Pa pa power
Pa pa power
-Dead Man's Bones
Derek had been there, at the funeral, watching Stiles and seeing the familiar tightness of his jaw, the dark circles underneath his and his father's eyes. There had been a lot of people there. Stiles' mother was well-loved in the community, the elementary school teacher wife of a local police officer. He'd known Stiles practically his whole life. They used to make grass whistles together in the park, before.
Derek had been near the back of the crowd with his sisters and his Uncle Peter. He looked at Stiles; Stiles didn't look at anyone. Stiles gripped his father's hand until the officer had to take those few, awful steps to the podium to speak about his wife to the crowd. The speech would not do her justice. No speech would do her justice. Stiles stayed stone-faced throughout.
A lot of people had spoken at his parents' funeral, too, though Derek had been young, and couldn't remember specifics. He remembered holding Cora's tiny hand as they stood together in a line. Him and Cora and Laura and Peter, who was older than Laura, though not by much.
Peter had said something at the podium about his parents.
Derek thought about something he could say to Stiles, but came up blank, and the sudden frustration that spiked within him surprised him.
It had been a while since he and Stiles could say more than two words to each other before the first fist was thrown.
They were thirteen and hanging out at the public courts down the block from Stiles' house. Derek's parents would die in a horrible car crash in two weeks' time driving home after a weekend visiting friends in Jersey, and Derek was joining the middle school basketball team.
He dribbled the ball expertly, relishing that hollow pinging rhythm. Stiles tracked the movement of the ball with his eyes, facing Derek, who was facing the hoop.
Stiles' stance was all wrong. Anyone could bump into him and he would go sprawling across the blacktop. Derek weaved the ball low in a figure eight between his own legs, and Stiles rolled his amber eyes. "Are you gonna shoot or not?"
Derek dribbled twice, gauged the shot, and let the ball arch through the air. It passed through the chain net as though without effort. Stiles went to go get the ball without being asked, tossing it back to Derek, who caught it, palmed it.
"You didn't even try," Derek whined, passing the ball to Stiles with a little more force than necessary. Stiles caught it with his chest.
He shrugged. "It's not really my thing." He passed the ball back. It bounced twice before reaching Derek.
In Derek, anyone could see how he was going to fill out his frame; he had joined a football league over the summer and bulked up a little, even at the tender age of thirteen. Derek was going to be big. He was going to play sports in high school. Everyone knew it and told him that.
Stiles was skinny like Lucy Waters in the fifth grade. Long-limbed and thin and a little gawky, with hands that were too big for him. On the weekends he didn't like to hang out with Derek and his friends anymore; he liked to do weird things with circuits and breakers in his room, glasses perched on his nose. Derek had watched him put together an unlocking mechanism once, as Stiles fixed it to his door - he could flip a switch and a set of connected wires and gears would slowly drag the lock out of position, flip it again and it would put the lock back in place.
Derek had been bored out of his mind.
"What's your thing, then?" Derek teased. "Robots and nerds?"
Stiles didn't answer. His jaw shifted, clenched tight. Derek took the moment to dribble and feint going left, and then right, positioning himself for a lay-up.
His elbow knocked Stiles out of the way, and the other boy stumbled and fell. The ball went through the hoop. "Yeah!" Derek cheered.
"Ow," Stiles said from the ground.
The ball bounced a few times on the pavement, resounding, before settling into a roll. He picked it up.
Derek reached out for Stiles, too. They took each other's hands, and he pulled Stiles up, patting the legs of his pants to dislodge the little gravel bits that clung to the fabric.
Stiles' mother's voice called out from behind him. She had what Derek called a 'teacher voice.' You could hear it from any block in the neighborhood, Derek joked sometimes, since it carried so well. Once, Derek swore that he heard her telling Stiles to please come out of your room and go into the sunlight, my darling boy.
Sometimes he'd call Stiles that. My Darling Boy.
"Boys! You coming in for pizza?"
He turned; Stiles looked up. His mother was balancing two boxes of pizza in one hand on the other side of the fence.
"Hey, Mrs. Stilinski," Derek greeted, waving.
Stiles said, "You want food?"
They went back to Stiles' house with Derek's arm around his shoulders, trailing after the smell of fresh pie, easy.
Now, Stiles' mother was dead, buried in the same cemetery Derek's parents were buried. He still thought about them often - of course he did; they were his parents, but nowadays he remembered the little things, thoughts that jumped up to the surface of his mind unexpectedly - while he was watching a college game, making a smoothie in the kitchen, passing by the courts after school.
They were thoughts that made him smile suddenly, because he remembered them, and they were things about his parents he never wanted to forget - his mother's favorite pastry, his father's sigh when he finished the crossword puzzle. He could tell Stiles was not having those thoughts yet, that he was remembering all the times he could have told his mother how he really felt, all the times he didn't spend with her, all the ways he let her down.
Stiles was back in school a few days after the funeral, an invisible black pall bearing down around his shoulders. Other students would approach, offer their condolences, and then retreat, their duty done.
He looked tired, his book bag mostly empty and hanging limp, dragged down by the skateboard he always had strapped to it. He was wearing an old long-sleeved shirt that had holes for his thumbs, and a hoodie over that. He wasn't wearing his glasses, though now if Derek thought about it, he couldn't remember the last time he had seen Stiles wearing them.
The locker slammed shut, and Stiles' book bag was still empty that Derek could see - so he wasn't going to take anything home with him, then. All around him his classmates were piling books and binders into their own bags, complaining about some test they had the next morning, some essay they had to write for History.
Derek exhaled. He slung his own book bag over his shoulders and stalked across the hall to where Stiles was spinning his lock to secure it. "Stilinski," Derek called. He also hadn't called him Stiles in a while, he realized.
"Not today, Derek," he heard Stiles mumble against his locker. The lock rattled. He started to walk away, hunched.
A sudden wave of desperation washed over Derek. He had to talk to Stiles. He felt compelled.
He reached out, closed the distance with a few long steps, and his hand was just about to make contact on Stiles' shoulder when there was a loud metallic crash, the breath knocked out of him.
Stiles was standing before him, a look of abject sadness darkening his face, his hands twisted in Derek's shirt, strong, and keeping Derek pressed against the lockers.
He heard some of the other students who were still milling about gasp. Stiles must have heard it, too. They were both aware of the small crowd that had gathered in their periphery, watching, itching for a fight. They used to fight, often.
"Not today, Derek," he repeated, his voice raw.
This close, he could see how terrible Stiles looked, the tired and bruised skin under his eyes. There was a particularly dark spot over Stiles' left cheekbone that could have been an actual bruise.
Derek put his hands over Stiles'. The grip didn't loosen; it tightened. Derek said, "Stilinski. Stiles. Stiles, I get it. I'm sorry. Your mom died. I'm sorry."
The words were hastily thrown, and when Stiles caught them, they wrecked him. He pushed into Derek, whatever composure he had before slipping. Stiles' head fell onto Derek's shoulder, and he stepped into the space Derek offered between his arms.
After years of whatever it was their relationship had become, there was this. There was Stiles' silent shaking frame and his tears wetting Derek's shirt.
They walked each other home from school, peacefully quiet.
It had taken them a few weeks to sort out the paperwork after Derek's parents died. A few weeks living in the cramped first floor apartment Peter rented in Queens, the thought of being taken away from his family so potent that Derek had woken up multiple times during the first couple of days from nightmares of men breaking in through the front door and stealing his sisters. That settled when the family lawyer pulled through.
Mr. Whittemore managed to wrangle guardianship for Peter, with the understanding that Laura was nearly eighteen and would contribute to the best of her ability as soon as possible. They had life insurance settlements. Their parents left them the house, too, so Peter moved in.
They were still with family.
This did nothing to quell the low-burning anger that seemed to have settled deep within Derek's gut. He spoke little, and when he did speak at all it was gruff, minimal.
Normal adolescent behavior, the therapist had told him and Peter. He will grieve, he will heal.
Derek didn't want to heal. To him, healing meant forgetting, and he never wanted to do that.
His friends from the basketball team were safe. They hadn't known him or his parents for that long, so they said they were sorry, they said they were there for him, and then they picked up a game of street ball.
Stiles, though. Stiles was not safe. He had known his parents like he was their surrogate child. After the game of street ball, Derek and his friends were walking home, sweaty and disheveled and in generally good spirits, and then Stiles was there on the sidewalk outside of the courts, right by the tall fences, staring at Derek with those big amber eyes of his, sad for him, sad with him.
Derek sneered, "Get lost, Stilinski."
His friends behind him tittered, unsure. This was a new dynamic. Even Stiles looked unsure, narrowing his eyes at Derek. He pursed his lips and tilted his head and asked, "We going the same way?"
They were, but Derek thought about walking home with Stiles, thoughts of his parents shared between them, and that was too real. Being with a person outside his family who knew, who shared his pain in a real way, in a personal way - Derek wasn't ready to deal with that.
"I said get lost, Stilinski," Derek snarled, mean this time in his delivery. His friends silenced behind him, stunned.
"What are you--" Stiles started forward, eyes still narrowed. Disbelief furled his lips.
Derek shoved him before he could get too close. The fence rattled, and Stiles reached up behind him to catch at the links so that he wouldn't fall. His mouth fell open into an 'o', and his eyes were wide.
Someone's hand fell onto Derek's shoulder. Duke said, "Derek," soft but commanding. He was captain of the team this year.
Derek shook the hand off, shoulders heaving.
"Don't," he warned, though he wasn't sure who the warning was for. For himself or for Duke or for Stiles.
Stiles was frozen against the fence. Derek tried but couldn't look him in the eyes.
His friends began to walk away, towards his house and Stiles' house, and Derek trailed after them, ashamed. He didn't look back.
It wasn't so easy to become the best of friends again after Stiles slammed him up against the locker, but it was a start. They had a few classes together: English and Gym, and they shared the same lunch block. It wasn't like Derek started going out of his way to sit next to Stiles, or to talk to him, or anything. There was a guy he was always with, anyway. His friend Scott, who was exactly the kind of boy parents loved their children to be friends with.
But there had always been a kind of gravity between them - equal and opposite forces, either being pulled together or repelled apart. Inevitably after that, they fell into each other's orbits again, and even if they weren't talking they were breathing the same air and rolling their eyes at the same teachers.
Stiles always sat in front of him, for some reason Derek couldn't fathom. He watched the way Stiles bowed his shoulders forward in class as he slumped over his notes, scribbling furiously at something. When he craned his neck to look, it was never class notes. After a while, Derek stopped looking. It was probably something to do with all the electronics stuff that Stiles was interested in.
Because Stiles sat in front of him, Derek watched him. It was easy to, and he noticed things.
Stiles never wore his glasses anymore. He always wore long sleeves. Sometimes in the hallway, he walked like he was afraid. He walked like everything was made of glass, except for himself. No, Stiles didn't seem to hold himself to the same regard as he held everything else.
They were in Gym, in the locker room after Coach Finstock made them run laps around the field, and at first Derek had marveled at the smooth ease of Stiles' pace.
Stiles had gotten faster, too. He'd kept up with Derek and his friends until he seemed to catch himself near the head of the pack, and then he'd faltered, fell back, but it would only take half a lap for him to catch up again.
Now, though, he was openly gaping at the bruises mottling Stiles' torso as he peeled off his sweats. There was one giant bruise spanning almost the entirety of Stiles' left rib cage, dark and purpling and dotted with angry red.
It looked painful, and Stiles was moving gingerly because of it, holding his sweatshirt with almost delicate fingers in front of him. No one else was looking the way Derek was looking, so no one else was cataloguing the little winces and hitched gasps that Stiles was making as he changed.
He remembered the dark spot on Stiles' face the other day, and now with the bruises...
Something wasn't right. He remembered how easily Stiles' father could reach for the whiskey, and wondered if maybe he'd reached for it a little too zealously recently.
Normally John Stilinski was a calm and reasonable man, strict but fair, but given the circumstances, Derek could see him turning.
Especially with the added stress of that vigilante the force were trying to catch lately. Personally, Derek thought it was pretty cool, some guy with some serious skills taking justice into his own hands, catching criminals and leaving them strung up in that weird web substance from fire escapes or street lights for the police to find, relatively unharmed save for their dignity. He'd been at it for a few weeks now, always just out of police reach.
The media were painting him as a public menace, and the police wanted him stopped, but most of the people Derek knew - his friends and small family and neighborhood folk - all thought he (or she!) was pretty legit.
He looked at the bruise coloring Stiles' side before it disappeared under his shirt again, and worried.
It wouldn't be weird to approach Stiles now, would it? Over the past few weeks they had spoken more than they had in the past two years. And Derek could talk to whomever he wanted.
Besides which, it was last period, and he was planning on hanging around the gym before practice started anyway. Some of his teammates were already out on the court, warming up.
Lockers slammed as Derek contemplated. When he looked up again, Stiles was already halfway out the door.
"Stiles!" he called, but he didn't hear him. Derek chased after him. Out on the court, where the skidding of sneakers echoed in the enclosed space, Stiles walked through the very middle, careless.
A ball came flying at Derek and he caught it on reflex, watching Stiles' back. His teammates wanted him to pass it back, to join in, but he wasn't quite ready to yet. "Stiles!" he called again.
He still didn't turn. Now, he was definitely just ignoring Derek. Frustrated, he gripped the ball with both hands and squeezed. "Hey, Stilinski!"
This time when Stiles didn't answer, Derek reacted. He lobbed the ball at his back, regretting it almost immediately for falling back into old habits.
Miraculously, Stiles turned just before the ball could make impact, and caught it with one hand.
He looked just as stunned as Derek felt.
"What the hell," Derek said quietly, but of course in the gymnasium, the words resounded.
"Woah," whispered one of his teammates. Probably Ethan. Ethan was always hero-worshipping someone.
"What," Stiles asked, not intentionally harsh, but that single word was loud in the cavern-like space. He winced, still palming the ball. "I mean, yeah, what?"
"I wanna talk to you," Derek announced to the whole gym.
"Yeah, so you throw a basketball to my head, Hale?"
There were better things he could have done to get Stiles' attention, but now he's got it, so it worked, anyway. "It worked," Derek shrugged.
"You've got practice," Stiles reasoned.
"So warm up with me."
"Somehow, I don't think--"
"I'm the captain. Warm up with me," Derek repeated, firm. Duke had switched schools last year, and now captained one of their biggest rival teams.
Stiles said, "We'll talk if you can take the ball from me," playful. He was grinning like an imp, and the expression was so, so familiar. He had missed it, Derek realized.
Derek edged closer, until he was close enough to reach for the ball in Stiles' hand. The others all stepped back, intuitively, sensing a show down.
"Go on," Stiles said, holding the ball out. He waved his hand about, and the ball stayed glued to it.
There was some trick. Derek shot his hand out to snatch the ball, and he made contact, but the ball didn't unstick from Stiles at all.
"Just take it," Stiles teased, still grinning that impish grin.
Derek reached out again, faster, but Stiles was just as fast. He jumped and brought the ball in a loop around the back Derek's head and around again, settling down into a crouch, with the ball between both hands. Derek smiled, wolf-like. Someone watching went, "Oooh."
"When did you suddenly get good?"
The ball bounced; Stiles was dribbling - between his legs, weaving, a figure eight. "Maybe it wasn't so sudden," Stiles said enigmatically.
"There's something weird about you," Derek told him, matching his crouch. Stiles feinted left, then right, Derek blocking him, and then he broke through Derek's defense, bringing the ball around behind him, and then he was jumping - no way - so high in the air he was practically sailing, and the hoop was easy at his fingertips.
Derek, his jaw slack, watched him fly, and knew the others were watching with similar expressions, and then Stiles was falling, slamming the ball through the net, catching himself on the rim of the hoop. He came down too quickly, and the next thing Derek knew was a crash and that glass was raining down around Stiles and spattering the wood floor, and the metal rim was still in Stiles hands where he was standing underneath the wreckage.
"Woah," Ethan said again when the glass stopped falling.
Stiles looked up at the ruin of a backboard, and then he turned frantic eyes at Derek, and then he ran, pushing past him and dashing out the door on spindly legs.
Derek guessed that the guilt didn't let Stiles run very far, because they both got detention for it, which they served together.
They didn't talk in detention because Harris watched them like a hawk, but after, Derek slung an arm around Stiles' shoulder when he hesitated before walking out the door, because he thought that maybe that's what Stiles was waiting for. Stiles stiffened at first, but when nothing threatening happened immediately following, he sagged into Derek's bulk.
"What happened to you?" Derek asked him on their way back home. They've passed by a local park, and some kids were screaming and cackling on the swings.
"What do you mean?"
Stiles' pace was slow. There were many things different about him, now, Derek realized. He was quieter. Deliberate. He moved with economy. It was like he aged twenty years in a few short weeks. Derek thought that maybe a lot of Stiles changed even before Stiles' mom died. Maybe right after his own parents passed away, if Derek were to be honest with himself, when Derek stopped hanging out with him. Stiles changed - was changing - now that Derek wasn't paying attention.
Derek made a vague gesture to Stiles' torso, grunting.
"Oh," Stiles said, looking away into the distance before answering. He bit his lower lip. "Skateboard accident," he explained softly.
"Bullshit," Derek called, stopping them both on the sidewalk with a hand on Stiles' arm. Stiles narrowed his eyes at the hand, but Derek kept it where it was, unmoving. "You've always been shit at lying."
"I'm not lying," Stiles grit through his teeth. "Besides, why do you suddenly care?"
Though the grip on Stiles' arm tightened, until Derek's knuckles were white, Stiles' face didn't change, like he couldn't even feel it. "I care, okay?" Derek said. "Is it--did something happen at home?" He sucked in a breath, and then forced out: "I know your Dad, Stiles. I know him. I know how he is--can be."
Stiles shook his hand off of him, slight alarm taking over his features. "Woah, dude," he assuaged, words slow. "Whatever you're thinking, that's not it. That's not what's happening. It's okay at home. It's fine at home."
Skepticism twisted Derek's lips into a grimace.
"I promise," Stiles continued, assurance in his voice. They started walking again. His hands were open, like he wanted to show Derek he had nothing to hide. But he was hiding something. Derek could feel it. "This was really an accident. Or, you know, had nothing to do with my Dad, at least. Look. I'm not lying."
Derek did look. Stiles' face was honest and earnest and young. He stared at Derek with eyes the color of whiskey through a bottle.
"Fine," Derek said.
"But thanks," Stiles said suddenly. "For asking." He smiled like he was shy, which was ridiculous, and made Derek self-aware of how close they were standing now.
He blinked, startled. "Of course." Took a step back.
By now they had reached Stiles' house. It was the same as Derek remembered, squat and brown and cozy. The front door hung a little loose, but otherwise it was as though nothing had changed. Of course, though, so many things had.
"I'll see you tomorrow, man," Stiles was saying, clapping Derek on the shoulder. He walked up the steps to his house and turned to wave at him. "Or, did you want to come in?"
"No," Derek rasped. "Uh, I've got. Dinner."
Stiles shrugged. "Next time, then."
He went inside, and the inside of Derek's mouth went dry.
He'd said it so easily, offered his house so readily, and Derek was over-thinking it. They had years of animosity following years of friendship, emotions all tangled up and complicated by the losses in their lives. All this time, Derek thought Stiles hated him, or at least wanted nothing to do with him, which would have been justified considering how Derek treated him. But maybe Derek was the one keeping things the way they were - the conflicted status quo of nerd/jock.
Maybe it was that easy to change, Derek thought. All he had to do was take the hand Stiles was reaching out to him.
The house smelled like garlic and onions, and when Derek walked through the door the smell was only stronger.
Peter had one dish he could make well, and that was spaghetti and meatballs.
Sure enough, he put his bag down in the kitchen and found Peter there at the stove, browning the meatballs, and Cora standing over a pot of water, watching it simmer.
"It's never going to boil if you watch it like that," Derek told her, just when the water broke.
"Ha," Cora announced, triumphant. "Shows what you know."
She held up a handful of hard spaghetti and plopped it into the pot, smiling. They were all basically in their pajamas all ready, looking comfortable and at ease.
"So," Peter began in what he though was his stern voice. "Detention?"
Derek slumped, fiddling with the forks and spoons on the table. "Yeah."
"With Stiles," Cora sing-songed. "I heard some things about you two."
"Just things," Cora said unhelpfully.
"You got Stiles involved?" Peter asked him, turning to face Derek and finally wrenching his attention away from the meat.
Derek bristled. "No. Yes. He's the one who broke the backboard, you remember."
"You threw the first punch," Cora suppled gleefully.
"You punched him?" Peter's eyes widened.
"No!" Derek groaned. His family. "There was no punching. We played some ball. There was property damage."
"Like pulling pigtails," Cora whispered to Peter, who smirked.
"Next you'll be making him a daisy-chain crown."
Cora cackled. "Admit it - you want his attention."
"I was worried about him!"
"Yeah, okay." Cora rolled her eyes. Peter watched the exchange, amused.
"I hate you."
"I love you."
Derek growled, turning out of the kitchen and yanking his bag up to his shoulder again. "I'm going upstairs."
"Aw," Cora teased. "So sensitive."
"Laura's coming back with garlic bread!" Peter called after him. "Fifteen minutes!"
Derek slammed his door behind him, red-faced and heart beating in his ears.
Oh, he thought. This was going to be a thing.
They settled in around each other after dinner, in the living room, after Laura turned on the television for some background noise.
Derek would never tell anyone at school this, but this hour or two after dinner with his whole family were his favorite part of the day. Cora would sit on the floor by the coffee table, her homework spilling over the edges of the flat surface, occasionally turning to Laura, who sprawled on the couch behind her aimlessly flicking through channels with the remote or checking her phone or reading her novel of the week. Peter would grab a beer from the fridge, and if Derek asked he'd grab Derek one, too.
Then he'd sit in the armchair with his laptop propped open on a knee, going through emails from work. Derek wasn't quite sure exactly what Peter did, but he knew he worked at Argent Industries in their Tower in Midtown, and he knew a lot of it was confidential.
Their living room was the same as when Derek's parents were alive. Peter hadn't had the heart to throw out any of the furniture, or to remove any of the pictures, and Laura wouldn't have allowed it, anyway. The couch was old, and worn, as was the armchair, and the area rug underneath the coffee table had a few stains on it from spilled dinners and wine. The fireplace was blocked up by bricks but the mantle still served a purpose, displaying photos from Derek and Laura and Cora's childhood. His parents were in a lot of them.
Derek would play games on his phone, or read, or mindlessly watch the television, usually squeezed into one end of the couch with Laura's feet in his lap. It just depended on what kind of mood he was in.
Tonight, Laura had stopped channel surfing on the local news, and what he saw made him slide his phone onto the coffee table and watch avidly.
The vigilante - the media had taken to calling him the Spider-Man, because of his skin-tight get-up and strange webbing material - was a tiny spec above the suspension cords of Brooklyn Bridge, his movements seemingly erratic until Derek could see what was occupying his time.
It looked like - it looked like a dinosaur.
"Turn it up," he urged Laura, who did so with a grunt. Cora's attention quickly snapped to the television as well, while Peter remained focused on his laptop.
Spider-Man takes on Giant Lizard, was the scrolling heading near the bottom of the screen. Derek watched as this Spider-Man guy took the full force of a brutal swipe of one of the lizard-thing's claws, sending him tumbling into the guardrails, to keep the lizard from attacking a car that was trapped on the bridge.
There were a lot of cars trapped on the bridge. Derek could see the myriad people attempting to escape either end, to get away from the monster, but the cars were obstacles to them all, making the crowd funnel and wasting precious time. Spider-Man was keeping the fight to the center of the bridge; even Derek could tell that from where he was watching, safe in his living room.
"It appears that the masked vigilante is dealing with someone he never could have expected. Quite the step up from his usual thieves and carjacks. Stay with us as we bring you this footage live from our Helicopter-1," the announcer said, voice calm. Derek felt his own hands tighten over his knees. How could the announcer stay so calm about this?
That was a monster on the Brooklyn Bridge, and that was a guy risking his life trying to save the citizens of New York.
"He's so cool," Cora whispered. She was still gripping her pencil in her hand, though she had stars in her eyes for what she was watching on the television. She gasped when the lizard sent Spider-Man sprawling again, this time nearly off the bridge, but he shot out his web and caught himself, swinging himself back into the scene.
That was when the lizard seemed to get angry.
He was angry before, but now he was downright wrathful. The thing let out a horrible scream, one that Derek swore he could hear faintly in the distance, even though they were miles away from the Brooklyn Bridge in Queens.
It picked up a car like it was nothing, and flung it at Spider-Man, who dodged out of the way in time. Then he flung another car, and another. In an eerie moment of awareness, the lizard turned and seemed to look directly at the helicopter that held the camera filming it, and then it flung a car at the helicopter.
The screen buzzed, just as Derek watched Spider-Man take a direct hit and careen over the side of the bridge. Cora screamed, sharp and aborted. Spider-Man shot out more webbing, connecting with the lizard. Then the screen went black.
The announcer came back on. "We are working now to bring the live footage back up. In the meantime, instances reported of people - normal, everyday people - developing strange mutant-like abilities has been on the rise. Take a look at this viral video popular now through the use of social media."
It cut to a video that Derek had seen floating around - a guy who was trying to parallel park in Harlem. He got out of his car and simply pushed the car in the space behind him back about a foot, like it took no effort at all. His friends were filming him.
"Do you think he's okay?" Cora asked.
"He's probably got crazy super-hero friends who will take care of him. Don't worry," Laura assured her younger sister. "People like him got networks. You know?"
"Hm," Cora said. She shrugged, and after a moment, went back to doing homework.
Derek couldn't help but feel that whoever this guy was, he was alone.
The thought formed knots in his stomach.
Hours later, Derek had his headphones on and was trying to go to sleep but actually just messing around on his computer at his desk, when he thought he heard a knock on his bedroom window. He turned, slipping off his headphones to loop around his neck.
It wasn't exactly impossible, he'd say, to have someone be knocking on his window. Just that something like that hadn't happened in a while, and he was on the third floor of his family's home, which meant that someone knocking on his window was pretty desperate to get his attention.
He walked to his window and nearly fell back onto his ass in surprise.
Spider-Man was looking into Derek's bedroom.
The mask was...kind of creepy, close up. Dark red like blood, and the eyes were larger than he'd expected, reflecting the little light that was escaping Derek's room. He stood there, shocked dumb, breathing heavily and just watching, until he realized that Spider-Man wasn't just looking into Derek's bedroom.
Spider-Man was leaning his forehead against Derek's window and Spider-Man wasn't moving, and Spider-Man was bleeding out on Derek's roof.
"Holy shit," Derek muttered to himself, to snap himself into action.
Quickly, he unlatched the window and shoved it open, and the vigilante dropped gracelessly halfway into Derek's room, crashing onto the low bookcase that Derek had right underneath that window. Derek hauled him the rest of the way in by his armpits, trying not to panic at the dead weight in his arms.
His body flopped onto Derek's carpet, bringing Derek down with him. Spider-Man groaned.
"Holy shit," Derek said again. "Spider-Man. Fuck. I mean. Let me - let me call the hospital. Shit."
He had three slashes on his chest, evenly spaced apart, all of which were bleeding sluggishly. His knee looked ruined. Derek was certain that if he were to take off the mask, he'd find a face mottled and bloody, too.
Spider-Man's hand darted out and grabbed Derek's wrist as he rose. He stilled, watching the mask. His chest moved slowly, like it was costing him to breathe. "No hospital," the voice behind the mask said. "Please."
"The fuck you mean no hospital?" Derek nearly shrieked. He was not having Spider-Man die on his bedroom floor. He could at least drag him into the kitchen, he thought. The blood would be easier to clean. Then he reprimanded himself for even having that thought. It was difficult to keep a level mind in the face of death.
"Derek," Spider-Man pleaded.
His voice was familiar.
Derek dropped to his knees again. "How do you know my name?" he whispered.
"Take off my mask," Spider-Man said.
Slowly, and with trembling fingers, Derek did just that. He felt around for the seam, and it was lower than expected, the mask reaching down to the vigilante's collar bones. His heart pounded in his ears. He slid his fingers underneath the materials and slowly pushed up, the guy hissing when the fabric of the mask caught on a cut or bruise or stuck to a spot of drying blood. When he pulled the mask off, Derek felt like he'd been punched in the gut.
Stiles smiled at him, or tried to. He had a cut on his lip that pulled when he did. His teeth were bloody. He had spectacular bruising around one eye, and a cut on his forehead that hadn't stopped bleeding. "Surprise," he whispered.
Then his eyes rolled back into his head, and he passed out.
"What do you want to be when you grow up?" Stiles asked him. They were sitting at Derek's kitchen table. Laura was supposed to be babysitting them after school today. They had third grade math homework that they both needed to finish before dinner time. Laura had put out carrots and hummus for them to munch on while she read a book in the living room.
Derek shrugged. "I don't know. You? You wanna be like your dad?"
Stiles' Dad was a policeman. He got to carry around a gun. He was important. That's what Derek thought, anyway. Derek's Dad wasn't anyone important. Derek's Dad wore glasses and carried around a briefcase a lot. He never talked about work.
"I don't know," Stiles said. "It's nice because he helps people, but it's also really scary? He has to carry a gun around, you know."
"I think it'd be really cool to be someone who can protect other people," Derek said, math homework impossible under his study. He'd ask Stiles for the answers later. Stiles, who could carry on this conversation while finishing his homework without missing a beat.
"Yeah," Stiles said, his eyes glowing like fire. "But who's gonna protect him?"
He'd cleaned the wounds as best he could. The first aid kit in the kitchen had some bandages and tape, and pain medication, so he'd gathered up some of those materials and gauzed up Stiles' torso and taped up his head wound, but there wasn't much else he could do. He'd stripped Stiles out of the suit down to his hips, and he didn't dare touch Stiles' leg for fear of aggravating that knee. It looked all bent out of shape, like someone had taken a hammer to it.
Stiles didn't wake up throughout, and by the time Derek had finished cleaning and bandaging or taping all the wounds he could find, his bedroom floor was littered with paper towels stained red. At least Stiles looked better, though. A lot of the dried blood had come off and revealed smaller wounds than he'd originally thought.
He made the executive decision to get Stiles into some clean clothes, and stripped him down the rest of the way, taking great care not to jostle the damaged knee, relieved when he discovered that Stiles was wearing a pair of black briefs under the suit. It wasn't like Derek hadn't seen Stiles' completely nude before, but Stiles was out cold, and that made him uncomfortable.
He hissed, though, when he did finally take a look at the knee. It was swollen and red. He taped a splint - an old ruler he found in his desk drawer - to the leg to keep the knee locked, and then he pulled a pair of his old sweats onto Stiles' slimmer hips. when he was done with that, he carefully drew Stiles up into his arms and laid him on his bed.
Then, he waited.
Around 4am, when he was nodding off to sleep in his desk chair, Stiles stirred.
Instantly, Derek came awake, rising and walking to stand next to the bed.
Stiles groaned. The swelling around his eye had gone down.
With his eyes still closed, Stiles whispered, "Fuck."
"Are you okay?" Derek asked, knowing it was a stupid question. Of course he wasn't.
"Lights," Stiles muttered. "Can you--?"
"Sure, yeah." Derek rushed to shut the lights to his bedroom off. He flicked on his desk light to keep the room in semi-darkness. He hoped it was bearable. "Okay?" Derek asked again.
Stiles said, "I think I've been run over by a truck."
"No," Derek said. "Just a giant lizard."
Stiles laughed, but it was nearly silent and breathless, and it quickly turned into another groan as pain made itself known.
"Don't laugh," Derek said. "I've got some pills. But. Stiles, you should really go to the hospital."
"And tell them what?" Stiles snapped. In the half-light his eyes were golden. Tentatively, Derek sat down on the bed next to him.
"I don't know. That you were hit by a truck. Hit and run. I got you out of the suit," he said.
"I didn't see anything," Derek quickly added.
Stiles flushed more.
"I taped up the wounds on your chest. And your forehead. But your knee, man. That looks. That looks permanent."
Stiles winced. He dragged himself up so that he could lean against the pillows at Derek's headboard, and then he gingerly rolled up one leg of his sweats go that he could take a look at his knee. Derek almost didn't want to look, but he did, and what he saw had him gasp.
The swelling had gone down, too, just like around his eye. Stiles felt around the splint, and then on top of the knee itself. He pushed at something under the skin, breath hitching when he caught something. There was a quiet snap, and Stiles exhaled, eyes watering. "Knee cap," he said, like it was a normal thing to do to just push your own knee cap back into place. "It will heal."
Suddenly Derek was inexplicably angry. Who did Stiles think he was? How could he just throw himself around out there like he could regenerate at the snap of a finger? Unless he could regenerate. The thought didn't make him any less angry. "Are you insane?" Derek growled. "It will heal?" Derek repeated, nearly hysterical. "Shit, Stiles. This is serious. You could have died. What would you have done if I hadn't opened my window?"
Stiles stared at him. Derek felt the momentary burst of anger bleed out of him the longer Stiles looked at him, his calm radiating off of him in waves. It wasn't just the calm, Derek thought. Stiles had grown somber, too.
"But you did," he said. "And I'm alive."
He reached up with his hands and pulled the gauze from his chest, the tape protesting, but it revealed wounds that were already halfway healed, crusted over and scabbing. Looking more closely, Derek could see scars from other wounds on Stiles' torso. He wondered how recent they were. "See? I heal," Stiles said quietly.
"You're a crazy dipshit," Derek said, but there was no anger behind it, now. He was relieved. He exhaled, not realizing that he'd been holding his breath to begin with.
Stiles smiled at him. "The more you know."
When he woke up the next morning he was in his own bed and Stiles was gone and his window was open, bringing in chilly air. Stiles had pulled the covers up around Derek's shoulders, and he'd thrown away all the bloodied paper towels that had littered Derek's floor. He had a text message waiting for him. It was from Stiles.
Thanks for not freaking out, it read.
u ok? Derek typed back quickly, rolling over onto his stomach. He checked the time. 8:42am. He was late for school. Cursing himself silently and his family for not waking him, he rolled back around and out of bed, scrubbing hands over his face to wake himself up more fully. Upon further inspection, he found that his door was locked, and that he had a few other texts waiting for him, all from his family telling him to get his butt out of bed.
His phone buzzed in his hand. Yeah. Thanks. Where you at?
Sleeping, Derek wrote back.
Stiles sent him a face. :\
A few moments passed. Derek took the time to quickly wash his face and pull on a fresh t-shirt and jeans, deeming himself presentable enough for a Friday morning after saving a childhood friend from almost-certain death by blood loss and severe trauma.
Get your butt in school or you'll get more detention, Stiles wrote. And don't tell anyone who I am.
Derek scoffed at the message. He could picture Stiles frantically typing away underneath his desk during Spanish.
Please? Stiles sent when Derek didn't respond.
This is imperative, Stiles sent quickly after.
Derek sighed. He grabbed his book bag and mentally mapped the quickest way to school. He'd be late, but not so late he couldn't slip past attendance. I promise, he sent back to Stiles.
Then, after a strange feeling passed through his bones: Be careful.
Apparently Stiles wasn't so great at being careful. He showed up again at Derek's window just three days later, although at least this time, he'd taken off the mask and pulled on jeans and a hoodie over the suit, so Derek didn't have to worry about people seeing Spider-Man sneak in through his window in the middle of the night.
He just had to worry that people were seeing Stiles sneak in through his window in the middle of the night.
He opened the window and Stiles shuffled in, putting weight on his right foot and practically dragging his left leg in behind him. When he tried to stand once inside Derek's room, he collapsed onto the ground, gasping.
"What is it?" Derek asked frantically. He quickly went to lock his bedroom door. Stiles had tried keeping it quiet on his way in, but falling to the ground was never going to be a quiet action. "What happened? Are you okay?"
"I followed him into the sewers," Stiles groaned, chest heaving as he pulled his left leg into a more comfortable position. "It's fine - just my ankle."
"So is that why you smell like shit?" Derek asked him, wrinkling his nose as he went to grab the first aid kit that he now kept under his bed. He'd made a point to restock some of the things they'd run low on after school that first time, just a few days ago.
"Ha ha," Stiles deadpanned. "Hilarious."
He was pulling off his boot, swallowing down a groan, but the angle was too painful for Stiles where he was sitting. Derek sat in front of him. "Here." He tapped his lap and Stiles raised an eyebrow at him. Derek rolled his eyes. "I've got it."
He reached for Stiles' foot, the one he was trying to get the shoe off of, and brought it gently into his lap. Stiles leaned back onto his wrists and watched how Derek was handling his shoelaces, loosening them enough that, if he could actually bend his ankle, he'd have been able to slip out. But of course, he couldn't. Derek wrapped a stabilizing hand around Stiles' calf and pulled at his boot with the other, trying to make it as painless as possible.
Despite the gentle treatment, it still hurt, Stiles' nerves hyper-sensitive and on fire. He fell back onto his elbows, gasping. Derek then pulled off that sock, sure and swift. Stiles bit his bottom lip and tried not to let the tears spill over.
"You're not getting the bed," Derek said. "Because you really seriously smell horrible right now, but I'm getting you ice from the kitchen, okay? And take this pillow." He slid a pillow under Stiles' head and he collapsed onto it, grateful. "Any other injuries we should take care of?"
Stiles shook his head. "Nothing major. Just twisted this ankle." When Derek shot him an incredulous look, Stiles added, "Violently."
Derek nodded, terse. He padded down into the kitchen and brought back a baggie of ice. Stiles was drifting when he got back up to his room. Derek panicked.
People who were suffering from head trauma weren't supposed to fall asleep, and he was pretty sure that Stiles was suffering head trauma pretty much every day. He shook Stiles shoulders, kneeling next to him. Stiles inhaled, rousing. "You shouldn't fall asleep," Derek said, struggling to keep his voice from showing any sign of panic.
"Sorry," Stiles rasped. "I think I sleep more because of all the healing. Sorry, sorry."
"I need to wrap up your ankle," Derek told him next. He'd done some reading the night before on taking care of minor injuries, not thinking that he'd have to use the knowledge so soon. "It might hurt."
Stiles took the pain like he thought he wasn't allowed to really experience it, or acknowledge it. As Derek wrapped up the ankle tight, Stiles grit his teeth and breathed through them, but he didn't make any other noise. When Derek was done, Stiles' temples were glistening from sweat, and he was pale, the circles under his eyes standing out starkly on his face.
He looked like shit.
Derek rubbed a soothing hand over the wrapping, as Stiles struggled to even out his breathing, his eyes drifting closed again. "I'm not falling asleep," he mumbled. "Okay?"'
Something caught at Derek's heart. "You should stop doing this," he said before he could stop to think about his words.
Stiles' eyes fluttered open. He frowned. "Stop coming to your room? Uh, I -- wow. Awkward--"'
"No," Derek interrupted, shaking his head. "Not that. I mean. Everything. Stop getting hurt. Stop going after that monster. You've been doing this for a while, haven't you? Who else -- who else knows?"
"Just you," Stiles said with such certainly that Derek nearly backpedaled.
"So your Dad doesn't...?"
"Just you," Stiles repeated. He exhaled.
Derek didn't know what to say to that. His mind reeled. He alone was privy to Stiles' secret, and Stiles was looking at him like he was an animal about to bolt. His eyes pleaded with Derek to stay.
"I have to stop him," Stiles breathed.
"Maybe you don't," Derek said, stubborn. He didn't want for Stiles to keep coming back to him injured like this, or worse. "Maybe the police can deal with it."
"Like my Dad?" Stiles said, voice wavering. He shook his head. "The police can't deal with it, and if I can do whatever possible to keep my Dad safe, then I'm going to do it."
"It's not your responsibility," Derek argued, but he kept his voice soft. In reality, he understood what Stiles was saying, but he couldn't accept that his friend held his own life in such utter disregard.
Stiles said, "Maybe it is," and his eyes darkened. The shadows shifted on his face, shutting him off.
"Is this about your Mom?" Derek asked next, because he couldn't keep his mouth shut, because when he saw vulnerability he picked at it, especially with Stiles. It was habit. But he was also genuinely concerned.
Stiles glared at him. He sat up so quickly Derek's head spun in sympathy as Stiles wobbled, but he recovered swiftly, and struggled up to standing. He put barely any weight on his left foot as he gathered his book bag and shouldered it. Derek watched as he moved, slowly gaining more confidence in his own strength. "No," he said angrily. "And you don't get to ask." He braced himself against the window.
"Stiles," Derek called, hesitant. "I don't know if anyone told you, but it's not your fault."
Stiles said something, but it was lost to the night outside Derek's window.
"I said, it was entirely my fault." He threw Derek a look over his shoulder and it was the most miserable Derek had even seen him, like Stiles was going to fall apart if a strong wind blew. Derek moved without questioning. One moment they were far apart and the next Derek had his arms around Stiles' middle and Stiles had turned to face him, balancing on one leg, and he'd buried his face in Derek's chest. It was similar to that time at their lockers, but so much more.
"I killed her," Stiles whispered wretchedly. "I could have stopped him. But I didn't, because I was being a stupid little shit, and the guy turned around and tried to rob the store, and when he ran, he ran into my mom. And she shouldn't have been out in the first place! She was looking for me. For me."
"Shh," Derek soothed. He held Stiles the way he would have wanted to be held, at his parents' funeral, with a hand cradling his head and the other holding him firm against his back. Stiles wasn't crying, but his breathing had grown irregular, like he was trying to suck in air through a straw. "It's not your fault," he repeated, because he didn't know what else to say.
He knew exactly what it felt like to lose a family member, and knew how shitty it was when people tried to relate. He knew what it was like to feel like you should have traded your life for that other person's, because they were better than you, and deserved more. "It wasn't your fault. You can't save everyone."
Stiles wheezed against his chest. They were pressed so close together Derek could feel his heart beating, rapid like a bird's. "I need you. To let me. Go," Stiles managed to gasp between high-pitched breaths.
Derek let him go, slowly. When he did, Stiles lowered himself to the ground. "Paper bag," he said. "Plastic. Anything."
Derek looked around his room frantically. He didn't have much, but he spotted a nearly empty bag of pretzels on his desk. He quickly dumped the rest of the stale pretzels into the wastebasket by his desk and handed the bag to Stiles, who took it and immediately brought it to his mouth.
It inflated with a crunching sound, then deflated just as quickly. He looked at Derek, and his eyes were sorry. Even in the throes of a panic attack, Stiles was apologizing.
After anguishing minutes, the rate of the bag inflating and deflating began to slow, until it was a relatively normal, and Stiles could breathe without it. He lowered the bag, and Derek saw that his fingers were shaking. "Stupid super-hero with a panic disorder, am I right?" Stiles quipped with a false cheery smile, obviously to lessen the tension in the room. "On the other hand I think the swelling around my ankle has already gone down."
Then abruptly, he looked at the bag in his hand, then at Derek, then at the bag again. "Airborne bio-engineered chimeric DNA," he said, all words which meant absolutely nothing to Derek.
"I need to call Lydia, who will also know in the next ten minutes about me," Stiles said next, seemingly apropos to nothing. He scrambled to his feet, wincing when he put too much pressure on his left foot. "Thank you. Thank you, thank you, thank you."
And then he grabbed Derek by the shoulders and kissed him on the cheek.
This left Derek in such a stunned state that he simply watched Stiles crawl out his window, as he brought out his phone and dialed someone as soon as he had his hands free. Slowly, Derek processed what happened and felt his cheeks flame in response, but Stiles was already gone.
"Who's Lydia?" he asked into the empty room.
Later, Derek would learn that Lydia was a girl Stiles knew from the robotics competition circuit, who was brilliant and beautiful and on her way out of the city to MIT, who was head intern at Argent Industries and worked in the Tower, who could reverse-engineer an antidote to combat the spore-like cloud that the Lizard would shoot up into the sky, infecting everyone within the outer limits of Manhattan with the substance. He wanted to weed out the weak. He wanted his own army of super-soldiers, ones that he would create out of the survivors.
Now, though. Now Derek was sitting at the breakfast table staring into his cereal, which had grown soggy, trying to understand the cluster of emotions muddling up his insides.
Laura sipped her coffee, considering him.
"You look tired," she said.
"I am," Derek admitted.
"Is this teenage angst?" Laura asked.
He thought about Stiles out there fighting for his life, fighting for his Dad, fighting for everyone in the City, and about Stiles' mother, and then about his own parents, about he and Stiles' history of antagonism, about their coming together again.
"Yeah," he said, shrugging.
"Is this about Stiles?" Laura asked next, serious. The coffee mug hid her lips.
Derek didn't even have to think about it. "Yeah," he said. "I'm worried about him."
"He's a big boy, Derek," Laura offered. "He can take care of himself."
Derek didn't want to say that Stiles shouldn't have to take care of himself. That Stiles was the masked vigilante and he was all alone, and he needed someone there for him, who could patch him up after. Derek had made Stiles' life miserable for so long; now he couldn't imagine doing anything to darken Stiles' day, even a little bit.
He remembered that impish smile Stiles had beamed at him on the basketball court just over a week ago. He wanted that smile to be on Stiles' face. He wanted to be the one who put it there.
Stiles texted him - small updates that didn't really make sense but attempted to assure him that everything was fine. Derek more often than not responded with something along the lines of You better be fine, asshole.
:) Stiles would send him.
He was hyper-aware of the rhythm of his own heart over the weekend. At some points it was painful, when he thought about how much danger Stiles put himself in. At some points it slowed as he thought about just Stiles.
It was ridiculous.
Two days later his heart nearly hammered out of his chest when, after dinner, Laura turned on the television to the news, and there was Spider-Man on screen, in midtown, and there was a helicopter lighting his way down Fifth Ave to Argent Tower. He limped as he ran. Derek wondered if it was the same ankle injury and cursed under his breath.
He reached into his pocket to withdraw his phone, but found it empty.
This time he cursed out loud. Cora jumped. Even Laura gave him an angry look, but Derek was preoccupied. He retraced his steps in his head quickly and then dashed up the stairs, falling to his belly as soon as he was in his bedroom to reach under his bed.
There was his phone. He took it out, checking for messages and slowly standing. Sure enough, there was a message from Stiles, and then a voice message.
The text was nothing new - just Stiles asking Derek how his day went, but the voice message -
Derek brought his phone to his ear and listened. Stiles' voice was small, and resigned.
"Hey, Derek. Hey. So. It needs to be tonight. Lyds has it all hooked up and - we can't wait anymore. So. Thanks for everything, man. Shit that's not - If I come back from this, there are some things I definitely want to talk to you about, all right? Thanks, Derek. You - you really did a number on me, you know?" A soft laugh. Then the dial tone.
The phone shook against his ear.
He walked back downstairs, numb, and watched what he could on the television.
The top twenty floors of the Tower were destroyed. In the wreckage, both Spider-Man and the Lizard disappeared. Activity stilled for at least ten minutes as the city watched, breath held, for something, for anything.
Derek thought he caught a glimpse of Stiles' father in the crowd on screen, the crowd of officers and other service men who had gathered around the base of the tower, after evacuating almost all of Midtown. Everyone looked up, hoping. Whatever plans the monster had were stopped, but for precious minutes it seemed as though it had come at too great a cost.
Then the helicopter camera caught a shift in the rubble and beamed its spotlight onto it. Then a gloved red hand emerged.
Derek and Cora, in the living room, cheered, and Derek felt like he was breathing again for the first time.
His suit was torn in some places, but the mask was still intact. Slowly, Stiles drew himself out of the debris, and with him he dragged an older man, white-haired and spitting black blood. His hands were bound in webbing, and he squinted up at the helicopter as the light continued to shine on them both. The man bared his teeth at the city.
At the bottom of the screen scrolled the newest update: that man was Gerard Argent, head of Argent Industries. There had been reports of him going missing a few weeks back, and no one could have predicted this turn of events.
Stiles waved the helicopter closer. As soon as they were close enough, he slung a rope of web at its bars and hung on. He picked up Gerard like he weighed nothing at all, and slowly the helicopter helped them both reach the ground, where the servicemen were giving them a wide berth.
Gerard was arrested. When the handcuffs were on the former head of Argent securely, Stiles disappeared into the crowd.
Derek sat back onto the couch.
It was over.
He smiled - he was ecstatic. Cora turned back to look at him, a quizzical expression on her face. "What are you smiling like that for, you weirdo?"
"He won," Derek said, unable to contain his smile. "He's okay."
"You make it sound like he's your buddy," Cora said, eyebrow raised. "Weirdo," she added.
Derek didn't even respond. His head felt light, like it was about to float away. He left the living room still smiling, pulling out his phone to send Stiles a message.
I'm ready to talk when you are, he sent.
Derek didn't receive any response for two days, and Stiles was out from school for just as long, and he felt the gnawing teeth of worry clenching again at his gut. Maybe Stiles hadn't actually escaped unscathed. Maybe he had fallen victim to his injuries in some abandoned alleyway in Midtown, with no one to find him. He couldn't focus during at all English class, kept looking at the empty seat where Stiles should have been sitting, hunched over his notes or doodles.
His phone burned hot in his hand the whole day, and he snapped at anyone who tried to talk to him.
By the end of Gym - his last class - word had gotten around that Derek was having a horrible day, and that no one was to talk to him, and he used that to beg off attending practice, claiming he had a migraine.
He walked home with his phone in his hand, and he sent Stiles another message.
If you've died I will personally revive you just to kill you again.
His phone pinged just a moment later.
Dude sorry I've been sleeping for literally two days. - S
Derek was suddenly overcome with the urge to slam his phone to the concrete and stomp all over it. It was a relief that strong and that intense. He didn't seem to have any real control over his limbs and ended up punching the air a few times, other students who were walking nearby glancing at him warily and edging away form him.
You suck, he typed back quickly. I thought you were dead.
Spiders are very resilient, Stiles responded. Sorry.
Then his phone rang. Stiles was calling him. He answered after a few rings, content to let Stiles wait.
"Hey," Stiles answered first, as soon as the ringing stopped. He sounded breathless, or like he was just rousing from sleep, his voice heavy and thick. "I'm sorry," he said again. "I should have called or something."
"Yeah," Derek said, not budging even a little. His lips twitched up at the corners though, fighting a smile.
"Can I come by tonight?"
"Maybe," Derek said.
"Dude," Stiles whined. "I have important updates that should be conducted in person."
Derek shrugged, knowing that Stiles couldn't see him. "I guess you can, since you're not dead and all."
"I'm sorry. Jesus."
"We have dinner at six. You should come after."
He couldn't help but pick up on the uptick of Stiles' voice, like he was pleased. "And you can use the front door, you know."
This time the response was sheepish. Stiles laughed, uninhibited and joyful, and then his voice took on a husky timbre. "Noted," he said, again.
They hung up.
Derek arrived home in much better spirits.
After dinner, he forewent the usual time in the living room to head straight upstairs to his bedroom, and when he opened the door, he found Stiles sitting on the bed with his back to him, wearing a beanie over his hair and sporting his usual plaid and dark jeans. Derek didn't even startle. The window was open and bringing in the smell of impending rain.
Stiles stood as soon as he heard Derek's doorknob click, turning to face him.
He still had that black eye, though Derek couldn't tell if it was a newer injury than the last time he'd seen him. There was a scrape along the side of his neck that looked like it could have been nasty once. In his hands was the first aid kit that Derek usually kept under his bed, now. Stiles looked down at it as Derek caught sight of the box, and they both smiled in understanding.
Stiles' right wrist was wrapped up, too. He said, "My Dad isn't quite so good at it as you, to be completely honest."
With a gesture he told Stiles to sit again, and he did, and he took the kit out of Stiles' hands when he reached him. "So you told him."
Stiles nodded. "So I told him."
"And you haven't been arrested," Derek teased. He took a long look over Stiles' body, assessing the injuries that he could see, and decided to start with the scrape across his neck. It made him look like a slasher victim, but Derek thought that taping gauze across it would be useless, and besides which also make Stiles look like a slasher victim who was recovering from nearly getting his head sliced off. It would have to remain uncovered, but at least he could clean it.
"Not yet," Stiles said, light dancing in his eyes. Derek sat down on the side where he could reach the scrape on Stiles' neck easily, and opened the kit on his lap. Despite the injuries, Stiles seemed better. Lighter, like he'd thrown a huge weight from his shoulders. He sat straighter. Wordlessly, Stiles tilted his chin up so that Derek could get at the raw skin there, still healing.
Derek dabbed with an antiseptic-soaked cotton ball, gentle and quick, watching the liquid dribble from the cotton and down into the hollow of Stiles' collarbone. He swallowed.
For a while they fell into the now-familiar pattern of Derek cleaning the injuries on Stiles that he could see, and while he tended to him, Stiles' eyes drifted shut, though sleep didn't come. It was calm. Outside, the rain started to fall.
Eventually they shifted until Stiles was lying sideways across Derek's bed, and Derek was sitting cross-legged neck to him, and he had Stiles' arm in his lap as he carefully unwrapped the bindings around Stiles' wrist. He took a sharp breath when he saw that underneath, Stiles' entire wrist was nearly purple. Nothing was broken, but the bruising was horrible.
"Yeah," Stiles whispered, eyes still closed. "It really hurts."
Derek took his time wrapping it back up the way he thought it should have been done, feeling the heat from Stiles' wrist brushing past his fingers. When he was done, he brought Stiles' upturned palm to his lips, and kissed it.
Stiles' eyelids fluttered open. His eyes reflected the rain outside, like pewter and copper.
"I'm glad that your Dad knows," Derek said.
Then Stiles rolled up to his knees, too quick for someone on the mend, but he did it anyway, and with his good hand he clutched Derek by his shirt and dragged him forward to press his lips against Derek's. They stayed there, frozen, just lips touching lips, until Stiles pulled himself away slowly, almost regretfully, and he leaned his forehead against Derek's.
"I've wanted to do that for a really long time," Stiles admitted in a small voice.
"I think I've wanted you to do it for a while, too," Derek returned readily. "Although this better not only happen when you're coming to me to bind broken fingers or something."
Stiles laughed against Derek's mouth.
They kissed again, this time for longer.
"Don't look now, but Derek and the Hales are coming over," Scott warned Stiles under his breath. They were sitting at their usual lunch table, which was far enough away from the center of the cafeteria to be considered a safe-zone. Usually. The cafeteria itself was a huge cavernous hall, with windows lining the far sign and benches and tables set up in rows to accommodate for an ever-expanding high school population.
Of course, Stiles hadn't needed the warning. He'd felt a tingling at the back of his neck as soon as Derek noticed him at lunch, and he knew he was coming. He just hadn't been expecting for Derek to bring most of the basketball team with him - Ethan and Aiden and Isaac and Boyd.
Derek stopped in front of Stiles' table, tray in hand. He was frowning.
"Can I help you?" Stiles looked up at him from underneath his lashes, and then he took a huge bite of his tasteless hamburger.
"You can scoot over," Derek suggested.
Scott's jaw fell open as though it had suddenly become unhinged. "You? Want to sit? Here?"
"I want to sit with Stiles," Derek explained to Scott slowly. He shook his head, smirking. "And you happen to be sitting here, too. You don't seem that bad, I guess."
"Don't be an ass," Stiles said immediately, scooting over anyway. He made enough room on the bench for Derek to sit, and then Isaac came around his other side. Ethan and Aiden, the twins, sat on Scott's bench when he made room, still staring unabashedly at the basketball players.
Derek said, "You're looking better," and proceeded to give Stiles all of his fries on his plate.
Even the basketball players seemed stunned, watching the two exchange pleasant words like they happened on a regular basis. Scott made eye contact with Isaac, who was sitting across from him, and they both shrugged at the same time.
"I'm looking fine," Stiles amended, waggling his eyebrows. "Hah, get it?"
Derek flicked him in the forehead while Stiles squawked, and then they both laughed, totally at ease.
"Uh," Isaac began, uncertain. "So is this - is this a thing now? Are you guys friends?"
"No," Stiles said, just as Derek went, "Yes." They both turned to glare at each other.
"...Okay," Ethan exhaled, still confused.
"Yes," Stiles admitted, making it seem like a grievous thing. "We are friends now. He is really persistent, you know? Like a fly."'
"You didn't tell me this!" Scott sat back, halfway between offended and amazed and happy for his friend. Stiles shrugged. Derek shrugged, too.
Underneath the table and on the bench, Derek linked his littlest finger over Stiles' where their hands were connected. He smiled and said, "So did anyone watch the news last night?"