“Alright.” Deaton straightened up and tossed the plastic bag into the corner on top of the already large pile of discarded plastic. He turned to the teenagers in front of him. “What did you bring?”
“Um.” Stiles, usually so eager to talk, so ready with a joke, spoke first but it wasn’t his confidence that he could hear in his own voice, it was fear. Terror that gripped his heart as he thought about what could be happening to his dad right now. He ran his thumb over the small metal object then waved it at Deaton, blinking furiously. “I got my dad’s badge. Jennifer kinda crushed it but-“ he faltered, hearing the shake in his voice and willing it down.
“It doesn’t need to look good if it has meaning.” Deaton said softly but with conviction. Stiles nodded jerkily and looked back at the metal badge.
“Is that an actual silver bullet?” Isaac asked, pointedly staring at the small trinket held between Allison’s fingers.
Stiles had never been a big fan of Scott’s beta but in that instant, when Isaac spoke up to draw attention to him it gave Stiles a minute to collect himself and a small part of him was grateful.
“Dad made it as kind of a ceremonial thing.” Allison mumbled, staring at the bullet. She took a breath and then forced her voice to explain more. She spoke aloud to no one in particular. The need to talk about the bullet and the family significance was for her alone, it made her feel strong and like she knew what she was doing. Not like a lost girl desperately searching for her father.
Deaton turned to the teenager in front of him he knew so well. “Scott?”
Before Scott could answer they heard the front door to clinic open and the movement of someone coming through to the room at the back where they all stood.
Derek’s eyes fell on Stiles. The wolf looked tired, exhausted even, his usual bored composure had slipped to leave him looking almost as lost as everyone else in the room. Almost.
Derek moved to stand by Scott. “Deaton told me what was happening.” He said, by way of explanation. “Thought you might need me.” He didn’t specify who had thought that Derek would be needed but a look at Deaton confirmed it and Stiles looked away. All the fight and aggression he usually held in a reserve with Derek’s name on it had slipped out of him, leaving a bone deep exhaustion and a sense of relief that there was another person they could trust. He didn’t like Derek, didn’t trust him most days of the week but somehow, he knew that today if things went south, Derek would finish what they started or die trying. As would they all. He struggled a small smile at Lydia, she returned it nervously but comfortingly.
“My dad got my mom this watch when she first got hired at the hospital.” Scott broke into everyone’s thoughts with a gentle sad voice that managed to grasp them all. They needed to get on with this. “She used to say it was the only thing in her marriage that ever worked.” Scott caught Stiles’ eye when he finished, his best friend lifting the side of his mouth at Melissa’s humour she somehow managed to attach to even the most mundane of objects.
“Ok.” Deaton’s voice shook with the authority he usually kept disguised and Stiles had never been more glad that someone else was in charge, he didn’t have the energy to do anything more than fill his veins with trepidation. “The three of you will get in. And the rest of you will hold them down until they are essentially- well… dead.”
Although everyone in the room knew all of this, the word still hit them like a visible pulse.
“And you…” Scott’s look held the responsibility he was trying so hard to live up to but it also held a childish plea that Deaton responded to immediately.
He put a hand on the teen’s shoulder and squeezed gently. “I’ll be here.” He moved back to the other side of the room and leaned against the counter, they all watched his movements and he started talking again. “But it’s not just someone to hold you on to. It needs to be someone to pull you back. Someone that has a strong connection to you. A kind of emotional tether.”
Lydia looked at Allison, her best friend smiled, and she moved forward. Stiles looked to Scott’s face, it was blank, devoid of emotion. He then looked up moving his eyes between Derek and his beta.
“Derek.” Deaton said to the older wolf, still stood loyally behind Scott. “You go with Stiles.” A beat thumped in Stiles’ chest and he looked up to meet Derek’s eyes expecting to see resentment or annoyance. Instead he found Derek staring back at him an open honesty, rigid trust and a flicker of self-doubt pushed away when he gave him a nod. An action so small but so full of weight that Stiles doesn’t argue, doesn’t make a joke or sarcastic quip. He knows that somewhere deep down Deaton wasn’t talking bull. He and Derek did share a bond of sorts, whether from shared battles or a combined love and loyalty for Scott, Stiles couldn’t be sure but in that moment, he knew his anchor wouldn’t be anyone else.
A wet surge of emotion threatened behind Stiles’ eyes and he forced himself to look away and at his best friend. Scott was staring at Isaac, something passing between them not unlike what Stiles had just felt but it was an intimacy he felt he should look away from.
Stiles stepped up to the metal tub. His bare feet flat against the cold hard tiling but he didn’t feel it. Allison and Scott were on either side, their presence was there but aside from that he didn’t feel it, didn’t look at them. He stared at the leaves floating sporadically on the ice. The answer to finding and saving his father was on the other side of the ice. He had no idea what to expect, whether he would come back changed or even come back at all. But he couldn’t find any part of him willing to turn back.
Allison was the first one to dip her foot into the water. Exhaling sharply as the cold wrapped around her skin. Scott turned to glance at Isaac behind him. His beta stood tall and unyielding, albeit nervous, nodding a promise at him.
Stiles put his hands on either side of the tub, his dad’s badge gripped in one hand and with a sharp look at Scott they plunged one foot in together. Stiles gasped as a thousand tiny pricks of ice cold pain stabbed at every part of him they could touch. He heard Scott swear beside him but forced his body to follow the movement, bringing in his second leg and lowering himself shakily down to his shoulders. His body pressed in on itself and he struggled to breathe. It felt as though an iron bar had wrapped itself around his chest, constricting his lungs. His head pulsed almost like all the blood had rushed there to escape the cold and thumped until he thought it would burst. His legs twitched beneath the water and he couldn’t control it, he couldn’t breathe. A rush of panic bubbled in him and spots danced in his vision.
Suddenly two strong hands grasped his shoulders. “Breathe.” A voice above him instructed. And he found he could. The bar lifted, and he sucked in a ragged breath. The hands remained at their posts, gripping him tight, flooding the small area of his collar with warmth, enough for his mind to latch onto and bring him back to reality. He looked across to Allison, her head was bowed forward as if she too were struggling to breathe. Lydia stoked a hand through Allison’s hair, whispering to her, the other gripped her friend’s free hand, their fingers interlaced.
He turned the other way to look at Scott. His best friend was panting heavily, knuckles white against the metal rim and his head was thrown back, braced against Isaac’s chest. The beta held the sides of Scott’s shoulders tightly and they both moved their chests in time as though Isaac had set a pace for Scott’s breathing to match.
Stiles turned back and looked at the badge in his grip, the reason he was doing this, and concentrated on his breathing. It became easier, but he felt weariness creep into him. He leaned his head against Derek’s forearm and closed his eyes.
“By the way.” He said after a few minutes when he felt strong enough to speak again. He lifts his head and looks at Scott. “If I don’t make it back it back and you do…” Stiles had meant it as a joke but saying the words made him realise just how terrified he actually was. Some of this must have sounded in his voice because the hands tightened their grip momentarily on his shoulders. “You should probably know something.” Scott pulled his head forward from Isaac’s chest to look at Stiles, a frown between his brows at the screaming pain from his body. “Your dad’s in town.”
Scott’s face hardened and he twisted his head back to face forwards, breathing heavily.
Stiles gratefully looked away too, the effort of turning his head to the side hurt.
Something passed in a look between Scott and Deaton briefly. Scott nodded and Deaton’s eyes scanned the room, passing to everyone in turn. Seeing fear, hesitation but also fierce determination. He then took a deep breath and gave Lydia, Derek and Isaac a look.
Fear began to spike through Stiles and he gritted his teeth against it. “I’m right here, okay?” Derek whispered from above his head. Voice powerful and strong. His hands were firm and reassuring, his thumbs pressed into Stiles’ collarbone and he felt braver at the small brush of touch on either side of his neck. “I’ll bring you back.”
Stiles believed him. Then took a deep breath, allowing the hands to push him down and water to close over him.