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all things together and under the earth

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I.

Harken now: the early morning whippoorwill with its ethereal song. Melodious trilling, stretching out in planes of sound in the haze of the sunshine. Nature’s soundtrack for the collection of dust gathering in suspension, all bits and flakes and particles hovering in beams of light coming down through the branches of the forest in evanescent rays.

It’s cold today, and the clouds above roll wide and white in their airborne spread. The road stretches far in twisted formation, cutting a black and yellow line through the uneven landscape. A cement scar against the smattering of trees and suburban houses that pepper the mountainous earth.

A car whizzes by, and the sound can be heard as a muffled whirring from within the confines of the upstairs bedroom of the Hale house. Derek sits awake by the window, gazing out into the woods, squinting against the sunrise light shining in and casting curious shadows through the spiderweb cracks in the glass.

The room is empty apart from the mattress - no bed frame, no sheets - and the old record player lying nearby in the corner. The dusty music box is one of the few salvaged remains of the house as it once was, and Derek likes to keep it close by. It makes the place feel like home. As much as it can anymore, at least. 

He can remember times as a young child when he would run laughing with Laura through the downstairs halls, and the sound of his father’s favorite records would fill the quiet space as his mother stood by the kitchen sink preparing fresh meat for dinner. Not longer after returning to Beacon Hills, he’d found the player lying in a cardboard box under the plastic table in the basement, and the feel of it’s wooden edges against his fingertips had nearly reduced him to tears. 

The only time he’d ever come close to actually crying since the night of the fire.

He rises now, grunting as he presses down on his knees for support. He breathes on the glass and wipes away the morning dew so as better to see. The needle of the player falls into place on its own accord, and the disc begins to spin in place. The smooth, crackly sound of vinyl fills the room as the guitars thrum and Bob Dylan starts up his apocalyptic wail:

Darkness at the break of noon

Shadows even the silver spoon

The handmade blade, the child's balloon

Eclipses both the sun and moon

To understand you know too soon

There is no sense in trying...

Derek heaves out a deep sigh, blinks away the dust of sleep and turns, moving away from the window and around the mattress to kneel beside the phonograph. He lifts the needle out of place, cutting the music off abruptly.

There is a muffled sound downstairs, almost too quiet for even his enhanced hearing. A quiet squeak. The groan of the rotted-out living room floorboards.

His footsteps come down hard on the staircase, shoes thumping on the steps, callused hand lazily grazing the banister. He hears another groan, human this time, and as he rounds the bend and pokes his head over the landing, he can see the kid slowly waking on the floor, shuddering with cold.

“Jackson,” he says, soft and short. The boy jerks, neck twisting to face him, eyes unfocused and bleary.

“Ugh...” he mutters, and his mouth stretches wide in a yawn, snapping shut quickly as he winces in pain, hand coming up to grab at his shoulder. Blinking, his gaze becomes more sober, more aware. He looks down at the torn fabric of his shirt and pushes it away, exposing the bare skin just below his neck, somewhere above his heart. He swallows thickly, rubbing the bite marks. “Did it work?” he asks, not looking up, still staring at the scars. “Am I like you now?”

Derek huffs quietly, disbelieving. His mouth quirks up at the side in spite of himself, and he pads over, crouching when he reaches the kid’s prostrate form. Jackson looks up, startled, and he flinches away as Derek’s hand extends to cup his jaw. Ignoring his discomfort, Derek grabs a fistful of his hair and jerks his head back to examine Jackson’s face. The kid grimaces as Derek’s fingers tug, and his eyes flash gold, fiery and alive. Derek’s smirk widens into a full grin. “Yes,” he says, letting go and rising to his feet. “You are.”

Jackson’s angry glare vanishes, replaced by cautious optimism. “Really?” He glances back down at his shoulder, lifting his hand to touch it once more. His eyebrows knit together in the middle. “Will these fade?” he asks, concerned now, indicating the wounds. “Or am I stuck with them forever?”

Derek snorts, gazing down at him. “They’ll fade over the next few days. You’ll be good as new by the end of the week.”

He watches silently as the boy stands shakily, knees buckling. He makes no move to help. “So what now?” Jackson asks, blinking rapidly, trying to stand upright. “What happens now?”

Derek cocks his head to the side, lifts an eyebrow appraisingly. “Why don’t you tell me what you think is going to happen,” he says. “And then I can disabuse you of your illusions.”

Jackson licks his dry lips nervously, suddenly wary. “I - I didn’t, uh, really think past the whole...the whole wanting to be a werewolf thing,” he stammers, voice low and strained. And it’s such an uncharacteristic moment of naked honesty, Derek can’t really find the fun in toying with the kid’s emotions.

“You’re with me now,” he says bluntly, loud enough to draw the boy’s attention, make those bright eyes snap up to meet his own. “That’s non-negotiable.” He takes a step forward, moving into the younger werewolf’s space, and Jackson lets out a mild whimper, ducking his head in instinctive submission. Derek forces back a smile at the ease of it. “Whatever plans you’ve thought up, whatever ideas you’ve got about how this is going to be...I want you to scrap all of that right now. Consider it finished.” He reaches out and grabs Jackson’s shoulder, squeezes it hard until the kid reluctantly lifts his head to meet his eyes again. “It’s not like you’re my slave,” Derek continues, gentler. “But there is a certain measure of respect that will be expected. I am your Alpha. You need to trust me. And I need to be able to trust you.”

Jackson blinks at him, and Derek watches as he lifts his hand to the back of his neck, rubbing the place where the scratches have now healed over. “I’m sure you can understand why that might not be so easy,” Jackson mutters.

Derek nods slowly. “I’m not saying it will happen right away,” he relents. “Or that it will come easily. In all likelihood, it won’t be easy at all. You’re going to fuck something up.” He raises a hand, preemptively cutting off Jackson’s annoyed protest. “It was the same with Scott,” he clarifies. “He was a mess in the beginning. And he still doesn’t have it completely under control.” He takes a step back, allowing Jackson his space. “You’re going to fuck up,” he reiterates. “I wouldn’t expect anything less. But that’s okay.” He nods thoughtfully, more to himself than to Jackson. “It’ll be okay,” he murmurs.

There’s a brief silence, made uncomfortable by Jackson’s awkward stance, shifting his weight back on one foot, staring blankly and clearing his throat nervously.

The whippoorwill’s call comes in clear once more, and Derek shakes himself out of his musings. He turns his back on Jackson, leaving for the door. “Go home,” he calls absently. “Get some rest.”

Jackson jolts, surprised. “But...what about...” He pauses. “What happens now?”

Derek looks over his shoulder, flashes him a quick glance. “Come by later,” he says vaguely. “Tonight. Around nine, maybe. But rest now.”

The door swings shut behind him, and Jackson is left alone in the empty house, standing still in the light from the window. He breathes in deep, inhaling the musty scent of the woodwork. He gasps, awed at the extent of his sensory range. 

Everything’s in focus. It’s all here.


II.

The hospital room is a mess of wires, all trailing down from her arms and up to the machine that beeps in rhythm and flashes its red and green lights like warning signs. They’ve taken her off the oxygen system and she’s breathing normally, but there’s still no telling when she’ll wake up or how much she’ll be able to remember.

The nurse gives Derek a suspicious once-over, clearly ill at ease with his presence. He ignores the stare, moves on into the room to sit bedside. He takes the girl’s hand, tilting his head as he watches her sleep, and the nurse, begrudgingly satisfied that he seems to be familiar with the patient, leaves the two of them alone.

Derek releases her hand, sits back in his chair. He gazes unblinkingly, thoughtfully.

Lydia. That’s her name. Lydia Martin.

He can see the appeal, can understand Stiles’ hopeless crush, Jackson’s teenage lust. She’s the type of girl that he himself, were he just a few years younger and still in high school, would probably have pined after. She’s got that independent streak. That secretive sort of smile that says You can look, but you can’t touch. I can be rented, but never owned. He’s seen her around town, spotted her in the mess of students in the high school halls on the rare occasion he’s stopped by in the past to yell at Scott or threaten Jackson.

She’d make a good addition, he thinks. Every pack needs a female presence to balance out all of the testosterone, all of the macho posturing and male ego.

Her chest rises and falls in slow, steady motion beneath the thin layer of the hospital gown. Even lying comatose, face untouched by makeup, she looks good, healthy. Well enough to wake at any moment.

Well enough for the bite.

Derek shifts in his seat, leaning forward on the cushion, hovering over the girl’s sleeping form. He chances a look at the door. Through the rectangular glass window, he can see the nurse leaning against the counter at the end of the hall, chatting with the receptionist and scribbling down a patient report on her clipboard, her nails rapping on the wood frame, scrubs bunching up around her waist and ankles. Her attention is focused elsewhere. No one would see. No one would know.

He gingerly folds back the hem of the lime green covers, exposing Lydia’s pale arm, lying limply at her side. Leaning in further still, he lifts her wrist to his mouth, allowing his fangs to extend, sharp and glistening in the fluorescent glow. The artificial lights above hum dully.

Opening his jaw, he takes pause. Just for a moment. 

There is the question of choice here. The moral dilemma of forcing this way of life upon another living being. That said, he reminds himself, she’s already in it. She already knows. And she’ll be safer with the means to protect herself. Doesn’t she deserve that?

And so he bites. Hard, drawing blood instantly, tongue licking frantically at the skin to lap it all up, sucking it down and wetting her forearm. Her eyelids twitch, and there’s a hint of a reactionary grimace, but she does not wake, doesn’t move in any other regard. There’s a roll of gauze lying close by, and Derek takes it in hand, wiping away the crimson residue on his lips with the sleeve of his jacket, wrapping the bandages around the wound to stem the blood flow.

Even as he works the wrappings, he can see the marks beginning to shrink, cuts starting to heal over almost imperceptibly. And try as he might, he can't entirely smother the feeling of satisfaction at knowing that he’s managed to succeed where his uncle failed. That his bite took almost instantaneously, whereas Peter’s didn’t take at all. 

Standing, he throws the sheets back over the girl’s arm, takes a moment to lay his palm flat against her forehead, checking her temperature. His mouth twists upward at the side  approvingly.

As the door opens with a creak and his shoes tap on the tile floor as he walks off towards the exit, the blip of the heart monitor begins to pick up pace.

Lydia’s eyes flutter. Her breathing hitches.

 

III.

He’s sitting on the edge of the bed when Stiles comes back into the bedroom, hair still damp from his morning shower, towel slung low around his waist.

The kid makes a sort of strangled shrieking noise, falling backwards against the door, head banging on the frame as he clutches the towel tightly, protectively. Wincing, he reaches up with one arm to scratch his head.

“Damn it,” he hisses, sinking to the floor to rub his bruise.

“Stiles?” a voice calls up the staircase, muffled by the closed door. “You okay?”

Stiles flashes a half-annoyed, half-fearful glance at Derek, twists his neck around to call under the crack at the bottom of the door. “I’m fine, Dad. Just stepped on...my belt.”

There’s a pause, followed up with the distant sound of the sheriff shuffling about in the kitchen. He doesn’t bother to respond.

Stiles stands awkwardly, gripping the towel so fiercely, his knuckles are actually starting to turn white. “Dude,” he says indignantly. “You have seriously got to stop with the creeper routine. You’re going to give me a heart attack one of these days, and I am going to die, and then Scott won’t have a best friend to keep him out of trouble, and the two of you will go on a rabies rampage and rip everybody’s throats out, and my dad’s going to have a shit-ton of paperwork to do, and it will be all your fault.” He pauses to take a breath, the stops short. His eyes widen with curiosity. “Oh yeah. So things have happened now, haven’t they? What with your uncle and everything.” His face contorts into a weird expression somewhere between sympathy and nervousness. The result being that he just looks constipated. “So what’s going on?”

“I need you to clear your schedule,” Derek says, delicately ignoring Stiles’ rant. “We have to make a stop later.”

Stiles blinks at him. Nods slowly. “Umm...yeah, okay. Sure, buddy.” He scratches the back of his head awkwardly. “Where are we going?”

Derek stands, dusting off the knees of his jeans. He pulls himself to full height, still staring at Stiles, expression blank. “The Argents’ house.”

Stiles takes a deep breath. “Uh...ugh. Of course we are.” He sucks in his lower lip, thinking. “Is this, like, an intimidation type deal? Because if so, you might be better off with Scott. Or, you know, anybody else. Anybody other than me. Seriously, I’m completely useless at being all growly and threatening. Not my thing. That’s your thing-”

“Just be ready at seven,” Derek interrupts. Then, with just a hint of a threat, “Understand?”

Stiles swallows, chuckles nervously. “Sure. No problem.” He pauses, expecting Derek to continue. His cheeks flush red, and a droplet of water comes down from his sideburns and trails down his jawline to roll down his neck. Derek absently follows its path with his eyes, watching, and Stiles flushes even redder. “Could you, like, turn around for a second?” he asks weakly. “So I can get changed?”

Suppressing the urge to roll his eyes, Derek turns, facing the window and staring out while Stiles rummages around in his chest of drawers, scrambling to pull out a pair of clothes. The day is shaping up nicely, clouds clearing in the sky to make way for the sun. It’s warmer now, at least for this season’s weather, and the breeze is actually pleasant for once. Tranquil, even.

He hears Stiles cough, and he turns around. The boy is clothed now, buttoning up his jeans, green shirt wrinkled around the hem. The v-neck swoop of the collar clings to his skin, held in place by the moisture from the shower. Derek blinks, lifting his eyes to meet Stiles’. 

“So...is that it?” the kid asks, dark-colored eyebrows arched in expectation.

Derek cocks his head, hearing the sound of footsteps padding around downstairs, headed towards the front door. He nods curtly, taking to the window. “For now,” he says. “Be ready tonight.”

He drops down the side of the house, landing in a crouch, fingertips grazing the wall. Stiles pokes his head out the window, looking down at him with a scowl. “Really?” he calls. “You’re not going to clarify at all?”

Derek looks up at him, points vaguely to the left. Walking around the corner, he hears the lock turning in the front door. Standing on the driveway, he waits patiently and somehow manages to restrain a smirk when the sheriff comes down the steps and stops dead, wide-eyed.

The man’s hand twitches, and Derek’s gaze is drawn instinctively to the gun in its holster. 

Raising his palms in surrender, Derek smiles, a perfect picture of politeness. “I understand you want to see me for questioning,” he says calmly.

The door swings open again, and Stiles comes around the corner, jaw dropped wide in disbelief. His father wheels around, waves him away. “Get back in the house, Stiles,” he says sharply. “Now.”

Stiles stands shock-still for a moment, then nods, backing away slow. He stares at Derek, mouthing a silent What the fuck? as he retreats.

The sheriff turns back to Derek, face guarded and alert. Derek shrugs, gesturing at the police cruiser parked on the curb. “Shall we?” he says.

 

IV.

The walls of the interrogation room are decrepit and lined, worn down by age and use. Derek sits back in the tiny chair, rocking back and forth with his knees wedged up against the edge of the table, staring across at the officers.

The sheriff is standing in the corner, glaring at his reflection in the two-way mirror, rubbing at his chin distractedly. The other officer is seated across from Derek, trying to glare him into spontaneous confession.

Like that’s going to work.

“Why should we believe you?” he barks out, nose crinkled, mouth curled up in an ugly sneer. “We have reliable witnesses who’s pegged you as our perp. What’s to say we should take your word over theirs?”

Derek drops his knees away from the table, propping his elbows up on the flat surface. He meets the man’s glare with bored blankness, unimpressed. “Because they recanted, for starters,” he deadpans, savoring the irritated twitch of the officer’s left eye. He glances up at the sheriff expectantly. “Isn’t that correct, sir?”

The sheriff lifts his palms to his face, sighs. “They have since argued that their initial assessment of you was unfair, yes.” He drops his hands, coming over to the table to sit by his partner, reversing his chair so that the backrest is in front. He matches Derek’s blank stare with calm ease. “However, we still need to clear up some things.”

Derek shrugs acceptingly, leaning back again. 

The hard-faced officer opens up his pack of cigarettes, setting one alight and puffing away, smoke billowing up around his mouth and trailing in wisps at the end of the glowing stick.

The sheriff casts him a reprimanding look, but he doesn’t comment. He opens up the tan folder on the table, clucking his tongue silently as he flips through the pages. “Your current residence?”

“My childhood home,” Derek replies, biting back the snarky But you already knew that.

“Okay.” The sheriff nods meaninglessly, lifting up a corner and glancing at the next page. Derek catches a glimpse of his own photograph, glaring at the camera in trademark scowl. His lips twist up in a smile. 

The smoking officer huffs, irritated, still glaring. He takes a long drag, sucking down the smoke and tapping the ash into a little bowl at the corner of the table.

“That’s fine,” the sheriff continues. “That’s okay. No laws broken there.” He shrugs. “It’s a bit...unsettling, you have to admit. Living by yourself in that place?” 

There’s no question there, but he says it like it is, and he’s got a look on his face as though he’s expecting an answer. Derek just shrugs. “I guess,” he says, keeping his voice neutral, avoiding a petulant tone.

The sheriff drops the subject. “You uncle,” he says, folding his hands and resting his chin where the knuckles join. “He’s gone missing from the hospital.”

Again, spoken as if that’s a question and not merely a statement of fact. Derek nods. “I’ve been told.”

“A bit strange, don’t you think?” the smoking officer interjects, voice laced with sarcasm. “A little weird, isn’t it? That a man who’s been catatonic for years would just suddenly up and disappear one day. A little...funny, eh?”

Derek turns a contemptuous gaze on him. “I don’t find it all that amusing myself,” he says mock-innocently.

The officer grunts, looking away to glare at the wall, flicking more ash into the bowl. The sheriff’s mouth twitches, like he’s holding back a smile. He glances down at the folder, then back to Derek. “You don’t know anything about what happened to him?” he asks.

A memory swims to the surface of Derek’s mind, quick and vivid: standing in the woods in the dead of night, shovel in hand, arms caked with mud and grime, panting heavily above the deep hole in the earth, kicking the charred and mangled body into the opening. He doesn’t let it show on his face. Just shakes his head and says, “No. No idea.” Then, directing his attention to the other officer, “That’s your job, isn’t it? That’s police business, right?”

The officer snorts, takes another drag. The sheriff frowns, brow crinkling. He waves a hand in front of his face. “Take that outside, won’t you, Phil?” he asks, polite but adamant.

The chair creaks as the officer rises, huffing and muttering under his breath. He spares a moment to glare at Derek once more before exiting. Derek can hear the sounds of telephones ringing and aimless chatter out in the main room, cut off swiftly as the door snaps shut.

A rustling noise draws his attention, and he turns back to the sheriff, stomach flip-flopping as the man produces a photograph of Kate Argent lying on the floor, eyes glazed over and unfocused, throat ripped wide open.

He swallows thickly, staring as the sheriff slides the picture over to his side of the table.

“You knew her,” the sheriff says, and it’s definitely not a question this time. His expression isn’t accusing anymore. Just thoughtful, studious.

Derek nods. “Yes,” he replies, pushing the picture away. “We have...had history.”

The sheriff leans forward in his chair, gripping the sides of the backrest, thumbs rubbing the smooth surface. His mouth draws together in a thin line, eyes narrowing ever so slightly as he gauges Derek’s reaction. “She was a strange woman,” he says cryptically. “Very much so.”

Derek looks away, stares at the mirror intently, as though he can see through it if he glares hard enough. “No argument there, sir.”

A pause.

The sheriff closes the folder, reaches up to wipe his brow. He sighs, shaking his head, lost in thought. “You’re not a murderer, are you, son?” he asks quietly.

Again, the image of Peter’s face flashes before Derek’s mind. The feel of his uncle’s flesh being torn to shreds beneath his claws. Depends on how you define murder, his mind supplies. Out loud, he says, “No. I’m not.”

The sheriff studies his face for a few seconds, eyes piercing and focused. Then he nods to himself, apparently satisfied. “Okay,” he says, and Derek’s not entirely sure whether he sounds reluctant or relived. Or just plain tired. “Okay.”

Derek raises an eyebrow, glances at the door meaningfully. “Okay?” he asks.

The sheriff stands, and Derek stands with him. He extends his hand. “Yeah,” he says. “We’ll get you processed, go over a few more things, then...” He shrugs. “Then that’s it.”

Derek takes his hand, shakes it. “Thank you,” he murmurs. “Sincerely.”

 

V.

Everything is sharper somehow, clearer. All of the details that once faded into the background of the larger picture now strike out loud, crystalline and focused and pervading every one of Derek’s senses. He can understand now, can see how this power - being Alpha - can lend itself to destructive tendencies. These sensations...

He could get drunk on this.

He’s running now, wild and free and naked through the woods in the bright of day, too fired up and hotblooded to give a damn if he’s seen. The scent of pine fills his nostrils, intermingling with the sweet aroma of honeysuckle. He breathes in the cool air, sharp and fresh within his lungs. Panting as he runs, the smells of the forest are alive and pervasive; he can taste them on his tongue. 

Shifting comes so smoothly now, muscles rippling with every powerful stride forward, bones cracking in their sockets and realigning to fit in their Alpha form. His teeth grow and recede, eyes burning like smoldering embers in his skull. Even with his skin reddening in the bite of the wind, his body temperature continues to rise, blood thundering through his veins like molten lava. 

He closes his eyes, branches and brambles whacking at his cheeks as he charges through the undergrowth, cuts healing instantly, beads of blood dripping uselessly down to splatter on the leaves. He can feel the shift, and it’s not easy, it’s not controllable or tamed. It’s like being high with just enough sobriety to have the strength to stop short just before diving over the brink into oblivion. 

It’s a head-rush, most certainly.

Eventually it ends. Eventually he tires, and he skids to a halt in a clearing mere yards away from his house, coming down from his werewolf form and curling up to catch his breath in the cluster of leaves at the base of a crooked tree. He huffs a breathless little laugh, exhilarated and just a bit afraid of himself. He takes in a deep, shuddering breath, basking in the odor of rich soil and autumn bark dust.

The wind picks up, and the tree tops rustle violently, sending a shower of pine needles trailing down to tickle his face. He blinks up at the sky through the canopy, slowly allowing his heart rate to return to normal pace.

After some time, he rises. Stands tall and naked and cold in the woods, looking up the slope at the charred, hollowed-out shell of a place he calls home. Reaching across his chest to rub at his bicep, he makes his way up the hill to the house to grab a change of clothes.

The earth beneath his toes is rough, solid. A raccoon darts out of the bushes and seizes a pinecone, taking pause to watch him before disappearing into a hole in the ground.

The wind dies down.

 

VI.

The boy is standing in his bedroom, looking at himself in the mirror. It’s not an appraising stare, not the sort of egotistic self-worshipping assessment Derek imagines Jackson to participate in on a regular basis.

No, it’s more curious, frustrated. The stare of a lost soul, apprehensive of the future and uncertain of identity. 

Derek’s been there. He gets it. And so he doesn’t protest when, upon stepping through the window and clearing his throat to announce his presence, Scott whirls on him and snarls, eyes flashing angrily.

“Don’t do that,” he snaps, echoing Stiles’ statement from earlier. “You can’t just sneak up on people. It’s creepy.”

Derek situates himself on the edge of the kid’s desk, arms crossed. He scratches his cheek. “I thought you’d be able to hear me coming,” he replies with affectless honesty.

Scott’s eyes dim, reverting to their natural, human state. “Well,” he mutters. “I didn’t.” He moves away from the mirror, sitting down near the foot of the bed, springs of the mattress creaking underneath his weight. “What do you want?”

“I want you to stop by the house tonight,” Derek says, cutting right to the point.

Scott’s expression betrays no hint of his feelings, heartbeat pounding steady and slow. “Why?” he deadpans.

Derek coughs. “Pack meeting.”

There’s a pause, and Derek steels himself, ready for the inevitable protests, the petulant complaints.

Instead, he gets, “What time?”

Derek blinks. “Around nine.”

Scott nods slowly, looking away to the ground, lower lip receding into his mouth, caught between his teeth. He threads his fingers through his shaggy hair, eyes narrowed in quiet contemplation. He sighs, but it sounds to Derek more tired than put-upon. Simple exhaustion. “That’ll be a small gathering, won’t it?” Scott pipes up, still looking at the floor. “Just you and me, isn’t it? And Stiles.”

Derek shifts uncomfortably on the desk. “There will be more,” he offers in non-explanation.

Scott looks up, eyebrow raised in question, but he doesn’t ask, and Derek doesn’t elaborate.

The room is a mess, as one would expect a teenage boy’s room to be. There are posters nailed to the wall and piles of clothes bunched up in corners. The bedspread is wrinkled and folded back, exposing the dark sheets beneath. Derek breathes in, picking up the different scents that hover in the air, cling to the carpet. Scott’s own, overriding everything else. The Argent daughter, his girlfriend. Another female, probably his mother. Stiles, too, underneath it all.

Derek stands up, rubbing his hands together. He makes a soft noise, a wordless farewell, and turns to leave.

“Is that all?” Scott’s voice follows him, low and strained. Derek freezes with one hand on the window frame. “Is that it?”

“No,” Derek answers, dropping his hand, twisting back around. He looks down, meets Scott’s gaze. “No it isn’t.”

Scott chews on his lip, unsure of what to say. “They’re going to kill me, you know,” he comes out with eventually. “They’re going to kill me. I know we’re not exactly friends, but does that seriously not matter to you? Even a little bit?”

Derek flinches - he can’t help himself. Sitting down on the bed beside Scott, he glares him down, stares at the younger boy until he has to look away. “They’re not going to,” he says roughly. “I won’t let them.”

“You might not have a choice,” Scott mutters. “They’ve been doing this for a long time, I’m sure.”

“So have I.” Impulsively, Derek reaches across and wraps his arm around Scott’s shoulders, grabbing hold of him. Scott blinks, clearly baffled by the gesture, but he doesn’t shove his arm away. “I’m your Alpha now,” Derek growls, fierce and adamant. “You are pack. I’m going to protect you. They won’t touch a hair on your head. I’ll make sure of it.”

Scott looks at him doubtfully, torn between surprise and confusion. “I...” he starts, trailing off. He coughs. “Okay...”

Derek stands, looks down at him. “It had to be me,” he says, quieter, voice somber. “Even if the cure is real, even if it isn’t a myth. I had to be the one to do it. There was no other way.”

Scott bites his lip. Hard. Almost enough to draw blood. He lets out a shaky sigh, nodding jerkily. “I know,” he breathes out, barely audible.

“No you don’t.” Derek shakes his head. “You don’t.” He crouches down briefly, stopping at Scott’s eye level. “You’re a child,” he says, and holds up a hand to cut off the anticipated retort. “That’s not an insult. It’s just the truth. You’re young, and you’re a kid, and there was never any fucking way I was going to let you do that. Not a chance. And not just because if the cure did turn out to be bullshit, you’d be stuck as the Alpha - a responsibility you wouldn’t even know where to begin with.” He reaches out, grabs the back of Scott’s hair and tugs, forcing him to look into his eyes. “I’ve lived with this all my life,” he says softly, enunciating every word. “And I’ve struggled to keep it in check. To not hurt anyone.” He swallows. “When you do...” he starts. “Kill someone...If you do. If you ever have to...you’ll understand then. You’ll understand why I couldn’t let you do it.”

He releases his hold on Scott’s hair, steps back to give the other boy his space. Scott looks shaken, bewildered. His mouth works silently. “Oh...” he breathes.

Derek nods curtly, standing and making for the window. “Nine tonight,” he reminds him. “Don’t be late.”

He steps over the sill and drops out of sight.

 

VII.

Stiles is punctual. Derek’s got to give the kid points for that, at least.

He’s ready and waiting when Derek arrives at seven, sitting on the front porch, leaning up against the closest support beam. His jacket is zipped up all the way, bunching out at odd angles, legs dangling down off the side of the front steps. He’s texting, eyes glued to the tiny screen of his cell.

Derek’s foot comes down to snap a twig, and Stiles looks up, waving in greeting.

“Ready, dude?”

Derek nods, jerking his thumb in the direction of Stiles’ Jeep. “We’re taking yours.”

Stiles shrugs, standing up. He lifts a hefty, plastic-wrapped plate from the stoop next to him. Derek frowns at it. “Veggie platter,” Stiles explains, tilting it slightly so Derek can see. “Carrots and celery and dip. A whole cornucopia of health nut wonders.”

Derek arches an eyebrow.

Dude,” Stiles says, heaving a long-suffering sigh. “Don’t you know anything about bribery? If you want to make nice with the Argents, you have to coax them into liking you with tasty treats. And nothing speaks to a responsible adult’s heart like a plate of healthy greens. Not that the Argents are responsible adults. Or that they’re going to give two shits about me bringing them food. But I was hungry and I figured it would be rude to bring chips. You know, because of the crackly bags? So...yeah.”

Derek rolls his eyes, walking around to the passenger’s side.

The Jeep rumbles, kicking into drive, and the CD player clicks on, neon glow of the digital clock illuminating the dashboard.

...Growin' fond of Detox Mansion

And this quiet life I lead

But I'm just dying to tell my story

For all my friends to read

Well, it's tough to be somebody

And it's hard to keep from fallin' apart

Up here on Rehab Mountain

We gonna learn these things by heart...

Derek frowns. “Zevon?” he asks, not quite containing his surprise.

Bobbing his head along with the music, Stiles nods, waggling his eyebrows. “Best Of, yeah. My dad gave it to me for my last birthday. Funny stuff.” A curious gleam comes into his eyes and a goofy grin spreads across his face. He reigns it in, glancing at Derek mischievously.

Derek’s frown deepens, suspicious. Seconds later, “No.” He glares, but Stiles ignores him, clicking the skip button on the dash. “No.

Stiles settles on the next track, beaming.

I saw a werewolf with a Chinese menu in his hand

Walking through the streets of Soho in the rain-

Derek’s hand darts out to click the power button, cutting the music off. He glowers silently, resisting the urge to smack the kid. A feat made harder by the idiot’s nervous giggling.

Stiles wipes tears of mirth out of his eyes. “Sorry,” he apologizes, still smiling. “Couldn’t resist.”

 

VIII.

“We brought celery,” Stiles offers tentatively, raising the plate when Chris Argent opens the door.

The hunter just glares, stepping aside so they can enter.

His wife is standing in the kitchen, chopping up chicken by the sink. She pauses, eyes narrowing when they enter through the archway into the room. 

Derek breathes in deep, taking in the smells of the room. He glances at the empty kitchen table, nostrils flaring. A small, somewhat nasty smile tugs at the corner of his mouth, and he moves around to the back, slow and purposeful. He sits in Kate’s chair.

Mr. Argent returns to the room, fists clenching at his side as he sees Derek’s position. A muscle in his jaw tics, teeth gritted together. Like he knows exactly what Derek is doing.

“Celery,” Stiles interjects quickly, trying to break the tension. He moves around to sit beside Derek, pushing the platter towards the center of the table. He gestures for Mrs. Argent to join them. “Carrots, too,” he sing-songs coaxingly, squawking when Derek kicks him in the shin.

The couple pulls back their chairs, sit down together across from Stiles and Derek.

They all stare at each other. The clock on the wall ticks in merry rhythm.

“What?” Chris asks, clipped tone, no-nonsense and to the point.

Stiles opens his mouth to reply, but Derek gets there before him. “I don’t want there to be any ambiguity here,” he says coldly. “No guessing room. I want to know exactly where we stand.”

The Argents look at each other, communicating silently. Stiles’ foot taps with nervous energy underneath the table. Derek steps down on it, eliciting a mousy squeak.

“We are aware now that you aren’t responsible for the recent killings,” Chris says carefully, delicately. He claps his hands together, dropping them to the polished surface of the table.

“We have a code,” Victoria chimes in. Derek huffs skeptically, and she bites down on her lip, restraining the urge to lash out. “It’s true. Not all hunters follow it, as you know...” She trails off, and there is a moment of uncomfortable silence. Derek shifts in his chair. “...but we aren’t like that. We don’t kill unless given no other recourse.”

“You tried to kill Scott!” Stiles snaps, ignoring Derek’s murderous look. “He didn’t do shit, and you-”

“Shut up, Stiles,” Derek growls. He turns back to face Chris. “It is true, though,” he says, quieter. “What guarantee do I have that you won’t try again?”

Chris breathes in through his nose, a sharp, whistling sound. “We had bad information,” he replies. “We thought he was responsible for the attacks.”

“Perhaps you should reevaluate the importance of fact-checking,” Derek snarks, oozing sarcasm.

Chris glares, and Victoria reaches over to take his hand in hers. “We won’t hurt the boy,” she says. “So long as his condition doesn’t lead him to violence.”

“What about Allison?” Stiles pipes up again, flinching when Derek turns an annoyed eye on him.

Victoria frowns. “What about her?”

Derek discreetly places a hand on Stiles’ knee, trying to marshall him into silence. “What are your feelings on your daughter’s relationship with Scott?” he asks. “Now that you know he is...like me.”

Chris folds his arms across his chest, leaning back in his seat. “What business is that is yours?” he responds coldly.

“Well...” Derek grinds out, “they’re teenagers. They’re young and stupid. And in love, as much as kids can be. And they are going to...mess around. As I’m sure you’re not naive enough to be unaware of.” He cocks his head, eyes narrowing. “I want your assurances that you aren’t going to go around sticking a gun in his face if you happen to catch them doing something you don’t approve of.”

Chris’ jaw tightens, but Victoria interjects before he can reply. “Done,” she says shortly. “Next.”

Derek nods, relaxing slightly. “I propose a policy of mutual avoidance. We keep pack activities relegated to the woods, away from the town, and in return, you stay out of our business.”

“I can’t guarantee protection from other hunters,” Chris says, watching as Stiles reaches out to snag a carrot from the plate. “But as we’ve already stated, as long as you aren’t violent, we won’t get in your way."

“Good.” Derek leans back. “Alright.”

Chris brings his hand up to his lips, balled up in a fist. He taps it against his mouth, thinking. “I don’t want you infecting more people, though,” he says after a minute or so. “Don’t pass the bite on to anyone else.”

Derek’s mouth twists up at the side. “Not counting today, I assume?”

The Argents look at each other. Stiles pauses in the middle of chewing, glancing at Derek in surprise. Chris glares daggers at the table. “Who?” he asks through gritted teeth.

“Jackson Whittemore,” Derek answers readily. “And Lydia Martin. That’s it.”

Stiles chokes, bringing a fist up to his mouth, coughing. His cheeks burn red.

Victoria makes a soft, disapproving noise. Chris just shakes his head, disgusted. “No more,” he says warningly. “That’s non-negotiable.”

Derek nods. “Agreed.”

“There will be repercussions if you violate the agreement,” Victoria says lowly, dangerously.

Derek flashes her a feral grin, a white-toothed smirk. “Likewise.”

 

IX.

“All things considered,” Stiles says later, padding down the driveway with Derek at his side, “that actually went pretty well. Nobody got killed, at least!”

Derek whips out his cell, checks the time. “Pack meeting in twenty,” he says gruffly, drawing his jacket tight around his shoulders, shielding himself from the cold. “My house.”

Stiles blinks. Nods slowly. “Alright then. I won’t lie, I’m a little meeting-ed out at the moment, but I guess one more couldn’t hurt.”

“I need you to pick up Lydia,” Derek says, ignoring him. “She’ll have been discharged from the hospital by now. Do whatever’s necessary to make her come.”

Stiles nods agreeably. He pauses, a slow grin spreading across his face. “I’ve been trying to do that for years, buddy. It’s a delicate art.”

Derek pinches the bridge of his nose, barely holding back a groan. “Just do it.”

“Fine.” Stiles grin slips away, drooping into a sulk. “Just a joke...”

He steps up into the Jeep, kicking it into drive. He starts to back out of the driveway, headlights flashing in Derek’s eyes. The window rolls down, and he pokes his head out, all wide-eyed and curious. “By the way,” he says slowly, “I was wondering. Why did you want me to come with you for this?”

Derek looks at him blankly. “You’re human,” he deadpans. “Less risk of them starting something with an innocent nearby.”

Stiles frowns doubtfully. “Hasn’t stopped them before,” he mutters. He reaches over, turning the radio dial up. “Whatever. See you soon.” The window rolls back up as the vehicle winds its way up to the pavement of the road, tires screeching at the turn.

Derek watches as the headlamps disappear behind the trees as Stiles rounds the bend, sniffs wetly in the cold and the dark. He glances over his shoulder at the house, spotting Chris staring at him from the upstairs window. Smirking, he raises two finger up to his forehead in a mock-salute, turning and shoving his hands in his pockets as he makes for the road, headed in the direction of the woods. Headed home.

An owl hoots in the distance, and Derek could swear he catches a glimpse of a small, dark shadow flying low over the canopy in the blackness ahead.

 

X.

End of the day. Back where he began.

The sun is down behind the horizon now, and it’s pitch black outside the window of the upstairs bedroom. But Derek’s quiet sense of cautious optimism hasn’t faded since the morning. That foreign feeling of hope, of excitement even, still lives: a tiny spark alight inside his chest.

Moving away from the window, eyes quickly adjusting to the lack of light, he stoops down beside the phonograph, brushing dust off the edges. He places the needle against the grooves of the record, allowing the music to pick up where it left off.

As the sound fills the empty space, he picks up the banging of the front door smacking open against its frame, hears the shuffling of footsteps coming up the porch and filing into the downstairs area. He hears low murmurs, young whispers in the dark.

He exits the bedroom, looming tall at the head of the staircase. A hush falls over the gathering at the bottom. He descends, feet coming down heavy on each step, floorboards creaking under his weight. Every breath is a rush of cool oxygen, lungs expanding with fresh air, nose whistling softly as he exhales.

His eyes burn red as he reaches the last step, turning the corner and moving into the living room.

They’re all here. All together: Stiles in the corner, leaning up against the wall by the window, face half in shadow, half in light, expression open and curious, nervous and cautiously excited. Lydia at his side, worn-out and exhausted and confused, but alive and awake, and defiantly unafraid, even when confronted by Derek’s formidable presence. Scott sitting cross-legged on the floor, eyes glowing softly in the velveteen black aura, looking up at Derek, expectant and trusting and wary all at the same time. Jackson standing in the center of the room, arms folded over his chest, pointedly looking away from Lydia, jaw set, firm.

Derek tilts his head, cracks his neck. The teenagers wince at the sound. He surveys the room, looks at each of them individually. He nods slowly, a slow smile spreading across his face. His teeth gleam white and sharp.

The sound of the record upstairs wafts mournfully down into the room:

And if my thought-dreams could be seen
They’d probably put my head in a guillotine
But it’s alright, Ma, it’s life, and life only...

“So,” he murmurs, voice cutting loud through the silence. “Here we are, kids.”