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The Sum of our Parts

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“I’m so sorry.”

Stiles jolts into awareness, sitting up and immediately scrambling backward until he hits something solid. Eyes wide, he takes in his surroundings.

He’s in a forest. How did he he get here? He can’t remember. His fingers dig into the thick moss covering the forest floor. It’s so soft it feels surreal. The trees surrounding the clearing he’s in are tall, reaching up toward the sky with thick, lush branches. Everything’s covered in moss; he can hardly see a thing for the trees.

Stiles knows with an unshakable certainty that he’s never been here before, and that this isn’t a forest that can be found anywhere near Beacon Hills.

He stands up on shaky legs, leaning back against a thick tree trunk for support.

“You’ve been sleeping for ages.”

Stiles yelps and scrambles away from the tree. The voice had come from above.

“Calm down, I’m not gonna hurt you,” the man says with a roll of his eyes. He’s perched on a tree branch, leaning back toward the very trunk Stiles had used for support, long legs stretched out casually in front of him.

Derek?” Stiles says disbelievingly.

The man in question crosses his arms over his chest, staring at Stiles as if he’s an idiot, which, no, not fair.

“Oh no no no, you don’t get to look at me like that,” Stiles defends, pointing accusingly at the man. “I just woke up in a fucking forest I’ve never been to, I have no idea how I got here and you scared the crap out of me.”

Derek’s glare loses its hard edge and for a second he looks almost... sad. He doesn’t move though, doesn’t speak. His intense gaze never wavers from Stiles’s form on the ground, and Stiles gets the feeling he needs to say something, the right thing.

“Where are we?” He picks one of the questions floating in his mind.

“A forest.”

“Yeah, thanks for that, really helpful,” Stiles glares.

The corner of Derek’s lip quirks upward. The infuriating man doesn’t say anything else.

“Why are we here?” Stiles asks patiently.

Derek’s smile disappears in an instant. “You’ll figure it out,” he says, unnervingly cryptic.

“Okay, Derek, no. Stop.” Stiles is getting really frustrated. “Stop looking down on me, get off that tree, do you even know how stupid you look?” Derek will pick up on the lie, of course. Only he could manage to make a fucking tree look like a throne.

In a move that actually surprises Stiles, Derek obliges. He pushes himself off the branch and lands with a type of grace that is absolutely ridiculous and makes Stiles wonder how everyone in Beacon Hills aren’t aware of these stupid, indiscreet werewolves.

Now he’s just standing there in the moss and Stiles doesn’t really know what to say.

“... Yeah, you’d better,” he says awkwardly. Derek doesn’t move a muscle. Stiles tries to figure out what to say to this weird, quiet Derek.

“Seriously now, tell me why we’re here. I can’t remember anything.” He tries to steady his voice but Derek can probably hear the undercurrent of worry.

“You’ll figure it out,” Derek repeats through gritted teeth.

“Oh fucking come on!” Stiles yells in frustration. “Stop speaking in riddles and tell me what the hell is going on!”

“I would, but I can’t,” Derek growls, suddenly standing very close to Stiles. Stiles is used to werewolves moving fast, he’s played lacrosse with Scott after all, but this was something completely different. It was as if Derek had just... teleported.

“Derek?” Stiles says, hoping he’s conveying the proper amount of what the fuck in a single word.

“No,” he replies, taking a step back and giving Stiles some space. He looks sad again.

What?” Stiles says, taking a cautious step back suddenly knowing that no, this isn’t the Derek Hale he knows. He’s stuck in a forest he’s never been to with this not-quite-Derek and no idea how he got here.

“Stiles, you need to calm down.”

It’s as if two people spoke at once. Not-Derek’s lips moved with the words, but they echoed in a way that was completely different from the calm way Not-Derek had said it, sounding more desperate and urgent.

“This is a dream,” Stiles guesses. Please god, let it be a dream because Stiles is going to freak the fuck out any second now.

“Yes,” Not-Derek says, seeming pleased with this.

Yes, a dream. That was why Not-Derek was being so weird, why he’s in this fucking forest.

That’s what he wants to believe but...

“Why am I not waking up? I always do when I figure out it’s a dream.”

“You’ll wake up,” Not-Derek says unhelpfully. “You just have to find the exit.”

“How?” Stiles says, trying to calm his rapidly beating heart. “If this is a weird-ass lucid dream, can’t I just make you use your werewolf senses to sniff the way out?”

“Ah,” Derek says, an uncharacteristic grin blooming across his face. “But I’m not a werewolf.”

“You’re not... Oh come on,” Stiles groans, starting to feel desperate. He wants out. He won’t say it, not even in front of this Not-Derek, but he’s scared. The sun is setting and the shadows of the trees are stretching out unnaturally, reaching for him where he stands in the middle of the clearing.

“I’m a will-o’-the-wisp.”

Stiles stares at this weirdly gleeful Not-Derek. “Why the fuck would my subconscious make you a creature that tries to lure me to my doom when I want to get out?” he asks stupidly.

Not-Derek shrugs.

“Okay, so a nightmare then. Great,” Stiles mutters, once again scanning his surroundings. “And my companion is Derek Hale, but somehow more worthless.”

“This way,” Not-Derek says and he’s suddenly right beside him.

“Jesus christ. Stop doing that!” Stiles shouts at him. Not-Derek rolls his eyes and Stiles wants to punch him. “This is my brain, why are you not nicer?”

Not-Derek doesn’t answer. “This way,” he repeats instead, pointing in what looks like a random direction.

Stiles peers into the darkness, trying to see whatever it is that Derek is seeing to make him so sure that’s the right way.

He can’t see anything.

“Yay, adventure,” Stiles says unenthusiastically, ignoring his instincts screaming at him to run as he finally lets the shadows envelop him. Derek doesn’t say anything at all.

Stiles sighs, mentally preparing himself. “Let’s go then.”

As he starts walking a hand grabs hold of his. He gives Not-Derek a questioning look.

The grip tightens, bordering on painful.

“I’m here, Stiles.” It’s said in the same, weird double-voice as before.

“I’m here for you.”

 

***

 

Time progresses much like it does in dreams; Stiles doesn’t know if they’ve been walking for minutes or hours. The only thing Stiles feels that he’s got a track of is the constant feel of Not-Derek’s hand gripping his as he pulls him along.

Not-Derek is quick to scan their surroundings as they walk, sharp eyes taking in every tree, every rock and every branch, dragging Stiles after himself with an uncharacteristic gentleness every time he’s about to step wrong and fall.

“I hate this,” Not-Derek says suddenly, startling Stiles.

“What?”

“This, all of this. I hate why we’re here.”

Stiles quickens his pace to stand beside Not-Derek and peers at his face. He looks completely neutral, as if he hadn’t said anything at all.

Stiles is about to ask what he means when all of a sudden, Not-Derek stops and pulls Stiles behind him, obscuring his vision.

“Derek- what?” Stiles yelps. He tries to peek past the large shoulder. Not-Derek doesn’t reply, just stares ahead into the darkness, eyes focused on something Stiles can’t see.

“We’re going the wrong way,” Not-Derek says finally, slowly.

“Okay?” Stiles says, confused, still trying to see what Not-Derek is seeing.

Derek gives his hand a tug, but it feels weird. It feels wrong to be changing direction like this.

“Calm down, just wait a second,” Stiles hisses, annoyed. Not-Derek’s tugging becomes more insistent.

“Come on, Stiles,” he says urgently. Stiles doesn’t even acknowledge him, just continues staring into the darkness and-

There! A light, a tiny, flickering light, as if from a candle.

“I saw something!” Stiles says excitedly, trying to tug Not-Derek in the direction of the light.

No,” Not-Derek says in a low voice, not budging an inch, hand tightening on Stiles’s once again. Stiles inhales sharply as he feels the bones in his hand creaking.

Stiles snaps his mouth shut.

“Have you ever seen a movie where going into the light in your dream is a good idea?” Not-Derek snaps, finally managing to pull Stiles a step in the opposite direction of the light. Stiles gets the feeling that if he doesn’t start moving after him soon, Not-Derek is just going to knock him out and drag him away.

As soon as he’s finished the thought, he hears a heart-wrenching sob.

Stiles feels his legs give out under him. Not-Derek lets go, pulling his hand back as if he’s been burned. Stiles can barely see the blurry look of horror on his face- he rubs at his eyes to discover that he’s crying.

Oh.

Not-Derek crouches down in front of him, hands hovering uncertainly over Stiles’s shoulders, as if touching him would break him.

“Stiles,” he says uncertainly.

“What the fuck,” Stiles gasps, trying to get air into his lungs, but he can’t seem to stop crying. “Seriously, I have no idea what’s going on, oh wow.”

It feels like he’s bleeding energy, as if something is draining him and making him tired. His eyes slip shut, but not even that is enough to stop the tears.

Stiles,” Not-Derek says sharply, and the second voice, the echo is back again. “I’m so sorry for this.

Stiles can feel himself being picked up and- it hurts. Everywhere Not-Derek is touching burns and he wants to get away from this feeling, has to. Panic wells up like water in his lungs but Not-Derek won’t let go, no matter how much Stiles claws at his shoulders. Why hadn’t it felt like this when they held hands?

We’ll be there soon,” Not-Derek states calmly, but his clenched jaw and the grim line of his lips betray his worry. “I’m sorry, I’m so, so sorry that you have to go through this.

The echo of his voice is, for the first time, completely in tune with Not-Derek’s voice.

Stiles feels himself calm down bit by bit as Not-Derek moves toward the light and instead of trying to get away, he can feel his body curling in toward Not-Derek as a source of comfort. It feels like he’s watching the scene from far away when he finally gives in and lets himself cry against Not-Derek’s neck.

 

***

 

“Hey, Stiles.”

Stiles opens his eyes slowly this time, easing himself into a sitting position to try and figure out where he is.

Still surrounded by those strange trees, but for some reason he’s in a lacrosse field. Why is he dreaming up a lacrosse field in the middle of a fucking forest?

Scott is sitting in the grass a bit further down the field, dressed in full lacrosse gear except for his discarded helmet, rolling a ball back and forth between his hands.

“What the fuck is going on,” Stiles says exasparatedly, hobbling to stand up. “Lucid dreaming is not funny, F minus, one out of ten, would not recommend.”

“Dude. If this was a lucid dream, you’d be able to control everything that happens in it,” Dream-Scott points out.

“Why do you know that? Why do you read up on lucid dreaming and not chemistry?”

Dream-Scott shrugs. “Surfing Wikipedia is way more fun.”

Stiles sighs, gingerly rubbing at his neck. His head is killing him.

“Where’s Derek?” The question is out before he even has the time to think about it, but Dream-Scott doesn’t look surprised at all, just juts his chin out to signal for Stiles to look behind him.

And there he is, standing in all his glory by a goal post, arms crossed over his chest, and dear god it should be illegal to look that hot while brooding.

“Let’s play,” Dream-Scott interrupts his thoughts, picking up his helmet as he stands up.

“Uh, Scott?” Stiles says stupidly. “I don’t really feel like playing.”

Dream-Scott’s expression slowly changes to convey the exact same sort of sorrow that Not-Derek’s had done before, something bone-deep and weary.

“I’m sorry, Stiles,” Scott says, and at least he actually does sound sorry. “You don’t really have a choice.”

What. The. Fuck. Is going on. He takes a step back but backs into the goalpost, which has fucking magically teleported right behind him.

“You do.”

Not-Derek finally speaks up for the first time since Stiles came back into awareness. His hands are clenched into fists by his sides and he steps in front of Stiles, as if to protect him from Scott. Which, no, that’s fucking stupid.

“Hey, guys,” Stiles says with annoyance, stepping around Not-Derek to stand between them. “Would anyone mind telling me what the hell is going on?”

Not-Derek stares at Dream-Scott and there’s something dangerous in his eyes, something desperate. As if he might lash out at any moment.

Dream-Scott looks back at Not-Derek, pity covering his entire expression.

“You don’t have to do this, Stiles,” Not-Derek breaks away from his staring competition to lock eyes with Stiles instead.

“Do what?” Stiles asks. He’s running out of patience.

“Play.” He says it as if playing lacrosse was the most horrible thing in the universe.

“He’s right,” Dream-Scott says.

Not-Derek closes his eyes.

“He’s a wisp, you know that, yeah?”

Stiles gives a curt nod.

“You can go with him, if you want. But it won’t be real.”

Stiles doesn’t even need to think about it.

“Derek, go,” he says, stepping back to take his place at the center of the goal.

In the blink of an eye, Not-Derek is standing right in front of him again, but Stiles isn’t scared.

I’m sorry,” Not-Derek’s voice echoes. “I’m so, so sorry that you have to go through this.

And then he’s gone.

“What the hell?” Stiles says, looking to Dream-Scott for an explanation only to discover that he’s disappeared too.

“Oh my god, really you guys? Are we really going to play hide-and-seek?” he shouts with exasparation.

Pain, suddenly, explodes in his head, excruciating and white-hot. Stiles opens his mouth to scream as he falls to his knees, gripping his head, but he can’t make a sound.

He carefully turns his head to stare into the goal, and there it is. A single, bloody lacrosse ball.

He touches the back of his head and sure enough, his hand comes away wet.

Wham.

This time he feels the ball slam into his cheekbone with a strength that borders on impossible, throwing his head to the side.

Fuck!” he shouts and closes his eyes against the tears threatening to well up. “You guys need to get the fuck over here because I’m really scared-

Wham.

This time he’s hit right in the solar plexus, leaving him completely breathless. He struggles to take his t-shirt off and when he looks down he sees a bruise, enormous and dark, blooming across his ribcage with unnatural speed.

Wham.

His arm- oh god his arm. Stiles whimpers as he rolls onto his back and tries to raise his arm to get a look at it.

It looks broken.

Wham.

He feels a lacrosse ball slam against his temple, and welcomes the blissful darkness that envelops him.

 

***

 

“Stiles.”

It’s Scott. Not-Scott. Dream-Scott.

“Stiles, wake up.”

He’s crying. Why is he crying? It sounds like two people, two Scotts crying almost at the same time, echoing like it had done when Not-Derek had spoken.

Stiles pries his eyes open. For a second he’s blinded by white and he hears a gasp, but then the image of darkened forest sky takes over again. He snaps his eyes shut as the pain suddenly roars back to life.

Stiles,” Dream-Scott echoes urgently. “Remember that video that Coach showed us at lacrosse practice? On how we should handle pain when we’re injured on the field?

Stiles tries to rasp out an affirmative noise. It must work because Dream-Scott continues talking.

Breathe, Stiles. Breathe.

Stiles tries, he really does, but every time he inhales, his right lung feels like it’s being stabbed by a million knives.

No, no no, Stiles, take it easy. Not too deep. Try to focus on something else. Focus on something beyond the pain, remember that?

Yeah, fuck you, he wants to say. He’d like to see Scott try to focus on something other than pain when it feels like he has pure acid running through his veins.

But he tries. His thoughts immediately latch onto his jeep and all the maintenance it needs. It’d probably be cheaper, or at least more cost-efficient to just buy a new(er) car, but he can’t bring himself to do it. People at school have been urging him to get rid of it for ages, but every time they do, Scott defends him. Says it’s none of their business. Tells them to keep their stupid opinions to themselves because why say anything at all if they’re just going to be idiots?

Scott knows, Scott knows that it used to be his mother’s jeep. Scott knows that blue was his mom’s favourite colour, that she and Stiles used to laugh at the clunky gearbox, that while it might be run down, it was loved.

Scott had always supported him; he’d always been there and whenever bad things happened. he’d always done his best to help.

So Stiles will try to be good for him, just this fucking once and if it doesn’t work, he’s going to kill him.

He focuses on breathing as deeply as he can, pushing away the thought of his hurting lung and instead focusing on Scott and his Mom. Those two had gotten along like two peas in a pod, and Stiles had loved it. The three of them had always had so much fun together, and Scott has been trying to make up for the absence of Stiles’s mother ever since she died.

The pain slowly blends into something manageable enough for Stiles to open his eyes again, sees Scott leaning over him.

“You were crying,” Stiles grits out. Dream-Scott cocks his head.

“You were crying seconds ago, but now your face is dry?” He tries again.

Dream-Scott gives him a crooked grin. “This is a dream, you expect it to be logical?”

Stiles catches a quick look of Derek out of the corner of his eye. He looks almost as miserable as Stiles feels.

“Stiles,” Dream-Scott says, bringing Stiles’s attention back to himself again. “I know it hurts, I know, I know. I’ve seen so many people like this when I’ve been at the hospital with mom. Too many.”

Stiles wants to ask what Dream-Scott is talking about, but the man just plows on.

“Breathe. Don’t think about the pain, don’t focus on it, just remember to breathe.

Stiles watches tiredly as Scott walks away, disappearing with a ridiculous amount of drama into the trees.

Stiles lies still. Pain isn’t even a feeling, it’s a state of being. Stiles is pain. Stiles is losing himself to it.

“Come on, let’s go,” Not-Derek says impatiently, but the hands that help Stiles up are so very gentle.

“Who knew you had it in you,” Stiles slurs jokingly. Unsurprisingly, Not-Derek doesn’t smile.

Not-Derek eases Stiles’s uninjured arm over his shoulder and helps him limp toward the trees, in the opposite direction of Scott.

“If you think this was bad, we shouldn’t go to the next one,” Not-Derek says after a few moments of silent walking, and Stiles can hear him trying to force his voice to stay calm.

This time, when Stiles peers forward into the woods, he can see the next light.

“Might as well,” he says slowly, ignoring every aching bone in his body screaming in protest.

Not-Derek’s grip tightens.

Stiles has to remind himself to think of him as Not.

 

***

 

“You’re a pretty terrible will-o’-the-wisp,” Stiles says after moments (minutes, hours, days) of silence. Derek quirks a smile but keeps facing forward.

“I mean, you’re actually helping me to what I think is the right place. Aren’t you supposed to try to get me lost-” as soon as he’s said it, he realizes what this Not-Derek is trying to do.

“Oh,” he says curiously, staring at Derek with wide eyes. “You didn’t want me to meet Scott, yeah? You tried to convince me not to play.”

Derek’s smile fades, but his pace doesn’t change a bit.

“You’re trying to keep me in this dream, but at the same time, you don’t want me to get hurt?” Stiles says and damn, his ribs are really starting to smart. Every word he pushes out is an effort.

Derek, the infuriating bastard, doesn’t say anything. Stiles grits his teeth and lets himself be dragged along.

 

***

 

“Stiles,” a curt voice says as they walk out of the trees and into a tiny clearing.

This... This is Lydia’s room. Or well, it’s still in the forest, but everything from Lydia’s room is there. The bed, the mirror, the nightstand- everything, placed exactly the way it was in her room.

Lydia is sitting on the bed, leaning back against the headboard, looking as radiant as ever. She barely glances at Stiles as they walk over to her bed, doesn’t even acknowledge Derek, before she’s busy with her nail file again.

Stiles throws Derek a helpless glance. He’s absolutely fuming with rage.

“We could just walk away,” he says quietly.

Stiles doesn’t even have time to open his mouth before Lydia’s sharp tongue is in action. “Don’t be condescending, Hale,” she snarls, putting down her nail file on the bed beside her. The look she gives Derek is absolutely withering.

“You think he can’t handle this? That is an insult. Don’t you fucking dare presume to know what Stiles can and cannot take. Stiles, are you a child? Do you need to be coddled?” She turns to Stiles so quickly that he’s left floundering for words.

“Uh... no?” he ventures.

“Then sit,” she commands, picking up her nail file again.

Derek eases him onto the bed reluctantly. It takes a couple of minutes to find a position that doesn’t make him want to cry and rip his ribs out, but eventually he’s seated opposite of Lydia with Derek standing behind him, like he’s protecting his back.

“I don’t love you,” Lydia says disinterestedly. Stiles’s mouth drops open as he hears Derek give a frustrated hiss.

“I... know?” Stiles eventually stammers out.

“Good,” Lydia says casually. Stiles sees her grip on the nail file loosen, sees her gaze soften. “That doesn’t mean I can’t care though. Let’s play.”

“What?” Stiles is starting to feel like an idiot, but then again, everyone does in the presence of Lydia when she’s not hiding herself.

Derek nudges his shoulder and Stiles sees him point down toward the bed.

Between him and Lydia is now a magnificent, marble chess board.

“You’re not going to disappear like Scott did, are you?” Stiles asks uncertainly.

“Nope.”

“We’ll be here,” Derek says from behind him. He sounds angry. “But this is going to get worse.”

“What does that even mean?” Stiles asks.

He recieves no reply.

“Pawn to E4,” Lydia says finally, and Stiles watches with amazement as the white pawn floats over to square E4, landing neatly.

“Is this Hogwarts, are we in Harry Potter?” Stiles stares at the board incredulously.

Again, no answer.

Ignoring the pain in his side, he raises his arm to move his own pawn. “Pawn to E5,” he says when it becomes clear that Lydia is not going to look at the board.

“Knight to F3,” Lydia replies instantly and Stiles watches as the chosen piece once again moves to wherever Lyda wanted it to.

“Can you really play this entire game without looking at the board?” Stiles asks with raised eyebrows. Lydia grins down at her nails.

“Christ,” Stiles breathes. “I really hope this is my dream making you smarter than you are,” he mutters, picking up one of his own knights.

“Knight to C6.”

The game progresses without much interaction; Stiles is the only one who speaks up other than to announce his moves. He’s losing, badly, but he doesn’t mind. He had no illusions of winning over Lydia. Derek, however, seems to mind. Stiles can practically hear his teeth grinding.

“Peter Hale,” Lydia says so suddenly that Stiles forgets where he was going to put his bishop.

“What about him?” He says cautiously. As far as he knows, the only person she’d talked to about Peter and the horrible things he’d done to her, was Allison. Maybe Jackson.

“Bishop to B5,” he adds belatedly.

“Queen to B5. Really, Stiles,” she scolds as her Queen knocks over Stiles’s bishop. Derek inhales sharply behind him. Lydia goes on.

“What happened with Peter; none of that was my fault.”

“Of course it wasn’t,” Stiles says, completely forgetting about the game they’re playing. “No one, no one has blamed you for it. Have they?”

Lydia peers up for the first time, holding Stiles’s gaze. It’s as if she’s measuring him, trying to calculate whether or not he deserves to hear her story, and Stiles tries hard not to let her find him lacking.

“No,” she says finally. “No, I was the only one who did.”

Stiles is at a loss for words. Oh god, he hadn’t known. How could he not have seen? Now that this Almost-Lydia has told him, he can see it so clearly. It’s in the details, the small things; the way she moved, an odd choice of words.

Clarification hits him like a punch; she blames herself for everything. For being attacked by Peter on the field, for him invading her mind.

Derek places a hand on his shoulder and it’s such a small comfort, but it helps Stiles breathe easier.

“I’m so sorry, Lydia,” he breathes, averting his gaze. He picks up a random chess piece, moving it across the board.

“Oh, please,” she scoffs. “If I’d wanted you to know, you would have known.”

Stiles doesn’t answer.

“I know, now, that it wasn’t my fault,” she says insistently. “Tell me it wasn’t my fault.”

“Of course it wasn’t,” Stiles says wearily. His body seems to be hurting more than it did before; he cradles his injured arm to his chest.

“Look me in the eyes and tell me. You’ve got to mean it.”

Stiles looks up into Lydia’s sad, pitying eyes.

“It wasn’t your fault,” he says.

Lydia holds his gaze for what feels like eternities before finally speaking again.

“Queen to E4. Checkmate.”

Stiles suddenly feels so very, very empty.

 

***

 

In the face of the big, black hole of nothing Stiles is feeling, the physical pain fades away. He can’t bring himself to feel any relief though.

He can’t really bring himself to feel anything.

Derek walks next to him, careful not to touch Stiles. Not to break him.

He looks as impassive as ever, but there’s a steady stream of tears running down his cheeks.

“You’re trying to keep me from waking up because waking up hurts more than being here, right?” Stiles forces past the lump in his throat.

Derek doesn’t say anything, just keeps walking, watching.

Stiles doesn’t need him to.

 

***

 

“Stiles, give me a hand with these files.”

Stiles glances around tiredly. It’s his dad’s office, but once again, in the woods.

He’s getting really tired of these fucking trees.

Come on, son,” his dad says gently. Stiles isn’t even curious about the echo. “Come on, you need to wake up.

He does. He does need to wake up.

He walks over to one of the open file cabinets, picking up as many files as best he can with only one hand and broken ribs. Derek has stayed by the doorway, watching the proceedings with tired eyes.

“That’s it. Easy now,” his dad says as he tries to ease him into one of the chairs by the desks.

“We need to sort these out.”

Stiles knows that; it just doesn’t make it any easier. He takes a steadying breath and opens the first file.

It’s Lydia’s. There’s a picture of her in a hospital bed, taken right after the attack. She seems so small.

He leafs through the pictures attatched to the file. Stacks of them; bruises and claw marks and wounds from self defense gone wrong.

“I’ve seen a lot of cases like this,” his dad says quietly, handing him another file. 20 year old african-american male, mugging. Shot to the head. Lost an eye, lucky he survived.

“There isn’t really much to say...”

Another file, 32 year old asian woman. Raped. Bruises around her throat, yellowing and ugly.

“There isn’t anything anyone can say to make things better, not really, but there’s a whole lot of things people can say to make things worse.

His dad hands him file after file after file. Terrible things that have happened to people, and Stiles forces himself to read all of them.

Derek is completely silent. There’s a slump to his shoulders, as if he’s been defeated.

“The families often don’t know how to act around these victims. They’ve all lost something important, and everyone’s scrambling to fill that void with something else. It’s like trying to push a square into a round hole.”

He’s stopped leafing through the files, but his dad doesn’t seem to mind. He keeps working to himself.

“Everyone wants it to be over so quickly. It’s not a process that can be rushed, but people always try to do so anyway. And the victims...”

His hand is shaking as he reaches for the next file.

“Sometimes, the victims don’t want to tell anyone. That’s fine. That’s absolutely fine, but if they feel that they have anything to be ashamed of- that’s... that’s not okay.”

His dad finally hands him the last file.

Eighteen year old caucasian male. Drugged in a nightclub, assaulted on his way home. Raped, beaten and left for dead at the edge of a forest.

I’m here for you,” his dad echoes, hands closing over Stiles’s own.

He feels like a child again.

I’m here.

 

***

 

He doesn’t even try to move away from the chair he’s seated in. The desk fades, the cabinets slowly disappear into nothingness, and the wooden doorway Derek was leaning on starts to perish too, but the chair remains and that’s a small mercy.

He needs to thank Scott when he wakes up, because that thing about breathing? Turns out that was something he needed to be told not to forget.

Eventually he stands, drawing himself up to his full height. It’s not very impressive, but Not-Derek looks hopeful.

“Let’s go,” Stiles says, reaching for Not-Derek’s hand. It’s warm.

 

***

 

The trees are getting less and less dense, the moss losing its untouched appearance.

“Am I going to wake up now?” Stiles asks.

“If you want to.”

“What if I don’t want to?”

“Then I’ll take you away.”

“But you’re not real. You’re a figment of my imagination.”

“Yeah, bits of me,” Derek says with a shrug. “Other parts are all me.”

“The voices I’ve been hearing...” Stiles says slowly as the pieces fall into place. “They’re real, right?”

“Sometimes,” Derek replies.

“Tell me what happened.”

They stop by a big tree that Stiles recognizes. They’re in the Hale forest now- this is where they’d hidden on the night Scott got bit.

“I found you here,” Derek says calmly. Stiles feels his heartbeat pick up. “You were - it was really bad. There was blood everywhere and your head- you have a crack in your skull.”

Stiles nods, not looking away from Derek’s eyes. They’re so rich in detail, in colour. He’s not sure if they really look like that or if he’s imagining it. Stiles tries to focus on them. Focus beyond the pain.

“You disappeared from the nightclub. Scott tried searching but he couldn’t find you.”

And Stiles remembers.

“Scott,” he hears a muffled voice. “Scott, I’ve found him. Call the sheriff, he needs to get to the hospital now. No, I’ve already called for an ambulance. Scott. Find them.”

Suddenly there are hands in his short hair; he flinches at the unexpected touch.

“It’s okay, Stiles, calm down, I’ve got you.”

The fingers travel along his scalp, as if searching for something and- there. Pain. Holy fucking shit that hurts. He doesn’t even try to hold back his whimper.

“Shit,” Derek curses. “Shit, Stiles, I don’t think I can move you, your head...”

Oh god, he can’t open his eyes. He doesn’t want to. He wants Derek to stop touching him. He wants to be left alone, here. He wants to be forgotten, he wants to be covered by moss and trees and he never wants to be found.

The pounding in his head is starting to disappear, but as it does, Derek sounds like he’s getting increasingly distressed.

“Stiles, you need to breathe. Calm down and breathe,” he’s saying urgently.

He looks up to see Not-Derek peering down at him and tightens his grip on his warm hand.

Stiles?” the echo says, but Not-Derek hasn’t spoken.

“That’s Derek,” Not-Derek answers his unspoken question.

“So you’ll be there when I wake up, right?”

“Yeah.”

“This is stupid, I know you’re not him but, do you think... he’ll try to help?”

“Stiles,” Not-Derek says patiently. “There’s only one way to find out.”

Stiles nods slowly. “You know, you’re a really terrible will-o’-the-wisp.”

Not-Derek quirks a smile at him.

Stiles? I- I think he’s waking up, his heartbeat, his breathing-

Stiles opens his eyes to an ocean of white.