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It's the unpredictability that kills him. That there's no way to tell when it will happen. Good days and bad days, it doesn't seem to matter; he can't pin point any triggers. They're not as frequent as they used to be but still present somehow. Slick and cloying under his skin.

He doesn't scream. Hasn't screamed for years, learned to stuff his fist inside his mouth or cover his face with a pillow. It's a tricky thing, because he's drowning. He's drowning. Knowing he’s awake and no longer seeing her face doesn’t make any difference. His grey t-shirt is blotchy black with sweat, face wet with tears. Blue and yellow spots blink across his eyes. His blood is coursing in his ears, heart racing from shooting straight up in bed. It's like standing by the ocean, and he can't hear anything but a furious, seething froth, wave upon wave. His teeth grind down hard against his knuckles, trying to cut off the whisper that still spills out everywhere.

"Oh god."

There's bile creeping up his throat and not enough air in the universe. He chokes and tries to push down against it, clear some room to breathe inside the pain and panic. He needs a constant, something to anchor himself to. It’s a long way back up and he doesn’t want to slip any further down. He’s deeper than he’s been in a while. The tears won't stop and he gasps and moans against the yearning that's swelling up inside him; so futile and stupid, childish, and yet,

"I want my mom."

Stiles buries his face in his hands and tries to keep the sobs as quiet as possible. They rack his ribcage and he can’t stop shivering. His arms and legs cramp up over and over again. Everywhere is wet and the sheets and his clothes stick to his skin.

It’s real and he wants it to be a dream. He wants his mom to be in the room down the hall. For her to hug him and run her fingers through his hair. He wants to hear her voice again. And of course the memories of the final week in hospital shuffles to the front of his mind. When she was too weak to speak. When her breathing was just one faint wheeze after another. Waves break over him, sadness, pain, loss and he knows he won’t stop crying now. All he can do is try and focus on breathing, and try not to hyperventilate.

The scrape of his window should startle him, or make him freeze. Maybe if he had an ounce of energy left. The wind chills the tears running down his cheeks before the window slides shut. He doesn’t look up, doesn’t pull his hands away from his face. A murderer wouldn’t have closed the window behind them. He’s too tired to move, or speak. Once the footsteps start towards his bed, he recognizes who it is anyway. Derek freaking Hale is in his bedroom. It’s times like these Stiles knows for sure that Karma hates his guts and keeps his account in permanent arrears. He waits for humiliation and embarrassment to join the panic party in his stomach but surprisingly feels nothing. And maybe that’s it. It simply can’t get worse. After all, the worst has already happened. Effectively, he’s only got room for his mom right now and this overwhelming, suffocating sadness. Small favours.

There’s a soft rustle as Derek shifts out of his jacket and then pulls off his shoes on the carpet. His bed dips and Derek is suddenly there. Smelling of pine and moss and leather. Derek settles down, not too close but touching and then doesn’t budge. Doesn’t move a muscle for the next ten minutes. Stiles is still crying, his shoulders shaking. Too empty of emotions other than fear, pain and sorrow to care. For what seems like forever, it’s almost like he’s still alone. But only just.

Derek is breathing deeply beside him, in and out. It’s making Derek’s arm move against his. It’s not subtle and Stiles realises that it’s not meant to be. Derek breathes in, holds the air inside for two seconds and then lets it out again slowly. Stiles copies. At first, his inhale is choppy and he can’t hold it in, lets it all out in a rush. Head cradled in his hands, the air tumbles through his fingers as some of the sadness, bit by bit, dulls and fades into the background. One breath, two breaths, fifteen, twenty two. Counting helps. So does keeping things simple, concrete:

The surfboard is white. The lamp is blue. The drawers are black.

He loses track of time and slowly starts to ease up.

My lacrosse jersey number is 24. My favourite Star Trek captain is Kathryn Janeway.

His hands drop from his face and he leans back against the headboard.

Thirty days hath September, April, June and November.

The screaming in his head and the stabbing in his chest wanes off. His eyes clear up and he can hear the wind along the side of the house. The sheets are still sticking a bit but he’s too tried to care. Derek still breathes with him. He doesn’t move or speak but just sits there, solid along Stiles’ side. Stiles sighs like he’s just straggled across the finish line of a marathon.

“Crying fucking sucks.”

As do panic attacks. And nightmares. Cancer. Chemotherapy. Hospital beds and cemeteries. But mostly cancer. He breathes in deeply and catches the faint smell of ash that has settled around Derek permanently. Arson makes the list as well.

He’s exhausted.

“I’m gonna sleep now.”

His voice is hoarse and scratchy. Too raw, like everything else. Derek doesn’t answer and doesn't move. Stiles’ eyes fall shut, his head tilting sideways. It’s quiet but not too quiet, Derek’s breathing and the wind outside filling up the silence. The warmth of Derek’s arm along his makes the darkness a bit less overpowering, less stifling. He leans back and breathes; focuses on the constant, on the anchor. 

Two hours after Stiles falls asleep, head drooping against Derek’s shoulder, Derek carefully manoeuvres himself off the bed. He hovers briefly over Stiles, eyes flitting from the slow rise and fall of his chest to his face. Turning towards the window, Derek moves silently across the floor and makes for the latch. And then he stops.

The picture frame on the bookshelf, pushed far up against the back. He’s never paid enough attention to notice it before.

With one glance on Stiles’ face, he reaches in and picks it up.

Their eyes are the same, as is the tilt of their mouths.