This had happened before, which was the only reason that Noah was certain he wasn't having a heart attack. Sure, pain shooting through him was never a good sign, and if this had been his first rodeo, he was sure he'd be mentally flashing through the list of fast food purchases he'd made in the month since his son had last visited to clean out the refrigerator and give him a stern talking to about his cholesterol levels. Not that he ate poorly on a daily basis, but damn it, occasionally a man just wanted to pick up a burger and call it a ni-
A stitch of pain cut off his train of thought, and his vision whited out for a split second as he caught his breath. Distracted by thoughts of food, he must have tried to roll over: big mistake. Noah hissed his aggravation into the pillowcase, his discomfort slipping to make way for annoyance.
Be perfectly still. That was all he had to do, he assured himself, and the muscles would eventually ease up enough for him to shimmy off the bed. The pain wasn't nearly so bad when he was standing. It was bending and twisting and, well, moving that got to him. He hoped his chiropractor wouldn't be out for lunch by the time he made it to the man's office.
"Thank God I'm off work," Noah muttered, but his voice came out muffled against the pillow.
The last thing he wanted was for one of his deputies to swing over for a wellness check only to find him stuck in bed, unable to so much as twitch. As if he didn't already feel old around an office of young bloods at work and a pack of supernatural beings, most of which were too young to drink, visiting at all hours. He could throttle Stiles for convincing the others that his father needed babysitting while he was away in school.
Though, his current situation wasn't much argument to the contrary.
He glared at his phone out of the corner of his eye. He'd set it to charge on his dresser instead of his bedside table. A habit he'd picked up after Stiles moved out to assure himself that he'd still get out of bed on his mornings off, if only to check the phone and turn off the alarm. The slip of black looked miles away from his place on the mattress.
As if the phone wished to protest, it began to buzz, the face flashing to life, as the alarm reached the end of its third snooze cycle.
Noah winced at the grating noise until it finally relinquished, at least for another ten minutes.
Ok, time to give it another try. He didn't feel very encouraged by his own pep talk, but he tightened his jaw, easing his forearms up so that his arms were bent, hands flat against the sheets. So long as he didn't twist his torso, he'd be able to slide his legs off the edge and-
Noah thought he might chip a tooth from clenching his jaw so tightly. He wasn't sure if he was swearing aloud or not, but it took him a moment to distinguish his own garbled curses from the other sound in the house. By the time his thoughts had recovered from the pain enough to make sense of the noise from his hallway, the bedroom door was already swinging in.
He almost jumped again when he saw a pair of denim clad legs out of the corner of his eyes, but the intruder quickly dropped down to eye level. Derek Hale stared back at him, gaze bright with concern. The younger man reached out, cupping the back of Noah's neck with one hand.
Noah groaned in relief as the pain ebbed off of him, but he didn't dare move and set it going again.
"Sheriff, what's wrong?" Derek asked.
Noah could tell by the way Derek's head was slipping in and out of view that he was searching the bed, trying to see the source of Noah's pain.
"Back's out," Noah muttered, with a sigh.
He knew he should be more embarrassed, and honestly he would have been if it had been one of his guys crouched down on the floor, but for some reason, Noah was sure Derek wouldn't go blabbing his mouth about his decrepit sheriff. And it might have helped that he knew any human injury he suffered would be nothing next to his son's own dramatic antics around the werewolf.
"Actually," Noah amended, finding it easier to talk without the pain edging in, "it's my rib. Slips sometimes and pinches a nerve at the spine."
"Can you move?" Derek asked.
His voice was somber, which seemed to be Hale's factory setting, but Noah wondered if the young man had ever worried about so much as a pulled muscle, with his healing abilities.
"Give me a hand getting up, and I'll be fine. I just need to get to Dr. Patton's office before he closes."
Derek's brow furrowed. "You're seeing a doctor?"
"It's just a chiropractor, Hale," Noah snapped. He sighed. "Sorry, kid, just a bit aggravated with myself. It's not the first time this has happened. Should have went to see the chiropractor yesterday, when it started up. Only gets worse if it's not eased back into place."
"How'd it happen?"
Hell, Noah couldn't even remember what he'd done the first time he'd pulled the rib, but this time, he was acutely aware of the cause. "Had a DUI yesterday. Went to put the cuffs on the guy and he flopped around. Caught his weight and twisted my torso…Just a dumb human injury," he assured.
Noah expected the man to reach out to put an arm around him, lift him up, but instead Derek stood up, leaning over him. The werewolf's hand slid down past Noah's neck, over his white bed shirt, resting against the spine. Derek's fingers prodded gently, and Noah jumped when they found the lower right side of his ribcage, where the pain seemed to be radiating from.
"Hale, what are…?"
But Noah trailed off when Derek's other hand joined in, his fingertips rubbing at the spot soothingly. He had to bite off a gasp when something beneath the skin shifted. Noah felt the tension drain out of his muscles almost immediately, his eyes at half-mast just as quickly. He hadn't realized how exhausting the short struggle with his back had been. Derek didn't seem to think his work was done, though, and he continued to rub his palms over the spot in soothing strokes, working the kinks out of the surrounding muscles.
Noah caught himself drifting off when Derek's voice pulled him to wakefulness.
"When we're young," Derek said, quietly, his hands continuing the massage, "when we first start to shift and we don't have as much control, the change is painful. Even though our injuries heal quickly, there's a deep ache in our muscles, like they're constantly shifting back and forth, strained."
"Growing pains," Noah contributed, his voice dragging.
"Our own variation," Derek agreed. He was quiet a moment longer before he continued. "I had a hard time with control, so my body tensed up often. When I'd try to relax, go to sleep, sometimes they'd seize up so badly that I'd feel my ribs fracture."
Noah winced. He'd had broken ribs before and they were no picnic. He couldn't imagine feeling them break and heal repeatedly.
"It only happened a few times, but someone was always there for me when it did. My mom, Laura. Even Peter once. We… our pack, we were very… tactile. Hard to believe, I'm sure, but my family was different when I was a kid. It wasn't strange, or uncomfortable, letting my mother rub my back, rub the aches out of me, pulling my pain as I tried to sleep." His hands paused for a minute before continued again, carefully broadening their reach, to Noah's shoulders. "I should have hated it, I guess."
Noah hummed against his pillowcase, a sound he hoped translated as agreement.
"Sometimes you just want the pain to end. Then it's gone and you wish you had it back again."
The words slipped out before they were meant to, and Noah wanted to take them back. Not really for the werewolf's sake, but because they felt like a confession of sorts. He somehow knew the other man would sense the meaning behind them, would hear Claudia's name between the words, even though he was sure Derek probably wasn't thinking about the Stilinskis' own tragedy right now.
"You're not wrong," Derek finally agreed.
It occurred to Noah that he'd never heard Derek Hale speak this many words to him. He knew that Hale and Scott had managed to form a friendship of sorts over the years, and he'd been friendly enough with the younger man the few times some of the pack had come together, but most of what he knew about Derek was secondhand knowledge, pieced together from Stiles and Scott and Chris Argent. Since the boys had gone off to school, let Liam take more charge in Beacon Hills, Derek Hale had ventured through off and on. As if checking up on them, seeing to Beacon Hills as if he were a distant relative he occasionally visited. Noah wasn't even sure if Derek was staying in town right now or if he was passing through again, perhaps looking in on the rental properties he owned in the area.
Noah was sad to say, he hadn't even thought of asking Derek over for steaks, even after he'd noticed the man in town a few days ago.
"Why did you come by?" Noah asked.
He realized he'd changed subjects too quickly, but Derek let out a short, huffing noise. Relief maybe, at the shift. Noah thought maybe he'd confessed more than he'd wanted as well.
"Thought I'd check in," Derek answered, with a touch of sarcasm.
"Good timing," Noah noted. "The kids are coming to visit next weekend."
Noah didn't know how he knew their schedules, but he had a suspicion that it was the real reason Derek was back in Beacon Hills at the moment. He hoped it was for sentimentality and not because there was some newfound supernatural problem for them to deal with.
"Why don't you stay here?" Noah asked.
"I have a place."
"Then stay for breakfast."
The grating beep of his alarm went off. Noah wanted to throw the phone but it was still out of reach. Derek pulled himself away from the bed to find it. Noah watched him sweep a finger across the screen, his face turned away, as if he was purposely avoiding Noah's gaze.
Embarrassed. Noah realized the kid was embarrassed. Testing himself, Noah bent his arms again, slowly lifting his torso up and relieved beyond measure when he was able to slide to the edge of the bed and sit upright.
"Much better," he said aloud, hoping it came out as the compliment it was. "Thanks for that… You know, Stiles would probably kill me for mentioning it, but I used to give him backrubs when he was a kid too." He forced himself to not mention that by "kid" he meant up to last winter break when Stiles had taken a particularly good beating from a pixie that had made its way into the nature reserve. "I guess Stilinskis are tactile people too. In case you didn't already know that. I mean, you have met Stiles, right?"
Derek let out a soft chuckle. "Eggs?" he finally asked.
"Only if we can eat the yolks," Noah said, biting down a grin. "Put on the coffee and I'll be down in a minute."
Noah realized the order sounded like one he usually gave Stiles, but if Derek took offense, it didn't show when he slipped out of the room. Noah could hear a cabinet door squeaking loudly in the kitchen and smiled at the noise, shaking his head. When he stood up from the mattress, his body was looser, lighter than it had felt in a while now.
"You're gonna put Dr. Patton out of business, kid," he said, and heard a chuckle from the heart of the house. It was a good sound.