“Because you’re a teenager,” Derek yells.
“So was Laura,” she yells back, and Derek’s mouth shuts with a click over his next three arguments. The way Cora stands, the way she gets up at people, it’s like she doesn’t even know she’s small. Usually Derek loves it, but right now it’s infuriating, how scared it makes him for her, even though he knows probably better than anyone that the delicacy of her bare collarbone above the cut-out neckline of her sweatshirt is as deceptive as appearances get.
Through his teeth, he says, “She didn’t have a choice. It doesn’t mean she was ready. Neither of us was.” An understatement. He hasn't said much to Cora about those first couple of years, even less about the last couple, and now he’s thinking that was one mistake of many.
“Who’s ever ready?”
Our mother, Derek doesn’t say. Hell, it might not even be true. For all he knows, Talia earned her control and leadership through trial and grievous error, the same way her oldest daughter did. Instead, he says, “I get that you don’t want to be in Scott’s pack, but you shouldn't—”
“You shouldn't,” she cuts him off, and turns her face toward the window, crossing her arms tightly over her ribs. The streetlight coming through the glass catches on her cheekbone and makes something sharper of her nose, shifting her for a heart-stopping moment into a ghost of the many dead. “You’re an idiot if you think—”
Derek swallows a shadow from his throat. “He’s a good alpha.”
She looks at him again, and the illusion breaks. “I didn’t say he wasn't. But it’s something that happened to him, Derek. He deals with it. If you wanna spend the rest of your life making it up to him, run yourself into the ground trying to convince him to love what we are for its own sake, you can do that, but it’s never gonna happen. Live that way if you want to, but it’s not enough for me, and I don’t think it is for you either. It shouldn't be.”
By the time she finishes, Derek’s hands are curled so tight at his sides that his knuckles ache. “You have no idea what I do and don’t need.”
“You could at least let me try,” she says. “You could talk to me, you could help me out—”
“I’m the last person to give anybody advice—”
“You think I give a shit that you were a bad alpha? I've seen more of that than you can imagine.”
“Knowing what you shouldn't do isn't the same thing as knowing what you should.”
Cora shrugs, sweatshirt slipping off her shoulder altogether to bare the spare curve of her deltoid. “Maybe it’s enough to start with. That wasn't what I meant, anyway.”
“So what am I supposed to help you do?”
“Be your family,” Cora says. “You asshole.” From this angle, straight-on, she doesn’t look a thing like anybody but herself. Derek’s fists uncurl.