It's Stiles' first day back at school and he's fucking terrified. The cover story is sound, he knows (he was kidnapped and spent the last few weeks recovering and learning how to cope with the subsequent PTSD; only half a lie, really) but it's still nerve-wracking. Some of the kids in his school had relatives in the hospital. Some of the kids in his school were in the hospital. He's not entirely sure he's ready to cope with that.
"I can still drive you back to the house," Isaac says quietly.
They're sitting in his newish Toyota in the parking lot. They arrived fifteen minutes early for this very purpose; Derek was incredibly insistent that Stiles be given every possible opportunity to back out and spend a few more days at home. Isaac really does have time to drop Stiles off at his own house and still make it back to the school on time. Stiles still isn't allowed to drive yet (the flashbacks are slightly better but it's nowhere near safe for him to be operating a two-ton piece of heavy machinery at high speeds yet), but he draws the line at his boyfriend or, god forbid, his father, dropping him off at school every day for the forseeable future. The compromise is Isaac. Derek will cover his gas bill and he's responsible for getting Stiles to and from school five days a week.
This week starts today, and damn the panic attacks. Stiles shakes his head at Isaac. "I'm good."
The other boy looks at him warily. "Are you sure--"
"I'm good." He's so very not good. The whispers start when he walks in the doors.
"The poor Sheriff."
"Why the hell is he walking in with Lahey?"
Stiles does his best to tune it all out. He has enough voices in his head without adding teenage rumors to the party, thanks. He focuses instead on the grey tiles that he knows are really a rather nasty shade of orange and thanks every god he can think of (including the ones that don't exist) that he can't see the damned color.
Isaac seems to be doing marginally better at tuning out people's idiocy; Stiles suspects that that has a lot to do with his years of experience doing just that. He does look over when he hears Stiles' heart rate increase in panic, but he says nothing when Stiles manages to stomp down his freakout before it happens.
They don't have first period together. Actually, Stiles has a lot of classes alone-- that is, without the pack. His only saving grace is Isaac in second period Physics. He has Lydia in a few APs, but she can't even look him in the eye anymore. Then he's pretty sure he has Scott for music appreciation, but he can't look Scott in the eye. Not after what They--
Nope. Not right now. He's one hundred percent free to freak the fuck out after school is over and he's safely back in the Toyota. Right now he's in first period precalculus and half the class isn't even seated yet.
I've just gotta get through the next sixish hours without making too much of a scene. Piece of cake, right? Riiiight. I can't even make six minutes. Maybe Derek would come-- nope. I refuse. Not gonna happen. Hiding never does a damn bit of good.
He barely makes it through first period without throwing up (total lie; he does, a little. Just in his mouth) and the teacher for his second period-- general physics, because he didn't feel like taking AP Biology this year --takes one look at him and says, "You need to use the bathroom, right Stiles?"
"Huh? I don't--"
"No, it's fine, go right ahead," he says with a meaningful look.
Stiles takes the unspoken you look like shit, kid and all but runs out of the room. He bolts into the bathroom, banging his shoulder on the doorframe. He hardly hears the stall door slam before he's fumbling out his phone. It takes him four tries to get the damn thing unlocked, but Derek's number is the top of his speed dial list.
It only rings once. "Stiles?"
"Hey, hey, it's okay. Listen to me Stiles. You're okay. You're okay, right?" Derek's voice has taken on the calming tone it always does when Stiles freaks out like this.
"Can't-- Can't breathe." Something is pressing on his chest, crushing his lungs, pressing all the air out of his body. It's impossible for him to inhale effectively. His lungs ache, scream for air he can't provide. We only provide pain. We thrive on it. Feed on it.
"Okay. Okay. Remember how you handle this?"
Stiles tries to sift through the fog and disarray and whispers in his head. Shadows. Void. We are Void. "Uh..."
"What do you do when you can't breathe, Stiles?" It's that same soothing tone of voice that pulls him back to himself just enough to find the answer Derek is looking for.
"Th--Three. Count to three."
"Good," Derek praises him.
In, 1, 2, 3, out, 1, 2, 3. In, 1, 2, 3, out, 1, 2, 3. In, 1, 2, 3, out, 1, 2, 3. Derek coaches his breathing until he gets Stiles through the worst of his panic attack. When he finally gets it under control, he risks a glance at the clock on his screen. It's only been about ten minutes, thankfully.
"I'm... I'm good, I think." He finally says. The fog has mostly cleared and the screaming in his head has mellowed out to a few quiet whispers in the back of his mind.
Derek's voice doesn't change; if Stiles is 100% honest, he's sure it won't change for a few more minutes at least. "Okay. Do you want me to come pick you up?"
Stiles shakes his head a little before realizing that duh, Derek can't see him. "Maybe... Maybe during lunch? If I left right now people would notice."
He's aware enough to know that that whole six-hours thing isn't going to happen today. His stomach is churning and he's indescribably glad he decided against breakfast this morning; if he had, he's certain that it wouldn't be in his stomach anymore.
"Alright. Lunch then. Do you want me to bring you anything?"
Curly fries. It's on the tip of his tongue, waiting to be said, but he swallows it down. The thought of greasy fried potato makes the bile rise in his throat again. But he knows Derek isn't really asking a question; if Stiles says no, he'll just pester him into getting something later. The only thing that doesn't sound like it'll wreck him right now is...
"Can you grab a smoothie for me? Pineapple?" Derek makes an affirmative noise. "Thanks. I guess I should..."
"Only if you're sure you're okay." Stiles can see his furrowed eyebrows in his head, knowing the expression Derek is wearing. It makes him almost unbearably sad that he's the cause of all this worry, that he's become an even greater burden than he was in the first place.
"I'm fine." He makes sure not to let his voice waver, even though he's very aware of how fragile he sounds right now. "I'll see you in an hour, okay?"
Derek hesitates, as expected. "Okay."
When they hang up, there's a funny taste in Stiles' mouth: sweetsouracid. Pain. It's the taste of pain. Burning and unbearably sweet and enough to make him vomit stomach acid into the school toilet. He hates remembering this, hates the way that even now, They enjoy it to some extent. Hates that They love the taste. Loves that he hates it. His arm itches and he scratches, but it doesn't go away. Stiles wipes off his mouth and takes a few calming breaths to steady himself. He flushes the toilet, rinses his mouth out with water from the sink, and walks back to Physics.
People stare when he walks in, but he ignores it and sits next to Isaac. He pays attention and doesn't take notes, absorbing the information through sheer force of will (because physics is just math and math is logical and is the one thing that makes sense nowadays). He doesn't even realize he's scratching his arm until class is almost over. Isaac pulls his hand away from the skin and sets it on the desk without a word before continuing his notes. They don't talk about it. Not even when Stiles notices the reddened welts of skin over the veins on his wrist. Not even when Isaac rubs his own wrist absently, remembering a phantom pain.
They just don't talk about it.
Derek is waiting for him in the office, pineapple smoothie in hand. If he smells the acid on Stiles' breath from when he puked earlier he doesn't show it; if he glances at the marks on his wrists, Stiles chooses to ignore it.
"You're signed out. Let's go," is all he says.
For that and everything else, Stiles is quietly, eternally grateful. It's weird, because Stiles knows he's never been quiet about much of anything. You do something nice for him, you get applauded. Maybe you get cookies. Or a favor. Point is, there's always something. But he knows Derek better than that. Even when he was still being an asshole, even when they didn't know they were soulmates, Stiles knew better than to try and bring Derek Hale cookies or favors or sarcastic slow clapping. Beyond having a basic sense of self-preservation (Yes, it's there. Just because it's usually asleep doesn't mean it's not there; bringing Derek Hale cookies is a surefire way to get yourself killed unless he knows you well enough), Derek has never like material affection. If you show him what you're feeling, it's much better than if you say it or announce it to the world with a batch of cookies.
Wow, maybe he's hungrier than he thought. He's thinking about cookies a lot wait nope. Just threw up a little in his mouth. No chocolate or refined sugar right now; for that matter, he can't remember the last unhealthy thing he ate.
Stiles sucks on his smoothie pensively, thinking back. He hasn't had any unhealthy food, not really. He's been eating whatever he makes for his dad, out of sheer laziness, he thought originally. Now, looking back, he realizes that it's pretty much just because he didn't want his usual stuff. Curly fries and apples pies lost their appeal around the time he lost his immortality. Once We turned back into me, he corrects himself. I never had immortality. It was all Ours.
They've only been in the car ten minutes before his straw makes that gross sucking noise and he realizes his cup is empty. Stiles looks down in surprise, but Derek barely glances over before his eyes settle back onto the road. "Want another one?"
That sounds... really good, actually. "Yeah."
"Thought so. There's one in my fridge."
Stiles reaches unconsciously for Derek's hand and interlocks their fingers so he can stare at the yellow goop at the bottom of his cup. Yellow and green are his comfort colors: he can see it without touching Derek, because Derek was a born beta. He's always had yellow. He's always had green. But sometimes, when it all gets to be a little too much, he just holds on. He watches his colors and holds Derek's hand and the rumors and the anxiety... It doesn't melt away magically but it backs off for a while when Derek rubs tiny circles into his knuckle and just drives. There's no talking. No pretending. No fear. Stiles doesn't speak because there's nothing for him to hide. He doesn't have to act like he's fine for Derek, doesn't have to be normal Stiles who talks and laughs and talks and sasses the world and fucking talks. Derek's hand is in his and it's quiet and there's yellow to look at instead of orange and the sweetsouracidpain taste has been washed out of his mouth, replaced for the moment with pineapple and ice. His wrist starts to sting a little and he makes a mental note to get that fixed up later on.
He's not acting. He's not talking. Right now, he just is.