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The Boy and the Beast

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Stiles parked his Jeep a couple of hundred yards past the sign for the Beacon Hills Preserve. That put it far enough in to be hidden from the road if his dad happened to be patrolling on his overnight shift, but still allowed Stiles to approach his target stealthily, on foot.

Like most Beacon Hills kids, he knew his way around the preserve. It wasn't even all the way dark, really, with all the stars blazing in the sky and the full moon up over the trees. Once he stopped being confused by the starkness of the shadows--which did trip him up a few times, leaving him with muddy knees and scraped palms--Stiles didn't have any trouble finding his way.

He'd been allowed to play alone in the woods when he was little, as soon as he was old enough to ride the bus. Scott had been the only kid who voluntarily played with Stiles, and Scott had asthma and wasn't allowed to go running around the woods with just Stiles for company, so Stiles's adventures in the preserve had been strictly solo. He hadn't minded being on his own, though. His mom gave him the same instructions that probably every kid in Beacon Hills got: if he got lost in the woods, he should go to the top of the nearest slope and yell at the top of his lungs, "I'm lost! I need help!"

If he did, his mom had told him, one of the Hales would hear him. Their house was practically in the preserve; their land ran into it without a fence to divide it from the woods that belonged to everyone. There were nearly enough Hales to fill up the big old house they lived in, and somebody was bound to hear him if he yelled loudly, stayed put, and didn't panic.

No one lived in that house anymore; it had burned to a shell six years ago. Stiles navigated toward it through familiar gaps in the trees rather than following the dirt track that was somewhere between a road and a driveway. As he made his way through the woods he remembered the handful of times he'd gone there as a kid.

Stiles had never gotten lost--or at least, he'd never been willing to acknowledge he was lost before he managed to find himself again. He'd strayed onto Hale property, or crossed paths with one of the Hales in the woods, plenty of times while playing alone. He'd met most of the Mister and Mrs. Hales that way, as well as the Hale cousins: Laura and Derek and Heather and Mark. Somehow they'd always seemed to spot him before he saw them. The grownups tended to call out and ask if he was lost. The cousins, all older than he was, mostly ignored him.

So he'd been curious about the big house and the big family, and once when it started raining he'd run to the Hale house to take shelter on the big front porch. Grandma Hale had been there, and she had gone inside to get some cookies and then sat watching the rain with him. He told her all about where he'd been in the woods and what he'd seen, and she listened patiently, just like his mom did sometimes when she wasn't too busy.

Stiles had gone back a few times, and Grandma Hale had always met him on the porch and sat with him a while before sending him out to play again. It hadn't been anything so special, just an old lady being kind to him in the way that plenty of grownups were; they all knew his parents, after all. After that summer when he was eight or nine, Stiles had moved on to other fascinations.

Then came the fire, when Stiles was ten. Grandma Hale and most of the grownup Hales and Heather and Mark had all died. Derek and Laura went away, and Peter Hale, who had once yelled at Stiles for picking little purple flowers in their woods, went into the hospital and didn't come out. After that there was no one to hear you if you got lost in the woods, just a burned-out house slowly crumbling while the yard around it became a forest clearing, weeds growing knee high.

Stiles stopped at the tree line and looked at what was left of the house, which threw deep but irregular shadows in the moonlight. He braced himself for what he'd come to do.

Less than a week ago, Peter Hale had been found in these woods, killed by an animal. Ever since, Stiles's dad had been working overtime, trying to handle the mysterious death and all the drama it stirred up.

On the one hand, apparently there were wolves in Beacon Hills: the medical examiner said at least two had attacked Peter Hale, judging from the two different sets of bite marks. That had everyone freaking out about wild animals, which technically weren't the sheriff's problem but which he heard plenty about anyway.

On the other hand, as far as anyone knew Peter Hale was supposed to be confined to a wheelchair and basically comatose, so the fact that he'd somehow gotten to the woods under his own power was a mystery all by itself. When they questioned his nurse--who had been fired for allowing her patient to go wandering off and was possibly facing criminal charges--she went off into some kind of crazy story about how Laura Hale must have been the one to kill him in the woods. Even when they told her it was wolves she insisted that that was just what Laura wanted the police to think.

Stiles's dad was trying to track down Laura--not only to find out whether there was anything to the crazy nurse's story, but to get her to come claim her uncle's body. It had been days now, but despite working all kinds of overtime he hadn't had any luck finding her or her brother. He was drinking too much coffee, not sleeping enough, and Stiles had decided to take matters into his own hands.

Stiles thought the woods were the obvious place to look for her. It was clear that something seriously crazy was going on. Peter Hale had not only concealed his recovery but went alone into the woods and then coincidentally got killed by wolves who weren't supposed to be anywhere near Beacon Hills? That was literally insane.

So why not listen to somebody who sounded crazy? Maybe nobody could find Laura Hale anywhere near her last known address because she was still hiding out in the woods.

Stiles remembered her, sort of. She'd been a high school senior when she left town, and Stiles had been in fifth grade, but he'd seen her in the woods a few times, even rode the same bus once or twice when she got on in a gang of impossibly grownup High School Girls. His memories were probably enough to recognize her from and, hey, if he met a dark-haired woman in the woods, that would most likely be her.

He didn't really think he was going to find her; the Hales all knew these woods even better than anyone else in Beacon Hills, and he doubted Laura would have forgotten now, if her life or at least her freedom depended on staying hidden. Stiles figured it was worth trying, though. He could check the logical places for a fugitive to camp out, starting with what was left of the Hale house.

If he could find Laura--or at least a good reason to think Laura was in the woods--he could make life easier for his dad. He could maybe even impress people at school; maybe Lydia would finally notice his existence.

Maybe Scott would remember that Stiles existed, or that there was anything in the world other than having just barely squeaked onto first line and gotten a date with the new girl in their class. Not that Stiles was wallowing in self-pity just because his best friend was off the bench and had finally found a girlfriend while Stiles was still on his own--more on his own than ever.

There was no wallowing here. This was the opposite of wallowing. This was a proactive attempt to solve his problems.

Granted, maybe instead of sneaking off alone into the woods armed only with a flashlight he could have gone to the post-scrimmage party and tried to talk to girls without repelling them completely. If Scott could make first line anything was possible, right? But Stiles had chosen the woods. At least he was doing something.

Stiles rocked on his heels, still standing under the trees and peering up at the black hulk of the ruined house.

He wished Scott were with him. Scott would be complaining about how dangerous this was, and pointing out all the ways it could go wrong. Stiles could argue with him then, and he wouldn't just be standing on the edge of the yard like a little kid uncertain of his welcome.

Stiles took a deep breath and then threw himself across the yard and up the porch steps at a sprint, but when he got to the front door he couldn't help hesitating again. He knew lots of kids his age and older who'd been brought to the Hale house when they got lost in the woods. He didn't know anybody who'd ever gone inside. But the whole front of the house was mostly intact, and it would be the obvious place to take shelter if you were an uncle-killing crazy woman--or, to be fair, a woman who might have had perfectly good reasons to kill her uncle and now was scared of being caught by the cops. Creepiness would be a great defense either way.

"And if you are here, you heard me coming half an hour ago and you're not here anymore, right?" Stiles said. "You don't need to kill me, you just don't want to get found. So you took off, and there's no danger now. I can just walk right on inside and look around."

Stiles stood there. He bounced on his heels. The house creaked and the trees shook in the wind, casting sharp, confusing shadows in the bright light of the moon.

"Right," Stiles said, because Scott wasn't going to materialize next to him, and neither was anyone else. "Right, here goes."

He pushed the door open and shined his flashlight inside. It looked sort of normal--charred and dusty and big, but it was recognizably a house. There was a staircase directly in line with the door. A landing at the top led off to hallways on either side. On this level there was a big open foyer with wide doorways leading to the rest of the first floor. This whole area was still roofed, so the moonlight and the shadows it cast only came in through the grimy windows.

There was no obvious sign of habitation near the door. Stiles remembered what he'd been told about getting lost: when you don't know where you are, find high ground.

He looked up the stairs. High ground was safe; high ground let you see what was coming. If Laura were here, wouldn't she be upstairs, where she could see all around?

Stiles braced himself and headed up the stairs, step by careful step. The stairs creaked, but they seemed solid underfoot, and he was up at the second floor landing soon enough. Looking around from up here felt like being at the top of a tree--he could see sky through some of the windows, and he could hear wind whistling. Stiles headed to the left, where he could see moonlight spilling through a doorway.

He stopped short at yet another threshold; he'd come to a place where the roof was gone, as well as the back wall. The room was enclosed on three sides, like a stage set, but it was open to the sky a couple of feet past the doorway and the whole back wall was skeletal, charred sticks of wood sticking up at regular intervals. He was looking out into the dark treetops now. There were drifts of leaves gathered in the corners, and it looked like little plants had taken root between the floorboards at the open edge.

Stiles shined his flashlight on them, and before he'd really decided to do it he was stepping into the burned-out room, picking his way across the floor toward the little sprig of green in his flashlight beam. He slipped halfway there--rotten leaves shifted under his foot with a familiar slick motion. He stumbled back and then forward, arms flailing as he tried to recover his balance, staggering and slipping again and again. He finally flung himself upright at the same instant he realized he was at the edge of the floor, and the flashlight flew from his hand as he caught at the few charred sticks of wood that showed where the wall used to be.

He thought okay, and then the wood under his hand cracked and he thought oh no, no, this is going to hurt and he was falling.

Ow, Stiles tried to say, but no sound came out. It was very dark, all of a sudden. He tried to think of what he was doing, what came next, but all he could think was ow, ow, ow. It didn't even mean anything, it was just the only word he had in his head. Ow.

His hands were under him; he was lying in the grass. He'd better get up. Coach was going to yell at him for just lying here like this. Where was Scott? He put his hands down--the grass was wet under his palms--and that hurt, his wrist hurt, but he pushed anyway. He had to get up.

He made it about an inch off the ground before the pain he hadn't quite felt before exploded through his head and his wrist. He let out a strangled scream that trailed off into a whimper as he fell onto his side, his left wrist pressed to his chest, his head lolling on the ground like it might fall off. He wished it would; nothing had ever hurt this much, ever.

"Ow," he wheezed, breath whistling like Scott's at the end of a practice. "Ow, ow, oh, fuck, ow, ow, hey, can I get some--"

He stopped short. Help. He blinked, squinting, and saw that he was lying facing a stone wall. A foundation wall.

He was at the Hale house. He was alone in the woods. And there was no one to hear him when he called for help.

Stiles kept getting confused about where he was. He thought he was at lacrosse practice--he thought he was in bed--he didn't know where he was but knew it was bad. Over and over he tried to get up, but even when he didn't try to put weight on his wrist, the pain was overwhelming any time he tried to move.

At some point he squinted at the wall and remembered he was at the Hale house. His wrist was probably broken, and he had to have a concussion. And he was cold. He was really cold, and the shivering rattled his whole body, sending spikes of pain through his arm and head and the rest of his body. He was going to freeze out here alone.

"No," he mumbled. He was making the kind of mistake he yelled at in movies. "No. Phone."

Stiles held his head and his left arm as still as he could and reached down his body to his pocket. His right hand was shaking badly and it hurt like hell--he kept making little helpless whining noises that he couldn't control--but he got his fingers to his phone and tugged it out.

Nothing happened when he pushed the power button. He shook the phone a little--half on purpose, half uncontrollable shivering--and shards of plastic fell down on his face.

"No," Stiles repeated, closing his eyes. "No, no, no, shit."

Somebody would find his car in the morning. They would search the woods. They would send out the K-9 units. They would find him sometime tomorrow. But he had to get through the rest of the night, and it was going to be cold, and Stiles was hurt and maybe bleeding. He couldn't even tell how badly he was injured.

And if he was wrong about Laura Hale, then wolves had killed Peter Hale, who probably hadn't been as helpless as Stiles was right now. If the wolves existed they were probably still in the woods somewhere, and Stiles was the definition of easy prey.

"Help," Stiles said, because he couldn't seem to scream. "I'm lost, please, I need help."

Even saying that much was exhausting. He went limp, his shattered phone slipping from his grip.

There was a sound behind him--nothing loud, just moving air or maybe the wind, except he knew that it wasn't. Stiles froze, squeezing his eyes shut and gritting his teeth against words or pained noises.

The sound came closer. It wasn't a person; a person would have said something by now. Even if they were going to kill him they wouldn't need to sneak up on him. He wasn't going anywhere.

Something made a doglike huffing noise, and Stiles couldn't help letting out a moan and trying to curl up small. His heart was thudding painfully in his chest and he knew he had to run and he knew he couldn't even stand up. He twitched a little and the pain of the involuntary motion was blinding.

"Oh, God, there really are wolves. Fuck. Please don't eat me, okay? Please?"

He flinched, choking back a scream, when something touched the side of his neck, just under his ear. It was cold and damp, like a dog's nose, and it sniffed down his neck and then along the side of his face. Stiles was suddenly aware that he was crying, that he had been for a while and his whole face was wet.

The wolf licked his cheek.

Stiles tried to turn his head to look at it, which hurt worse, but the wolf didn't lick him again. It shifted over him so that he could see its eyes--so that it was looking him in the eye. For just a second the wolf's eyes caught some strange reflection in the moonlight and seemed to glow red, and Stiles dropped his gaze as he flinched away.

The wolf gave another little huffing sound and nosed at his cheek, and when it pulled back again Stiles looked up. This time its eyes were a normal light translucent color, gray like everything in the moonlight. It just stared at him, and Stiles stared back, his panic receding as the wolf totally failed to bare its teeth or growl or make any kind of move toward killing and eating him.

It could be a dog, he thought, except that that was so obviously and totally wrong. It didn't look at him like a dog looked at a person. It didn't want anything, not a treat or a toy and not his tender flesh. It was just studying him, the way a person might study a stranger who'd just said or done something unexpected. The same way Stiles was studying the wolf, in fact, but it was hard to think about what the hell was going on with the wolf when his head and his wrist were nothing but throbbing pain and the cold was creeping into everything else.

Finally the wolf gave a little huff and dropped its head, sniffing at Stiles. It nudged his chest and then his shoulder, and Stiles said, "Oh, sorry, am I in your way?"

The wolf picked its head up again and looked him in the eye some more. This didn't make any sense, but then Stiles had just suffered an actual serious head injury. He was probably hallucinating, and the wolf was an EMT or a homeless person or nothing at all.

He might as well talk to it, whatever it was. "I guess it would probably be too much to ask you to go for help, huh? You're not really the Lassie type, are you."

The wolf snorted at that, like it was answering him, and then it turned its head and lowered its muzzle slowly down to Stiles's right arm. He tried to cringe away without moving, his right hand closing involuntarily into a useless fist.

The wolf closed its teeth very delicately on the sleeve of Stiles's shirt, not touching his actual arm at all. It tugged up, twisting its head, until Stiles had his hand raised as high as it would go. The wolf let go of his shirt and turned its head the other way, bumping against the inside of Stiles's elbow so that his forearm bent onto the wolf's neck and suddenly Stiles had his arm around the wolf.

"What," Stiles said, and the wolf huffed and bent its head again with Stiles's arm still around its neck; this time it closed its teeth on the unbuttoned edge of Stiles's shirt. It tugged up gently on the right side, and just the thought of being pulled upright made Stiles's heart start beating faster again, pushing away a fog he hadn't noticed creeping into his thoughts. "What, you want me to--"

And then the wolf lay down next to him. Stiles's arm followed it down, resting on its neck, and Stiles abruptly realized that the wolf was warm. No matter what he was cuddling up to, whether it existed or not, he couldn't resist the promise of heat.

Stiles pressed his left wrist hard to his chest as he tried to roll over without moving his head. He got the spins, and it hurt like hell, but he managed to do it eventually. The wolf just lay next to him patiently until Stiles had thrown his right arm and right leg over it, burying his face in its fur. He was still shivering, but the wolf was warm and soft and pleasantly fluffy, actually, like the teddy bear Stiles had definitely not slept with until an embarrassingly late age. Maybe that was what he was dreaming of, really. It was his very own giant teddy wolf to cuddle when he was in trouble.

"Yeah, that's better," Stiles murmured into its fur, feeling the foggy drowsiness roll in on him again. "You're the best wolf. You're way cooler than Lassie."

The wolf gave a low growl that Stiles felt against his face. He tightened his grip a little on the wolf, and then the wolf moved under him, sending a familiar shock of pain through Stiles's head and wrist that only got worse as the wolf straightened up--way up, it felt like, to a dizzy dangerous height, half-waking him into a sort of gummy awareness that he needed to be more alert and wasn't--

"Oh," Stiles mumbled as his mouth filled with saliva, "No--" and the rest was lost as he puked down the wolf's side.

The wolf stood completely still until he stopped, until he was leaning his forehead against it and mumbling, "I'm sorry, fuck, that was so gross, I'm sorry." The wolf started walking, carrying him away from the puddle and the Hale house. Away from everything.

It was a strange sensation, being carried like that, and it stank of puke and it hurt. Stiles couldn't think past the hurt to figure out what was going on, where the wolf was taking him or how it could be happening.

After a while the wolf was lowering itself to the ground again, but the ground was a neatly-laid sleeping bag, which Stiles could see, blurry and grayed-out, in the moonlight. Stiles shifted away from the wolf onto the soft, unmoving surface; he was instantly colder, but he had to get away from the smell of puke and he had to be still.

The wolf nudged him a couple of times and huffed, then trotted away.

"Thanks," Stiles mumbled after it, and thought that he should get into the sleeping bag.

He curled up instead, shivering until the fog in his brain turned to total blankness.

He jerked away when something wet pressed against his face, waking up into another explosion of pain.

Something smelled like wet dog but it was warm. Stiles curled close to it, pressing his cheek against it and throwing his arm and leg over it as well. It growled low, a vibrating rumble, and breathed warmly against his forehead, and Stiles made an agreeing kind of noise and went back to sleep.

Stiles woke up to a wet willy and squirmed away into a hideous headache and an even worse taste in his dry mouth.

"Not fair, Scott," he mumbled. "Hangover."

The wet probing touch moved across his cheek and he realized it wasn't a finger. It was a tongue, it was....

Stiles opened his eyes and stared. Either he was still hallucinating or this was really happening, somehow. "You're still a wolf."

The wolf made a low noise--more than a growl, less than a bark--like it agreed. Of course it did; it was obviously still a wolf.

"My head still hurts," Stiles told it, even as he rearranged his hands and legs for maximum warmth against its fur while also bracing his left arm so that his wrist didn't hurt worse than it absolutely had to. He knew, in some vague way, how crazy this was, but his head was an ocean of pain about to start leaking out of his skull and his fingers and toes were almost numb. "Can I go back to sleep now?"

The wolf huffed and laid its head down, and Stiles took that to be a yes. In the silence that followed, he could hear the steady shushing sound of rain outside the window. The white noise lulled him back to sleep.

He woke up to a gurgling growl and realized it was his stomach. Stiles was still wrapped around the wolf, but it had lifted its head and was watching him with its ears pricked, head tilted.

"I'm either gonna throw up again or I'm starving," Stiles muttered, closing his eyes against the gray morning light leaking into the little room through a high window along with the sound of the rain. His mouth tasted awful and he could smell himself, or at least he could smell something that smelled like rancid sweat and ashes and vomit, and that was probably him. "I can't tell which."

His head still throbbed, and so did his wrist, and he wasn't sure about his legs and feet and belly, either. He tried taking a deep breath and immediately decided to never do that again.

The wolf moved away from him and Stiles let it go, folding up into a little curl on top of the sleeping bag.

After a while he opened his eyes and squirmed over enough to watch the doorway, because he knew the wolf was coming back for him. Sure enough, pretty soon it came back into view with a bunch of plastic-wrapped things held in its huge toothy jaws.

The wolf dropped them in front of Stiles's face: an energy bar, a packet of Pop Tarts, and a stick of beef jerky.

"What is this, do I have to decide which one the pea is under?" Stiles muttered, squinting at the array. God, his head hurt. "Do I have to decide which one is the One True Breakfast Food? If I choose poorly will I die?"

The wolf dropped down to its belly on the other side of the food, letting out a long breath as it did, like it was exasperated or maybe a little bit amused.

Stiles shifted his squint to the wolf. It was huge, solid black, with eyes that were a pale gray-brown non-color, like river water. It seemed to persist in being a thing that existed, even though Stiles thought he was more or less really awake now, not all fogged in like he had been right after he fell.

The wolf watched him all the time and it had really big teeth and really big claws and it didn't make a sound when it walked around. And Stiles really didn't think he would die, barring cursed breakfast food, because the wolf....

The wolf had brought him breakfast food. The wolf had a room with a sleeping bag to carry him to. The wolf had woken him up in the night to check on him.

"Wait, were you checking that I hadn't slipped into a coma?" Stiles demanded, and then winced and reined in the volume. "Because I have a concussion? Scott's mom did that after he got a concussion in lacrosse practice last year."

The wolf just looked at him. After a few seconds where it didn't give him any kind of answer, it nudged each of the foods slightly closer. Stiles's mouth filled with saliva again, and when his stomach gurgled again he knew it was definitely hunger.

"Okay, okay, if you insist," he said, and reached for the Pop Tarts. He thought about sitting up to eat and then remembered that the last time he lifted his head more than two inches off the ground he'd thrown up from the pain. Lying down, it still hurt worse than most things he'd ever felt in his life, but not quite enough to stop him from being hungry. He dragged the packet over to his mouth with his good hand and ripped it open with his teeth.

He broke off a piece of Pop Tart and crammed it into his mouth. He made it through most of the first one--frosted blueberry, but he wasn't going to argue with the wolf about the one best flavor of Pop Tart, at least not with his mouth full--before his throat got too dry to swallow anymore. It felt all clogged with crumbly pastry and sticky blueberry filling. The sound of the rain outside was suddenly a cruel taunt.


The wolf opened its mouth wide, and Stiles coughed and swallowed laboriously.

"Okay, yeah, hard to carry. You don't have a bucket or something?"

The wolf huffed and tilted its head, and then it moved in and closed its teeth on the shoulder of Stiles's shirt--not nipping his skin at all, just the fabric--and tugged up.

"No, I can't, do you remember what happened last time? I barfed on you."

Just the thought of it made Stiles regret the Pop Tart he'd already eaten. The wolf snorted but didn't let go of his shirt, still tugging patiently.

"This is going to suck," Stiles mumbled, but he pushed himself up carefully with his good arm, keeping his left wrist cradled against his chest. He got dizzy again--he remembered that with sudden, nasty clarity from the night before--but the wolf moved so he could lean on it as he worked up to a sitting position. He managed not to actually hurl again even though the pain was making him sweat and making his eyes water, and it took a couple of minutes to be completely sure which way was up.

When he'd mostly mastered sitting up the wolf stood up and tugged on the collar of his shirt with his teeth.

"What, no more piggyback rides? Wolfy-back? Whatever that was last night?" Even to his own ears Stiles's voice sounded slurred and mumbling.

The wolf tugged again, growling a little bit this time, and Stiles pushed up as far as his knees with his good arm slung over the wolf's back. The dizziness was back, even worse, and he could hear himself panting from what seemed like a long way off.

Again the wolf just waited him out, and eventually Stiles was able to start shuffling forward on his knees, leaning on the wolf or hanging off it depending on which way he was swaying. The wolf patiently inched forward beside him, guiding him out of the room with the sleeping bag and into a dim stone-floored hallway.

Stiles didn't look around. He kept his eyes on the ground in front of him--that moved plenty--and just when he thought his knees would give out or his head would explode or he would heave up the damn Pop Tart, the wolf tugged him into a turn and through a door.

Stiles stared dumbly at the gleaming white porcelain in front of him: a toilet which was just the right height for him to fold over and hurl into, and a sink at eye level. He'd have to pull himself up onto it to get a drink. His throat went tight at the thought of water that close and that far away, and more tears leaked from his eyes.

The wolf tugged on his shirt with its teeth, and Stiles turned his head into more awful dizzy swaying. The wolf scooted out from under his arm and went to the other wall, and all of a sudden water was pouring out of a faucet on the wall, a trickle pattering down onto the tile floor.

Stiles fell forward onto his hands--screamed and jerked his left arm back up--and scrambled awkwardly forward until he collapsed under the stream of water. It fell down onto his forehead and his cheek, and he squirmed over so that it was running straight into his mouth, cold and rusty-tasting and delicious. He drank and drank and drank until he started to feel sick--sicker--and then he pushed himself awkwardly away from the wall.

The wolf stepped over him and pushed a handle with its paw, turning the water off. It was a lever instead of a knob--easy to operate with a paw or teeth--and it was about eight inches off the floor.

"That's for you," Stiles said, and looked over at the toilet and sink again. "That's for humans, but that--" he looked back at the faucet, noticed the gutter under it that ran to a drain, "that's for wolves."

The wolf huffed--yes, obviously--and trotted out of the room.

Stiles eyed the toilet longingly--now that he'd had some water he had to pee so bad it hurt, along with everything else that hurt. He wasn't sure he could actually lift himself up to sit on it, though, let alone stand. The rain against the window was the opposite kind of torture now.

The wolf trotted back in, once again carrying breakfast--the energy bar, the beef jerky, and the Pop Tart Stiles hadn't eaten yet, still inside the torn wrapper. The wolf dropped everything on Stiles's stomach.

"You're not actually a wolf," Stiles said, staring at it as it backed up a step.

The wolf opened its mouth, showing off its big teeth, and stuck out its long, wolfy tongue. It backed away from him and turned in a circle, holding its tail high and letting him see it--big, huge wolf, a boy wolf in fact--from every angle.

"Yeah, okay, you look like a wolf, you're totally a wolf, but you're not just a wolf," Stiles insisted. His head was throbbing and his wrist was sending shooting pains up his arm and he had to pee and might throw up any second, but this was worth focusing on. He'd always been able to focus on anything that was sufficiently interesting. He could do this.

"You're not just a wolf," Stiles said slowly, reasoning it out. "A wolf wouldn't have carried me in here. A wolf wouldn't do a little dance to prove to me that it was a wolf. You're a person. You're--"

He remembered the moon the night before, huge and round and shining nearly as bright as day in the clearing.

"Are you a werewolf?"

The wolf huffed again and sat down, watching him with those pale eyes that had seemed to flash red in the night.

"Wait, but it's the day after, the moon's gone, so why are you still--are you stuck? Are you stuck like this? Are you--"

And it all fit together, click click click, a werewolf who got stuck, the people no one could find. The Hale house. "You're--you're not Laura, you're a boy wolf. Derek? Derek Hale?"

The wolf tilted his head and made a little noise. Stiles could have sworn he was reluctantly impressed. It was an expression Stiles had had a lot of experience spotting.

"So that's a yes. You're Derek. And Peter's your--and wolves killed--you--" Stiles said, and the wolf--Derek--growled.

"Right, um, breakfast," Stiles said quickly, grabbing the other Pop Tart.

The wheels kept turning as he chewed: Peter had been killed by wolves, specifically by two wolves. They knew that because they could tell one was bigger than the other. His dad said Dr. Deaton thought they might have been a male and a female, by the size difference. Maybe a mated pair--or maybe brother and sister, Stiles thought, eyeing Derek, who sat there and eyed him right back.

Stiles scooted back toward the wall and hit the faucet to dump another drink of water down on himself.

"So you and Laura are both wolves, right? Werewolves?" Stiles said, wiping his splashed face with his good arm.

"And this is your house, this is where you grew up--this must be the basement. But we didn't come in through the house, did we? There must be some kind of back way that's easier to manage when you're a wolf. And this tap is set up for a wolf--and you all lived out here in the woods, away from other people. Was it your whole family?"

Derek didn't make a sound, just turned around and lay down with his back to Stiles.

"Oh," Stiles said. "Oh. Your--your whole family. I'm sorry, Derek, that was--sorry."

Whatever they were, Derek's whole family was dead, and however it happened his uncle was dead, too, and his sister was missing. If it was just that she was a wolf she'd have been here with Derek, wouldn't she?

Stiles finished the Pop Tart and started on the energy bar. Derek's ear twitched back toward him when he tore the wrapper open.

Stiles got another few drinks of water to wash it down before he pushed the beef jerky down onto the floor and curled onto his side on the wet, cold floor, trying not to think too much about how badly he had to pee. Short term solution, but maybe he would magically regain the ability to stand up without falling over or puking before his bladder actually exploded.

Derek suddenly loomed up over him and nudged the beef jerky Stiles had pushed away.

"No, man, I am not eating that for breakfast, it'll get all stuck in my teeth and it's seriously not breakfast food."

Derek stepped in closer to Stiles. He put his muzzle close enough to Stiles's face that Stiles held his breath, and then Derek moved down Stiles's body, sniffing him, maybe, until he got to the top of his jeans. Then he jabbed his nose precisely into Stiles's bladder, making him yelp and flail, trying not to piss himself and also trying to writhe away without lifting his head or shifting his left arm.

"What," Stiles demanded. "What, yes, I have to pee and I can't stand up, thank you for taking an interest."

Derek shook his head and then nudged Stiles's side and stepped over him. Stiles took the cue and rolled slowly and carefully onto his other side to watch. Derek was still standing nearly on top of him--there just wasn't that much space. He looked down at Stiles, and then over toward the wall as he lifted one leg and squirted a shot of piss into the gutter along the wall.

Derek stepped back and then jerked his muzzle toward the wall. Your turn.

"You're not seriously--" Stiles said, and Derek feinted his nose toward Stiles's belly again, making Stiles put his good hand down to cover himself. Derek stepped over him and sat down, politely facing away.

"Okay," Stiles said, closing his eyes and gathering his strength. "Okay. I don't even have to sit up, right? I can just do this from here."

He pushed himself closer to the wall, unzipped his pants and got his dick out, closing his eyes in bliss as he pissed into the gutter. It occurred to him, after the first rush, that he should see if there was blood in it, but as far as he could tell he was peeing a totally normal color.

What wasn't a normal color, though, was his hip where his jeans and boxers were pushed down. Stiles shook off and then pushed his boxers down further and pulled his shirt up, revealing a neat rectangular outline of his phone in the form of a hugely swollen black bruise.

"Ow," he said, although he couldn't actually feel it over the pain of his head and wrist, a vaguely sore sensation all over his body, the intermittent stab of his ribs, and the lingering crampy ache low in his belly from having to hold it too long before he could pee. He poked the bruise curiously and--ow, ow, ow--yes. That hurt too.

Stiles pulled his boxers and jeans back into place and then lay there just staring at the wall. There was probably something he had to do next, but all he could think of was that he would have to crawl back to the other room before he got too cold here, and that was more than he could fathom doing right now.

Derek nudged him, nosing at his shoulder. Stiles fell down slowly onto his back and looked up at him. Derek tilted his head, and Stiles looked over without moving any further and saw that Derek had gone and gotten the sleeping bag. It was laid out between the toilet and the sink, where the floor was still dry.

Stiles shut his eyes for a moment while they prickled with relief and gratitude, and then he started scooting himself over to the sleeping bag. When he was all the way on it, Derek lay down next to him again, and Stiles didn't even hesitate before throwing an arm and leg over him. He was dry and warm and generally awesome, and Stiles wasn't going to let go of him too easily.

"Seriously, the best," Stiles murmured, face pressed into the fur of Derek's shoulder.

There was a motion down by Stiles's leg: a very soft, furry thump. Stiles was nearly asleep before he realized that that must have been Derek's tail wagging, just once, while Stiles wasn't looking.

Stiles dozed on and off, but eventually he couldn't ignore the awful hot throb of his broken wrist. His whole left hand was starting to feel weird and tingly, and even through the continued pounding of his head he could think clearly enough now to realize that that was a really bad sign. He pulled away from Derek and held his left hand up to look at it, gingerly unbuttoning the cuff of his shirt for the first time.

"Ohhhh, fuck," Stiles moaned. His whole wrist was darkly bruised and so swollen his hand looked like a mismatched replacement part. He could see the stitching of his shirt pressed into his purple-black skin in creepily neat little lines.

Derek made a low noise, sniffing the air beside Stiles's wrist without quite touching it. He stood up and walked over to the toilet, ducking his muzzle into it. Stiles thought he was drinking from it, but then he straightened up, huffed, and came back to Stiles to close his teeth on Stiles's flapping shirt cuff. He didn't actually tug, just closed his teeth like he was about to, and then he went back to the toilet and made the gesture of dunking his head inside.

"You want me to stick my broken wrist in a toilet?" Stiles demanded.

Derek stared at him for a second, and then he pointed toward the toilet again with his nose and looked back at Stiles. He shook delicately all over, like he was shivering, although Stiles didn't think wolves shivered, and Derek definitely....

"It's cold?" Stiles said, finally recognizing the charade Derek was acting out. "Is that what you're telling me? The water in there is cold so it's like icing my wrist?"

Derek nodded.

"It's also a frigging toilet," Stiles yelled, and then regretted it, because his voice echoed horribly in the small, all-hard-surfaces space of the bathroom, making his head hurt worse again.

Derek winced and then came back to Stiles. He jerked his nose toward Stiles's wrist and then tilted his head.

"No, okay, no, I don't have any better ideas," Stiles muttered, and scooted himself painstakingly toward the toilet. He touched the porcelain on the outside of the bowl and then jerked his hand away--Derek was right, it was really cold. Probably cold enough to kill germs, like a refrigerator.

Stiles tried not to think about the stuff that he'd found growing in their fridge when he and his dad forgot to throw out leftovers.

"Anyway, I guess it's probably been six years since anyone used it, right?"

Derek huffed, looking amused this time, and Stiles elected to believe that that was agreement. Derek leaned over and pushed the seat up with his nose. Stiles hauled himself up to lean against it, wincing in anticipation of cold and grossness. He shut his eyes and plunged his hand into the water as far as it would go.

He hadn't actually looked before he stuck his hand in, but the shock of cold made him open his eyes. The water was totally clear, although the toilet bowl was ringed with layers of rusty mineral stains. Stiles had his fingers all the way down in the pipe at the bottom of the bowl, trying not to flex his wrist. The water was cold, but it felt good on his tight, feverish skin.

For about five seconds.

"Oh, fuck, fuck, that's really cold, shit--" Stiles tried to pull his arm back and Derek was suddenly there, leaning across his back, closing his teeth gently on the back of Stiles's upper arm.

Stiles froze. He could feel Derek's teeth, little points of pressure through his shirt and t-shirt. He could feel Derek's hot breath through the fabric. He was acutely conscious that he couldn't move with Derek there, huge wolf body pressing him into place. He shivered a little.

"Okay," Stiles said shakily. "Okay, I know it's for my own good and everything, right. You're just. Making sure I actually keep it in the water long enough to help, right?"

Derek let go of Stiles's arm so abruptly that Stiles almost pulled his arm back in reflex; he managed to only wobble his wrist a little, making the water slosh in the toilet. Derek set his muzzle on Stiles's left shoulder, nudging his nose against Stiles's throat and ear in what Stiles thought might be apology.

"Yeah," Stiles said, "No, hey, I wasn't scared, you just startled me, big guy. I just--"

Derek huffed in his ear, and Stiles sagged down over the toilet.

"Okay! Yes, you scared me, and also this is still really fucking cold."

Derek growled a little bit and stayed pressed up close to Stiles, holding him still without the use of his teeth. Stiles groped sideways with his right hand and buried it in the fur of Derek's hip. The contrast of dry, furry warmth and wet stunning cold was sort of surreal.

Stiles closed his eyes and told himself he wasn't going to fall down no matter how dizzy he felt. There wasn't much more down to fall, and anyway Derek wouldn't let him move that far.

Stiles wasn't sure how much time had passed when Derek tugged on the collar of his shirt, but it took him a few seconds to realize that he could move now. When he carefully eased his left arm out of the toilet his wrist was shockingly smaller--not normal-looking, and still all black and purple and red, but not nearly as grotesque as it had looked before. Derek tugged again, and Stiles scooted backward toward the sleeping bag and collapsed with his arm held carefully to his chest. He reached expectantly for Derek, but Derek trotted away, out of the room, leaving Stiles to stare at the doorway with his eyes half open.

It was seriously unfair how fast the numbness wore off and his wrist started throbbing again, feeling hot with pain even while the rest of Stiles felt cold and damp from dripping water. The pain was back to being worse than his head by the time Derek reappeared, carrying a bunch of stuff in his mouth again. He dropped it all next to Stiles's head and Stiles blinked at it, trying to sort it out without moving enough to touch it.

Derek picked up two sticks and dropped them closer to Stiles.

"What," Stiles mumbled, "now you want to play fetch?"

Derek growled, loud and harsh, and Stiles jerked and pushed up on his good elbow, then looked down at the sticks again. They were little flat slats, the same length. The ends of both of them were splintery and broken, but the flat faces were smooth. Stiles looked over to see what else Derek had brought, and realized it was a long continuous strip of torn denim.

"Splint," Stiles realized. "You brought me a splint."

Derek sat down and tilted his head approvingly, and Stiles dragged all the stuff toward him and rolled onto his back, holding his left wrist up. He tugged the sleeve of his shirt carefully back over his swollen wrist before he placed a slat against his arm. He could hold his left arm flat so that the slat rested on top of it, at least for a few seconds, but then he had to pick up the other one for the other side, and then he was totally out of useable hands, so....

Derek made a soft huffing sound and moved in. Slowly he opened his jaws wide, and he met Stiles's eyes as he moved his long sharp teeth closer to Stiles's broken wrist.

"Okay," Stiles said, his voice shaking. He could feel his heart hammering, throbbing in his head and in his wrist, but there really wasn't any other way. Derek had done nothing but help him so far, after all. Derek knew how bad his wrist hurt. "Okay, just--be careful."

There was a faint click as Derek's teeth made contact with the wood on either side of Stiles's forearm; Stiles winced, but there wasn't any pain, or not any more pain. Derek held the splints against Stiles's arm but he didn't press down one millimeter further.

Stiles picked up a strip of fabric and set it on top of the end of the wood in the palm of his hand, laboriously curling his fingers down to hold it there. It took a couple of tries to figure out how to make the loops hold down the end, and when he ran a loop below the base of his thumb, over the start of his wrist, he made an involuntary noise when he pulled it tight.

Derek scooted his teeth over a little bit so Stiles could keep wrapping. Stiles gritted his teeth and kept going, pulling each loop tight even as his hands shook and his vision blurred. When Derek didn't need to hold the slats to Stiles's wrist anymore, he pushed his head into Stiles's right armpit, helping him hold his arm up as he wrapped and wrapped.

He had to blink his eyes clear when he realized he was almost out of cloth, so he could see to make a knot. The tail of the denim slipped out of his fingers twice, forcing him to retighten it, and by the time he actually made the knot he was sort of sobbing as he cursed. Eventually he had his wrist splinted, and Derek let him lower his arm and lay down beside him, so Stiles could roll over and rest his splinted wrist on Derek's back.

Stiles wasn't asleep--just lying totally still and unsure whether he'd ever be able to make himself move again--when Derek leaned in and licked his cheeks clean. It made more tears leak from Stiles's stinging eyes, but Derek just kept washing them away until Stiles hid his face against Derek's neck.

Stiles had a nightmare that Derek made him undo the splint and soak his wrist again. He was still curled around the toilet with his arm in the water, resting his head on his other arm on the rim, when he realized he was awake.

He picked his head up too fast to look around for Derek, and got so dizzy he swayed wildly and banged his broken wrist against the inside of the toilet bowl. He halfway strangled his scream and Derek darted in from outside and growled at him, stepping in to crowd him back down.

"No, fuck you," Stiles yelled, his voice shaking, even as he clutched the toilet for balance, the pain in his head like thunder and lightning all at once. "That wasn't fucking fair, getting me to do that while I was asleep."

Derek huffed and waggled his head in an eye-rolling sort of gesture, and Stiles didn't even think. He whipped his right hand from its grip on the edge of the toilet and grabbed Derek's muzzle.

"No," he snapped, at the same time that he was registering that his fingers didn't go very far around Derek's jaw. "Bad wolf!"

For a second they were both totally still, and then Derek's eyes glowed red, and a growl rumbled in his chest like an earthquake. Stiles could feel it vibrating the bones of his fingers, his whole right arm, and he couldn't look away from Derek's red eyes. His stomach was shaking like the least fun bowl full of jelly ever. He realized he was swaying, with nothing but his grip on Derek to steady him, and then he realized he needed to let go.

Stiles yanked his hand back, leaving his arm in the air between him and Derek, as if he had any hope of protecting himself if Derek decided to take a step forward and chomp him. But Derek, after another long second of staring and growling, turned and bolted out of the room.

The adrenaline deserted Stiles and suddenly his head was pounding and he was dizzier than ever. He managed to slump back onto the toilet instead of falling onto the floor. He was whining a little on every breath but he kept his broken wrist in the water.

After a while he started counting, just for something to do, something to focus on instead of pain and cold and creepy crawly fear. He'd just stay still and count to a hundred. Five hundred. A thousand.

His voice trailed off after one thousand and twelve--somehow he couldn't bring himself to say thirteen again--and it occurred to him that this meant he'd kept his hand in the water for... a lot of minutes.

He drew it out slowly and looked at it; it looked less swollen again, and his fingers and palm were pale and wrinkled and dead looking. His fingers, when he flexed them, moved stiffly. Stiles couldn't quite feel them.

Stiles cautiously raised his head and looked toward the sleeping bag. The splint was lying there, the cloth still coiled around the slats. Stiles scooted cautiously over and found that he could slide his arm inside and only had to retighten the loops of cloth by himself. He managed it, even tying off the knot, before the numbness had entirely worn off.

When he finished that he managed to get inside the sleeping bag, but it was nowhere near as warm as having Derek with him. Stiles wanted to call for him, and was scared of him coming back, all at the same time.

He'd just let Derek decide. Derek was bound to come back, right? He wouldn't have spent all this time looking after Stiles just to leave him down here all alone to freeze or starve or just die somehow, trapped all by himself in the tunnels under the Hale house.

Lying there alone it occurred to Stiles for the first time to wonder if he could get out by himself. On the heels of that thought came the thought of being back in his own room, of his dad--

Oh God, his dad had to be looking for him. Stiles looked up toward the window and realized the light was already fading; it had to be midafternoon at least, and Stiles had been missing now all night and most of a day. It had rained for hours, so the dogs might not be able to find his scent. They'd be out searching for him, finding nothing--his Jeep, and maybe what was left of his phone--but not him. They wouldn't find him down here. They would never find him.

No, Stiles thought, even as his breath started coming short, no, no, no, not now. He tensed against the pain even before it came, shooting across his ribs as he strained to inhale, and he made a high noise that was almost a whistle on his next attempt to breathe. He knew there were things he was supposed to do and thoughts he was supposed to think and all he could actually think was no, no, please, no as the panic attack swallowed him up.

He opened his eyes and, oh, yeah, black sparkles all over the place. This was a bad one, this was really bad. He could die from this, from being scared. He could literally scare himself to death, of all the fucking stupid things to die from.

Derek made a gruff noise as he stepped into Stiles's line of sight. He pushed his nose into Stiles's chest a couple of times, and Stiles scowled. Stupid wolf, he would breathe if he could fucking breathe; telling him to breathe wouldn't help. Then Derek shoved his head right inside the sleeping bag and before Stiles knew what was happening, Derek's jaw was closing around his right wrist, teeth pressing down on his skin in little individual points of almost-pain.

"No!" Stiles yelled, and it turned out he could breathe after all.

Derek backed away quickly and lay down right in front of Stiles, head on paws. His eyes weren't glowing, and he wasn't growling. Stiles took a few deep, careful breaths and then reached out to touch Derek's paw with his good hand, the one Derek had almost bitten.

"I guess we're even?" Stiles whispered, his throat still all tight and scratchy, dizzy with adrenaline even as it made the pain fuzz out for a few light-headed seconds.

Derek huffed, but he flicked his tongue out to lick the back of Stiles's hand. Stiles wanted to argue--they were so even, that whole panic attack had been Derek's fault anyway--but terror was exhausting and so was pretty much everything else ever since Derek had found him. Stiles closed his eyes with his hand still on Derek's paw, making sure he didn't go anywhere.

Stiles woke up again to Derek nudging his cheek with his nose. Stiles told him a couple of times to go away, but Derek just kept at it until Stiles actually opened his eyes, at which point he realized the light was fading. The room was already shadowy, the colors leaching out of everything. Derek's eyes were just gray, now.

Stiles could just make out the shapes on the floor in front of him: beef jerky and more Pop Tarts. Derek nudged them closer and then sat back. Stiles sighed and nodded gingerly, not sloshing his brain around too much. He ate obediently, bite by bite by bite. He had to crawl over to the tap for water when he was halfway through the beef jerky.

While he was still curled on the floor by the tap, catching his breath before he started on the Pop Tarts, he asked, "Can I leave?"

Derek was lying right alongside Stiles's body, and Stiles felt him jerk at the question. He tilted his head, and then stood, backed away from Stiles and jerked his muzzle up a couple of times. Stand up.

Stiles actually tried it, more out of stubborn determination to rise to Derek's challenge than any actual delusion that he could do it. He reached up and grabbed the faucet with his good hand, and that helped him get to the point of sitting up against the wall, dizzy and with his head feeling like it would split open any second but grimly determined to keep going. He managed to surge up onto his knees, which made his stomach heave and his head feel like it was full of hammers and angry hornets while his sense of up and down went sideways in all directions.

Fuck it, he could totally do this. He got a foot down, sort of--his ankle twisted a little and his foot slipped into the gutter, and he pushed up at the same time he was falling down, which just made him dizzier.

He folded down over Derek's back, his breath going out of him on impact. Derek stood totally still while Stiles hung there, and eventually Stiles managed to slide down to his knees and hide his face in Derek's fur while he waited for everything to stop spinning and hurting so much.

It didn't stop, exactly, but he got used to it enough to slide the rest of the way down to the floor, with his head leaning against Derek's side. Derek stayed put until Stiles gave up and grabbed the Pop Tarts, and then Derek made a little gruff noise and curled around to nose gently at Stiles's head.

"Okay," Stiles said, when his mouth was full of sugary semi-cooked pastry and he felt like they'd agreed to put that totally humiliating display behind them, "but may I leave?"

Derek huffed and curled himself tighter around Stiles in a way that made Stiles stop chewing. It was too much like the way Derek had crowded him up against the toilet, and even if it was for his own good....

"Derek," Stiles said, his voice shaky, and before he could argue Derek huffed and pulled away, leaving Stiles to sag back against the wall. It was getting harder to see, but Derek wagged his head up and down in a big, exaggerated nodding motion, except he was also standing stiffly out of Stiles's reach, his tail sticking out poker-straight behind him.

"Derek," Stiles repeated, "can you--could you go get someone? Could you get my--"

Dad? The word caught in Stiles's throat, and he couldn't actually say it. He couldn't even think that far, because he would cry or panic again or--he took another bite of Pop Tart and focused on Derek.

Derek huffed and shook all over, and then trotted out of the room without looking back. For a second Stiles thought that was it, that Derek had gone to get help, and then Derek came back in.

Stiles squinted. He knew it was Derek, but all he could see was a silhouette, and what he saw looked weirdly dog-like, tail high and wagging, feet prancing like a cartoon dog, radiating an impossible air of canine friendliness. And then, in mid-bounce, Derek dropped, flung slightly sideways and down; Stiles looked away automatically, up toward the window, where the shot must have come from.

But there hadn't been a shot--no sound of breaking glass, no firecracker pop of firing--and when Stiles looked back, Derek picked his head up and made a gruff, irritated noise.

"You..." Stiles thought it through. "Even if you showed up looking like a friendly cartoon dog, they would shoot you. Because they think--because--wolves."

Because wolves killed Peter Hale, who was Derek's uncle, who had been burned so badly in the fire that orphaned Derek and Laura. Because Derek and Laura, after all these years, had come back to Beacon Hills and taken on wolf-shapes and killed their uncle, and now Derek was stuck like this. Now anyone who saw Derek would think he was nothing but an animal.

"I won't let them," Stiles said, and Derek looked toward him. He couldn't see Derek's eyes, but he'd bet Derek could see him just fine. His grip on his Pop Tart tightened, for lack of anything else to hold onto.

"I won't let anyone hurt you," Stiles repeated.

It was a stupid thing to say when Stiles couldn't even stand up and only had one working arm and Derek was a giant freaking magical wolf. It was obviously stupid, but it was true anyway. Derek had saved him, and Derek kept taking care of him, and whatever had gone down with Peter Hale, Stiles knew Derek wasn't the bad guy. He couldn't be. If Stiles had to stay put until he could walk out on his own two feet, if that was what it took to keep Derek from getting shot by an over-excited deputy, fine. Stiles would do his part.

Derek's eyes lit up, glowing red like embers. Stiles couldn't actually back away, but he pressed himself into the wall and stayed very still. Derek wasn't growling; he didn't seem angry. It was just his eyes glowing red all of a sudden. Stiles closed his eyes when those red lights came too close, but Derek just pushed his face against Stiles's. He rubbed their cheeks together, and then did the same on the other side.

Stiles leaned into it after a frozen second, rubbing his cheek against Derek's furry jaw. Derek pulled back a little and licked Stiles's forehead, startling him into a laugh.

"Okay, so, yeah, you won't let anyone hurt me either, huh? So now we're definitely even?"

Derek gave a laughing kind of huff and a little full-body shake that probably meant No, of course not. He ducked his head and nudged Stiles's hand, and Stiles obediently returned to eating his Pop Tart.

Derek didn't make him again, but Stiles soaked his wrist whenever it started to hurt too much. Once it was totally dark he couldn't see to put the splint back on, but as long as he kept mostly still that didn't seem to matter too much. For the--hours? minutes?--the times he managed to sleep in between trips to stick his wrist in the toilet, he laid his arm along Derek's back and tucked his face against Derek's shoulder and tried to sleep.

The second or third time, a little bit of moonlight was leaking in the window, and Stiles was thinking too much to fall asleep before the numbness wore off. Stiles found himself wondering again how Derek had gotten stuck as a wolf; he must have changed days before the moon to have bitten Peter with wolf-teeth, and he stayed that way in daytime, too. Now the moon had to be waning, but here he was.

And then Stiles's brain, as it usually did, jumped tracks, and he couldn't hold down the question that suddenly seemed like the only question he really needed to ask. It was the one that had brought him here, after all.

"Derek," Stiles said, turning his head just enough to say it without getting a mouthful of fur, "where's Laura?"

Derek tried to pull away and Stiles grabbed hold. "No, sorry, sorry, never mind, don't--"

Derek nosed at Stiles's cheek, shoving him down a little roughly--but without teeth, without growling--until Stiles pressed his face into Derek's fur. Stiles felt the pressure of Derek's muzzle against the back of his head, holding him still. He squirmed just enough to make sure he could breathe.

He didn't have to wonder what Derek meant, at least. This was a pretty easy one to decipher. Shut up. I don't want to talk about it.

Stiles skritched his fingers through Derek's fur in silent apology, and then concentrated on making himself go limp, though he knew he wasn't going to be able to sleep at all now.

Stiles woke up in daylight, alone, and felt like he was fully awake for the first time in a long while. His head was still pounding, and his wrist felt overinflated and like he had red-hot coals where his wrist bones were supposed to be, but he was actually clear-headed now, enough to realize how fuzzy he'd been before.

He stared up at the ceiling above him--joists and boards, black with sealant or age or smoke, with a few pipes and wires going across. He hadn't seen it before, and he didn't know whether his vision had been messed up or if it just had never occurred to him to look where Derek wasn't. The window was streaked with water, but the light was clear, so the rain had stopped.

Stiles lowered his gaze and looked all around the little bathroom. Derek wasn't here. Even before he could really try to worry about where Derek was--or whether his concussion-fuzziness had extended to hallucinating all of that--he saw the packet of Pop Tarts set out for him next to an energy bar.

"Thanks for breakfast, Derek," Stiles said, without really raising his voice. Wolves' ears had to be at least as good as dogs', and probably better; Derek ought to be able to hear him if he was anywhere nearby, and if he wasn't anywhere nearby there wasn't any point in yelling.

Stiles kept his left wrist tucked against his chest and scooted over to grab the food. He was halfway through eating his Pop Tarts before he realized that he was sitting half-upright and not throwing up or falling over. He got up onto his knees and made it safely over to the faucet for a drink, and sat down again to finish his breakfast.

Derek still hadn't turned up by the time Stiles was done, so he made himself soak his wrist for a while, trying not to think about all the germs he'd probably exposed himself to already. He could hold his head up while he did it--his head still hurt like nothing else, but being a few feet off the ground wasn't cripplingly painful or disorienting anymore.

On the other hand, it was way harder to make himself stay still or keep his wrist in icy frigging cold water. He gave up after a few minutes, and his wrist looked pretty much the same as when he'd stuck it in, even if his skin was superficially numb. He found the pieces of the splint and put it back on, which was ball-shrivelingly, nauseatingly painful, but made him feel weirdly protected once it was done.

There was still no sign of Derek. Stiles eyed the door for a while, considered his options, and then knee-walked to the doorway. He braced himself against it and slowly, carefully stood up. He got dizzy and his head pounded suddenly harder--he had to shut his eyes and cling to the wall with his good hand--but after a little while he could open his eyes and contemplate moving, maybe. He took a cautious step out into the hallway with his good hand still gripping the helpfully uneven stone of the wall.

Derek was standing about ten feet away. Stiles stopped short, swayed, and leaned into the wall. He did not take his eyes off the giant wolf standing in the dimly-lit tunnel, waiting for him.

"Holy shit," Stiles said weakly. "You're freaking huge, man."

His brain served up the obligatory That's what she said, but Derek just tilted his head and huffed impatiently.

"No, I mean, I knew that," Stiles agreed as Derek sauntered toward him. "I just--I guess I thought it was like forced perspective or the way your brain makes the moon look bigger when it's at the horizon, you know? I was always seeing you from down on the ground, but Jesus Christ, you are actually like--"

Derek just stood there, coming up to Stiles's hip like it wasn't a big deal. "You're like a small pony, here. Children could ride you."

Derek looked up at Stiles and growled, and Stiles gingerly waved his splinted hand, then stopped when that made it hurt startlingly worse.

"Okay," he said faintly, "okay, I mean, obviously no actual small children will try to ride you. That would be insane."

Derek huffed again and stepped in close, herding Stiles away from the wall, so that Stiles had to put his good hand down on Derek's shoulders instead. Stiles shuffled slowly down the hall, with his splinted wrist propped against his opposite shoulder and his head down, watching his feet. He had to concentrate on walking, and everything hurt, but he could do this, which meant he was getting better. He was going to be okay, he was--

They turned at a new, lower doorway, and Stiles had to lean heavily on Derek as he negotiated a couple of steps down. This room was dark, but once Derek had guided him to the bottom of the steps, he darted away and came back with a candle and matches. Stiles sat down on the step to work the matches--Derek helpfully held the candle in his mouth until Stiles lit it--and then Stiles held it up and revealed the small, shadowy room.

There was a dark shape on the dirt floor, and beyond it there was a hole.

That was all Stiles could make out for a few seconds, and then, between one blink and the next, the room came into focus: there was a black wolf lying dead on the ground, and there was a grave. Stiles got to his feet somehow; Derek propped him up, though Stiles already knew that should be going the other way around, even without looking closely. He stumbled over to the wolf, dropping to his knees with a jarring thump.

Stiles held the candle high, and the shadows jumped crazily as his hand shook. It felt wrong, but he looked between the wolf's legs. He saw both the absence there and the horrible gaping tear where her belly should be, packed with dirt where there was no fur or skin left to fill the space. This was a girl wolf, and she was very, very dead.

"Laura?" Stiles said, his voice already shaking.

Derek was just standing there, between Laura and the grave he must have dug. It was round and untidy, not all square and straight-edged, but a wolf couldn't use a shovel. He'd dug this with his own hands--paws--for her.

"You..." Stiles said, and then looked up and met Derek's wide, pale eyes.

He bit his lip and made himself think before he said anything else; Derek looked away first, turning and jumping down into the hole. There was a scrabbling, digging sound, but mostly Stiles was alone here with--with Laura.

Stiles folded down to sit, looking at her. There were other dirt-packed wounds on her body than the huge one that must have taken out most of her guts. She'd been in a fight, and she'd died. And she'd helped kill Peter, which meant--it had to mean she'd been fighting Peter and Peter had killed her. Peter had been found in the woods, but Laura was here. As far as Stiles knew they hadn't said anything about Peter's body being moved from where he'd been killed, so it had probably happened where he'd been found. But Derek had brought Laura back here, and he was digging her grave.

Stiles set the candle down, watching nothing but his fingers packing dirt around it to keep it upright while his brain churned through the implications.

Derek hadn't killed his sister. He couldn't have. Peter had killed her, and she'd killed Peter back--or maybe she'd nearly done it, and Derek had to finish the job. Maybe Derek had found them fighting and jumped in to defend her, or maybe....

Maybe anything. But Derek hadn't done anything wrong. Stiles was sure of that.

Derek leapt up out of the hole and stood there in front of Stiles. Stiles looked up at him, and back to Laura. He kept his eyes on her--trying to memorize her face, trying to see Laura and not just a wolf, an animal. He wished he could remember that dark-haired high school girl better.

He said almost steadily, "She was all you had, wasn't she? After the fire--she and--and your uncle--they were the only ones left. And now it's just you."

Derek stepped in close, shoving his head against Stiles's chest, and Stiles curled down around him, pressing his face between Derek's ears. He could feel Derek's breathing against his chest, and all he could smell was wolf and dirt. He wasn't really sure if hugging was okay, but he figured after a second that Derek could get away easily enough if it wasn't. He laid his arms gingerly over Derek's neck.

"I'm sorry," he whispered, and it struck him with sick suddenness why people had said those useless, stupid words to him so many times after his mom died. There just wasn't anything else to say. And the words were ten times as stupid and useless to say to Derek, because it was his sister and his uncle and his whole entire family and now he was alone, stuck as a wolf and hiding in these tunnels.

Stiles kept his eyes squeezed shut and held on. "Derek, I'm sorry, I'm so fucking sorry."

Derek pulled back slowly and gently, so that Stiles uncurled from around him and let his hands slide down. He licked Stiles's face while Stiles blinked, trying to stop the tears. He felt suddenly overwhelmed by the absence of his mom, at the same time that he knew that this was also the absence of Derek's mom, Derek's dad, Derek's everyone.

Stiles squinted at Derek through his tears, and for a minute he couldn't figure out how Derek could look so calm, how his gray-brown eyes could still be dry, and then he realized.

Wolves couldn't cry.

That seemed worse somehow, that Derek couldn't even do this. Stiles sobbed, and Derek huffed at him and pressed close again. Stiles hid his face for as long as Derek stayed there, but then Derek pulled away--all the way away this time.

He stepped over to Laura and sniffed along her body in a slow, deliberate way. Stiles couldn't really smell anything that smelled worse than he did--there was a vague sewer smell, but mostly just dirt. He somehow didn't think Derek was really sniffing for that. He was saying goodbye.

Stiles reached out his good hand toward her, and Derek picked his head up and looked, and then lowered his head again. Stiles set his hand carefully against the fur of Laura's face.

It felt like Derek's, stiff-soft, but she was cold and still. There was a slackness he could feel when he moved his hand over her fur. Stiles was suddenly, viscerally glad that he'd never really touched his mom, after. Looking had been bad enough.

"Goodbye," Stiles said, because he was the only one who could say it. His voice shook, but he swallowed and kept at it. "Goodbye, Laura Hale. Rest in peace."

Stiles looked at Derek, who was watching him, and tried to guess if there was more Derek wanted him to say.

"You were a good sister," Stiles tried, and Derek gave a soft woof that sounded like agreement. "And Derek loved you, and you were really brave. You must have been so fucking brave. And Peter Hale is dead, so you--you're avenged, Laura, and Derek's going to be okay. I'll make sure he's okay, just like he's been taking care of me. He won't be all alone, I promise."

Derek huffed softly and Stiles clenched his teeth to make himself stop talking. Derek made a few low sounds somewhere between a bark and a growl, almost like talking. Then he tilted his head back and made an eerie high sound that should have been a howl. In this little dark room underground it was small and sad, almost like singing, and all the hair on Stiles's body stood on end.

When Derek was done, he stepped over Laura and went into a corner of the room near the door, coming back with a folded bunch of rough burlap. He dropped it on the ground between Laura and the grave, and Stiles helped him spread it out flat, and then held down the edge while Derek dragged Laura onto it. Stiles bit his lip and let the tears run down his face while he helped Derek cover her with the cloth and tuck it around her.

Derek took another moment standing beside Laura, and then he whined low in his throat, lowered his head, and pushed her awkwardly into the grave. She landed with a thump that should have been sort of funny but just made Stiles's breath hitch painfully in his chest. When Derek leapt in after her Stiles felt as terrifyingly alone as ever. He grabbed his candle and scooted closer, leaning over the edge to watch Derek rearranging the cloth around Laura.

After a while he realized that Derek was just standing there, pushing his nose against the cloth without moving anything. He remembered, with a sick jolt, the way his dad had stayed next to the coffin at the last minute, not letting them close it for the last time until he'd fixed her hair one more time. One more. One more.

"Derek," Stiles said quietly, because no one else would and this time he couldn't just stand with Scott and stare at his feet. "Come on. Come out of there."

Derek looked up and snarled, his eyes flashing red, but Stiles held on to his candle and held his ground.

"Please," Stiles said quietly. "Come on."

Derek looked down, growling like an engine idling, and then he gathered himself and jumped, scrambling up and out on the opposite side from Stiles. There was a big pile of dirt there, and Derek started nosing and pushing at it, making it patter down into the grave, onto Laura.

Stiles set his candle in the dirt on his side of the grave and then crawled around to where Derek was, using his good hand to sweep and push dirt down. He was exhausted almost immediately, breathing hard against the occasional stab of pain from his ribs and powering through the pain in his head, but he kept at it because Derek was still working. It had to get done, and Stiles's hand was better for this than Derek's paw or nose.

The grave was halfway filled in--Laura was covered up completely--by the time Stiles got dizzy shoving some dirt over the edge and almost fell in. Derek caught him, of course, his jaws closing on Stiles's upper arm and yanking him backward. Stiles didn't even have time to be scared--shit, that would have hurt--before Derek had let go of his arm and was shoving him away from the hole, pressing his whole head against Stiles's chest.

Stiles scooted back to the wall, and even when he couldn't back up any more Derek stood over him, shoving at him. "Okay, okay, okay, I will stay put, I will just sit here and watch you do all the work and not try to help even a little bit, bossy wolf."

Stiles expected an answering growl, but Derek whined. He raised his head far enough to nudge at Stiles's throat, and then at his arm where Derek had caught him, which felt vaguely bruised but didn't really hurt.

"What," Stiles said, putting his good hand on Derek's shoulder. "What, hey, it's okay. I'm fine, man. I'm fine. I'm just tired. I guess I'm not up to manual labor yet."

Derek huffed. He darted in to touch the side of his muzzle to Stiles's cheek and then turned away. Derek went back to shoving dirt into the hole, raising a cloud of dust and getting himself even dirtier than he already was.

Stiles meant to watch--to stay with Derek through this even if he couldn't actually help--but at some point he blinked and suddenly the candle was shorter, and Derek wasn't so much pushing dirt into the grave as digging a new hole so he could pile dirt higher on top of the old one.

"Hey," Stiles said, and Derek stopped and looked at him.

"Derek, I have to--"

He couldn't actually say it, with Derek standing there on his sister's grave. His throat went tight and his eyes teared up again, thinking about his mom's funeral, about Derek's whole family and the burned-out house above them. Derek took a couple of steps forward, but there was something wary in his stance. He didn't come close enough to touch. He knew what Stiles was going to say.

"I promised," Stiles managed. "I promised Laura and I promised you and I mean it. I'm not leaving you alone and I won't let anyone hurt you, but, Derek, I--I have to. My dad is--"

Derek closed the distance just a little too fast for the eye to follow, and suddenly he was curled around Stiles, his nose against the back of Stiles's neck while Stiles leaned his forehead against Derek's shoulder.

"He's all I've got, Derek. And I'm all he's got. And he's so scared right now, because I've been missing for two days and he can't find me. I know he's searching for me, I know he's trying so hard, and he's not finding me and he doesn't know why. He doesn't know you brought me down here to keep me safe. He's--he's really scared...."

Stiles couldn't say anything else. He felt Derek's breath on the back of his neck, and he knew Derek's teeth were right there, but he knew he was safe with Derek. He just didn't know if Derek would let him go.

"I'll come back," Stiles whispered. "I will. I won't leave you alone out here. And I won't tell. But I need to go home, Derek. I need to see my dad and probably go to the hospital for a while, and then I'll--I promise I will come back, you have to believe me."

Derek growled at that, and Stiles laughed a little hysterically.

"Okay, yeah, you don't have to, but I promise, Derek. I'll come back. I just--right now, now that I can walk, I have to go, okay?"

Derek backed away and jerked his muzzle up, the same gesture from yesterday. Stand up. Prove it.

Stiles sat for a few seconds, bracing himself, and then he put his good hand against the wall and leaned into the corner as he pushed himself up to his feet. Derek backed up a step, but Stiles refused to be rushed, staying put until the dizziness passed and the pain leveled out. When he was ready he took a cautious step forward, and Derek backed up another step.

Derek led him all the way to the stairs like that. Stiles looked back at the burning candle and the mounded dirt that marked Laura's grave.

"Bye," he said quietly. "I'll come back. Ask my mom, I visit, I'm not one of those kids you never hear from again."

Stiles looked away from Laura's grave as soon as he was done talking; there was never an answer, and nothing to be gained from feeling like you were waiting for one. Derek was waiting for him on the top step, and he stayed there long enough for Stiles to lay a hand on his shoulders and steady himself as he climbed the two steps up into the hallway.

Derek walked next to him after that, leading him away from the bathroom he'd been camping out in. They passed another doorway, a few steps further on, and Stiles recognized the little high window and realized it was where Derek had first brought him. His epic journey to the bathroom, yesterday, had been all of about ten feet.

"I want a ribbon," Stiles muttered, looking down at Derek, whose ears flicked in a listening way. "Most improved."

Derek huffed and led him further down the hallway or tunnel, or whatever it was. It got darker and darker and went on for a long time; eventually Stiles realized it had crossed the line from dim to totally dark. He dug his fingers into Derek's fur, and Derek stopped and nosed at Stiles's thigh, making a few low sounds of reassurance.

"Yeah," Stiles said, taking a long, deep breath and wincing at the ache of his ribs. "Yeah, I'm good, I just--I'm good. Let's go."

Derek huffed and edged away again, but he walked slower. Stiles shuffled along, feeling the floor with his feet now that he realized he couldn't see any potential obstacles. He closed his eyes and trusted Derek and told himself that the walls were definitely not closing in, which worked right up until Derek pulled out of his grip.

Stiles opened his eyes and discovered that he could see the walls and they were in fact barely wide enough for him to walk between. Furthermore, there were stairs rising in front of him. A lot of stairs.

There was light at the top, though. Light had to mean getting outside, where his dad--meaning the sheriff's department and the search dogs and whatever volunteers his dad had mobilized--could find him.

"This sucks," Stiles said, just lodging a formal complaint.

He put his good hand out to one wall, his elbow against the other, and raised his foot to the first step. Derek fell back, prodding him gently from behind, and Stiles knew that meant he wouldn't be able to fall. He kept his eyes on the prize, the little bit of light leaking in from somewhere above, leaning on the left wall when he had to stop to catch his breath. He felt like he was carrying a thousand pounds on his shoulders, the weight of exhaustion squeezing against his lungs and fighting every step, but he couldn't give up with Derek pushing him along.

He fell to his knees when he reached the top, which hurt--the floor was solid stone--but was also necessary, he realized after a moment. The light was coming in through an opening that was only chest-high even when he was on his knees. Derek brushed past him and squeezed through first, momentarily blocking out the light, and then Stiles had to put his good hand down and shuffle-crawl forward into a little cave with a narrow exit to open air, screened by plants but definitely usable. Stiles got back up to his feet and went for it, but Derek didn't follow.

Stiles looked back, only to find Derek peeing a neat line across the entrance they'd just come through.

"Marking your territory, huh," Stiles said.

Derek looked up, his whole body curling down slightly into a weirdly wary stance. Stiles realized it was the most animal-like thing he'd ever seen Derek do.

He summoned up a crooked smile and made it a joke, weak though it was. "Keeping out the riff-raff?"

Derek growled but stood tall again as he came back to Stiles's side. He led the way through the crack in the rock, past the tangle of branches and out into the watery winter sunlight. The ground outside sloped downward to the river, and Stiles froze. He knew right where he was. Just like that, he wasn't lost anymore.

"Are they--do you know, can you hear? Is anybody nearby? Dogs?"

Derek jerked his head up and down, looking toward the river. Stiles stumbled over to Derek and half-crouched, half-fell onto him, wrapping both arms around him.

"Thank you," Stiles whispered. "I'll be back as soon as I can."

Derek made an impatient noise, nudging Stiles away with his nose, and Stiles got awkwardly back to his feet and looked around. When you're lost, go to high ground. He moved around the tumble of mossy rocks that shielded the entrance to the cave--Derek peed there, too--and over to a gentler slope to climb. He got tired faster without Derek there to push him along; when he looked back Derek was just standing there watching.

Stiles made a shooing motion--this wouldn't work if Derek was still standing there when Stiles got found--but Derek sat down pointedly, waiting. Stiles turned back and went a few steps further on, until he reached a tree he could lean against.

He closed his eyes, wrapped his good arm around his ribs, and then stopped to stare at the splint.

"Oh, that would be bad," he said, looking back at Derek. "There's no way I did that by myself, not to start with."

Derek just sat there, waiting.

Stiles huffed and fumbled the knots open, unwinding the strip of cloth and letting the slats fall. He kicked dirt and leaves over them and then cradled his broken wrist against his chest, took as deep a breath as he could get, and whistled.

Half the police dogs in Beacon County had stayed with the Stilinskis at one time or another, and pretty much all of them had used Stiles's room to practice drug-sniffing (not, of course, that there was anything illicit-smelling in Stiles's room that hadn't been planted there for the dogs to practice on; if he'd ever had any ideas about keeping anything there, well, there had been a search dog checking the place out, on average, every two weeks since he was ten years old). All the dogs knew him. They probably hadn't even needed a scent object, just a Go find Stiles.

And Stiles had long since learned the one most important whistle-command. Work's done, come here and get your treats. He didn't have to wait to be found if any of the dogs were close enough to hear; they'd come running to that whistle.

Derek, meanwhile, was on his feet, head tilted. After a few seconds he turned and ran lightly down the slope, diving straight into the river and bobbing back to the surface almost out of sight. The splash had barely died away when Stiles heard barking, and he turned toward it, still leaning against the tree.

"Hey, buddy, yeah, come here, come here," Stiles called. "That you, Arnie? Bruce? Come on, boys, come and get me."

The barking got steadily louder, and Stiles thought he could hear yelling behind it. That was jarring for a second, hearing other human voices after two days alone with Derek. Then the dogs burst out of the trees. Arnie was in the lead with Bruce, Heidi, and Leroy close behind, and Stiles slid down to sit and let them swarm up over him. He hugged them and let them all jostle him, gritting his teeth against the pain of it, because he needed to be seen getting good and covered in dog hair before anyone asked why it was all over his clothes.

The shouting cut through a few seconds later, and the dogs all backed off him, suddenly reminded that they were on duty and it wasn't really playtime in the Stilinskis' yard. Plus Stiles had totally been lying about having treats. Stiles looked up past the dogs and saw a few deputies running toward him at full speed and--oh, God--and his dad, in jeans and a sweatshirt, rarely-seen off-duty clothes. He was red-faced and running faster than any of them.

"Oh God, please don't have a heart attack now," Stiles muttered. He tried to stand up and didn't quite make it. He settled for raising his right hand with his thumb up.

That didn't really slow his dad down at all, though Stiles was vaguely aware that the deputies peeled off, talking urgently to each other and their radios and leashing the dogs. His dad dropped to his knees next to Stiles, shaky hands hovering over Stiles without making contact. He was breathing too hard to talk, eyes shiny.

Stiles dropped his thumbs-up hand and put his arm around his dad's neck, leaning into his chest at an angle that kept his left wrist cradled safely between them. "I'm okay, dad."

"Okay," his dad repeated in a hollow gasp, arms going around Stiles gingerly and then tightening. "Okay. Okay, he says, after two days of--"

His dad cut off sharply, pressing his face into the top of Stiles's head, which made his headache worse in a way that Stiles could not have cared less about.

"I'm okay now," Stiles clarified, into his dad's sweatshirt. He smelled like home, like fresh laundry and sweat, a weekend spent doing chores around the house. Stiles would need to take the trash out when he got home; tomorrow was Monday and the garbage truck came before he left for school.

"It's okay," Stiles repeated, and closed his eyes.

His dad said his name, and kind of shook him. It wasn't that Stiles couldn't have answered, but he was really tired--all those stairs, and the walking, and the burying Laura, and leaving Derek, and everything. He just didn't want to get up yet. He just wanted to lie here for a few more minutes. He knew his dad would just go start the coffee and come back and tell him again when it was really time to get up, so that was okay.

Only then Scott was yelling his name, and Stiles jerked awake and tried to look for him, except when he tried to move his dad held him down, and also... a lot of other stuff was holding him down.

"Neck brace?" Stiles said, looking around as well as he could and not seeing anyone he could talk out of this. His dad was looking downright implacable, and the EMTs who must have strapped him down--and splinted his wrist--were out of his sightline.

"Seriously? Because I walked here. My neck is fine--"

"Stiles," Scott repeated breathlessly, lunging into Stiles's field of view, looking sweaty and the bad kind of pale.

"Inhaler," Stiles said automatically. At least if Scott had lost the thing there were EMTs right here for once.

But then Allison was there, leaning into Scott's shoulder and holding out his inhaler. Scott shot her a grateful smile--the one he used to give Stiles when Stiles knew where his inhaler was--and took a couple of quick puffs.

While Scott was doing that, Allison looked down at Stiles, giving him a grimace-smile: I'm glad you're alive but sorry you're strapped to a board with an option on you totally ruined my weekend. But apparently the first date had gone well, if she'd stuck around all weekend.

"We've been so worried," she said, nearly as earnestly as Scott would have. "We've been helping search. I'm so glad you're okay!"

Scott nodded frantically, inhaler still plugged into his mouth, and Stiles said, "Scott, have you gone through a whole one of those in the last two days running around the woods?"

Scott lowered the inhaler, shoving it hastily into his pocket as he said, "No, it's fine. Dude, where were you? You look awful. We found the Jeep and then they found your phone and your flashlight by the Hale house, but with all the rain the dogs couldn't track you, and no one could find a trace of you. We've been going through the woods in grid squares."

"I fell," Stiles said, because obviously, and then felt his way through the rest of the story. He just had to stick as close as he could to the truth without mentioning Derek. "I was up in the second floor of the Hale house and I fell. I guess I had a pretty bad concussion because I have no idea where I went, I just knew I had to find someplace where I could stay warm and out of the rain. It was like a little cave or something, and I just stayed in there. But today I woke up and I could actually think straight, and I realized I needed to come out and get found."

Scott looked like he had no problem with that story; Allison was frowning a little bit. Luckily that was when Stiles's dad squeezed Stiles's hand and said, "Okay, we're ready to go."

Scott and Allison disappeared and a few EMTs moved into their place, lifting Stiles up and--oh, hey, into an ambulance. His dad stayed right beside him, holding his hand, and Stiles figured it was okay to close his eyes again for a while.