From some other beginning's end
Yosemite National Park, CA
Isaac jerked awake to the lack of motion beneath him. He'd been barely asleep anyway, and felt groggy and headachy with that perfect level of sleep that hit just long enough to disorient you, but not long enough to feel rested. He sat up, scrubbing a hand through his hair and watching Stiles fling himself out of the Toyota as soon as the doors unlocked. Derek looked over his shoulder, giving Isaac a quick, questioning glance. Isaac nodded and Derek didn't ask whatever question had been lurking in his mind, just threw the door open and climbed out too.
Isaac sat in the backseat, barely awake and reluctant to move. The Toyota was more practical than the Camaro ever would have been for this trip, but Isaac missed it anyway. The Toyota still smelled like new car, its seats were barely worn in. Isaac had liked the rich, battered leather of the Camaro, remembered crowding into the front seat with Erica when Derek drove them to school -- stone-faced and silent behind the wheel, but smelling like something Isaac had only barely begun to recognize as satisfied, back then, before he knew anything at all about being a werewolf. At the start, all he'd known was that being a wolf meant he wasn't himself, and anything was better than that. There were no memories in this car, no history. But it still felt closer than anything outside. Isaac wasn't sure this trip had ever been a good idea, after hours in a car with Stiles and Derek.
He sat up finally though, snagging the phone Stiles had dropped in the console and getting out. Isaac stretched the stiffness from his limbs and walked over to Stiles, holding out the phone in offering. Stiles shoved it in his pocket, shoulders hunched and the toe of his battered converse digging into the earth. "So . . . we're here?" he asked.
Derek stood ten feet away, as if there were a pole between them, keeping them a minimum distance from one another. "Yes."
It was all he said, and Isaac watched the muscles in Stiles's shoulders shift, knot and unknot, the way his hands with their bitten-down nails and wide palms shoved into his pockets and then pulled free again. Watching Stiles try to wait was like watching a pot boiling over, all the manic anger in him bubbling up until it scalded everything it touched and left him empty once the heat was off. It exhausted Isaac just watching it. Derek didn't explain and Stiles tensed up, ticking tighter and tighter, starting to boil.
Isaac cut it off, asking before Stiles exploded. "Why here? What are we doing?" He'd been to Yosemite before, as a kid. He remembered hiking with his brother seven steps ahead, their father shoulder to shoulder with him. He'd liked it because all their energy went into walking and climbing, all their attention had been on the skittering wildlife they saw from the corners of their eyes before it vanished back into the tree lines. He'd liked it because he could be quiet, and just watch and no one cared, basically. It was probably a stupid reason to like a place.
Isaac didn't even really care why this was the place they stopped first. But Stiles did, and Derek was more likely to answer when Isaac asked than when Stiles did.
Derek gave him a long look, eyebrows lowered and eyes dark. He didn't answer for a long moment, and when he finally did it sounded somewhere between gruff and sheepish. "Packs meet in parks. There's room to run, and no one thinks twice about a bunch of hikers hanging around. Unless it's one Pack's territory, it's neutral ground and it's hard to corner anyone in."
"So we're just sightseeing, hoping we run into a psychotic Alpha? Great plan, Derek, seriously."
Derek gritted his teeth. "You didn't have to come," he snapped back at Stiles. "No one wanted you along. No one ever asks you along, you just show up."
Stiles froze for a brief moment, all his energy turned inward, eyes going bleak and distant. It hurt Isaac to look at him for reasons that had almost nothing to do with Stiles. "I wanted him to come," Isaac blurted. The look Derek turned on him was angry, and Isaac felt his head duck, his shoulders slouch. But he shrugged. "I asked him," he said.
Derek looked away from Isaac and crouched, touching fingers to the dirt and not looking at either of them. "Peter brought us here, as kids." Derek said it as if it were an explanation when it didn't really answer much of anything. Stiles touched two fingers to his wrist, where the Bite had been, head down and eyes bruised.
"So we're going to track Deucalion down and kill him in like, Hale nostalgia central?" Stiles asked. "You really think he'll be hanging out, waiting for you to slash his throat?"
Isaac thought he read a flinch in the way Derek's hand moved, but it was too slight to tell. "Deucalion has no where to go. His only options are to Turn more humans, or find a Pack who will help him. This is where he'd go to meet them." Derek straightened. "You don't want to come with me, fine. Stay here." It was as much for Isaac as it was for Stiles, and Isaac's stomach sank, though he made no move to go anywhere with Derek.
Derek took off, lithe and quick out in the open, running into the trees. Isaac could hear his footsteps against the damp ground much longer than he could see him, could still draw in the scent of him long after he'd dropped out of sight.
Stiles hands shoved back into his pockets and he walked, restless but mostly just rebelling over the idea that he should stay still and listen, Isaac thought. "I don't even know what I'm doing here," he muttered. His feet took him in circles and his hands clenched like claws might sprout.
Isaac shrugged, followed him over, falling into step beside him. His steps straightened Stiles's, turned the circles into a meandering trail as they both headed toward the sound of running water. The trees around them thickened, closing in the path they took the further they got from the car. "None of us know what we're doing here," Isaac said. The comment fell heavily, too long a space between Stiles's mutter and Isaac's answer to make them run naturally together.
Stiles's hands were back out of his pockets, right hand wrapped tight around the phone Isaac had handed him, no claws in sight. "Chasing ghosts," Stiles said, laughing like it was a joke. "With the world's worst former-Alpha and you. In freaking Yosemite, like that makes sense. Like any of this makes sense."
At the very fringes of his senses, Isaac could smell wolves that weren't Derek, who might have answers but probably didn't, and who might just want to kill them If Deucalion had gotten to them first. "Better than being back there," he said. He could smell all that, and it was still true for him. He thought it was true for Stiles, too. Stiles grimaced, like it hurt him to hear. Isaac fell quiet as Stiles walked beside him, all noise and movement, feet kicking stray rocks, knuckles white around his phone. "I asked you to come because I wanted you here," Isaac said when the slow curve of a stream came into view. He said it because it was mostly true, and because he never knew what to say, but that didn't mean he didn't know what people wanted to hear, sometimes. It always sounded better in his head than when he made the words come out of his mouth where other people could hear and take them apart.
Stiles eyes were still bleak when they met Isaac's, but the anger was simmering lower. He looked away, crouching down beside the water as it bubbled over gray-brown rocks. "You asked me because you felt sorry for me."
Isaac didn't bother to lie, just crouched beside him. "Both," he said instead. He reached over, prying Stiles's fingers loose from around the phone. His fingers brushed Stiles's, and Isaac left them there for a second before taking the phone, tucking it into the pocket of Stiles's hoodie.
Stiles let him, scrubbing both hands through his short hair as soon as they were empty and crouching down. Isaac hovered over him, watched him drag his ragged fingers through the water. "There's a trail up to the top of that cliff," he said, motioning toward it. "Want to go see?" Left to his own devices, Isaac would have stayed where he was told, waited for Derek. That's what Isaac did -- he stayed where he landed, waited for something to change. But Stiles didn't, and watching him try to be still was worse than moving with him.
Stiles nodded slowly at the suggestion, straightening and falling back in beside Isaac, shoulders brushing lightly as they began the hike. From miles away a slow unfamiliar howl rose and fell and Stiles shuddered like his bones might break and swallowed. But his step stayed steady beside Isaac. Isaac pretended not to notice the clawed hands Stiles tried to hide from sight.
Scott's hair smelled like pine and Isaac wanted to duck his head, bury his nose in it and breathe in and in and in until he could remember it forever, call it up when his world crumpled and feel at home again. But Scott's hands were curled on his biceps, pushing steadily away until there was space enough to meet his eyes. "Isaac," he said, soft and pleading and so kind Isaac wished he could hate him and knew he never would.
"It's okay," Isaac said, quick and reflexive. "I already know."
Scott blinked and shook his head. "What do you think I'm trying to tell you?"
Beneath the pine smell and the soft, earthy scent that said Scott was the spice and metal scent of Allison, and Isaac knew that one almost as well. Had tasted it and touched it and knew that there was no contest, not between him and her. Isaac knew. "Allison-" he started, and then faltered, going silent.
Scott's expression was soft and guilty. "It's not like that," he said. "I mean, it is. But it's not . . . it's Allison."
Isaac knew that too. He fell in love with soul mates. Looking backward, it was easy to see coming. Isaac fell in love with the quiet shared room and the text notes about dinner in the oven. He fell in love with someone who would always do the right thing, and someone who would protect him while he did it. The outline and color of the same picture, together, they made an image Isaac could never have fit into. "It's okay," he said again, voice catching in his throat.
"Isaac, stop. Listen to me." Scott shook him, careful and earnest and smiled. "We talked. Allison and me. And I mean, we both . . . it's not us and not you. It could be us with you. We both care about you, we know you feel the same way."
It was easy to picture, being piled into a bed with the scent and feel of ScottandAllison all around him. Isaac wanted it so badly it felt like need.
Scott let go of Isaac's arm, cupped his face, peppered kisses along his jawline. "We're Pack," he said.
Pack was family. Pack was everything. Pack was false. Derek had left with Cora in tow and Boyd and Erica were dead and Isaac was always in between the spaces where everyone else managed to fit. He needed to fit. Scott and Allison just wanted him to, and it wasn't at all the same thing. Scott kissed him, and Isaac kissed back, taste of Allison's lip gloss lurking in the flavor of his mouth. He bowed his head against Scott's forehead and nodded against it. "Okay," he said.
He felt Scott's smile more than saw it. "Good. Great. It will be good. We could be good, Isaac."
They were Pack now, but it was ScottandAllison and when it came down to the nuts and the bolts and the places where everything always came apart, it would be ScottandAllison. They didn't need him, they were just kind. Isaac already hurt with it, felt fractured and disposable and raw. But it was what he had. He loved them. Maybe it could be enough. "We'll be great," he mumbled, because Scott wanted to hear it. Because Scott could believe it and maybe if he believed it, Isaac would too.
Arches National Park, UT
"You've added like six hours on here with this route," Stile said, crinkling pages by stabbing at them with a finger when Derek tried to jerk it out of his reach. "Would you just give me the freaking map already, okay, Derek? You are the worst navigator, it's mapping by Carmen Sandiego. And this atlas was printed a year ago. A year. Do you know how many roads close in a year? The exits are probably all mis-numbered. Do you not know what GPS is? Is your phone a rotary?"
"We're not trying to find the shortest distance. You don't even know where we're going," Derek gritted out, jerking the atlas back from Stiles's grabbing hands.
"I know you have us exiting into a river!"
Isaac tuned them out, giving the hovering shopgirl a little nod as she watched them, plainly worried about the three of them causing trouble. Derek and Stiles held most of her attention though, and Isaac drifted away, drawn over to the back wall of the little bookshop. It was the closest thing to a gift shop the Arches had, and it was empty save for them.
The shop was filled with little tour books and factoids, collectible knick-knacks and other things nobody needed, but everyone bought because gift shops were tradition. In the back was a wall of shot glasses and pale pastel mugs with a glossy tacked-on image of arching orange stone across one side. Isaac stared at them without knowing why. His stomach churned and his skin prickled and he stared at the stupid, overpriced mugs.
Behind him Stiles was shouting and Derek's voice dropped lower and more bitten off with every response. Isaac didn't know why, but he reached for a mug, shoving it hurriedly into his backpack, grabbing a second, a third and a fourth. The fifth clinked against the others with an ominously loud sound and Isaac zipped the bag and fled out the side door, hoping the nervous shop girl wasn't watching. He heard someone say his name, but couldn't tell who. It didn't really matter, because all Isaac could really hear was the hammer beat of his own heart. His feet hit the dirt outside and he sprinted, claws sprouting and teeth sharpening.
Isaac tried to outrun the panic, to barrel into the wide-open spaces of the park and remind himself that he was free, that he was fine. It still took time to pass, and he found himself dropping down to kneel on a sandy patch of ground, heart slowing and limbs weak, cold sweat drying on his skin and no clear memory of how he'd gotten there.
When he'd stopped shaking, Isaac opened his bag, pulling out the mugs, one after the other. Two had cracked on the run, but were still holding together. Isaac set them out in a line in front of him, staring. He swallowed against a lump in his throat, telling himself it was stupid to feel like he was afraid of coffee cups. But the feeling wouldn't go away, just sat there, heavy and pointless in his middle.
He made himself sit up. Isaac's claws receded, his face became his own again, no fur or tipped ears. Just human, as weak as he ever had been, no matter the Bite or the Pack. It didn't matter how much he pretended or how far he ran, he'd always be the same stupid kid who couldn't do anything right.
The worst part of it was always that Isaac couldn't blame the people that didn't want him enough. He understood them too well. He always knew why they turned against him, or just away from him.
Isaac fisted his hand and reached out, slamming it down on the first mug. It shattered beneath the blow, cracked ceramic embedding itself in his skin. He lashed out again. The second mug broke in half, two more blows sent it into fragments.
By the time the fifth was nothing but eggshell-sized remains, Isaac's hand was bleeding and he knew Derek was behind him. Isaac was panting again, head reeling. He didn't look at Derek.
The bits of broken mug crackled under Derek's boots as he walked around Isaac, coming to crouch in front of him. He moved slowly and Isaac stopped himself from flinching away when Derek caught his wrist, drew Isaac's bleeding hand onto his knee, picking bits of ceramic from the shallow cuts. If he noticed that Isaac was trembling again, he didn't say anything about it, just bent his head over his task like it mattered. Like Isaac wouldn't just heal and push the tiny shards out as if they'd never been there. As if Isaac hadn't just had some kind of breakdown over stolen coffee mugs.
Instead Derek just finished, and then kept his fingers there, circled loosely around Isaac's wrist. "They filmed Indiana Jones around here," Derek said suddenly. Isaac looked up, meeting his eyes finally, and Derek looked away. "The third one, with Sean Connery?"
Isaac blinked dumbly and then shook his head. "I only saw the first one."
"My mother liked Harrison Ford," Derek said. "Cora was Han Solo for Halloween, when she was a kid."
Derek didn't talk about his family much. He didn't talk much period, and most of the time Isaac was fine with that. Their shared living space in Beacon Hills had largely been made up of both of them keeping to their own quiet space, or sitting in front of the TV. Isaac knew there was probably some kind of proper response to someone opening a window into their childhood because you'd just shoplifted mugs and run away, but he didn't know what it was. "Is she okay? Cora?" he asked, instead of anything relevant.
Derek shrugged. "Much as she tells me. She's going to school. She texts me. We talk, now and then."
Isaac had heard the edges of those conversations. They'd been awkwardly bitten off words and then a hasty goodbye that Derek never brought up. Cora wasn't any better at communication than Derek was. But it was something. They were trying. They just weren't trying from the same place, and Isaac didn't know why Derek had come back without her. He'd never asked. He probably never would. You didn't question the person who tolerated having you near them, or they might end up changing their minds. "That's good," he said instead. "Stiles would probably like to talk to her." Derek grunted something noncommittal. His fingers were still on Isaac's wrist, tip of his forefinger against the pulse point there, grip loose but firm. Isaac was ashamed of how much that touch felt like an anchor he needed to hold him down. "Did she call the cops" he asked, reaching to pick up a piece of broken mug with his other hand.
"Stiles stayed and paid. He was babbling something about a kleptomaniac cousin," Derek said. Isaac laughed. It felt too sharp and strange, but Derek gave him a slight smile in return, and his finger stroked against the inside of Isaac's wrist for a second.
Isaac looked down at Derek's fingers, at the broken ceramic. "I broke a mug," he blurted. He hadn't even put it together, not until he said it aloud like that. "When I was a kid. I was always dropping things -- clumsy, I guess. Before Cam died, it just happened. No one cared. But when I was like 13, I stopped breaking things all the time. I was careful. But I knocked down this blue mug of dad's. And I tried to hide it . . ." It hadn't been the first time his father hit him, it didn't even been particularly stand out. But somehow he'd just looked at that shelf full of mugs and something made it feel too real. "I was always screwing up. I always think - thought - that if I could just be good enough, it would stop. I would . . ." he trailed off, shrugging. It was a child's fantasy, being good enough that it made you enough, even for someone who didn't want you. He'd just never been able to let go of it.
Derek didn't try to spout after school special wisdom. He didn't say it wasn't Isaac's fault, or that he could talk to someone, or anything else that someone else might have. He just squeezed Isaac's wrist, turned his hand over to look at the healed cuts. "I don't really like coffee that much," he said.
It had nothing to do with anything, and somehow everything to do with it, because the bits of mug under his feet could have held coffee, and Isaac didn't know why it was a better thing to say than anything else he could think of, but it was. "You drink it all the time."
"I do a lot of things I don't like," Derek said. "It wakes you up, it doesn't matter if it tastes like ground up worms."
Isaac's throat still felt scratchy and his stomach fluttery, but he felt a smile lurking at the corners of his mouth. It almost seemed foreign, like his face had forgotten how in the last hour. "Know from experience?"
Derek grimaced. "Laura used to dare me to swallow things." Isaac laughed and Derek cocked his head, stood and pulled Isaac to his feet. Isaac stood and was close enough to Derek's space that he could lean into him, and for just a second he let himself. Derek stood steady and let him. "I broke a mirror once," he told Isaac quietly.
Isaac ducked his head into the crook of Derek's neck, brief and tentative, breathing in before he pulled away, scenting leather and wind and Derek. "Explains your luck, I guess," he muttered. Derek snorted and Isaac straightened, stepping away. Derek picked up Isaac's discarded backpack and handed it to him, waiting for Isaac to shrug it into place before starting back toward the distant bookstore and waiting car, letting Isaac fall into step beside him.
Allison's head was tipped, long line of her neck pale and exposed. Scott was pressed up against her back, hand brown against the white of her stomach, mouth against her shoulder, her hand reaching up to tangle in his curls. They were so beautiful it hurt, and Isaac wanted to watch them almost as badly as he wanted them to look at him.
Instead he ducked his head, buried his face between the long length of Allison's thighs, licked into the core of her, teasing with tongue and lips and teeth, fingers pressing into her, just rough enough to make her gasp. Isaac had learned all the ways to touch her when they were together. He knew how to make Allison writhe, how to break through Scott's gentleness until his fingers dug bruises.
He could do this. He could be this. He could wring them out and turn them on and take what they gave him. Isaac could make it be enough. When Scott tugged him up, kissing hungry and deep, Isaac told himself he didn't wonder if Scott was kissing to kiss him, or to taste Allison on his tongue.
Later they were sprawled across Allison's bed, Isaac pressed up against Allison's side, Scott curled opposite him, arm stretched across her back, fingertips touching Isaac's hip. Isaac lay there, watching them breathe. When Scott's hand slipped off his hip, Isaac slid carefully out of bed. He pulled on shorts and a shirt and opened the door silently.
Allison's dad was away and the house was empty except for them. Scott's mom was having Stiles's dad over for dinner and even if he'd wanted to leave, Isaac had nowhere to go. He didn't really want to leave. He just didn't want to stay, either. He didn't know what he wanted.
He dug through Allison's fridge, coming up with one of Chris's beers and some leftover pizza the three of them had ordered earlier.
If he'd thought about it, Isaac would have expected Scott would come down, if anyone did. He had the same senses Isaac did, and Isaac woke up at every little sound and movement, unless he was asleep at Scott's house where he let his guard down. It wasn't Scott who drifted into the kitchen though.
Allison had Scott's boxers on, a throw pulled around her bare shoulders. "My dad's going to notice it's gone and kill you," she told him with a small smile. There was a bruise sucked onto the base of her throat. Isaac hadn't put it there.
He shrugged and smiled. "He'll just think you drank it."
She sighed, eyes rolling. "Probably." She plopped down on the stool next to his, leg bare against his and fingers picking a pepperoni from his pizza. He swatted half-heartedly at her hand and she smiled at him. She was so beautiful it made his breath catch. He suddenly couldn't remember why he'd wanted to ever be where she wasn't. Isaac twirled the curling end of her hair around the tip of his finger. She leaned into him, soft skin against his arm and hair against his shoulder. "You left," she said quietly.
"I was hungry."
"I'm not even sure you were there to begin with."
Isaac tensed, frowning down at the pizza box. "You didn't have any complaints at the time."
She snorted, punching his shoulder none too gently. "I had a few. Not about what you were doing. My knees are still wobbly. Just . . . you barely let us touch you, Isaac."
Isaac shrugged. "I wanted to watch you." Isaac loved to watch them, but he wanted the focus on them. On what he could do for them, on how he could make it better. And sometimes he was afraid to let them touch him because maybe he would feel it, how different it was when they touched him compared to the way they glowed and moved when they touched each other.
"Not just this time," Allison said. He didn't answer, and her strong fingers folded a crease into the edge of the pizza box. "You weren't like this when it was just us, or when it was just you and Scott."
"It was different then." Isaac wasn't sure how he felt about them talking about him, comparing notes about when they'd been in bed. Self-conscious and uncertain, maybe, but mostly relieved that they'd thought of him.
He was so screwed up.
"It doesn't have to be," Allison argued. "I missed you, when we were broken up. I like you. Scott likes you. If you don't . . . if you don't even want to try this, you should just tell us. Not . . . whatever you're trying to do, okay?"
Isaac winced. "I do. I am trying. It's not like that."
Allison watched, waiting for him to say more. When he didn't, she grimaced. "You know . . . I thought the reason you and me didn't work was that we were both too in love with Scott. Is that it?"
"No!" It wasn't the sharing. It was just the wrong kind of sharing, and Isaac didn't know how to explain it. He didn't even know why he felt like this. It was stupid and it was pointless and they were giving him what he wanted. He should just let it lie, take what he had and be grateful. "He's Scott. You're you. It's not . . . there isn't a more there." Not for him.
"But he's your Pack," Allison said. "I thought it made a difference."
It did and it didn't. Scott was easier for Isaac to understand, to be at ease with. Allison took more thought, more work. They hadn't trusted one another at first, but they were long past that. It was different between them -- not less. "I'm sorry," Isaac said.
Allison's dark eyes were watery. "I don't want you to be sorry. I want this to be real," she said.
So did he. It was real, it just wasn't quite right. "Let's go back to bed," he told her.
She frowned, but gave in. When he stood, she let her blanket drop and wrapped her arms around his neck, mouth soft against his. She tasted like love and comfort and Isaac sank into it, holding her close until one kiss turned into three. She laced her fingers with his and drew him back toward the stairs. Isaac hung on tight and followed her.
El Maplais, NM
The sound of rattling bars and wretched howls echoed up through the basement. Isaac felt it pulse along his spine and rattle in his skull. He winced, burying his face in his hands. The full moon bathed the room in bright light without them flipping on a single switch.
Derek leaned against the wall beside the window, watching out with a face carved from stone, tension stringing him into a taut line that the casual pose did nothing to disguise.
Derek had so much to be angry about, Isaac imagined it was never hard for him to hang tight to his anger and pulse with the injustice and mistakes of his life. Each moon, Isaac had to reach for the memories from before Camden, before his father grew angry and Isaac learned to spend every moment of every day afraid and striving for perfection he'd never reach. Lately he played them over and over in his mind and instead of the dim glow of warmth, he'd started to find the little signs of how things would inevitably change. A frown that turned too sharp, a harsh word Isaac had almost made himself forget.
His anchor was built on a lie, and Isaac wondered what would happen when the truth came out and he had to see himself for what he'd always been.
Isaac's gums ached from the press of fangs and his skin felt small and hemmed in, like it might split and release the monster inside him. Isaac liked the monster. He'd taken the Bite to feel powerful, to not be alone. The feeling hadn't lasted, but Isaac had never resented the change, just the things that hadn't changed enough. He was better as a wolf. He just wasn't better enough.
Another howl drifted up, and the floor shuddered. Isaac flinched, standing with hunched shoulders. "What if he-"
"He won't," Derek said, cutting him off. "This house belonged to a Hunter. He kept an Alpha and half her pack in there. It can hold Stiles."
Maybe it could. Isaac just didn't know if it should. The borrowed house sat at the edge of El Malpais. There was nothing but black rock and empty space for miles. "Why are we here, if it's Hunter territory?"
"He's dead. The local Pack owns it now. They owed my family a favor." Derek said it like it was a fact, as if a dead Hunter and the wolves who probably killed him and stole his house wasn't a story and a dangerous thing all in itself. Isaac didn't want to know the story anyway. The more he knew, the less solid ground he had to stand on. He didn't want to know the details and make the decisions. He just wanted a clear path to follow. That hadn't worked out so well lately either.
Another hour passed. The smell of blood and panicked anger was palpable, and Stiles never stopped moving. Isaac could hear the click of claws against the floor, the rustle of movement. The clock ticked and the night was passing so slowly it grated on Isaac's nerves. Stiles was all alone down there. Isaac had never spent a moon alone, but he couldn't help but think about how it would feel if he had.
He got up from the sofa he'd sprawled back out on without making a conscious decision to do it. "Isaac," Derek said, voice low and warning. But the shiver of command it used to have was gone, and Isaac missed it. Life was easier when you had no excuse and no option save to do what you were told.
"He's all alone," Isaac said. He swallowed. "There's no one for miles. You can stop him." Isaac could help, and Derek was a born wolf. He would always be stronger than a beta with no real Alpha.
Derek didn't answer, but he didn't stop him. Isaac pulled open the door to the basement and rushed down the stairs.
Stiles growled when he saw him, eyes blue as starlight and dried blood around the base of his claws, streaked along his arms where the plaid of his shirt was torn. "Stop," Isaac said as Stiles crouched to spring against the bars. There were gouges in the stone walls, the concrete floors. Isaac couldn't remember if they'd been there before or not. He stayed out of Stiles's reach, crouching down to look at him. Isaac loosened his grip on the wolf within him, teeth sharpening and claws lengthening. He watched Stiles steadily, and Stiles stared back until Isaac looked down. "I'm going to let you out," he said quietly. "Stiles, there's no one but us. Not for miles. You can hear me; you can control it. Just run out. It helps to run." Stiles snarled, soft and menacing. He was all curved in on himself with ready, rounded, raw edges where Derek had been long lines. But they held the same tension, the same anger. Isaac couldn't tell if angry was any easier than the way he felt now. "Just run until you can't think," he told Stiles.
Isaac didn't know if it would help Stiles the way it helped Isaac. Stiles never ran. Not even when he should. But he pulled the heavy key from the hook by the stairs and twisted the cage lock open, throwing the door open.
Stiles was on him in a second, claws digging points into Isaac's shoulders, pinning him against the wall. Isaac shut his eyes, tipped his chin back. Stiles froze, breathing in harsh and uneven. Then he stumbled back, graceless for a second, expression somehow stricken, even through the fangs and fur. "It's okay," Isaac said.
Stiles didn't speak, but he whirled, vanishing up the stairs. Isaac heard Derek's snarl and Stiles's answering growl, but by the time Isaac made it upstairs Stiles was running out the door. Derek turned his head, checking on Isaac with one long look. And then he bolted after Stiles and Isaac ran after them both.
When Derek taught them how to run like wolves, he'd run them in almost straight lines, found hidden paths and showed Isaac, Erica, and Boyd how to do the same just by virtue of watching him. Stiles ran in jagged spurts, twisting over his own path and teetering like he didn't know which way to go, or like he didn't want to be followed.
He launched himself at Derek twice, and then ran on when Derek shook him off, shoved him away. Isaac drew level with him, Stiles gave no reaction save a panted growl. They ran on together, Derek a shadow at the edge of Isaac's vision. They found tunnels where lava once ran, and the uneven earth tore at clawed feet that healed the hurt away in seconds.
Stiles was new to this and he wore out before Isaac did, but the dew-wet smell of dawn was still beginning to rise by the time Stiles stumbled to a halt. Isaac hovered nearby until Stiles sank to his knees, folding in like a sail all the wind had been sucked out of. His eyes were still blue, but there was a human, exhausted softness to his face. Isaac crossed the space, dropping down beside Stiles.
Stiles shook like his bones might break and his cheeks were wet. Isaac guided him down until he was sitting, and Stiles was stiff-limbed and awkward, but he let it happen. "I didn't want this," Stiles said. His voice sounded different as a wolf, harsher when pushed around the sharp edge of his teeth.
"I did," Isaac said, because Stiles had said it like he wanted the reassurance that it wasn't his fault, but Isaac didn't know how to say that, other than to remind Stiles that some people chose it.
Stiles flinched and then grimaced. "I didn't want to want it. But I did." The honesty was costly, made Stiles swallow hard and look down.
With Scott, it had been so shockingly, strangely easy. They'd been Pack and there had been something in Scott that was soft and giving, but still Alpha and when Isaac had leaned into him, crowded his space, Scott had just given him room, curled around him and been warm and welcoming. Allison had been different. They'd had to learn each other's boundaries and Allison had been careful, aware of Scott and of the wolf beneath Isaac's skin. But when she gave over, they'd just fit together too. She'd been strong in ways Isaac wasn't, just like Scott was but not at all the same ways. And when they'd folded in together, they'd found ways to slot in to one another and offer up comfort and closeness.
Stiles was all angles, stiff pride, and prickly temper. Isaac didn't know how to curve around him without risking being pushed away. But he tried. He curved an arm around Stiles's waist, leaned into him until Stiles stopped hunching in on himself and tipped into Isaac instead. It wasn't easy or comfortable, but it was something, and Stiles's blue eyes shut as he stayed there, leaned in against Isaac. "I miss them, you know," Stiles said suddenly into the quiet. "Scott. My Dad. Everyone. But I'm glad you asked me."
Isaac missed Scott. He missed Allison and he missed Melissa. He missed having days and moments when he felt like things might have an ending he didn't have to brace for. He missed when his anchor felt solid and he could separate the father he'd loved from the man he'd lived in fear of. "Me too," he said aloud.
Stiles breathed in and out, steady and slow. Isaac felt it against his shoulder and breathed in time with it. When Stiles's hand dropped to Isaac's knee, it was human, clawless but still blood-smeared. "It gets easier, doesn't it?"
Isaac could have just said yes, but Stiles liked the truth, and Isaac wasn't a very good liar. "Sometimes," he said. "Sometimes it's worse." Stiles's breath caught, and Isaac watched his fingers knead at the denim of Isaac's jeans. "Once in a while it's amazing," he said. Because it was kind, and it was true.
Stiles laughed at that, sharp and a little damp sounding. "Not lately."
No. Not lately. Isaac didn't say it this time, and Stiles just leaned into him more. From a slight rise above them, Isaac could pick out the blue shine of Derek's eyes as he watched over them both, expression still made of implacable stone as he watched over them without coming any closer.
Isaac shut his eyes, let Derek keep watch, and held on to Stiles until the sun started to climb its way into the sky.
Isaac's second period class had assigned seating. It had happened largely to separate Stiles from Scott during the beginning of the year (much to Stiles's vocal protests which had blatantly worked against his case), but had gradually shifted around to separate this couple, or that pair of gossips.
Isaac sat behind Scott and Allison. He spent class ignoring the teacher and watching both of them instead. At first it had been a comfort. Allison's eyes would sneak back to him whenever she rolled them at something Lydia said. Scott would twist in his seat and throw Isaac a grin when he thought he wouldn't be seen. (He usually was.) Lately it felt like a mild form of masochism. Isaac watched them, and they still threw him looks and smiles, but he saw every flick of their eyes toward one another, caught the subtle brush of hands or press of knees beneath the table. They were there, side by side, and Isaac stuck behind them, every second period. It was a painfully unsubtle illustration of how he felt.
His grades were already shot to hell, and these days no one bothered to expect more out of him when it came to school. He probably couldn't afford to blow off any more classes, but Isaac couldn't handle another day of watching and knew he wouldn't be able to stop himself from it. He took off after first period, running clear of the school and hitching a ride just off the highway. They dropped him at the bus stop outside of town, and from there it was just a jog to the train station.
Derek was gone, Erica and Boyd were dead, and no one else came here anymore. Isaac loved and hated it the way he loved and hated a lot of things, because he was continually screwed up and never knew how he felt about anything. Isaac had always been lousy at either/or questions, at making decisions or knowing his own mind. It used to make his father crazy, the way Isaac wobbled and waited and couldn't commit. The train station was a relic, unused, unloved, ugly and broken. But once in a while he could curl in an abandoned seat and it still smelled like Erica. It was safe and lonely and big enough that it didn't make him feel closed in.
Isaac loved Scott's house. He loved Melissa and he loved how warm and safe and lived-in it felt, but it never quite felt like home. Isaac was starting to wonder if anything ever would. The train wasn't any closer, but it at least didn't feel like it belonged to someone else.
He flung himself into an uncomfortable train bench. He wasn't sure if he was disappointed or relieved that he couldn't catch any lingering scent of Boyd or Erica today, but put it out of his mind. He should do schoolwork, but instead he pulled out a crappy spy novel he'd borrowed from Ms. McCall and tried to focus on the words on the pages.
He smelled Stiles before he heard him, but only by a few seconds, because Stiles made no attempt to go unheard. Isaac was pretty sure he was thumping his feet and muttering on purpose, he just wasn't sure if it was to scare off possible rats or alert Isaac he was there. Either way, just sinking out of sight and hoping Stiles left probably wasn't going to work.
Stiles confirmed that by plopping noisy and rushed into the seat opposite him, legs sprawled and a bag of Doritos gripped in one fist. He tossed them at Isaac and Isaac caught them automatically. "So, is there a reason you're hiding, or is it just some weird werewolf nostalgia for the abandoned train where all the tetanus goes to live?"
Isaac peered at him over the edge of the book. "To be alone?" he said pointedly.
"Yeah, noticing a lot of that," Stiles said, unmoved by Isaac's attempts to ward him off with a glare. He gave it up in favor of pulling open the Doritos to pop one in his mouth. Stiles made a grab to take the bag back and Isaac held it out of his reach until he huffed and stood to snag it. Isaac let it go this time. "Scott's worried about you, you know."
Isaac did know. Scott worried about everyone. He was the Alpha now, and he took it as his job to keep everyone safe. He'd done that even before he stepped up to Alpha, it was probably why he was a True Alpha. Isaac liked knowing that Scott cared and felt guilty for how much it bothered him that he felt like he was on equal footing with the others instead of more important. "So he sent you to spy on me?"
Stiles scoffed. "Dude, he told me to leave you alone. This whole Alpha thing, he's getting too used to people doing what he says. That's why he needs me. I provide perspective."
Stiles rarely did what anyone told him to. "So why are you here? How did you even know where I was? You couldn't sniff me out if you tried."
"Okay, Point A, werewolves are not the only ones who can track people down. Cops exist, and they usually don't have freaky werewolf noses to help them out. And B, there's like four places tops to look for you -- your old house, which I ruled out because it's up for sale anyway, Derek's old loft, which I ruled out because who would want to go back there after what happened, the burned out shell of the Hale house, and here. This was the least creepy."
Isaac scowled down at his book. "Sometimes I just go for coffee."
"Okay, five places. But I was right, so shut up." Stiles crunched his way through another couple of Doritos. "So, what's got you tucking your tail to run for it? You know Scott's mom knows, right? So if you're worried about fallout, she doesn't care. I mean she cares, but not in the way where she's judging Scott's life choices. She just wants everyone happy and safe and preferably not out doing midnight werewolf death-defying."
Isaac hadn't really known that, but he shrugged. "Sometimes I just need time alone."
Stiles peered at him. "I get that. But that's not what you're doing." He tipped his head back. "Scott's . . . this thing with you and Allison, it took a lot for him to get there, too. He didn't blink when you and Allison hooked up after she and Scott split. It's not like it was easy for him to watch. And then there was the belated sexual identity crisis after you and him got together. Followed by the I'm going to ruin everything, Stiles angst of being in love with two people. But he, you know, powered through, because he wanted it. And it could work. He wants it to work. Trust me, I put together his packet on functioning polyamory, he is dedicated to the idea of it working. He shared Allison with you. That's a big deal in Scott world."
It was. Scott was giving and he was good and he cared, but that's what it was. It was Allison and Scott making a space for him. It was Scott sharing Allison and Allison sharing Scott and it should be enough. It would be enough for anyone else. Isaac was greedy and he was broken and he wanted them so badly, but he needed them to share him. And that wasn't how it worked. "Just shut up," he muttered.
Stiles, miraculously, did. He just sat, quiet and watchful, almost still save for the foot he kept restlessly bouncing and the methodical chewing. When he held the bag out in offering again, Isaac took a few just for the sake of something to do other than sit there, feeling Stiles watch him. He gave it up finally, sitting up straight and meeting Stiles's watching eyes. Stiles took it as the permission it was. "You're basically flunking everything. I know these things. I snoop. I could help you out," he said, instead of what Isaac expected.
Isaac frowned, shrugging listlessly. Stiles didn't push, didn't say Scott's name again. Isaac and Scott were a two person Pack these days. Peter vanished when Derek and Cora left, showing up now and then for no real reason other than to remind them he was there before disappearing again. The twins sat on the fringes -- helping out when needed but not really welcomed, either. Scott was more forgiving than Isaac, but he didn't trust them. Isaac couldn't look at them without seeing Boyd, and he doubted he ever would. He didn't talk to them. He didn't do more than nod at Danny or Lydia. Most of his world was centered around Scott and Allison. He didn't have anyone to talk to, and Isaac had never really been one to want to talk much, but he hadn't realized how much it was weighing him down until Stiles sat there, not pushing, and Isaac suddenly wanted to tell him everything. "It worked without me," he blurted.
Stiles looked up alertly. "Scott and Allison?" he said, putting it together too quickly for it to not have been something he already knew.
Isaac looked down again. "They were together, and they were in love. And they just worked. They broke up because of outside crap. Werewolves and kanima and the Alpha Pack. Allison and me, we didn't work without Scott. Scott and me didn't work without Allison."
"Yeah, but they're both into you now." Stiles scrubbed a hand awkwardly across the nape of his neck. "This isn't really my area. I mean it's cool and we can talk about it, but I'm going pretty much on like 90% internet and 10% stuff Scott hedges around, you know?"
"Sorry," Isaac said. "Never-"
"No, that's not -- not what I was saying. I was just putting in a general warning that anything I say is probably less than useful. But it's okay. I came here to talk about it. I figured. . ."
"I didn't have anyone else," Isaac finished.
Stiles shrugged. "You could talk to Scott's mom. I mean she's Team Scott because that's her job, but she's good to talk to."
Isaac couldn't talk to her. Most days he still expected her to throw him out of her house, even though he knew she wouldn't. He still felt like she would. "Guess I look pretty pathetic to you."
Stiles blinked at him and then laughed. "Oh my god -- Isaac, seriously. I mean you've got kind of this sad puppy deal happening right now, but in general? You're a hot werewolf badass with a girlfriend and a boyfriend. You are doing better than me in like most areas of life despite your dismal school performance and lurking in trains. Which I think you learned from Derek by the way, and you should unlearn any life lessons you got from him immediately."
Isaac smiled slightly, despite himself. "Derek gave me a place to live before Scott did, you know." Right up until he'd thrown Isaac out.
"I stand by my statement. If there's a way to fail at something, Derek Hale will find it, okay?" Stiles said staunchly. He shrugged again. "You look like you're screwing yourself up, which I'm pretty good at. But that doesn't make you look like a sad sack to me or anything. Hell, even my best friend is more into you than me."
Isaac searched Stiles's face at that. "It bugs you?"
Stiles stopped, thinking about it. "It used to," he admitted. "Back before you two were in the making out stage, when you were just friends and had the werewolf bonding and the Pack and the mutual lusting over Argents . . . I got over it though, even before things changed. I got over it with Allison too. People grow up and change and get girlfriends or boyfriends or both of the above. Scott's my brother, and he always will be. I love the guy, he loves me. I am secure in our bromance status." Stiles stopped again, fingers drumming on his knee before he added carefully. "I don't want him to be in love with me, though. So it's not like it's the same. Apples and oranges, or . . . pears. Some kind of fruit being compared to some non-comparable other fruit."
Isaac thumped his head back against the dented metal wall of the train, back pressing more firmly against it, letting it hold him up. "They worked without me," he said again. "They don't . . . need me."
"That doesn't mean they don't want you around. Or that it's not better with you there too," Stiles countered. "But I get that it's not the same thing."
"It's not. Allison's got this big heart, and Scott . . . you know how he is. And they let me in, they let me be with them. That's important and it sucks that it's not enough because it should be. They're never going to need me. They want me. It should be enough. I want it to be enough."
Stiles eyes were soft, and older than they should be. "Wanting it doesn't make it magically work, Lahey," he said quietly. "It's only been a couple of months. It could get better. You could get used to it."
"But it's never going to be the same between any of us as it is between the two of them," Isaac said.
Stiles's smile was sad. "Nope," he said. Hearing it out loud hurt, but Isaac felt a strange little spark of gratitude for the honesty that no one else probably would have given him, if he'd ever found the words to talk about it. "They're . . . star-crossed, you know? From the first time they saw each other. It's stupid, and it's dramatic, but they were always going to be a thing. And they always will be. It doesn't make you less, but it's a one-time cosmic event. I have been there for the portions of the play where they weren't together, and it was always going to be just an interruption in the long-term, sickening togetherness of them."
"Like me," Isaac said. Stiles started to say something and Isaac waved him off. "No. It's true. It's good. It's how it is." Either he figured out how to live with it, or he didn't.
"I'm pretty sure they're in love with you, too," Stiles offered after a heavy break of quiet.
"I know," Isaac said. The worst part was that he did know. He even believed it. It just didn't help the way it should.
Stiles crumpled the empty Doritos bag and climbed to his feet, holding out his hand. "Come on, let's go get caffeine and then get Lydia to catch you up in Chem. You need to widen your social circle to people who absolutely would never sleep with you."
Isaac let Stiles pull him to his feet. "Please. I'd be a step up from her half of the double mint twins."
"Point, but for the sake of my ego, we're going to pretend you have even less of a shot than I ever did," Stiles said. He rolled his eyes as Isaac smirked and for a moment it almost felt natural instead of forced as he trailed Stiles out of the train.
Isaac hit the grassy dirt back first, contact jarring down his spine and knocking the wind from him. Stiles's hands pressed against his chest, half crouched on top of him, panting, mouth pulled into a smile. "Point Stilinski," he crowed. Isaac rolled his eyes and then focused, pulling at the wolf within, the control he'd learned. He felt his face shift, his strength surge. He twisted, reaching for Stiles and then batting him to the side, rolling him beneath him as he reversed their positions, pinning him down. Stiles yelped dramatically and then grimaced. "Seriously? You couldn't let me have one? It's not like I'm batting a thousand here, Lahey."
Isaac shrugged. "You looked smug. It was annoying." He grinned though, pressing down on Stiles's shoulders as he tried to squirm out from beneath him.
"You'll never win one if you don't learn to shift and use your strength," Derek said from behind them. "You're too weak without it."
Stiles stiffened, little rush of joy deflating right out of him. His voice was flat again when he snapped back. "Yeah, Derek. Thanks. That's a big help to the guy who already can't do it. Way to motivate."
Isaac sighed and let Stiles up, squeezing his shoulder as he let himself shit back. Stiles rolled to his feet, shooting Derek a quick glare. Derek shrugged. "You're the one who won't learn. Get used to losing until then."
Stiles's teeth ground. "I'm hungry, I'm going to go get a sandwich," he announced, whirling and jogging away, disappearing into the rented cabin.
Isaac watched him and then looked back at Derek, who crossed his arms over his chest. "He's getting better."
"He's not," Derek said flatly. "We've been here two weeks and he can't change except for the full moon, and then he's out of control. He needs to get angry and stop running away from what he is."
Stiles didn't run, and Isaac didn't understand how Derek could have met Stiles at all and not know that about him. Stiles wasn't running, he was denying. It wasn't the same thing. Running meant walking away. Denying was digging in with every stubborn ounce to try to will it away. "He's already angry."
"You need to make him furious."
"That doesn't work for all of us. Breaking bones and kicking asses doesn't motivate everybody." It hadn't worked for Isaac. He'd learned, but Derek's methods had never helped. Isaac didn't think they would for Stiles, either. He was like Scott, not like Isaac. Neither of them had made a choice -- however rash and stupid said choice might be. They'd had it happen to them.
Derek stopped, and he looked away. "I shouldn't have done it like that, not for you."
Isaac wondered if he should be insulted by that. He'd never held it against Derek. Derek was born to the wolf, he hadn't known any other way to teach because no one had to teach him -- he'd grown up with it. Anger was his coping method. It hadn't been Boyd's, or Erica's, and it had never been close to Isaac's. He'd gotten drunk on the power of being a werewolf at first, been dismissive and aggressive. But it had been a mask he'd worn and never quite fit into. "I learned," he said finally into the awkward silence.
"I could have done things differently," Derek answered. "I wanted-" he stopped, grimacing and then meeting Isaac's eyes. "I never expected to be an Alpha."
Isaac looked back toward the cabin, not sure how to hold Derek's gaze, or what he should say. "Stiles didn't expect to be like us at all," he said. He turned back and Derek was still watching him. There was a question in his face that Isaac couldn't quite read, let alone answer. He drifted closer, and Derek stood still, waiting for him. "I expected it to be different," Isaac told him. "I wanted . . . I don't know. To be different. Better. But it doesn't change who you are, or what you want."
Derek's hand lifted, brushing lightly down Isaac's back, dusting grass and dirt from his shirt. It settled still and heavy on the small of Isaac's back briefly, warmth spreading through fabric until it felt like he was touching bare skin. "I should have been better," he said. "Not you."
Isaac's eyes wanted to flutter shut and he forced them to stay open. "You could have bitten anyone."
Derek shrugged. His hand dropped away but he stayed where he was, close enough that touching could have been easy. Isaac didn't know if that was invitation enough. "I didn't."
"You could have bitten Stiles."
"I wouldn't," Derek said, even and definite.
"Someone else might not have left you for Scott," Isaac said. It wasn't an apology because he wasn't really sorry. It was just the truth, and Derek had ran him out the door to begin with, even if Isaac knew now he'd been trying to protect Isaac in his way.
"All of you left." Derek's answer wasn't any more accusation than Isaac's had been apology. It was just a fact. And beneath that was a weary sort of acknowledgement that they'd had reason. "So did I."
From inside the cabin something slammed shut and Isaac looked away. Derek stepped back and Isaac felt a pang of regret as soon as he had. "You came back," he told Derek.
Derek smiled, slight and careful. "Eventually."
Isaac swallowed. "Stiles will figure it out."
"You'll help him," Derek said. He cocked his head. "Just tell him not to do it. That usually works," he added.
Isaac laughed and Derek's smile widened, turned less careful. Isaac could still feel Stiles's hands on his chest, Derek's palm against his back. He smiled back and his chest constricted. But Derek was smiling and the sun was setting and this was nowhere near a home, but Isaac could stand to pretend, for a second. Just for a second, it could be okay.
When Derek came home, there was no fanfare, no announcement. He was gone, and then he wasn't.
Lacrosse season was over, and Isaac had turned down Scott's urging to keep with the track team, Allison's pointed suggestions of tutoring or study sessions. Isaac spent most of his time feeling split in two -- the boy who went to bed with people he loved and kissed them to stifle the sounds they made, and the boy who resented everything they couldn't be for him and hated himself for it. He knew what it felt like to love someone and hate them at the same time. Isaac never wanted to feel like that again, especially not for Scott and Allison, who had done nothing to deserve it. But some days it hurt enough that it almost felt like he could hate them for it -- which just made Isaac hate himself more.
Isaac knew something was coming. Much as it hurt, it couldn't go on like this forever. The thought of over hurt too, though. So it was just limping along in limbo. They didn't talk about what didn't work, and they focused on the things that did. Once in a while it was fine. Isaac would look up at something Scott said and he would be beaming back and Allison's head would be in Isaac's lap as she looked up at him, and all his doubt and worry just seemed ridiculous. But the moments were few and far between, getting further all the time. Something was going to give. He just couldn't be the one to say it.
He came back to Scott's from school to find Derek on the doorstep, hands in his pockets. The Toyota parked in front was new, again, and Derek's hair was longer. He didn't smell quite like Pack anymore, but it was close and Isaac smiled uncertainly at him. He'd come there to find Scott, and Isaac knew it, but he pretended otherwise. They talked awkwardly about Cora, who had an apartment in LA with an Omega they'd met on the road, about school and the new car until Scott rushed back in, worried and protective.
Derek rented a house this time. It sat on the edge of town where Erica used to live, and it was shabby and worn. The first time Isaac went there it was for help. Another Omega was drawn to their beacon of a town and killing cops, Stiles frantic about his father and Scott trying to track them down. Stiles wouldn't have asked for Derek's help, but Isaac did, and it worked, so Stiles didn't hold it against him. The second time Isaac had a sheepish Allison in tow, and they came to warn Derek that her father was on his way to shake Derek down about an old friend of his Mother's who had drifted into town.
The third time, Isaac just had nowhere else to be. Scott was at Stiles's, Allison was with Lydia, Melissa had a double shift and Isaac just couldn't stand to be alone with his own company. Derek opened the door, shared a frozen lasagna, and they sat at opposite ends of the cheap sofa the house had come with, watching baseball on TV. It was easy and it was quiet and no one expected anything of him. Derek didn't ask questions or pick at Isaac's fraying seams until he felt like he might unravel.
He gave up his visits to the train station, showing up once or twice a week on Derek's doorstep instead. He helped fix a leak in the kitchen sink, replaced a cracked window pain and installed a smoke alarm. Derek didn't make him talk and he didn't ask anything of Isaac. Derek didn't ask anything of anyone, and he never seemed to expect what little they gave him. When Scott's mother sent Isaac along with a dinner invitation and orders not to ignore it, Derek looked as if he had even less idea what to do with Melissa's kindness than Isaac had in the beginning.
The breaking point hit one night. Isaac couldn't have said what sparked it, what the straw was that tipped them from difficult to impossible. One minute he was in Scott's living room, watching a movie with Allison's feet in his lap, Scott's arm across his shoulders. The next Scott was kneeling in front of him, and Allison was standing, arms folded over her chest and chin tipped down. They kept asking him what he needed, and Isaac didn't know how to answer when what he needed was something they didn't even know how to give to anyone else. They were on the inside, they'd never be able to see what anyone else looking in could.
He fled, and they let him because he didn't give them any other choice. It was midnight when he stood in front of Derek's door, unable to make himself knock. Derek opened the door anyway.
Isaac slouched into the couch, head in his hands and chest aching like he was running a marathon. He felt Derek settle down next to him, still and stiff. His hand dropped to Isaac's bent back though, and Isaac broke down.
It spilled the story out in half sentences and stuttered words. Derek had known. He'd smelled Scott and Allison all over Isaac, and Isaac knew it. But he'd never said it, never talked about how badly he'd wanted it to even out and work the way he knew it should. "I wanted what they have. To be a part of them. I am. I was. But . . ." he said, swallowing. He loved them. But he spent half his time lying between both of them and feeling like he was the dam keeping them from flowing together.
Derek leaned back, eyes not quite fixed on Isaac's face. "Argents," he said slowly, hint of disgust in his voice. "They suck everything inward. You can't look away, and you can't let go, no matter how much you want to. They don't leave room for anything but them."
"Allison's not like that," Isaac protested. "She loves Scott. Loves her friends and she protects her friends. She loved me. It's not her. It's not Scott. It's. . . them. And me." Mostly him.
Derek shrugged. He and Allison had a truce, but he would never look at an Argent and not see danger. Isaac couldn't blame him, but he knew it wasn't Allison's fault, it was Isaac's. "I have an extra room," he said. Isaac met his eyes finally and Derek nodded toward the spare bedroom. "If you want."
Isaac thought of his room at Scott's house. Of dinners with Ms. McCall and winding into bed with Scott while Melissa pretended she didn't know. If he stayed, he knew he'd end up back there. He'd try again because something not working didn't make you love them or need them any less. And what was broken couldn't be fixed, because it was Isaac that was broken. "You wouldn't mind?"
Derek patted his back, quick and uncomfortable, but genuine. "I like when you're here," he said.
Isaac swallowed past a lump in his throat. "Okay. Thanks." Derek nodded and stood. He came back a minute later with a beer from his fridge and the remote, handing both to Isaac in mute offering. Isaac forced a smile and took them, switching on a movie without paying attention to what it was. When his phone vibrated, he left it unanswered. He owed them an explanation, but tonight he just couldn't do it. He said nothing when Derek's phone rang, and Derek shot him a look and then answered it, telling Scott that Isaac would talk to him tomorrow.
Cheaha State Park, AL
"His eyes are blue," Isaac said to Derek. They sat on the hood of Derek's Toyota, staring up at the trail leading up to the top of Cheaha. Stiles was back at the lodge, in the middle of a Skype conversation with his father. Isaac had slipped out before the inevitable follow up call with Scott and loped up the trail to where Derek waited. The werewolf they were looking for was a lone Alpha whose Pack was long since gone and Derek wasn't sure he'd show at all, but he wasn't willing to leave until he'd tried. Isaac had no complaints anyway. He was getting used to the hotel rooms, the rented cabins and nights spent out in the woods. He liked feeling like he was moving, even if he didn't know where it was they were going. But it was close quarters with the three of them, and Isaac rarely had any real time alone with Derek to ask, and he'd been wondering since Stiles was bitten.
Derek looked over at him, and then nodded. "I know." Isaac stared, waiting, and Derek gave in. "It's not as simple as you think."
"Stiles hasn't killed anyone," Isaac said.
"It's not about killing someone, not really. If someone plows into the car of a drunk driver, and the drunk dies, their eyes might not change." Derek looked fixedly up at the trail ahead of them. "It's about the guilt. You don't have to kill someone. You just have to believe you're responsible. If a killer feels no real remorse, their eyes might not change."
Isaac thought about that. He sometimes wondered if things would have been different, if he could have helped Boyd and Erica avoid capture by the Alpha Pack if he'd just gone with them. If he could have done something, anything, to save Boyd at the last moment, if he'd paid better attention. He even wondered, if he'd been given the chance to try, if he could have saved his Father, or if he'd even have made an attempt at all. But Isaac never really believed he could have made a difference, and their deaths hadn't really been his doing. "None of them were his fault."
Derek smiled, small and bitter. "Guess he thinks otherwise."
Isaac sat with him for a while longer. When it started to get dark, he let Derek shoo him off, taking the Toyota back down to the lodge. Isaac didn't really like leaving him alone, but Derek was sure it was fine. Isaac gave in, but made sure Derek had his phone on.
When he walked into the lodge, Stiles's laptop was shut. He stood in front of the bathroom mirror instead, his face morphed into wolf blue eyes and tufted ears. He grimaced at his own reflection, looking at the fangs. It was still hard for him to change, but he'd managed, finally. The full moon still made him uncontrollable, but it was progress, and if he had room to run he got through. He stopped pulling faces at the mirror and turned to look at Isaac. The smile didn't look like Stiles, not with the change, but the gesturing hands and frustrated sounds were all him. "Less creepy than Deucalion, at least. Or Peter."
"The evil shows," Isaac said dryly. He crossed over to the bathroom door, reaching up with one hand and tugging at the tip of an ear. Stiles watched him, and then shut his eyes. He still grimaced like it hurt, and he ended up panting afterward -- but he changed back. "You're getting faster." Isaac wandered back, away from Stiles to plop on the bed.
Stiles was still for too long a moment, by Stiles standards, before he crossed the room. The bed he'd claimed for the night (Derek had taken the pullout) was empty, save the computer, but Stiles sat down next to Isaac instead, shoulder to shoulder. "Scott says hi," Stiles offered.
"How is he?" Isaac asked. He wasn't ready to talk to them yet, but it didn't hurt so much anymore. Just hearing their names, the edge of their voices, it didn't make him feel like he was free falling anymore. He missed them. He thought he probably always would. But it wasn't quite as sharp.
"Good. Well, okay. He says registration is making him crazy, and Danny somehow morphed from being like, the king of laid back hot jerks to King of the assholes when him and Ethan started fighting. Scott thinks he's taking long distance lessons from Jackson or something. And they've got some kind of witch in town. Scott says she's okay, and Allison likes her and Deaton says she's not evil. But I seriously doubt that guy's cred when it comes to debunking evil." Stiles spoke rapidly, one hand waving absently. It stopped moving and his voice slowed as he added quietly. "He misses you. They both do."
"They miss you, too," Isaac said.
"Well yeah, but they never saw me naked. Well Scott did, but not in the sense of viewing the merchandise. Just in the sense of locker rooms and best friends and that one time for the sake of comparison."
Isaac snorted, and it turned into a laugh. He dropped back, feet still on the floor and back against the mattress. Stiles twisted to look down at him and Isaac tucked his arm behind his head to keep from reaching to pluck at the sleeve of his hoodie. "Who won the show and tell?"
Stiles grinned down at him. "We were twelve and pre-growth spurts, okay? The data is misleading."
"So Scott," Isaac surmised.
"Shut it, Lahey." Stiles was smiling though, head ducking down. "Do you miss them?"
Isaac thought about it. Not because he didn't know the answer, but because he didn't know what answer Stiles wanted to hear. "Yes," he finally said. "But not like I used to. Not like I would if I did the wrong thing, I think."
Stiles nodded, quick and nervous, like he understood. But the look on his face said he didn't. Isaac understood that. It wasn't something you could really get unless you were looking at it from the inside out. "We talked about you," Stiles said.
"The show and tell was more or less about even with us," Isaac said.
Stiles rolled his eyes. "Asshole." Isaac had half been trying to deride the conversation, but it didn't seem to be happening, since Stiles toyed with the bedspread and then went on. "He just wants you to be happy, you know? And me. And Derek, for some reason."
"Because Derek deserves it," Isaac pointed out.
Stiles looked disdainful. "That guy's screwed up everything he's touched."
"Not everything," Isaac argued. He thought of Derek's blue eyes, of Stiles's eyes. "Screwing up doesn't mean you shouldn't ever get a chance to try to fix it, or be happy, Stiles." Stiles's eyes darted away from his and Isaac reached despite himself, left hand curling into the loose fabric at Stiles's sleeve. "He's trying."
"I know," Stiles admitted. "But he's got a lot of bodies behind him."
"He never meant there to be."
"Yeah well, if he had even Scott wouldn't be wishing him well," Stiles said.
Isaac shrugged, loose and slow against the bed. He tilted his head against his arm and watched as Stiles's eyes followed the line of his throat. Stiles met his eyes, catching Isaac watching him, and his head cocked. His arm turned under Isaac's fingers, hand sliding up to wrap around Isaac's wrist. "I almost killed Jackson," he pointed out.
"Giant lizard, so kind of called for. Plus you didn't. I almost killed him way more than you," Stiles said. His thumb ran along the inside of Isaac's wrist. "I don't think you would have killed anyone."
Maybe not. Isaac had still been half wild from the Bite then, eager to do anything Derek said and to feel strong instead of powerless and afraid. But he didn't know how much killer he really had in him, when it came down to it. "I don't think you would have, either."
Stiles's eyes met Isaac's and he smiled, small and bitter. Isaac saw Derek's smile in the shape of Stiles's mouth. "You're wrong."
Isaac didn't know if that was true, but he didn't want to argue about it. He wrapped his fingers back around Stiles's wrist in turn, tugging slightly. It was more of a question than a real suggestion, a hint of offer in the way he tilted his chin back again.
Stiles resisted, but then he leaned over Isaac a little, hand flat against his chest and eyes searching his face. "Third choice?" he asked. His gaze flickered toward the door and back. "Or fourth?"
Isaac didn't know what to make of his tone. It was equal parts aggressive and bitter with a background of resignation that Isaac, who had never been anyone's first choice, recognized all too well. "Lydia. Danny. Cora. Erica," he said. Because Isaac hadn't been what Stiles wanted first, either. Stiles looked down and Isaac shut his eyes. "Just a different choice," he said instead. Moving on, maybe, or just comfort. He honestly didn't know.
He opened his eyes when he felt Stiles move closer. Stiles braced over him, hand still against his chest and eyes huge and bright in the dimming light. "I told Scott. I mean I asked him."
"I know," Isaac said. Because they were ScottandStiles and Stiles wouldn't do this without permission. Maybe that's why it was all right for Isaac. He'd known Stiles would ask.
"All of this, the wolf crap, the moons -- I wouldn't have gotten through without you," Stiles said.
"You would have figured it out."
Stiles huffed a dismissive noise with the side of his mouth. It made Isaac smile and he reached without thinking, touching the corner of Stiles's lips where they'd curved up. "You helped me." He bowed his head. "You love them."
"I do." Isaac admitted. "But they're not mine." And he wasn't theirs. Maybe one day it wouldn't hurt to know that, but right now it didn't hurt as badly as it had.
"Is this okay?" Stiles asked, voice soft and worried and uncertain in a way Isaac didn't hear often anymore.
Isaac threaded fingers through his hair. "Yes."
Stiles sighed, and then his head dipped and his lips met Isaac's. Isaac shut his eyes and tipped his head back, pulling Stiles in closer. It was a slow kiss, tentative touch sinking deeper and more certain until Stiles was stretched out atop him, taste of his tongue in Isaac's mouth and warmth of his body pressing Isaac down. He felt weighted and aware, and he hadn't known how much he missed that feeling until he had it again.
Stiles broke away finally, lips red and wet. He licked them, dazed expression gradually fading. He smiled at Isaac and Isaac smiled back. "Want to go get food?" Stiles asked suddenly. "We can take it up to the Grinch wolf and keep him from getting himself killed, I guess. I mean not that it's much of a loss, but he is footing the bills."
Isaac rolled his eyes, but he nodded, letting Stiles pull him to his feet. Stiles kissed him again before Isaac had caught his balance, sweet and soft and fleeting, and Isaac felt the warmth of it still as Stiles let go of him and headed for the door.
The thick smell of blood led Isaac to Stiles. He'd been with Allison, covered by her bow and trying to scent out which way Scott and Derek had gone, but the blood drew him away. He froze, head turning toward it. Beside him Allison stopped, bow raised and arrow notched. "What?"
"Stiles is bleeding. A lot," Isaac told her.
She blinked and then shoved him with one shoulder. "Go. You can get there faster. I'll find Scott."
Isaac didn't want to leave her alone, but he knew she could handle herself, and Deucalion was only one wolf now. They had Scott, Derek, the twins, and Allison out here, and Scott would always find her. Isaac didn't argue, he just ran.
Stiles lay beside an old shed that still smelled of Deucalion, once Isaac got in close to pick it up. They'd known he was somewhere nearby, but trust Stiles and Lydia to figure it out while the rest of them chased their noses through the woods. And trust Stiles to go in alone.
Blood was turning the earth around Stiles's legs dark. Through the tear in his jeans Isaac could see where claws had raked through his thigh almost to the bone. They must have missed the artery, or he'd be dead already, but it was still too deep. There were matching slashes across his upper arm, the left side of his face already starting to puff and go purple. "Stiles." Isaac shook him tentatively, then shrugged out of his jacket, ripping it in half with a claw.
"Hey, Lahey. I'm pretty sure Deucalion is still a dick," Stiles said, eyes opening.
"Right." Isaac looked at Stiles's leg. "This is going to hurt, but I can help."
"It already hurts."
"It's going to hurt more." Isaac nudged Stiles carefully, and then as quickly as he could, he wrapped the torn jacket around his bleeding thigh, tying it tight. Stiles hissed in a sharp breath, tensed, and then sagged, passing out. Isaac left him out long enough to tie the other half around his arm, but the leg was the one he was worried about. He leaned against it, keeping pressure on, and groped for Stiles' free hand with his right hand. Stiles came dimly to as Isaac focused, taking some of his pain away.
That roused him enough to stupidly try to sit up, and Isaac had to push him down quickly before he put pressure back on his leg. "Call Scott," he ordered.
Stiles squinted blearily at him. "Dickwolf killed my phone."
"Mine's in my pocket." Stiles fished awkwardly with his good arm, finally snagging it. He poked at buttons, and Isaac heard first attempt ring without picking up, then a second. Then a third. "Call Ms. McCall."
"I'm not going to call her! What if he comes back? What if-"
"You bleed out all over the ground?" Isaac cut in.
Stiles expression was bleak but knowing. "Already in the cards, Isaac." He tipped his head back as Isaac took more of his pain. "Mmm, that's good. They should bottle that and sell it. Totally better than Morphine."
Isaac risked taking his hand off Stiles's thigh to dial Melissa himself, but he was stopped by a rustling footstep and an almost-familiar scent. He snarled, spinning and crouching as Stiles made a gagging sound of pain, everything Isaac had been holding back doubling back down on him. "He's fading fast. Won't last long enough for the cavalry," Peter Hale said. His eyes glowed red and he circled Isaac and Stiles, head cocked. Isaac wondered who had died to give Peter back his throne.
Stiles was staring, more focused and furious than he'd been since Isaac stumbled his way into finding him. "I should have known you were working with him. Always about power with you, right Peter? You can't just have a Pack, you have to-"
"You should probably not talk. You're getting weaker," Peter cut him off. Isaac growled, and he longed to attack, but Peter was a born wolf with Alpha red eyes again, and Isaac was no Alpha to tangle with him. Peter moved, sudden and swift, crouching down beside Stiles's head, touch surprisingly gentle when he slipped his hand behind Stiles's head. "I offered you a gift once."
"Same answer applies, asshole." Stiles snapped.
"You're dying. Isaac can take your pain, but he can't help you. You'll die, and what do you think that will do to your father? To Scott? Even if a True Alpha goes killer, it changes them. There's no path back for them. How do you think Deucalion began?"
Peter lied. It was the core of him, the most reliable fact. But Peter knew that, and every once in a while he threw in a truth, just so see if anyone would notice. "Stiles . . ." Isaac stopped, not sure what to say. "It's not so bad, being strong."
"And you still may die of the transformation. You are weak." Peter watched Stiles intently, barely paying attention to Isaac.
"Why? Why do you care if I die?" Stiles asked.
Peter shrugged. "You have value. I like that quality in a person."
Stiles swallowed. The pressure on his leg wasn't stopping the bleeding and he looked pale and trained as a corpse. "Were you working with Deucalion?"
"A means to an end. And not my favorite plan, for the record," Peter said dryly.
Stiles glared at him, abject hatred in his eyes. "Fine."
"The shocking thing here is that you genuinely believed you had a choice," Peter told him. He lunged, and Isaac tried to stop him, but Peter was an Alpha again, somehow, and he threw Isaac aside like a stuff toy. He latched his teeth deep into Stiles's shoulder, making him cry out and try to buck him off. It did not good, and the damage was done anyway. The Bite would take hold.
Peter let go, leaving him to Isaac. His mouth and chin were red with Stiles's' blood and his eyes glowed a deep, ominous red. "A farewell present. For our True Alpha and my nephew," Peter said. "If the Bite takes the wounds will begin to knit together, though the rest will come slowly."
"I'll kill you someday," Stiles threatened.
Peter paused mid-turn, looking back. There was something fond in his red eyes. "You know, you I believe might almost manage it."
He vanished, silent footsteps disappearing into the woods. Isaac huddled over Stiles, rubbing his uninjured arm, his hair. "Scott's on the way," he said. "He'll have smelled it."
Stiles was shaking and shocky looking. Isaac curled in closer, petted his hair, held the halves of his leg together and tried to take his pain.
By the time Scott and Derek arrived, there was no sign of either Peter or Deucalion, and Stiles was barely conscious, but Isaac thought the blood was flowing more slowly and the wound gaped less. "Isaac?" Scott asked, rushing to Stiles's side. "What-"
"Deucalion attacked him. Peter was working with him. But he-" Isaac stopped, eyes flickering over to Derek.
Derek was watching, some mix of sadness and fury on his face that Isaac had never quite seen before. "Peter bit him."
Scott touched the torn skin of Stiles' shoulder carefully, reverently. "He didn't want-"
"He was going to die. Peter's . . . screwed up and twisted. But I think he did it to help," Isaac offered quietly. "I'm sorry, Scott." He looked around. "Where's Allison?"'
"Covering from the treeline, just in case," Scott said. "It's not your fault, Isaac. I'm just glad you found him."
"Get him home. Somewhere safe where no one will ask questions. If the Bite takes, he'll heal. If not, there's nothing anyone can do." Derek told Scott.
Scott looked mutinous at the idea that there was nothing he could do, and once Stiles was safe somewhere, Isaac bet Deaton was the first call he made to try to debunk that. But for now he just gathered an unconscious Stiles into his arms and stood, walking slowly toward the distant rust and metal scent of the Jeep Stiles must have parked nearby. After a second, Allison emerged from the trees too, pausing to check on Isaac and Derek with a small, sheepish grin, and then rushing after Scott and Stiles.
"He'll be fine," Isaac said aloud, because he needed to hear it and Derek wouldn't have said it on his own. He stood and swayed on his feet, world spinning. He hadn't realized how much pain he was taking until he stopped.
Derek was there suddenly, solid against Isaac's side, holding him up. "We should take you home." He stiffened slightly as he realized what he'd said and amended. "To my place."
Derek's place wasn't home, and Isaac never forgot that. He hadn't needed the reminder. "The twins-"
"I'll double back and find them if they don't check in with Scott or Lydia," Derek promised.
"Peter?" Isaac tried again.
Derek grunted. "He'll turn up again. He never can stay away." His arm curled around Isaac, sure and strong and Isaac let himself lean exhaustedly into him as Derek started to lead him back toward where they'd left his car. "The Bite will work, won't it?"
Derek paused mid-step, and his voice was gruff when he finally answered. "Depends on if he wants it to or not."
Isaac thought of vivacious, sarcastic, angry Stiles. "He wants to live." He was sure of that much. "He'll be fine."
It would have been nice if Derek had echoed that, offered just a little empty reassurance to cling to. But Derek wouldn't have even known to try and Isaac let it lie and took what he could get. So Derek's answer came as a surprise. "You'll be able to help him. More than me or Scott will."
Derek was born, and Scott was a True Alpha - he ran on a different level than the rest of them. But Stiles was different. Maybe Isaac could help him, at least a little.
Cumberland Falls, KY
"Redneck cannibals are going to come out of the woods with giant axes and try to kill us," Stiles said, peering at the treeline. "We're werewolves who are going to die via guys in overalls."
"You watch too many bad movies," Isaac told him, rolling his eyes.
"Don't come crying to me when these hills have eyes is all I'm saying," Stiles told him.
"There isn't a human for miles. If you used your nose you'd know that," Derek snapped.
"Like anyone can smell anything but smoke," Stiles shot back. His eyes drifted back the way they'd come, toward the distant spiral of gray smoke coming up from the fires that were still a dozen miles away.
Isaac elbowed him slightly and Stiles grunted. Derek's hands were clenched, eyes dark and wide. He'd looked a step from wolfing out ever since they'd come close enough to smell the burning. "How long are we going to wait?" he asked. He tried to touch Derek's elbow lightly, but Derek shifted away and Isaac didn't push it.
"Until they show," Derek said.
Their last lead had nothing to offer them but a pointed reminder that they were on his territory. The Kentucky Pack was large, peaceful, and well integrated, according to Derek. (And Cora, who had met her roommate through them.) But Isaac didn't really like the idea of a big, strong Pack around them. They had no Alpha (or at least none here), and the three of them weren't even in the same Pack. It would just be so easy for the Pack to turn on them. But Derek said they could trust them, and Isaac trusted Derek. He just wished for Derek's sake it wasn't all overcast with the scent of fire and ash.
Stiles had resorted to Candy Cush on his phone while Isaac flipped through a book on the tablet Allison had given him for Christmas. She'd said she'd loaded it with her favorites. So far, he didn't really think he got much out of Moby Dick. It was really dry.
Derek just stood, practically immobile save for a rare bout of pacing. But he came alert at a rustle in the bushes. Three werewolves emerged from them, all yellowed eyed. With them was a true wolf that bulked bigger than any Isaac had seen. Its eyes were bright red. The wolf shifted, shape resolving into an older, handsome man with a full head of bright red hair and clear green eyes. One of his betas handed him a robe and he pulled it on to hide his nudity. "Derek Hale," he greeted. "I've missed your mother."
Derek's jaw clenched, but he inclined it slightly. "So did I, Alpha Shane."
"Shane is fine, Derek. These are some of my betas. My cousin you know, I believe, Michael. My daughter Aria, and her husband, Lucas." All three inclined their heads, but only Aria looked friendly. The older Michael watched them and then muttered something to Shane. "The Hales have struggled, and we hear many things about Beacon Hills and the Pack there. I won't put my Pack in danger for the sake of your vendetta."
Derek looked mutinous, and his nostrils were still flared. Isaac put a discreet hand to his elbow and he let it stand, drawing in a shaky breath. But it was Stiles who spoke up. "Look, Alpha Wolf . . . it's not a vendetta. We gave the guy a chance because he used to be a good guy, sort of. But he turned on us. He'll recruit other Alphas, and he'll drain them dry. He was the head of the Alpha Pack, and no one's safe while he's around. Derek's trying to help by heading him off before he regroups. He's weakened now. Help us find him."
Shane frowned, but Aria was the one who spoke. "An Omega, and two betas who are little better than Omega, facing off against an Alpha? You're doomed."
"We're scrappy. And you could help," Stiles snapped. "It's kind of a universal problem."
She smiled, eyes turning back to Derek. "He's not the only one you look for, is he?" She had her father's red hair, but hers curled in a wild halo around her face, making her brown eyes seem deep-set and unreadable in the shadow. Isaac thought she was beautiful. Her dad wasn't bad either. Sometimes, Isaac wasn't sure what the hell was wrong with his brain.
Derek's scowl just deepened to crater-like proportions, heavy brow knit. "My uncle was working with him. Briefly. We don't think they're still together."
"What would you do if they were?" Aria asked.
Stiles shrugged. "Two for one."
She looked between the three of them, dark eyes lingering on Isaac. It made him uneasy, but finally she touched her father's arm, nodding. Shane smiled. "Go back to your hotel. Lucas is our best tracker, he'll meet you in the evening and lead you to where Deucalion stayed. He left a week ago, but there may be something that can help you."
"Thank you," Derek said stiffly.
"Your mother was a great friend, Derek. She would be proud to see you now," Shane told him. He handed his robe back over and shifted, melting back onto all fours and vanishing into the woods. Aria lingered as the other two followed, her eyes on Stiles this time before she too looked at Derek. "The fires will never reach this far. Tell your sister she is welcome any time."
And then she too was gone. Isaac relaxed, rubbing at the back of his neck as Stiles practically exploded in relieved movement. Derek still might have been carved out of rock. "Come on. Before it gets much colder," Isaac urged him quietly. Derek shifted away but he spun, heading down the trail, away from the falls.
They hiked back to their hotel. It was small, but surprisingly upscale. Derek had gotten them two rooms and Stiles had already declared himself soul mates with the wide screen TV and the minibar.
Traveling as a three person team had left things in close quarters more often than not, and Stiles and Isaac both had their reasons to be gun-shy, so little more had happened than those first breathless kisses and a lot of shared space and smiles. The room together alone made Isaac nervous. Would something be expected? Did he want it to be? Did Derek know, and that's why he had done it this way?
Stiles solved the spin in Isaac's mind by yanking out the room service menu, ordering half of it, forcing Isaac to watch two Indiana Jones movies in a row, and then suddenly kissing him with lips that tasted of hot fudge sundae from his dessert. "I'm beat," he announced. He crawled onto his own bed and then hesitated. "Not that I don't want . . . but I think-"
"No. It's okay. Separate beds are good," Isaac told him hurriedly. "Until we want them to . . . not. If we do." That was when things got ruined, after all.
"Right. Look, make sure the door is locked against the rednecks, okay?" Stiles crawled into his bed and if he wasn't asleep in seconds, he was doing a pretty good impression. Isaac stayed awake, reading a book he still didn't understand before he finally got up, draping an extra blanket around his shoulders and heading out to the balcony. He wasn't surprised to see Derek sitting outside on the balcony beside theirs. They stood there, silently aware until Isaac jumped the wall and small space between the balconies, coming to stand with Derek instead.
Derek stood facing the distant red glow of the fire. It had died down some, but the smoky smell was just as strong. "I think they're getting it put out," Isaac said quietly.
"Yeah," Derek said. A muscle in his jaw ticked. "That's when it smells the worst. When they've got it almost out and it's all wet smoke, ashes, and burned wood and whatever else was inside it."
Flesh, Isaac's mind supplied. Bodies. Derek could never be rid of that smell, no matter how he tried. There were clichés Isaac could have said to help. Fire burned off dead trees, left room for new growth; fire cleansed, but that was planets and forest. Not people. Not family. Nothing could ever spring back up in the place of lost family. "They didn't know anything about Peter, I don't think." It wasn't any more comfortable a topic, but it was a safer one, slightly.
"Peter wouldn't have come here. He wouldn't think to look for allies. He doesn't believe he deserves them, so he tells himself he doesn't want them," Derek said flatly.
Isaac wasn't sure they were still talking about Peter. "Deucalion's the one we need to find anyway. He's the one who tried to kill Stiles and the rest of us."
"You don't think Peter would do the same?" Derek asked.
"Peter saved Stiles. He saved you. I don't think even Peter knows what he wants," Isaac said softly. They needed Peter for Stiles, because he was Alpha, but Isaac didn't know if an unstable Alpha Stiles hated would be any help to him.
"To be an Alpha. My mother loved him, you know. He must have resented her, to want what she had so badly." Derek's eyes sought out the still slivered moon. "I wish he wasn't family."
"I know. It would be easier to hate them for what they did if you didn't love them too." Isaac knew how that felt. Derek turned and met his eyes, realizing what he'd brought into Isaac's thoughts. The brooding expression turned stricken in a second and he opened his mouth to apologize. Isaac stopped him. "I don't want to forget. Sometimes I think I do, but I don't. It helps to remember the hurt, too." Sometimes, when his anchor felt stable, it was the worst times Isaac was thinking of, too. Only he wasn't angry about it. He held on hard to the idea that he could do better, and he would. Anger couldn't be his anchor. He didn't hold on to it well enough.
Derek nodded slowly. "Cora's . . . we're friends now, maybe. But whatever they took from her, I'm not family, not to her. And I don't know if I remember how to be either. Peter's the only family I have, and if I find him, I should rip his throat out. What will that make me?"
"An Alpha," Isaac said.
Derek winced. "I don't want it, Isaac. I'll do it. I'll take it. But I don't want it. I lost everyone I tried to help, and did it all wrong. I wasn't built for it -- Laura was. Maybe Peter was, before he got so twisted up." He took a deep breath and finished with his voice low and pained. "My mother was so good at it."
Isaac reached up, fingers running along the stubble of Derek's jaw. "You didn't lose everyone. You saved me."
"You're Scott's now," Derek said without thinking. He grimaced and backtracked. "I mean Pack, Isaac. He's your Alpha."
"I could be yours, again. We could go home after this, work with Scott. Make one big Pack that argues all the time. For once we won't be caught off guard by every evil thing that comes to town." Isaac tried to sound light, easy. But it came out wrong. "I could be yours," he said again, and it didn't come off as anything but the offer it was. He needed to be someone's.
Derek swallowed hard and watched Isaac. Isaac could read the objections flickering through his mind, since they were written across his face. Stiles and Scott and a dozen other reasons. But the fire-scent was still sharp in his nostrils and he shuddered all over like something might shatter inside him. Then his arm was around Isaac.
Isaac melted into him, mouth against his, giving and offered up. Not his Alpha, not yet. But he once was and could be again and Isaac needed that more than he'd known. Somehow his back was pressed against the glass of the sliding doors. Derek's hands moved along his sides, over his ass, pulling Isaac in tight against him. Isaac's fingers dug marks into Derek's back, Derek's mouth slid along Isaac's neck, sharp teeth and sucking lips.
Isaac whimpered, nudging a knee between Derek's legs and reaching to slip hands beneath his shirt, rub them upwards along hard planes of muscle. "Derek," he breathed. It sounded like pleading - like need - and Isaac wasn't even sure what it was he was begging for.
Derek stopped suddenly, dragging in a deep breath against Isaac's neck. His hands pressed against Isaac's where they were rucking up his shirt, and then he pushed them gently down. "Go to bed, Isaac," he said, rough voiced and evading Isaac's searching gaze. He must have spotted the way Isaac's eye snuck back toward his bed because he shook his head. "Your bed."
Isaac licked his lips. "I could help you," he offered lamely.
"I don't want that kind of help. And I can't help you." Derek grunted, looking down. "Just go."
Isaac went, fleeing back over the balcony and into the cold sheets of his own bed. He was shaking and humiliated and beneath it guilty, because Stiles was in the bed next to him, and he wanted Isaac. Isaac wanted him. Why was one person or one good thing never enough to make him happy?
He rolled over, facing away from Stiles and shut his eyes. Sleep was a long time coming, and when it finally did catch up Isaac dreamed of fires he'd never seen and faceless people walking away from him.
"Mom made meatballs," Scott said. He set the casserole dish carefully down on the small rickety table in Derek's kitchen. "And I brought the shoes and jacket you left at Allison's." He pulled the bag off of his shoulder and held it out to Isaac.
"You didn't have to do that," Isaac said. He took the bag, hugging it awkwardly against his chest for a second before he dropped it onto a chair.
Isaac swallowed. "Tell your mom thanks."
"She worries you don't eat," Scott said. He looked up, eyes liquid and dark. "So do I."
Scott looked dubious. "Derek cooks?"
Isaac forced a smile. "There's a lot of scrambled eggs and takeout."
Scott's smile looked no more real than Isaac's had, but he tried. "She misses you. You could . . . come by. When I'm out if you want."
Isaac took a step back, needing the distance to steady himself. "It's not like that. It's your home, I would never tell you to leave it. And I want to see you. We're Pack. It's just. . ."
"Complicated," Scott finished, smiling lopsided and sad. Isaac wanted to kiss the curve of his mouth and bury his fingers in Scott's hair. He needed that distance to keep himself from giving in. At Isaac's nod Scott fidgeted. "I don't get why," Scott admitted. "I know two people are complicated enough, and it being three just makes it worse but we all . . . I just thought it could work. I thought it was working, for a while."
"It was. It could have." With someone else. If Scott and Allison had fallen in love with Stiles, maybe it would have worked. If it'd been someone less damaged, less needy. "Just not with me," Isaac admitted painfully.
"But why?" Scott asked.
Because Scott and Allison were meant to be together, and Isaac just couldn't carve a space out beside that and feel like he fit into it. Because they loved him, but not in some mystical right way Isaac couldn't define, but knew he didn't have. "I don't know," Isaac said instead of any of that.
Scott wilted. "Okay," he gave in. He bit his lip and then asked slowly. "Was there anything I could do? That we could do, I mean. To . . . fix it?"
"It's not you that needs to be fixed," Isaac answered.
Scott frowned. "You don't need to be fixed either. That's not what I meant. We like you as you are. I like you the way you are. I l-"
"I didn't mean it like that either," Isaac cut him off. He wasn't sure he could hear the end of that sentence and not crawl back into Scott's arms, not yet. That had been exactly what he meant though, and the look on Scott's face said he knew it.
The last thing Isaac wanted to do was explain, because he didn't even know how to begin. But he'd never had an easy time saying no to Scott, and part of Isaac wanted Scott to know, so he didn't feel as if was his fault. "Have you ever. . ." he started and stopped, then drew a deep breath again. "Imagine Beauty and the Beast. There's singing and dancing and crap but you know right from the start that the end of the movie is going to be the two of them. Now imagine if somewhere along the way Belle started screwing Gaston and brought him along to the castle. It just wouldn't have ever had the right ending. And they would always . . . know that. Deep down."
Scott stared at him. "Okay . . . am I Beauty or the Beast? Because either way, I think Allison's not going to like this comparison."
Isaac laughed, surprised and quick. "You're both. You're both both, okay?"
"And you're supposed to be Gaston?" Scott paused. "You need more chin."
"Is Stiles the candlestick?"
Isaac's mouth twitched. "Lydia's the feather duster?"
"Is Derek Lefou?" Scott was smiling, shaking his head. "You're not Gaston, you know. No one liked him, and we love you."
That had been the word Isaac didn't want to hear. Strangely, it hurt less than he expected. It was still a knife to the chest, but it didn't leave him as breathless and bleeding as he'd expected. "It's not a perfect comparison, okay?"
"Gaston was a jerk; you're not." Scott looked up at Isaac. "We could write a different ending. Gaston's a nice guy. Belle is more Merida. No one has pitchforks, and they're all happy and getting glared at by Belle's werewolf hating dad."
"I think he's down to aggressive dislike instead of hate with you," Isaac said. Scott shrugged and Isaac shook his head helplessly. "You'd still know, though. That it was Belle and the Beast first. That if it came down to it, that's how it would have to be."
"You think we'd choose each other over you?" Scott asked.
"I think you should," Isaac answered.
"It wouldn't come down to that, Isaac. It doesn't have to."
"That doesn't make me not know how it would happen if it did," Isaac said.
It felt heavy, and final, but Scott frowned stubbornly. "You don't really know that. How can you know something we don't even know for sure?"
"I just do." Everyone did, except for them. Isaac swallowed. "I'll always be there if you need me, and I'm your Pack, and it will get better. But this . . . it's just how I need it to be."
It was the right thing to say to back Scott down. It wasn't logic or argument -- just a fact about what Isaac needed. Scott wouldn't deny Isaac something he said he needed. "If you change your mind . . . or if you just want to talk, or come stay with us again, you always can. You know that, right?"
Isaac nodded. "Thanks for the meatballs. I love you." It came out in the same breath, and it sounded just as stupid as it would have if Isaac had planned ahead of time to mention love and meatballs back to back.
Scott stopped, licking his lips and then asked softly. "Can I kiss you?"
Isaac wanted to say yes. That was why he shook his head. "No."
Scott looked hurt, but he gave in. He made Isaac promise to call, passed along Allison's hellos, and then he was gone.
Isaac would see him at school. They'd talk. They'd run together on a full moon. It wasn't really a goodbye, but it still felt like one, and he staggered into a chair and dropped his head into his hands until he stopped shaking.
Big Lake State Park, MO
Isaac hadn't had a minute alone with Derek since Kentucky. They had a name and a place to look for Deucalion, but that was all, and Derek hadn't been forthcoming with anything else, if he knew about it.
They were still an hour or so outside of Big Lake when Derek pulled into a rickety looking motel. Stiles instantly dubbed it the Bates Motel's cousin, and not without reason, and insisted they ask the desk about past records of suicides. (He googled for verification of the zero death response.) The motel was deserted, but Derek only asked for one room. It became clear why when he snapped he'd be back and stomped out of the room and took off.
The room was freezing, and when they finally got the heater to sputter to life, it didn't warm it more than a degree or two. The TV only got five channels, two of them were inexplicably in French, and they had barely enough cell reception for Stiles to have a half shouted conversation with his dad that mostly amounted to them yelling "what?" back and forth for five minutes.
Isaac escaped out the door and down to the vending machines at the end of the row, taking ten minutes to dawdle over it before coming back with stale Kit Kats and Mountain Dew.
They heard nothing the first day. The second day they got three terse text messages.
By the third day, they'd gotten the manager to switch their room, but the heat still didn't work and the TV had six channels. The extra was PBS, and they watched the same Sesame Street twice.
The fourth night, Isaac heard a distinct screw it from Stiles's side of the room, and then Stiles was up and crawling beneath the covers of Isaac's bed, huddling next to him and pressing icy feet against his calves. Isaac kicked them away halfheartedly, but gave in when Stiles persisted. "It's unnaturally cold," Stiles grumbled against the pillow.
"It's November in Missouri."
"You say that like it's Alaska. Missouri is MIDDLE America. It's not supposed to be this cold unless you're in the non-middle parts. I think a wizard did it."
"Yeah. The great wizard, Father Winter."
"It's too cold for your sass, Lahey." Stiles's arm looped around Isaac and he tucked in against Isaac's side. He was lean and warm and smelled like the Pack he almost was. Isaac couldn't remember why they hadn't been doing this for days, and at the same time he wanted to bolt out the door before he screwed up and sent Stiles running too. He shut his eyes and held still. Stiles sighed after a minute of Isaac's frozen-limbed stiffness. "I can get up?"
"You don't have to," Isaac said. He meant I don't want you to, but didn't say it. Stiles stayed where he was though, so maybe it was what he heard anyway. "It's my fault Derek took off."
Stiles snorted. "It's Derek's fault Derek took off. Derek is a professional taking-off asshole. He has a resume."
"He's not," Isaac said.
"He took our ride and left us in a murder hotel in unreasonably, magically cold Missouri. That qualifies him for official dickbag status."
"I kissed him," Isaac blurted.
Stiles stopped, but he didn't move. And a second later he sighed. "I know." Isaac twisted his head to look at him, and Stiles looked steadily back. "Or I figured, anyway," he amended. "You've been like a spooked deer around him for like three states." He smiled lopsidedly. "It's okay. I mean with me. I'm not . . . he asked you along first, you know? I didn't think I had exclusive rights on your lips, and he's a dickbag, but he's a hot dickbag."
Isaac didn't know what to do with that. "I don't know why," he said. Maybe at the time he'd thought he knew, but he'd read signals wrong and he'd ruined it. "Derek is . . . you don't know-"
"I do," Stiles said. He shifted, sitting up and pushing his back against the cheap headboard, looking at Isaac. "Look, I get Derek. Derek is . . . he's like a walking wound. He bleeds everywhere, and he hides it by being pissed off and having poor communication skills and ridiculous cross-country missions to kill an Alpha who never actually gave any fucks about him to begin with, since Scott is the supernatural catnip." He shrugged. "I get it. He lost everything and he never really put it back together before he just lost more. After my mom . . ." Stiles stopped, grimacing, and then shook his head. "I had Scott, and my dad. Derek didn't. But I get him. I'm just the kind of jackass who looks at him and knows he's a mess and just gets more pissed because if the rest of us have to get over it, so should Derek Hale."
"You never had no one," Isaac said. "It's not the same."
Stiles's fingers reached, ruffling through Isaac's hair. "You didn't. And you're not running out of doors because a hot guy you like kissed you."
No. He just kissed both of them and expected it to send them both away. "It was never your fault, either," he said. Stiles looked away and Isaac sat up to press shoulder to shoulder with him. "Your eyes are blue," he said. "Who do you think you killed, Stiles?"
"I wonder if my dad was my fault. If I somehow . . . willed it to happen. If I could have saved Boyd if I'd been faster, or stronger. If everyone wouldn't have been better off if my brother survived, and I died."
"No one would have been better off," Stiles said. Isaac shrugged and Stiles tipped his head back. Isaac watched the line of his throat as he swallowed. "Scott was in the woods because of me, when he got bit. Heather was in the basement with me. I was in the basement with Boyd and Erica. Derek's evil ex kidnapped my dad. My mom got sick. People die or get hurt everywhere I go, and it was never me."
Isaac touched Stiles's thigh where he'd seen Stiles nearly bleed out from, the shoulder where Peter had bitten him. "It caught up to you."
"How screwed up is it that I was relieved? Like I was lying there, figuring I would die, and all I could think was that at least it was me and not someone else this time." Stiles banged his head against the headboard. "It's like new levels of dysfunction."
Isaac was quiet for a moment, and then shrugged. "Derek can't be near fire and runs away instead of telling me to fuck off. I can't be in small rooms without freaking out, and fell in love with two people at once. Allison can't sleep without wearing herself out first. Scott pathologically has to know everyone around him is okay. We're all dysfunctional, maybe."
"Yeah, but you didn't kill anyone."
"Neither did you," Isaac said.
"Close enough," Stiles said. He ran his fingers through Isaac's hair again, twirling curls until Isaac caught his hand and held it loosely in his own. "Are you still in love with them?" he asked.
"Yes," Isaac said. "But not the same way."
Stiles didn't ask what that meant, and Isaac was glad, because it was one more thing he couldn't really explain. "Derek?" he asked instead, which was just as bad.
"I don't know," Isaac slumped back down into the bed, and after a second Stiles followed him down.
Stiles pulled the dingy bedspread over both of their heads, and in the dim light his eyes shined too brightly to be human, even without the glint of werewolf blue. He searched Isaac's face. Isaac didn't know what he was looking for, but after a second Stiles smiled as if he'd found it. "Okay," he said. He leaned in, mouth finding Isaac's and arm wrapping tight around his chest. "I'm not just using you for your body heat," he informed Isaac between kisses. "But I won't pretend it's not a factor."
"It's not that cold," Isaac argued.
"Shut up." Stiles kissed him again, then nuzzled into Isaac's shoulder, chin sharp against his collarbone. "Screw this waiting for Godot crap, we'll go hunting for asshole werewolves tomorrow, if he doesn't show. Okay?"
"Okay," Isaac echoed. He felt warm and tired and like if he wanted to, he could have turned and slid his hand down Stiles's pajama pants, and Stiles would have let him, would have wanted him to, and wouldn't be gone in the morning or looking for anyone else. But he didn't, not tonight. Just repositioned Stiles's chin and curled more firmly around him as they nodded off to sleep.
Isaac held the bank stub in his hands, staring down at the balance.
Barely more than a year and all the business was taken care of. The house sold, life insurance paid out, everything else tied up in neat rows that left the whole of his previous life equaled out into one tidy number. It was a big number, but Isaac knew it would dwindle eventually. It was enough to be a temptation though.
He could pick up and go, vanish somewhere where no one knew him and no one cared if he went to class. No more running out the door to try to defend a town he didn't love and people he didn't know from whatever killer thing was visiting that month. No more smiling at Scott in school or passing Allison at the lockers. No more pretending he was fine and hoping it would eventually be true. He could just be gone.
He wouldn't do that, and Isaac knew that even as he stared at the number on the receipt and planned where he would go and who he could pretend to be. No matter how much the idea of being no one appealed, he wouldn't walk away when someone might need him.
What was worse was that they didn't usually need him. He helped, he did what he could, and he was part of their plans and lives -- but they had usually managed without him. Isaac was hanging on to the possibility of being necessary.
"Want an omelet?" Derek asked from the kitchen doorway, leaning against the frame and watching Isaac. Isaac shook his head and Derek stayed where he was, watching and then asking carefully. "Insurance came through?"
"Yesterday, I guess," Isaac told him. "I can probably afford my own place now." He didn't want to, but it felt like the sort of thing he should say.
Derek frowned and walked over, dropping down onto the coffee table in front of Isaac, knees bracketing Isaac's. "You don't have to."
"I know." Derek liked him there, he'd told Isaac. But welcomes wore out. Weren't you supposed to go before that happened? There probably weren't rules for werewolf co-habitation written down anywhere, but Isaac wished there were.
"Where does the school think you're staying, anyway?" Derek asked.
"With Scott, probably. I don't know. They're too busy worrying about all the people that drop dead around here to pay attention to one of the few who didn't." Stiles had gotten into the records of a few of them and altered them to look less suspicious. Scott's asshole dad had sniffed around Isaac for a while, but with the Sheriff uncooperative and the witnesses all claiming none of the werewolves had anything to do with any of it, there hadn't been much he could do. "I'm pretty sure they wouldn't count you as a responsible adult," he added dryly.
Derek snorted and Isaac smiled at him. Derek looked down first and his shoulders rolled beneath the Henley he wore. "I was leaving soon," he said suddenly.
Isaac wondered if Derek been thinking of a way to soften that and then just given up. The slip of paper in Isaac's hand crumpled and he sat back and away from Derek. "I guess I should, then. Get a place, I mean. Or maybe I could just take over the rent here." He wasn't 18, he probably wouldn't qualify to rent anywhere on his own in a town he couldn't fake his age effectively in. He had ID, but it wouldn't hold up to that kind of scrutiny.
Derek grimaced. "No, that isn't . . ." His shoulders rolled again as he trailed off. "We let Deucalion go. He's out there. He could have killed Stiles. He would have, if Peter hadn't been there. I need to find him."
"Scott belongs here, protecting the town, his Pack, his family." Derek gestured vaguely toward the window and the town beyond that.
Isaac was Scott's Pack, he'd almost been family. Maybe he still was. But he left that unsaid. "He's an Alpha still, you're not anymore, Derek. Deucalion could take you apart." Isaac said. "Do you even know where he is?"
"I know where to look for him," Derek said, ignoring the other part of Isaac's question. Which was answer enough. "I don't know how long it'll take."
"Okay," Isaac said. He didn't know what Derek wanted him to say. Derek was going to run off after Deucalion and get himself killed and Isaac wasn't going to just give him his blessing. He'd tell Scott and Stiles and hope they talked him out of it, because that was never really something Isaac managed with anyone.
Derek grunted. "Isaac . . ." he stopped and then started again. "It's almost summer. You'll be done with school. You could come with me." He looked at Isaac again and added quickly. "If you wanted."
"Yes," Isaac answered instantly, before he thought about it. Before he could wonder why Derek asked, and where they were going, and if it was something he should say no to.
Derek's mouth pulled up in a strange, crooked half-smile. "I don't know how long it'll take. I'm just driving. You could always fly back, to start college classes."
Or he could screw school. He was barely passing as it was and Isaac had no more plans for his future than not die. Beyond that he didn't know what the hell he wanted, and he didn't think community college was going to change that. But he just nodded. "When do you want to leave?"
"Next week, maybe?" Derek was watching him, that odd smile still there. "You really don't even want to know where we're going?"
Isaac shrugged. "It's not going to change my mind." He wasn't going because he cared where they ended up. He was going to watch Derek's back, and to be not here. The rest didn't matter all that much. "Is that why you traded in your car again?" The new model was a size bigger and had more engine than Isaac had thought Derek needed at the time. He didn't really like it. It smelled too new.
"The room might come in handy."
"Am I ever going to get to drive this one when you're not bleeding?" Isaac asked.
Derek laughed and Isaac grinned back at him. Derek laughing was still rare enough to make Isaac feel like he'd accomplished something when he'd managed to be the cause of it. "We'll see."
"You know, you look kind of familiar. It's like I've seen you somewhere before."
"No, seriously. Isaac, doesn't he look like that guy who drove us through freaking half the country and then ditched us? Like three stops in a row?"
"Stiles." Isaac said it this time, half hissing it as he crawled out of bed, not quite looking at Derek. Isaac thought Derek had to have known that Stiles and him were sharing a bed half the time, but there was a big difference between knowing and seeing them scramble out from beneath the covers while Derek glowered at them.
"Oh hey, you even have the same inability to shave as that guy does. What was his name? Derek? Jerk Ass? Gertrude?"
Derek's jaw flexed and his arms were crossed tight over his chest. His eyes lingered on Isaac, and Isaac was irrationally glad that they had clothes on. Which made no sense since they always had clothes on. Sleeping and making out was basically all they did except for one night last week when Isaac had finally shoved his hand down Stiles's pants, and then bolted back to his own bed without a single clue why. He still had this urge to tell Derek that nothing had happened, even if it was technically true but not relevant. "I found him," Derek said, flatly.
That shut Stiles up, and he climbed out of bed, pulling on a shirt. "He's here? Like actually here?"
"No, but I know where he's going." Isaac would have let Derek leave it at that, but Stiles just stared at him, refusing to move until Derek gave in and explained. "Montana has open territory. Deucalion had family there, before the Pack got wiped out. He knows the territory, and the other Alphas can't move in on him while he's there."
"But we can?" Stiles looked skeptical.
"We're not Alphas," Isaac realized. Derek gave him a brief nod of acknowledgement.
"So us fragile non-Alphas are going to just run into a place he got to first? Where he's had time to set up traps and good ambush spots, and just hope for the best? Derek, this is stupid. This is when you call in the back up team, okay? This road trip thing has been-" Stiles stopped, eyes darting to Isaac and he abandoned whatever it was he'd been about to say. "Airports exist. This is when we call in Scott and Argents with big big guns, and maybe Obi Deaton and the meathead twins."
"This is what we're doing. If you don't want to come-"
"Jesus Fucking Christ. I get it, okay? You didn't want me to come. You don't want me here. You didn't want me to get Bitten. But I'm HERE and I can help and I'm going to. You can hate me and I can still not want you to run in and get killed. Or get Isaac killed. Or me! I'm pretty pleased with being not dead most of the time." Stiles gestured as he yelled, pushing into Derek's space. Isaac watched, feeling outside of just how quickly they could get furious with one another. "If you won't call Scott, I will."
"We can't," Derek snarled at him. Isaac flinched and Stiles didn't. Derek deflated, somehow, running a tired hand over his face. Isaac didn't think he'd slept since he'd left them in the (much nicer, for once) hotel and vanished two days ago. "Scott's an Alpha, a True Alpha. He'll need that later, because the Packs will come to him for help. If he breaks the truce laws, even to kill a killer, it will be used against him. Right now, we get Omegas in Beacon Hills, the dregs who are already willing to hurt people to get what they want. If the neutral Packs turned against Scott, they'd see him as a threat. They'll come fur us, and him. We have to do this without him, without Argents. They'll accept it coming from me." His eyes met Stiles's. "Or you. He tried to kill you. I know you think I'm an idiot, but there's reasons for the things I do."
Stiles watched Derek, wary but the angry confrontation leaked out of him as Derek spoke. "You never tell us why, you just run off. How are we supposed to know?"
"You could try just trusting me."
"Yeah, like you just trust me?" Stiles snorted. "We're not great at that."
Derek's eyes darted to Isaac and he shrugged before looking back at Stiles. "He doesn't have a Pack behind him, or at least not one that knows what it's doing. The three of us can handle it."
"Yeah," Stiles said. He looked over at Isaac too, and then shrugged, awkwardly flashing both thumbs up. "Okay, fine. Murder train is back on the tracks. We're working up some back up plans, though."
"It's not murder. It's justice."
"They usually look the same on police reports," Stiles said. Derek looked down and Stiles grimaced. "Hey . . . I'm not arguing? I mean not with this particular point. We tried doing it the non-dying way and it didn't work and he sliced me open. I'm pretty okay with him dying. I'm just saying." He paused and then added quietly. "I don't think you're an idiot." Derek's eyebrow quirked and Stiles blinked and then grinned a little. "I don't always think you're an idiot. Though I have some examples where you were."
Derek rolled his eyes. "Keep them to yourself." He pursed his lips and then added grudgingly. "I don't hate you."
Stiles smirked at him, something pleased lurking at the corners of his mouth, though he didn't bother to acknowledge the statement. "Come on, Derek, wolf hunting strategy can only take so long and we've got like, hours of driving still. I've got to pass the time somehow."
"The Pandora skip rule led to our messy breakup a month ago and I'm so sick of my music library I could throw my phone out a window if my dad wouldn't drown me in a bathtub when he found out." Stiles feigned thought. "We could do "I Spy" again?"
"Or I could put you on the roof."
"Try it, Hale."
Derek's mouth quirked up at the corners and he and Stiles were looking at one another, close enough to almost be in each other's space and this time neither of them looked at Isaac.
Isaac watched them and felt like a hundred thousand little moments along the road suddenly came into a different focus. His chest ached and his eyes burned and he wanted to run from the room and down the road until he found somewhere silent and empty and howled into it.
He didn't say anything, or move, but suddenly both pairs of eyes were on him and Isaac just turned away, grabbing for his bag. "I call first shower. We've got a few hours before checkout. You should sleep, Derek." His voice was even and he'd turned away so they couldn't see his face.
He was almost to the bathroom when a hand closed around his shoulder. Isaac spun into it, expecting Stiles. But Derek stood there, tired eyes softer than they usually would be. "Isaac?"
Stiles hovered back by the bed, frowning in thought. Isaac wondered how long it would take him to put together the same pieces Isaac just had. He made himself smile at Derek, shrug off the hand on his arm. "I'll be out in a few."
Derek hesitated, but in the end he let Isaac go. Isaac turned on the shower, twisting it as hot as it would go and drowning out the low sound of voices from the other side of the door. He wasn't sure he wanted to know what they were saying.
"Six hours later and I have to hear this from Melissa?" The Sheriff's voice was low and pained and Isaac wished that he'd gotten up and left before the Sheriff slammed in the door. Now he and Stiles stood between Isaac and the exit though, and it would be more conspicuous to go than to stay. He sank down into the couch instead, trying to pretend he wasn't overhearing every word.
"It was nothing, dad. It's already healed. I didn't want you to worry about it wh-"
"You think having a son who doesn't tell me when he takes a bullet through the shoulder isn't going to worry me? You're seventeen, Stiles. You're my responsibility! If there was some insane man with a gun in town, I need to know so I can-"
"So you can what dad?" Stiles's voice dropped but Isaac could still pick out every word, even if he knew he shouldn't. "I've been where you are, okay? I've been the human guy dragged in and I know how it finishes. There's dead, or there's not human anymore. I don't want that for you. I need to know you're safe, okay? I just . . . I can't do anything about the hellmouth magnet town. I can't stop being a werewolf, and I can't figure out how to be a decent werewolf. I can't turn back time and undo the complete shit that is the last year. But I can know I didn't drag you any further in. I can do that."
"Whatever you're in, I'm in, Stiles." Isaac shut his eyes, ignoring a familiar but dim ache. Stiles had his own problems, and Isaac had never really wanted to be him. But once in a while, he envied Stiles's father the way he'd sometimes felt a pang of envy for Scott having Melissa. "I can't fix this for you, Stiles, but you're not locked in here. We could sell the house, pick up and start somewhere else. Away from all of this."
"I'd still be me anywhere else." Stiles's voice rang hollow and it was easy to picture his face, the lost expression he'd wear. Isaac had seen it a lot since the night he was bitten. Scott had been protective since then. Even Isaac only got near Stiles when he wasn't with Derek, until Stiles laid down a law about Scott's gatekeeping. He'd caught glimpses of werewolf lessons and Scott earnestly talking Stiles down from whatever had him angry at any given moment. Stiles ricocheted between pissed off and desolate, as far as Isaac could tell. The latter was easier for Isaac to understand. "It's taken care of. It was even a human so you can do actual paperwork for the arrest for once and just chalk anything he says up to crazy rambling, right?"
"I can't help you if you don't tell me what you need, son."
Stiles laughed, bitter and bubbling. "I don't have a freaking clue. I just . . . time, okay? I need time. I promise I'll be careful. But I have to figure this out on my own."
Isaac heard the rustle of movement, the slide of the Sheriff's nylon jacket against Stiles's sweatshirt as he hugged him. It wasn't a new argument, and he doubted either of them would really budge. Isaac thought he'd at least gotten away without being caught accidentally eavesdropping, but after a second the Sheriff sighed. "I've got to head down to the station. Isaac, if you're staying over there's extra blankets in the hall closet."
Isaac winced. "Thanks, Sheriff," he answered, turning his head to look back at him.
"Next time you're dragging my bleeding son anywhere, I'm your first call, Isaac, not Melissa."
"Yes, sir," Isaac muttered. The Sheriff's hand hovered for a second, like he might clamp it on Isaac's shoulder. Isaac leaned away automatically and the Sheriff drew away without touching.
He headed out the door with a jangle of car keys, and Stiles dropped heavily down onto the sofa beside Isaac, sighing. "I have no idea what I'm doing," he announced.
"Who does?" Isaac said, twisting a little to look at him. Stiles hated it, most of the time, Isaac could tell. He was afraid of the wolf within, frustrated by how he felt and how little choice he'd had in it. It was different for him than it had been for Isaac, or Erica or Boyd. But in a strange way, it suited Stiles. There was something different behind his eyes, in the way he moved. Isaac didn't know how to say that without sounding like a come-on though. That wasn't how he meant it. It was just like there'd been . . . room in Stiles to be a werewolf, and now he was and he seemed to fit inside himself better.
There was a reason Isaac tried not to talk about things like that out loud if he could help it.
Stiles snorted. "No one. Ever. I just . . ." He lifted a hand, waving vaguely toward the room around them. "Everything feels small. Or just . . . wrong." He caught Isaac's eye. "Thanks for the ride. Even if you practically killed my suspension with your stupid heavy werewolf feet."
"My feet aren't heavy, and your suspension was already non-suspending." Stiles made a face and Isaac rolled his eyes. They both fell quiet until Isaac spoke into the silence. "You fight it too much. The wolf. It's not what you think it is."
Stiles bit his lip, head tipping back onto the sofa, staring up at the ceiling. "I hate it. Everything feels different, and all I can think . . ." He laughed that same bitter, humorless sound. "It was Peter. All that time I wondered what would have happened if I'd said yes the first time he asked, and told myself it was better, and I didn't want anything from him -- and it was still him. It's like I should have just said screw it and asked Derek, while he was still an Alpha. He would have complained and growled, but he'd have done it, and then I wouldn't be Peter's, at least."
"You're not. You don't have to stay with the Alpha who bit you."
"Right. But you have to have some kind of mystical focus and devotion and self control and I suck at virtually all of those things, so I'll probably have some mystical connection to a psychopath murder-wolf until the day I die." Stiles drew a deep breath. "It's like I can feel him. Or feel where he's not, since he ditched town." He looked at Isaac, disgust in his expression seemingly more self-directed than focused on Isaac. "You wouldn't get it. You wanted Derek to bite you. And then he de-Alpha'd and you were just automatically Facebook betas with Scott."
"It wasn't automatic. I had to let it happen."
"Yeah. I'm not big on the let it happen side of life. I'm more make it happen, and I screw that up too." Stiles banged his head against the sofa cushion. "Everything just looks different to me now."
It was Stiles that was different, not the things he was looking at. But Isaac knew what it felt like to look at something familiar and see something foreign. Sometimes people you loved started to look like monsters, the monsters started to look like friends, and everyone else faded away. Sometimes home didn't look like home anymore because you didn't belong inside it. "Come with us," he said, thoughtless and blunt.
Stiles lifted his head. "Huh?"
"Come with us," Isaac repeated. Once said, it clicked somewhere and made sense. "Derek and me are going after Deucalion. We're just driving out of here, for a while. You could come. You'd get away from here for a while. Learn how to control your shift and . . . talk to me when Derek's having a grunting only day."
Stiles smiled a little. "He has days where he doesn't grunt?" He shook his head. "My dad-"
"He wants you away from town. And it would just be a road trip." Isaac clasped his hands in front of him. "Maybe we can find Peter, too. Find a way for you to cut the cord. Maybe it would be easier if he were looking at you."
"Or trying to kill us." Stiles picked at a bit of lint on the edge of the sofa's arm. "Derek would rather cut off a toe than have me along."
"I'll talk to him." Derek would go along with it, Isaac was suddenly sure. He didn't know why he was certain, but he was. "It'll be okay." Isaac looked studiously down at his own knee. "I need to get away from here, for a while. Maybe you do, too."
Stiles was quiet, restless fingers plucking at a stray thread on his sweatshirt when the lint was taken care of. He went still finally and blew out a long, sighed breath. "I call shotgun."
Isaac grinned. "In your dreams."
"When do we leave?"
Stiles nodded. "Okay. Okay, yeah, I'll go. You get to make the call to my dad when Derek kills me though. We don't do well in small spaces together traditionally."
"He'll get used to you. You grow on people." Isaac smiled and Stiles rolled his eyes, muttering not likely under his breath. But he looked less lost than he had a few minutes ago. It made Isaac feel as he'd done the right thing. Now he just had to convince Derek, too, and break it to Scott.
Glacier National Park, MT
"We should talk."
Isaac looked up at Derek in disbelief. "You want to talk now?" He was bundled into the fluffiest coat the last Wal-Mart they'd passed had been able to provide, and it was already torn in half down the back from a stray branch. He was cold right down to his bones and there was snow dribbling in offensive, wet chunks down through the skeletal stretches of the trees overhead. There was a body of some poor middle aged park ranger ten feet away and Stiles was crouched at the bottom of the trail, trying to talk another, barely bleeding ranger through laying out mountain ash across the trail's only way back down. It was bad timing.
"I wanted to talk three days ago," Derek said.
Isaac clenched his jaw against the chatter of his teeth. It did nothing to stop it. "I didn't."
"I don't kn-"
"I don't want to talk now either," Isaac cut in. He swallowed. "You wouldn't talk to me for weeks after I . . . just leave it, okay? I don't need to hear it."
"I didn't want to get in the way. You were-" Derek stopped, looking up, eyes flashing blue.
Isaac picked up the scent a second later as the brisk wind shifted. Deucalion was familiar and easy to pick out. But it came with other scents, unknown wolves. "He has a Pack."
Derek growled. "He made one."
Isaac turned, but Stiles was already coming toward them, the ranger pushed on the other side of a hasty line and already running away as fast as her clumsy boots and the snowy ground would allow. "Stay together, backs to the cliff," Derek ordered.
"Don't run off. If the ash line doesn't hold, they still have to get past us to get back up the trail, and we've got the cliff face here, they can't get around us. How many are there?" Stiles asked, scanning nervously. Stiles wasn't used to going by scent yet, his nose wasn't calibrated for it. The snow left him half blind and Isaac could feel how much he hated it. "Seriously, Derek, don't run out all claws and no brain. Get him close"
Derek grimaced, but he didn't argue. He knew the plan too. Stiles held his gaze for another moment, and then shut his eyes, shifting.
Isaac watched, making sure Stiles managed the shift and then let himself change too, breathing in the scent and watching for motion.
They came in a rush. Deucalion's red, healed eyes and Alpha form were easy to find. The others were all golden eyed, and smelled more human than wolf, more afraid than hungry. There were four of them, and Deucalion. Two came at Isaac, another at Derek, the last heading for Stiles. Stiles ducked away behind Isaac, and Isaac shifted to cover, throwing off the first of the Betas. She was young and small and Isaac willed her not to get back up so he didn't have to hurt her.
"Well, well. Look who survived," Deucalion said, eyes on Stiles, fangs bared in a smile. "Hales have such soft spots for the lost, don't they?" Derek was pinned against the cliff, working to throw off the tallest of the new Betas, whose fangs were already red from a lucky shot. Deucalion's eyes swung toward Isaac as Isaac shook off the second Beta and lunged toward Deucalion. He came up short, as he'd known he would, but Deucalion followed, claws wrapping tight around Isaac's throat, hefting him off the ground. "Lost little boy with holes carved into his mind where I plucked out pieces," he growled. "How much of you is left, I wonder?"
Isaac's vision started to narrow and blacken. He was jarred loose from the hold as Derek collided into Deucalion's side. It pushed them forward a few feet, losing the ground they'd gained. "Derek!" Isaac yelled through the burn in his throat.
They were a blur of motion, claws and fangs. The Betas were slow and unsure, but one had made it past them to Stiles, who held his own. He stumbled though when he saw Derek. "Derek, back!"
Somehow, that got through, and Derek jerked away and backed off, forcing Deucalion to come for him.
Isaac watched his feet. Deucalion was desperate and alone, surrounded by Betas who didn't know him, save to fear him. But he wasn't stupid. Isaac saw the moment he realized he was being led, halting his forward momentum and standing stock still.
Isaac flung himself at Deucalion's legs. Deucalion stumbled, and his feet hit the loose-packed snow over the small ditch they'd covered. It gave way and they both fell, but Deucalion hit first. Isaac heard the snap of the hidden spring-trap and Deucalion's roar of pain. Isaac tried to roll out of reach but sharp claws caught him and sank through his clothes, into his chest.
He dimly heard Derek shout and the snarls of Deucalion's betas. And then he heard the clear, ringing gunshot cutting through the din. The claws digging into his chest froze, and Deucalion's red eyes went dull, and then human and bleak. Deucalion slumped away from Isaac, gaze holding Isaac's as his claws vanished.
Isaac had expected anger, or defeat. The look on Deucalion's face was resignation. He'd known he was going to die, he just hadn't been able to lie down and let it happen.
Strong hands wrapped around Isaac's shoulders, propping him up. Isaac could feel the blood flowing more slowly from his chest already as the punctures closed, but he struggled to breathe still as Derek held him. "Isaac."
Isaac turned his head to see Stiles standing there, gun still in hand. His eyes were a deep, glowing red. "Back them off, Stiles," Derek said from behind him. The Betas were milling, aggressive but fearful without a leader ordering them into the fight.
Stiles was staring at the blood on Isaac's chest. He tore his gaze away and blinked at Derek. "What?"
"You're the Alpha now. Make them stand down." Stiles looked stunned and Derek growled, freeing one hand from where he was holding on to Isaac and picking up a handful of snow, flinging it at Stiles to snap him out of it.
Stiles started at the motion, and he growled. It was dangerous and low and his eyes glowed through the haze of falling snow. Isaac shivered and the Betas backed away, afraid. Stiles swallowed, dropping the gun. "We're not all like him," he said, watching the battered, milling Betas. "We can help you, if you let us."
Isaac doubted they'd believe. They'd just watched a werewolf bring a literal gun to a fight with claws, and kill the only Alpha they knew. He sat up. "I'm okay," he told Derek.
Derek let him go, standing, hand on Isaac's elbow as he stood. He watched the Betas and Stiles watched Isaac, his face human and his eyes his own again. The shot hadn't been meant to kill, not when they'd planned this. But Stiles was a cop's son; he knew how to shoot. It hadn't been a mistake. Stiles looked away first. "So, we're actually all stuck here. We'll have to go around the long way unless we want to sit in the snow and wait and hope Wanda comes back to check on us, even though you guys killed her partner."
The small girl who'd come at Isaac stepped closer. "He told us we had to," she said. She hugged her arms around herself. "I know a quicker way back to Apgar."
"Okay. Good. Let's do that," Stiles agreed. He looked over at Derek and Isaac again then squared his shoulders. "We won't hurt you if you don't try to hurt us. But if you try anything . . ."
"We won't," she said. She looked at Deucalion's body. "We shouldn't leave them."
"We'll come back for them," Derek said.
She nodded slowly and then set off, the others falling in behind her. Stiles fell in next to Isaac and Derek. Isaac shrugged off the arms they both offered, trudging along through the snow as his skin knit back together.
Isaac pulled the last container of week old Chinese leftovers out of the fridge, pitching them into the trash can. There were a few beers and cans of soda left, an ancient box of baking soda he was pretty sure had been there when Derek moved in, and an unopened jar of sweet pickles. Isaac figured they could stay there. The rest was pitched or packed and Derek was methodically wandering around the kitchen, unplugging things and switching them off.
Isaac shut the fridge and leaned against it, watching Derek putter around. He hadn't said much since Isaac told him about Stiles. He hadn't seemed angry though. Isaac didn't know what he was, but it wasn't angry. "I should have asked," he said.
Derek stopped, bracing a hip against the chipped kitchen counter. "It's fine."
Isaac doubted that, but he accepted it. "I still should have asked. He was just . . . he needed something different. I knew what it looked like."
Derek's eyebrows lifted and he nodded. "I can't promise not to strangle him."
Isaac slipped a hand into his jeans pocket, pulling out a little wrapped package and tossing it at Derek. Derek caught it in one hand and Isaac smiled at him. "Earplugs."
Derek's eyes rolled, but he smiled tightly back. "It doesn't stop him from moving."
"I'll get zip ties." Isaac pulled the trash bag out and tied it off. "It will work out. He's not . . . you get him when he's already turned up to an 11 because there's people trying to kill us, most of the time. He evens out."
"If you say so."
Isaac searched Derek's face a last time and then shrugged. "If it gets bad, and you want us to go, we can always leave." He wouldn't, because he didn't want Derek alone. But he'd call Cora, or Scott and work it out so Derek wasn't left alone, somehow.
"I won't want you to go," Derek said. He reached for the bag, taking it from Isaac to carry outside.
Isaac watched him go and then went back into the guest room he'd never quite managed to think of as his, grabbing the last few things he'd left for last minute. His phone chimed with a text from Stiles. We still on?
Isaac sent back, All systems go. Leaving in a few.
The phone rang a second later, and Stiles was talking as soon as Isaac answered. "Did you drug Derek into compliance?"
"Yeah, I hypnotized him into compliance."
"Cute. Scott and Allison are here. They wanted to say goodbye. I figured I should, you know, warn you. Give you forward notice of the presence of exes."
Isaac grimaced. "I see them all the time, Stiles."
"Yeah, but tearful goodbyes are different. I just didn't want to blindside you."
"It's okay." It was, surprisingly. Isaac wanted to be somewhere he didn't have to see them every day and find some kind of distance. But he wanted to say goodbye, see their faces. Hug them. "We'll be there in like fifteen minutes."
"This feels weirdly like leaving for summer camp."
"If you do camp songs, I'll let Derek kill you."
"The wheels on the bus go 'round and 'round, Lahey. Sometimes, that needs to be celebrated." Isaac smiled and Stiles paused for a second. "I'll probably forget to say it when I'm actually stuck in a car with you two for miles. But thanks. For asking me."
Isaac didn't know what to say to that. He shrugged and then rolled his eyes at himself for shrugging at a phone. "See you soon."
"Yeah, okay. See you."
The phone went dead and Isaac took a last look around and headed outside to help Derek load the back of the car.
Isaac sat on the cold deck in front of the lodge, Stiles's laptop balanced on his knees. Scott was looking back at him, Melissa drifting in and out of the edges of the frame. "He's okay?" Scott asked for the third time.
Isaac's eyes slid toward the closed door, then back to Scott. "He's fine." Scott just frowned, worry lines at the corner of his mouth. He looked just like his mother, sometimes, especially with that face on. "He's dealing with it." In a way, it almost seemed to fit, though Stiles didn't see it yet.
"What about you?"
"That's not what I meant," Scott said. "I know you don't like talking to me, but-"
"I do," Isaac broke in. "At first I couldn't. But now . . . it's good. I've missed you. I missed Allison. I should have said something sooner."
"It's okay. You've had other things going on." Scott turned his head as Melissa's voice drifted from off camera, garbled by the microphone. "He knows, mom. Okay, okay," Scott said to her. He turned back to the camera and smiled. "Mom says hi."
"Hi, Ms. McCall." Isaac waved at the webcam and Melissa popped back into frame, asking if he was keeping warm and if he was sure his chest had healed. Isaac answered each question and smiled as she gave in to Scott's nudging and left again. "Are Stiles's dad and her still . . ."
"I'm only allowed to ask how it's going once every two weeks. Last I heard, Stiles and me are still not supposed to be designing wedding invitations," Scott said.
"Haven't you had the whole thing planned since you were thirteen?"
"We'd probably have to redo the table settings," Scott admitted. Isaac laughed and Scott tilted his head. "He won't really say anything, but Deucalion, was it an accident? I thought Derek-"
"I don't know," Isaac lied. Even over a screen, he couldn't quite meet Scott's eyes as he said it. He knew, but it wasn't his place to tell anyone, not even Scott. Stiles hadn't even really told Isaac, though Isaac hadn't given him much chance.
Scott rubbed a finger over the bridge of his nose absently. "But the gun was his idea."
"He thought we needed an edge," Isaac said. "The battery's about to die. I should go."
"You're coming home though, right? Soon? Deucalion's gone. Peter's not Stiles's Alpha anymore. You can come back."
"I think so," Isaac said.
"Good." Scott didn't say goodbye, and he sat too still and hunched forward, the way he always did before he asked something important. Isaac waited. "Isaac . . . is he your Alpha?"
Isaac looked down, licking his lips. "I don't know," he admitted.
"If he is, it's okay. I think it could be good. And he's Stiles. We'll be one big, double-Alpha Pack. Like the Alpha Pack, but without the killing each other."
Scott managed to sound both earnest and facetious, and Isaac couldn't help but laugh. "I'll talk to you tomorrow." He signed off and shut the laptop, standing and stretching stiffness from cold limbs and ducking back inside.
He walked through the door and froze, staring. Derek's back was to the wall, face human but eyes beaming blue. Stiles was pressed against him, chest to chest, eyes red. Derek's expression was a muddled mix of resentment and wariness. Stiles's hand was wrapped around Derek's wrist, tipped claws pressing into skin. Derek's claws were digging the same points into Stiles's shoulder. But his other hand was curled at Stiles's waist, and Isaac watched as Stiles's hand slid up his side, mouth sliding along the length of Derek's bared throat.
Isaac could read the language written in their bodies easily enough. It was clashing and aggression and a new Alpha pushing up against a Beta who'd never quite let go of being an Alpha. But written over the whole of it was want. They were caught up enough that the door didn't break them apart, and Stiles's mouth nipped against Derek's jaw, and then pressed into his lips. Derek shuddered, claws pricking holes through Stiles's shirt. And then he eased, bit by bit, kissing back.
Isaac dropped the computer. It hit the carpet with an ominous, rattling crash and Stiles leapt away from Derek like he'd been shocked. "I didn't-" Isaac stopped, speaking past the rush of blood in his ears and the plummeting misery in his stomach. "I'm sorry," he managed. He spun, crashing out the door.
He heard his name, but ignored it, shifting and running for the trees. He didn't make it more than a quarter mile before a heavy weight hit him, bowling him over. "Isaac!" Stiles rolled him over, pinning him into the snow and weighing him down.
Isaac shoved, and Stiles flinched back, but didn't move. "Just stop. I get it. You don't need to expla-"
"It's you, okay?" Stiles cut him off. "I was there. I know about Scott and Allison. Derek's this . . . thing. He's a thing for you. He can be a thing for me, but it's a thing for you first."
"I could see it," Isaac said, shutting his eyes. "How you kissed him, how he kissed you. I kissed him and he kicked me out the door. I kiss you and you crawl in bed with me when you're cold. I was just there for you. Just tell me. Don't stretch it out." Because Isaac was weak, and he'd let him. He couldn't be alone and he'd let Stiles pull him out on a string because Stiles wouldn't mean to, but in the end it would be the same story of wanting too much and not having enough to make himself happy.
Stiles's hands cupped Isaac's face, holding still and chilled against his skin until Isaac's eyes opened again. Stiles's eyes were his own, no hint of red, and he was watching Isaac. "You asked me along because you felt sorry for me. You looked at Derek like you still wanted him to . . . I don't know. Fix everything and carry you off into a sunset. I didn't want to push. You like to have more than one person, I think. And I can do that. But it's you, okay? You're first choice for me."
In his head, it couldn't make sense to Isaac. He didn't know how to believe he'd be first choice for anyone who had another option. Stiles just watched him, and then made a low, frustrated sound. He leaned down, mouth finding Isaac's.
Isaac just wanted to push him away. He remembered this. Soft kisses and careful, searching eyes. Scott's voice hopeful and loving we could be good while Isaac already knew he wanted it to be real and it never would be.
Stiles growled, low and warning against Isaac's mouth though, and it slid along his spine, made him still and snap to attention. The hands he'd been pressing against Stiles's chest stilled, curled into the fabric instead and his mouth softened beneath Stiles's. With just that second of indecision, the kiss changed. It wasn't the searching, lazy way they usually made out when Stiles crawled into bed with him. It was nothing like the grateful softness Scott had kissed with, when Isaac had agreed to try it with Allison. It wasn't even the aggressive, pushing way he'd just seen Stiles kiss Derek.
It was deep and slow and possessive, hunger tempered but vibrant enough that Isaac could feel it. Isaac couldn't trust words, most of the time. He trusted what he saw and smelled and felt. Stiles kissed him, and it felt real, and in the moment at least, Isaac could believe him.
Isaac panted when Stiles finally broke away. His eyes had gone red again, but they faded. They stared at each other until a soft crunch of snow made Isaac's head turn. Stiles didn't budge, just traced a thumb along Isaac's jawline. Derek stood a few feet away, watching them. He met Isaac's eyes and smiled ruefully. "I asked you to come with me because I wanted you there," he told Isaac. He crept forward, crouching down beside them. "I shouldn't have just told you to leave that night." His eyes darted toward Stiles and then back toward Isaac. "I was going to take the hit and go back to being an Alpha. But I didn't want it. Scott's not my Alpha."
"Stiles could be," Isaac said softly.
Derek looked pained, but he nodded. "I still might kill him first, though."
Stiles scoffed. Isaac looked up at him. "You took the shot on purpose."
"He was hurting you," Stiles said, somewhere between defiant and sheepish.
Isaac dropped his head back, head reeling. "My ass is freezing," he said, because anything else he could think to say sounded wrong in his head.
Stiles huffed something that was almost but not quite a laugh and stood, offering Isaac a hand and then pulling him to his feet. When Isaac was steady, he left his hand in Isaac's. Derek stepped into Isaac's other side, not reaching for his hand, but shoulder steady against his. "My family used to go to Sequoia, every year. I haven't been since Laura and I left. Maybe we could stop there. On the way home. Just to stay, for a while."
"Okay," Isaac said, just as instant and thoughtless as he had when Derek first asked him to come along on this trip in the first place.
Stiles looked at Isaac before he answered. "Yeah, all right. After that, home to the first of many, many angry family dinners with my dad and figuring out how to form a Super PAC wolf Pack with Scott. And somewhere along the way if you could actually tell me you're into me, Isaac, that would be awesome. Because so far I'm doing the bulk of the emotional workload here."
"You kissed Derek," Isaac reminded him. But he didn't hold on to it. His lips still felt warm from the kiss. It was the only part of him that was at all warm. "I want," he mumbled. Derek herded him toward the cabin and Isaac moved, Stiles's hand still in his. "I don't know why I can't just want one thing, one person. Like everyone else."
"You don't have to, with me," Stiles said. Isaac didn't look up, but he felt Stiles and Derek trading a look past him. "With us?" he amended, half a question.
"We'll figure it out," Derek said. With both of them pushing Isaac inside the cabin, Derek pulling dry clothes out of Isaac's suitcase and Stiles peeling off Isaac's snow-damp jacket, Isaac could almost make himself believe that was true this time.
"I broke your computer," Isaac told Stiles.
"It's cool, I'm possibly dating a rich werewolf with low self-esteem. He'll buy another one for me."
Isaac lifted his arms obligingly to let Stiles rid him of the jacket. "Was that supposed to be me, or Derek?"
"Six of one, half dozen of the other. Go change. We are officially too complicated for me to try to get you naked, finally, tonight. But it's coming. Consider yourself warned." Stiles paused. "Bad choice of words."
Behind him Derek snorted, and then tossed a shirt and pajama pants at Isaac. Isaac caught them, ducking his head and fighting back a smile. "Maybe not that bad a choice." Stiles smiled slowly, surprised, and Isaac smiled back before he ducked obediently into the bathroom to change.
Sequoia National Park, CA
"Can I just say this is not what I expected?" Isaac said. Derek perched on the edge of the bed, eyebrows quirking upward in question. "I'm not complaining. I just thought when you said werewolf family vacation spot it was probably a tent in the woods. Or not a tent, even, just wolves in the woods."
"It sounds kind of like you're complaining," Stiles pointed out from where he was busily nosing through every drawer in the rented cabinet. He'd done that at every non-hotel rented place they'd bunked at along the way, but this was the first place that doubled as someone's house when they weren't renting it out, so there was a lot of ugly sweaters for him to poke his nose into and then make outraged noises over once he'd finished expressing horror at the DVD collection's abundance of Christmas movies.
"We usually had a tent," Derek said. "Or five tents." Isaac was still unclear on just how many Hales there had been, before the fire. But he had the impression there was a lot. It was one of those topics that still froze Derek, and Isaac swung away from it. Eventually Stiles, who refused to just leave things forever unsaid, would probably bull his way into talking about it, but for now they had enough other things to work out that he didn't try. "I thought a house might be good. For a few weeks." Derek pointedly pushed the drawer beside him closed again when Stiles pulled it open so the handle jabbed into his elbow. "Scott could come visit. With whoever else," he added.
Stiles stopped at that, looking between Derek and Isaac and then shrugging. "It'd be good with me. My Dad might have some vacation time coming."
Isaac flopped back onto the bed. "Stop looking at me like that. I talk to them all the time. I want to see them. Maybe Ms. McCall could come, too."
"Family fun times in the rented rustic mansion." Stiles perked up visibly. "Hey, romantic views out the windows. We could give Dad and Melissa the Master Suite, play some romantic music and put champagne on the nightstand and I'll start sending Dad coupons to jewelers again. Maybe they'll get the hint."
"Stop trying to matchmake them. It's creepy," Isaac told him.
"You are killing my dreams," Stiles complained. He dropped down on the bed and atop Isaac, making Isaac ouuf out a breath of complaint. Stiles grinned unrepentantly.
"Maybe I just want to keep the Master Suite for us?" Isaac suggested.
"Yeah? Maybe operation Parent Trap can wait, then." Stiles bent his head, kissing Isaac slowly. Isaac still wasn't used to this. There had been stops along the road home, and Stiles liked to kiss in front of Derek. Derek liked to watch, Isaac thought, though he had a harder time knowing what Derek wanted than he did with Stiles, now. But Isaac still kept waiting for the moment where it felt wrong.
That moment wasn't now, and maybe it wasn't even coming. Isaac wished his brain was easier to convince of that. But he could push the worry aside and sink into the feel of Stiles kissing him, the tingle of awareness that said Derek was watching.
Stiles lifted his head, licking chapped lips and staring down at Isaac. "C'mere," he said. It took Isaac a second to realize Stiles wasn't talking to him.
Derek gave Stiles a dark glare, and he waited a second before he gave in, which was fast becoming a habit. (Though not as frequent a one as them arguing, still.) He settled onto the bed beside them and Stiles sat up, straddling Isaac's hips and leaning away. Derek leaned in, not quite touching Isaac until Isaac lifted a hand, running it through his hair as invitation. Derek kissed Isaac like he expected Isaac to turn him away, still, until he forgot to be careful.
Stiles squirmed atop Isaac. "Are we to a sufficiently stable place where I can say that's hot without weirding anyone out?"
"You could have if you hadn't asked," Derek said.
Isaac laughed, fisting fingers in Derek's shirt and yanking him down for another kiss.
When Isaac let him go and opened his eyes, two pairs of eyes were looking back at him. Isaac nudged Stiles's arm and tugged at Derek again, pushing them toward each other. Stiles frowned. "Isaac-"
"It's okay. I want to see. If you want to." Isaac said. He knew they wanted to. They'd been careful since Isaac walked in and fell apart seeing them, but Isaac knew. He doubted, still, he was insecure and uncertain. But he was starting to believe seeing them together could be a comfort, instead of a kick to the teeth. Stiles and Derek traded another look, and then Stiles took a deep breath. He slid one hand into Isaac's as the other curled around the back of Derek's neck.
It could have hurt, but it didn't. When they kissed, Isaac saw a thread between them that was woven differently than what he felt linked him to either of them. But it wasn't more, just different. Whatever they were, maybe Isaac was as much a part of it as either of them. Even footing instead of slanted ground he'd never felt he could stand fast on.
Stiles's eyes were red and Derek's blue when the kiss ended, hint of fang in the smile Stiles flashed. "Hot," Isaac said. They both blinked away the shine of their eyes and looked down at him. Isaac grinned and shrugged. "I can say it without asking if it's weird."
"Except now you said you could, so you made it weird, too." Stiles rolled off of him, stretching out against Isaac's side. "There is an actual kitchen here. We could have food that doesn't come in plastic or cartons."
"Derek can make eggs," Isaac offered, laughing at Derek's rolling eyes. "Maybe one of us should learn how to cook, if we're going to do this."
Derek shifted away, methodically toeing off his shoes and smoothing a pillow down before he rolled into the bed on Isaac's free side. "Stiles can learn how to cook," he said.
"Not it," Stiles argued. Isaac shut his eyes again as they started to argue over top of him. He'd learn to cook. Isaac liked to give them what they wanted. He just felt like this time even if he couldn't figure out how to do things exactly right, it might not matter. They'd still choose him.