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Peeling a Potato (with a potato)

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Derek set his shopping bags down in front of the door to his loft, pausing outside for a moment to shake off the excess water that clung to his jacket and to ruffle a hand through his hair, unsticking it from where it’d been plastered to his forehead on the brief walk from his car to the building. He used the neck of his t-shirt – mostly dry thanks to his leather jacket – to wipe the water from his face before he dug into his pockets for his key.

The rain had started while he was out running errands and by the time he was driving home, the sky had opened up. Derek considered it a welcome relief. He would gladly take a thunderstorm over the suffocating humidity that had been lingering in the air for the past week, making his skin sticky with sweat despite the overcast sky and the temperatures lingering in the low 80s.

He scooped up his bags and slid the door open, the usual grind of metal lost under a deep roll of thunder. As he turned toward the kitchen, a flash of lightning illuminated the darkened loft, followed swiftly by a crack of thunder that shook the building, and from the short time between the lightning and thunder, along with the raised hair on his neck and arms, he knew the bolt had to have hit somewhere nearby. Derek made a mental note to pull his Maglite from the linen closet in case the electricity went out.

He was halfway to the kitchen when he stumbled over something on the floor. Derek cursed and barely managed to stay on his feet and keep his bags in his hands. Whatever was on the floor wasn’t large and it wasn’t moving, so Derek decided investigating could wait until he’d set down his groceries and put away the cold items.

Derek made quick work of storing away the perishables and was back in the entryway hanging up his jacket and kicking off his boots when a flash of red caught his eye. On the floor where he’d stumbled was a pair of familiar red Converse sneakers. He sighed, more out of fondness than annoyance nowadays, and moved to investigate closer, wondering why Stiles’ shoes were in the middle of his living room. When he crouched down to pick them up, Derek realized they were wet. In fact, they were soaked. The canvas was cold to the touch and there were a few small puddles under where they lay on the hardwood floor, indicating that they had been sitting in that spot for quite a while.

As he turned his head, he finally noticed a trail of clothing leading toward the staircase in the corner. He frowned and took a deep breath. Stiles’ scent was definitely fresher than when he’d left, which wasn’t surprising considering how often the younger man came around, whether it was for company or to use his kitchen or for a quiet place to study; but clinging to the familiar scent were tendrils of something else, something vaguely familiar. It triggered something in his lizard brain and not something good.

Derek closed his eyes for a moment to listen, finally noticing the extra heartbeat in the loft that had previously been drowned out by the rain beating against the roof and windows. Stiles was in the loft and he was…naked?

He frowned. Something about the situation made him uneasy.

Derek set Stiles’ shoes by the door and followed the trail of clothing, picking up each piece as he passed. Two wet socks on the floor, a dripping hoodie tossed over a bar stool, a wet plaid button-down and a damp t-shirt piled by the stairs, and a soaking pair of jeans draped over the handrail of the staircase. He gathered the items and made a quick detour to the utility closet to toss the items in the dryer. After a brief consideration, Derek shucked off his own damp jeans and tossed them in too, snagging a dry pair of sweats from the folded stack of clean clothes sitting on the washer that he hadn’t yet put away. He tugged on the pants and grabbed a towel for his hair before heading upstairs.

He found Stiles in his bedroom, which wasn’t entirely surprising since he’d been known to commandeer Derek’s bed for a nap whenever it struck his fancy. What was surprising, and slightly worrisome, was that Stiles wasn’t on top of the covers like usual, with a throw from the sofa tossed haphazardly over himself, but instead, he was tucked down deep into the bedding, underneath the quilt and between the sheets, all of them pulled up over his shoulder and covering his face, leaving only a tuft of messy dark hair visible.

Derek probably could have chalked the whole thing up to Stiles being cold after getting soaked by the rain, if it hadn’t been for how even under the covers, Derek could tell that the younger man was curled up tight, tucked into a little ball, which was completely unnatural compared to his usual sleeping sprawl.

“Stiles?” Derek asked, voice soft despite the noise of the rain.

He heard the younger man’s heart skip, so he knew he’d been heard even if Stiles didn’t give any other indication. Derek padded across to the bed and took seat on the edge, perching the same way his father always did when his younger human brother used to get sick. Was Stiles sick?

“Hey, Stiles, are you feeling okay?”

Derek expected one of several possible responses, but the distressed whine that he received wasn’t one of them. Derek found his hand halfway towards Stiles before he managed to pull it back, but it wasn’t easy because there was something primal in the sound that he’d made, something that hooked into Derek’s gut and pulled forth long-buried instincts. He wanted to touch Stiles, he needed to touch Stiles, but he couldn’t articulate why, so he laced his fingers together and clutched hard to keep them from moving.

“Are you hurt?”

No response.

“Can I get you something? Do you want me to get your dad?”

No response.

Even without so much as a twitch, Derek could feel the discomfort rolling off him in waves. His scent was mostly contained by the quilt and sheets, but from what little Derek could smell, it made his head hurt.

Derek felt so far out of his depth. He had no idea what was wrong, and it was twisting his stomach in worry while instincts he could usually ignore hammered against his normally iron-clad self-control, begging for him to submit. Derek—both human and wolf—wanted to crawl into bed with Stiles and curl around the younger man, wrap him up in his arms and tell him that everything would be okay, soothe away whatever hurt was causing Stiles’ distress.

His grip on himself tightened, and a heavy roll of thunder washed through the room just as Derek’s left hand erupted in agony. The werewolf looked down to realize he’d been clutching his hands together so tightly that he’d broken his own hand. Two of his metacarpals had fractured and he forced himself to swallow a grunt of pain as his bones began to knit back together.

Derek knew he wasn’t the best choice for providing any sort of comfort, so he thought it would probably be best to place a call to someone more equipped to handle an emotionally compromised Stiles. His immediate thought was of Scott, but he knew the two had been on shaky ground regarding their friendship for a while. In fact, Stiles’ relationship with the new McCall pack wasn’t stellar either. He’d never told Derek explicitly, but from the change in his scent whenever the subject came up, the quick subject changes, and the fact that Stiles rarely smelled of any of the others was enough for Derek. That just left the Sheriff, and despite knowing Stiles didn’t like worrying him, Derek knew this was probably something he should at least be made aware of.

Decision made, Derek jerked a thumb over his shoulder and started to stand up to retrieve his cell phone. “I – I’m just going to – “

As soon as his weight left the bed, however, a pale hand shot out from beneath the blankets and long fingers wrapped around his wrist in an almost painfully tight grip. Another whine, this one longer than the other and slightly muffled by the fabric covering his face. It was almost lupine, just one more reminder that with the exception of born wolves, Stiles always seemed to have a deeper and more instinctual grasp of werewolves than anyone Derek had ever met.

Derek’s skin was burning where Stiles gripped him, and he was frozen in place despite the tumult of emotions and instincts clashing inside his chest.

“I’ll be right back,” Derek told him, tugging gently in an attempt to free his hand. “I promise.”

Stiles’ hold just tightened, his other hand sliding from beneath the covers to grope for something, for what, Derek wasn’t sure, while another whimper slipped softly into his ears and traveled to his chest where it grew barbs and embedded itself into his quickly eroding emotional walls. They crumbled completely when Stiles’ previously groping fingers tangled themselves in the fabric of his t-shirt and he breathed Derek’s name in a thready voice.

He opened his mouth to ask what was wrong again, but decided to switch tactics before he got started. Instead he asked, “what do you need?”

The only response he received was a sharp jerk on his wrist and his shirt, urging him closer. Derek let the younger man pull him closer until he was sitting on the bed again, but the tugging didn’t stop. He was helpless to resist as Stiles manhandled him fully onto the bed, silently but bodily urging Derek closer and closer until he found himself playing the part of the big spoon, his body curled around Stiles’ though Stiles was still under the covers and Derek was laying on top. He seemed to settle for a moment, but it didn’t last. Stiles flipped over to face him, the covers sliding down enough to give Derek his first look at the younger man’s face.

He looked like he was in pain. His expression was pinched, brows drawn together, creating a wrinkle in his forehead, his lips pressed into a thin line and tipped into a frown, and his eyes tightly shut. He thrashed to free his hands and arms so he could grab at Derek’s shirt, twisting his long fingers tightly into the cotton fabric and pulling himself forward to press his face against Derek’s chest.

Derek finally got a nose-full of Stiles. He couldn’t parse out the individual emotions – there were tinges of desperation, sadness, anxiety, and a dozen others so muddled together it was impossible to untangle them all – but what hit Derek in the gut was that he recognized the bitter maelstrom leaking from Stiles’ pores. He smelled alarmingly similar to the way Derek himself smelled shortly after he and Laura moved to New York.

The unique blend of unhappy emotions had lingered for months, some days worse than others, and on the really bad days, Derek remembered crawling into bed with Laura, clinging to her desperately, while he vacillated between snotty, gut-wrenching sobs and trembling near-catatonia. It was a scent that was forever ingrained in his memory and it suddenly brought the whole situation into focus as he finally realized that Stiles was depressed.

Though, to be fair, Derek knew that Stiles was prone to bouts of depression – the younger man had confided that to him one evening after Derek had noticed he was less animated than normal and had asked if anything was wrong. And since then, he’d noticed the days where Stiles’ scent was off, somewhat muted, and where his behavior was more contained, but he’d never seen him like this.

“Stiles,” Derek murmured, wrapping his arms more securely around the younger man.

“Derek,” Stiles answered, voice high and reedy between the shuddering breaths he was taking. “Derek…”

Stiles tried to get closer, pulling and grunting, and finally whining in frustration when he couldn’t seem to occupy the same space as Derek.

Derek stroked his hand through Stiles’ still-damp hair, gently shushing him.

After Stiles seemed a little more settled, Derek stood up and shucked his shirt and then pushed off his sweatpants and socks before wriggling himself under the blankets with Stiles. As soon as he was under, the younger man was pressed up against him, his long limbs tangling with Derek’s, arms wrapped desperately around Derek’s torso and clutching him so tight that if he’d been human, Derek would’ve had bruises. He returned the embrace, though, pulling Stiles’ nearly naked body against his own, wrapping a large hand around the back of Stiles’ head to guide it down against his chest so he could hear Derek’s steady heartbeat.

Stiles started to let out a sigh before he choked on a sob.

“Shh…” Derek soothed, running his hand through Stiles’ hair, “It’s okay. I’ve got you.”

He continued to murmur soft reassurances as Stiles cried, his hot tears falling from his eyes to Derek’s chest where they burned like a brand. After a while, it seemed that the worst of the emotional turmoil had passed, but Stiles was growing fidgety, his hands fluttering across Derek’s shoulders, his arms, his chest, grasping and tugging and pulling, as though he was trying to wriggle underneath Derek’s skin. And that was a feeling Derek was intimately familiar with – the desire to climb into another person’s skin, to curl yourself into their chest cavity, safe behind solid ribs, and tucked comfortingly against the steadily beating heart of someone you trust. To be able to let someone else take care of you, if only for a little while.

Derek shifted Stiles off his chest and spooned up behind him, pressing the length of his body against the younger man’s, and then rolled almost completely onto his stomach, blanketing Stiles, pressing his lithe form into the mattress and weighing down his limbs. As he shifted a bit, getting them a little more comfortable, Stiles’ body went lax underneath him. Derek both heard and felt the other man’s pulse slow down and grow steadier as his breathing deepened.

He was fairly certain he knew the answer, but Derek felt he should ask the question anyway.

“Is this okay?”

Stiles’ head jerked in a small nod and he hummed an affirmative. They laid together for a while, Derek’s head rising and falling where it was pressed against Stiles’ back in time with the younger man’s breathing. Eventually Stiles’ breathing grew deeper and more even, letting Derek know that he had finally dropped off.

With an internal sigh, Derek carefully removed himself from Stiles’ back and climbed out of the bed. He retrieved his clothes and pulled them on, then paused in the doorway to glance at the other man. Stiles’ face was pinched again, and he was shifting restlessly under the covers. For a long moment he watched, hoping the other man would settle, but when he didn’t, Derek shuffled to his closet and retrieved an old, weighted blanket from the top shelf. He swallowed around a lump in his throat when he thought he caught the faintest whiff of Laura lingering on the fabric, but the scent was there and gone so quickly that Derek couldn’t be sure he didn’t imagine it.

Stiles shifted in the bed again, breaking Derek from his scent-induced haze. He moved over to where Stiles was laying and gently spread the blanket over him. It was probably heavier than the recommended weight for someone of Stiles’ size, but considering Derek had just been laying on him, he figured a few extra pounds weren’t going to hurt him. He smoothed a hand across the soft fabric before stepping away.

Stiles shifted a little underneath the blanket, but within a few moments, he went still. Derek smiled faintly and then turned to his dresser to pull out a pair of flannel pajama pants and a soft long sleeve shirt. He retrieved a clean towel from the linen closet and stacked them on the nightstand next to Stiles. With one last glance, Derek padded softly out of the room, leaving the door mostly open so he could monitor Stiles’ heartbeat from downstairs.

He headed back to the kitchen to make something for dinner, when he noticed that Stiles’ phone was sitting on the counter, plugged into a spare charger Derek kept in the junk drawer. He didn’t want to pry, but he did want to make sure that nobody was trying to get a hold of him or rounding up a search party to find him, so Derek pressed a button to bring the screen to life and noticed a couple text messages from his dad, as well as a few others from people Derek didn’t know that looked to be school related. He shut the screen off again and then retrieved his own phone from next to the empty grocery bags and noticed that he had a message waiting from the Sheriff.

‘Please tell me Stiles is with you’

Derek frowned and decided to give the man a call instead of simply texting back. When the Sheriff picked up the phone, he didn’t bother with pleasantries.

“Is my son with you?”

“Yes sir. Is something wrong?”

The older man let out a heavy, relieved sigh, and Derek could hear him sinking back into his desk chair.

“No, no, nothing’s wrong. One of my deputies found Stiles’ jeep on the side of the road, but he wasn’t in it. Since it was only a mile from your place, I hoped he was there and not…”

Missing. Kidnapped. Possessed. Dead. All possible endings to that sentence went unvoiced.

“Yeah,” Derek said as the other man trailed off. “I get it.” He paused before continuing. “I guess that explains why he was soaked. Probably started raining on his way over.”

“That’s about his luck,” the Sheriff chuckled. “So other than being wet, he’s okay?”

Derek hesitated.

“He’s asleep right now,” he answered slowly, “and physically he’s fine, but…”

“Ah.” One syllable and Derek could tell the other man understood what he wasn’t saying.


Another sigh from down the line, but this one was heavier, wearier.

“He’s having a Bad Day, then.”

Derek could hear the capital letters in the tone of the man’s voice.

“He hasn’t had one in so long, I almost forgot they still happen.” The Sheriff paused. “I’m not sure if Stiles has told you, but in addition to ADHD, he’s also been diagnosed with – “

“Depression,” Derek finished. “Yeah, he told me a while back. But even if he hadn’t, I’d have recognized the signs and the scent.”

“You’re familiar with it then?”

“Intimately,” he admitted quietly.

The other man hummed an acknowledgement, but didn’t press for details.

“He’s welcome to stay here tonight, if that’s okay with you. I know you’re working a double shift.”

“Thank you, Derek. I really appreciate it.”

Derek shrugged self-consciously even though the other man couldn’t see him. “He’s pack.”

“He’s something alright,” the Sheriff murmured to himself before raising his voice to address Derek again. “He’s particularly fond of hot chocolate, Star Wars, and having his hair played with on days like these. Just so you know.”

“Thank you, sir. I’ll take care of him.”

“I know you will.”

The Sheriff’s quick and sincere reply surprised Derek for a moment. It warmed something inside of him and made his wolfier instincts preen to know that the other man had such faith in him to take care of his son.

They bid each other goodbye and Derek set his phone down on the counter next to Stiles’ before turning back towards the kitchen to find something for dinner.

A little over an hour later, Derek finally heard Stiles stir. He slid a scrap of paper into the pages of his worn paperback novel to mark his spot and closed the book as he listened to Stiles get out of bed and shuffle into the bathroom. A few moments later, he heard the toilet flush and then the muffled sound of the shower. When he heard the noise of the water change, signaling Stiles had gotten into the shower, Derek stood up, set his book on the coffee table, and then moved into the kitchen.

He flipped on the stove to reheat the rest of the soup he’d had earlier, and then removed a cookie sheet from the warm oven that had a couple of grilled cheese sandwiches on it. After turning off the oven, he grabbed a plate and a large mug, filled the mug with the tomato soup from the stove, and slid the sandwiches on the plate. Stiles reached the bottom of the stairs just as Derek was pouring himself and Stiles a glass of juice.

The younger man shuffled to the sofa and sank down into the cushions. Derek joined him on the sofa, settling the food down onto the coffee table before turning his attention to Stiles.

He smelled better, and not just because he had showered and was wearing Derek’s clothes, but there were still dark circles under his glassy eyes and a frown weighed heavily on his lips. Derek thought briefly about asking how he was doing, but then thought better of it. Instead, he lifted the mug of soup and held it out. Stiles wrapped the long fingers of both hands around the mug and slowly brought it to his mouth. His eyes were unfocused, but he obediently sipped what he’d been given.

Derek nodded to himself and then settled back and picked up his book again. He continued reading while Stiles ate, suppressing a smile when the younger man swapped his empty mug for one of the sandwiches. Stiles managed to finish all but half of the second sandwich.

“Do you want to go back upstairs?” Derek asked after a few minutes of watching Stiles toy with the cuffs of the shirt he was wearing.

Stiles shook his head.

“Do you want to turn on the TV?”

Stiles shrugged.

Derek reached forward and picked up the remote. He navigated to the movies he had stored in a cloud service and a few moments later, the familiar Star Wars theme was playing softly. The corner of Stiles’ lips tipped up just slightly and then he slouched sideways against Derek’s arm. The older man lifted it and wrapped it around the younger’s shoulders. Stiles settled in under Derek’s arm, curling close, and laying his head against Derek’s shoulder.

Halfway through the movie, Derek could tell that Stiles was dozing off again, so he snagged a throw pillow to place in his lap, and gently guided Stiles down until his head was resting on the pillow. Once he seemed settled, Derek took the blanket he kept on the back of the sofa and spread it over the younger man.

By the time the movie was over, Stiles was asleep again and Derek’s fingers were gently carding through his hair. The older man flipped off the TV and picked up his book. He wanted to finish the chapter before he called it a night.

Stiles woke up curled in a bed softer than his own and cozier than he had been in a long time. As he took a deep breath, he caught Derek’s familiar woodsy scent on the blankets, and suddenly the memories of the prior day came rushing back. He groaned.

“How’re you feeling today?”

Stiles flipped over to find Derek sitting up, leaning against the headboard, a book in hand. The bedhead he was sporting made Stiles smile a bit.

“Better than yesterday,” he admitted, voice croaky.


The warmth in his voice and subsequent soft smile made Stiles’ stomach flip.

They were both silent for a moment, just basking in the quiet comfort of the morning. The faint light coming in from the west-facing window told Stiles that it was still early, but not that early.

“Do you want to talk about it?” Derek asked quietly.

Stiles sat up and turned to face his bedmate. He pulled the cuffs of the shirt over his hands before shrugging.

“There’s not much to talk about. I mean, nothing happened yesterday, at least nothing that would merit a total breakdown, it was just a bunch of little, stupid things that probably would’ve made me cranky on any other day, but yesterday I just woke up out of sorts and things just kept happening.

“I got to my first class and realized that I had left the essay that was due on my printer, but luckily I had my computer with me and my professor let me email it to her instead. Then I went to grab coffee before my next class and they were out of the muffins that I like and their milk steamer was on the fritz so I had to settle for just their cheap coffee, which I guess was a good thing because some guy knocked it out of my hand as he ran by and didn’t even apologize. By then it was too late to get another one, so I went to class where I was called on to answer a question and I got it wrong because I’ve been struggling with the topic we’re studying. And after that, I decided to skip my afternoon class and go home to mope, because I just wasn’t in the mood to deal with anything else, but then my jeep broke down, and it started raining, and yeah…”

Derek was quiet for a moment before he said, “I hate those kinds of days.”

“The ones where everything goes wrong? Yeah, me too.”

“No. I mean, yeah, those days suck too, but I mean the days where you wake up not feeling right for no apparent reason, and then everything that happens that day just feels like sandpaper rubbing against already tender nerves, and even the smallest instance of bad luck makes you want to cry.”

Stiles looked up and met the wolf’s green eyes in surprise. Derek was watching him, but there was no hint of pity, or even sympathy on his face. If Stiles had to put a name to the expression, he’d probably call it empathetic, and even the general aura he had radiated a deeper sense of understanding than he’d expected.

“That was an oddly specific and surprisingly accurate summary.”

The wolf shrugged and glanced away for a moment. “You’re not the only one who suffers from depression.”

Stiles knew his eyes had to be the size of dinner plates as he realized what Derek had said.

“But I thought the whole,” Stiles waved one of his covered hands around in the air, “werewolfiness didn’t allow for that sort of thing.”

Derek closed his book after marking his place and set it down on the nightstand. He pulled his legs up and leaned forward, resting his elbows on his knees.

“There’s a lot of things that being a werewolf can prevent or cure, but there’s still some things that are beyond its ability. Unfortunately, a lot of issues with the brain fall outside of the werewolf healing ability.”

“But Erica’s…” Stiles’ voice broke over Erica’s name, but he cleared his throat and continued. “Her epilepsy was cured.”

Derek smiled sadly. “That’s because it was a physical issue causing the seizures. There was something physically wrong in her brain, so when she was Bitten, the healing factor straightened it out.”

“But since depression is a chemical imbalance, there isn’t anything physical to fix. The parts of the brain that are producing the chemicals don’t have something wrong with them, they work just fine, it’s just that they’re producing the wrong amount of the chemicals.”

Derek nodded. “Like hiring a repairman to fix your juicer because it’s making too much juice. The repairman can’t do anything about that because the machine is working properly, it’s just that the owner or someone is putting too many oranges into the machine.”

Stiles’ mind was now spinning with the new information and he couldn’t help voicing his train of thought.

“So I’m thinking that since the ‘correct’ level of juice produced varies from person to person, there’s no way for the Bite to know that it’s the ‘wrong’ amount. So long as there’s juice being produced, the Bite assumes that its fine. It would only apply if there was no juice being produced because that would mean that there’s an issue with the juicer.

“And if the juice is serotonin, which is the chemical in the brain commonly associated with depression, then a healthy brain would be like a bucket, able to hold the juice until it overflows at a certain point and is reabsorbed by the body. But the depressed brain is like a holey bucket, unable to hold the juice and letting it get reabsorbed too quickly. The SSRIs that are usually prescribed for depression act like corks in the holes, allowing the brain to hold onto the juice, or serotonin, just like a regular brain.”

Stiles finally paused to take a breath and saw Derek watching him with a smile on his face. It was one that he was definitely familiar with. It was Derek’s ‘you’ve-completely-lost-me-but-you’re-probably-right’ smile.

“Basically,” Stiles said, rolling his eyes and biting back a smile of his own, “the Bite can fix your juicer if it’s not working, but it can’t fix your bucket because the size of everyone’s bucket is different.”

Derek chuckled and nodded.

“Huh. So other conditions, like schizophrenia or bi-polar disorder, would those fall outside the Bite’s ability to heal?”

Stiles watched as Derek frowned for a moment. “I don’t know for sure,” he answered finally, gaze unfocused. “I’ve never heard of someone with those conditions taking the Bite, but I’ve also never heard of a wolf being diagnosed with those either. If they work similarly to depression, then I would guess that they do fall outside of the Bite’s healing ability. Then again, I never knew a wolf could have depression until I was diagnosed with it in New York. Mental health services for werewolves is a brand-new field. I was lucky that Laura found Dr. Franklin and dragged my ass in to see her.” Derek’s voice had gone softer at the end, a tinge of melancholy fondness weighing down the words.

Stiles was itching to ask more questions, but he wasn’t sure whether to voice them or not. There was a comfortable, almost intimate aura to the room, and he didn’t want to break it with probing personal questions that would send Derek back into his shell. A sudden surge of anxiety flooded him and washed away the easy joy he’d felt just moments ago. The sudden shift in emotion gave him whiplash and made his eyes burn.

Damn it, it wasn’t fair. He didn’t deserve to have a broken brain. He didn’t deserve to have one of the few conditions that even a freaking werewolf Bite couldn’t solve.

Stiles hated his brain sometimes; actually, he hated it a lot of times: every single time he couldn’t focus or sit still; every time he couldn’t just get his shit together; every time he couldn’t seem to drag himself out of bed in the morning; every time he felt like he was failing at life; every time… Fuck.

The tears he’d been trying to hold back had spilled over and he looked up at the ceiling in a futile attempt to rein them back in. He jumped when a warm hand settled on the back of his neck.

“Come here,” Derek murmured, gently tugging him forward.

Stiles let himself be pulled closer until he was wrapped in the wolf’s arms. Derek maneuvered both of them until they were lying down again, buried under the covers. He pulled Stiles as close as possible, slotting their legs together, pressing the younger man’s head to his chest, and stroking his back. A comforting rumble started in Derek’s chest that made the corners of Stiles’ mouth tip up just briefly.

“I hate this,” he whispered between sniffles. “I hate having a broken brain.”

There was a pause before Derek answered, and Stiles just knew that he was debating on whether to tell Stiles that his brain wasn’t broken. Finally he answered with a simple, “I know.”

And for once, Stiles knew that Derek did know. It wasn’t a placating statement, it was the truth, and just those two simple words eased the crushing feeling in his chest the slightest bit.

“Go back to sleep for a little while,” Derek told him. “When you wake up again, we’ll make hot chocolate and watch ‘Empire Strikes Back’.”

Stiles felt himself smile a bit. “You talked to dad, didn’t you?”

“Guilty as charged,” Derek admitted. “Now, go back to sleep. I’ll be here when you wake up.”

“I know you will,” Stiles murmured as he closed his eyes. “You’re always right there when I need you.”

Just before he drifted off, Stiles could swear he felt lips brush his forehead as Derek told him, “And I always will be.”