Watching Lydia Martin becomes Derek’s worst habit. Perhaps watching is the wrong term. Studying, taking in each little quirk, mapping out the roads of her (she has this tiny little vein, just above the curve of her left breast that jumps whenever she’s nervous, whenever she’s angry or upset; it’s been jumping a lot, as of late), committing her to his memory, etching her into the woodwork of his mind. She’s caught up in his teeth before he comprehends what ‘obsession’ is.
It’s a wolf thing, or so he tells himself. They’re patient creature, following their prey for miles, categorizing strengths and weaknesses, waiting for the moment to strike. She’s not his prey, but in a way she is. He’s convinced that within the volume of her hair the answer to the question he isn’t sure how to ask is interwoven. Peter said it was her human capacity to love that makes her special (and certainly there is something to be said for it, he had watched her piece Jackson Whittemore back together with her blood and her lips and not much else, fingers moving through his blood and anchoring him to solid ground) but Derek isn’t inclined to put much trust in his uncle anymore because he isn’t inclined to put much trust in anyone anymore.
And love leaves an acidic burn on the roof of his mouth (because Kate is still nails being drawn down his back, all smiles and teeth and oh sweetie like he never stopped being that child she so callously used and Laura, Laura who was his everything when he had nothing, who went to her wolfsbane grave thinking him a sort of good man; Peter thinks Derek can’t understand it, but Peter’s always underestimated him) and he doesn’t believe that’s all there is to it. Or maybe he just can’t.
So he waits, and watches, and studies. He senses a monster in her, senses it because there’s a beast of a similar nature in him. Predator recognizes predator, prey recognizes prey.
(he isn’t sure where either of them fall)
“What do you want?” Lydia Martin says, not sounding particularly frightened to find a werewolf in her flowerbed. It’s probably become typical day for her. My boyfriend used to turn into a lizard, and now there’s a werewolf in my garden.
“Who says I want anything?” Derek says, and inhales her, some hothouse summer blossom laced with grief and fear.
“You’re standing on my petunias,” she points out, “by logical deduction that must mean you want something.”
He steps off the petunias and into the soft glow of her porch light. “Maybe I’m just here to make sure you don’t resurrect anymore of my mentally unstable family members.”
She shudders at the memory, and Derek feels like a heel for that but he’s never been one to apologize, and never will (though he used to practice, standing in front of the mirror in their cramped apartment I’m sorry, Laura, I’m so sorry).
“It’s not on my to-do list,” Lydia snaps. They stand in an awkward silence after, and his hands worm their fisted way into his pants pockets. She says, “Are you going to kill Allison?”
Is that what she thinks of him, ripping out girls’ throats, sharp claws pulling out their insides? Derek thinks of Allison Argent, lips twisted in a sneer and bowstring taut, all that grief and pain honed into a fine, sharp knife with Gerard’s phantom hand pushing her forward over a cliff.
“No,” he says.
“She’s going to kill you.”
They leave it at that, and she retreats back into the safety of her house, but it doesn’t feel like she’s running away.
“Are you waiting for me to grow fangs?” Lydia demands, sitting on the first step of her porch, long legs stretched out. “Isn’t that what you do?”
“You don’t need fangs,” Derek retorts. His shoulder rests against the post. The moon hangs nearly full just above his head, obscured by the wisteria weeping over her roof, and the promise of it burns through his veins.
She smiles, sharp and bright, to prove his point.
“Peter hasn’t been bothering you, has he?” Derek asks.
Her shoulders tense, marginally but he notices the tightening of her muscles, can feel the tinge of fear—pungent beneath her natural, luscious scent; repelling almost. “No why?” That bothers him, the way her pulse jumps just above her left breast, exposing all her insecurities. This girl does not have many defenses left, they’ve been ripped from her, crumpled up and thrown out. “He got everything he wanted from me anyway.”
Derek remembers Peter, that crawling, slow smile. Maybe he is done with Lydia, but Derek doesn’t think so. He remembers her little hand, dragging him through the leafs and dirt of the woods, slim body holding him as if he was nothing. No, Derek doesn’t think Peter’s done with Lydia and he doesn’t know where that leaves him—time has proven he’s ill suited for the role of protector.
“And I don’t need a babysitter.”
“What do you need?” Derek asks, surprised that he does really want to know. He remembers the way she had trembled, her scent mingling with the charred wood of his home.
She jumps, as if no one has thought to ask her this simple question before. (No one has.)
“A normal freaking life, for one thing.”
She digs a dejected heel into the wood paneling. “Pity.”
Derek moves at last and what catches him off guard is that she senses it, lifting a barring hand. Too little, too late. He catches her wrist, elongated thumb nail sweeping over her pulse.
“What do you want?” she asks, not pulling away.
“I’m waiting,” he says, “I want to see what’s under your skin.”
“Blood, muscles, and bones. Failed remedial biology, did we?” Now she pulls away, a shift in her eyes telling him she’s uncomfortable.
“That’s not what I mean,” he says. What he means is—like recognizes like.
“If you just popped up to be cryptic and annoying, you can leave,” she says. “I get enough of that from my friends.”
“I’m not your friend?”
She sends him a telling look.
“I mean, I can’t blame you if you are obsessed with me, but do you literally have nothing better to do than creepily hulk outside my house?”
“No,” Derek says, frank and honest, thinking of the empty subway that grows more and more stale in its barrenness, rotting from disuse, and the scent of dried blood on the walls.
“Oh.” Lydia glances down at her feet, frowning, and Derek lets go of her hand, forgetting he had been holding it. “I guess I’ll let you stay. For a while.”
I’m not a stray dog, he wants to say but somehow the words won’t come. In a way he is. An alpha without a pack, and there’s no sadder story than that. Derek sits under the weight of his own inaction, of his own uncertainty. The questions that he has should have been answered, would have been answered, if the fire hadn’t burned his family to the ground.
His mother, even Laura, would have never hesitated with the kanima, with Jackson, with Gerard, would have always had the unquestionable loyalty of their pack.
Derek has nothing.
Except Lydia’s small fingers slip along the wood of her porch, and bump against his thigh.
Summer unfurls, hot and sticky, and drapes over Beacon Hills like a wool blanket. Derek’s never been a fan of the summer, of the heat. It makes the wolf more resistant to the cage of his skin, making it pace back and forth inside him, searching for a way to break free. Scott spends a lot of time dunking in the pond, and Derek beds down in the coldest part of the subway. Isaac, Erica, and Boyd—they aren’t his anymore, they aren’t his problem, but he still worries; would Peter teach them how to fight back against that primitive urge to hunt in the hot sun or laugh in revelry at the destruction they wreck?
He stays away from Lydia, half-afraid that she’d see something of his uncle in him with all the wildness coursing through his veins. Somehow, it matters what she thinks. It’s anger that anchors him, but anger takes as much as it gives and it’s not a steady, constant thing; it’s slippery and he never knows when he’s going to stumble when it’s not going to be enough, when his hate and his rage and grief isn’t going to enough to tie him to humanity, to solidity, and he doesn’t want her to be around when that happens.
But he can still feel her, a press on his ribs, and the way sweat sticks to her skin, the way she lifts her hair from her neck and relaxes under the shade of a willow tree.
(he howls at the moon most nights now and can feel the mocking laughter of his uncle on the wind; problem, Derek? and in his worst moments he thinks this must be planned, that somehow this had been Peter’s goal all along; he knew it was never about love)
In the mornings he wakes up wrapped around a cooling vent with the remains of fuzzy images caught in his eyelashes, pale skin pinkened and ripe and his teeth sinking in and sighs and moans and nails down his back and—he hates himself for it.
If they’re going for analogies, then she’s the moon and he’s the tide being drawn in. He watches from a safe distance, as she walks hand-in-hand with Jackson and there’s something furious in him at the sight and it humbles him to admit that he finally knows how Scott had felt. Because he wants to rip Jackson’s arms off.
Jackson’s enhanced hearing lets him catch the growl lodged in Derek’s throat. His chin snaps up, his head swivels, and there’s a scowl, a sudden tightening of his limbs and he presses in closer to Lydia. It isn’t scales that blister and pop along his sides now, but fur, and it’s all because Lydia found a way to pull him back into himself, and out Gerard’s hands.
Lydia follows Jackson’s eyes, but Derek’s already retreated back into the woods. This time it feels like running away.
Lydia’s smell is nearly ingrained in the Hale house now, mixed in with the bittersweet scent of childhood and signed flesh. Derek likes to run through the woods, to feel the wind on his skin, and the earth underneath his feet. It calms the wolf, settles it, but he never runs very close to his old house, like it had been circled with mountain ash.
He catches her scent close by, fresh and pure, and follows it because he doesn’t have a choice.
Derek finds her crouched in the shell of the foyer, not far from the hole Peter had made bursting out of the ground. She sweeps a hand through the cluster of dust, sending it dancing in the light that filters in through the broken roof. He steps a little too hard on the floorboard and the noise makes her jolt, jump to her feet.
“I’m sorry,” she blurts out and Derek thinks she’s apologizing for being here. But no one treats the Hale house without any sort of sacredness, solemnity, not like it deserved, used and trampled with no respect for the dead buried here. Two more dainty heels won’t matter. But then she says, “About Laura.”
Laura. Even the word is too heavy on his tongue, weighing it down so much he’s afraid it’ll punch through his jaw. He swallows the name, where it congeals at the back of his throat, ruminating and threatening to choke.
“How do you know about Laura?” he demands, harsher than he intends. Because no one really knows. He’s never told anyone, sat down with them and purged himself of the memories hooked into his skin of Laura. Not even Scott knows her as anything more than the dead girl buried outside his house.
“Peter’s memories sort of bled through at the end,” she says and waves a hand. “I don’t really know, but I saw Laura. Laura through Peter. She was always crying.”
No, she wasn’t. Not always, is his instant protest but a little wiggle of doubt is already wormed in, burrowing into his skin. Maybe she always was, she just didn’t want you to know. She wanted to be strong for you, and it was all your fault to begin with.
“C’mon, I’ll take you back to your car,” Derek says. He knows she drove here. He can smell the tell-tale gasoline and iron on her.
“You haven’t been around much,” she points out, stepping over an upturned wooden beam, using his arm for balance.
“Maybe I found something better to do than hulk around outside your house.”
She glances up at her him, green eyes guiles. She blinks, and her lips press together. Derek thinks she wants to say something, but there’s only silence, her nails digging into the muscles on his arms, clinging.
“Maybe you did,” she says softly.
“What is it?”
“Nothing,” Lydia says. She glances down at their feet, where the tops of her heels scuff against his boots. “Just take me back to my car.”
The subway is hollowed out now, empty, and awakens a restlessness inside him, an urge to run and never look back. It reminds him a bit of the gutted remains of his old house. The memories here had never been particular good (binding Isaac to a bench, and Erica’s screams as the nails dug into her skull) but they had given him a sense of purpose, even one of belonging (Isaac always so quick to fight, Erica throwing all her caution to the wind whenever he got in over his head, and Boyd always just on the fringes waiting for the right moment) and now there’s nothing. Just the sounds of his former pack reverberating back along the metal husk of the abandoned subway.
An alpha without a pack, the saddest story ever told.
Most days he just he just sits and contemplates the shadows. There aren’t even really any thoughts anymore. They’d stuttered, and then grinded, to a halt. All there is is the silence. Scott doesn’t come by anymore, betrayal and resentment creating an Allison-shaped chasm between them. Even Stiles, obnoxious as he is, had filled up the emptiness with that sarcasm that was bound to get him killed one day and he is almost bereft without it.
He’s sitting, legs slightly bent, in the doorway of the train car when the scent of her sadness, sickly sweet, cuts through his, dissipates the fog of grief in his mind. He stands. Derek’s tried not to think about Lydia because (snowy-white things and blood-colored lips and Derek please) it’s dangerous. For her, for him even.
“Love what you’ve done with the place,” she says, casting a dubious eye at the awnings. “I’ve heard that ‘decrepit’ and ‘a wreck’ are in this season.”
“Do you need something?” he demands, sinking back down. The metal groans beneath him.
“You haven’t been around,” she says, and it sounds like an accusation and it takes a lot not to wince at it. She picks her way toward him, kicking up dirt and dust, disturbing the stillness and the silence. His bones rattle.
“I’ve been busy.”
One brow goes up, almost seems to point at the shadows and the emptiness surrounding them. “Yes, I can see that.”
He glares at her, and it feels like the first time in weeks he’s felt something. Lydia only gives him a sardonic upward twist of her lips as she comes even closer.
“You know, less than a year ago my biggest concern was whether or not Jackson remembered to bring a condom,” Derek growls, lowly, under her words but she doesn’t seem to notice or care, towering heels click-clacking against the pavement. She still only comes up to his chin. “And now. Now. Freaking werewolves and lizard people—”
Her hand cuts dismissively through the air. “Whatever.” She stops sharply, like hitting a glass wall, her lips pressing together. She’s barely put together, this girl. Derek can see the fissures now, the rivets in her skin where too much of her has been dug out. “It’s just—it’s just not fair, you know? They all expect me to keep Jackson together, to anchor him or whatever the hell they call it and like I’m barely functioning, as is. My best friend’s off having a some sort of identity crisis and she won’t even tell me why like I’m some kind of idiot who can’t understand, I spent the last four months thinking I was crazy, and not a single person has asked me ‘Lydia, are you okay’ so I can tell them ‘no I’m freaking not’. I’m not okay. I haven’t been okay. And how the hell I am supposed to be Jackson’s reason for not turning in a scaly psychopath when I’m barely holding myself together? I just want my normal life back but this is normal now and some days I just want to scream until someone hears me but I’m afraid I won’t ever stop.”
They’re heavy weights, he knows, these words, and it doesn’t really matter that he’s the one to hear them, that they just need to be heard. “Lydia,” he says, and holds out a hand. When she hesitates he adds, “Don’t be stubborn.”
“Don’t tell me what to do,” she snaps, but slides her hand into his, small and cold.
He tugs her until she’s crowding onto the little step beside him. “Why?” he asks. “I don’t imagine I’m your therapist of choice. Or even force.”
She smiles again, weakly. “Because you’re not my friend,” she explains. “So if you’re a total douchebag to me it doesn’t feel like a personal affront.”
Well, Derek can accept that. He barely remembers what it’s like to have friends. He’s been brother and beta and alpha and enemy but he can’t remember the last time he’s been a friend. His eyes focus on the spot where their legs touch, warm and solid.
“Lydia,” he says, “are you okay?”
“No, I’m freaking not okay.” She laughs, watery. “What about you, Derek? Are you okay?”
“My house burned down, my family with it, my sister was murdered by my psychotic uncle, and people want to kill me just for the way I was born.” He breathes deep through his nose, his nails pressing into his knee, puncturing denim and skin, and tiny tear-droplets of blood pool in the holes. “I guess I’m not okay.”
Almost a year since Laura died, over six since the Hales burned alive, and he has never once said I’m not okay. Back with Laura because he hadn’t felt like he deserved to admit to it, and later without Laura because he needed to avenge her, and then he’d had Peter, and then he’d had to be alpha and an alpha couldn’t be not okay, not with betas that needed him. But he’s not okay. And he hasn’t been okay for a while. Maybe he’ll never be okay again, and he stares into the shadows of the empty shell of his den and lets the new wound open.
Quite suddenly, Lydia is too close and Derek turns his head. Her mouth bumps more than slides against his and he reacts before his brain can catch up with his instincts, his hands curling around her hips. Lydia crawls into his lap and his tongue crawls into her mouth, sweeping over her teeth and her gums. She’s an explosion of tastes in his mouth, tangy and tart, like a something cold on the hottest day of summer. Her fingers streak up to card through his hair, nails biting into his scalp.
Derek twists at his hips, Lydia’s back pressing against the bench and his body. He pushes her hair off her chest, and sucks at the little pulsing vein just above her breast. He feels gratified to know it’s not just fear or sadness or discomfort that makes it jump. He can almost taste the sweetness of her blood.
He could feel the wildness in him, rabid and feral, like a wave rising to rocky shores. He’s unbridled, untamed, and worries for a moment that he’ll crush her, bend and break her, and his knees comes up between them.
“No wait,” he says, coming up for air.
Her nails press into his neck. “No. Don’t.” And drags him back down, and he surrenders to her, lets himself be drowned in her, becomes drunk on her. He’s empty and hollow, and he wants to take her and put her in him, use her to fill up those spaces left vacant inside him and he might feel guilty about it except it feels like she’s trying to do the same thing, using him like plaster on a leaking dam.
This is what caring feels like, as twisted and wrong as they are, husks of monsters underneath their skin. Outside, the moon is high and indifferent, gazing down on the world with a callous eye but it’s warm inside (her breath on his skin and his hands moving over hers and lips and teeth and tongue) and it’s them, trying to carve a meaning out of nothing. And it’s more than he’s had in a long while.