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All My Struggles Led Me Here

Chapter Text

 

Derek’s knees wobbled and his legs shook as he sat down on his bed. The tightness in his chest had long since become an old friend. At this point, he didn’t even know where his fear and loneliness ended and he began. They were so intrinsically woven into the fibers of his soul, that he didn’t think he’d ever be free of them.

He thought he could do it, thought he could manage to get through the loss of his sister. He thought he could continue to put one foot in front of the other every day the way he had been doing for six years before the police knocked on his door at three in the morning to tell him Laura, his best friend and only surviving family member was gone now, too. However, as he sat there in a crumpled heap on his living room floor, feeling her loss harder than any that came before, he felt something shatter in his chest.

That was two years ago, and everything had spiraled down from there.. He tried, honestly, he did. Each morning, he got up. He showered. He dressed, went to class, went to work. Still, he found no joy in it. It was as though he lived on auto-pilot. His friends, the few he had, he’d slowly pushed away and lost contact with. Now he was totally, and utterly alone with no idea how to get back to the surface.

Today though, on the two year anniversary of Laura’s death, he’d woken abruptly, torn from a vivid nightmare–one of the many that haunted him over the years–where everyone he’d lost, his parents, his siblings, aunt, uncle, first girlfriend, Paige, they’d all turned on him with gaunt and horrific faces and assailed him with words and biting accusations. Their deaths, all their deaths, were his fault. Every.single.one.

He’d tried to go to class, but only made it two steps out of his front door, before his world closed in on him. His vision, black tinged around the edges, grew hazy as spots danced across sight. Muffled sounds disoriented him, and a sensation like a million needles forcing their way into his skin stole his breath. Dangerously woozy, he stumbled back into his apartment and slammed the door. How he had the sense to lock it behind him (all four locks), he couldn’t say.

Then, the tears started, forcing themselves from his eyes, and they hadn’t stopped since.

Death and grief, were funny sorts of things, with the way they could lie dormant for weeks, and then all of a sudden bombard you. That’s the way it had been before Laura died. Every once in awhile, he’d feel that familiar pang of sadness, but he could push through it.

Six months after she died, though, it was like he saw death everywhere. In the advertisements on the subway, on the news, the label of his beer bottle, even standing right behind him in as he looked in the mirror. Some days, most days, if he was being honest, it was like the Grim Reaper followed him around, whispering in his ear subtle reminders not to let anyone get close, because he’d just take them away.

Usually, he knew none of it was real; he internalized it all the same. Some days, though, some days, it was though he was right there. He could smell the acrid smoke of his childhood home, as most of his family burned alive. Those days, he could feel the heat, saw phantom flames, and he was right back there on his front lawn, gasping for air, clutching to the grass and sobbing because he wasn’t able to save anyone. Laura was still beside him sobbing. The pain of the burns on his lower arms and palms was still fresh, and the sound of terrified screams from his younger siblings filled the air around him.

But the worst days were the ones where he stood on that sidewalk, even though he was nowhere near it, watching that bullet hit Laura. She’d hit the pavement, muttering ‘why’ over and over and over. Her eyes as they glazed over and turned to a hollow and lifeless gaze, would be staring right at him. On those days, he could feel the gun in his hand. He hadn’t fired it, but he might as well have. Everything he touched, he ruined. Everyone he loved got ripped away from him cruelly, and violently, and there was never a way out on those days.

Sometimes…those days turned to two days, to three, to weeks. Weeks of feeling like he was half present and half trapped in the past.

Today though. Today had been different.

That hallway, the same one he’d walked down everyday for years, became like a tomb- his own‘Green Mile’. Everyone had a breaking point, he’d once heard Laura say, and he was done. He just couldn’t do this anymore.

He stared down at the bottle of pills in his right hand, trying to make himself open them. He’d been resorting to sleeping pills for years, and by now he knew how much would be too much. It wasn’t as though he wanted to die, quite the opposite actually, but he just wanted to quit hurting. Anyone would. He unscrewed the cap and shook a handful of pills into his palm, staring down at them like they had all the answers.

Yet, no matter how much he wanted to, he couldn’t bring them to his lips. Instead, he reached for his phone.

 

***

 

Stiles sat back in his chair, feet propped onto the desk and looked around the room. Only three of them were on the schedule tonight, and there hadn’t been a single call. Due to his hectic school and internship schedule, the only time he could squeeze the required volunteering for his major project was twice a month…overnight.

Now he was a night owl; it wasn’t the hours of the graveyard shift that bothered him. It was the lack of stuff to do. Case in point: Over in the corner, Kira was asleep at her computer. He didn’t have the heart to wake her, because he knew she had a midterm in the morning. Stiles, however, he didn’t really do Friday classes. They weren’t his style, though he supposed travelling back to Beacon Hills every other weekend to see his family made Friday classes easier.

Family- just the word made him ache something fierce. Yeah, okay, sure. Scott and Mama McCall were like family by now, but they’d never fill the hole in his heart the loss of his parents had left. He managed to get over losing his mother, but then, he was ten. Children are resilient. Yet, after years of just the two of them, he and his dad-

He closed his eyes, and took a deep breath, counting to ten before exhaling. This breathing exercise, he completed several times. Sort of a lather, rinse, repeat type thing. It always seemed to do the trick, pull him back out of his head and that negative headspace.

God he was bored.

Maybe it was a good thing the lines were silent. Perhaps it meant that no one needed them tonight. That was a nice thought. It could be true, and often Stiles let himself think that. In reality though, it probably meant there were people who did need them but were afraid of calling. So, yeah, he could handle the boredom if it meant he could help just one person.

The harsh beeping sound that came from his phone snapped him back to attention. Quickly, he secured the headset over his ears and adjusted the mouthpiece before connecting the call. “Oak Creek Crisis Line, how may I help you?”

Through the line, he could hear the sound of someone crying, a man? Sure sounded like one. Stiles waited a few moments to give the caller a chance to speak. Experience, both personal and professional, taught him that courage could be a tricky thing.

“I- I…”

Good, Stiles thought. The first words were the hardest.

“I am-” Stiles heard him–and the caller was definitely a man–take a shuddering breath. “I just want it to stop.”

“Can you elaborate for me, so I can know how best to try and help?” ‘It’ could really be anything: Abuse, addiction, fear, pain. That’s why they needed to get as much information as the caller was willing to provide.

“I’m tired of feeling like this. Hopeless like it’s never gonna stop. I don’t want to feel like this anymore.”

“Hopelessness can be a suffocating feeling, and I would love to help you get a handle on how you’re feeling, but I do need to ask a couple important questions first if you are okay with that.”

This was always the make or break it point of the phone call, where Stiles would either be met with dead air soon or actually be able to help.

“Before you answer, this call is confidential, and you are not required to answer me. I want to help; that’s the only reason I do this. Okay?”

“Yeah. Okay.”

Phew. He breathed a sigh of relief. “Have you thought about taking your life?”

“Yes.”

“Have you made a plan or decided how to do it?”

Another shaky reply followed, “Yes.”

“Is this a new feeling, or have you felt this way before?”

“No, not before.”

That was good. Obviously, there was something about today that pushed the poor man to the breaking point. “Have you gone through any steps to taking your life?”

“Well no. I already had the pills. I can’t sleep without sleeping pills. Just-”

Pills, why did he always get the ones planning to use pills. It was like the universe was punishing him and requiring repayment for him still being a part of it. “But you haven’t taken any?”

Stiles heard him give a wet chuckle. “No, I’m just sitting here on my bed, holding a handful of Unisom. I can’t make myself do it.”

“Do you have anyone you can call to come sit with you? When things are really tough, reaching out to a trusted friend or family member can go a long w-”

“I don’t have anyone. No one would miss me if I died.”

Stiles felt his heart constrict in his chest. After his father died, Stiles had felt totally alone, but he knew he had Scott, had Scott’s mom. He had friends. He couldn’t imagine what it was like to go through the world with no one. “Oh, man. Being alone is hard. Well, I’m here, and there’s no time limit. You and I, we can talk as long as you need. Okay? I don’t know you, so I can’t begin to understand exactly how you feel, but you matter. Someone would miss you, even if that someone is a neighbor you see maybe once a week, the barista who knows your usual coffee order. Everyone matters. Sometimes it may not feel like it, but it’s true. I’m Stiles. Is there something you’d like me to call you? You don’t have to use your real name.”

“My name is Derek.”

“Okay, Derek. We’re gonna get you feeling a little less alone. You said you hadn’t felt this way before. Is there something about today that pushed you to the edge?”

There was a long silence, and Stiles was worried for a second that he’d pushed too hard too fast.

“My sister died two years ago today.”

“I’m so sorry for your loss.” When he’d gone through training, he’d been told not to get too personal. Some vague anecdotes were okay, but nothing too deep. He always ignored that. He was most helpful when he could empathize, truly empathize. “I always have bad days around anniversaries like that. It’s hard, because maybe you want to spend the day honoring her memory, but all you get is the memory of her death, yeah?”

“Yeah. I guess. It’s not just her. I-” Derek began crying again, and Stiles felt a little like crying too. See, this is why they tell you not to personalize. “My whole family except my sister died in a fire when I was sixteen.”

“That’s- And yet, you found the strength to get through that loss. That speaks to your character.”

“Laura helped me, though. And when she died, I pushed everyone away, because everyone I love leaves. And, it just got bad. It’s not even like I’m existing anymore. Just here, but not, you know?”

“Can I ask a question?”

“Sure. I guess.”

“How long ago was the fire?”

“Eight years ago.”

And this poor guy…Derek was only a couple years older than himself. “That’s an awful lot of grief to get through for someone so young. You said Laura helped you with that. What did she do?”

“She wouldn’t let me get like this. That’s for sure. She made me talk about it, and I don’t really like talking.”

“When you say like this, what do you mean exactly?”

“Everywhere I go…” Derek sniffled. “All I see is death. It’s like a shadow. Haunts me while I’m sleeping, while I’m awake. I tried to go to class today and only made it into the hallway outside my apartment before- I think it was a panic attack, and here I am… twelve hours later, still afraid, and miserable, and crying.”

Panic attacks. Those were something with which Stiles was intimately familiar. “That is a long time to be crying. Do you still feel that panic? I get panic attacks, and when they go over twenty minutes, I feel absolutely exhausted. Have you eaten anything, had some water?”

“No.”

“Can you do something for me? It’s really simple. Go get a glass of water, take the phone with you. Can you do that?”

“Yeah.”

Stiles listened as Derek seemed to be walking around his apartment. He could hear the sound of cabinets opening, the clattering of glasses, and then running water. A few moments later, Derek began to drink the water in large gulps. Good. Self-care was important and often neglected. “How do you feel?”

“Less dehydrated,” Derek chuckled again, and though pained, it at least sounded sincere.

“I sometimes forget to take care of myself on bad days. It’s easy to overlook when you’re worried or grieving.”

He heard Derek shift on the other end of the line, the creaking of a bed most likely. “You sound like you’re speaking from experience. Who’d you lose?”

“I, too, was an orphan by the time I was seventeen.”

“That sucks. How?”

Stiles rubbed his eyes. Not too personal. Not too personal. “My mom was sick for a long time, and then my dad got shot in the line of duty. I wasn’t alone, not like you are now. My best friend, Scott, his mother took over guardianship of me, but not the same, you know?”

Derek set the phone down, and Stiles heard him blow his nose before picking up the phone again. “How did you- You seem so much more together than I am. I don’t think I’ve been with it for years. Laura became my guardian too. She was nineteen when we lost our family. I don’t know how she got through it, but she was always so much stronger than me. She was my rock.”

Stiles sighed. “I’m gonna be honest with you, Derek. It took a lot of work. I struggled with it for about six months, before I fell apart. Melissa and Scott, they tried. She made sure I went and talked to someone, but just one day, I got to the point you are today. Grief can just come out of nowhere and sock you in the gut sometimes.”

“And you? How did you stop yourself from going through with it?”

Eyes closed, and several deep breaths later, Stiles continued. “I didn’t. Melissa found me unconscious next to empty vodka and Prozac bottles. So believe me, when I say, I have been exactly  where you are. This is the lowest point, and if you want to and are committed to feeling better, you can get there.”

“How? Cause I feel like this is never going to end.”

“Have you tried talking to someone? A grief counselor, a therapist, even a support group?”

“No.”

“If I give you the names of some people who can help, will you promise to at least reach out to them? You don’t have to see them, just take the first step. It will be tough. You’ll struggle, and you’ll always have bad days, but at least for me, moving on and living my life seemed the best way to honor my parents’ memories.”

“Yeah. I think I can do that.”

Stiles waited for him to get a pen and then rattled off the names of several resources for Derek.

“Thank you.”

“How are you feeling? Do you still want to kill yourself?”

“No.”

A tiny smile of relief tugged at the corners of Stiles’ mouth. “That’s- I’m really glad to hear that. But please, please call back if you start feeling that way again. Any one of us here will be more than happy to sit and listen, any time.”

“I will.”

“I hope though, that you never need to call us again.”

“Me too.”

As Stiles disconnected the call, he rubbed his eyes and looked over to see Kira staring at him. “What?”

“Is that true? About the Prozac?”

Damn it. “Yeah. I know we’re not supposed to do that. Talk about ourselves that much, but…I knew exactly where this poor guy was coming from, and I knew that shared experiences would give him some hope.”

Thankfully, she didn’t ask any further questions, and the rest of his shift continued on without another call.

Chapter Text

“So, make sure you keep working on those memory worksheets. I know it’s tough, but we’re up to Laura, and I have a feeling her loss will take several months to work through. Schedule your next appointment with Erica,” Derek’s therapist, Dr. Morrell said before he walked out of the office.

As he stood there at the receptionist desk waiting for Erica to finish her phone call, he looked around the lobby. Three patients sat in the brown upholstered chairs, reading from various magazines. A couple children played with the roller coaster toy in the corner. In front of the water cooler, two employees were busy discussing last night’s Dodgers game in detail, and he tried to listen in.

Just then, a man, maybe a couple years younger than him, walked in the front door. He was dressed in slim-fitting, black slacks and a purple dress shirt rolled up to the elbows. On display from where his left hand was clasped around the backpack strap slung over his shoulder, a Batman watch adorned his left wrist. Fair skinned, with a messy mop of chestnut colored hair, impossibly long lashes, and crystal-clear eyes that with the way they caught the light looked like a new penny. He was captivating.

Derek couldn’t tear his eyes away from him.

Without saying a word, the man walked past the receptionist’s desk, offered a wave to Erica and walked down the hallway back to the offices.He must work here, Derek thought as he released a breath he hadn’t realized he’d been holding.

“Sorry about that, Mr. Hale,” she said, ending her call. “Dr. Morrell is booked next week at this time, but she’s free at one. Does that work for you?”

Dazed and awestruck, Derek simply gave her an awkward nod and was on his way. Despite his best efforts to concentrate in his classes that afternoon, all his thoughts kept dwelling over the beautiful young man from the doctor’s office. The more he thought about it, the more he wanted to talk to him, to know his name, to know him. It had been quite some time since Derek had that kind of instantaneous physical attraction to someone, or any tangible attraction for that matter.

It was at that moment that he came to realize that his therapy was truly making a difference, because before, he never let himself think that way. He couldn’t; he was too preoccupied with all the ways his heart ached, with all the sadness and the black cloud hanging over him. Dating or even considering it was the farthest thing from his mind when he spent hours reliving the fire, imagining the phantom sound of Laura’s fatal gunshot. But now-

Starting from the corners of his mouth and spreading until even his eyes twinkled with a lightness he hadn’t felt in years, the smile that took over his face probably made him look drunk, but he didn’t care. He was actually happy. Honestly and truly, because Stiles had been right. Derek was committed to feeling better, had poured his soul into it.

Thrice weekly therapy sessions for a couple months, turned to twice weekly, then weekly. What he had called numbness and overwhelming crushing sadness apparently had a name for it, or several names. Nothing like Complicated Grief, PTSD and Major Depressive Disorder to make it impossible to move on. Yet, here he was, almost a year later, and he felt like he was finally ‘getting there’ as Stiles had put it.

It was an amazing feeling.

 

***

 

The following week, Derek spied the young man typing away, fingers flying over the keys at Dr. Morrell’s office as he entered patient information into the database. A pair of blue headphones were clamped down over his ears. Derek had stood with the intention of talking to him, but found his courage waning.

Small steps, he’d told himself. He’d get there.

 

The only problem with that plan? He kept seeing him around campus. Last Thursday, he watched him walk out of Harriet Hall, well, trip on the last step, but semantics. The office casual look from before had been traded out for distressed jeans, a knit beanie, and a Star Wars t-shirt. He’d turned to his friend next to him then laughed, and Derek felt his heart stutter in his chest at the sight. He laughed with his whole body, pure delight filling his features. His shoulders shook. It was beautiful.

Derek could no longer focus on his reading after that. So he stretched out on the grass of the quad and enjoyed the sunshine. If he fell asleep with the images of the man as he laughed filling his head, no one was the wiser.

Two days after that, as Derek was riding the escalator down to the basement of the student union, he passed the young man again as the guy rode the opposite escalator up. By the time Derek made it to the landing and immediately rode back up, the guy was gone.

He saw him almost everywhere: waiting for a bus as Derek’s drove past, standing in line at the pizzeria on campus that sold by the slice–the one that always had a line out the door–, walking into the library. It was like the universe was trying to tell him something.

And yet…Derek still could not pluck up the courage.

Instead, he now found himself occupying a table at Starbucks, book and notes scattered around him while he tried to make sense of that week’s lecture. He’d been awake in class, honestly. Just, there were always going to be authors whose works just didn’t click with his brain (Here’s looking at you, James Joyce). So, he sipped on his venti cafe au lait, as he sat trying to wrap his head around Finnegan’s Wake.

It wasn’t going well.

His eyes took in the sentence before him for the umpteenth time. ‘But Noodynaady’s actual ingrate tootle is of come into the garner mauve and thy nice are stores of morning and buy me a bunch of iodines.’ What the actual fuck did any of that mean?

With a groan, he sat back in his chair and finally looked up from his book. And then…his jaw fell open.

Sitting there, hair mussed to perfection, with his nose buried in a cognitive psychology textbook, pen tapping against his lips–lips which were sinfully pink and parted like an invitation–was his mystery man. And God, Derek was hopeless at this point.

Today, he thought, today was the day Derek would finally talk to him. Fine day for it, too. What a fitting way to commemorate his one year anniversary of making that call that turned his life around.

Seeing as there was no way he was going to understand his book anytime soon (or ever for that matter), he packed up his table, stowing his book and notes in the messenger bag hanging from the back of his chair. Tentative and small steps brought him close to the man’s table just as his phone began to ring, and Derek stopped short. He did not wish to intrude, choosing to sit down in an empty chair nearby.

“Hey, Scotty! How did that OChem final treat you?”

As soon as the man spoke, Derek’s world stopped turning. That voice, he’d recognize it anywhere. Kinda hard to forget the sound of someone who saved your life.

Derek stood, frozen in place, staring transfixed at the man, Stiles, as he spoke with wild hand gestures and excited eyes. For a year now, he would occasionally think of him and wonder what he looked like and if they’d ever meet. He desperately wanted to thank him and tell him how far he’d come. Yet, here Stiles was, right in front of him, and not only that, but Stiles was the beautiful man Derek kept seeing everywhere. Now, convinced more than ever, that fate and all its twists and turns was leading him to this moment, he waited for Stiles to finish the call, heart hammering in his chest.

He could hardly breathe as he waited. His palms were sweaty, his mouth bone dry. Finally, when Derek thought he might pass out from nerves, Stiles ended the call, and Derek took the remaining steps toward him until nothing but the table separated them.

Stiles raised his brows when he noticed Derek standing there mutely. “Oh fuck me, who are you?” he gasped out, eyes raking down his body in what Derek hoped was appreciation.

For a moment, Derek couldn’t think of anything to say.

“Shy and gorgeous? What did I do right in life to deserve this?”

“It’s you. I- I can’t believe it.”

Stiles eyed him for a minute, brows drawn together. “I don’t think we’ve met, because I sure as hell wouldn’t forget someone who looked as good as you do.”

Derek took a deep breath. “Thank you.”

“Sure thing, man. Everyone loves to be complimented every now and then.”

“No, I mean…Thank you for saving my life. A year ago today, I was about to kill myself. Instead I made a call, and for as long as I live I will never forget your voice, Stiles.”

Stiles’ flirtatious expression changed immediately to one of shock. Before he spoke again, he looked to be concentrating, no doubt trying to recall the same day the year before. After several moments, a shy smile tugged at the corners of his lips. “Derek, right?” When Derek nodded, the shock on Stiles’ face gave way to joy. “I know I said I hoped you never needed to call again, but I often wondered if you were doing okay.” He pointed to the chair in front of Derek. “Please, sit. I mean if you are not in a hurry to leave or anything.”

Derek pulled out the chair and sat down. “No, I was working on homework, but I don’t think there’s any hope of me ever understanding Finnegan’s Wake. I think I’m going to have to bullshit my way through the paper.” Stiles threw his head back and cackled in that full body laughter Derek couldn’t look away from.

“Man, bullshitting papers is an art form. What are you studying?”

“English and Comparative Literature.”

“That’s impressive. I’m in my first year of grad school, working towards a Masters in Clinical Psychology. You?”

Derek slumped in his chair a little. “I’m only a junior. I tried to manage full time, but it was just too much for me. Laura was okay with me taking a couple classes a semester, but after she was killed, I-” He focused on his breathing for a few moments. “I had to withdraw for medical reasons. I just couldn’t even get out of bed some days.” He expected to see some kind of judgment cross Stiles’ face the way he did any time he talked about his struggles getting his degree, but instead, he found none.

“Totally understandable. I had to finish high school the summer after I graduated, because I missed the last three months after my attempt. It’s rough. I started volunteering because I wanted to help people. It’s funny when I think back though, but Melissa is the reason fifty-three people are still alive. You, and me, and everyone I’ve talked back from the edge. I keep count, try to remember their names. I mean, I hope with everything I have, those fifty-one other people are still bumming it around the city somewhere. Because, I mean if she hadn’t found me in time, maybe the other hotline volunteers might not have been successful. I look at my rough time after my dad died as fate.” He popped a bite of coffee cake into his mouth. “But look at you now,” he mumbled, mouth still full of food. “How are you doing? You certainly sound happier than you did on the phone.”

The praise made Derek straighten in his chair. “I’ve been seeing a therapist for a year now. She’s really helped me. I’m- you were right. You can get there.”

Stiles stretched his arms over his head, and his shirt rode up a little. Derek tried his hardest not to stare.

It didn’t work.

“Can I tell you something?”

“Sure.”

“The stuff I told you, about me, my parents…”

“Wasn’t true? That’s okay. It worked to save me, so-”

Stiles shook his hands in front of him in a gesture Derek assumed was meant to emphatically say no, that he was wrong. “Oh all that was totally true. Let me tell you, having your stomach pumped is not fun, especially with a super sensitive gag reflex. I was about to say that I shouldn’t have told you any of that. They tell us not to get too personal, but-” He licked his lips. “You and I shared a similar pattern of loss, and I thought empathy was the best tactic for talking you out of it. Sort of one of those, show you it really can get better, because I knew what you were going through.”

“It was. How did you get better? I mean, if you want to tell me.”

He smiled at Derek. “Sure. My therapist would want me to talk about this. Three months of Inpatient treatment. You?”

“Dr. Morrell.”

“Oh, I work there. Well, intern there.”

Derek’s cheeks flamed. “I know. That’s where I first saw you, and then,” he shrugged, “I kept seeing you places around campus. I didn’t know who you were until I heard you speak. I just…when I saw you in here today, I thought to myself that I was going to come talk to you.”

Stiles cocked an inquisitive eyebrow at him. “Is that so?”

And damn it. The blush on Derek’s cheeks spread to his ears and down the back of his neck. “I…um…I thought you were cute, and just thought it was a sign that I kept seeing you places. But then- I know it was a sign. I will never be able to thank you enough.”

Stiles smiled and leaned forward to cover Derek’s hand with his own. “You don’t have to thank me, but if you really wanted to…how about dinner?”

“Are you asking me on a date?”

Nodding emphatically, Stiles licked his lips. “You are…really good looking. And hey, we already got the skeletons in our closets out of the way. So, the way I see it, we’re ahead of the curve.”

Derek smiled as he took a sip from his coffee cup. “I’d really like that.”

Chapter Text

Outside the apartment, rain came down in sheets, pelting the window and echoed throughout the bedroom. Derek’s hands, fisted in the sheets, were rigid balls of tension to match the rest of his body. Upon his forehead, anxious beads of sweat had gathered to watch the scene unfold, perhaps commiserate over his misery. A flash of lightning illuminated the room in a wash of white for only a second or two, and the clap of thunder that followed shook the panes of glass in the large picture windows.

It was enough of a catalyst to snap Derek out of the nightmare’s grip. He lay there, panting, chest rising with heaving and stuttering breaths as he stared unblinking up at the ceiling. Catching his breath after coming out of one of these–the flashback type nightmares were the worst–, always took far too long for his comfort. Kind of reminded him of breathing in the smoke of his burning home.

He rubbed his forehead, wiping away the moisture that had accumulated on his brow. When he placed his open palm over his chest, he could feel the way his heart was trying to burst through his sternum. His mouth fell open, and he was just about to repeat his standard affirmation aloud, when an almost febrile arm moved to rest over his stomach.

Beside him, came a mumbled, “Shh, shh. You’re okay. I’m here. You’re safe.”

The streetlamp on the sidewalk outside gave just enough light for Derek to turn his head and let his eyes take their fill of Stiles, eyes still closed, but obviously awake beside him.

Stiles moved his arm and pushed at his hip, urging him to roll onto his side then tugging him until they lay as close as possible; he spooned around him, wrapping Derek in security. He pressed a kiss to the bare skin of Derek’s shoulder. “Bad one? Need to talk about it?”

“No,” Derek said, licking his lips. “It was the same as always. I’m… I’m okay. I’m present. It’s-” Words failed him, so he settled for resting his arm atop Stiles’ where it lay on his stomach and intertwined their fingers.

In that moment, an overwhelming sense of awe and safety filled him, coursing through his veins. It seemed that all his struggles in life had been leading to this moment. That he needed to hit bottom just so he could learn his true strength as he clawed his way back to the surface.

He’d made it. It took four years after losing Laura, but he’d made it.