The thing is they have it all wrong. Everyone has got it in their heads that he’s some kind of misanthrope who lives out on the edge of the woods in an old burned down house—what used to be his home—and it’s not true. Well, alright, fine, part of that is true, though not even so much anymore since he’s recently taken up residence in an old, rundown subway of sorts, and okay that happened, he’s resorted to this now. But anyway, what he means is they’re wrong.
His life was good before Kate Argent, albeit a bit dull, but what normal teenager’s life isn’t? Teenagers go out looking for that kind of stuff, that’s what Friday night parties and weekend mall outings are for—kids go looking for trouble. The thing is, though, Derek’s never been that kind of kid. Normal, that is. Hell, on his first full moon his dad had locked him up in the cellar while the rest of his friends were out bowling and celebrating Jimmy’s twelfth birthday. He’s never been normal, but fuck if he hasn’t tried.
He meets Kate at the prime of his youth, and yeah, he’s that kind of kid, all dark and broody and jaded as if he’s somehow lived sixty years instead of sixteen, misunderstood. She knows how to spin that to her advantage, had picked him exactly because he was that kind of person: vulnerable. God, he’d just needed some attention that he thought no one was giving him—his whole life his mom and dad and Laura, a whole dozen more family members, had told him he was special, loved, and it took this twenty-something woman from nowhere to convince him he was wanted. Of course he believed her. The sex was good too. But, well, he knows how that one turned out.
When the principal calls him out of second period on a Tuesday morning, Derek doesn’t think anything of it. He’s not exactly a model student, and he’s only getting by without his teachers calling frequent parent-teacher meetings because he’s the star player for the lacrosse team (like his Uncle Peter, they say, you’re almost as good as Peter) and somehow that adds cred to his name. He doesn’t get people sometimes. Derek thinks it’s going to be another talk about his slipping grades, which he braces himself for, but that’s not even nearly enough for what he gets instead. Laura’s there, grim expression and tear tracks marring her pretty face looking as if she’s about to cry again and she says, “There was a fire.”
He never wanted to come back to Beacon Hills. Because really? Really? This goddamn town, with all its bad memories and nightmares, and a half-burned down house that used to be a home. No. It’s the physical manifestation of the one mistake he made, falling in love with the wrong girl, with an Argent, and losing his family because of it. And then, then he loses Laura too.
When he returns to Beacon Hills he has a plan in mind. This plan does not include a certain dumb puppy, recently-turned-werewolf McCall and his clumsy human sidekick, Stiles—and what kind of name is that even. They weasel their way into his life anyhow, regardless of what Derek wants, because Derek never gets what he wants. They get him arrested for the one murder he didn’t commit, dig up his sister’s grave and shove it back in his face. It’s a complete mess and all the while he has no idea what he’s doing, struggles just to maintain even a semblance of knowing-what-he’s-doing. And it’s Scott, Scott who’s dumb as a rock most days, who calls him out on it. “I had help,” Scott tells him later, gesturing towards the blue jeep parked outside the house, reeking of teenage hormones, Adderall, and the kind of guileless curiosity that’ll get a kid killed.
He figures out the mystery of his sister's death eventually with the help of, surprise surprise, Stiles and Scott. His uncle killed Laura because he wanted to be the Alpha and for a brief moment—just before Derek slits his throat—he lets himself wonder in what kind of sick, twisted world does a man do that, kill his niece for power. But they’re werewolves by nature and it’s always going to be a play for power between brothers, this territorial instinct and animalistic urge to spill blood. He kills Peter but buries him under the house he was supposed to die in (not rot away for six years in a coma-induced state), with the rest of their family. Derek will never forgive himself for that day, and he thinks his uncle wouldn’t either.
He still has no idea what he’s doing when he gives Jackson the bite—which in retrospect, is the second biggest mistake he’s made in his life, he certainly makes a lot of mistakes—and then Isaac, Erica, and Boyd. Call him sentimental, but he still wants to help people (and if it helps him too, well then, win-win).
Isaac is the first one he picks out intentionally. Isaac whose father couldn’t care less if he was dead or alive, who leaves purple-green bruises on his teenage son and expects him to take the graveyard shift while maintaining good grades, it makes Derek’s inner wolf howl, angry and vengeful on someone else’s behalf. He gives him the bite as an act of mercy, because if the boy dies from it at least it won’t be at the hands of his own father. It’s even better when he survives though, because now he can fend for himself, cuts and wounds heal quickly (even though it still hurts inside).
Erica is almost entirely an accident. He only learns about her through Stiles, who talks a whole hell of a lot but is probably Derek’s best source for information, voluntary or not. Stiles calls him out on it later, how he could even consider, let alone go through with using someone’s weaknesses against them, taking advantage of someone like that and if he knew about Kate and Derek’s past, then he’d say it was exactly that. It’s not, Derek tells himself, I gave them power, I told them everything, but it sounds too much like testifying at a witness stand. (And he’s already spent the last six years pleading not-guilty.)
He changes Boyd as an act of vindication, this boy whose only problem is not having anyone to sit with during lunchtime, loneliness. He knows it’ll set off the other two, Scott and Stiles, who despite what they say about not wanting to get involved, do anyway. He does it almost—but he refuses to admit that aloud—just to see how they’ll react. This is the beginning of something, at least, a pack, and he trains them, teaches them the tricks of the trade as best as he can (doesn’t let himself lament too much about who he really wants in his pack).
Just when he thinks things are finally getting good again—his pack actually likes him, looks up to him unlike Scott and Stiles—his second biggest mistake comes back to bite him in the ass. Almost, quite literally. It claws the back of his neck and paralyzes him for a good two hours while Stiles treads water in the pool he fell in, keeping the both of them alive. He certainly doesn’t have to, could’ve run when he had the chance, when Derek told him to but either he really is as dumb as he acts or. Or, but Derek doesn’t let himself finish that thought because the last time he did it ended in ashes and charred remains. He certainly doesn’t trust the kid, but he knows he owes him for saving his life multiple times.
Of course when he does finally begin to trust the two of them, Scott and Stiles, he finds out that Scott’s been feeding Gerard information this whole time. Of fucking course because when has Derek ever been allowed to catch a break? This is why he doesn’t trust people. No one’s ever given him a reason to. And yeah, okay, so that kind of undercuts his entire argument that he’s trying to make. But, his motion stands.
The thing is they have it all wrong. They think Derek Hale is some kind of shady figure to be kept an eye on, dangerous, a person of interest, but he doesn’t do anything to let them think otherwise. Because the thing is, when he lets people get close, when he inevitably starts to care for them, someone always, always gets hurt (and this time it’s him). So he keeps his distance, plays the shadows and fades into the background, and if that means having to go it alone, well then so be it. He’s done it before, he can do it again.