Stiles was silent on the other end of the line. Derek could hear the rises and falls of his breathing. Even over the phone he knew that Stiles’s eyes were wet and tears were on the verge of falling from those big brown eyes.
“Stiles, I can hear you breathing.” He wanted to yell. No, he wanted to scream. But Derek knew that it would just make things worse. “You can’t just run off like that.” He said the words slowly, and calmly. He said them one word at a time so that Stiles had time to react. “I was really worried about you.” He heard Stiles take in a deep breath over the receiver.
“Stiles, please, tell me where you are so I can come get you.” Both Derek and Stiles knew that Derek could just track Stiles’s scent. But Derek was working on this “trust” thing and his gut was telling him that Stiles would just be angry if he tracked his scent when he wanted to be alone.
“I’m at the high school. Lacrosse field.”
“Stiles?” Derek called out. Where was Stiles? He wasn’t in the stands, and he wasn’t anywhere on the field. Instinctive panic shot through him. His wolf senses shot on. He looked for Stiles’s scent. He was here earlier; his scent was almost gone though. Stiles must have left as soon as he hung up the phone. His panic subsided when there were no other scents intermingled with Stiles’s. At least he knew he was safe, though alone. Why did he have to be so evasive?
Derek sat down on the first row of the bleachers. He rubbed his eyes and left his face in his hands. Maybe he just needed to think by himself for a second. He breathed in deep and exhaled. He knew that Stiles had been going through a tough time. Underneath those jokes and smiles he could feel the suffering Stiles felt. Derek didn’t know if Scott or any of the others felt it, but Derek did. And it was a lot of suffering. He didn’t know how Stiles kept it all in. He must be stronger than Derek gave him credit for.
He thought back to before he called Stiles to find out where he had gone to. Stiles had gone to Derek’s to talk to him about something. Stiles hadn’t seemed upset or nervous because his heart was steady and normal. Derek asked could it wait a few minutes because he had to run an errand. Stiles said it was fine and that he would wait there for him to return. Derek had only stepped out for a few minutes and Stiles was gone. He thought maybe he was in the bathroom or maybe exploring the woods. But he wasn’t. Except for Stiles’s lingering scent there wasn’t a trace of him in the Hale residence.
He pulled out his phone and called Stiles. It rang but went to voicemail. “Stiles, its Derek. You weren’t at the field so I’m going home. Call me if you need anything.” That was all he could say for now without completely going off on a big rant. He hated that Stiles didn’t answer, but understood why he didn’t. When Stiles wanted to be alone, he would do whatever it took. The kid had seriously amazing seclusion skills, and he wouldn’t let his werewolf friend’s ultra-smell get in the way of that. Derek pocketed the phone and made his way back to his car.
The phone started to buzz right as he climbed into the driver’s seat. It was Stiles.
“Hello?” Derek answered the call.
“Okay I know you are worried about me,” Stiles’s voice was hasty so Derek just listened, “and I appreciate that, but I… I don’t know I just needed to be away from you. From all of this… werewolf business. Scott keeps calling me and calling me and like, I know it’s my responsibility as his friend to answer and tell him everything is going to be okay but here’s the thing: we don’t KNOW if it’s going to be okay. There are werewolves running around! What else could there be out there? We don’t know! We don’t know a thing! And it’s been really tough to be the only vulnerable one in a group of super creatures that heal instantly. I’m only flesh-and-blood, man. Even Allison can defend herself; I can only run and hide…”
“Stiles,” Derek interjected, “You don’t have to worry about protecting yourself because you know you have like a hundred people looking out for you. Even if you can’t protect yourself, you need to trust that you ARE safe.”
“I’m NOT!” Stiles yelled through the phone. “I’m NOT.”
Now Derek realized there was something else. Something besides this “werewolf business” was bothering Stiles.
“What’s wrong Stiles? Really, what’s wrong?”
“It’s not something I want to say over the phone.”
“Stiles tell me where you are.”
To Derek’s surprise, Stiles had gone back to Derek’s own place of residence. Stiles was hurting, and Derek was speeding there. The speedometer needle was ignored. All Derek cared about was finding out why Stiles had so much pain in him.
Something smelled different. Not bad, just… off. Derek climbed out of his car and made his way into the house. There was light coming from the living room area so he headed that way. Sure enough Stiles was sitting crouched on the couch with his elbows on his knees.
“Hey.” Derek said, obviously interrupting a thought.
Stiles looked over at him, “Uh, hi.” He forced a smile. “Thanks for coming I guess.”
“Well you are in my house.”
“Yeah.” Stiles stood and gestured for Derek to sit down. Derek scowled. Derek never really sat down to think of it. The only time Stiles had seen him sit was when he was driving. It must have something to with him asserting himself as an alpha. “This is really weird for me so can you sit down for like, a second?”
With a huff, Derek sat.
"Okay," Stiles started, "thanks for that." He took a few deep breaths and he closed his eyes while his thoughts gathered. "I don't know if I should get to the point or drag it out."
"Point first, explain later."
Stiles inhaled deep and exhaled slowly. Then, he extended his arms and pulled up the sleeves to the sea green hoodie he had on and turned his arms so Derek could see. Fresh against his fair skin were bright red slashes railroading across Stiles's wrists.
Derek moved his face closer to the cuts and examined them. "Stiles..." That was what smelled different. Stiles plus wounds. Faint, small, little wounds. Not fighting wounds. Not just got injured by the supernatural wounds. These were Stiles-inflicted wounds.
Derek placed his hands under Stiles's over turned wrists and gently held them. "Stiles," he repeated, and brought the wounds closer to his mouth, "I'm so sorry you feel like this." He pressed his lips to the pale skin. Wanting to take away some of Stiles's pain like he could do with dogs. What was the point of a human side if you couldn’t heal their pain?
“That wasn’t exactly the reaction I thought I’d get.” Stiles said with a half-smile. “Usually people yell.”
“Why do they yell?”
“Derek, just because you can keep me safe from werewolves and whatever else is out there doesn’t mean I’m safe from myself.”
Derek hadn’t thought about that at all. He was so worried about who had hurt Stiles to make him feel all of that pain that he didn’t think to consider Stiles was hurting himself.
“Does Scott know you do this?”
“He knows I used to. He’s been so caught up in everything he really hasn’t noticed. I wear hoodies all of the time. And I have this stuff that you put on that makes the scars almost invisible.”
Derek looked at the other boy’s arms. He had to squint to see the lines that didn’t quite match Stiles’s skin.
“How long has this been going on?”
Stiles thought about it for a moment, “Maybe about five years.”
“Five—? Stiles that is a long time.”
Stiles just nodded.
“So, why do you do this to yourself?” Derek didn’t sound angry. He sounded sad and curious.
“I don’t know. I don’t do it for attention or because I genuinely want to die. It’s somewhere in the middle. Like, the way these cuts make me feel is… relief. They are proof I’m able to go through a normal healing process. Like I’m not completely broken.”
“You think…” Derek’s eyebrows went quizzical, “you’re broken?”
Stiles thinks he’s broken. Derek’s heart sunk in his chest. A feeling he hadn’t felt since he was young. Before it was after the fire, when the wood of his home burned and smoldered and smoked. Now it sunk for Stiles. It sunk at the thought of Stiles taking a sharp edge to himself because he thought he was broken. Stiles thought he was broken. The thought repeated in his mind. Derek was unable to process the words.
“I don’t know what to say, Stiles.” Derek looked up at him. Stiles’s eyes were wet and Derek noticed tears had spilled down Stiles’s face. When had he started to cry?
Stiles pulled down his sleeves and wiped his face. “I’m sorry,” Stiles sniffed, “I never get the chance to be emotional. It’s always ‘You got to stop doing this to yourself!’ and ‘Stiles this is so bad for you!’ It’s always yelling. I already know that stuff.” He paused and half-smirked, “Y’know, it’s weird. I never thought I’d be talking to you about this, showing you these.”
“You know how everyone tells me to trust people?” Derek said. Stiles nodded. “Maybe you should trust people too.”
“I trust you.” Stiles moved closer to Derek. “I can, right?”
Derek’s heart was suddenly beating fast. Of course Stiles could trust him. And he could trust Stiles. He didn’t know that until now. Stiles was something delicate. Special. Important. “You can trust me.”
Stiles kissed him.
When was the last time Derek kissed someone? When was the last time he had his hands on someone that he wasn’t threatening or trying to intimidate? In fact, when was the last time someone even got this close to him without wanting to cause him harm?
Derek leaned into the kiss. They kissed and kissed until Stiles was leaning back against the arm of the couch and Derek’s abdomen was pressed to Stiles’s.
“Wait, wait, wait,” Stiles put a hand on Derek’s chest and pushed for him to move up. Stiles pulled his phone out of his pocket. “It’s my dad.”
“Answer it.” Derek said. He moved back on the couch.
“Hey, Dad. Yeah. I’m with Derek Hale. Why? Because. No, Dad we’re just talking. I’m fine. Okay, I’ll try to be there soon. Love you too. Bye.” Stiles put his phone away. “I have to go.” There was a pause and Stiles stood up. Derek followed his lead and soon they were at the door, saying their goodbyes.
“Thanks,” Stiles said, “for y’know, everything.”
“Anytime.” Derek watched Stiles make his way off the porch and walk off into the woods.
It wasn’t until a week later that Derek saw Stiles. There was a big lacrosse game and Derek, being the overseer of too many young wolves, had to go to make sure things ran smoothly. He sat in the stands with the parents and students with his normal begrudged look. He could see the backs of heads of the players that were sitting on the bench. The coach was talking to Scott about how he couldn’t play because his grades were still inadequate. Scott huffed and sat.
“Stilinski!” The coach shouted. Stiles jumped. “Go in and play since McCall can’t!”
“What? Me?!” Even though Derek couldn’t see it, he knew Stiles had that dumb grin plastered across his face. Stiles stood up and ran out onto the field to join the other players. In a weird way Derek was proud of him. After what Stiles shared with him it was good to see him happy.
The game began. Derek had seen enough of these games to follow but he couldn’t take his eyes off of Stiles. He just kept making goals. At one point in the game he looked over to Danny in the goal and, though happy for his team, he looked bored.
Beacon Hills won 11-5 and everyone celebrated.
Derek left the stands and met Stiles on the field to congratulate him on the great game. He had never seen quite such a good match before.
“You were great, seriously.” Derek encouraged. “How do you feel?”
“More amazing than the last time I played!” Stiles was bubbling over with excitement. It was like this Stiles had completely taken over and ‘broken’ Stiles had vanished.
But Derek knew that wasn’t the case when the excitement passed and they were in the locker room. Stiles had been in the showers when Derek arrived and everyone else cleared out when Derek walked in. Scott hadn’t even been in there since he didn’t play in the game. He was probably off pouting somewhere. When everyone had left, Derek sat down on one of the benches and wrinkled his nose. The locker room smelled more awful than normal. Then the sweet smell of body wash and Stiles flowed into his nose and looked up. Now he knew why it smelled worse.
Derek looked up at him. Stiles had an almost too short towel wrapped around his waist and hadn’t even noticed Derek sitting. Derek looked at his skin. He could see the remnants of old cuts all up and down his thighs and hips and across his abdomen. What really stood out were the red lines. Scattered across his body, Stiles had new cuts on him; a few days old by the looks of them. It looked like there were at least twenty five new slashes in various places. Stiles noticed Derek, now standing, and jumped.
“Derek! You scared the crap out of me!” Stiles saw the sad look Derek had in his eyes.
“What happened?” Derek asked. He gestured to Stiles’s body. “These are new.”
Stiles swallowed the lump in his throat. “I know.”
Derek opened his mouth to speak and he saw Stiles flinch, almost if he was expecting Derek to go into a rage. But Derek remained composed. “Are you okay?”
“I was just… upset the other day. I don’t know what triggered it. I just got really angry and frustrated.”
“What happened?” Derek was sitting again and Stiles pulled boxers on under his towel and continued to dress while he talked.
“I had a fight with Scott.” Stiles started. “He smelled the blood on me, from these.” He turned around and showed Derek his back. It too was covered in marks, both new and old. “He was really angry at me. He said ‘Stiles, you need to stop doing this! Why aren’t you thinking clearly?’ It made me really pissed off. He made me sound like I was stupid. Like, I was doing it to hurt him. So I said, ‘Not everything is about you, Scott!’ and that really made him mad so he just turned and left.” Stiles pulled a shirt over his head. “Then I just lost it and started cutting. I’ve never cut this much at one time. I counted.” Stiles was dressed now, but Derek couldn’t help but look past the clothes and imagine Stiles’s body covered in those barely noticeable marks.
“I just…” Stiles paused and Derek read his stature as uncomfortable. “I want to stop. But for some dumb reason I can’t seem to. I’ll go a few months without doing it but then something happens and I just lose control.” Derek knew how it felt to lose control. Being what he was, he had to know. He was thinking of saying that when Stiles suggested leaving the locker room. Derek agreed. He didn’t mind the locale but he hated the smell. Derek followed Stiles out to the parking lot.
They were standing next to Stiles’s jeep. Derek asked him if he had anywhere to go, and Stiles said no.
“There is somewhere I want to show you, though.” Stiles said as he climbed into the driver’s seat. “That is if you want to see it.”
Derek nodded and got into the passenger’s side.