"I know about Kate."
Derek flinched but didn't turn around. Stiles had known for a while. Just, well, there wasn't any reason to talk about it, was there? And Stiles' voice was quiet, calm, tired. He reeked of exhaustion, and the reek of death still hadn't quite faded from him. There wasn't any hint of anger, which was a surprise. The first time, the accusation had been spat out in a fit of panicked fury. This time? It sounded like he was confessing to some kind of sin.
"I know how it happened. The fire. " A slight sigh. Derek could tell without turning around that Stiles was running a hand over his newly shorn head. "I know more than what's in reports."
He always had. Stiles had always been the resourceful type, often in spite of what laws he was breaking or who he was stepping on to get what he needed.
"I know," he said before trailing off. There was a pause, followed by a slight sigh, and a heavy silence.
Derek stared down at the table. Cora had sent a letter from Argentina, but he wasn't looking at that. He heard the slight rustle of fabric and the sound of Stiles sitting down on one of the steps by the door. He stayed silent, waiting Stiles out.
"How do you stop from blaming yourself?" Stiles asked after a long moment. His voice was hoarse. The tinge of salt in the air and a stifled sniffle told Derek that his eyes were welling up and Stiles was trying to hold back the tears.
"I don't," Derek said quietly, the admission uttered before he could think better of it.
Stiles was silent again. Probably nodding, maybe wiping away tears. "But you weren't directly responsible for anything. You were manipulated by some, by some monster," he said, spitting out the word like it was vile.
Derek flinched again. He turned his head slightly, enough that he could see Stiles out of the corner of his eye.
"For everything that happened, for everyone that died, you might feel responsible, but you were never the one that lit the match, right?" Stiles asked. He dropped his head down to his knees, curling his hands over the back of his head, though not before he touched the mark the Oni had left.
That was telling. Derek took a deep breath and turned to look fully at Stiles. "Right," he said. "Just like you weren't the one who killed any of the nogitsune's victims."
Stiles didn't look up. Didn't say anything. Didn't breathe, though only for a moment. He wasn't moving at all. Derek found it unnerving. It was usually impossible for Stiles to stay so still. Or move with any real grace, to be honest. The nogitsune had harvested that from Stiles' body, wearing him in svelte lines and too-smooth movement. Constantly poised. Derek wondered how much of a lingering influence the spirit would have on Stiles.
He crossed the loft in seconds, sitting silently on the step next to Stiles. Waited. He wanted to help. Truly. But when Stiles stayed silent, Derek looked around the loft. His gaze immediately landed on the spot where Boyd had died. By his hands but not his will. He closed his eyes and let out a heavy breath.
Finally, after too many minutes of heavy, still silence, Stiles lifted his head. He didn't look at Derek. He stared out in front of him. His eyes went to Boyd's last spot as well. "I'm not the one who killed them, but I have the blood on my hands," he said. "How do you stop seeing blood on your hands when you remember everything?" he asked, glaring down at his hands with an all-too-familiar expression of helpless fury as he voiced the question.
Derek looked down at his hands, his mind bringing forward the memories. Sounds of his family screaming from inside the house. Their hands, reaching out the basement window as they begged and cried for rescue. The stench of burning flesh and mountain ash. Peter's broken howl as he was unable to shove his wife and their twins over the ash line. Laura's anguished screams as her eyes glowed red for the first time, the only thing Derek could see of her through the thick black smoke. Kate's laughter, and the victorious leer she'd shot him before disappearing into the back of a hunter's SUV and driving away.
"I shoved a sword into my best friend's stomach," Stiles said, pulling Derek out of his mind. His voice wavered, and his tears finally started falling.
Derek glanced over at him, waiting. For all that he was still dressed like a teenager, Stiles looked years older than he had just a few months ago. Marked by the dark things in life that had left lesser men dead and useless. His eyes, though, were most telling. There was a haunted look in them that spoke of a man breaking irreparably.
"I remember twisting the blade into his intestines. He's my brother, and I almost killed him," Stiles said with a choked sob. "And I remember setting up the trap for Coach, and the bomb." He closed his eyes and, in the briefest second, seemed to deflate. "I watched Allison die because of me." This came out in a barely audible whisper. "I killed Allison."
"It wasn't you," Derek said finally. His tone was surprisingly gentle, even to himself. His eyes drifted back to Boyd's spot.
"But it was!" Stiles spat out. "It's my fault Allison's dead!" He went abruptly silent, like he hadn't meant to say that.
Derek didn't respond. He knew all too well what Stiles felt.
"I tried to stop it before any of this happened," Stiles said, and Derek's mind immediately went to the severed electric wires from the hospital. "I tried as hard as I could to stay me and I couldn't because every time I got my hands on a solution, that fucking demon took over," he said, snarling out the words and gesturing violently with his hands. "And it would laugh at me. Taunt me. Give me suggestions, and then rip the control away." He stood up and started pacing back and forth.
Derek watched him carefully. This was a razor's edge, he knew, and Stiles was walking without any safety net. Like he was trying to fall.
"And now it's gone, but I still have the goddamn memories of everything," Stiles said, still pacing. "I don't sleep anymore! I can't! Because I keep seeing dead bodies and Allison dying and I always hear Lydia screaming and nothing makes it stop!" he snapped. "I can't even look as Scott anymore! And every time I look in a mirror I see fucking jagged teeth and blood on my hands and I can't get it the fuck off!" When he finished, he was yelling and glaring at Boyd's spot.
Without thinking, Derek moved. He stood and pulled Stiles into a tight hug, pressing his cheek to Stiles' face and closing his eyes.
That seemed to do it.
Stiles returned the hug, burrowing his head into Derek's neck and started sobbing. His body wracked with the tears.
Derek suppressed a squirm at the unsettling feel of foreign tears on his skin in favor of tightening his hold on Stiles until it was just shy of painful for human bones. "I can't give you the peace you want," he said, his voice quiet but hoarse. His own eyes started to well up with tears he hadn't shed since before New York. He clenched them shut, trying his best to hold them back. "These memories don't come with peace."
Stiles tightened his hold on Derek, clutching his shirt with white-knuckled fists. His tears came with fresh fervor.
The silence was still heavy.
"You'll learn to live with them, because you won't be able to escape them," Derek said after another long moment. "It will be slow, and it will be the most painful thing you will ever have to do, but you will learn to sleep. Even though you'll close your eyes and see nothing but death and blood and fire, you'll sleep." He swallowed the lump in his throat and pressed his face to Stiles' neck as his tears escaped unbidden.
"You'll wake up screaming sometimes," Derek said. "And there will always be blood on your hands. It will not come out. You'll shower and scrub and claw your hands to the bone until the only blood you see is your own, but it doesn't change anything."
"What's the fucking point, then?" Stiles asked in a small, wavering voice.
Derek fell silent. He didn't have an answer. Not one that would satisfy Stiles or one that wouldn't cheapen the moment. "I don't know," he admitted slowly.
"Then why live with it at all? If I'm already broken, and there's no way to move on, then what's the point?"
Derek was silent for another long pause. These were questions he still struggled to answer for himself, let alone someone else. "I'm tired of losing," he said finally. It didn't sound like the right thing to say, but it was all that he had.
Stiles seemed to somehow understand, though. He gradually began to loosen his hold on Derek. He didn't remove himself from the embrace until close to ten minutes later. He didn't say anything, but he looked Derek straight in the eye, nodding minutely.
Derek let his hands fall back down to his sides, wondering what to do now. His eyes were locked onto the dark circles under Stiles' eyes and he held a hand out to Stiles. "Come with me," he said, making sure to keep his tone gentle. It wasn't phrased like a request, but he knew Stiles would know he'd meant it to be.
"I'll take you somewhere else," he said, deliberately not choosing the word 'safe.' It wouldn't mean much to either of them. Not when the biggest danger to the both of them was the weight of their own memories. "You can rest, maybe try to get some sleep, and I'll wake you if you start screaming." It wasn't much, but he couldn't think of anything else to offer Stiles. He half expected Stiles to turn the offer down either way.
Stiles surprised him again by taking his hand with a resolute nod. "Alright," he said, watching Derek carefully. "I trust you." He smiled slightly when Derek nodded in response, as if he knew the werewolf returned the sentiment but couldn't quite voice it aloud.
And with that exchange, Derek led Stiles out of the loft, intent on getting him somewhere he might be able to find even just a moment of peace.