So, apparently there are witches too. Stiles needs to start making a list of all the supernatural creatures that don't exist, and therefore won't show up to try and kill him and his friends. He thinks it would be save time. Or at the very least maybe he could make a diagram to consult when someone went missing, or a body showed up. Because really, Witches?
These are not good witches, all the young adult novels are spreading vicious lies. No, these are apparently the 'steal-your-life-force and cut you away from your body, then leave you in the hospital in a coma to die,' witches. Disturbingly, it turns out they've been doing it for a while. They probably would have kept right on doing it, if Scott hadn't stumbled across one of their victims while waiting for his mom, and then dragged Derek into it. Derek, not known for his sparkling personality and friend-making skills, had immediately threatened one of them. So when he doesn't check in - or at the very least show up in the distance wearing his stalker face - Scott starts panicking, and Stiles just knows. He knows that something's happened. He knows that Derek has been skinned, or made into some sort of fetish, or hopefully something less gross, because Derek is very annoying but he doesn't deserve to be a fetish - and yeah, ok, that sounds completely wrong even inside his own head.
Scott hones his panic into stubbornness, something he's always been pretty good at, to be fair. And because Stiles isn't going to let him go off anywhere on his own, especially when there are evil witches possibly out for werewolf blood, they end up driving out to the Hale house. Which is the last place they haven't checked. Honestly Stiles feels kind of stupid for not thinking to check it first. All the creepy things happen at the Hale house.
Derek is there. Stiles is actually surprised, he doesn't know why he's so surprised, because Derek can't seem to leave this place alone, or have it torn down, or at least fix some of the walls so the animals can't get in and make nests in his family heirlooms. Derek's lying in the sooty mess of the living room, on the floor, like he'd just randomly decided to sleep wherever he fell. Stiles goes to his knees and lays a hand against the side of Derek's face, then his neck. He's cold, he's not dead but he's not exactly alive either, just like the others. His body is a vacant lot.
"You said this wouldn't happen," Scott says, nudging in at his back. As if there had ever been any chance of Derek listening to either of them, of not doing whatever the hell he liked anyway. You'd think for someone who was a Beta his whole life he'd be better at taking direction.
"Excuse me for thinking that Derek was smart enough to take an evil witch's warning to 'stay away from them,' seriously. You heard that warning right, that was a sincere warning."
"What are we going to do?" Scott drops to his knees beside him with a thud, he probably barely even feels it.
"We couldn't do anything for the others," Stiles reminds him. "They were gone. It's not like a coma, the body's empty." He gestures, to indicate that Derek is not at home - in his home.
"The others weren't werewolves, they couldn't heal," Scott says, and he looks like he's on the verge of poking Derek to see why that wasn't working right now. Not that that isn't an amusing thought, the poking Derek when he didn't know anything about it, kind of inappropriate, but still funny. Really not the time though. "There must be something. We can't just let him die."
Stiles stares at Scott, because, yeah, it's awful, but Derek is pretty much dead already, and he doesn't know what Scott wants him to say.
"Stiles." Scott says his name like he's not doing anything to help on purpose. Stiles doesn't know what the hell that's about, because he has no idea at all how to get Derek back. What does Scott expect him to do?
"I don't know how to fix this," Stiles explains, gesturing furiously again at where Derek is clearly not around to argue back, for a change. "There's no Derek in there. I don't even know what would happen if we managed to wake him up without the bits that were Derek in there. Would we get a zombie, some sort of emotionless robot, a feral werewolf monster? Because forgive me for not wanting to inflict a feral, werewolf, zombie monster on our home town."
"You have to do something," Scott insists.
Which is insane, Stiles has no idea why he seems to be suffering under the delusion that Stiles can fix everything. But that's what they do, isn't it? Scott finds a problem and Stiles works out how to solve it. It's what he's good at, it's what he's for. Stiles is the one who fixes things, and for some reason Scott tends to believe that with a sort of fervent child-like certainty, that Stiles is incapable of disappointing, no matter how dangerous things turn out to be. There is a problem and Stiles works out how to fix it.
So Stiles does.
The first thing he does is steal one of their books.
Which is just the latest in a long line of stupid things he's done for Scott, or Derek, and he's absolutely certain it won't be the last. But this one feels especially dangerous and stupid. The book's old and grubby, a collection of brown leather and stiff pages. It smells like pennies, and vanilla, and dirt, like it'd been buried underground for years. Possibly nestled against some dead witch's boobs.
Scott's staring at him from where he's knelt by Derek's body. They'd hauled him up on the sooty couch, put a pillow under his head, but other than that he looks the same. Maybe dustier. Stiles dumps the book next to him on the floorboards. It takes Stiles a second to realise that Scott's staring has a sort of impatience to it.
"Forgive me for not immediately knowing how to use the creepy spell book, Scott." He's seriously tempted to hit him with it. "It doesn't exactly have a helpful index."
"Most of it's in English," Scott says carefully, prising the pages open, some of them are stuck together, and Stiles doesn't want to read anything into that. He really just doesn't want to read any of it full stop. But he's turning the pages anyway, because there is no power on this earth that could keep him from discovering things he'd probably wish he didn't know later.
"But some of it's not, some of it rhymes. Seriously, I don't want to trust my life to anything that rhymes, do you?"
Scott pulls a face that seems to agree. He's so glad they at least seem to be on the same page here.
"There, what's that?"
Stiles smacks Scott's poking fingers out of the way. But he's already rifling back a page, tugging the book closer.
"It says you can call people to you," Scott manages to get his fingers back, to poke the part he was reading.
"By being bound to them," Stiles says, because he reads ahead even if Scott doesn't. "That doesn't sound the slightest bit disturbing to you? Besides, he's not sleeping, or missing, he's gone. We have to, like - go fishing for his soul or something, and God, that sounds amazingly stupid out loud."
"It says they follow you, look. It'll work, it's the only thing that's even close so far."
Stiles throws Scott the look, the look that says 'are you really going to do this without even a few moments to consider if it's a bad idea? This is why we're friends, so I can veto crazy shit like this.' But Scott apparently isn't listening to his face, already spreading his palms on the pages, so Stiles can't turn them any more.
Stiles grits his teeth.
"Dude, I don't want to be bound to Derek," he says flatly. "You be bound to Derek."
Scott sighs, like they're arguing over the last slice of pizza.
"Though you do realise we're not witches, there's a strong possibility absolutely nothing will happen. Or we'll turn inside out, something horrible and permanent to punish us for trifling with things we don't understand."
"No one's turning inside out," Scott protests - when he has no way to know that for sure - and tugs the book half onto his lap. "Just tell me what we need."
When Scott tries to start the spell - and honestly Stiles even feels silly calling it a spell - exactly nothing happens. The candles don't light, the weird powder they stole from the witch girl's locker sits in a big heap, and Scott looks thoroughly dejected.
"Ok, we must have done something wrong." Stiles flips through the book, flips back, finds a series of handwritten notes at the back. "Supernatural creature - shit, you're a supernatural creature now, of course you are. Sorry dude, you can't do magic."
Scott looks genuinely bummed that he doesn't get to mess with otherworldly forces. Which, under other circumstances, Stiles would definitely call him out on. But the horrible sinking sensation Stiles had been feeling pretty much reaches bottom then. Werewolves can't do magic. So it looks like Stiles is on point for this one. Yeah, he knows exactly which position the fickle finger of fate is in right now.
They test it this time, just to see if Stiles can light one of the candles. The long curl of flame that immediately unfolds into existence between his fingers makes him swear, and Scott gets that determined look on his face.
There's a lot of blood involved, which Stiles is not happy about giving up. Scott takes Derek's shirt off, and there's a lot of awkward fingerpainting and Stiles briefly worries that Scott's fingerpainted drawing of a bird is so awful that the whole thing won't work. They're not doing this again, because Stiles is not made entirely of blood - or well not entirely, not enough that he can go sharing it around at will. For Derek of all people. Derek does not have unlimited access to any of his bodily fluids - and he's just going to pretend that didn't sound as bad as it did.
"Are you sure you want to do this?" Scott asks, quiet all of a sudden, as if he's finally realising this isn't going to be a case of just winging it. That this might actually be a big deal.
Stiles weighs up Derek being lost in some horrible void forever, against offering himself up like some sort human life preserver and hoping nothing will go wrong.
What's the worst that could happen?
"Yes." Stiles continues the grand traditions of making decisions on the spur of the moment that will probably fuck up his life, and the lives of everyone he's ever met. Though this one is definitely all Derek's fault. There's no way this could possibly not come back to bite him in the ass, in any way.
Empathy, the book said. The cost was empathy.
Which didn't sound so bad.
Especially not when Derek wakes up.
Scott spends the next four days following Stiles around, with a guilty look on his face, like he'd made Stiles do it. But, honestly, Stiles is perfectly capable of making his own stupid decisions, thank you very much. Scott has enough of his own to feel guilty about. Besides he's fine, he's ok, it's not like Stiles's skin is going to peel off to reveal he's actually Derek underneath - which is a genuinely horrible mental image that he's immediately going to pretend he never imagined. He feels fine, he feels the same as he's always felt. He's not possessed by demons, or being stalked by monsters from beyond the - wherever they come from - or really anything like that.
Derek had disappeared into the night, like werewolf!Batman, after their awkward and only barely truthful explanation. Stiles knows that Scott wants to explain what happened to him. He can tell by the conflicted, squinty face he keeps making when he thinks Stiles isn't looking. But Derek doesn't need to know. The guy's messed up enough without letting him know that he owes Stiles again. That he maybe more than owes him, but when Stiles thinks of it like that, the whole thing feels skeevy and non-consensual, which is another reason Stiles isn't in any great hurry to spill the beans. Skeevy, non-consensual soul-bonding. Yes, Derek is clearly going to be absolutely fine with that, and will in no way try to puncture any of Stiles's vulnerable skin for it.
He eventually says as much to Scott, who kind of sees his point. Which is a relief, because Stiles likes it here, and he'd hate to have to move five thousand miles away and change his name.
Stiles almost forgets about it.
He has school, and Scott's relationship drama, and the threat of more monsters and hunters on the horizon. Oh, and his inability to never actually get into a game - though there is the very special groove he's worn on the bench. That has to count for something, right? He hasn't developed any obvious superpowers from his ill-advised Sabrina moment, like the ability to read Derek's mind (personally he suspects the ability to read Derek's mind would suck beyond all imagining, and probably wouldn't be all that useful. It would probably just be just a constant, low simmer of gloom and anger, without much in the way of words.)
So, yeah, he almost forgets about it.
Until he stomps downstairs at eleven at night, to get another drink from the fridge. One moment he's staring into the misty, skin-tightening coldness, and the next he's on the floor.
It feels like someone is tearing his insides out, like there are claws digging in through the muscle and cutting him apart. He has half a second to be relieved that his dad isn't home - because he's on the kitchen floor making noises like he's dying - and then it hurts too much to think at all. He thinks he might actually be dying, and then he's certain of it, and he's choking in every breath, trying to scream through his teeth, trying to do something -
- and then he's face-down on the cold tiles, body twitching, as pain twists and shifts and becomes something else entirely. This new sensation is better than the first, but still pretty horrible. It's like being stitched together, a burning hot rasp of fire, that feels like his muscles are being stretched to breaking point. Five minutes tick by, and it feels like an eternity.
And then it's gone, it's just gone and Stiles is laying on the floor, in sweat-soaked clothes, shivering and twitching, like he's been electrocuted.
He's no expert but he's pretty sure that's what it feels like to get your stomach clawed open, and then heal the damage. Enhanced by the awesome power of magic.
Yeah, it's officially become the worst decision Stiles has ever made.
The body does that thing - where it never lets you remember exactly what it feels like to hurt so much you think you'll die. You remember you were in pain, but you can't call up the skin-peeling horror of it. You remember that it hurt, and you remember where, but not exactly how.
It's a lot like that.
"You can what?" Scott's leaning over the table in the cafeteria, in a way that he probably thinks is stealthy. It's not stealthy, it's neither stealthy nor quiet. Most people are looking, and that kind of defeats the purpose of stealthiness.
Stiles shoves him back into his seat.
"I think I'm feeling it when Derek gets hurt, all of it, every excruciating detail," Stiles says through his teeth. He punches his straw into his juice. "And I'm really not enjoying it so far."
Scott looks horrified, and Stiles honestly doesn't know whether to find that comforting or not.
"What, how did you - how do you even know that?"
"Because he got clawed open last night, and I had to go through it too."
Scott looks like he wants to push all Stiles clothes out of the way, to see if he's broken. Which Stiles is not going to let him do, even if they weren't in public he probably wouldn't let him do that, because he's not five.
"Not physically," Stiles says with a jerk of his head. "Nothing happened to me, I just felt it, all of it, the healing too."
Scott looks like he wants to ask a question but isn't sure how to phrase it.
"Sort of a tingling, burning, stretching sensation?" Stiles guesses.
Scott nods, then swears, then looks appropriately worried for his situation.
"This is bad."
"No kidding," Stiles hisses, because they haven't even known Derek a year, and he's already almost died at least four times. This is the very definition of bad.
"We have to tell him," Scott says flatly.
Stiles shakes his head so violently that there's a genuine danger of him ripping something vital.
"No, we absolutely do not have to tell him. Under no circumstances are we going to tell Derek."
"This is insane, Stiles. This is you. If he does something stupid -"
"And what's he going to do if we do tell him, huh? You think him worrying about my delicate feelings isn't going to be a huge distraction from whatever's trying to kill us this week. Did you forget what got us into this in the first place? Witches, Scott, freakin' witches. Not to mention the fact that every time we relax something new and disturbing crawls out of the woodwork and tries to eat our faces off. Excuse me if I'd rather have Derek at one hundred percent, and completely in the dark about our situation."
Stiles knows Scott's faces well enough to recognise the one he's wearing now. This is the one that says he gets what Stiles's is saying, but he still thinks he's right.
"Stiles we can't let him go around - if you can feel it." Scott winces, because he's had some experience with what Derek puts his body through too.
"I'm working on it," Stiles says. Which isn't a lie, he'll start working on it as soon as he finds something useful about what this actually is. Because the stuff he'd managed to find on the internet about soul-bonding so far, was either completely unhelpful, creepy or flat-out mentally disturbing.
Scott looks torn.
"I can handle it, I just need to do some research." Stiles knows that's a magic word, and he feels bad about using it. But at least Scott stops looking like he wants to wrap him in pillows and stash him somewhere safe. Because that's not creepy at all.
"Just be careful."
"I'm not the one who has to be careful," Stiles points out, and Scott frowns so hard that it looks like it hurts. "I know, believe me, I know."
He's so screwed.
Stiles has a plan.
The plan involves being at the same place as Derek at the same time. Derek is a lurker by nature, so Stiles just waits until he looms out of the darkness to talk to Scott.
He sits in the Jeep and affects an air of bored restlessness. Once he's sure neither of them are looking, he carefully jams his keys into the meat of his hand. It hurts, it really, genuinely freakin' hurts, and even with all his manly stoic-ness Derek would feel that right? He'd look at his hand or something. He would acknowledged that he was in terrible pain. Stiles is like eighty percent sure of that.
Great, apparently it only works one way. Stiles doesn't even get the satisfaction of jabbing himself with pins just to annoy Derek. Which - oh my God - he's officially insane if there's any situation where jabbing himself with pins would give him satisfaction.
He rubs the numbness out of his hand, and tries to think of a new plan.
He discovers that he can hold off the worst of it, if he concentrates on thinking about anything else - song lyrics, movie quotes, logic problems. He can still feel it, which sucks. But it doesn't cut his legs out from under him. It leaves it roaring in the background like static. If he stops concentrating on something else, the pain lingers, slivers of glass in every breath.
It doesn't work for the intense pain though. No, that just crashes over his thoughts like an unstoppable wave.
Derek doesn't get sliced open on a daily basis, but there are fights. Stiles knows far too much about what Derek gets up to now. Pieced together between text messages, and Scott, and Isaac, and Erica. Things his own body knows now.
There's the phantom snap of broken ribs the time Derek gets caught by hunters, and then there's the ghoul who nearly bites clean through his shoulder. Not to mention the banshee who takes out both his ear drums. Oh, and the time when Derek gets tasered while Stiles is in chemistry class may go down in history as the most humiliating of his life. But he's coping with it. He's kind of coping with it. It's painful and horrible, and almost impossible to prepare for. Because feeling someone else's pain is a...violating sort of intimacy. But it's amazing what you can get used to if you have to.
Stiles is getting better at bracing himself for it, feeling the strange snap of connection before it starts, and filling his head full of sound and colour and things. It's a talent he doesn't really have to work at, and that's something right? Something. All the while hoping like hell that Derek hasn't decided to get gutted again, or maybe get hit by a truck.
He hates Derek for the way he just doesn't seem to care about himself at all.
Stiles is changing his shirt in his room when he feels the familiar twist that signals they're about to do their twinning thing, and he finds something to grab hold of, tries desperately to think of something sufficiently distracting. Only it's not the same, it's not sharp and quick. It's slow, it's slow and thick and heavy and - oh fuck.
Every thought flies out of his head, because Derek is -
Amplified, his brain thinks helpfully. Stiles's legs are shaking so much he can't stand. He's sliding sideways down the wall, whimpering like a dying animal, and he doesn't know how to fight this, doesn't even want to fight this. His sweaty hands are clenched in his abandoned shirt, breathing in great shuddering inhales while it goes on and on and on.
Stiles wonders whether it's possible to actually die of it. If you can physically just feel so good you fucking die.
No one, no one in the entire world has ever had an orgasm that lasts this long. He thinks he's actually crying, body twitching and shuddering, and he doesn't care because it's amazing and he doesn't even care if he dies like this. The carpet's scratching the bare skin of his chest, the side of his cheek. Sweat damp on his skin where he heaves in every shuddering breath.
And then it slows, ebbs and - he's sprawled out on the floor, shaking, sticky, and breathing like his heart might burst.
Ok, maybe this isn't the absolute worst decision he's ever made.
Stiles knows the secrecy can't last forever, and he has a sinking sensation in his stomach when he finds himself leaning against his locker, trying to breathe through the thump and grate of fire in his chest. It eases, becomes something bearable but doesn't disappear. It stays deep, rattling and unpleasant. He'd never wanted to know what getting shot feels like. But then he's done so many things he didn't want to, since he met Derek.
Derek texts them to meet him in the clinic, and Stiles knows, he just knows that this is going to go badly. He thinks Scott knows it too, sneaking him looks across the seat when they pull up outside, and Scott's looks aren't subtle at all.
"You didn't have to come - "
Stiles shakes his head, but Scott doesn't move, Stiles can tell by his face that he's trying to find words.
"It'll be fine." They can both tell that's a lie. "Come on."
They head inside, and Derek's leaning against one of the silver tables, like he hasn't been shot. Stiles can still feel them while he sits against one of the low counters, while Derek strips his shirt off, even if he couldn't see the dark, bloody streaks. He can feel the bullets, prickling and rolling, and there's a chorus from some shitty song he heard on the radio, going through his head, snapping on repeat over and over, to stop that prickling from turning into splinters of metal, that will roll and roll inside his chest. He almost has a hold on it, staring at the wall, carefully holding it all at arm's length.
But Derek's laying a scalpel down on the slick silver table.
"Cut them out," he snarls, and Scott flinches and looks over at Stiles, and all the blood drains out of his face because, he can't - he can't do this. Oh God.
Scott shakes his head at him.
"I'll heal," Derek snaps, aggressive and impatient because he doesn't understand. He still has no idea.
"Scott, you have to do it." Stiles can hear his mouth forming the words, but there's a strange buzzing in his ears, and he thinks he's shaking just a little. He sort of wants to laugh hysterically. Because this is exactly what his life is all about now, isn't it. Werewolves, and scalpels, and pain.
"Stiles, I can't."
Stiles can't stay in here, he can't be near that. He's already losing his hold on what it feels like now.
He swallows, swallows again, tries to sound casual.
"I'm going to wait outside, ok. You just...do what you have to do."
Scott's fierce expression of worry, and Derek's sharp attention tell him that he's failed at casual and unconcerned, but he's already moving, already hauling his bag back through the doors.
He gets just outside, manages to put a hand on the wall, and then the world throbs, and he thinks, 'no, I'm not ready, I'm not ready.'
He needs to get to his Jeep, if he just has enough time to get to his Jeep -
Someone's slapping Stiles's face, and it hurts. But it's real pain, real, physical flesh-connecting-with-flesh pain.
There's a hand on his chest, holding him down, or possibly anchoring him to the flesh and blood world. Stiles thinks he's grateful either way. Until he realises that it's Derek, and he looks some new and special flavour of pissed off. One that Stiles has never seen before, and he'd thought he was familiar with all of them. Derek's looking at him like he knows.
"You told him," Stiles slurs at Scott. "Not cool."
"You sounded like you were dying," Scott says hoarsely, not apologising at all for that excuse. Though Stiles has to admit, he looks pretty freaked out.
Scott eases Stiles to his feet, holding him when he sways, in a way that might have left him on the floor again, if it wasn't for his super reflexes.
"How do you -" Scott glances at Derek's stiff, awful expression, and then slips himself between them. "How do you feel?"
Stiles coughs, wet and stinging.
"I feel like there's still a bullet in my chest," he complains. "You could at least have carved them all out while I was unconscious."
"You are unbelievably stupid," Derek says, tight like he's restraining himself from doing something violent and terrible.
Scott's the one who takes a step forward though.
"And you don't know the meaning of the word gratitude do you? This is why he didn't want you to know. Remind us not to make any stupid decisions to save your life in the future."
"I don't need your help," Derek grates out.
"He should have left you dead," Scott says, in that fierce, protective way he has. And Stiles can't find it in himself to protest that, because he feels like he just got his chest cut open, and his head is still a little spinny and he's really not up for this right now.
Derek - Derek bites down on whatever the hell he was going to say. Scott has a hand caught round Stiles's elbow, tight and strong, and he knows Scott isn't going to let him slide to the floor. That he'll lead him back to his Jeep and drive him home, no matter what Derek looks like right now. Scott has his back, always, no matter how fucked up their lives get.
Stiles should know better than to think that's the end of it.
Derek's waiting in his room, trying to blend in with the wall, and Stiles drops his bag and tosses his jacket on the bed. He's far too tired for this.
"I didn't know this would happen, ok," he says. "You think I would have done it if I'd known? You think I wanted this. I drag your heavy, ungrateful, miserable ass back from the void of nothingness, and this is what I get out of it? Who would do that, seriously, who?"
Derek's still frowning at him. Stiles was honestly expecting more physical intimidation and shouting. His dad's not here, so Derek would probably even get away with the shouting, worse than shouting - and Stiles isn't entirely sure that's completely off the table, which is an awful thing to not be sure about.
"Have you hurt yourself since it happened?" Derek says instead, creepily intense.
"What - oh." Stiles sighs, because of course Derek would want to know if this was something that would make him weak. "No, I mean, I tried but it only works one way. You didn't feel anything so -"
Derek sighs, like he's being stupid, and he does come forward then, catches Stiles's hand where it's still flailing, and he digs a claw right into his palm and - fuck, there is pain, real pain, and a bright, sudden swell of blood.
"Ow, fucking Jesus, what are you doing?" Stiles tries to jerk away, but he's not getting his hand back, and the wound is deep, and there's probably going to be nerve damage, and stitches and tetanus shots, and he's done nothing to deserve this. He pulls the other arm back and punches Derek, right in the shoulder.
He feels the faint vibrating echo in his own, but it's totally worth it - and then Derek lets him go.
"You asshole." Stiles is holding his bleeding hand, eyes watering. Fuck Derek, seriously, fuck him and everything about him.
"There's a reason people try and bind themselves to werewolves," he says flatly.
Derek opens Stiles's hand.
There's a deep, wet smear of blood, which Derek wipes away with his thumb.
The wound is - it's completely gone.
"Oh, my God, that's - did you know it would do that? Because if you didn't you're a fucking asshole."
Stiles shakes him off, then shakes his hand, which still feels sticky and violated, for all that it's not a mess of pain and crippling wounds any more. He flexes it, but it's completely healed.
"I didn't know, ok, the stupid book just said it would bring you back, and Scott didn't want you to die, and I didn't want you to die. But he couldn't do it, and you know how good I am at sitting around doing nothing. Totally regretting it now though. You don't just go around stabbing the people who save your life."
Derek is human enough to know he should look guilty then, and maybe he's trying. He looks...something? It seems to involve a lot of squinting.
"You wouldn't have been able to do that if you weren't -" Derek shakes his head, leaves that sentence hanging. "You shouldn't have done that to save me," he says instead. "You shouldn't feel like you have to keep saving me." He clenches his teeth, takes a deep breath. "And you should have told me. Why didn't you tell me?"
Stiles glares at him.
"You're not exactly good with accepting help." Stiles flexes his hand again, blood still trailing clean skin, because this is weird.
"I could be," Derek offers. "I could try and be." That sounds suspiciously like some sort of Derek apology.
"You're welcome," Stiles says, grudgingly, because he's really not sure. "Though your life is a nightmare, you realise that?"
Derek just looks at him, and yeah, he probably does. He probably knows exactly how awful his life is. Just for a second Stiles wants to tell him that he's sorry - he's sorry his life is so genuinely awful that the thought of feeling it is unbearable. But Derek is one of those people that just when you start feeling sorry for him, he does something that reminds you how much of a dick he can be.
"Also you stabbed me," Stiles adds, because he's not going to forget that any time soon.
"Sorry," Derek says stiffly.
Holy shit, that was an actual apology. A sincere sounding apology. That shoves Stiles's train of thought off its tracks again. He knows he's probably just staring stupidly now. He makes himself stop, because he knows if he mocks the apology Derek will most likely forget how entirely.
"Yeah, just so you know," Stiles offers, when the silence has gone on too long. It's the first thing that comes out of his mouth. He doesn't even know if it makes sense.
Derek's still staring at him. "You could break it you know," he says eventually.
Stiles looks up from his hand - which he can't stop staring at. Because, spontaneous healing - he'd never got how weird that was before.
"The bond," Derek says it hard, like he's an idiot. "You could break it. You wouldn't have to feel it any more." There's a reluctance there, in every slow word.
"And what would happen to you?" Stiles asks.
Derek just looks at him.
"I don't know," he admits at last. "I'm connected to you now. I don't know what would happen. If everything would just go back to the way it was, or if - " he shrugs, shoulders lifting in a quiet scrunch of leather.
It's right there, in the silence, and the tension. Derek could die. Derek could die, and he's just left it out there, as if Stiles gets to decide that, and just like that Stiles feels awful for him again. Because Derek really is just a disaster of responsibility and misery.
"No," Stiles says slowly. "It's - it's not that bad." Derek could probably hear that lie a mile away. "I can deal with it. We'll deal with it, we've dealt with worse after all. There's always someone trying to kill us, and this is marginally better than that, right?" He's ignoring the heavy feeling in his stomach. This acceptance of it.
Stiles can tell by Derek's face that he's noticed it too.
"I could try and stay away," Derek offers, looking like he's the one taking a bullet for this (even though Stiles would totally feel that too.) "Maybe distance would -"
"Yeah, like that's worked for us before," Stiles points out. "This is your territory, and I live here and you know damn well we're going to end up crashing into each other like we always do. Because I'm in Scott's business, and Scott always ends up in your business - sometimes because you make him, so really you only have yourself to blame for this."
Derek doesn't say anything, but then he doesn't have to.
"We don't even know if it would work. Besides it's not all bad right, I mean, sure, there's the pain, but there's also the -" Stiles shuts his mouth abruptly. Because oh my God, there are times when you really shouldn't let your mouth run away with itself.
"The what?" Derek asks.
"Nothing, I said nothing." Stiles tries for the world's most nonchalant shrug. He suspects he looks like he's trying to do a vertical take-off.
"There's the what?" Derek's a little more insistent about that now.
"The tremendous sense of well-being that comes with helping you guys out," Stiles decides, and reaches forward to smack Derek on the shoulder. Which he does not appreciate, judging by the face Stiles gets in response to it.
But he'll take affronted over suspicious any day of the week.
"Just, seriously dude, take better care of yourself," Stiles tells him, and hopes to God that he listens to this at least. "For me."
Derek gives him a weird look, which seems to involve a lot of confused eyebrows and unhappy mouth. But then he nods, awkwardly - friendly acknowledgment is still rusty on him. Before he hauls himself out the window and just drops like it's nothing.
Hey, Stiles could probably do that now - though he'd almost certainly have to heal the broken bones afterwards, and call him squeamish but he doesn't want to do that unless he absolutely has to.