, finding the reassuring beat of his heat.  It was fast but steady.

Derek’s eyes went too wide and he looked torn between a growl and a wounded expression.

Stiles gasped out, “Just—let me—use this.”  He gritted his teeth and forced the words past his lips.  “ I won’t hurt you.”

Derek still looked skeptical but he didn’t bite or rear back.

Stiles tried to count the beats and, at first, they were coming too fast but every second it slipped back down a notch or two until he could match his breathing to it.  One, in.  Two, out.  And like that until he got to thirty-six and he no longer felt like there wasn’t enough air in the room.

Stiles clenched his hand over Derek’s chest and breathed, “Thank you.”  Derek tried to ease back, slip away, but Stiles caught him by his shoulder and squeezed.  “I meant it, you know?  I won’t hurt you.  I know that’s hard to believe right now, considering you have literally no experience with that, but I won’t.”  He let Derek slink away, back to his corner, before rolling over and falling headlong into sleep.

He didn’t dream.

He woke in what he suspected was the middle of the night again.  Derek was on the cot with him, pressed to the far edge, back to Stiles.  Stiles almost wanted to reach out and touch him but he didn’t want to spook him so instead he stared up at the dark ceiling and whispered, “I don’t have nightmares when you’re here.”  It wasn’t coincidence, he was sure of it now, it was a pattern.  He glanced at the slow heave of Derek’s back as he breathed deeply and said, “Thank you.”

Derek didn’t so much as twitch.

The next morning’s session brought scalpels into play.  Razor fine cuts littered Stiles’ arms and torso.  He kept the names locked away inside himself and sang Mambo No. 5 as loudly as he could.  If Barrow was going to torture Stiles then Stiles was going to torture him right back.

Derek didn’t bother with the pretense of hostility this time.  He whined and backed Stiles into the mattress until he was sitting down and then pushed his head into his hands.  Stiles awkwardly petted his hair and it really was a greasy, untamed mess.

“Hey, bud.”  He smoothed a thumb firmly down the line of Derek’s jaw, moving with the scruff rather than against it.  “You good enough with me that you’ll let me wash some of this gunk off you, you think?”

Derek nosed into his hand and Stiles went back to petting him.  He licked over one of the cuts on Stiles’ forearm and Stiles shivered and wrinkled his nose.  “Spectacularly gross, dude.”  His mouth formed a weak smile.  “I hope you didn’t catch any of that serenade earlier.”  He yawned.  “I’m not trying to make your life any more miserable, honest.”

Stiles eased back onto the bed and motioned for Derek to join him.

Derek’s wariness barely lasted a second before he was crawling up with him and running the bridge of his nose up and down Stiles’ stubbly jaw, perching himself in his lap, legs folded on either side of Stiles’ hips.  Stiles ran his hand up and down the knobs of Derek’s spine, only venturing into his tangled hair when Derek whined and nudged against his neck with his face.

He woke up with his hand resting on the small of Derek’s back, the stiff waist of his jeans supporting its weight and keeping it from falling away.  Derek was slumped against his chest, mouth open, fangs bluntly set against the hollow of Stiles’ throat as he breathed hot, wet pants into his skin.  It didn’t look particularly comfortable but you’d never know it from how relaxed Derek looked in his slumber.

Unfortunately, he was heavy as hell and Stiles suspected his entire lower half had fallen asleep.  Stiles barely managed to stop the impulse to poke him in the side.  Derek, not just a prickly werewolf anymore but a feral one, poking him was a BAD IDEA, all caps.  Instead, Stiles stroked up his back, more and more firmly to try to wake him.

Derek shoved his face further into the juncture where Stiles’ neck met his shoulder and let out a low grumble.

“Come on, buddy.  Up you get.”

Derek grumbled louder and shoved his face in harder.

“I’m glad you decided to board the ‘Stiles is awesome and pillow-like’ train,” Stiles told him.  “You’re in good company, trust me, but you’re caked in a disgusting mess and I’d really like to do something about that.  I’m thinking because of the whole pillow-like aspect of my newfound awesomeness, that you’re okay with the getting up close and personal thing.”  He tapped Derek on the back three times and he untangled himself from Stiles grumpily, standing in front of the bed and glaring.

“That’s the spirit, man.”

Stiles hoisted himself up off the bed and was assaulted by pins and needles almost as soon as he was standing on his own two feet.  “Wow, you are a heavy beast, dude.”  Stiles wobbled and Derek swayed forward like he was ready to catch him.  Which was just, yeah, unexpected.  But very, very welcome.  Having a potential friend-ish person here was way better than having a potential eat-your-face-off-ish person.

Stiles led him over to the sink and filled the basin, wishing he had a way to make the water something above thirty-three degrees.  He motioned for Derek to join him but he was still standing in front of the bed, looking mullish and untrusting.  Stiles decided to suck up his courage, marched forward and circled Derek’s wrist with his fingers and dragged him forward.  He scowled but didn’t attack.  Stiles resisted the urge to fist pump but only because one hand was occupied with Derek and the other was fiddling with the zipper of his hoodie, trying to fumble it down.

He let go of Derek’s wrist once they were standing in front of the sink and shrugged out of his hoodie.  The cuts on his arms were already nearly closed again and he breathed a sigh of relief.  He yanked off his shirt, threw it over Derek’s bare shoulder, shivered and pulled on his hoodie.  He dipped his shirt into the standing water, watching the ripples for a half-second before reaching up to Derek’s cheek with the wet patch and drawing a firm line down it.

The change only drew attention to exactly how dirty Derek was.  “Look at you,” Stiles enthused, wiping away another patch of dirt and blood.  He dipped the shirt back in the water and scrubbed out the muck Derek had left behind on it.  “We’ll have you back to ‘dapper gentleman’ in no time.”

The washing went slow but, to Derek’s credit, he stayed stationary for the entirety of it.  Despite the occasional flinch when the new breathtakingly cold shirt would hit him in sensitive places, he barely moved at all.  Which only made Stiles even more hyper-aware of the way his hands were smoothing over the broad stretch of Derek’s shoulders, the contraction of his stomach against the frigid dampness and skimming up his sides.  Stiles switched to the clean side, blanketed Derek’s head with it still dripping wet and tousled his hair, rubbing and mussing and scrubbing.  Derek snorted and huffed and half-heartedly tried to shake him off but Stiles still managed to improve the hair situation greatly, after three rounds with his t-shirt.  Finally Derek was mostly clean.  Stiles had even done his toes and there was something about Derek’s bare feet that really drove home how much he was trusting Stiles here, how vulnerable he was allowing himself to be.

Stiles drained the water after wringing out the shirt and hanging it over the side of the sink.  “There you go, brand new wolf standing in front of me.  You wash up nice, dude,” he said with a whistle, eyes tracking Derek from toe to head.

Derek stared at him, gauging, as though trying to judge whether or not Stiles was actually finished with him.  When he’d decided that, yes, Stiles was definitely done and, yes, he could drape himself over him now, he did just that.  He just sort of slumped against and into Stiles, armpits fitting over his shoulders and head leaning against Stiles’.

Stiles squawked, indignant.  “Hey,” this time he did poke Derek in the side and he growled but huddled closer in response, “my legs are barely steady, big guy.  You want to back off a bit?”

Derek didn’t and Stiles ended up awkwardly sidestepping them to the bed.  He brought up his hands and squeezed Derek’s shoulders, caressing halfway down his back and then up again.  It should have felt odd, so much bare skin under his hands when his life was decidedly more used to none, but it didn’t.  Derek wasn’t really home these days.  He was like a big pooch in need of affection and Stiles was more than willing to pet the crap out of him.

He leaned back and Derek went right with him.  Stiles stroked up and down his arms while Derek laid mostly on top of him, tangling their legs together.  He didn’t have the toe claws like Kali and Stiles didn’t know if that was because he was controlling it or because he groomed himself in wolfy form or because that was just something batshit and special to her.  The first gave him hope, the second made him snort and the third reminded him of how fucking glad he was that that bitch was dead.

Stiles heaved out a sigh, Derek rising with his chest as he drew it in and falling as he let it out.  “What did they do to you today, big guy?”  Stiles couldn’t seem to bring himself to call him ‘Derek’ and he had no idea why.  Derek pushed in closer.  Stiles yawned and trailed his fingers lackadaisically down his back.  “Someone will come, you’ll see.  We won’t have to suffer through this much longer.”

Derek shoved his face into Stiles’ armpit and breathed deeply.

Stiles fell asleep halfway through the sentence, “Ugh, dude, do you know how gross that is?  I haven’t showered in days.”

He didn’t think Derek would care even if he had heard the whole sentiment.

It was another round, this time with Barrow rooting around inside his abdomen to look at what his ‘guts were made of.’  He stapled him back up afterwards, which was damn nice of him.  Stiles told him so, in between bouts of singing With Arms Wide Open by Creed on a loop.

Derek nosed up under his hoodie afterwards and whined sadly as he stared at the uneven gash and poor staple job.

Stiles offered him a weak grin.  “Still got all my parts.  We’re counting today as a win, buddy.”

Derek didn’t lay on top of Stiles today, instead he nudged him over and spooned up behind his back, keeping his claws curled into his palms.

Stiles didn’t dream at all.

He woke up to wetness on the back of his neck and his brow furrowed, the air feeling cold especially right behind his ear and then Derek licked him again.  Stiles’ eyes popped open wide.  “Jesus!  Wow, no.”  He pulled away from Derek, rolled over and stared at him, bewildered.  “Okay, friends,” he gestured between the two of them, “don’t do stuff like this.  I’ll forgive you because you haven’t had one in probably over a decade but we do not lick the Stiles.”  He swiped at his neck and up behind his ear where Derek’s tongue had strayed with the sleeve of his hoodie to emphasize the point.

Derek frowned, looking chastised, though he didn’t seem to understand why.

Stiles treated Barrow to Call Me Maybe while the guy mashed salt into shallow cuts he’d made that day.  His voice was hoarse by the end but he thought Barrow might have ended the session a little earlier than he’d ever dared before.  Stiles counted that as a win, too.

Derek herded him over to the bed, pushed him down, and then flopped on top of him.

Barrow kept him extra long the next round.  Stiles half-expected he would kill him then.  He wasn’t going to say anything and he thought Barrow was beginning to get that.  He sang What is Love for as long as his voice held out.  How long had it been since they’d eaten?  Five days?  Six?  A week?  Longer?

When he got back to the cell, Derek was out of his mind, pacing the entire perimeter of the room until the door opened and Stiles was thrust in.  Derek caught him, pushed him down and ran his face all over his chest, armpits, stomach, scenting him and whining nonstop in the back of his throat.

Stiles let him and slurred out, “You’re not getting better, Derek.”  And it was the first time he’d called him that since he’d realized he wasn’t really.  “But I don’t dream when I’m with you.”

He woke up to a chill and goosebumps breaking out over his chest.  His hoodie was pushed up and Derek was dragging his tongue over the hollow of his armpit in long, slow strokes.  Stiles could feel himself starting to take an interest, his legs spreading and his dick plumping up, getting hot and heavy between his thighs.

Fuck.

Derek wasn’t Derek and this couldn’t happen.  Stiles pushed him off by his face and mumbled, rolling over, “There’s an in between, you know?  Between nothing and fucking.  You could try this out.”

Derek stilled on the other side of the mattress and then he was draping himself over Stiles’ back, lining up their hips and thrusting against the crack of his ass.  Derek was hard and hot and leaning down to lick sweat off his back and holy fuck, this was hotter than anything Stiles had ever experienced, anything he’d ever seen and it was nothing.

It was Derek rutting against him like a wolf in heat.

Stiles arched his back into him, thrusting his ass up and Derek snapped his jaws, taking the opening, thrusting down harder.  The frantic squeak of the mattress springs screeched against Stiles’ insides, shaving the bone of his ribs and spine.  Derek was too far gone to be affected.  He spread his hand over Stiles’ back, pushing his chest into the mattress and his claws pricked but didn’t break skin.  A low rumble started in his chest, building and building until it was nearly a roar as he came, jeans still zipped and cock pulsing so Stiles could feel it.

Stiles didn’t give him much of a rest, elbowed him off, rolled onto his back, yanked open his jeans and fisted himself to completion in record time.

Derek didn’t like that much.  He snarled, pushed at Stiles’ shoulder until he flipped back over and then spread his come into his back, coating him with it as much as he could, up his back and over his shoulders, using the heel of his palm to get it deep into his pores like X-rated sunscreen.

“‘M all sticky,” Stiles murmured.  “Hope you’re proud of yourself, Sour Wolf.”

Derek was grinning.  He clearly was.

Stiles fell asleep with his pants still open, his dick still out, his face mashed into the mattress and Derek’s head on his shoulder, pillowed on the bunch of his hoodie and hand resting on the small of his bare back.

The door scraped open, metal on metal and Derek’s jaw clenched against Stiles’ skin.  Silhouetted in the doorway wasn’t Potbelly or Crispin.  It was a shorter figure, lean and strong and doing a convincing imitation of Stiles’ best friend in the world.