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Across a Certain Threshold

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On the day the new kid steals Derek's next book from the Eichen House library, Derek wakes with no memory of falling asleep.

But that's the funny thing about losing your memory. The simple concept of time becomes confusing. At some point, it's all just the same endless nightmare. It's here and now, with no before or after. No outside world, no homesickness—at least not anymore. Especially since Derek can't remember whether it's been three months, three years, or three decades since he's been locked up in here.

That's Eichen for you. It wears you down: a slow grind until you accept your place.

Eichen means echo, someone told him once. One of the other patients, back in Derek's first days here, before the others knew enough to be afraid of him. And an echo is all he is now. The same echo, day after day after day. Sometimes, Derek comes to and he's just lying on the thin mattress of his bed, staring up at the panelled ceiling of his room, like someone's flipped off a switch in his mind. Or he sleeps through the afternoon, because there's nothing else to do. Or he paces restlessly, prowling back and forth in front of the door to the hall as if he can summon someone to let him out, just through sheer focus. Or he does half a million pushups in the corner, hoping to force all that pent-up energy somewhere. Or he wakes from half-remembered dreams of dark, faceless creatures.

Now, though, there are faint noises outside in the hall, thin and muffled. Derek barely pauses his pacing. Don't get your hopes up, he tells himself firmly, even as longing surges in his chest. He thinks it's time, and it feels like time, but he can never be sure. There are no clocks in his room. And maybe the worst thing about this place is the insulation, really: even to his keen werewolf ears, he can only make out the barest sounds outside his closed door.

Still, he picks up the tattered copy of The Iliad from the bedside table, running his fingers along the worn edges as he winds his way back and forth around his bed.

Eventually, there's a scrape of a key in the lock, and the knob turns. Nurse Roberts leans inside the room, his coppery red hair a shock against the white walls. The faint scent of cigarette smoke, probably lingering from his last break, wafts through the air. "Hale," the man barks gruffly. He meets Derek's scowl with a frown, then steps back to open the door fully. "It's your hour. I'll get you when it's done."

Derek's swept past Roberts almost before he's gotten out the last word. There's only an hour, there's only ever one hour, and he's so sick of his room he could die.

The rest of Eichen isn't much to look at either, but it's something different from the walls in his room. And that's something, at least. For just one hour a day—eleven to noon, on the dot—Derek's free to wander the building as he chooses. The tight schedule is grueling for a werewolfespecially one accustomed to prowling a territory as massive as the Hale Preserve.

Partway to the common lounge, he makes a conscious effort to slow his steps, to calm his heart rate. Pauses to run his hand through his hair. All the desperate, frantic energy that builds up while he waits to be let out of his room each day—that's exactly what he can't show. Not if he wants the powers-that-be to change his schedule, to trust him with more free time.

Not if he wants them to think he's normal. If they ever will. A wave of weariness washes over him. He quashes it fast, mostly because there are better times to have a mental breakdown. Better times, when he's not free for one glorious hour of the day.

Well, maybe "glorious" is too strong a word.

The common lounge seems to stretch almost as far as Derek's old house on the preserve, with low-slung ceilings and the kind of actual antique decorations the Hales had thrown out long ago. Patchy but comfortable sofas are arranged in clusters, with the occasional throw pillow bearing stupid motivational phrases like Dream big and Happiness is a choice. There's a couple televisions on the wall, and a piano in the corner. Everything's done up in old, dark wood, probably a traditional choice from the '70s. In Derek's opinion, it makes it all look like the somber interior of a funeral home.

At this hour, most of the other patients are hanging out in here, playing cards on the sofas or squabbling with each other. A blonde girl sobs in the corner while a nurse looks on in exasperation. On a coffee table, a middle-aged man curls up in a ball for a nap.

So, pretty much par for the course.

Derek keeps to the edges of the room, pacing along the walls a little. Even after amount of time here, he doesn't really know anyone, at least not personally. Even in this house of misfits and loners, Derek is always on the fringes.

Some of the other patients know him, though. They give him a side-eye as he passes, and he occasionally catches whispers like "Look, the runner's at it again," or "Clockwork, isn't it, Fran?"

He can feel the growl building deep in his stomach, like it's just a matter of time before he drops his fangs and claws—but that's the other reason he paces through Eichen so fast. If he focuses on moving, there's no time to engage with anyone. There's nothing and no one for his rage to latch onto, and by the time he's heard the whispers he's already halfway across the room.

It feels good to stretch his legs, to pace—no running allowed, he's been firmly told. So he paces around the room, and past one of the med stations, and around the cafeteria.

A part of him, somewhere deep down, is always keeping an eye out for the woods. Like he might round the corner to find trees in the distance instead of more dingy walls. Like some kind of lunatic. He's on the hunt for a single note of birdsong, for a faint breeze, for something green. But the only green thing here is the tiny succulent he sees on Dr. Alsina's desk once a week, and he's pretty sure it's plastic.

As he rounds the corner near the media room, he has just enough time to catch a flash of dark hair before slamming headlong into someone. It all happens fast, but in the end he's still standing, only stumbling back as if blown by sudden gust of wind, and a girl's sprawled in front of him on the floor. It's so fast he can't keep the snarl off his face, though he manages at the last second to keep his fangs back, fighting against the irrational fury building in his chest. The girl's dark eyes widen in fear as she scrabbles back, terrified.

"Hey, be caref—" A guy steps out of the room, but this would-be-rescuer stops short at the sight of Derek, or at whatever expression's on Derek's face right now. "Oh."

Derek snarls at them. And then, realizing his hands are balled into fists, he consciously unclenches them. The Iliad is a little crushed, but the old book's seen worse.

The man, an older guy with knobbly elbows and gnarled hands, slowly bends over to help the girl up. "Okay, bud," he says to Derek, as one might talk to a wounded animal—and the patronizing tone just draws more of Derek's fury. "C'mon, Clem," he murmurs, and then, to Derek: "We're just movin' along."

Willing himself still, Derek lets the two skirt around him so he can compose himself enough to keep moving. Where did that come from? he wonders miserably as the rage seeps away.

Pretending to be normal is hardHere in Eichen, at least. The slightest touch from anyone but pack sets him off these days. His wolf howls for them, for his family. For his dead.

"Ten-minute warning, Hale," Nurse Chen tells him boredly as he rounds the lounge again. She's keeping an eye on a pale-skinned lady who's muttering to herself in front of the window. "And don't think Dr. Alsina won't bring up all these outbursts at your one-on-one this week."

"I wasn't doing anything wrong!" he protests, and it comes out in a growl.

"I'm just saying. Keep it together, kid," she replies, not bothering to look his way.

He snarls, thinks better of it, and sets out for the library. He doesn't have time to get in an argument with her, not with the last minutes of freedom slowly draining away.

The library here is one of Derek's only sources of consolation. Which is a sentence he definitely would have scoffed at just a few (weeks, months, years?) ago. But when you're stuck in the same room for days and days on end, always one second away from losing your shit, the only bit of world you can see is in the pages of a book. It's enough, at least, for Derek to keep from going actually out of his mind.

There's not really much of a selection, though. Compared to the other, more spacious rooms of the House, the library is more of a closet—if maybe a largish, walk-in one. It's longer than it is wide, with the two longer walls completely lined with books. The third has filing cabinets to document check-ins and check-outs, according to a sporadically enforced 24-hour-loan rule.

There's also a table and four chairs in the middle of the room, rarely used—but someone's here now. A new guy, one Derek can't remember seeing before. He only catches a glimpse of dark hair and a smattering of moles against pale skin before disregarding him entirely.

The books in here generally belong to one of three categories. There are classics, the sorts of things you definitely read in high school or college, and those probably take up about three-quarters of the shelf space. The second category is romance novels, the squat, brick-like ones you get for a dollar at a used book sale. Then there's the set of encyclopedias from 2005.

Not much of a selection, but Derek makes do.

He slots The Iliad into place on the shelf and notes the return in the files. The books are sorted alphabetically, and Derek's spent part of the last few hours deciding which one on his list to reread. He peers through the section once, twice, three times.

There's a blank space where the book should be.

Derek lets out a low snarl. Practically no one ever checks out books here, and of course the one he's set on is gone. It's stupid to be this pissed, but all of a sudden the rage is just there. And he wonders who has it—one of the patients in the common lounge, probably, curled up around it on the couch.

Derek's not sure why the thought sets his blood to boiling. He rises, torn between choosing another book and hunting down whoever took the stupid thing. And then as he stands, he suddenly sees it, right on the table. He recognizes one of the grotesque illustrations on the page: a dead man lying in darkness, hidden beneath the floorboards of a house.

The mole-speckled guy is staring up at him, either because of the low, frustrated growl still working its way out of his throat, or because Derek started staring first. "Uh...hi?" he says at last, his expression wary.

"I need that book," Derek replies through gritted teeth.

"Oh. Okay, but the thing is—I had it first, dude. It's a library, right? First come, first served?"

A snarl breaks loose before Derek can help it, and he leans forward like he might actually lunge.

The guy shrinks back a little in his chair. He looks fearful for a second, and then just plain weary. "Actually, you know what? Here you go. Just, uh, don't eat me, okay?" He gingerly closes the book and holds it out to Derek, who swipes it from him. It's a comforting weight in Derek's hands, and he automatically thumbs the pages as he sweeps from the room.

"Okay. Wow. You're welcome, asshole," he hears the guy mutter to himself. But Derek's on a time limit, and the seconds are trickling away.

.

As it turns out, Library Guy may literally be Satan.

Later, after Derek has dutifully popped his pills and Nurse Roberts has once again sealed him into his room (after which he spat the pills into the toilet), Derek settles onto his bed to flip open the book—only to find dogeared pages, underlined passages, and scrawled notes in the margins.

He snarls, and this time, in the privacy of his own room, he finally lets it out. The wolf springs out in a powerful rush, like it's been simmering just underneath his skin all this time, like he's been dragging it to heel on a leash that he's finally lost grip of. He growls and gnashes his fangs and rushes around the room, as if there's a threat.

But there's nothing. Just the white walls, the empty bathroom, his own unmade bed. It's been a long while since Derek's destroyed his entire room in a vicious rage (only twice, alright?), and he's not quite angry enough to do it again. Plus, he doesn't ever want to go through the hell of supplemental anger management therapy again.

When his wolf finally burns its anger out and settles down—some unknowable time later—he sinks tiredly back onto his bed.

One thing about surviving in Eichen is that everything's about habit. It's about knowing what's going to happen and when. It's about giving yourself something to look forward to. And he's been looking forward to this stupid book all day.

God, that's depressing, Derek thinks as he cracks open the book again. Classic lit is the only thing I have going for me right now.

Every couple of weeks, he cycles through most of the classics in the library, or at least all of his favorites. The Complete Tales of Edgar Allan Poe is a good one, just because there's so much variety—murder mysteries, intensely gloomy poems, haunted houses.

Usually, it drags him in without effort. But today, he can only picture the wary, mole-studded face of the guy in the library. In the illustration, the raven perches on a nightstand. Drawn over it in pencil is a convincing doodle of a top hat and cane. "Jesus Christ," he groans, tossing the book onto his nightstand. "I'm gonna murder him."

.

The following day, when Roberts comes to open the door to freedom (like Derek's an actual freaking wolf in a cage), he breaks a habit as old as time itself. He doesn't pace the halls.

Sure, he had only the barest bit of time to catch the guy's scent before—rich, and somehow earthy. And sure, it's been ages since he's done any tracking of any kind, usually deep in the forest of his home territory. But it all comes back to him as he hones in on the smell in the lounge, following it directly back to the library.

The kid seems utterly unsurprised to see him, his expression jumping from Oh, shit! to resigned in the space of a heartbeat.

It pisses Derek off. (But what doesn't these days?)

"What the hell is this?" Derek asks, dropping The Complete Tales on the table so he can thumb through its contents.

"Looks like the book you stole from me yesterday," the kid deadpans.

Derek narrowly manages to keep his fangs from coming out, because the last thing he needs is to be reported to Dr. Alsina for aggressive behavior (again). "No, this," he snarls, shoving the book across the table.

The guy leans over to look, and when he catches Derek's meaning, he starts to look mildly apologetic. "Ah, yeah. My bad." Derek grunts, unimpressed, and the guy continues: "It's just, my AP Lit teacher always makes us mark up a text when we're reading, so...yeah. She says it's how you become a more active reader, and for the exam at the end of the year we're gonna have to catch things really fast on the fly—themes and allusions and all that shit. So it's kind of a habit now. But I mean, it's only pencil. I just used one of the ones from the filing drawers over there."

"That's a fucking top hat."

"I got bored."

Derek throws up his hands. "The pencils don't have erasers."

The kid's frowning, but it doesn't seem to be at Derek, exactly. "Yeah, about that. Seems weird, 'cause they're not worried about giving mental patients the sharp end of something, but they take away the soft part." He stabs his pencil forward at Derek, then shrugs.

Derek stares at him, anger giving way to irritation as the kid begins twirling the pencil between his fingers, staring at it thoughtfully. "You have to stop," he orders. "They're not your books."

"Okay, dude," the kid says, sounding just as annoyed as Derek feels. "Whatever. It's not a big deal."

Feeling the wolf retreat at the slight victory, Derek turns away to the filing cabinet, intent on returning the book.

"Uh, so...can I have that back? If you're done, I mean," the kid asks, jabbing his pencil toward the book. "I'm trying to keep up with school. We were starting 'Fall of the House of Usher' in class, and I don't wanna be lost when I go back. Plus Crime and Punishment is shaping up to be a real downer."

Derek turns slowly back to him. The guy pauses and slips the pencil under the table, like Derek might forget his sins as long as it's out of sight. He offers a sheepish grin. There's no reason Derek shouldn't give him the book. After a moment, Derek slides it across the table to him.

The guy accepts it gratefully. "By the way, what did you need it for?"

"It was next on my reading list."

"For...university?"

"Just because."

The kid raises an eyebrow, unimpressed. "Mkay."

Derek goes back to the filing cabinet, grabbing the clipboard and pencil. It is weird that they don't have erasers, he thinks abruptly, partway through signing out his next choice—and then he quashes the thought.

"So what's your favorite? Short story, I mean. In the book."

Derek grunts, rolling his eyes. Whoever this guy is, he's too new to realize that Derek isn't the kind of person you socialize with if you can help it.

There's a long silence, which the guy eventually fills with another question—though it's more hesitant this time. "Or...did you not finish it?"

It's like he can't take the hint. "I always finish them," he growls in spite of himself. "I have a lot of time for it. I'm on 23/1."

"What's that?"

Derek glances over at him, sizing him up. "Are you new?" He's gotta be kind of young—high school, so at least two or three years younger than Derek. But the look Derek's getting in return is equally contemplative.

"Yeah. Only been here two days." His mouth twists unhappily at this, like he's eaten something sour.

A sudden flush of pity surges over Derek, who thinks of how much hope he'd had to kill in his first few days of being here—always waiting and expecting to be released at any moment. "Hm. Well, 23/1's when they lock you up because they can't be bothered to keep an eye on you full time. You're in your room twenty-three hours and out for one, and for that hour you have to stick to the common areas."

The kid's eyes are bulging. "Dude. That sounds terrible." Then his eyebrows bunch together, his expression growing suspicious. "Wait, and also maybe...illegal?"

Derek shrugs, though he's grateful that the first reaction isn't What did you do to deserve it?

"So you come here every day for a book," the guy realizes. "To pass the rest of the time."

Derek gives him a one-shouldered shrug. All the reminders of the passing time have left him feeling antsy, so he grabs Hamlet, raises his eyebrows, and wordlessly heads to the door.

The abrupt departure takes the other patient by surprise, and it seems to take a second for his words to catch up. "Nice to meet you too!" he blurts, exasperated. "I'm Stiles, by the way!"

The hell is a Stiles? Derek thinks. But he's on a tight deadline, and he's not planning to let some weird fucking kid mess it up.

Even if it's probably the longest Derek's talked to anyone here without practically ripping their head off. Even if—growling included—it's the calmest Derek has felt in ages. 

Chapter Text

A pounding on the door rouses Stiles from a sleep thick as death. When he drags himself upright, bleach-scented sheets slipping down his chest, the red door is back again. Right there, beside the door to the hallway.

Stiles's skin turns to ice, his heart jumping to life in his chest. He stumbles out of bed, falling half onto the floor in a tangle of blankets and pillows.

Someone pounds on the hall door again. "Stiles?" A reedy voice drifts into the room. He thinks it's probably the Asian nurse lady, the one with the long hair always pulled into a braid. "Breakfast in half an hour."

"Okay!" Stiles calls back. From experience, he knows that if he doesn't respond quickly enough, they'll barge into the room to make sure he's okay. Or at least to verify he's not trying to strangle himself with his bedsheets or something. "I'll be there."

He squeezes his eyes shut, nearly paralyzed with frustration and helplessness at the idea of another day in here. A part of him had expected to wake up at home, in his own bed. And really, a part of him needs it to be his dad knocking on the other side of the door.

But it's not. And he's alone here. Again. Another twenty-four hours added to his sentence.

Suck it up, Stilinski, he thinks grimly, and as he opens his eyes, he very carefully turns his head so he doesn't have to look at the red door as he gets ready to start the day. Dressing quickly in the uniform scrubs, he stumbles into the bathroom to piss, run quick fingers through his hair, and brush his teeth with the stiff-bristled toothbrush they'd handed him during intake.

Then, taking a deep breath, he ignores the intruding red door and uses the actual hall door to step outside.

The morning wake-up calls happen at the ungodly hour of seven, early enough for his internal clock to feel super out of whack, but all the long-term patients seem pretty used to it. They're all flowing toward the cafeteria, a sea of blue cloth and yawning faces, with surprisingly little fuss. Stiles lets himself be swept up by the current.

"Still here, hon?" One of the cafeteria ladies asks him impassively, shoveling lemon-yellow eggs onto his tray. He recognizes her from his first day, when she'd asked if he was new and he'd reassured her he wouldn't be around long.

"Still here," Stiles confirms grimly. He half-expects her to throw out some platitude about a matter of time or you're in good hands, but she just turns to fill the next tray.

The cafeteria's one of the few places in Eichen House with windows. One whole wall is made up of them, looking look out onto the trimmed grounds and parking lot, with trees farther off. Stiles lingers with his laden tray, gazing wistfully at the blotchy colors of the distant sunrise. But the seats nearest the view are taken up by people he assumes to be regulars. Long-term patients staking out their usual haunts. And Stiles isn't here to make friends, or to claim a "usual" place. He just wants to keep his head down and make it through. It's only a matter of time before he goes home, like he's supposed to.

He finds an empty table near the wall, putting his back to it. The room's not huge, just enough space to give the hundred or so patients room to eat. It fills up at mealtimes, though, so he's joined a few minutes later by a blonde lady with tired eyes. A nurse trails behind her, then slips into a seat to read the morning news. The blonde lady picks at her food, glaring at the nurse.

Over their shoulders, a squabble breaks out a few tables away. Stiles can't really tell what's going on or why, but sharp voices rise higher and higher.

On the periphery, always, are blank-faced orderlies who silently cast their watchful gazes across the room. Presently, two of them break off to figure out what's happening, shouting "No contact! Hands off!" But the fight takes place anyway, whatever it is: a couple patients take to fists on the floor while others straighten gleefully in their chairs for a better look. It's only a few moments before it's over. The orderlies bodily drag the patients away, one of them looking oddly subdued. Sedated, Stiles guesses.

He's not sure what his expression looks like—disgust? fear?—but when he turns back, the blonde lady's staring stares at him.

"You're new here," she observes grumpily.

"Yeah," Stiles sighs, already tired of being told this. "I am."

She huffs. "You'll get used to it."

"No, I don't think I will," Stiles mutters under his breath.

.

"Good boy," Nurse Roberts tells Stiles as he downs his morning pills. Stiles pulls a face, half at the disgusting feel of the medicine slipping thickly down his throat, and half at the condescending tone. "You're not gonna make any trouble for me today, are you?"

"Wasn't planning on it," Stiles replies dubiously. He sets the little paper pill cup onto the nurse's tray.

"Great," the man replies, scrubbing at his red beard. "Get lost."

Stiles goes. He usually (Not "usually," he reminds himself. Just for the past couple days.) hangs out in the general lounge area during the break between breakfast and group therapy. It's a delicate balance: he wants to stay in an area where there are a lot of people around, but he also really, really doesn't want to talk to anyone.

That's a pretty new development. Stiles always wants to talk to everyone. But here, everyone wants to shove their horror stories at him, or give insider tips to the newbie, or tell him some excruciating variation of either "It's not so bad once you get used to it" or "You're going to die alone in here, son."

So he hides behind his books. The library's been a godsend, because if he's actively reading (or at least pretending to read), people tend to take the hint and leave him alone. Plus, it's mostly classics, so he can find plenty of dark shit to suit his current gloom-and-doom mood.

Someone, one of the nurses, checks in with him just about every hour. He's not sure what to make of it, except that he guesses they're trying to make sure he doesn't lose it in the first couple days. But that feeling of being constantly thought of, constantly watched, doesn't sit well with him. It makes him keep looking over his shoulder.

Not that he hasn't been doing that for ages anyway.

.

Group therapy is a disaster. Most of it is spent going over the community rules again (no food in the rooms, no phone use unless permitted, no physical contact with other patients, ever). And the rest is spent putting out little fires. A girl shouts about hearing voices all the time, a man sobs into his shirt sleeve incomprehensibly.

When the time comes for goal-setting, Stiles barely bothers. "My goal is to get out of here," he states firmly.

Nurse Meyers heaves a sigh, pinching the bridge of her long, birdlike nose. "It's a daily goal, Mr. Stilinski," she reminds him again. "Something tangible you can finish by the end of the day, without assistance."

"I bet I could finish it if I could just call home," he retorts. He mentally dares her to drag him into the same fights they've had over this during the first two days. But the thing is, she really doesn't seem to care. Plus, the other patients are shifting restlessly, ready to move on, and there are other powder kegs in this circle of chairs that need her full attention.

Scribbling something down in her notes, she turns to the patient on Stiles's left. "And your actionable goal?" she asks blandly.

.

As a new patient, Stiles sees Doctor Alsina literally every day. Which is apparently pretty rare around here.

"You're pretty lucky, you know?" Nurse Wilson tells Stiles as he shepherds him past the med station and toward the doctor's office. He's a tall man, with a dusting of dark freckles across his brown skin and closely shaven hair. And he's buff too, the kind of guy they probably hire on face value, someone who can obviously tackle a rogue patient to the ground if the need arises. "Most patients only get appointment time once a week, but it's different for the new guys. She takes more of an interest."

"Fucking A," Stiles replies flatly.

The nurse shrugs, his expression the same cool stare as always. The Eichen House staff must undergo some serious training on how not to show (or have) emotions of any kind, because they always have the same stupidly blank gaze regardless of the shit Stiles throws at them. He would kill to have one of them snap back, just for a change of pace. "Wouldn't let her catch you using language like that, man," he remarks mildly, cracking the dark oak door open for Stiles to enter. "Doctor, your ten o' clock," he calls.

Doctor Alsina swivels at her desk as Stiles comes in. She's on the older end of her forties, with a mop of grey-brown hair that's mostly grey at this point. Fine wrinkles add subtle texture to the skin of her cheeks and around her eyes.

"Mr. Stilinski, good to see you," she says, and there's a quick upward flick of her lips that passes for the only smile he's probably going to get. From what he's seen of her during intake with his dad, and during the first few days, he gets the impression that she's always like this: a charade of kindness, but always with a knowing look in her piercing blue eyes. She pulls a file from the wire rack on her desk, thumbing through it as he lowers himself into the stiff-backed chair across from her. "How's day three so far?" she adds.

"Am I allowed to call my dad yet?" he asks, in lieu of offering a response they both already know.

"Unfortunately, we don't allow external contact by phone in the long-term ward. And that's a rule that's going to be true now and forever," she reminds him lightly as she flips through the file. The documents are close enough to him that he could probably catch a glimpse if he leaned slightly forward, but he can't tell if it's a trick. If she wants to catch him looking. "Visiting hours are from four to five in the afternoon for those who are approved."

"Which I'm not."

"We'd just like to make sure we have a full picture of your physical and mental situation before we allow any external influences into the mix." It's like a recording's taken over her voice. She doesn't even look up at him.

There's a depressing little plastic succulent at the corner of the table, a tiny, mocking oasis of serenity in the otherwise stark room. "I'm not even supposed to be here," he says, hating how desperate he sounds.

"I think you're right where you're meant to be, Mr. Stilinski. Maybe you'll see it too, in time. How's the medication treating you?"

"It's disgusting."

A long-suffering sigh. "How is it treating your symptoms?"

"Great. Fine. I don't know."

"Are you still seeing things?" she probes.

Stiles's thoughts jump to the red door this morning. "Nothing since I came here," he says.

Dr. Alsina peers at him dubiously, lacing her fingers together on her desk. "Mr. Stilinski, I really can't help you if you aren't forthcoming with me." She leans forward. "How are you doing, really? Is there anything out of the ordinary, like the hallucinations? Anything at all?"

"I'm fine. Definitely fine enough not to be here. I mean, just look at me."

"You look like you haven't slept."

Stiles laughs, and it's an ugly thing. "I'm in a weird-ass hospital, miles from home, without any way to call my dad. No, I haven't slept in fucking days."

She leans back with a put-upon sigh, like he's the one that's bringing her trouble. "Mr. Stilinski—"

"Look, I'm not supposed to be here. I've basically been kidnapped—no seriously, it's fucking true, you're holding me against my will without letting me call home. I was supposed to voluntarily be in the short-term ward for 48 hours for one new medication. Now, I'm taking three different pills, three times a day, and I'm not even totally sure what they are; I'm just doing it so that asshole Roberts doesn't threaten to shove them down my throat again. I want to go back to my house, and my school, and my life, and when you sit there all smug behind your desk and ask if I'm okay—well, no, I'm not fucking okay."

He's practically shouting, but this only occurs to him when he's already done. Dr. Alsina looks at him with a combination of interest and disgust, the way you'd look at a bug you'd stepped on, one that's still twitching on the sidewalk. "Mr. Stilinski, we don't abide by that kind of language, or raised voices, here. If you want to convince me that you're well—"

"What?" he snorts. "I can't be pissed and also mentally healthy?"

"—then you'll show me," she continues, as if he hadn't interrupted, "that you can behave yourself. That you can follow rules. That you're willing to let yourself be helped. Then, and only then will we discuss your release."

Everything deflates out of Stiles all at once, leaving him feeling small. He needs her to be on his side, he remembers. And that means he can't piss her off like this. "Okay. Okay, look, I'm sorry. I'm just—this is really hard, and this isn't what I expected. Or what my dad and I were told during my intake. I don't...I don't really know what I'm doing here."

"You're here because we flagged you as a potential risk to yourself, during the intake," she reminds him patiently. "We just need to extend the observation period a little to make sure you're right as rain."

"I know," Stiles agrees wearily. "Alright."

"And it starts," Dr. Alsina adds, looking triumphant, "with you giving me honest answers to my questions."

"Alright."

She pulls the file closer. "Have you been seeing things still?"

"Yes. Just...more of the same."

The doctor's pen wavers for just an instant over the page before jotting something down. "Perfect," she says primly. "Now we're getting somewhere."

.

The hall is empty when he steps out of Dr. Alsina's office twenty minutes later. It's a relief, because he needs a minute alone to compose himself, which mostly means running his hands through his hair and making wild what-the-actual-fuck gestures with his flailing arms.

It's also terrible, because it means he's alone.

Regardless, he takes the path he knows will lead him toward the lounge. The halls are bare here, only doors with occasional labels or room numbers. It's all so empty, the whole damn place, and it makes Stiles's skin crawl.

When he gets to the part where he has to round the corner, it turns out to be a dead end: the space ends a few feet away with a door marked Storage. Stiles stops short. "What the hell?" he mutters lowly, turning around.

He doesn't have the best sense of direction, but he's pretty sure that he'd come this way with Nurse Wilson less than an hour ago. He'd expected to find a long hall, and the light of the nurses station a bit further off. But okay, then—he must have gotten turned around.

He retraces his steps, making his way past Dr. Alsina's office again. In the distance, the hallway veers right...except when Stiles finally rounds the corner, he finds that it ends in an identical door marked Storage, just like the other one. For a moment, he looks at it uncomprehendingly, like he's waiting for it to disappear in smoke.

Alright. That's… Stiles turns around to face the hallway, where just a few seconds before he'd had to round a corner to get to where he currently stands. But now, somehow, there's no bend in the hallway. There's just a single straight line. And it ends in a door at the other side, not ten yards away. He can just make out the lettering on the door. Storage, it reads. Which is impossible, because it would mean that this hallway is somehow closed off from the rest of the world—just two storage closets and blank walls.

Stiles stares. He stares for what feels like an hour. I am not hallucinating. I just need to go home. And then, stupidly: My brain is high and I'm not even getting the feel-good part.

He can feel his own breathing growing faster and faster in his ears as he tries to drag enough of the stale air into his lungs. A sense of unease washes over him, creeping toward fright, and he twists the doorknob of the storage room in front of him—only to find it locked. "Okay, Stiles. Okay. Calm down. What do we do?"

Out of the corner of his eye, he realizes there's actually another door a few feet away, one he hadn't seen before. He reaches for the knob with all the desperation of a drowning man, and it opens to the fluorescent glow of the nurses station. No one's manning the desk now, but it doesn't even matter—Stiles feels boneless with relief. He pushes the door shut behind him, doubling over to put his hands on his knees. His own reflection in the polished tile looks pale and anxious.

"That's fucking new," he tells himself dazedly.

Something slams into him from the side, sending him sprawling onto the floor. He yelps in fear—but it turns out to be the guy from yesterday, the one with the permanent scowl. "Oh. Hey. Angry Dude," he remembers, pulling himself up.

"Is there a reason you people are always standing in the middle of the hall?" Angry Dude growls. His dark brows sit low and sullen over his eyes.

"Sheer relief," Stiles deadpans weakly. But the guy isn't in on the joke, and he snarls as if Stiles is making fun of him. When he steps away, hurrying off down the hall, Stiles panics and stumbles after him. "Wait—wait!"

The guy turns, looking furiously back at him. "What?"

Stiles isn't sure how the guy manages to cram so much annoyance into a single syllable. And sure, normally Stiles might have backed down at the obvious dislike in the guy's voice. But his fear of whatever's going down in his head right now is much greater than whatever Angry Dude brings to the table. "Look...I'm actually kind of lost. I'm looking for the lounge. Do you know the way?"

Angry Dude gives him a long look. "It's not that big a place," he snaps.

"I know," Stiles retorts, irritable. "It's just...I'm new, remember?"

Relenting, the guy jerks his chin back the way he'd come. "It's that way. Head straight down the hall, then make a left at the cafeteria. You'll hear it before you see it. Everyone's always shouting in there."

Stiles works up a bit of courage. "Actually," he tries, "if you don't mind, could you maybe walk me there?" Angry Dude's face grows stormy, and Stiles quickly blurts, "Look, I know you're short on time and all, believe me, but I'm just…I'm kinda freaking myself out." Stiles hesitates, then adds, "And I'm afraid of being alone right now."

The guy quirks his head thoughtfully at this, sizing Stiles up. But at last, the honesty seems to pay off. "Okay," the guy grinds out, and without another word, he heads down the hallway.

They walk in silence. Stiles feels alert, on edge, ready for the next hallucination—but nothing comes. The world unfolds exactly as Angry Dude said it would: a long hall, a left turn, the sound of voices. When they reach the chaotic chatter of the lounge, Angry Dude turns to him questioningly.

"My hero," Stiles says, not quite looking at him. He means for the words to be sarcastic, but he can't quite hide his relief. He swallows, a little dazedly. "Hey...what's your name, anyway?"

Angry Dude frowns. "Derek."

"Derek. Cool. I'm Stiles."

"I know."

"Right. Yeah. From yesterday." He soaks it all in: the clamor of voices, the warm hum of the air conditioning overhead. It feels safer, somehow. More alive. Only..."I gotta get that book back to the library," he realizes suddenly. He'd wedged his book under a sofa right before his appointment, just so he didn't have to bring it all the way back to his room, but now he wonders if anyone will actually notice if he doesn't bring it back by noon. It's just a paper filing system, right? And he's a little too spooked to wander the halls alone right now.

Derek grunts. "Guess I'm going that way."

Stiles turns to him in surprise. "Oh. Cool. Is it okay if I come?"

Derek raises his eyebrows in a way that Stiles takes to mean Of course, I'd totally love it if you come with me. So he fishes Poe from under the sofa and follows him out of the lounge.

.

In the three days since he's been in Eichen, Stiles has had enough time to decide that he actually likes the library. It's cozy and warm, though the fluorescent gleam does make it look a little grim. But one of the real selling points is that it's quiet, since there's rarely anyone else around.

Not to mention the library's best feature: the walls are completely lined by bookshelves and filing cabinets, with just enough space for a door out into the hall as well. There's no room on the walls for a rogue red door.

The red door, which used to be his only problem. The only thing he saw that wasn't real.

He bites his lip as he thinks about the weird trap of hallways earlier, the illusion extending way beyond anything that's ever happened to him before. It's getting worse, he worries.

"Are you returning the book, or what?" Derek asks him pointedly. He's been peering at the shelves in search of something, but he's paused long enough to glare over his shoulder at Stiles.

"Oh. Yeah, I am." Stiles rifles through the pages, heading over to the filing cabinet. "It's just, I didn't actually finish it."

Derek grunts. "I think you can just sign it out for another day. Not like they have a hold system or anything. And they only check the list every now and then, anyway."

Stiles chews on this for a second, before reaching for a pencil to sign the book out again. "Which one's your favorite?" he presses again.

"What?"

"Your favorite story. In the book."

Derek glares at him again, like he's expecting a trick, but at last he says, "Amontillado."

"Oh, nice," Stiles says, oddly relieved for the bland small talk. "Classic. How come?"

The guy shrugs, turning away from Stiles again. "It's simple and short," he says at last. "A man hurts someone, and he pays for it."

Stiles hums, sinking down into a chair at the table. "But you never find out what the guy actually did to deserve being walled up in a cellar."

"Does it matter?" Derek asks. He pulls a book from the bottom shelf, then stands to rifle through its contents.

Stiles waits a minute, then adds, "Mine's 'The Tell-Tale Heart.'"

"Yeah, I saw you reading it yesterday."

"Which book are you borrowing now?"

Derek frowns at him, before showing the title. The Count of Monte Cristo.

"I'm sensing a theme."

The guy shrugs. "It's next on my list."

A sharp rap. They turn to find Nurse Chen standing at the threshold. "Time," she tells Derek with disinterest.

Derek snarls, and there's something violent about it, like he's showing too many teeth. Stiles leans back a little. Regardless, Derek obediently signs his name in the ledger (Stiles has never seen anyone write with violence, but the guy somehow makes it work) and follows her out of the room.

"See you—" Stiles catches himself before he can finish, swallowing the word tomorrow.

Derek glares back. "Yeah, see you," he grumbles.

.

Stiles mostly goes with the crowd during the evening hours. There's recreational therapy, which today is just Singin' in the Rain shown in the media room. Then there's visitation hour, where the lucky chosen get to see their loved ones while everyone else hangs out in the lounge. Dinner's at five. In the evenings, Stiles jumps into the communal showers, where the thin curtains of every stall are just opaque enough to give the illusion of privacy, but translucent enough that the orderly on duty can make out their shapes. (To be sure they aren't—what? Drowning in self-pity?)

At evening group therapy, they check in on everyone's daily goals. Stiles, unsurprisingly, has not achieved his.

Night meds come at nine. There are four this time; he'd forgotten there are four in the evenings. Stiles swallows them down. There's technically free time until lights out at ten, but he begins to feel that last pill dull his senses a little, dragging him to the verge of sleep.

The walls leading back to his room are adorned with forgettable artwork, always shots of nature just out of focus: an impressionistic wave crashing, a close-up of a flower, a grey cloudscape. Dry-erase boards on doors bear the names of the patient housed within. Next to his room is a hazy woodland clearing, and then a board bearing his name on the door—but it seems to be taking forever to reach it.

As he walks, the artwork grows even more vague. Somber. There's one of a murky red fog. A dark wood. A man half-swallowed by a moonlit lake. Stiles stops abruptly, squinting at the last one. He doesn't remember this at all—as if he's come down an entirely new hallway. And suddenly, he's wide awake.

He frowns, peering the way he'd come. After a beat, he turns to retrace his steps, hoping to make it back to the lounge to figure out where he'd gone wrong. Maybe he can find an orderly to walk him to his room, or at least to give him directions back.

But this way feels wrong. He's not even entirely sure what it is. The air grows stale as he hesitantly makes his way onward. Something makes the skin on the back of his neck prickle. The lights overhead don't feel like they reach all the way down to the floor, like they're fighting through thick dust.

It's just a short walk, Stiles tells himself in disbelief. It's just a minute back.

But he keeps walking, and the hallway never ends. It stretches on for far too long, though he can't even make anything out farther off, where the lights grow too dim for him to see. Like someone's turned the lights off down there. Maybe they do the whole lights out thing earlier in the lounge, Stiles thinks dubiously.

He stops again. Looks one way, and then another. Darkness ahead, and darkness behind. He feels like he's going to vibrate out of his skin.

This can't be happening. Not again.

A feeling of being watched settles over him. It's as if someone's nearby, close enough to peer over his shoulder, but he turns wildly back and forth—and there's no way anyone could hide here. It's darker farther off in both directions, sure, but the dim lights overhead would show anyone standing close enough to see him. Probably.

Unless someone's hiding in the distant darkness.

Stiles can't move, paralyzed by indecision. He squints down one hall, eyes straining to see anything in the gloom, but he can't make anything out. And then someone moves—the vague shape of legs and limbs, a deeper darkness writhing within the black.

He blurts a panicked curse. "Hell—...Hello?" He stammers, his voice trembling. No answer. The person stills, as though the word was a command. The sudden lack of movement allows them to blend in fully with the darkness once more, sinking away. Stiles isn't sure if it's an optical illusion, if his eyes are too weak to pick out an unmoving figure, or if the person has somehow gone. He stares and stares and stares, but he's lost the shape of them entirely. Something about this terrifies him, and he darts away toward the other end of the hall.

It's dim, but not so dim that he can't make out where he's going. There are doors on either side of him flashing past, warped black paintings on the walls between them. Something flies in front of his face, small as a bird, and he shrieks, stumbles, falls.

And then he sees it, a few steps ahead—the red door. He flinches, panting wildly.

It's right in the space where all the other doors are, equidistant from its neighbors. Just sitting, motionless. But somehow, it frightens him even more than the person-thing creeping behind him in the darkness.

Stiles lets out a low whimper, stumbling into the door behind. Reaching blindly for the knob, he thinks he hears the faintest sound of footfalls farther off, like someone is trailing behind him even now, and he thinks his heart might hammer out of his chest. His hand finds the knob and twists it home, careening through, and he slams the door closed, bearing all of his weight against it.

He spends a long time panting to catch his breath, listening for any sounds on the other side of the door, but it's totally quiet. Even so, it takes him a long time to release the pressure of his hands, stepping back from the door.

When he turns, though, he finds a normal patient room. A messy bed, with the sheets half pulled off. A cup of water on the bedside table. Personal copies of recent intake forms.

This is his room. Somehow, he's made his way back to his own room. He stares at it uncomprehendingly for a long moment, and there's a burgeoning awareness of the impossibility of it all—running through the dark just to somehow wind up safe in his own room. It's so impossible that he must be losing it, must have stood right outside his own door slowly tripping out on whatever stupid pills they have him taking.

But it had felt real.

Cursing himself for an idiot, he rips the blankets from his bed and sinks down onto the floor next to the door, so he can lean his full weight against it. Just in case anyone tries to come in. Like a child afraid of the boogeyman. What the hell is happening to me? he asks himself, his mind deep in a hazy fog.

Some time later, as he's contemplating the prospect of a sleepless night of vigilance here on the floor, there's a knock on the door.

"Stiles?" It's Nurse Wilson's voice. "Lights out."

"Okay!" Stiles calls back automatically, his eyes wide. There's a click of the door locking overhead.

A part of him wants to beg to get out of here, to see what's on the other side of the door—to see if it's just the boring, windowless hallway with its stupid generic art. But a part of him is afraid he'll only find a long path winding to either side, with a dark void on each end. And something strange further off, a darkness within darkness bearing down upon him.

Chapter Text

A knock drums at the hall door. "Visitor for Derek Hale," says a muffled voice—and those are four words Derek thought he would never hear, maybe ever in life.

He's been dying to get out of this room for what feels like an age, anxiety and anger rippling through him in turns. Now, his pacing stills as a dozen thoughts jump into his mind, the most prominent being Laura's finally here. She's come through, after all this time—and even though he's technically not allowed to have visitors, she's somehow managed to get past all the legal red tapeOr maybe it's Peter, even. Hope wedges in his throat as he realizes that today, Derek will be one of the lucky ones making his way down to the visiting room.

But when the lock clicks and the door swings open, there's something off about Nurse Roberts' expression, a subtle glee that twists his bearded grin. It takes Derek a beat of staring to realize the nurse isn't alone in the hall. Fidgeting next to him is the library guy from yesterday, Stiles. He wears a flustered, apologetic grimace.

"He's been waiting here for half an hour," the nurse tells Derek, stepping back with a dramatic little wave at Stiles.

"I said I was just gonna wait till he came out, thanks," Stiles mutters under his breath, side-eyeing the nurse.

A jolt of anger crackles beneath Derek's skin, so powerful that he thinks his wolf might spring out of him to gnash at the man's throat. But when he tears his gaze away from Roberts' expectant look to study Stiles, who's biting his bottom lip like some pitiful orphan waif, all that rage slips away. Suddenly, Derek just feels sad.

They're not coming, he chastises himself firmly. Not now, not ever.

"Why are you here?" he demands of Stiles, leaning into the door frame. The wrathful energy slowly dissipates, and Derek sags like a week-old balloon.

Stiles straightens a little. "Uh," he begins eloquently, and then he pauses to give Roberts a pointed look.

For some reason, Roberts appears surprised, like he'd been expecting something different. Probably for Derek to bite Stiles's head off, if Derek's being honest with himself. But under the weight of both patients' heavy gazes, the nurse only sneers. "Have fun, lovebirds," he bites out, holding his clipboard to his chest. "Clock's ticking, Hale!" he adds over his shoulder.

Stiles watches him go, cheeks a little pink. "Jesus Christ, what a dick."

Derek can't help the surprised huff of laughter that escapes him. Maybe it's been too long since he bothered talking to any of the other patients, but it's weirdly nice to hear someone echo his own opinion of Roberts. "Tell me about it." Derek agrees. Then he pauses, feeling the pressure of each passing second. "So. I am on the clock."

"Oh. Yeah. Look, 'bout that…" Stiles looks back toward the lounge, and then at Derek. "Word on the street is you kinda, like, wander all over the place during your free hour. And I was just wondering if I can come with you today. If that's okay."

Derek studies him suspiciously, wondering if this is some stupid trick. But Stiles looks about as weary as Derek feels, with dark smudges under his eyes and an almost feverish flush to his cheeks.

"Why can't you just go by yourself?" Derek grumbles, just as the guy begins to fidget.

"Told you yesterday," Stiles mutters. "I hate being alone here. It's safer when there's someone with me. And...I want to get to know the place a little better. So I don't get lost." He clears his throat, sheepishly reaching into the pocket of his scrubs to pull out an intake form, which he flips to its blank side, as well as an eraser-less pencil probably stolen from the library. "I was thinking I could maybe map it out a little, so I have it all straight in my head."

It's not totally unheard of for one patient to mess with another—either out of boredom, or out of some misplaced, subconscious urge. Derek's known patients who were convinced they were being constantly studied by cameras, or that creatures wandered into their rooms at night. Lonely, desperate people who wanted to pull anyone and everyone into their delusions, or who wanted help in any way they could find it.

It's easy to fall prey to such a trap when everyone's kept in such close quarters. There's no quick way to filter or fact-check a story online, no familial support system to offer advice. Here, it's easy to jump in to help a drowning man, only to be pulled down by his weight.

He wonders if Stiles is like that: engulfed in his own delusions. Reaching for the nearest lifeline. But the guy doesn't seem like some of the other weirdos (Derek included) who make the long-term ward their home. There's a desperation to him, sure, but there's also something determined in the way he holds himself. Like he's going to make this work, regardless of Derek's answer.

The werewolf stares, considering the request. It's weird, yeah, but it's not like Stiles is asking his hand in marriage. Or like he's even asking Derek to go out of his way. And time's wasting with them standing here talking about it.

"Okay," he says at last, grabbing Monte Cristo and starting off down the hall. "Keep up." He pretends not to notice the relief that flickers across Stiles's face.

Derek's room is near enough to the common lounge that the chatter of voices trickles into the hall, so he always starts there first. He sets off on his normal route around the House—toward the lounge, turning down the hall past the cafeteria and media room, and then around past the therapy rooms and medical station. He heads down the hall to the doctor's office, takes a right turn near the showers, wanders up and down the long halls full of patient rooms, and then circles back to the lounge.

It's a winding loop, but the walk is long enough to keep his wolf from feeling like tearing something (or someone) apart. It's a prowl through what it considers his territory, as depressing as that sounds, and the routine makes him feel a little less lost in this grim, sterile place.

He feels even calmer than usual today, which seems a little weird considering there's a stranger at his side. Especially since his wolf usually rages at anyone within snapping distance, or anyone stupid enough to slow him down. But Stiles does keep up, even though Derek moves at a pace that's just shy of power walking. The other patient doesn't complain: he stays quiet for the entire first lap, drawing wavering lines across the paper and wearing a wide-eyed expression like a prey animal waiting for something to snap at him. His gaze is alert and wary, always sweeping up ahead and then behind. It's weird, Derek thinks. Almost as if he half-expects an attack.

Usually, Derek can get in about a dozen laps in the hour, at least when he's not accosted by random AP Lit students in the hall. But when Derek loops around for a second lap, Stiles speaks up.

"Wait...that's it? That's the whole thing?"

Derek gives him a sidelong glance as they stride back into the lounge. "That's it. All the areas we have access to." He pauses. "Actually, I'm not supposed to leave the group areas during my hour, but I've been here so long I they don't really watch me so much anymore."

Stiles is chewing his lip, stepping around a couple arguing in the middle of the floor to keep pace with Derek. "There's no, I don't know...long, endless hallways? Weird, dark corners?"

Derek frowns again, confused. "Not that I'm aware of. And trust me, I'd know."

Stiles falls quiet, twirling the pencil between his fingers as they make the loop again.

Everything's the same as always, with only minor circumstantial differences: Benji, a heavily scarred patient, gets supplemental meds at the nurses station. Clem, that dark-haired girl Derek had run into before, slips a little on her way out of the shower. Two aging men whose names the werewolf doesn't know carry stacks of board games out of the media room. There are tiny differences so minuscule that this might as well have been yesterday, or the day before, or the month before.

Stiles is different, though. The hospital hums and murmurs around them like it always has, an endless and unchanging chatter, but having someone at his side is newNice, even. Derek's not great with people, with talking to them, but he feels the weird urge to prolong this whole thing. "Is it helping?" he asks gruffly.

Stiles jumps a little, dragging his attention away from his map. He opens his mouth and then closes it. "I'm not really sure. I mean, I think I have it down, but…" He tilts the paper so Derek can see. It's not a particularly neat sketch, worsened by the fact that he'd done it while walking, but it seems to be more or less a bird's-eye view of the hospital layout.

"Didn't you get a tour during your intake?" Derek asks, eyeing the untidy scrawl labeling each part of the map.

"Yeah, but...since then, things have been a little weird."

"What do you mean?"

It's Stiles's turn to give him the side eye. He folds the paper again. "What's your 'thing?'" he asks finally, in lieu of answering. "What are you in for?"

Derek waits for the anger to build, as it usually does when someone has the gall to ask this question. It never comes. "That's rude," he replies at last, covering his surprise. "The first rule of psych club is you never talk about what you're in for."

Stiles's eyebrows climb toward his hairline. "You've seen that movie? With the whole classic lit vibes you have going on, I wouldn't have guessed."

"It was a book first."

"Oh, true. Word."

Their pace has gotten a little slower than the one Derek normally keeps during his free hour, but his wolf doesn't seem to mind. It's not howling for a run, for the first time in ages. They pass the group therapy rooms, and Stiles continues to chew his lip—which Derek guesses means he's thinking about something.

"So, I'm here because I see stuff that isn't real," Stiles says eventually, and Derek quirks an eyebrow in curiosity. Stiles continues quickly, sticking his palms under his armpits like he's cold. "I was supposed to only be here on a 48-hour hold, because they put me on this new medication that potentially had some nasty side effects. But then all of a sudden...after my intake, I didn't get any visiting time with my dad. And then they moved me here, to the intensive care ward. For long-term stays. The doctor says...she says it's just to make sure I'm okay, but I don't know. I'm not really sure how long I'm gonna be here or anything."

Derek can't help himself. "What do you see?" he asks.

Stiles is quiet for a long time. As they pass her office, Dr. Alsina steps out and closes the door behind her, nodding at them both. Only when they can no longer hear the sound of her heels clicking against the tile does Stiles speak again.

"A door, mostly," he murmurs, in a voice so low Derek thinks he can only hear because of his enhanced hearing. "But lately...also hallways."

Derek raises his eyebrows.

"Where they aren't supposed to be," Stiles adds, quirking a wry grin at Derek's perplexed expression. "Like yesterday, there was this hallway going a way it's not supposed to go, and it wasn't there earlier. Just stretching on forever, with..." he swallows. "But really, it's this red door. It follows me, and...it all started there. That's why I'm here in the first place."

"A red door?" Derek asks, struggling to understand. They're just walking now, strolling even, like there's no hurry at all. For some reason, Derek feels there really isn't. He basks in that idea, in the heady calmness of it.

"Yeah. I guess it sounds really dumb, but…"

"No," Derek protests quickly. "I just don't really get what you mean. You just...see a red door sometimes? Does it do anything?"

"No." Stiles shifts in place, suddenly sheepish. "It's...it just sits there. It doesn't do anything, but I've never gone through. And I don't know what's on the other side; I've only seen it open once. But I'm…it really scares me."

"When did it open?" Derek asks. It's rude to ask questions like this, maybe. But he's curious. And Stiles doesn't seem to mind answering, though his voice has gone tremulous and soft.

"When my mom died," Stiles replies quietly. "But it still follows me, even in here."

"Ah."

"Yeah."

They walk on in thoughtful silence for a bit. Though he's never been one for social niceties, Derek feels somehow like he owes Stiles. For the shared secret. Maybe he shouldn't, though—it's not his fault that some kid let himself get vulnerable real fast. Derek barely remembers how it normally goes, with normal people in the outside world, but he's never let himself open up to someone so quickly. With the obvious exception of packmates, he's never held up his flaws to someone else in spite of his own fear.

But weirdly, he finds that he kind of wants to tell Stiles something. Stiles is the first person he's had an actual conversation with in ages. Somehow, he wants them to stand on even ground. "Everyone knows what I'm in for," he states, shrugging one shoulder.

Stiles's mouth twists in a sheepish grimace. "Yeah, kind of. I mean, I remember a little of it when it came out in the news. And my dad used to talk about it. The whole suspected murder thing, right?"

Derek looks at him, eyebrows rising in mock-concern. "Oh, so you do know you're associating with someone who's only here so the lawyers can make a case for the insanity plea."

"Last I heard, it wasn't exactly an open-and-shut case," Stiles counters, though he's frowning thoughtfully. And then: "Did you do it?"

Right for the gut, Derek thinks, weirdly impressed in spite of himself. "If I knew that, I wouldn't be here."

"Huh. Then it's true, you really don't remember."

Derek sighs. "No, I really don't. Guess that's my 'thing.'"

"It's just...blacked out?"

"Yeah. I remember some of it. The fire. Kate Argent." Even as he manages to quash his fury, taking a long, low breath, he's keenly aware of how amazing it is that he's even managed to say her name out loud without snarling. "After that, it's all blank."

Stiles gives a low whistle. "You're really not making your lawyers' job easy."

Derek snorts before he can catch it, having expected some pitying response. "One of them's my uncle, so you'd think I'd cooperate a little more."

"You're such an asshole," Stiles agrees, grinning. "Well, at least your uncle's on your legal team. Can't he get you into a better place than this hellhole? You guys are supposed to be loaded, aren't you?" He pauses, thoughtful. "Don't you own the whole Preserve? Just tell him to put you wherever Britney Spears went when she had her meltdown. Probably they do all the nice kinds of therapy shit there. Aqua-massages with Evian water, or art therapy with pure gold paint or something."

Derek huffs out a laugh, and then he shakes his head. "I would, if I'd seen him even once since the day they put me in here."

Stiles stops short, staring. Derek turns to look at him. "You're not getting visitors either," Stiles realizes slowly.

"No. I haven't seen my uncle or sister in...however long since I've been here."

Stiles nods slowly, falling back into step with him. "Feels like shit, doesn't it?" he says gruffly.

Later, when Derek tries to pinpoint a moment when they became friends, this is a strong contender. And maybe it's stupid, but the realization that they're both alone here, stripped away from their contacts on the outside world—it adds a comforting sense of companionship to the rest of the walk.

They end up back in the library, as Derek always does at the end of his hour. The metal chair scrapes dully against the carpet as Stiles sinks into a seat at the table, looking somehow more exhausted after the short jaunt around the House. "What's it gonna be today?"

It takes Derek a second to realize he's talking about books. "Great Expectations," he says, returning his loan to the shelf.

"Ew, gross," Stiles retorts as Derek skims the spines of the books. "Don't do that one. Read something else. Something cool." He thinks for a second. "Read Frankenstein. Do they have that?"

Derek pauses. "Sure. But it's way down the list."

"So worth it, though. I had to read the sparknotes of Great Expectations when we did it in class. Would you rather read, like, ten thousand pages of Pip becoming all gentlemanly, or about some weird inhuman creature stalking a dude across his whole life? Easily the second one, right?" Then he hesitates for a beat, swallowing. "Actually...Frankenstein's sounding super creepy at the moment. Don't they have any feel-good books? Just read like, Peter Pan or something."

Derek huffs at the bossy tone, but he looks in the section regardless. "Frankenstein's not bad."

Stiles hums. "How do you keep track of your reading list, anyway?"

"Two years in solitary to get it down. Plus I have twenty-three hours to plan exactly what I want to check out in one hour," Derek replies offhandedly. "It's not hard."

"Huh. Fair."

Derek scrawls the details of the loan into the ledger and leaves it in the filing cabinet. When he turns back, Stiles has sagged forward onto his elbows as if the tabletop is the only thing holding him upright. "You look like death," Derek tells him bluntly.

"No shit. I didn't sleep at all last night."

"Bad dreams?"

"Bad doors."

His face grows tight, like it's something he'd really rather not think about. Derek hesitates, not sure what to say, and that's when Nurse Chen sticks her head into the room. "Time," she tells Derek.

Derek sighs and shuffles toward the door. When he turns back, though, the sight of Stiles staring despondently at the empty tabletop gives him pause. Without thinking, he asks, "Same time tomorrow?"

Stiles looks up, surprised. Then the corners of eyes crinkle in a soft, hopeful expression. "Yeah, sounds good."

Following Chen back to his room, Derek realizes it's the first time in a long time he's felt this way: relieved and calm, not frantic as a caged wolf. And it's the first time in a long time that his rage—at everything, at the situation, the orderlies, Kate Argent and everyone working with her—subsided enough for him to even think about anything else.

.

After that, it's strange how quickly it becomes routine. Each day, Stiles walks with one of the nurses to free Derek from his room at eleven, wearing a shy smile on his face. And together, the two of them stroll around the House for most of his free hour.

His wolf is surprisingly quiet about it all. It gets worked up when he's trapped in his room, the same way it always has. He burns with the need to prowl this tiny corner of the world it considers "his territory." Derek knows this building's not his, knows he's actually trapped here—but his wolf urges him to pace, to see all he can. It never used to be this angry, this feralHe never used to have so much rage bottled up inside him. Not until he came to Eichen.

And then Stiles arrives, once a day, every day, and his wolf goes calm. Derek wonders at the change.

They talk about small things, mostly. It's like the sudden depth of their first real conversation has turned them belatedly bashful. They discuss the terrible and questionable smells of the media room. Stiles gossips about a lady who, just this morning, beat another patient bloody over a stolen hairpin.

As always, they end in the library, where Stiles recommends books that Derek pretends he needs convincing to read.

But sometimes, Stiles simply hands him whatever book he's returning. Later, Derek will open the pages to find notes scrawled inside the first pages in careful pencil, whatever Stiles can't say out loud that day: The red door is in my room again today. Or else I slept under my bed last night, so I couldn't see the walls so well.

"Do you think it's paranoia if they're really out to get you?" Stiles asks out of the blue him one day.

They're just passing the nurses station, ambling past an arguing orderly and patient. It's been silent for a while, and Derek takes a second to catch up. "Wait, who's out to get you?"

"It was kind of a joke, but...honestly? Doctor Alsina. Not in a crazy way, just...I know if I start telling her all my shit, she'll want me to stay for longer than I already am. For observation. And to play with my medication some more. And I just want to leave, I want to...I want my dad. God, I want my dad." He frowns. "I don't know if she'd take me off the pills, or give me something to make it worse. But I want to go back to when I had just a little bit of weirdness, not all this insane stuff, which...I guess it does sound crazy, when I say it out loud," he finishes worriedly.

"No, I guess it doesn't. You said it yourself: you aren't supposed to be here, and you don't want to take the extra pills. It's not crazy to want what you asked for." Derek pauses. "You know, you could…"

When he trails off, Stiles shoots him a curious look. "What?"

Derek waits until they're a little further down the hall, lowering his voice. "You could stop taking your pills."

Stiles's eyes boggle. "You think I should?"

Derek backtracks a little, shrugging. "I don't know. I don't know what they do. But...that way, you could figure out if they're helping or hurting. Maybe if you stop taking them, things'll go back to how they were."

"How do I even do that?"

"Keep it under your tongue when you swallow the water. You can spit it out later."

Stiles frowns. "Do you do that?"

Derek shrugs. "Sometimes. Doesn't seem to make a difference either way, so I don't always. But everyone's on different meds."

"Huh," Stiles says, and Derek can practically see the wheels turning in his head.

After that, Derek starts leaving messages back: I can't always remember what I did before I fell asleep in the evening. Or, after a great deal of deliberation, a very solid truth: I'm always angry, and I don't always know why.

They don't discuss any of this in person. At least not in depth. It's not that the topics are off-limits; Derek doesn't actually think he'd mind Stiles asking about his past. But neither of them wants to dwell on why they're here, how they're trapped in Eichen. It has a way of putting a damper on the mood.

"You've been doing very well these last few days, Derek," Dr. Alsina tells him one Thursday morning. She seems vaguely surprised herself, like she hadn't actually expected him to improve. Resting her chin on her hand, she regards him with those somber blue eyes. "I hear you've made a friend."

Derek hates this part of the week. He only sees her for an hour on Thursdays, and the break in the monotony should be enough to get him excited about leaving his room. But the contemplative glances, the long sighs, the condescending tone—none of it's worth it. She makes him feel like he's an object she's toying with, something broken she's dutifully trying to put right.

He swallows his growl, though, because with her most of all, he has to pretend that rage isn't one second away from spilling out of his mouth like bile. With her most of all, he has to pretend to be normal. Which means he very carefully does not grip the arms of the chair hard enough to crack them open.

"It's...a good sign," she murmurs at last, closing the manila folder of his file. "A mark of improvement. No incidents in the past two weeks." Derek remains silent, as he always does unless she's asked a direct question that needs a response. She never seems to mind. "I'd like to try something," she adds suddenly, looking back up at him. "I'm going to open up your schedule a little, starting tomorrow, from breakfast to lunch. Think of it as time off for good behavior."

He hates the way she's phrased it, like he's already in prison for what he's done. He fights back the sour rage, wondering if she said it that way on purpose. And then her words actually hit him. "Wait. I can leave the room?" he asks hopefully, anger subsiding. "Breakfast to lunch?"

Dr. Alsina's jotting a note down on his chart. "Seven to one," she confirms. She pauses, looking back up at him. "As a trial. Show me that you've earned the time, and we'll see about making it permanent."

.

The following morning, there's a rap on his door, bright and early. It rouses him out of a heavy sleep. "Breakfast in half an hour, Hale," Roberts calls, voice muffled by the door. There's the scrape of a key in the lock.

Derek sits in disbelief a little too long, without responding. The rap comes again. "Hale!"

"Alright, I heard!" Derek barks, but it's more out of surprise than anger. He quickly throws on a fresh set of scrubs and opens the door, unable to hide his own amazement. Beneath his skin, his wolf is jubilant.

Like a ghost, he drifts slowly down the hall to the common lounge. It's filling up with other patients, patients who rub tiredly at their eyes and cluster in small packs with their friends. A few of the regulars, people whose faces he recognizes from months on end, stare at him as he wanders into the room.

"You're early," one of them says suspiciously, craning his neck to see if the orderlies are going to do anything. "Are you supposed to be this early?"

Derek fights back a growl, darting away before he can do something he'll regret. He can't remember ever being here this early, with nothing to do and so many people. Not since his first few days, when he'd gotten in so many fights they'd eventually confined him to his room—"for your own safety, and the safety of the other patients," Alsina had said.

Out of habit, he does a loop around the place. It's a compulsion he can't quite fight off. It calms his wolf a little, and the pattern of behavior is so familiar around here that no one else tries to talk to him.

At some point, the other patients begin to flood into the cafeteria for breakfast. Derek, determined to keep calm, goes for another loop so he won't have to spend so much time waiting in line.

He manages to get his own tray of food, weirdly excited to pick his own meal rather than having one delivered to him. Even if it is just fruit salad and burnt bacon.

Stiles is eating alone in the corner of the room, morosely piling his eggs into a tower on his tray. He looks up when Derek sits down across from him. The werewolf finds himself unable to fight a smile off of his face as Stiles's eyes bulge.

"Dude." Stiles grins, shoving Derek's shoulder. He glances around quickly, then hisses, "What the hell? Did you bust out?"

"Time for good behavior," Derek replies. He feigns nonchalance but can't keep his mouth from quirking upwards.

"No way! No way," Stiles crows happily. "I can't believe it. Are you here all day?"

"Just the morning. I go back in at one. It's just a trial period."

"But still! Every day, from now on?" At Derek's nod, Stiles practically bounces in his seat. "Dude, this is awesome. You wouldn't believe how boring it is when it's just me. How's it feel, being out?"

Derek's chest grows tight at the brightness of Stiles's smile, excited by his excitement. "Weird," he says honestly. "After all this time, having more time in the day. It's weird."

"Good weird," Stiles agrees, nodding.

An older guy waddles up to the table like he's going to sit down. Derek's wolf, suddenly near the surface and territorial, breaks out in a growl. The guy freezes.

Stiles blinks, then kicks Derek in the shin. "Um—" he begins, turning to the other patient, but the man's already backing away, one hand out in a peacemaking gesture as he goes off to find another table.

Derek never feels embarrassed by his anger. He's never had a reason; the anger just dissipates eventually and Derek moves on. But now, feeling the weight of the Stiles's gaze, Derek feels a hot flush creep onto his face as the rage fades away.

"A trial period, huh? Man, we're gonna have to make sure you keep it together," Stiles says matter-of-factly. He chews thoughtfully on the tines of his fork. "We'll make it stick."

Derek stares in surprise, and suddenly the warmth he feels has nothing to do with embarrassment.

.

The thing is, for being a mental hospital patient, Stiles is surprisingly good company. Not at all unbearable, like everyone else here. If Derek hadn't heard, straight from Stiles's own mouth, that red doors and dark hallways sometimes flicker on the edges of his vision, he'd never have known there was anything unusual about him at all.

They spend all of the first morning together, most of it out in the lounge. It's weird having enough time to relax, just hanging out on one of the sofas instead of pacing around the building. Stiles swipes a deck of cards from somewhere and teaches Derek to play gin rummy, which Stiles says every self-respecting hospital patient should know. Some of the time they spend in front of the wide cafeteria windows, watching cars occasionally come and go in the parking lot outside.

Stiles seems to understand, just from their short time together, that Derek's at his best when there's no one else around. He instinctively acts as a barrier between Derek and anyone who comes close, either physically stepping in front of Derek or fielding questions from the nurses.

The only downside is that Stiles's daily doctor appointment is at ten. Meaning there's a whole hour Derek has to spend on his own.

"You'll be fine, just read in the library," Stiles reassures him. "It's quiet in there, and mostly people are just coming to check out a book, if they come in at all. That's what I do most of the time when you're not around. You don't even have to talk to anyone if you don't want."

It's good advice. After the nurse comes to deliver Stiles to Dr. Alsina's, Derek heads to the library. He pulls The Complete Tales of Edgar Allan Poe out again, but he can't really settle into it.

The room smells faintly of Stiles. It's easy to tell that the human spends a lot of time in here, way more than Derek himself. Probably hiding out from whatever thoughts and visions plague him. Actually, now that Derek's focused on it it, he can just make out the scent of fear as well—sour and almost imperceptible, but still enough to make him pause.

Usually, Derek has to leave Stiles alone in here when he goes back to his room at noon...but Stiles hates being alone, doesn't he? He sticks to Derek's side like glue whenever he can. The human obviously doesn't mind the library much, if he hangs out here often, but that doesn't mean he always enjoys being here on his own.

There's a wall clock just above the filing cabinet. As Derek tries to force himself to read, his gaze is drawn up to it, over and over again.

At five to eleven, he rises and puts the book away. He heads down the hall, past the med station, and in spite of himself, he finds himself keeping an eye out for anything unusual. Dark shadows. Odd doors. Long halls. There is magic in the world, after all, and as a werewolf he knows this better than most.

But there's nothing there. Stupid, he reminds himself. You know where you are. If he's seeing things in Eichen House, they're just in his head.

When Stiles steps out of Dr. Alsina's office, there's a pinched, worried expression on his face—until he sees Derek.

"You're here," he says in wonder.

Derek shrugs, an attempt at nonchalance. "Thought I'd walk you back. Since, you know."

Stiles's face goes pink. "I know it's stupid."

"It isn't," Derek replies. "You see what you see. It's real to you, so it is real."

The resulting smile on Stiles's face makes it all worth it. And Derek thinks he'd walk Stiles anywhere, a thousand times over, just to see it again.

Chapter Text

Quincy is over by the cafeteria window having a full-on conversation with a pigeon shitting on the ledge. Again.

Stiles shoves half a bread roll into his mouth, watching her crumple in devastation as the bird flies off without responding. "Du'," he says around the dry mouthful, stamping it down with his tongue. He swallows hard and tries again. "Dude, do you ever feel like we're living in a broken record? I feel like I'm experiencing Groundhog Day in here."

"I feel like that every day," Derek replies patiently, only half-listening. He's finished eating already, somehow having inhaled the contents of his entire tray in less than five minutes flat. Stiles wonders if it's just that he has an insanely quick metabolism, or if they aren't putting enough food on the tray for someone with as many muscles as Derek has. Or if he just wants to get a head start on the day's reading, as always. It's Lord of the Flies, which seems kinda fitting, here of all places.

Stiles can't quite figure out the best word to describe Eichen. It's not quite deja vu, because everything's always slightly different and new. For example, grizzled old Vern is eating his napkin today instead of his shoelaces, arguing with an orderly all the while ("I've been accustomed to digesting this sort of thing, but thanks for your concern..."). Marty—well actually, he's doing the same as always. Trying to navigate the room with his eyes closed, which apparently helps him see better. This time, though, there's a dull-eyed nurse trying to help him find an empty table, at least.

It's predictable, to a certain extent. Like living a dream, and somehow knowing that it isn't true. That reality is waiting for you somewhere, just on the other side of a curtain, if only you can reach out and pull it aside. But until then, it's just...

"Mind-numbing," Stiles decides abruptly.

"Hmm?"

"The best word to describe this place." He wrinkles his nose at the weird-ass carrot-and-bean mashup going on in one of the slots on his tray. "Is it always like this?"

Derek shrugs, finally taking his eyes off the page to peer around them. "You tell me. Usually, I was only out of my room an hour a day, remember? And I hate people," he adds, so matter-of-factly that Stiles can't help but fight back a smile. "So I wasn't really in the mood to recognize patterns."

Stiles huffs in frustration. After a beat, he pushes his tray toward Derek. "You want in on this, dude? Carrots are the worst."

Derek hesitates for only a second before diving in. Stiles watches with satisfaction, thinking the guy should obviously be eating more anyway, before settling back onto the topic at hand. "It's just, there's nothing new. You can't just randomly decide to grab 3 a.m. tacos, or head out to a movie release. God, there's not even internet." His hands flail wildly in the air. "How do I get someone to smuggle me a smartphone in a cake or something?"

Derek smirks, swallowing the last of the mix. "Isn't it supposed to be a hacksaw in a cake? Or a knife?"

"Look, I know you have a boner for the classics, but get with the 21st century," Stiles counters. He glances back at Quincy, who's allowed a friend to coax her back to her table. "What day is it, anyway?"

"It's...Thursday? No, that's not right. I'd have a meeting with Dr. Alsina."

"No, I mean, how many days have I been here? Ten days? No, eleven. Yeah. Damn it."

"Jesus, does it really matter?" A voice gripes from behind them. Stiles turns to find himself facing an older woman who he only knows from morning therapy. She's emptying ketchup packets onto her tray, creating a little red sea in one of the troughs. "It's all the same after a while."

"Shut up, Madison, nobody fucking asked you," Stiles sulks, patting Derek's arm to stop him from leaning over to growl, which Stiles now knows he absolutely will do if given enough time. "Ease up there, big guy. You finished?"

The infuriated expression doesn't completely leave his face, but Derek snaps the book shut and pushes his tray away.

"Great," Stiles says. "I know what would make you feel better. Wanna hide behind the desk at the nurses station, so we can scare the shit out of that dickhead Roberts when he passes?"

.

Every day is the same in Eichen, but Derek makes Stiles feel like there's actually something to look forward to each day.

Which is weird, because Stiles never wanted to make friends here. Making friends, getting to know people, doing the whole small talk thing—that would mean resigning himself to staying here in Eichen.

But maybe, he thinks, having one friend is okay.

Stiles has at the very least resigned himself to being here for a little past the original 48-hour agreement. It's slowly crept up on him that he's becoming a fixture here, that weird kid who babbles. The nurses have stopped checking in on him so often, like his newness has slowly rubbed away in the antiseptic air.

If that's true, he'll do what it takes to keep himself from scratching at the walls in loneliness and anxiety while he's here. Derek keeps him a little more human. A little more sane.

Not that they're doing anything particularly mind-blowing in the hellhole that is Eichen House.

One day, Derek raids some construction paper from the media room craft box. He spends the afternoon teaching Stiles how to make a real paper airplane, one that actually flies the length of an entire hallway. And for the whole time they're out there, laughing and mostly ignoring the dirty looks from the orderlies, Stiles doesn't see a single sign of darkness at either end of the corridor.

One day, they again pull up chairs to people-watch in the cafeteria window. The Eichen House parking lot doesn't get a ton of visitors, but they pass the time making up elaborate backstories of each person that pulls into or out of a spot, long after the person's disappeared from view.

One day, Stiles turns his allotted non-skid socks inside out, trying to figure-skate around the floor of one of the empty group therapy rooms. Derek watches from a nearby chair, rolling his eyes in amusement over a copy of 1984.

One day, when they sign out the electric shavers during free time, they sit in front of the low mirror in the showers (always under supervision) while Stiles single-handedly reenacts the events of Texas Chainsaw Massacre with his, until the on-duty orderly threatens to throw them both in their rooms.

Eventually, Stiles doesn't remember what day it is anymore. It's all a blur of lazy mornings that turn into frightening evenings and sleepless nights.

Because that's the thing: Derek isn't here all day. Whenever a nurse comes to deliver Derek to his room, Stiles finds himself alone again. In the dark.

He tries not to talk about that part with Derek. Which is hard. Mostly because in the mornings, Stiles and Derek can do hours of walking together, which is maybe a surprising thing to say about two people cooped up in a mental institution of very much finite size. Wandering back and forth seems to calm Derek for some reason, and the constant movement keeps Stiles from fidgeting, so it's kind of an ideal pastime. They pass the time talking—or really, Stiles talks at Derek. He's never been great at knowing when to shut up, and the faint anxiety that's always playing on his nerves nowadays only makes things worse. He rambles, talking about what he'd been learning in school, or dumb stuff he's done with Scott, or what his dad's probably up to right at this moment.

Derek never objects. He's a good listener. And though Derek tells him bits and pieces of his life, Stiles can't help feeling there's more to Derek than he knows. Stiles never probes too deeply, unsure how sensitive his new friend feels about the whole Kate Argent thing, and the fire and the trial, and all the awful things he's had to live through. Derek doesn't offer more than Stiles asks, though he sometimes looks at Stiles with a calculating glint in his eye when he thinks Stiles isn't paying attention.

It's only fair that Derek keeps his secrets, though. Stiles is busy burying his deepest worries, shoving them far away so he doesn't have to think about them. Why shouldn't Derek be allowed to do the same?

Even so, Derek seems to know, to understand that Stiles has a lot more going on that he'll say aloud.

"What's up?" Derek asks him carefully one morning, taking in whatever terrible expression has flooded Stiles's face. Derek's just returned from the bathroom, stepping back into the empty media room where Stiles waits cross-legged on the thin carpet. They'd finished lunch early, meaning they have the whole room to themselves for a bit while everyone else fights for food.

"Nothing," Stiles says quickly. Derek follows Stiles's line of sight to the doorway and back.

"You sure?"

"Just...thought I saw something," Stiles admits quietly. He's still staring out there, just past Derek, where the hallway light had begun to dim, slowly and stealthily, as if not to surprise him with the sudden change. On Derek's return, though, the light had flooded the hall again. Like it had never even faded.

Derek follows his gaze to the hall, nodding slowly as understanding sinks in. "Should have stuck around."

"You can go to the bathroom, dude," Stiles says hotly, face flushing red. "I can...be by myself for five minutes." He swallows the sudden anxiety and irritation that's washed over him, covering it up with nonchalance. "That's what happens in the evenings, anyway. I'm by myself."

Up until this point, Derek's been unsuccessfully attempting to teach Stiles to crochet. You wouldn't know it to look at him, but the guy is a master, calmly crocheting what amounts to an entire scarf in the time it takes Stiles to loop the yarn around his fingers correctly. Now, though, he looks at Stiles appraisingly.

"Okay. Help me put this away," he orders, packing his remaining yarn and hook neatly into the box.

"What?"

"You need a distraction, but also...maybe there's something that will help."

Stiles huffs, then wordlessly drops his own supplies in as well, returning the box to the shelf. "What are we going to do?"

Derek pauses, quirking his head. "Well," he begins slowly, "when I'm stuck in my room, and bored out of my mind, sometimes exercising helps me feel better. It might help you feel stronger. Not just physically stronger, but…" he shrugs.

"Mentally stronger, too," Stiles guesses. He feels like he could take that as an insult—like Derek thinks that he's lost it, that he's seeing creepy shit, that he needs help. But the thing is, he does need help. And he is seeing creepy shit. So he takes the words at face value. "Okay. Yeah. So what do we do?"

Another shrug. Derek looks oddly pleased. "Uh. Let's start by stretching, and then maybe we can do some basic stuff."

It takes all of thirty seconds for Stiles learns he has a hard time focusing when Derek's demonstrating stretches right in front of him. There's something objectively graceful about the practiced way he rolls from one stretch to the next. And then, when he shows off his strength training, Stiles can't quite keep his eyes off Derek's shoulder muscles, which bunch under his blue scrub shirt as he manages to do like a million push-ups in one sitting.

Of course, it takes only five minutes more for Stiles to learn that he can barely do push-ups to save his life. And also he's been doing them all wrong, basically forever.

"You're really bad at this," Derek tells him solemnly, after all the critiques he gives Stiles about good form have passed through one ear and out the other.

"Get used to it," Stiles snipes. "This is how it's gonna be for the near future—me swearing, complaining, and sucking at everything."

But it's not bad. It's nice, even. Derek patiently gets him through lunges, burpees, planks, and more. He has the practiced air of a guy who moonlights as some kind of real-life gym instructor. Or as a guy who used to spend 23 hours per day alone in his room, with little distraction aside from physical fitness—take your pick.

Eventually, they give it a rest when some weirdo middle-aged man tries to join in, mimicking their moves. Derek doesn't take kindly to the intrusion at all.

"What?" Derek barks, and his mouth is suddenly all teeth. "This a joke to you?"

"Dude, hey, breathe. Breathe," Stiles murmurs, quickly putting himself between Derek and the other man. When Derek can't seem to tear his gaze away from the patient, Stiles lightly presses his hands on Derek's arm to get him to back up. The muscles ripple a little under Stiles's touch, the tension practically visible. "We're going for—hey. Hey. We're going for good behavior, remember? 'Trial period' and all?"

Once Stiles has caught his attention, Derek's snarl gradually slides away, and he resigns himself to simply glaring at the guy until he shuffles away fearfully.

"That's better, yeah? How 'bout next time, we...we get you to do some yoga? You know, all that helpful meditation shit?" Stiles is only joking, but it would probably be great for Derek to learn, if Stiles actually knew anything about that kind of stuff. Maybe there's something about it in the library they can use. Derek's got a really short fuse, as it turns out, and it makes him prone to go off on pretty much anyone who isn't Stiles—which makes Stiles feel warm inside in a way he doesn't really want to dissect. But it also means he lives in fear of what might happen if Derek actually snaps one day, getting locked back into a 23/1 schedule.

"No, I'm alright," Derek replies, stepping away from Stiles. He does a quick, jerky pacing movement, like a trapped animal. Then he clears his throat in embarrassment. "Sorry."

"Hey, don't apologize, man. Nothing wrong about getting kinda angry. As long as you don't act on it, you know? And besides, I feel like you're getting better at reining it in."

Derek looks a little doubtful. "You think?"

"Yeah. Faster, anyway. It still happens, but you aren't mad about stuff for so long afterwards." Stiles replies. He feels a tiny bit sore, mostly in his arms. But it's a good feeling. As much as he'd complained about the workout—and god, had he complained—it had also been kind of...fun. Distracting. Not to mention that he doesn't really mind watching Derek demonstrate the activities right in front of him.

It helped. Even though Derek doesn't know the stuff Stiles isn't telling him, his worries and fears...he'd somehow still known how to give Stiles a tiny piece of what he needs.

"Hale!" Roberts shouts from across the room, nearly startling a pair of girls out of their chairs. "It's noon! Get your ass in gear."

Derek's jaw clenches, a sure sign he's fighting away a heavy dose of fuck you, but Stiles taps him on the arm before he can take things too far.

"Thanks," he offers warmly, once Derek's turned his way. "For the exercising stuff. I feel like it'll help. It already ismaybe."

"Oh." Derek deflates suddenly, staring at him. "Oh. Yeah. Sure."

"Anyway. See ya tomorrow," Stiles adds wistfully.

"Yeah," Derek repeats. He bumps their shoulders together as he heads to the door, where Roberts waits. "See you."

.

The darkness is always there.

It sits just out of reach, even early in the mornings. Even when Stiles is in a crowd. Even when Derek's right beside him.

Stiles knows it's there. He half-believes he can feel it out there, lingering just on the edge of his vision, no matter where he is. It watches, waiting for him to be alone. To be vulnerable.

As evening creeps in, it gets worse. These days, Stiles is much more careful to cling to other people. He stays in the media room, or the lounge, or sometimes the library or cafeteria. At lights out, the nurses begin combing the halls for stray patients, and he can walk with one of them to his room. Which is where he waits out the sleepless night alone...but that's another story.

He feels like a leech, jumping from person to person—walking with someone from the lounge to the cafeteria or vice versa, and waiting for the next person to come along so he's not traversing the hallways alone.

Stiles likes to think he's playing it safe. But the darkness eventually outsmarts him.

It comes for him one evening, during the free time after dinner, in a place where Stiles has always felt safe. He wakes slumped onto the library table, surrounded by its rows of books and filing cabinets. He never really means to nap there, but sometimes the lack of sleep sneaks up on him as the day wears on. And staring at the yellowed pages of a library book makes his mind grow hazy and fatigued, like he's wading through cotton just to follow the words.

When he jolts awake, the first thing he notices is warmth at his side. Groggily, he turns to the chair at his right. Blinks.

There's a black fox sleeping there, curled up into a tight ball. It's got a coat of thick fur, ears tucked back. It's the size of a small dog, barely able to keep its girth balanced without falling off the chair.

"What the hell?" Stiles asks, jumping out of his seat as his mind tries to take in the fact that a fox somehow made it into Eichen...how? By sneaking through a window?

He spins around, intending to shout for a nurse, only to find that the library door is gone.

Or rather, it's still there—but it's different. When he'd walked into it just a while ago, the library door had opened out onto a hallway, one that ran left toward the lounge and right toward Alsina's office. Looking toward the hall from the library, Stiles should be able to see fluorescent lights over a standard white wall a few feet away.

Now, there's only a vast dark space. Light from within the library itself spills onto the ground, illuminating a few feet of the white tile that spreads over all the Eichen floors. It's enough to tell Stiles that the space beyond the door juts much farther out than the hall he'd originally come from, at least ten feet—and more, probably, in the darkness that the light doesn't reach.

But it can't be, because this isn't where the door is supposed to lead.

Stiles stands frozen in disbelief. At the last minute, he remembers the fox—but it's completely gone. The room's empty, except for him.

"No way," he protests, but he barely has time to process this before the overhead lamp suddenly flickers once, twice, and then dies. Pitch blackness envelops him, more complete than anything Stiles has ever known. Oh god. Okay. What's happening? Am I making this up? A wretched sound escapes him, and he flails about for the light switch. Keep it together, Stiles. He can see nothing, but everything he lays his hands on feels real enough: the worn books on their shelves, the hard wood of the table. His fingers find the light switch, but nothing happens when he flicks it up and down. And then there's a brush of something, maybe fur, against his leg.

He jolts as if struck by lightning, and at the same time, something catches his gaze out of the corner of his eye. Further down the hall, there's a light. It's a white square so far away he could probably cover it with his thumbnail if he fully extended his arm—far away. And everything else is total blackness. Maybe he hadn't noticed it in his initial panic. Or maybe the light is new.

"No. I can work with this," Stiles reassures himself, his voice thin and insubstantial in the dark, like it's been stripped of some essential quality. "I can get there."

At an arduously slow pace, one hesitant foot in front of the other, he manages to get out of the library and into the space beyond. He feels worse out here, more exposed. It's a hall, he realizes as he goes: doorways lie open on walls to either side, gaping mouths extending into pools of more profound darkness. He's not sure what to make of the fox at his back, if it's there at all—he keeps his ears alert to any sound of movement, but there's only the sound of his own breaths, quick and frantic.

This far off, the dim illumination of the distant door is just bright enough for Stiles to make out where he's going. He can see the vague glint of the thin, grout-filled gaps in the tile farther off, and the foul blackness of the doors to either side. And maybe that's why Stiles sees it out of the corner of his eye: a deep black something further in the recesses of one of the rooms he passes. His head snaps around for a better look. There's no mistaking it: a tall, humanoid shape, someone with broad shoulders and a tilted head. Someone just standing there, completely still, staring at him from within the dark room.

There's a whimpering sound. Stiles realizes it's coming from himself. He takes the next few steps at a dead sprint, a nervous film of sweat gathering in his palms. The lighted door still beckons from impossibly far away—and shouldn't he have halved the distance by now?

It's hard to know if the person is following, and quick glances over his shoulder reveal nothing but blackness thick as tar. Just as before, Stiles can only hear his own shaky breathing, his own pounding heart. But he feels, maybe just in his head, that the person is staying close. That they slink just behind him, unseen.

And the lighted door looks further away than ever.

As he hurries forward the hallway grows warmer in fractions. It's subtle, something Stiles probably wouldn't have noticed without the near total darkness. But he's focusing all of his senses outward now, and there's a strange sort of humidity, and a muted but sickly sweet smell in the air.

And the floor's gotten...softer, he realizes. Through the thin fabric of the hospital socks, he feels his feet sink a little into the warm and suddenly rubbery tiles. The further he goes, the more effort he has to make to move. Each step requires him to pull his feet from the soft and increasingly sticky tile. It dips under his feet, sucking him in a little, and eventually he finds he can't move quite so easily, or so freely. An image springs to mind of a venus flytrap, a sticky surface holding prey closely as the jaws drift distant glow of the lighted room winks tauntingly, miles away.

He's been trying to keep his cool up to now, trying to pretend this is all in his head—that he's high on prescription pills somewhere in the real world—but it doesn't feel like that's true. It feels like he's here, sinking into quicksand. Like he's a meal slowly being consumed.

Stiles swears violently as he rips his leg from the viscous floor; it comes free with a wet noise that sounds horrifying to his ears. He pauses, terror raging in his thudding heart, but the longer he stands still, the more he sinks, inch by inch, into the deep. It's like tar now, almost—moist and tacky against his skin where he's pulled his legs free just moments back. Frightened, he stumbles onward—until he falls, catching himself with his left hand.

The floor sucks him in. He tugs and tugs, trying to get free, but his limbs are stuck fast. Whimpering again, he reels backward, feeling himself settle further into the warm darkness, which rises up to his hips now.

He's hyperventilating, pulling frantically, his free arm flailing—until it smacks into a wall. A hard wall. No, he realizes, feeling the tiny crack in it. A door.

Stiles fumbles for the knob, stretching a little above his head to find it, but it's there. He twists hard, shoving forward, and light spills suddenly over him. The library. Somehow, he's back there—but that part doesn't matter. He grabs the door frame with his free hand, using it to pull himself free. Panting with exertion, he manages to get his other hand out, and then his legs, and then he's crawling onto the grimy carpet, nearly sobbing with relief.

He turns as soon as he's caught his breath, intending to kick the door closed—but it's not there anymore.

It's just a hall. It's the hallway across from the library, exactly as it's supposed to be: white tiles, white walls, fluorescent lights.

Stiles screams and screams.

At some point, he realizes he's crying uncontrollably, unable to understand what's happened—what's happening to himEventually, there's a nurse in front of him, but he can't stop crying long enough to make out what she says. Then there are two nurses, then three. Their voices aren't loud enough for Stiles to make out over his pounding heart and frantic breaths. His skin is clean, smooth to the touch, but he knows it should be tacky with dark matter. He knows he should be marked by what's happened.

There's a sharp pain in his upper arm, real and firm, and then it's gone. And that's the last thing Stiles knows for a long time.

Chapter Text

The monsters are back again.

Strange, faceless beings stare down at Derek, their features somehow foreign. He strains to make out distinguishing features, anything that might identify them, but his world has grown dim. Night creeps across his vision.

When the overhead lights flicker to life, signaling the start of a new day, Derek's just awake enough to register that the darkness has turned a deep red through his closed eyelids. He drags himself to consciousness.

He's alone in his room, in his bed, where he always wakes. And as always, he remains rigid as the images swirl around his head. Some days, waking up feels almost like coming out of sleep paralysis, or so he imagines: he lies frozen in bed, unable to move and barely able to think—only the culprit is rage, not fear. It curls his fingers into fists, steels his spine. Today, he struggles just to calm his breathing. The only thing that really lingers from his dreams is a deep-rooted anger, one so thick he practically chokes with it.

At last, he drags himself into a sitting position, rubbing sleep from the corners of his eyes. He's had this dream before, dozens of times. Maybe hundreds. It doesn't come every night, but it comes often enough that he knows this one won't be the last.

Derek stretches wearily, passing a hand through his hair, and something moves in the corner of his eye. He turns to the bathroom, where the door lies open. The overhead lights in the main bedroom always flicker on a little before seven, when the nurses start making the rounds to unlock doors, but the bathroom light stays just how he left it. In this case, off. He's not sure what caught his attention, maybe a trick of the light—but when he turns away, he sees it again. Something writhing, a tiny motion in the darkness.

Unsettled, he stands and walks over to flick the light on. Nothing. You're letting Stiles's stories get to you, he chastises himself. But even so, Derek enters the bathroom gingerly to brush his teeth, as if he might disturb whatever was there first. And once he's changed, he shuts the door firmly behind him.

When Nurse Roberts comes to let him out, Derek is so distracted that he doesn't even rise to the man's baiting taunts. He does a quick lap around the hospital as usual, just to calm himself down, but more than anything he just wants to see Stiles. The human has a way of making him feel less tense, of helping him forget his worries. Besides, he thinks as his stomach growls hungrily, I could always eat.

As he enters the cafeteria, the other patients seem to writhe around him as well, faceless in their own way. He snarls viciously at them in line, barely managing to rein himself in as the woman dishing food stares at him reproachfully. This is why you're always hungry, he tells himself irritably. You're making enemies with the cafeteria workers.

Stiles will make it easier. He always does. Derek heads to their table in the back, scarfing down his food as he waits. When he finishes, he cracks the spine of The Stranger and lets his gaze drift across the page, but he's not really feeling it today. His attention wanders, over and over, to the cafeteria doors.

Stiles is late.

It's only when the room begins to empty out that Derek realizes that Stiles may not, in fact, be coming at all. Which is a problem—and not only because Derek was counting on Stiles to act as a buffer between Derek and everything that sets his blood boiling. Even now, a lady from group therapy (Madison? He thinks) is weeping into her tray at the next table over, and Derek barely keeps from grumbling under his breath.

He dumps his tray and heads past the lounge and down the hall to Stiles's room. When he gets there, he knocks—but there's no answer. He tries the knob, but it's locked. Anywhere else, Derek might have been able to tell if Stiles was on the other side of it or not, but when he presses his ear against the surface, he can't make out anything at all. No movement, no breathing, and certainly not a heartbeat. But in the insulated rooms of Eichen, none of that means anything.

If he isn't in his room, he might be in medical for some reason, Derek imagines doubtfully. And then another thought sprouts, taking hold before he can help it: what if Stiles is just gone? It isn't completely far-fetched to think that he might have been moved to another ward in Eichen, which happens sometimes with other patients. Or—and this seems much more out there—he might have even been released. He might be outside, and Derek might never see him again.

Even as he knows he should be pleased, should be grateful if and when Stiles ever gets out of this hellhole—as Stiles has told Derek a million times he wants to—Derek can't fight the boiling fury that rolls over him. Anger is his default state now, the first and most significant way he feels any sort of emotion, and it sweeps through him as naturally as breathing.

When it's passed, though, there's only a weary despair. The thought of facing Eichen without Stiles is almost too much to consider. Before, Derek had been used to the steady rhythm and pace of Eichen—but now that he knows what it's like to have Stiles by his side, after all this time, he can't imagine of living out the rest of his days here alone.

I guess I'll have to find out one way or another, Derek thinks, steeling himself for the answer.

To his dismay, the nurse on duty at the medical station is Roberts. Of course. Derek pauses at one end of the hall, trying to figure out if he can actually do this or not—but this is Stiles, and Derek needs to know where he is. And he can definitely do this, without snarling or snapping. Definitely.

He approaches with no small amount of reluctance, his legs stiff and wooden. When he gets close enough for Roberts to sit up and take note, the man's face grows weirdly smug. It's as if he can sense Derek's hesitation. As if he knows that Derek needed to pump himself up before confronting him. Derek's suddenly grateful for the nearly chest-height desk between them, because this way Roberts can't see the way the werewolf's hands clench into fists.

"I'm looking for Stiles," Derek grinds out.

Roberts raises one eyebrow. He smells like he's just rolled in cigarettes, which probably means he's snuck a quick break. "Good to know, Hale," he replies, and goes back to the document he'd been peering at.

Derek swallows, hard. Good behavior, he commands himself, and his internal voice is sounding a lot like Stiles now. "Can you tell me where he is?"

"I cannot," Roberts declares amusedly.

"Why not?"

"That's confidential patient information," Roberts replies. He leans back in his chair, looking back up at Derek. "We can't release personal information to non-family members."

A part of Derek's brain realizes how logical this is. There's legislation about it, probably, out there in the real world where stuff like this matters, where people are concerned with rights and privacy and all that proper bullshit. But the angry part of Derek's brain, the part that's mostly in charge, is enraged. That part of him just wants to slash the smug smirk off Roberts's stupid face.

In the furious snarl that follows, he remembers to make sure his claws don't come out, but he nearly forgets his fangs. At the last second, he covers his mouth when they drop, and he's suddenly sure his eyes have flashed.

Even so, Roberts just raises his eyebrows once more, almost offensively calm and collected. "Damn, but you're something," he says mildly. "Really a lost cause. Can't even have a single conversation without acting like an animal." Then, with great purpose, he climbs to his feet and leans forward onto the desk, steadying himself on his elbows. "One of these days," he adds in a low, conspiratorial whisper, "Alsina will finally hear me out and put you down like the dog you are."

For once, Derek is too surprised to snap. He does jolt in place, though, and Roberts must take the movement as an aborted lunge, because the nurse smiles in satisfaction.

"Sure, attack me in the middle of the hall, why don't you?" he laughs, collecting a couple of files and stacking them neatly on the desk. "It'll just make my case, you fucking monster." He slides past effortlessly, unhurried, and Derek is still too stunned to feel angry or afraid or anything else.

He knows, Derek thinks to himself. But he's not sure, not really: Roberts probably thinks he's got anger issues, that he's a lost cause—and Derek's got the anger management therapies splattered all across his medical record to show it. And werewolf or not, Derek feels like a monster most days.

Derek snarls at no one, letting his wolf take over for just a second as he paces jerkily back and forth. His wolf feels like he does, helpless and uncertain, and it's the actual worst. If Stiles is gone, what's he supposed to do? How's he supposed to know?

His eyes sink onto the desk where Roberts had been working, and he realizes that he could maybe just steal Stiles's file or something if no one else comes this way. Except that Alsina's got the patient files in her office, not here, he remembers. Still, a glint of silver catches his attention, something partly buried under a stack of manila folders. Derek glances up and down the hall to see that no one's looking, and then he reaches down to uncover it. A small, rectangular cigarette lighter. Roberts must have left it here after his break. Mulishly, Derek thrusts it into his pocket, in a petty act of revenge.

Footsteps patter down the hall, and Derek looks up to find Nurse Chen coming his way. If she's seen him pocket the lighter, she doesn't show it; her gaze is as bland and uncaring as ever. "Mr. Hale," she greets him as she approaches. "Are you waiting for something? I believe Nurse Roberts should be on duty," she adds disapprovingly, glancing at the empty chair.

Derek decides to try again, if only because Roberts is absolutely the kind of person to pull his leg about the whole patient confidentiality thing. He takes a beat to carefully school his breathing and then says, "Yeah, actually. I was just wondering if you could tell me where Stiles is? I haven't seen him all day."

"Where…? Ah, you mean Mr. Stilinski. Yes, he's been confined to his room for the day."

"What? Why?"

"Unfortunately, I can't tell you that, Mr. Hale. It's confidential patient information."

He'd been expecting the answer, so the anger doesn't swarm him quite so hard. "Is he okay?" he manages at last.

Chen drops into the chair beside the one Roberts had vacated. "I can't talk about his condition. But he's being monitored, and Dr. Alsina will decide whether or not he's well enough to be let out tomorrow morning."

A rush of relief, so strong that Derek almost sways on his feet. Stiles isn't gone forever, then—it's just for today. "And I can't see him?"

"No, Mr. Hale," she tells him, and he can't decide if her lifted eyebrows signal pity or amusement. "You'll have to entertain yourself today."

Derek swears under his breath and slinks off. Chen probably doesn't expect thanks, knowing him. He has the sudden idea that he could break into Alsina's office to find out what's really happened, dig into Stiles's patient record—but that would be practically suicidal. He'd definitely be stripped of his newfound half-day freedom, and it's probably not worth it if Stiles is just going to come back tomorrow. Probably.

He's just sick or something, he reassures himself. But he's not sure he believes it.

In an attempt to rein himself in, Derek stalks the halls of Eichen like he used to back when he was on 23/1. Like some giant beast—The Beast of Eichen House, he thinks with wry amusement, like he's the anti-hero of some gothic novel—he strides forward with so much murder in his eyes that patients and nurses alike skitter out of his path as he approaches. When he walks this quickly, everything and everyone passes by too fast for his anger to latch onto it.

He probably walks miles doing this, pacing for an interminable amount of time, maybe even all morning. At some point, Nurse Meyers comes to remind him of morning group therapy and he merely snarls at her. She seems unsurprised at this, only giving him a long, cool stare. Something about her gaze, or maybe the loose-limbed way she holds her spindly limbs, unsettles him. He turns away down the hall. Fortunately, after this, the staff seems to decide to leave him alone as long as he's not hurting anyone.

Each time Derek passes Stiles's room, he pauses to press his ear against the door. There's never any change.

When the anger eventually dissipates into a low simmer, Derek slows his steps and heads to the library. Stiles's scent is easier to catch the closer he gets to it, a mark of how often the guy comes here—only now that Derek's calm enough to process it, the smell is somehow different today. As he steps over the threshold, he becomes aware of an overpowering tang of fear, acidic and sharp in the air. It's strong, stronger than anything Derek's felt from Stiles before. It's as if Stiles was afraid for his life.

Something happened here, Derek realizes, the pieces slowly slotting into place. Recently. And that's why Stiles is locked up.

He studies the carpeted floor so desperately that it takes him a second to realize he's not alone in the library. A woman sits at the head of the table, hands over her face and dull amber hair falling messily before her. She's breathing hard, as if she were recovering from an all-out sprint.

Derek's furious first, ferociously so, at the thought of someone in here muddying Stiles's scent when Derek's just trying to figure out what's going on, but then the woman quickly lifts her head. It's the woman from breakfast, Madison, though her face is so twisted in fear that he has trouble recognizing her.

"Oh, it's just you," she says, looking relieved. She heaves a deep breath, brushing a strand of hair out of her face with a trembling hand. "It's over?"

There's something strange about her, something Derek can't quite place, and he deflates all at once. "What?"

"Did you see it too?" she asks him uncertainly. "Did you see…?"

"See what?"

At this Madison gesticulates wildly, hands whirling all over. "Any of it."

"See what?"

She swallows hard at his tone. Her expression suddenly reminds him of Stiles on his bad days, hollow and sour and sad. "You don't see anything, do you," she says flatly. "It's just the kid. I guess you wouldn't. Not with…are you..." For a long moment she hesitates, and then she steels herself up for something. "I thought you had claws, once. I saw them when you got mad. In the beginning. You hid them behind your back, but I was sitting where I could see..."

The shock of it floods him all at once, only the emotion instantly turns, as always, into a fierce rage. "What the fuck?" Derek bites out, knowing his eyes must flash a furious blue this time.

Madison jolts up in fear, knocking over her chair as she stumbles backward into the wall. "I was right," she hiccups weakly, eyes wide. "You're something else, something—"

Derek has to bite back a thundering roar. "What do you know?"

She squeaks and darts toward the door. Derek is so afraid he'll throttle her if he moves that he lets her dodge around him before he can get out another word. He steps out of the room to snarl after her, and her pounding footsteps are loud in his ears as she sprints away. Fuck, he thinks once the rage has passed. Does everyone here know?

Madison, at the very least, seems to have only seen his claws. Roberts seems to think he, Derek, is some kind of monster—figurative or literal. I'm doing a terrible job of hiding this, Derek thinks miserably.

He walks back into the library, swallowing hard. Stiles would know what to do, if he were here. Stiles wouldn't have bitten Madison's head off, he'd have made sure to get answers out of her. Not that even Stiles knows what a monster Derek is, not really.

There are a few books stacked haphazardly at one corner of the table, and Derek goes to put them back in place, more out of a need to be doing something with his hands than any real desire to clean. He pauses at the title of the first: Robinson Crusoe. Stiles had just been reading this. "Just as a distraction," he'd explained, before joking, "Pirates, cannibalism, and period racism—what more could you want in a story?"

Derek picks it up absently, flipping through the pages to find the last dog-eared mark toward the end of the book. And there, scrawled in the margins, is an old note of Stiles's, one that makes Derek swallow hard.

I'm always afraid now, it reads.

Chapter Text

Stiles can't manage to drag himself back to consciousness. Every time he tries, warm black fingers keep dragging him down. They pull him into the dust, into the dirt, burying him in a dark grave somewhere out in the deep.

Eventually, he's woken by someone viciously shaking his arms.

"Stilinski. Stilinski. Jesus. It's seven a.m." Then, with exasperation: "Will you wake the fuck up?"

Blearily, Stiles opens his eyes and registers the ruddy face of Nurse Roberts. "Wha'?"

"Get up and get dressed. Breakfast is in half an hour. Don't go back to sleep," Roberts says grumpily, moving to step out of the door. He turns at the last moment, frowning. "And don't make me come back here."

Moving through a dull fog, Stiles pulls on some fresh scrubs. It takes him ages; his limbs work shakily against him. He pauses frequently to refocus on the task. The red door is there, again, but he can't remember why that matters. He can't remember if there's anything else he's supposed to do in the mornings, so he drifts out into the hallway. It's late, and the last of the morning herd is heading to the cafeteria.

Derek's already sitting at their usual table, frowning down at his tray. Uncertain, Stiles stumbles over. The other patient's face, once he catches sight of Stiles, turns patently relieved—and then worried.

"Stiles," Derek exclaims fervently, glancing at the clock above the door. "You—you weren't here. Breakfast is almost done; I thought you weren't coming again." When Stiles doesn't react, anxiety flits over his face. "Are you okay?"

Stiles takes a long time to answer. "I...don't know," he replies honestly. His voice sounds a little hoarse to his ears.

"What happened?"

"Yesterday, I saw…" Stiles pauses. "A hall." He doesn't really know how else to put it. For some reason, his words aren't really coming to him. He laughs joylessly. "It tried to...eat me? I kept screaming, but it wouldn't stop. No one heard. And you know...No. I didn't just see it. I was in it. I felt it. I couldn't see it on my hands or legs when I was done. But I know it was there. I know it."

Derek doesn't reply to his babble right away, though he opens his mouth and closes it several times as if he can't work out what to say. "Stiles, are you okay?" he repeats helplessly.

"You asked me that. Earlier. Just now." It comes out in bursts; he can't tie his thoughts together fast enough for his mouth to keep up.

"Did...did they do something to you?"

"Think they drugged me. Yesterday. I was sleeping." He sinks into a chair beside Derek. "No, they drugged me before that. Because I started crying and yelling, in the library. It never happened there before. The hall, I mean. I saw a fox, too. And a person. I think. That's new. Maybe."

Derek stares at him, then he slowly pushes his tray toward Stiles. There's some eggs and a little bacon left. "Okay. Eat that," he orders. "You should get some food in your stomach. Maybe it'll help you get past the drugs or whatever, help you feel...a little more like you. I'll go get another tray."

"I don't want to eat," Stiles grumbles petulantly, but Derek's already gone. He manages to down a few bites of bacon before Derek returns with another tray.

"Whatever happened to you wasn't yesterday, it was the day before," Derek begins, setting it down. "They kept you in your room all day yesterday. And when I was at the library..." He pauses and shakes his head, dumping two pieces of toast and some more eggs onto Stiles's tray. "Was there anyone else there when it happened to you, the halls and stuff? You said you're better with people around, right?"

Stiles frowns, feeling suddenly ashamed. "No one else. Usually it's okay. Yesterday, it wasn't, though."

Derek nods. "Okay," he says. "Don't go to the library alone. And…" he hesitates for a long moment, staring down at the food on his tray. "Actually...I know you're not gonna like this. And I don't really want to say it. But maybe you should talk to Alsina."

"About the hall?" Stiles asks, scandalized. He only realizes how loud he is once Derek shushes him.

"Yes. About the hall. Stiles, I know you don't want to be in Eichen longer than you need to. But yesterday…" he pauses, frowning. "It seemed—seems—like something scared you into a panic," he starts again, dragging the sentence out slowly. "And yeah, Alsina and all the nurses are shitty, but they are—well, maybe this is the kind of thing they're supposed to help with. This is why you're here, right? I don't know what else to—there's nothing else I can think of that might help."

"You mean it's all in my head," Stiles says flatly.

Derek pauses, and his face is blank in a way that makes Stiles think he's probably weighing his words. "I guess. Isn't that...what you told me? Isn't that what you think?"

"Yeah," Stiles agrees instantly. But then he thinks of the floor sinking under his feet, the fur brushing past him, the total darkness—and he isn't so sure. "Yeah, it's all in my head. For sure."

Derek gives him a long look. He forces Stiles to eat all of his breakfast, patiently enduring Stiles's complaints. Then, he dumps both their trays and leads Stiles to the lounge.

"Let's stay in here today," he declares, pushing Stiles onto a couch. "Instead of the library. I think maybe you shouldn't…"

"No, I shouldn't," Stiles agrees, stomach roiling at the thought of going back there. A yawn cracks his face wide open. "I slept for so long. I don't know why I'm tired."

"Lie down," Derek replies, shifting uncertainly in place. "You should take it easy. I'm just going to read."

Stiles obediently settles onto the sofa, his head on the armrest and his knees pulled up to allow Derek enough place to sit. Once Derek's in place, Stiles murmurs, "Could you maybe read out loud today? From wherever you are in the book. Doesn't matter how far in."

Derek shrugs, flipping to where he'd left off. "At that time, I often thought that if I had had to live in the trunk of a dead tree, with nothing to do but look up at the sky flowing overhead, little by little I would have gotten used to it…"

As he reads, Stiles sneakily (or so he hopes) presses his feet forward, just enough so that his toes touch the side of Derek's thigh. Just in case a sudden ambush of darkness should sneak over him, he'll know—because the feel of Derek will be gone. Stiles will know, if the darkness takes him. Won't he?

He sleeps for some time. When he wakes, his feet are in Derek's lap. Derek doesn't seem to mind; at the first signs of stirring, Derek turns from where he'd been reading silently to himself. "Feel any better?" he asks.

Stiles shakes his head but isn't sure he can say. Partly because he can't string together the words, and partly because he's not sure what to say. He sits up, reaching solemnly for Derek's book. Bemused, Derek hands it over, and Stiles flips to a random page. There are pencils on the coffee table, beside someone's pack of crosswords, and Stiles borrows one.

I'm afraid if I tell someone, I'm going to be here forever, he scrawls slowly. And I'll never get out of here to see my dad again.

He hands the book back to Derek, who studies the message for a long time. Stiles has the sudden thought that all this must seem silly to Derek, even ridiculous—some kid who's afraid of the dark, screaming so hard about warped hallways that they have to drug him to sleep.

But Derek only swallows hard, like reading it is just as painful for him as it was for Stiles to write it. "I don't know what will happen," he says helplessly. "I don't know what you should do."

"I think you're probably right. I have to tell them," Stiles replies haltingly, when the words finally come. "Because it's only getting worse. So I have to."

Derek nods grimly, gripping the book hard.

Group therapy passes in a numb roar. Stiles can't quite keep up with it, like it's flowing too quickly for him to comprehend. He holds his tongue throughout the meeting, which is pretty unusual for him. Derek glances at him every so often, but Stiles has no way to reassure him. No way to reassure himself.

"Your goal for today, Mr. Stilinski?" Nurse Meyers asks pointedly, looking like she'd absolutely rather not know.

"Not to die," Stiles replies. It sounds like a joke. A couple of the other patients crack smiles, assuming he's just being a dick as usual. But right now, it doesn't feel funny at all.

.

Derek insists on walking him over to Alsina's office, along with the nurse who comes to collect him. Stiles lets himself be led, his body on autopilot. It feels like a death march.

"Mr. Stilinski," Dr. Alsina greets him as he enters the room. Turning from her place at the window, she folds her arms across her chest. Stiles consciously focuses on her face instead of the red door on the far wall. "How are you this morning?"

Stiles frowns. "I'm sure you heard what happened."

Dr. Alsina nods slowly, uncrossing her arms to wander over to her desk. "The nurses had to give you a sedative," she replies, sitting down. She hasn't taken her eyes off his face the entire time. "But I'd like to hear what happened from you, if that's alright."

He hesitates for a long moment, long enough that she lifts an arm pointedly toward the chair. Stiles collapses into it. "I...don't know."

"You don't remember?"

"No, I remember. But it sounds crazy, even to me. Even now." Especially now. Sitting in front of Dr. Alsina, who leans toward him with piercing blue eyes, it seems like yesterday can't have happened. There's a whole shelf of books behind her, diplomas on the wall. Marks of objectivity. They seem to shout that there's no reason, no logic, to what his brain says went down. The morning sun is streaming through her window, banishing any darkness that might have crept in.

"It won't sound crazy to me, Mr. Stilinski. Do you truly believe you're the first person to come in with a story that sounds odd? Even unbelievable? That's why we're hereWe're going to help you understand what's happening to you, to help you move past it."

"Yeah. Yeah, I...okay."

"So, please. Tell me."

Stiles sighs, and then, haltingly, he does. He explains being in the library, the fox on the chair, the hallway stretching out where it shouldn't, someone watching from the doorway, sinking into the floor. His voice grows thick in places, like the words don't want to come easily, like he's slogging through the muck again to drag it all out here, to this moment.

When at last he finishes, she's quiet for a long time. "Mr. Stilinski," she murmurs apologetically, her mouth twisting. And he knows exactly where she's going before she can say it.

"I'm staying longer, aren't I?" he asks dully.

"I...believe it would be in your best interest to stay under observation. In case of another episode."

Episode. God, he hates that word. "But I don't—"

"I also think we'll want to shuffle around your medications a little. Play with them, to see if it's just that one of them is affecting you badly." She scribbles something onto a pad on her desk.

"It felt real," Stiles protests suddenly, his voice so quiet he can barely hear himself.

Dr. Alsina looks up at him sympathetically. She laces her fingers together. "You know what? Why don't we give you some breathing strategies you can use when you find yourself in a situation like this?"

Stiles snorts, then looks at her. "You're serious?"

"Having strategies in place to help calm yourself when you're in the middle of panicking—"

"It wasn't a panic attack, I was terrified. And changing my breathing isn't going to change that. I don't need—"

"Mr. Stilinski, you're here for my help. I'm telling you, it's small steps from here. One thing at a time."

Stiles moans, leaning forward to put his head in his hands. "Right. Tell me about the goddamn breathing exercises," he mumbles.

.

Stiles can barely look at Derek when he leaves, can hardly stand to see the concern in his friend's face. "I'm fine, I'm fine, I'm fine," he repeats numbly, over and over again, as he drifts out of the hallway and into the lounge.

He's too afraid to be alone, but he wants to be. He can't wander away from the crowd, but he hates the thought of anyone looking at him. So he wedges himself between the piano and the radiator, sitting on the floor with his back to the wall and his knees to his chest, making himself as small as possible. He doesn't want to have a panic attack here—it would literally be the worst thing ever—but when he settles himself down, he finds that he's not even close. Fear isn't the biggest part of what he's feeling. Not anymore.

It's sadness. Grief. For a blow he'd known was coming, only he hadn't been able to admit it to himself.

In the back of his mind, he's known for a long time that he's not getting out of Eichen anytime soon. There's something very wrong with him. Something big. Too big for a weekend stay, for him to hop back home with his dad like everything's cool.

It's stupid to even think about it now, but he'd made plans to make veggie lasagna, one of his dad's favorites, as soon as he got out of here. Monday, it was supposed to be. In time for him to go back to school. He'd even made his dad do a grocery run, just so he could get all the ingredients beforehand. Stiles wonders what his dad did with it all. Realizes, suddenly, that he's been wondering out loud the whole time.

"Did he just, like, watch all the spinach wilt? And the tomatoes get all moldy? He can't cook for shit. He wouldn't have known what else to do with them. He's definitely not eating right. He never does when he's stressed. If he's not taking his heart meds on the regs, I'm gonna kill him when I get out of here, I swear to god…"

After what feels like ages, he trails off. There's a vague ache in his throat.

Derek seems to have gotten Stiles's idea of finding a place to hide. He's dragged the piano bench in front of the gap between the piano and radiator, closing Stiles off from everyone else's view a little more. And he's pacing jerkily back and forth in front of it, his gaze outward, tense. Something in it reminds Stiles of those early days, when Derek had been angry all the time. Or of the expression he gets sometimes when he snaps. Something fierce, predatory.

Not predatory. Territorial, Stiles thinks, watching Derek snarl at Quincy when she gets too close, probably coming to poke her nose where it doesn't belong.

The expression clears away when Derek catches Stiles looking at him, though. "You're back. You okay?"

Stiles shrugs, feeling as emotionally worn out as if he'd spent the last twenty minutes sobbing himself sick instead of muttering to himself in a corner.

"You wanna stay there a bit?"

"Yeah," he replies, too exhausted to even feel ashamed about it. He leans forward, resting his chin on the piano bench. "It's stupid, but it makes me feel better. Thanks."

Derek's giving him a weird expression, like he's fighting off a smile.

"What?"

"My brothers and sister used to...sometimes, we'd make burrows with pillows and blankets, just under tables and chairs in the house. We'd pretend to be animals, curling up in our dens. I guess this reminded me of that."

"I don't feel like an animal in a den. I feel like a kid hiding in a corner."

Derek shrugs. "Sometimes you have to lick your wounds. Nothing wrong with that."

Stiles considers this. It doesn't sound awful, when Derek puts it that way. "As a kid or an animal?"

"Both," Derek smiles.

"Did you ever hide with them?"

"All the time."

"You. Were afraid," Stiles clarifies.

Derek quirks his head to the side. It's weirdly adorable. "What's that supposed to mean?"

"I don't know. You're this, like...big dude, with eyebrows the size of cannons, who could probably tear a limb off a guy if he came between you and breakfast. Seems like there's not much to be afraid of."

"I'm afraid of things, Stiles," Derek tells him patiently.

"Like what?" Stiles asks, leaning forward a little. "Tell me something."

Derek frowns. He doesn't look angry, or upset, which probably would have made Stiles hurry to take back the question. Instead, he looks considering. But by the time he finally opens his mouth to reply, it's a beat too late.

"Hale!" a voice shouts. They turn to find Roberts wading through the sea of blue scrubs in the room. "Time to get back in your cage."

"What? We didn't even eat lunch yet!" Stiles protests.

Roberts' head jerks toward Stiles, having just noticed him huddled behind the bench. "Stilinski! Didn't see you there. Anyway, it's noon. Lunch is donezo, kid."

Stiles looks at Derek, who nods. "Really? We were just sitting here the whole time?"

"You seemed like you needed some space."

For someone who eats as much as Derek does, it says a lot that he stayed with Stiles instead of heading to lunch. Stiles smiles hesitantly, in spite of himself. "Oh. Thanks."

He just catches Roberts rolling his eyes, and then the man's mouth twists slyly behind his thick beard. "Hear you're staying with us for the foreseeable future, Stilinski! Looks like you needed a little more than 48 hours to fix your head after all, huh?"

Stiles's stomach drops, something cold settling over him. But in the time it takes him to recover enough to even think of a response, Derek's already moved. He snaps out an arm with surprising speed and ferocity, fisting it in the nurse's collar. Stiles jolts to his feet, stumbling over the bench to get to Derek.

"Derek, no!" he cries, tugging Derek back by the fabric of his shirt. It shouldn't do anything at all—in the same way it wouldn't do anything against a boulder—but Derek allows himself to be pulled back anyway.

There's a stupefied expression on Derek's face, though, and Stiles follows his gaze to Roberts' side. His shirt's been tugged up enough to see the skin there, and it's marred by a series of inflamed scratches: four parallel, bloody lines, thin but not well healed. They're even, somehow, as if someone had swiped at his side with a giant pitchfork.

Roberts pulls the shirt down quickly, but whatever damage is done, is done. Derek's snarling again, and Stiles shakes his arm a little. "Dude, stay calm," he says quietly through gritted teeth. "Nothing's worth you getting locked up again."

This, more than anything, makes Derek go quiet. He's not completely done with his ire—not if his glare at Roberts is anything to go by—but he's at least allowing Stiles to tug him away.

Derek is staring at Roberts with an unreadable expression as the nurse, flustered, backs away. Stiles opens his mouth to ask what's going on, but Derek catches his eye and gives him a firm shake of the head.

So instead, Stiles tries, "I'll walk with you guys to the room again, if that's okay."

Roberts doesn't say anything, just grimaces and walks off like some giant douche. He slows at the doorway to the lounge, hands in his pockets, waiting for them to follow. Frowning, Derek leads the way through the crowd.

"Everything okay?" Stiles asks, keeping his voice low.

"I don't know," Derek replies. "But now's not a good time to talk about it. I have, um—look, don't draw attention to it or anything, but take this." Warmth brushes against Stiles's knuckles, and Derek clasps his hand. Stiles fights to keep a straight face when he realizes that there's something cradled between their palms, small and smooth, and he barely has the presence of mind to grasp it tightly as Derek squeezes his hand and withdraws his touch. "I grabbed it earlier—and then I thought you could actually use it, in case anything happens again when I'm not around."

Roberts has slowed to let them catch up, and he's too close for them to say anything else, so Stiles silently stays beside Derek as they make their way down the corridor. His hand clenches around whatever's inside it, smooth corners pressing into his palm.

"See you tomorrow," he murmurs helplessly to Derek, once they reach his room.

"See you tomorrow," Derek agrees. He quirks a small, reassuring smile at Stiles, right before Roberts pulls the door closed between them—with much more force than necessary. The man scowls as he retreats the way they came, and Stiles follows him back to the lounge, slipping the object into his pocket.

It's not until later, when he can curl up behind a couch, that he pulls it out to see what Derek's gotten him.

It's a lighter. Stiles cradles it in the palm of his hand, feeling the potential of it, a warmth just waiting to blossom.

.

When Stiles wakes in a strange place this time, it takes him a minute to realize it's not just another nightmare about the last time he woke in a strange place.

It's the darkness that makes him understand that he's not in his room anymore. He is in his bed, though—or at least on something soft. But as far as he can tell, as his eyes adjust, there are no walls, and no ceiling. It all extends outward past the furthest reaches of his eyesight, infinity in black.

He's hyperventilating almost before he's fully awake, shoving the sheets off and pushing himself upright to get more air into his lungs.

Should he leave the bed? Should he stay where he is? Both options sound equally terrifying. The darkness presses against him, touching his actual skin like a warm, living thing, like something trying to get inside him. He has the crazy thought that he's breathing it in, even now, feels it seeping into his lungs and invading the cells of his body.

Trying to look out into the distance, to see what's there, only makes things worse. In a darkness this complete, his eyes play tricks on him. It's like there are fireworks, little patches of deep black and purple movement—but he knows it's only his brain trying to make sense of the darkness, trying to weave patterns out of the rapidly firing nerves in his moving eyes. He knows that his brain simply can't understand the experience of having his eyes wide open without getting any input—so it's making up images for him. He knows this, but it doesn't make it any less terrifying.

Shit. Wait. Fumbling in his pocket, he grips the lighter Derek gave him. It takes him a couple of tries to get the flame to light, but he finally manages—and it's almost worse this way. There's nothing there. It's just the stark outline of his bed, with its crisp white sheets and the glint of the metal frame, against a vast, dark nothingness that the thin light can't alleviate.

Slowly, so as not to disturb the flame, he moves the lighter higher, and then from one side to another. Nothing. Just a wide stretch of open floor.

And then, to his left, he can just make out the form of something. Someone. It's a person standing, loose-limbed but straight, a little farther off in the distance. Just like the person from the first night. Stone still. Facing him.

Stiles has the sudden thought that it would be idiotically stupid to call out—isn't that exactly what someone in a horror movie would do? But he's not sure what the alternative is. Hesitantly, he swings his legs over the side of the bed and touches the floor. It's reassuringly solid underfoot, and cool to the touch. Not like last time. He stands up, without taking his eyes off the distant figure—only to see it move, with great slowness and deliberation, to take a single step forward.

He's not sure why the movement sets him off again, but Stiles bolts. The flame flickers and sputters out, but he's too afraid to slow down. For a few seconds, or maybe minutes, he allows himself to run in a blind panic, before the thought occurs to him that he might eventually run into something. Or someone.

That stops him short, and he manages to rein himself in again. Heart pounding, he clicks the lighter. Again, nothing at all in the nearby darkness. He swings the light around, wondering if this all goes on forever, and where his bed is—but suddenly there's someone there again, just a few yards away. His heart jumps to his throat.

They're closer this time, close enough to see dark skin and a darker head, and little else. They're moving toward him again, steadily and carefully, and Stiles muffles a shriek and holds himself still. Whoever it is (whatever it is?), it's coming incredibly slowly. "Hello?" he calls, hating how much his voice shakes. "Who's there? Also, please please please don't eat me."

The person doesn't pause. They take just a few more paces forward, and eventually Stiles understands the darkness around their head: a wild mess of black hair. It's a girl.

Recognition sparks in him once she's close enough to see her face, a memory from all those morning and evening therapy sessions. Stiles fumbles for her name. "Clem?" he guesses at last, relieved. "Are you...Are you lost, too? What's going on?"

He's never stopped to pay attention to how bone-thin she is. Her tightly curled hair is a mess of tangles, and her dark eyes don't move from his face as she continues her steady, slow walk forward.

The flame dies, and Stiles snaps it back on again. Clem's closer now, something flickering on her shoulder. A moth. And another, crawling over her arm and down her wrist. She makes no effort to swat it away, just creeps steadily toward Stiles.

He steps back, swallowing hard, but bumps into something solid behind him. He spins, and the light goes out. He clicks it on again to find the red door, so close he could touch it—he did just touch it.

A shrill, aborted sound escapes him, and he darts away, finding that Clem is even closer than he'd realized. "What the hell?" he cries, running off into the darkness. The light's out again, but he holds out his arms to keep himself from running headlong into something, allowing himself to sink into a panic. He runs for a minute, two, and then slows to click the lighter.

Nothing. Only darkness.

It's warmer, though. The air feels damp here, thick. Almost like it did the last time. He has to find a way out, but there's nothing around.

Stiles tries desperately to calm his breathing, to keep from whimpering aloud. He doesn't know if he wants Clem following him, and he definitely doesn't need her tracking him by sound. The flame creates a small, glowing pool around him, illuminating the grey floor underfoot—but it also makes him feel exposed. In this infinite darkness, a light is a beacon. Both for Clem, and for anything else lurking in the shadows.

I have to get out of here, Stiles thinks wildly. How do I get out?

There's a puff of air—wind, or a breath—from behind him, and his heart pounds. Before he can follow that train of thought too far, he stumbles on something solid. He glances down, and the light flickers across a solid square marked on the ground. A rim. A handle.

A trapdoor.

"Shit, please—" Stiles begs, fumbling for the edge. Once he's gripped it, he shoves the lighter into his pocket to pull the door with both hands.

There's the tiniest bit of light coming up from below, and that's enough for him. He slips awkwardly into it, letting himself fall down as the door closes overhead, and lands with an oof on something soft.

A bed. His bed. He's back in his room. A glance overhead shows no sign of the outline of the trapdoor he'd come from.

"Of fucking course," Stiles pants, lying back with exhaustion. He wants to cry, or die, or both—but something strikes his subconscious as offIt takes a moment, fighting off another panic attack, to realize what it is.

There's a photo taped to the door. A set of scrubs hangs over the edge of the bed. A book on the nightstand: The Stranger. He stares at the cover, understanding starting to settle in. This isn't my room. It's Derek's, Stiles realizes slowly. No, wait...that doesn't make sense. It's after lights out. If I'm in his room, where is he?

A rustling at the door makes him jump. Someone's rattling the knob. He freaks out and instinctively dives beneath the bed like a scared little kid, which would probably embarrass him at any other time in his life—except that's literally what he feels like right now.

The door opens, and several sets of legs step into the room just as something flutters into Stiles's line of sight. A moth, landing on the leg of the bed frame.

Grunting sounds from overhead. Stiles jerks his gaze from the moth to find that there's something else just outside the doorway, metal on wheels—a stretcher? And one pair of legs isn't standing: it's being dragged. The heels, wrapped in the non-skid hospital socks, slide across the tile floor.

"This would be a hell of a lot easier if he was always like this," a voice says. Roberts, Stiles realizes. "Minus the claws and fangs and whatnot."

"You're just still pissed he took a swipe at you the other day," another voice says—maybe that nurse lady whose name Stiles never remembers. "You gotta lay off the beer and get ready to duck and dodge."

Roberts grunts, and they manage to dump the limp body onto the bed. "Doesn't matter. Not like we're getting anywhere."

"That's not what I hear," the nurse replies, but the rest of her response is muffled as the door swings shut behind them. With a click, it's locked as well.

Stiles waits a solid minute. Then he crawls out from under the bed. He'd been afraid of what he might see, but there's Derek, sprawled across the mattress. For all intents and purposes, he looks like he might just be asleep—but his skin has a strange pallor, and there's such a heavy stillness to him that Stiles leans forward to check for breathing.

Please don't be dead, Stiles thinks desperately, reaching down to shake his shoulder. I'm not sure I could take it.

Chapter Text

Some distant, muddled sound drags Derek from slumber. As if through a thick fog, he drifts slowly back to consciousness. The mattress bounces under him, and something grips his shoulders.

"Get lost, Jace," he murmurs, turning his head aside. Jason's always been like this, an overeager puppy begging his big brother to do dumb shit with him at ungodly hours of the morning.

The sounds become more urgent, but it slowly becomes clear that the voice doesn't belong to Jason. Peter? Dad?

Blearily, Derek manages to slit his eyes open, and he finds himself where he always is: his bare, white prison cell. It's been a long time since he's forgotten his situation. Since he's forgotten his family's dead, his pack gone. Since he's forgotten that he's alone now.

But not entirely. It's Stiles standing there instead of Jace, half on top of Derek, his face wan and frightened. The expression wakes Derek quickly, though he still struggles against the fog in his mind. "Stiles, what…" The overhead lights are dimmed, which means it's after lights out, which means that it's impossible for Stiles to be here right now. A disconcerting tide of worry washes through Derek. He grips Stiles's shoulders. "How are you here? Is it—it's still night, isn't it?"

"Yeah, it's the middle of the night," Stiles replies in a hoarse whisper. "I don't know how I got here. Or how you did—someone just dragged you in here, Derek. It was Roberts, I think, but I'm not sure. And I saw...it was Clem, maybe, in the dark…" He's gotten panicky, his voice choked by quick, little breaths. "Derek, it's real. That's how I'm here. I came through the dark, and I ended up here."

"Stiles—okay, calm down." He squeezes Stiles's arms tight, pulling him so he's sitting all the way on the bed. "Deep breaths. And then start from the beginning."

Stiles takes a few deep breaths, looking carefully down at the mattress like he's flustered, or maybe ashamed. He composes himself as Derek waits patiently. "Okay. I woke up in my bed, but in the dark. Not like, this dark," he adds, gesturing to the ceiling above, where the lights are an ultra-dim amber. "I mean, total darkness."

"In your room."

"No. Well—no. I mean, it was this huge, dark place. But I had the lighter, and dude, thanks so much for that, you don't even know."

"Yeah, I just thought it might help you feel better, but— "

"It did, seriously. I used it to look around, and I found Clem."

Derek draws a blank. "Who?"

"Clem. That skinny girl, curly black hair, always alone, barely ever talks. We've seen her in morning therapy, like, every day."

A half-formed image drifts to mind: a girl with dark eyes and a sullen hunch to her shoulders. Derek can't say he's ever known her name, but something niggles at the back of his mind, so distant he can't reach it. "Oh, yeah. Wait, she was there, too? In the dark?"

"That's what I'm saying. I...well, remember when I saw someone in the dark the last time? When it got dark in the library and they had to drug me or whatever? Well, I was thinking maybe that was her back then, too. Or—I dunno, maybe not. It looked taller. Weirder. Anyway, Clem didn't say anything, just kept coming at me. And then I bumped into the red door, which freaked me out. It happened so fast. All of a sudden, I was running. I just knew I had to find a door. Another door, I mean." He pauses, looking at Derek, who suddenly realizes he's frowning. "What?" Stiles asks suspiciously.

Derek's not sure what to say, except that all of this sounds like a dream. A dark place, a red door, some random patient from Eichen. But Derek can't actually say that to Stiles, especially when his expression is this wary. "Nothing," he says at last. "It sounds like—a lot to handle. How did you know how to get out?"

Stiles shrugs slowly. "I didn't. But the other times when I've been there, there's always been a door. A way out. I just have to find it." He looks up at the ceiling. "This time, it was a trapdoor in the floor, and I opened it, and I fell onto your bed."

Derek follows his gaze. There's no trapdoor up there, just the same drop ceiling, the dull amber lights, the speckled tiles whose every fleck Derek has counted in boredom a thousand times before.

Stiles is frowning when Derek looks down again. "You don't believe me."

"It's...a lot to take in," Derek replies evasively.

"Look, if it didn't happen, how could I be here right now?"

It's a valid point. As far as Derek knows, no one's allowed into or out of other people's rooms at night. Stiles would have had to get a key from somewhere—which isn't impossible, but it seems like a stupid thing to lie about. Derek can't get a read on Stiles's heartbeat, as panicked as he is, but he doesn't think Stiles would make this up.

Then again, they are in Eichen.

Derek stands, ostensibly so he can pace slowly back and forth, so he can think. But as Stiles looks on anxiously, Derek takes a moment to discreetly smell the room itself. The place smells like Stiles, obviously, though his scent isn't particularly strong near the door to the hall. Not that it would be anyway—Stiles wouldn't have needed to touch this side of the door to get in, only the knob on the outside. There's no way to tell for sure if he used the door at all, Derek decides in frustration.

"And another thing!" Stiles interjects in outrage, as if he's suddenly remembered. "When I landed on your bed, you weren't even here!"

Derek blinks. "What?"

"Like I said. Two nurses dragged you in. You weren't moving. They said something about wishing you didn't have fangs and claws, and then they left."

It's another confusing puzzle piece, along with the claw mark they'd seen across Roberts's stomach the other day. That had been enough to get Derek thinking. He'd only seen the scratches for an instant, but he knows they must have been made by something big. Bigger than a dog, for sure. Maybe even bigger than a wolf—but Derek isn't sure how much his memory is playing tricks on him at this point.

Derek had sat on his bed for a long time afterward, reassuring himself that he definitely would have remembered mauling the nurse, if only because it's been his life goal for the past two years.

Except for those pesky memory problems. And the weird dreams.

What once started out as a blank space where the fire's aftermath should have been has only spread during Derek's time here. He loses time in the evenings, sleeps terribly, and tells himself it's just a byproduct of being locked up in here. The days bleed into each other. And if he can't quite remember falling asleep last night, well, it's just because he was bored to death like always. Right?

But what if what Stiles says is true? It's a big if, especially connected to all the other crazy stuff coming out of his mouth. Stiles isn't lying, as far as Derek knows—it's always harder to tell when someone's heart is beating hard in a panic, but Derek is pretty sure that at the very least, Stiles himself still believes everything he's saying. And there's a lot of magic in the world that Derek's never seen, or that he wouldn't understand if he tried. It's possible something about this place is a little magic.

And if it's true, then someone here, someone in a position of power, knows he's a werewolf. That same someone has been dragging him out of his room, taking advantage of his memory loss. Or else causing it.

In the light of day, this probably would seem too far-fetched to believe for a second. He's locked in a public, non-magical institution because everyone believes he's a potential serial killer. No one here knows he's a werewolf. He's just here until the lawyers can sort everything out, or until he goes to trial.

But staring at Stiles's ashen face, in the amber dimness of his bedroom, with no memory of falling asleep...right now, anything feels possible. And hadn't Roberts seemed to know there was something more to Derek? Hadn't he seemed to suggest that Derek was a literal monster?

The thought should frighten him. Instead, the fear is consumed by a building rage, deep in his chest. It's always there, these days: that same anger, a fire that sometimes dwindles to embers without ever really dying away. Sometimes, Derek feels like everything else he feels about being here—resentment, fear, anxiety, sadness, frustration—all those emotions just fuel the anger inside him, consumed and transformed by its flames.

"Derek?" Stiles says tentatively, scanning his face with those amber eyes, and Derek fights away the rage. Stiles isn't the cause of Derek's fury, and he doesn't deserve to see it.

"I...I don't know what this means," Derek growls finally. As the rage seeps away, he's left untethered, unmoored. "But if what you're saying is true, someone's been dragging me out of here. All those times I can't remember what's going on, or falling asleep...maybe they pull me out of here in the night, when everyone's asleep, to…" To what? He doesn't know. That's where the trail ends. That's where it starts sounding crazy, even to Derek himself. "I don't know."

Stiles is quiet for a long moment. "I didn't connect it 'till just now, but what those nurses said, about claws and fangs...what does that mean?"

Derek's eyes slip closed. He could tell Stiles. Maybe he should. But he's not sure that's what Stiles needs right now, finding out his only friend in Eichen House is a monster straight out of legend. And besides, it's always been this big thing: his mom had made them all swear up and down never to tell a soul, no one outside of Hale House. You'll never be able to trust someone like you trust pack, she'd told them. If you ever think there's someone you should tell about us, I need to know about it first.

But Derek's mom isn't here anymore. And Derek's not sure what he's supposed to do.

"I can't tell you that," he decides at last. When he finally brings himself to open his eyes again, Stiles is watching him once more with the same wary look. By the time Derek thinks it might have been the wrong thing to say, Stiles's expression clears.

"Okay. Yeah, sure. I get it." He bites his lip. "Either way, though...I'm thinking the people here can't be trusted. Right? Just in case they're really doing...something to you. Or is that crazy?"

"I don't know if it is. But until we can be sure, we have to pretend nothing's wrong."

"Even if they're—?"

"If something's going on, we're clearly not supposed to know about it. And so far, whatever they're doing...well, it doesn't seem like they're actively trying to hurt us. But if we show them we've guessed they're up to somethingthe rules change. They have all the power here, so..."

Stiles is nodding slowly. "You're right. Things could get bad. It's safer to play along, as much as we can. And maybe playing dumb will make it easier to figure this shit out while they're not looking."

"Exactly."

"But it's gonna be a problem, like, right now."

"Why?"

Stiles gestures around at Derek's room. "They're gonna wonder how I got here. And what am I supposed to tell them, if we're keeping this quiet? 'Sorry for apparating to safety?'"

"Oh." Derek rubs his forehead. "Shit."

"Yeah, shit."

A thought occurs to Derek, then—a really stupid one. Maybe Stiles's crazy story is rubbing off on him or something, but at least he feels like Stiles won't judge him for voicing it aloud. For buying into the insanity. "Earlier, you said there's always a door, right? To get you back somewhere safe. Where you need to be."

Stiles frowns, catching his train of thought. "Yeah, but I already found it. And it led me here."

"If it's—" he catches himself before finishing with the word true. "If it's possible, maybe there's another door."

Stiles grimaces. "There is."

"Then you should just—"

"But it's the red one." Stiles's gaze creeps a little to the side, toward the wall. And then he's back to looking carefully at Derek, like he's trying not to see something out of the corner of his eye.

Derek nods slowly. "Okay. No other doors?"

Stiles dutifully looks around the room, and up at the ceiling. After a beat of hesitation, he slides off the bed to look under it as well. The bathroom door's ajar, and he pushes it open, flicking the light on and off to check within. Frowning, he shuts the door and leans against it. "Nothing."

"Maybe it only leads you somewhere when you're in the dark."

"I guess," Stiles replies, hunching his shoulders in frustration. "So what do we do?" He's toying with something in his pocket, and eventually he pulls out the silver lighter. He flicks it on. "Burn the whole place down?"

"That wouldn't really solve the problem, since we're stuck inside."

"It would solve the problem," Stiles replies darkly, extinguishing the flame. "Can you just kick down the door or something? You have like five million muscles in your legs."

"The doors are steel. I've punched them before. Barely dents it." At Stiles's raised eyebrows, he adds, "This place is sturdier than you'd think. And resistant to people who just want to trash their rooms in a fit of anger."

Stiles cracks a grin. "Speaking from experience?"

"Speaking for a friend," Derek retorts, mouth quirking upwards.

Eventually, Stiles sighs again, pacing back and forth in agitation. "There has to be something. I feel like it's a really bad idea for them to catch me in here. If I hide under your bed…"

"They'll wonder how you got out of your room when they go to wake you."

"Damn it. Yeah, duh." He grimaces, leaning one shoulder against the bathroom door again. He grasps the knob absently. "Ugh, if there was—" He suddenly stills.

"Stiles?"

Without responding, Stiles carefully pulls the door open, turning to stare inside. When he doesn't respond, Derek jumps out of bed, joining him at the threshold.

Instead of the bathroom, there's another bedroom. Almost identical. It's got rumpled sheets that are dragged half across the floor, like the inhabitant left in a hurry.

"This is me," Stiles gapes. "It's my room."

"Wh—...How? My bathroom is supposed to be there," Derek stutters.

"Dude, I told you!" Stiles punches him in the shoulder triumphantly. "I told you," he adds, his voice growing quiet.

"Oh my god." Derek pushes past him, into Stiles's room, half-expecting it to vanish like a mirage. But it's real—the metal of the bed frame is smooth under his fingers. The floor is hard underfoot. He turns to Stiles, who still stands frozen in the doorway. "How is this possible?" And then, stupidly: "What'd you do with my bathroom?"

A desperate, choked laugh. "I don't know."

"Will it go back to normal after you close it?"

Stiles swallows, then looks dubiously at the door. "I think so. But if we're gonna try, you should be here and I should be there."

Derek nods, and they switch places. For a long moment, they stare at each other, at the door, at the impossible connection between their rooms.

"What the fuck is my life," Stiles mutters under his breath, breaking the intense silence.

"Seriously," Derek says at last, frowning. "Uh, in case it works, then I guess…"

"Good night and good luck?" Stiles finishes, smiling wryly. Then the mirth slides from his face, replaced by something a little more fearful. And it suddenly hits Derek that if this is true, then all of it is true. Everything that's happened to Stiles, the darkness chasing him down the hospital halls, everything he's afraid of—it's absolutely real.

Stiles's fear of being alone in the hallways isn't a delusion, it's self-preservation. It's survival. His tales of red doors, of strange creatures, strange animals skulking in the darkness...all of it exists somewhere in the world, somewhere just outside Derek's field of vision. All of it exists, and Derek can only see it now because Stiles has cracked the door open for him, just the smallest bit, to show him the truth.

"Stiles, I'm...I wasn't sure about it before, but—"

"Don't worry about it. I'm just glad it happened while you were around. So you can tell it's not just in my head."

"I didn't think that."

Stiles eyes him shrewdly. "Yeah, you did."

Derek grimaces. "Sorry."

"No sweat. Besides, still thought it was all in my head, until just now. And you know what? Maybe it's still not real, and we're both out of our fucking minds." For some reason, this makes him break out into a cheerful grin, and it's so nonsensical that Derek can't help but return it.

"Are you gonna be okay in there?" Derek asks at last.

"Probably," Stiles returns, his expression growing grim as he looks back at his bed. He rubs his eyes blearily. "I'm probably not going to be able to fall asleep, but...I don't know that the darkness'll come twice in the same night. So far it's been a little more spaced out, I guess."

"Okay." Derek searches for words of reassurance, but anything he might say—Come get me if you need help, or Call me if you want to talk—it's all null and void here in Eichen.

Stiles seems to get it. He straightens in false bravado. "I'll be fine. I'll see you in the morning. And we'll talk."

"Okay. Night."

"Night." Stiles gingerly tugs the door closed between them, and it shuts with a metallic snick.

After a beat, Derek twists the knob, but when he opens it, there's just his darkened bathroom, the way it always is. He closes the door.

And then someone's pushing it gently open. "What—" Derek begins, but he realizes it's Stiles again. He peeks through the door.

"Dude," Stiles says excitedly. "You're still here!"

"Well, I wasn't a second ago. Or you weren't. Or—" he stops, flustered, and tries again. "I tried the door, and it was back to normal."

"It's not on my end. Try again, lemme see." Stiles closes the door once more, and Derek obediently tries the handle to find his own bathroom. He closes the door and waits. A minute later, Stiles pops through the door again. "Did you try to come through again? Nothing happened."

"I tried, but it didn't work," Derek repeats thoughtfully.

"So is it...can open the doors? And only me?"

"Maybe."

"What do we even do with that info?" Stiles asks through a wide yawn.

Derek watches him, amused in spite of the situation. "I guess...we sleep on it."

.

Derek's more exhausted than usual at wake-up call the following morning. Still, he manages to drag himself out of bed, showering and changing his clothes before breakfast.

Everything that happened yesterday should feel like a dream. It has that unreal quality, like he'd been half-sleeping as it all happened. But he knows it's real now, that something more is going on here. With him and with Stiles.

He gives Nurse Chen the side eye as he grabs his tray and food in the cafeteria, wondering who's in on it, and what they're doing. Last night, Stiles had mentioned two nurses, one of them Roberts (of course it fucking would be). But among the cheerless cafeteria workers, the bored-looking orderlies...does anyone else know what's going on? Is it just a couple of psychopathic nurses? Is it more? Are they hunters? And what are they doing?

Stiles is already at their customary table, looking as haggard as Derek probably does himself. He's staring down at his food as if he might find the secrets to all their questions in the browning of his toast. But when he catches sight of Derek approaching, he perks up a bit.

"Anything weird?" Derek prompts by way of greeting. He keeps his tone low as he sets his tray down.

"Nothing," Stiles returns. He grimaces, grabbing his fork to pick at the starchy pile of scrambled eggs. "It was fine. I just stayed up, though, in case…"

Derek nods slowly. "Yeah."

There's not much more to say. Not here, anyway. Derek scarfs down his breakfast, and then he refuses to get up from the table until Stiles has forced down some eggs and orange juice. They pace back and forth down the hallways, quieter than usual today, and then suffer through morning group therapy in a distracted haze.

When therapy lets out, they head back to the lounge by unspoken agreement. Stiles pauses at the threshold, peering at the clusters of sofas and tables. He bites his lip.

Derek looks at him. "What's up?"

"You're tired, right?" Stiles asks, turning to face him. "And I've barely gotten more than three hours of sleep in like, days."

"Yeah," Derek confirms, tilting his head to one side.

"Do you want to sleep together?"

Derek raises his eyebrows just before he realizes what the human obviously means, and Stiles hastens to add, "Out here. Only—I mean, just on a sofa or something. Because...you know, if we're not sleeping at night, we can just nap during the day. Or whatever. I don't want to be in the bedrooms, but I figured it would be better not to do it alone. If you want to." His cheeks have turned lightly pink. Seeing this makes something warm and amused pool in the pit of Derek's chest.

"Sounds good to me."

"Okay," Stiles replies, shuffling in place to hide his relief. "Cool."

Derek drags him over to a long sofa away from the piano. With a little awkward shuffling, they manage to stretch across it so that Derek's lying with his head on one armrest, and Stiles's head is near the other. It's not nearly as uncomfortable as Derek thought it might be: Stiles makes a line of warmth against him, the human's hip pressed into the back of the couch. And while they're clearly ignoring Eichen's "no touching" policy, Derek figures no one will reprimand them if they're asleep.

It feels like pack, Derek realizes suddenly. It reminds him of the tight embraces he sometimes fell into when sleeping with his brothers or sisters. Or of cozy winters spent with half the family burrowed into the same mattress, back when they were all young.

"Clem wasn't there," Stiles murmurs suddenly. His eyes are already half-closed.

"Hmm?"

"Clem. She wasn't at therapy today. I wanted to ask her..."

Derek frowns. "You said you saw her last night?"

"Yeah."

"Was she at therapy yesterday evening?"

"I...I can't remember. No, I don't think so."

Derek pauses, and something suddenly jolts his memory into place. "Me neither. But...I think…" He shakes his head, trying to picture it. "I think I ran into her once. When I was walking around all the time. It was just before I met you."

The cushion shifts beneath him as Stiles tries to get comfortable. "What do you mean?"

"She was crying. And she looked afraid, but that might be because I also kinda shouted at her. But she'd slammed into me hard, like...like she was running."

Stiles has picked up his head to frown at Derek. "Oh. Like she was running from something?" he clarifies dully as he lies back down.

Derek nods his head. "I don't know if it means anything."

Stiles is quiet for a long time, so long Derek thinks he must be trying to make some kind of connection. But when Derek finally looks at him, Stiles has sunk into a deep slumber, his heartbeat steady. His mouth is half-open, the fingers of one hand twitching as he dreams.

Derek watches him for a bit, unable to relax enough to doze. It's just that his mind is reeling still, trying to make sense of everything: the darkness, Clem, his lost time. Nothing seems to fit. Nothing seems connected.

But the thing is—Derek's not the only one trying to make connections. He has Stiles now, working things out alongside him. Whatever's going on here, he decides at last, we'll figure this out together. Something uncoils in his chest. I'm going to tell him the truth about werewolves. Somehow.

He has half a mind to track down that other girl, Madison, the one with the constant pout who'd been sobbing in the library. The one who'd seemed to know what he was. It's time to learn what else she knows, to find out who else has his secrets—only she's nowhere to be seen, and he doesn't want to leave Stiles here alone. (Not counting the fact that he'd probably only scare the shit out of her again if he tried to question her on his own.)

Instead, he spends the remainder of the time until Stiles's doctor appointment snapping at anyone who gets too close to them. It's mostly a territorial thing, almost (dare he say it) a pack thing—but there's something more brewing deep beneath it all. Something wrathful and full of ire. It makes it hard to tell the difference between threats and incidental closeness. Patients too new (or too apathetic) to give him a wide berth find themselves facing the brunt of his anger. It's exactly that rage that has Derek on his feet, growling at old Vern passing by before he can help himself.

"Hoo, boy!" the man croaks, raising a set of gnarled hands in the air. "Just comin' by!"

"Derek?" Stiles murmurs sleepily, and then there's a weight tugging at his arm. "Dude, calm down."

It's hard to see or hear past the roar of his anger—or maybe it's the literal growl in his own throat. Either way, Derek can't beat it down enough to move back, but he manages to hold himself still until Vern can shuffle anxiously past. He and Stiles watch the man go, his back hunched in a pitiful curl.

"He's like, ninety," Stiles says reproachfully, yawning. "What was he gonna do to us?"

"Sorry," Derek mumbles at last, when he can finally trust himself to speak without shouting.

"It's okay," Stiles responds, shrugging as he releases Derek's arm.

"I'm angry. All the time," he bursts out, swallowing down the feeling of helplessness gathering in his throat. "And I never know why."

"Dude it's fine. You're just...hey, anger issues aren't the worst thing you could get stuck with, right?"

"You don't get it, Stiles. I never used to be like this."

Stiles is silent. "Until Eichen?" he asks in a low voice.

"Until Eichen," Derek confirms.

"We have to figure out what's up with this place," Stiles replies quietly, looking toward the hall. Derek follows his gaze to find Nurse Wilson beckoning Stiles over for his appointment. "I'm gonna bullshit my way through the rest of my appointments here," he adds after a beat.

Derek snorts. "Probably for the best, instead of telling them…" he shakes his head. "Go on. I'll come get you when it's time."

"'Kay, thanks," Stiles agrees, heading toward the nurse. "See you in a bit. And don't kill anyone while I'm gone."

.

Derek doesn't mean to fall asleep, but exhaustion drags him down hard.

Still, something in his mind must have known when to wake him, because he comes to just a minute after Stiles is supposed to be done. He blinks sleepily at the clock on the wall, straightens suddenly, and then he swears, jumping off the sofa and sprinting down the hallway.

He's straining to pick up any sound as he nears the office, just in case something's going on with Stiles, in case the darkness is coming, but the only thing he can make out is a woman's high-pitched voice: "...follows you everywhere. You know that now. And it never stops. I don't know why. I reckon we've done something to deserve it, but I've never figured that part out. It's..."

At last, he rounds the corner and is relieved to see Stiles standing near the door to Alsina's office. The human wears an expression of stunned disbelief, and he's not alone: Madison's there as well, her usual pout once more replaced by something much more somber, more frightened. It reminds him of his conversation with her in the library, of the pinched anxiety in her face—and his own fear of being trapped here alone, without knowing what had become of Stiles.

Derek comes in worried, snarling ferociously, and Madison jumps about three feet at the sight of him. After a frightened whimper in his direction, she scurries off toward the nurses station.

"Derek. Derek!" Stiles shouts, hurrying to get between him and the retreating woman. "She was just...it's—it's fine. Nothing's wrong."

Derek shakes his head, watching her go. "It looked like something was wrong."

Stiles peers around and leans in, so close that his breath tickles Derek's ear. "She asked me if I could see the dark yet," he whispers in wonder. "She said it's always here, in Eichen. And she said that sometimes if you're here for too long, it starts to follow you around. And it never stops."

"That's what she meant? She sees it too?" Derek whispers back, mind boggling.

Stiles shrugs helplessly. "I think she's been watching out for it. Like me. Yeah, I guess I'll try and catch her later today, when…" he eyes Derek, which Derek takes to mean when you're locked in your room again.

"Sorry," he says again, and Stiles punches his shoulder.

"Stop saying that." He pauses thoughtfully. "Why do you think it's happening to me? And Madison maybe? And...and not you?"

Derek frowns, suddenly aware of how exposed they are here in the hall, how easily anyone might see them whispering together. "I don't know," he says at last, "but I don't think we should talk about it here."

Stiles looks around and nods once.

When Nurse Graham finally comes for Derek at noon, they've looped around the entire hospital at least six or seven times. Stiles is unnaturally quiet, chewing on his bottom lip in thought. Derek has half a mind to ask Stiles what he's thinking about, but he knows it probably isn't anything they want to discuss out here in the open. Not if they're really considering everyone here as a potential enemy. Still, it's weird to walk in silence now, Derek thinks as they trod through the halls. Even though I did it for months before Stiles showed up.

"Time to head back, Hale," Nurse Graham calls out as they pass the nurses station. He's got a clipboard in his hands and only barely looks up at them. "I'll walk you."

"Me too," Stiles pipes up, as if this were a point of contention.

They walk in silence to Derek's room, pausing at the door. The keys jangle in Graham's hand.

"Same time, same place?" Derek asks.

Stiles blinks, probably because they've never really needed to specify that they're going to meet each other at breakfast in the morning. Derek nods carefully at Stiles, hoping he'll get the idea. Tonight. After lights out.

An awareness passes over Stiles's face as he catches Derek's meaning. "I'll try," he says lightly, like he's just joking around. "See you, I guess."

.

Something pokes Derek in the cheek. "Alright, sleeping beauty. You gotta stop passing out on me."

Derek hears the voice come from what must be a million miles away. But when at last he reaches the source of the sound, it's only Stiles, whose face hovers just above Derek's head. He's smiling, but there's a pinched sort of worry in his gaze.

"What?" Derek asks sluggishly, making a great effort to push himself onto his elbows. "What happened?"

Stiles lowers himself onto the edge of the bed. "I dunno. I just tried to come through the door around the same time of night as they brought you in the first time, so whoever it is hopefully wouldn't be here. But I don't have a watch, so I was kinda just guesstimating. You must have fallen asleep," he adds, doubt creeping into his tone. "Do you remember anything? Falling asleep, or…?"

Derek closes his eyes, but there's nothing there. He'd been pacing back and forth along the wall, he'd done some bodyweight exercises to burn off his restless energy...but that was all. The rest of the evening is a blank. He doesn't even remember climbing into bed. "I don't know if I meant to fall asleep."

Stiles nods slowly, chewing his bottom lip. "Then...probably nothing happened."

Possibly, Derek thinks, feeling the low thrum of anger start to rise. To distract himself, he pushes upright, moving to sit beside Stiles near the head of the bed. "I guess I wouldn't even know if they did something."

"Yeah," Stiles replies, pulling his legs into a criss-cross position. "Do you feel any different?"

"Different how?"

Stiles fidgets uncertainly, playing with the edges of the sheets. "I don't know. I was just thinking, if they are doing something to you, or your memory or whatever, maybe a part of you still knows when they do it, or when you just fall asleep without knowing."

Derek shakes his head. "Nothing like that. Just...it feels like lost time. And..." He thinks about the dreams of darkness, those featureless faces staring at him.

Stiles sighs. "Yeah."

"Anything new with you?"

"Nothing to report." His mouth twists unhappily. "Couldn't find Madison later. And then after lights out, I just stayed awake the whole time. It was okay, and nothing happened, just...I hate being scared all the time. It's like it never goes away now."

Derek doesn't really have anything to say to this. He doesn't really get that part, the fear. For him, it's anger. It's hatred and rage, burning and burning inside him.

Stiles snorts in laughter, but there's no real amusement in it. "I feel like a dumb kid, sitting here and worrying about something the adults haven't filled me in on yet. I hate that I'm always being kept in the dark." He frowns, probably at the unintentional phrasing.

"Actually, that's…" Derek trails off. His nerves jangle a little, and he stands and begins pacing to calm himself down. "That's why I thought you should come back tonight, if you could. I have something to tell you, and...alright, it won't clear up much. But you've told me a lot about what's going on with you. And I haven't really paid back that trust."

Stiles slowly shakes his head. "Dude. It doesn't work like that. You don't owe me anything. I don't, like...earn the rights to your sob story just because I told you mine."

"I know," Derek replies, still pacing. "But I want to tell you anyway."

"Oh. Okay." Stiles pulls himself forward on the bed a little, leaning in toward Derek. "Cool. What is it?"

Derek pauses, hesitating, and turns to face Stiles. "Look," he begins, straightening his shoulders. "When I tell you this, it's gonna sound—"

"Crazy?" Stiles interjects, smiling. Something about his expression makes Derek feel a little lighter. "Derek, trust me, I've been there before. You've seen me do crazy. It'll be fine."

"Alright." Derek nods, clenching and unclenching his fists, as if he might be able to brace himself for whatever's coming. "I'm a werewolf."

Stiles doesn't say anything right away. Expressions flicker and dance over his face like a kaleidoscope: eyebrows raised in surprise, a disbelieving frown, a curious tilt of the head, mouth opening like he might say something. At last, it smooths out into something like acceptance. "Okay," he says simply.

"Okay?"

"Okay. Sure. You're a werewolf."

"What...nothing else to say?" Derek asks, still waiting for the other shoe to drop. He's not getting it, he thinks. He doesn't understand that it's real. And I don't even know how to explain it. "You always have something to say. About everything."

"Dude, I told you some pretty wild stuff before. Like warped hallways and shit. And you didn't give me any grief for it. So if you're gonna talk to me about holy shit you have fur and claws—"

Partway through this burgeoning speech, Derek decided to just go for broke and try a partial shift, just to make sure it gets through, the reality of the situation. Stiles has stumbled backwards onto the bed a little, his eyes wide with fear—but it recedes quickly when Derek doesn't start toward him. Instead, the werewolf slowly lifts his clawed hands up in a gesture of peace. Muttering quietly to himself, Stiles calms down, or his heart rate does, anyway. Slowly, he leans in a little. "Holy shit. Okay. Wow. That's real. You're a werewolf. Okay." He swallows. "But you're still...you."

"Yeah, it's still me." Once it becomes clear that Stiles isn't going to start screaming, Derek smirks around his fangs. "I guess I could have warned you."

"You think?" Stiles snarks, incredulous. He looks a lot less uneasy, probably since it's clear Derek's just gonna talk to him instead of biting his head off.

"It's...a family thing. My whole family was this way. My pack."

Stiles takes a long time to digest this, his gaze darting over Derek's altered visage. "This is real. I'm not dreaming."

Derek isn't sure if it's a question or not. "No, you're not dreaming."

"Can I, uh…?" Gingerly, he holds a hand toward Derek's face. After a beat, Derek realizes Stiles means to touch him. It's a little weird, probably, and not something Derek expected—but regardless, he finds himself leaning over to make it easier for Stiles to reach him.

Stiles hesitantly runs cool fingers across Derek's eyebrows, across the line of thick hair that's crept down onto his face. His touch is light, apprehensive, like he expects Derek to pull away at any moment. His hand lingers near Derek's mouth, his fangs, before he jerks away.

But Stiles doesn't seem afraid, though—just embarrassed. "Wow, so that's real. Definitely not a wig. Not that you could have done something like that. I mean, I was literally watching you while it happened. One second, you were human, and then poof, huge werewolf—but you knew that already. I'm gonna stop talking now."

His wry, self-deprecating wince pulls a snort of laughter out of Derek. It's partially nerves, too, since he'd been wildly uncertain about how this whole thing would go. Or maybe it's simply relief, heady and rich as a shot of whiskey. Stiles smiles at him, and Derek makes the shift back to full human.

"So fast," Stiles observes under his breath. "Okay, so. I have questions."

Derek fights back a grin, wondering how he'd ever been worried about how Stiles might take it. "Of course you do."

"They're very important. Do you howl at the full moon? Die at the touch of silver? Live forever? Slaughter a bunch of randos in the London Underground?"

Derek's got his mouth open to answer, but the last one stumps him. "What?"

"Come on, Derek. It's like you don't even know your culture. An American Werewolf in London? My dad made me watch that movie like five times. And we're not even werewolves. Far as I'm aware."

Derek laughs again. "Yes to the full moon. No to the silver. No to living forever, but we do heal really fast, I guess. And we're really strong."

Stiles is shaking his head in disbelief, an odd grin on his face. "Dude, werewolves! I mean, after what's been going on in here, I'd believe anything, I guess. But still, it's...real. Hey, is that why you're here? Because of the whole anger thing? Like, I don't know, you just wanna get wolfy all the time?"

Derek shakes his head, mood souring a little. "No, that's not it. Remember? I told you, it's only been happening since around when I came to Eichen."

Stiles nods. "Oh, yeah. Then...huh."

"So you really don't know why I'm here? I thought you were kidding, back when we talked about it."

"I mean, I know the basics, I guess. The headlines. But that's it. And given your whole…" Stiles gestures vaguely at Derek's face, "furry thing, I'm guessing there's way more to the story than that."

"You'd guess right. And the truth might make more sense, now that you know what I am." Derek settles back onto the bed, across from Stiles, who makes enough room for them to face each other, cross-legged. The position reminds him, suddenly and painfully, of home, of his brothers and sisters. Of the way they used to swap childish secrets in the darkness of their rooms. The story he's going to tell may be a secret, but it's a lot grimmer than anything he'd ever shared in his childhood bedroom.

"I'm here because of Kate Argent," he begins. "I'm sure you've heard of her. She was in the headlines, too. And you probably know I was...dating her. I guess. At the time. But what they didn't report, and what I didn't know back then, is that she was from a family of werewolf hunters, people who basically think werewolves should be put down like dangerous animals. And that's what she did. She set out to murder my family all at once. She set our house on fire, with everyone in it, and a ring of mountain ash to prevent anyone from getting out." Derek swallows. "That's when I murdered her. I guess."

Stiles has gone completely still. Focused. "You guess?" he prompts.

"Yeah, I...I came home as she was burning the house, and she shot me with a wolfsbane bullet. Regular bullets won't kill us, but depending on the wolfsbane you put into it, it's enough to slow us down or put us out of commission temporarily. Or kill us, with the right blend. But I guess I healed faster than she thought I would, faster than she could drag me into the fire. Truth is, a little after she shot me, when I was down on the ground, it all goes blank. I don't really know what happened, but I remember wanting to kill her, so badly. I could barely move, but I wanted to stop her.

"Two days later, I came to covered in old blood, and clear across the border near Reno. I called my sister Laura, and we pieced together that I must have murdered Kate. Her body had been torn to shreds, completely dismembered. And Laura didn't know what to tell the police, so...we agreed that I'd lay low. She was dealing with the aftermath of the fire, all alone—with the cops and everything. Uncle Peter was around, supposedly, but she told me over the phone that he was too far gone to be much help, almost feral."

Derek swallows, coming to the crux of the thing. "What we didn't realize was that two other people were murdered too. Right in their homes. In the same area I was in. Which looked pretty bad when the police eventually caught up to me."

He can't quite read Stiles's expression, but there's no fear in his eyes, none at all. Just some sort of wariness, a deep focus, like he's reserving judgement until the last word is spoken.

"When they arrested me...well. Apparently 'I don't remember' isn't a great alibi. Three deaths in a row, potentially in connection to the house fire, and they just knew it was me. From the beginning, they were so sure of it. Under any other circumstances, maybe I would have gotten a little sympathy. It's a classic revenge story, right? Distraught guy getting revenge for his dead family. But the way Kate was ripped to shreds, and those extra deaths, plus the fact that there weren't any obvious connections between Kate and the others...the cops weren't sympathetic. Not at all. Once Peter snapped out of it, he apparently found out they were hunters too—the other two people killed—so they were probably allies of Kate's. But it wasn't anything we could tell the cops.

"But even so, even with the memory issues...we think someone must have framed me. One of the hunters, maybe. There's a connection between Kate and the other hunters, sure, but didn't know that before it all went down, not until Peter figured it out later. And maybe I could have tracked them by smell, if I figured out that the smells on Kate were associated with them. Or if those hunters were there during the fire, and I just don't remember. But without having a starting point, tracking like that's impossible, even for me. I wouldn't have even known where to look for them. And even if I had, I'd have had to move too fast on foot—there's no way I was in the right mind to hop a plane to Reno. And in two days? It's too fast, even at werewolf speed...but it doesn't matter. There's not much we can say to get me off the hook.

His voice has grown tired. Monotonous. "By the time we really started to understand how deep in shit I was, I was already behind bars. So most of our conversations about this were happening over the phone. And by the time realized it was better to break out, even if it meant going on the run...I was put here. In Eichen. I was in too deep. My lawyers were going to try pleading insanity, and that's why I'm here. That's why I've been here, for the last two years...no contact, nothing. No idea what's going on with the case."

He stops talking abruptly, his words fading away. Stiles waits patiently, as if to be sure there's nothing else coming. "That's...a steaming pile of shit," Stiles declares. Then he clears his throat, adding apologetically, "I don't really remember much of the case, just the headlines...but I think it's all caught up in red tape still. Or it was when I got tossed in. Lots of back and forth between the lawyers and the state. Derek...I'm so sorry that happened to you." Coming from anyone else, the words probably would have rung hollow. But there's genuine worry in Stiles's gaze.

"Sometimes," Derek begins, and then he rests his head on his hand, staring doubtfully at Stiles. "Sometimes, I think I could have done it. I would have killed them. I mean, if I'd figured out some way to get out there to Nevada, and if I knew they so much as tossed in a single drop of gasoline onto the house, I could rip them apart even now." He snorts, but there's no humor in it. "I think about it a lot, actually. I'm...so goddamn angry, all the time, and when I think about them I wish it was me. I hope it was me. That I did it. That's why I deserve to be here, maybe. Because I want to have done it."

Stiles looks impossibly sad, his jaw clenching like he's fighting back words. It occurs to Derek that he must not even know what to say, that he's dumping a hell of a lot on someone he met just a couple weeks ago. But before he can find the words to excuse Stiles, or take back what he's just said, Stiles blurts, "I don't think that makes you crazy. I don't think you deserve any of this. If it were me, if someone ever did something like that to my dad, I'd...I'd want the same thing."

There's no hint of a lie in his voice. Derek doesn't trust himself to speak anymore, so he nods instead.

"Is there any way you could…" Stiles trails off. "I don't know. You can't get in touch with your sister, or any...I don't know, werewolf connections? Werewolf magic? To get out of here?"

Derek clears his throat. "Not exactly. I've got Laura on my side, and Uncle Peter—and that's worth a lot. Once he pulled his head out of his ass after the fire, and I guess I don't blame him for not being around for Laura the first few days, he was more on top of things. He used to be a lawyer. I don't know anything, though—I haven't seen or heard from them since the lawyers dumped me here in Eichen. It wasn't supposed to be very long, just something for legal stuff and paperwork. But we were going to trial soon, supposedly. Now, I don't know anymore. If there's going to be a trial, no one's briefing me on anything. I don't know if they're still out there working, or if they even…"

It's a very real fear Derek's been trying to quash for a long time, the idea that Laura and Peter have given up on him. That they gave up on him as soon as he was thrown into Eichen. It's always been hard to swallow, especially in the early days: pack doesn't abandon pack. Especially since the three of them have only each other now. But as the days have worn on, in the quiet of the night, it's become easier to wonder.

Stiles dismisses the idea right away, though. "I'm sure they're trying to get to you as much as you're trying to get to them," Stiles reassures him. "I mean, my dad wouldn't let me go without a fight. And he's the sheriff. If he can't get in here, it's because...well, I guess it's because someone at Eichen is more powerful than even him." This thought seems to unsettle him, but he doesn't let it weigh him down. "Okay, so...no outside help. And you're sure you can't bust out the doors with your super strength? The windows in the cafeteria?"

Derek shakes his head. "No, like I said: the doors are surprisingly good here. They're reinforced with...something. Better than steel, especially the front doors. The cafeteria windows too, probably shatterproof glass. And whatever meds they use, the sedatives they pull out when you're causing a scene, or when you won't back away from the doors, it's strong. Most drugs like that wouldn't work on a werewolf—we have fast metabolisms—but I guess with really powerful ones, it's not unheard of."

"But it's also…" Stiles begins, but his brow is furrowed in thought. Derek gives him a second to let his words catch up. "It's not unheard of, but...it's also not impossible that they've got something just for you. That they know you're a werewolf, and they've got a sedative that works on you. Because now we know that at least some of the nurses here know you're a werewolf. Right?"

The thought has occurred to Derek before now, but not since Stiles was able to catch them in the act. "I guess so," he replies, exhaling slowly. "And Roberts's chest was scratched, and now...that had to have been me, right? But I don't remember it happening, I don't remember doing it."

"What are they doing to you? What do they want you for?" Stiles murmurs, staring. "Well, I guess those are the million dollar questions."

Derek rubs at his jaw, meeting Stiles's gaze. "What are they doing to us?" he corrects. "Because whatever's going on with you...I'm not sure, but it seems similar, doesn't it? What you can do...I'm starting to think you're a little more than human, too. Something magic. I mean, you can basically transport from place to place here."

"Yeah—I…" Stiles looks almost as stunned as he had last night, upon making the door back to his own room. "I guess I wasn't thinking of it that way. But if it's me, in control of where the doors go...yeah I guess that's maybe kinda magic." There's a little wonder in his tone, a goofy grin on his face, and it makes Derek perk back up at least a bit after the heaviness of their prior conversation. "So is it just that I have a superpower, and it's really lame—being haunted by creepy doors?"

Derek snorts. "I guess, maybe? I wonder what kind of magic it is. It's nothing I've ever heard of before. Uncle Peter used to know a lot about the supernatural world, and mom did, too. I bet one of them could have told us. But...well, you've got all of these doors, and long, dark hallways, and—"

"Hey," Stiles interrupts, waving a finger indignantly. "The darkness definitely isn't me. I don't want it. That started while I was here, not before. Like your anger."

"Well, just the doors, then. Like your red door. And you're the only one of us who can make them work." A thought occurs to Derek, whose spine straightens as if shocked. "If you can get here," he says, "why not just open a door to outside? We can walk right out of here, without using the front doors!"

Stiles shakes his head. "I thought of that before, after the thing with the bathroom doors last night. But it seems to only work for specific places. Like, at night I can't use the door to the hall to go to a new room—because it's locked, and I guess since I can't open a locked door anyway, I also can't change it so it opens anywhere else either. But I can use the bathroom door to connect to other places in Eichen, where the door's unlocked, like the library. But most places are locked, especially the places I'd want to snoop around in, like the front desk or the med rooms or Alsina's office. And I can't go anywhere outside Eichen. When I try, it just opens up into the bathroom, like normal.

"What did you try?"

"I tried to go home. To my room. My dad's room. And even to the classrooms at school. At least I know what those places look like, in case I have to be familiar with wherever I'm going for it to work." He sighs, running a hand through his hair. "In case any of this is me at all, and not just some weird and definitely unwanted side effect of being in Eichen House."

Derek tries to brush off his disappointment. It's stupid to have let himself hope, and he'd known that going in. He hadn't thought he was bringing in any high expectations, especially for something that would have basically been a minor miracle. But he finds himself oddly defeated anyway. And if the morose expression on Stiles's face is anything to go by, Derek's not alone.

After a moment, Derek shakes his head to clear his thoughts. "What now?"

"Now…" Stiles's shoulders sag. He looks tired. "Now, I don't know."

Derek stares at him. "Sleep with me," he says with a sudden smile, not really understanding that he's going to say the words until they're out of his mouth.

Stiles blinks dopily back, even though Derek's just throwing his own words back at him. "Huh?"

"You don't want to sleep alone. And now that we know you can get in and out of here without a problem, you can just...stay the night. If you want."

Stiles stares at him hopefully. "Really?"

Derek nods, feeling more and more comfortable with the decision. Actually, it's stupid that we didn't just do it before, last night, he realizes. "It would probably help me sleep too. We'd just have to make sure you leave before the morning wake-up call, but…" he shrugs. "I don't see why not."

"Yeah. Yeah, I think we can do that," Stiles manages. Derek settles back onto the bed, and, more hesitantly, Stiles climbs in after him. It's a little stranger this time around, and weirdly intimate. Derek scoots aside as much as he can, trying to make enough space for Stiles on the tiny twin. He feels a little stiff, a little awkward—but there's something comforting about feeling Stiles's warmth next to him, the nearness of him. Derek could just reach out to touch him if he wanted, could run his fingers over that speckled jawline and long neck, if he knew the touch would be welcomed.

They stay silent for a few seconds, each of them holding themselves rigid on their backs, pretending to be comfortable. Like moving might break a spell that's fallen over them. But after a minute, Stiles squirms a little, nestling into place like a puppy settling in for a nap. It's fucking adorable. Derek fights back a smile.

Stiles catches the movement. "What?" he whispers suspiciously.

Derek grins. "Nothing."

Stiles gives him a weird look, but he doesn't immediately respond. Derek listens to the steady beating of his heart and waits for the question. "I'm wondering," Stiles begins, still whispering, "if you're a werewolf, and can make bizarro magic doors...do you think we're the only ones here? Or are there other patients who are more...supernatural?"

The idea gives Derek pause. "It's possible," he says slowly. He considers the others here in their shared jail, but he hardly knows any of them at all. Before Stiles, they'd just been a nameless mass of blue scrubs, not worth noticing. New patients came all the time. But after a while in the morning group therapies, Derek's gotten a little better at matching names to faces. There's irritable old Vern, skinny and shivering Marty. There's the red-headed Quincy and the unrelenting babble leaking from her mouth. There's Clem's perpetually worried gaze. And there's Madison, pouting and sullen. "It's possible," he says again. "Madison knows what I am. Or at least knew about the claws," he amends. Then he hesitates. "But if they are supernatural...I seriously can't imagine what they'd do."

Stiles rolls onto his side to face Derek, shrugging the shoulder that's not pressed into the bed. "Well, I couldn't have imagined me being magic. So anything's possible. Right?"

"Yeah, I guess it really is."

"Or...Derek, what if the nurses are magic? The whole building? Everything?"

It's a troubling thought. Derek shakes his head slowly.

"So what do we do?"

Derek frowns, turning to face Stiles as well. "Okay, first thing: we can't confront the nurses or orderlies, or Alsina. Like we decided before. We don't know anything yet. And if they're not in on whatever's happening, all of this makes us sound crazy. Or, if they are in on it...they hold all the power."

"Right," Stiles replies seriously.

"So without talking to any of them...we need to make a plan, to figure out what's going on here. And—now that I'm thinking of it, we should only talk about this here. At night, in your room or mine. So we aren't overheard."

Stiles nods, scooting a little closer. "Okay. What kind of plan?"

Derek frowns. "Maybe we start with Clem. Or Madison, if Clem's not around tomorrow either."

"I was thinking about Clem earlier, too," Stiles replies quietly. "I wonder if she snuck out of her room late at night, and that's how I found her. Or if she got lost in the dark, and couldn't get back. She seemed…" he swallows, shaking his head. "She didn't seem okay. I was afraid of her, but the dark makes me afraid of everything. Maybe she was afraid of me, too.

"They didn't really say why she wasn't at therapy," Derek murmurs. "But I guess they wouldn't. Maybe she's sick."

Stiles hums noncommittally. "Yeah. Maybe."

"We'll find out tomorrow," Derek declares. "One way or another. From her or Madison."

"Okay."

They lie in a comfortable silence, neither of them really near sleep, each lost in his own thoughts. After a minute or two, though, Derek can practically see Stiles succumbing to weariness, his eyelids drooping to half-mast. Derek tries to stay awake, wanting to worry over the day tomorrow, but his limbs feel heavy. Just as his thoughts begin to grow vague and dreamlike, Stiles speaks up.

"Is it weird to ask if I can hold your hand?" His voice is thick with the promise of sleep.

Derek wakes up enough to snort. "I think you just did."

"It's just that, if I'm holding onto you, I might not wake up alone. If the darkness comes back. Or at least I'd know, if I was being pulled away from you or something."

Derek wordlessly finds Stiles's hand and intertwines their fingers.

"Thanks, Derek." Stiles mutters sleepily. "You're the best."

"Go the fuck to sleep, Stiles," Derek says as slumber sinks back over them both. Stiles's hand is a warm and calming weight in the darkness.

.

They don't have to work particularly hard to find out what's going on with Clem.

"An announcement, before we begin," Nurse Meyers drones, rifling through the papers on her clipboard.

Over the bustle of pre-therapy movement, it's hard for even Derek to hear the words. Everyone chatters and squabbles over seats in the circle of folding chairs—except that, fearful of Derek's aggression, they give Derek and Stiles a wide berth once they've selected seats. Derek briefly wonders what it must be like to be stuck in a different morning therapy group, one where the nurse has better rein over her patients.

"A quick announcement," Meyers repeats, in exactly the same dull tone, in spite of the loud room. "Regarding Clem Bowers— "

One of the other patients a few chairs over—Derek thinks her name is Irma but can't be sure—jabbers on and on about the plants in her bedroom. Derek glowers at her, and once she's caught his eye, she fearfully shuts up. Most of the remaining chatterers grow silent as well.

Taking advantage of the silence, Stiles leans forward in his chair. "Sorry, what was that?" he asks Meyers politely.

"A few of you have been asking about Clem Bowers," Meyers says, hiking her narrow shoulders up a little. Her bored tone makes Derek wonder who, if anyone, actually asked about Clem. He doesn't know much about her, but he can't remember seeing her with friends. Still, Meyers ploughs on: "Unfortunately, Miss Bowers required more specific care than we could provide here at Eichen. She has been transferred to another institution."

Derek feels his eyebrows creep up his forehead. He sits up straighter, glancing quickly at Stiles, whose expression is as disbelieving as Derek feels.

Meyers, seemingly ignorant of their confusion, looks down at her clipboard. "Shall we begin with progress updates?"

"But—"

"One voice at a time, Mr. Stilinski. And right now, it's mine. Mr. Amado, would you share your morning update?"

Stiles raises his hand, which Meyers can probably see out of the corner of her eye. Still, she determinedly avoids looking up at him until he also clears his throat pointedly. Eventually, she heaves a low sigh, but by the time she looks up, she's plastered on what could probably pass for a helpful smile. "Yes, Mr. Stilinski?"

"When was she transferred?"

"Yesterday."

"Where did she go?"

"I'm afraid that's confidential. We can't release medical information, but rest assured that she's in good hands."

Stiles nods slowly, and Meyers turns away, intent on starting the meeting.

Derek can guess what Stiles is thinking as he stares down at the floor. That response doesn't jive with Stiles's timeline, as far as Derek remembers: he'd seen Clem two days back, when he'd last been trapped in the hall. Which means something's off.

Maybe Stiles is misremembering, or didn't see what he thought he had. Or maybe Clem had been in the darkness, just as lost as Stiles had been. Or maybe one of the nurses caught her out of her room at night, having escaped the darkness, and that's when they decided to move her to a facility that could keep her under lock and key.

Or maybe Meyers is shoveling bullshit. Maybe Clem's still stuck in the darkness somewhere, in some deep place where no one can find her.

Stiles looks paler than usual throughout the meeting. He drags Derek from the room almost as soon as it's done, into the common lounge. Meyers' group let out last today, meaning all the decent sofas are taken. Normally, Derek might have fought someone off of a good one, but Stiles doesn't give him much time. He pulls Derek to the corner of the room, where they end up sitting against the wall near the crappy TV, the one with a little crack on one side of the screen.

Derek has the feeling Stiles is about to talk about magic, or darkness, or something weird. He gives Stiles a warning look before he can open his mouth, then a pointed glance at all the people around them. Stiles sighs, thinks for a second, and simply declares, "So. Clem was transferred."

"Sounds like."

"Madison wasn't there today."

"I didn't see her either."

Stiles pauses, considering his words again. Then, he carefully lowers his voice and continues. "Have you ever heard of anyone getting out of Eichen, in all the time you've been here? Not transferred—getting back out. Into the real world."

Derek frowns, racking his mind. He's sure someone must have gotten out at some point. And it's not like he'd been around much before Stiles came; one hour a day isn't a ton of time to really register who's coming or going. He's overheard talk of transfers every now and then, snatches of conversation from the other patients, but never a release. His somber expression is enough for Stiles. "Neither have I," Stiles replies quietly.

What this means, Derek's not sure. But it doesn't seem good.

Maybe he's wrong, though. Maybe they both are. Maybe there's nothing weird about Eichen House at all—it's an institution that does exactly what it proclaims, helping crazy people like Stiles and Derek back to perfect mental health.

But the facts just aren't adding up, not anymore. And without Clem or Madison around to question, Derek isn't sure where to begin.

Stiles is looking carefully away. He hugs his knees tightly, leaning his back against the wall in feigned nonchalance.

Almost without thinking, Derek nudges him gently with an elbow. He doesn't back off right away either, just lets the lines of their bodies settle close enough that he can feel the warmth of Stiles against his shoulder, his knee, his leg. Slowly, Stiles relaxes into it. "We'll figure this out," Derek promises, with much more bravado than he feels. "And if we can't...well, maybe it's time to figure out how to get the fuck out of here."