WARM SAFE PLACE
Derek is angry and desperate, and that’s putting it mildly.
Stiles, his Stiles, is somewhere inside that body that, right now, isn’t his. That monster having won over the pale skin, those honey-brown eyes, that voice, but not that precious mind.
Derek won’t let it happen.
He stands, arms crossed, on the McCall’s living room, gaze never leaving the nogitsune’s, that’s sat there, amused, smirking at him even with a mouth taped shut... Like it knows something Derek doesn’t.
Itchy, but Derek doesn’t move a hair.
Peter circles the couch, inspecting the situation. “He doesn’t look like he would survive a slap across the face, much less the bite of a werewolf.”
Derek bites his tongue, but he thinks: it, not he. That’s not Stiles.
Peter stops in front of it and crunches some, so they are eye to eye.
“You don’t think it would work?” Scott asks, but Derek supposes he’s figured this one out too. He’s only having trouble accepting it, like all of them.
“This is more a war of the mind than the body.” Peter stands up, all eyes on him. “There are better methods to win this battle.”
Derek tenses up, he doesn’t mean to, but he does and Scott notices, turning to look at him for an answer.
Deaton takes rapid steps closer to Peter, what are these methods Hale knows about that I haven’t come up with?
“What kind of methods?” Deaton frowns.
Well, less patronizing, but something along the lines, Derek thinks.
He can’t pay that much attention since that thing is once again staring at him with Stiles’ eyes. Cause Stiles’ eyes they are, but that’s a twisted version of the defiance and mischief he used to look at Derek with.
He would throw up or cry if Stiles didn’t need his help. Well, he could try and do both- hell, do the three things. But he can’t have the pack thinking he’s too messed to help.
Derek just can’t stand that little smirk, that knowing look in those eyes.
Oh, how Stiles manages to infuriate him even when he’s not here. If there only was a steering wheel near to crush that face with. Such a pretty face, so pretty. This shouldn’t be happening to him.
He should’ve stopped Laura from coming to Beacon Hills, this wouldn’t even be happening, if he wasn’t so goddamn stupid and selfish, if he wasn’t-
“Derek?” Scott calls out, eyeing Derek’s shaking hands, now turned to fists. He’s probably reeking of anger, Peter can probably smell him too. Derek forces his hands open and locks eyes with Scott. “What is he talking about?”
He takes a deep breath, takes his claws out. “He’s talking about getting into his head.” And he nods. As he says this, he nods. It isn’t pretty, it won’t be pretty, but it needs to be done.
“I’ll do it,” Derek is saying or maybe growling? He’s pleased by the confound look in Stiles’ face, seems they changed all its plans.
His feet are moving.
“Derek, wait,” Scott tries to grab him.
Taking him right behind the couch.
“Derek, you can’t just do it,” Peter is saying in that voice he uses when he thinks Derek’s being unreasonable.
And before he knows it, his claws are sinking into flesh, searching for a lifeline.
The living room is lost to him.
Derek, you fucking asshole.
You fucking asshole.
His forearm is brushing something wet, Derek registers, before he understands he’s laying, eyes closed, on the ground. A very grassy ground.
His senses kick back on slow, one by one.
His eyes are glassy, but when he turns on his back - yes, those swaying up there are the top of the trees and that blinding him, is the sun.
He’s in the fucking woods. How the hell did he end up waking up in the fucking woods? He doesn’t even remember falling asleep.
He covers his eyes, trying to get his shit together. What was I doing before I-
He stands up faster than he thought he could. At attention and with his guard up.
He waits for it, focuses on it. He flinches. His blood running cold. There it is. Those… Those are screams. Distant, but there.
He follows the skin bristling shouts, unsure where he’s going, but it certainly couldn’t be home.
A wave of smoke hits his nostrils, halting his already frantic steps. One second later he’s sprinting through a familiar track.
His mind refuses to catch up with the view that is presented to his eyes.
But when it does.
“No, no, no.” He makes a run for his burning home, his eyes unhelpfully filling with tears just to hear the sickening popping of wood, the roaring blaze devouring all it can and leaving no support for what it cannot.
Derek reaches a window; it’s about to fall apart, but he can get inside and help his family.
God, his family.
“I’m here!” He’s screaming back. Name by name. He knows all the names. “Where are you?! I’m here!”
Where are the firefighters? Why isn’t anyone helping them?!
Derek wipes his tears away, tries to put his incessant shaking body under control, he-
He catches his reflection over the windowpane. There’s something unsettling about him, something seriously wrong.
I look so young, he thinks. But what is so wrong about that?
“Peter?!” A runny nose isn’t helping now, Derek curses his weakness. Where is he calling from? “Where are you?! I’m coming for you!”
Listen to me, Derek.
Listen to me.
Derek listens and all of a sudden the cracking fire and the frightened screams seem like a distant memory, another life. But that can’t be. He’s coming to help Peter. He’s coming to help his family.
You need to get Stiles to a safe place. You have to find him and take him to a safe place.
What the- Who the hell is Stiles? Derek knows they are a large family, the largest there is in Beacon Hills, but do they have a Stiles? Maybe a baby? A newborn? God, no.
“Stiles. Stiles. Stiles. Stiles. Stiles,” he mutters under his breath, searching around far away cries for help, unable to reach anyone. Where are the screams coming from?
He wipes his blurry eyes once again, his stupid runny nose-
His sleeve comes off bloody.
Why the fuck he’s bleeding? Where the fuck is everyone?
He stumbles in the dark, for what seems to be hours, searching around the screaming house, to the world an errant ghost. He shouts name after name but no one answers. Why aren’t the firefighters here?
Derek fall on his knees, choking on his sobs. His heart is burning down and he can’t do nothing about it. It’s a fucking nightmare.
He squeezes his eyes shut and gasp for air. His animalistic senses are kicking in and he can’t have that happen, not now.
Right, focus. You have to focus. It’s impossible for a fire to be burning a house for this long. It’s impossible for anyone to survive for this long. But I can hear them. I can hear their screams. I can hear them.
“This isn’t happening, this isn’t happening, this isn’t happening-”
But Peter said to look for Stiles. That happened. He remembers it clear as day. Derek opens his eyes, he’s gotta be brave, but his claws are digging in his palms.
You’re stronger, Derek.
Anchor. “You gotta reach for your anchor,” he tells himself.
He lets his eyelids drop, breathes in and out, calm and easy. Searching for his lifeline. Searching for Stiles.
Everything snaps to silence, and just for a second, Derek holds to it. Is so peaceful.
After that second.
“Start the car. Now.”
“Yeah. I don’t think you should be barking orders with the way you look, okay? In fact, I think if I wanted, I could probably drag your little werewolf ass out into the middle on the road and leave you for dead.”
“Start the car. Or I’m gonna rip your throat out. With my teeth.”
There’re a lot of words jumbling together. A lot of gestures going on. Honey-brown eyes, or maybe whiskey-brown.
“I don’t know if I can do this.”
“Well, because of the cutting through the flesh, the sawing of the bone, and especially the blood!”
“You faint at the sight of blood?”
“No, but I might at the sight of a chopped-off arm!”
“All right, fine. How about this? Either you cut off my arm, or I'm gonna cut off your head.”
“Okay. You know? I'm so not buying your threats any- Oh, my God. Okay. All right. Bought, sold. Totally. I'll do it. I'll do it!”
A lot of fights and distrust.
“You get me out of here before I drown.”
“You're worried about drowning? Did you notice the thing out there with multiple rows of razor-sharp teeth.”
“Did you notice I'm paralyzed from the neck down in eight feet of water?!”
A lot of rebuilding and finding.
“Okay, I don't think I can do this much longer.”
“No, no, no! Don't even think about it.”
“Would you just trust me this once?”
“I'm the one keeping you alive, okay? Have you noticed that?”
“Yeah. And when the paralysis wears off, who is gonna be able to fight that thing, you or me?”
“That’s why I’ve been holding you for the past two hours?”
“Yeah. You don't trust me. I don't trust you. But you need me to survive, which is why you are not letting me go... Stiles!”
A lot of blood.
“So, is that hypothetical situation we talked about getting any less hypothetical?”
“I think so. I can move my toes”
“Dude, I can move my toes.”
There is the self-doubt and loneliness he knows. And so much more. Too much to discern.
“What d’you think you’re gonna do, Derek? You’re gonna punch through the wall?”
“Yes, Stiles. I’m gonna punch through the wall.”
“Okay, big guy. Let’s see it. Let’s see that fist. Big old fist...”
But Derek’s sure that that one, that one with Stiles’ smile and playful antagonizing, that one is happiness. He never thought he’d find that one again.
Derek opens his eyes. His claws are no longer digging in his palms and there’s no blood staining him or his sleeve. His hands are bigger and so is the rest of his body. He breathes out.
And god, his head aches and complains, but he’s gotta find Stiles and he’s gotta take him to a safe place.
He looks up from where he’s kneeling, still earth, still grass, still the woods. But there he is, Derek’s anchor. And there it is, his ball and chain.
Just when Derek thought his eyes would stop tearing up.
They are sitting atop the nemeton. Stiles attention in the game they’re playing, the Go board, strategies. But Derek only has to breathe, half a gasp, half a laugh, and Stiles’ head turns to his direction.
Stiles recognizes him, if the raising of his eyebrows is anything to go by. He even gives in a tiny smile and stumbles down the nemeton and to Derek. God, Derek could be miles away from how long Stiles is taking to reach him.
Derek doesn’t know if he’s smiling or what his face is fucking doing. But it’s pulling at his muscles and it hurts.
He manages to stand up when Stiles halts a few steps away from him.
And Derek looks at him. He really looks at him. The same paleness he’s used to, same skinny frame, that insecurity that surfaces on his face from time to time, the glint in his honey-brown eyes and those fucking moles resembling constellations.
Derek makes an ugly sound as he crushes Stiles into his arms. They’re a mess of clutching limbs, unwilling to let go.
Stiles buries his head in Derek’s neck and sighs, ever so softly, a warm rush of air on Derek’s skin.
How long has it been? How long since I last saw him? Too long. Too long.
The nogitsune is watching them from the Nemeton, seemingly from miles away, but not far enough, Derek thinks. He stares right back at it from above Stiles’ shoulder, and flashes his werewolf eyes at it. He doesn’t care if he’s not an alpha anymore, if he looks everything but threatening; he’s still gonna fight.
“We need to get you out here,” Derek says. He turns to check on Stiles, breaking the hug but still keeping him at arm's length.
“Derek. I can’t leave.” Stiles looks back at the nogitsune, an excuse not to meet his eyes. Derek’s hand inevitably slips off his shoulder.
Derek’s losing his footing here and his blood boils just to see that thing simply waiting for Stiles to come back and play with him.
“What do you mean you can’t leave?! Stiles, you’re not safe here!”
This time Stiles meets his eyes and there’s that I-dare-you-to-say-that-again look in his eyes, on his whole face, that Derek missed so much.
“I’m not safe here? You are no safe here!” Stiles blocks his view. Is he- Is here trying to protect Derek? “You shouldn’t be here.” Stiles voice breaks, his eyes tear up. “What are you even doing here?”
Derek seizes him by the collar of his plaid shirt, Stiles hands closing around Derek’s wrists out of instinct, and looks him dead in the eye. “I came here for you, you idiot.”
The nogitsune screeches from afar and Stiles’ eyelashes flutter, the first tears roll down. “You can’t be here, Derek.” Stiles’ Adam’s apple bobs and Derek watches. He looks at him.
What is going on?
“Why not?” Derek whispers.
“He’s gonna kill you.” Stiles squeezes Derek’s wrists. “If I don’t stay here, he’s gonna kill all of you.”
“He won’t.” But Stiles shakes his head, more tears come flooding in and he’s stepping away. “Stiles! Listen to me. He won’t.”
“He will. He told me how, okay? He’s got it all planned out.” Stiles half smiles at him and Derek aches. “And I figure, is better me than you.”
“Don’t say that. Don’t you see? This is exactly what it wants. It wants to break you down so it can use you. You’re too smart to fall into that.”
“Am I?” Stiles eyes are hopeful, but his laugh is all sad. “I can’t tell a dream from reality, Derek.” And he shakes his head again. “This is the only way I can help.” He tries to walk back to the nemeton, back to the game, but Derek won’t let go of his grip.
“I’m not leaving you with him,” Derek growls.
That seems to be the last straw for Stiles. He breaks down and crumbles onto Derek’s chest; his sobs soak Derek to the bone. Stiles shouldn’t be dealing with this.
Derek holds him tight, even if that is the only thing he can do.
“Shhh. Listen to me. That thing’s been lying to you. It’s already killing us, trying to break us down. Isaac and the twins are under his effect and they’re fighting each other. He won’t stop until we all fall apart, but we’re a pack, yeah? We’ll figure it out together.”
Stiles looks up at him, for the first time looking like a seventeen year old boy who’s not trying to guess a million chess movements all at once.
“Do you have a plan?”
Derek nods and the ground shakes beneath their feet for a moment. The nogitsune growls in the distance, probably sensing Stiles’ renewed resistance.
Stiles turns around, gripping Derek’s arms. Derek never thought he’d see him truly scared. But Stiles is not scared. He’s terrified.
“Don’t look at it.” Derek turns him in once more. The fact that they are each other’s anchors goes without saying, but Derek guesses he can take advantage of it now. “C’mon, look at me.”
Derek gently puts their foreheads together. He has to bend a little bit, but it’s perfect. Stiles is captivated, sighing a little. And Derek knows that maybe it is too much, but whatever it takes to make Stiles focus and find his feet, one step at a time, he’ll do it. No remorse.
“That’s it.” The corners of his mouth turn upwards. “Now, close your eyes.”
Stiles frowns, holding onto him. “No,” he mutters.
“I’m here, Stiles. I’m not leaving you.” Derek promises. “Now, close your eyes and think about the safest place in your mind.”
“A safe place?” Stiles huffs, but his eyes close. “That’s ridiculous... Can you be more specific?”
Derek watches him slowly returning to himself. He smiles but keeps an ear out for the nogitsune, the creature rasping out Stiles’ name, his clumsy legs dragging him closer to them.
“Sure. Somewhere no one has been,” Derek supplies, letting his own eyelids close. “Somewhere only you know about. Some part of you that you haven’t given up yet. Somewhere it can’t go in.”
Stiles doesn’t say anything and when after a considerable time, nothing happens, Derek cracks one eye open.
Stiles’ eyes had never look quite so sad.
“STILES!” The nogitsune is right behind him, but Stiles isn't even fazed. He just closes his eyes once again and-
All light, all ground has disappeared and gravity too, it seems. But they’re falling, and Stiles is slipping from him. Derek desperately reaches for him, to no avail.
He resurfaces and that’s when he realizes he had been holding his breath and squeezing his eyes shut all along. They’re not in some type of void. They’re underwater.
In a swimming pool, to be clear, and not an endless one. Stiles sank to the bottom of it, eight feet away. Derek is quick to swim down to get him.
He brings them both up to the surface. Stiles gasp for breath and he seems okay, but hell if Derek is going to let him go anytime soon.
“Hey, you good?”
Stiles has his eyes open, but he doesn’t answer. His limbs remain unmoving, which is not common in him at all, but the things is, Stiles isn’t choosing not to move them, he can’t move them. His head keeps sliding to the side, so Derek is careful to let it rest against his.
Next thing he picks up on is their clothing. Specially Stiles’. That red sportswear set looks all to familiar. And wait! Derek might be a little out of it, but he could swear that Stiles’ had already grown out his buzzcut a moment ago.
An ugly, mocking laughter startles Derek.
There it is. That fucking monster. Crouching at one side on the hard floor.
A hiss comes from the other side of the swimming pool and- That can’t be.
That’s Jackson. That’s Jackson in his kanima form, trying to keep them inside.
If this is Stiles’ idea of safe, then…
“Stiles?” He asks.
“It’s okay,” Stiles says, somewhere hidden in Derek’s neck. “I promise. He can’t reach us here.” There’s something so utterly wrong about the way his voice breaks.
Derek’s foot hits something and the water is clear enough to identify Stiles’ old phone, dead at the bottom of the pool. And is that Erica lying unconscious beside the benches?
They’re not in some random school swimming pool memory Stiles brought up last-minute. They’re in that specific night. In that two-hour long loop Derek sometimes dreams about.
Stiles sniffs and Derek pushes their foreheads together again so he can look at him.
They’re both dripping wet, but those definitely are tears.
Stiles looks up at him, face red and eyes more honey-brown than ever. “I’m sorry,” he says, but it rips a sob out of him and he can’t stop saying it. “I’m sorry, I’m sorry, I’m sorry.”
“Shh, it’s okay, Stiles.” Derek gives his forehead a quick kiss, trying to keep them upright underwa-
Wait, didn’t the water used to reach his chin? Now it’s down his collarbones. He wonders if Stiles noticed too.
“Hey, listen to me. Stiles.” But he’s not here. He’s thinking about something else, small in Derek’s arms.
Once again Derek regrets all his life choices. If it weren’t for him Stiles wouldn’t even be suffering through all of this. His life wouldn’t be in danger.
They can’t slip from the other now that they found a balance. Derek refuses.
“Stiles. Please, look at me.”
“He sounds just like him, doesn’t he, Stiles?”
What the hell?
“What?” Stiles asks and Derek can see it in his face, this could be last straw.
“C’mon on, now. Do you really think that he’s real? That he’s your Derek.” The nogitsune breaks into yet another fit of laughter, circling the swimming pool, all lazy demeanor.
The water is now down to their chests.
“Stiles, don’t listen to him,” Derek begs.
Stiles lets out a sudden maniacal chuckle. “You’re a fucking son of a bitch,” he says, staring right into Derek’s eyes, but Derek knows he’s not talking to him. “I should’ve seen it coming,” he whispers.
Derek shakes his head. “I’m here,” he mouths.
“Aye, don’t be mad. You know that the Derek would never come here for you.”
“SHUT UP!” Derek growls at the ugly creature. He turns back to him. “Stiles-”
“Let go of me,” Stiles hisses with a disgusted turn of his lips. His arms shove Derek back half a step, awakening.
“No, Stiles. It’s me! You have to listen to me. This is another one of its tricks.”
“Please,” Stiles sobs again, his hands covering his face. “Let me go.”
“This is what it does.” Stiles looks up at him like he wants to believe him. His shaky hands move to rest on Derek collarbones, slow and tentative. “I hate that this motherfucker knows exactly how to play games with your mind,” he whispers and Stiles’ bottom lip quivers.
“You can have this, you know?” The nogitsune calls out, recapturing Stiles’ attention. “I can give you all your friends. All your family.” It shows its horrendous teeth. Stiles gulps. “All you have to do is let me in.”
Stiles stares into the distance with such a longing. It breaks Derek’s heart.
“No.” Derek shakes Stiles, the boy is so torn apart, Derek doesn’t know how to make this easier for him.
The water is running out and they don’t have much time before it empties out and that monster can step in.
“I’m here. I’m here, Stiles. Yeah? I came here for you.”
“Let me in,” the nogitsune sing songs. “Let me in.”
Derek doesn’t know what to do, ‘cause Stiles is looking at him with a dying flame in his eyes. Looking at him like he’s waiting for Derek to say something that might make him believe him, that might set him free.
And then- That’s it!
“It’s never been here.” Derek can’t help but smile. “Right? You never let him have this.”
Stiles lets that sink in. Releasing all the air he’s been holding and despite everything, he gives Derek a tiny smile, shaking his head. “Never,” he says.
The soft white lights lower and lower, until all that’s left of it illuminates only the two of them. The nogitsune’s been shut down, not even able to scream one last time after Stiles came to the conclusion. There was only the burbling of the water.
“That thing doesn’t know what happened here. What we said.” Derek breathes Stiles in; woody, fresh and sweet.
“No.” Stiles slips his weakened arms around Derek’s waist and leans into him. Like he’s ready to crumble and maybe reborn.
“Would you just trust me this once?” Derek echoes back at him, treacherous tears filling his eyes.
Stiles lets out a watery laugh and looks up at him, nodding.
Derek reaches a hand up to Stiles cheek and reminds himself to breathe before he guides Stiles’ lips to his; noses pressing, mouths sliding, limbs colliding and then disappearing.
“Come back to me,” Derek hears himself whispering.
No matter what they lost, what they could still lose in the fight, they would always have this warm safe place. They would always hold onto their lifeline.