It didn’t take a genius to see that Isaac Lahey looked tired.
More than a month since the mysterious death of his father, and it seemed some days he was simply run down. The boy barely stayed awake in class, and during lacrosse he ran through his paces with a zombie-like enthusiasm. His special abilities made it easy to hide his fatigue, he could still outrun and out-shoot anyone on the team who was still human, but his heart was hardly in it.
“Dude, are you okay?” Isaac closed his locker door to find twin expressions of worry from Scott and Stiles.
“Yeah, you kind of let Jackson kick your ass up and down the field out there.”
“I’m fine.” He grunted, slinging his backpack over his shoulder. Instead of leaving things be, Scott and Stiles both followed after Isaac, flanking him on either side.
“Well, I’m just saying.” Scott continued earnestly, in a hushed tone now. “We’ve got training tonight. And if you pull another performance like that, Derek’s going to do a lot more than just body check you.”
Isaac flinched, but continued charging along with a deep scowl.
“I’m not going.”
“Hey, dude no offense, but this is kind of more important than lacrosse training.”
“Yeah, the keep-from-becoming-kanima-chow kind of important.” Stiles chimed in. Isaac rounded on Stiles sharply, snarling fiercely. His fangs bared, his eyes briefly blazing gold. Stiles yelped, jumping back.
“Well, at least you learned something from Derek.” He quipped. Isaac rolled his eyes, trudging off for the long walk back to his house.
“Tired, irritable, and detached?” Derek mused the symptoms that Scott and Stiles reported. He had just finished thrashing Boyd for the third time and let him go off to the sidelines to nurse his injuries.
“Well, not to sound like a Den Mother-” Derek gave a pointed look at Stiles, much to his bewilderment. “But those all sound like the symptoms of being a regular teenager to me.” He took Stiles’ arm, half-lifting him up off of the cooler he was sitting on (“Hey, watch the claws!”) and pulled out a beer.
“I dunno man, Isaac has always seemed to be pretty into things after getting his bite.” After really thinking about it, it seemed obvious. Immediately following his transformation, Isaac (much like Erica) took the world in his stride. He had a newfound confidence with people, he moved up to first string in lacrosse, and gained forty twitter followers overnight. Recently though, he was starting to seem a lot like his old self again, his human self.
“Well he’s not sick, werewolves are immune to human diseases.” Derek snapped off the bottle cap with a flick of his claws. “The only thing that can run down a werewolf besides physical injury and wolfsbane is malnutrition.”
“What, you mean he’s not eating?”
“All our strength has to come from somewhere.” Derek explained slowly, as if outlining the obvious. “Haven’t you noticed that since getting bitten you’ve been eating a lot more?”
Scott shrugged uncomfortably. He and his mother had always chalked it up to being a growing teenager.
“But that doesn’t make sense, why wouldn’t Isaac be eating?”
Derek shrugged with an irritated sigh.
“I’ll go check it out.”
The Lahey house had always been a quaint, pleasing place. Ironic, considering what had gone on inside for years. Now however, it was beginning to show distinct signs of wear. It certainly didn’t help that the shabby residence was propped up across the street from the gleaming modern palace where Jackson resided. But as Derek walked up the weed-choked path to the house, he could swear it looked quite a bit worse. There was a certain scent of decay which was newly set in. The grass on the lawn was brown and dying, and thick, ropey weeds were slowly starting to take hold of the foundation.
The door was unlocked, and inside Derek found his beta curled up on the sofa, reeking of the smell of whiskey. An arm dangled off of the side of the couch, his mouth open and steadily drooling onto the sofa. Derek could detect the briny scent of tears stained on his cheeks. Derek sighed, walking over to the couch. He let his fingertips stray over Isaac’s soft, curly hair in a display of affection only given when he was certain Isaac was barely conscious.
“What am I going to do with you…”
When Isaac came to, his face was pressed against the ceramic wall of his shower. Lukewarm water beat against his naked shoulders and chest. His sodden curls had fallen in front of his face somewhat. His head pounded, and his legs felt weak. Too weak to stand up on their own, so what was going on…?
“Calm down, I have you.”
Strong, solid arms were wrapped under his and around his chest. His brief struggle of panic was not without warrant, though. While most teenagers would compare this stance to a hug or embrace, Isaac was only ever held this way when his beaten and broken body was being wrestled and forced into a meat freezer.
“What are you doing?” Isaac didn’t turn around, but he was acutely aware of the fact that he was only wearing his cotton boxer-briefs. Derek’s hands rhythmically ran through his hair, washing out the shampoo suds, careful to keep them out of Isaac’s eyes.
“I already told you, you smell like cheap booze and death.” Derek tipped Isaac’s chin back onto into the spray of the water to rinse out his hair better. Isaac’s head naturally fell back onto Derek’s shoulder, his head still swimming from the the drinking. “It was either this, or taking you into the back yard and spraying you down with the hose.”
“You didn’t have to-“
“Even to a human nose you smelled terrible.” Isaac wanted to protest that he had just come back from lacrosse practice, but felt that it would do little to help his case. Besides, Derek had started washing his shoulders and arms. He pressed his forehead back to the wall of the shower, his face flushed a deep red. He was acutely aware of every movement of Derek’s strong hands on him, moving across his shoulder-blades and down his back. It felt so different from what he was accustomed to, namely Derek being rough or harsh or downright violent.
“I- I can, I’m okay now.”
“Suit yourself.” Derek withdrew into the bathroom, leaving Isaac clinging to the wall. “Meet me in the kitchen when you’re done.”
After cleaning up and changing, Isaac wandered back into the hall. At once he could sense that there was a profound change. First, was the sense of time passing. It was dusk when he first came home and started drinking. Now, the windows were letting in the faint light of midday. Next, was the smell. The faint odor of disinfectant, the significant absence of accumulating trash and mold. Instead was the scent of something… amazing.
Isaac followed it out into the main room, the living area (now void of the pizza boxes, wrappers, and other debris that had been steadily building up) which was separated by a counter to the kitchen and dining area. The place barely even seemed like Isaac’s house anymore. It was cleaner than it had been even before his dad had died. The place seemed brighter too (he would later discover this was due to clean windows letting in more light.)
“Stiles.” Isaac jumped. He hadn’t noticed Derek sitting at the dining table. He had a stack of mail in front of him, currently pouring over a letter with a foreboding “FINAL NOTICE” printed in red letters at the heading.
“Stiles. He brought over leftover lasagna.” He nodded over to the stove, where the source of that amazing smell was located. A medley of meat, cheese, sauce and pasta all sitting patiently for him. At once, Isaac seized the entire tray and a fork from the drawer, bringing it over to the table.
“So.” Derek set the letter down as Isaac began to scarf down the meal without taking a breath. “Want to clue me in as to what’s been going on?”
Despite the astounding quality of Stiles’ cooking and how Isaac had been living off of ramen packets all week, he felt his appetite wan. He swallowed thickly, sitting back in his chair.
“I… well, with dad gone…” Isaac shrugged. “I mean, we needed my income at the graveyard to get by, on top of his paycheck. He, um… he never took out any life insurance or anything like that. It’s, it was just us. No other family or anything.” He felt his body instinctively curl into itself a bit. It was his usual defensive stance for when he talked with his father, the motion of one who knew that anything from a fist to a chair might fly at him at a moment’s notice. His gaze dropped from Derek to the stack of unpaid bills.
“I’ve tried cutting back. I sold a bunch of dad’s stuff, I cut back on groceries…” He shrugged, trying to reason with Derek’s stony, impassive gaze.
“I’ll probably have to drop out of high school.”
“You’re not doing that.” Derek said evenly.
“Well…” Isaac shrugged with an exasperated gesture. “What- what do I-?”
“I’m going to help you out.”
“No, you can’t-” Derek immediately shut him up with a glance.
“Listen, Isaac…” Once again, he was shocked to hear a note of gentility in Derek’s voice. “Accepting the bite was your decision. But as my beta, you’re my responsibility. His brow furrowed, watching Isaac sternly. “You’re not an adult yet. And you’re finishing high school.” He turned his attention back to the letters, sifting through the bills.
“When my family died, I inherited a pretty sizable account. I live off the income generated by a few lucrative investments. It won’t be a problem to take care of these.”
Isaac wanted to protest, but he found the words caught in his throat. After all, the bank was going to be shutting off his water tomorrow unless he wired in $300 that he didn’t have.
“Don’t give me that look. The last thing I need is a social worker sniffing around one of my wolves, like you’re some orphan without a home.” He turned his attention over to the next neglected bill. Isaac shrank back a little more, clearly puzzled. After all, isn’t that just what he was? Sure, his father had never been a picnic, and was probably three different degrees of abusive. But he was his family, the only one he had or knew.
After that day, Isaac didn’t spend another night alone. Derek made the announcement that living directly across the street from Jackson made Isaac’s house a key surveillance point for observing the Kanima. On top of that, it would be an unnecessary risk to have one of their own practically sleeping on his doorstep by himself. Derek stayed for the next two days after the “whiskey night,” mostly sorting out his bills and taxes, and also to make sure that he got his butt to school and did his homework in the evenings.
Isaac sat awkwardly on the sofa, listening to the sound of Derek brushing his teeth in the bathroom. Meekly, he realized that this was probably a benefit for Derek too. Most subway cars didn’t come with en-suite bathrooms, after all. He would have been lying to himself if the memory of the awkward, hungover shower that he and Derek shared didn’t pop back up into the forefront of his mind. What exactly was Derek in his life now? A surrogate father, or…? It was a strange thing to think about. To Isaac, a father had always been a sort of lord or master. Someone who set the standard for expectations that he was to meet above all else. Was Derek that way for him now? Certainly Isaac found himself compelled to try hard and please him. But with Derek, it was not out of a fear of failure, but a genuine desire to see him proud.
If anything was to come from it however, it was a long while in coming. Even when Isaac sat up in bed at night, watching the door and wondering, Derek only ever slept on the sofa in the living room. His father’s bedroom, untouched since his murder was left closed and empty, accumulating shadows.
That Saturday, Derek kicked Isaac out of bed early.
“Come on.” He announced, throwing a clean pair of jeans at him. “Everyone’s already outside.”
“Huh?” Isaac got up from the floor with a groan, eyes wide. Derek simply left without a word, leaving Isaac to scramble after him. He trotted out to the front yard, to find that the rest of the pack was already assembled there. Boyd and Scott were pulling up weeds the size of bushes down to the very roots with their bare hands, while Erica and Stiles were spreading seed and fertilizer over the dead lawn.
“Grab a shovel, Isaac.” Derek tossed a trowel at him which he caught with ease, despite the sleep-dulled reflexes of the morning. “We’ve got a lot to get done.”
Still, considering the laundry list of chores to be done, things went quickly when working with five super-powered individuals and a Stiles. After the weeding and replanting, the roof was re-shingled and a new radiator (the old one had been busted forever) was installed in the living room. Come evening, Stiles and Boyd squabbled over the grill, making a sizable amount of burgers and hotdogs for the wolves to scarf down.
Isaac sat on the back porch, digging into his second cheeseburger. Erica and Boyd were sitting at the edge of the newly cleaned pool, their feet skimming the surface as they complained about chemistry. Scott was mooning over a text from Allison, while Stiles was trying not to look too put out over having to fight for his attention. After a few minutes, he gave up and swiveled his patio chair over to Derek, electing to bother him instead.
Maybe everyone was just here so surveillance on Jackson didn’t have to take place in a dump. But there was more to it than that, there had to be. Why give up an entire Saturday just for him? Isaac glanced at Derek, who was just barely tolerating him going on about some new band he had discovered. Why would he spend thousands of dollars supporting a beta like Isaac, when he could have chosen someone smarter, stronger, or more confident? He didn’t have all the answers, but at this point he would have to realize the truth.
As mushy as it was to admit to himself, he did have a family, of sorts. People who would look out for him, people he would die to protect. It wasn’t the definition of “family” that he was used to, but it was a definition that felt… right. It was a little scary too, letting others touch your heart. It was such a fragile thing, and so easy to wound. Still, it wasn’t enough to shake the warm, fuzzy feeling settling in. The sunset was turning everything a rosy shade of gold, and with the new moon rising Isaac couldn’t have felt more at peace.