The first time it happened Derek didn't even know what to think. He had spent years moving from place to place, sleeping lightly because he was on the run and never knew who might find him, but here in his den with the pack he slept solid and deep like he hadn't since he was sixteen and sleeping in the bedroom he shared with his cousin. He hadn't woken when someone had approached the mattress he had in the back of one of the abandoned train cars, he hadn't woken when that person curled up behind him, but as soon as they'd pressed their face to the back of his neck, his eyes had popped open and his heart rate had skyrocketed. The only reason he hadn't lashed out was because he immediately sensed that it was one of his pack, one of his pups.
For a moment he thought it was Erica, seeking something from him which he wouldn't give, but as he stretched his senses across the den he could hear the soft catch in her breathing from the hammock she'd hung for herself at the end of one of the collapsed hallways in the abandoned subway station. Boyd was still in the small storefront he'd claimed as his place, his breathing deeper and slower than Erica's. Scott didn't feel like pack yet, not where it counted even though they had forged what Scott had claimed was a temporary alliance, and Scott had never deigned to stay in the pack den with them. Which just left Isaac.
His heart rate had slowed to normal in the time it took to figure out which of his pups had come to him and Isaac seemed to take that as a sign that what he was doing was allowed. He felt Isaac pressing against his back and for a brief moment was both horrified and amused at the idea of Isaac attempting to spoon him. A sharp poke near the top of his back revealed that Isaac wasn't so much spooning him as he was pressing his side against him, enough like an actual wolf pup cuddling up next to its mother that Derek couldn't help but roll his eyes. He figured he might as well let Isaac stay with him for the night, it was easier than having a conversation about why Isaac should go back to his own nest of blankets in a nook at the other side of the room and wouldn't leave a conversational opening for addressing whatever emotional distress had sent him over there in the first place - Derek was nowhere near a space where he was capable of counseling traumatized teenagers.
As soon as he'd decided to leave Isaac be and had once again closed his eyes he felt something damp against the back of his neck. His eyes opened again and he examined the indecipherable graffiti on the windows of the train car while he tried not to notice the feeling of Isaac nuzzling the back of his neck with his face damp from what were probably tears. His attempts at not paying attention failed and he gave in and started letting his mind fill in what Isaac was doing to cause those particular sensations. The tickle that started just under his ear and occasionally made it as far as his jaw line was Isaac's curls catching on his stubble as Isaac turned this way and that. The dampness had started to fade, instead leaving just the soft brush of Isaac's skin as he pressed his cheek to the small hollow where Derek's spine entered his skull. Occasionally Isaac paused and stayed in one place for long seconds, his lips pressed against the muscles tight in Derek's neck - it wasn't quite a kiss, didn't hold the same meaning for either of them he was sure, but he didn't know how to begin to categorize it.
When he felt the blunt edges of Isaac's human teeth nipping gently right behind his collar bone he sighed and rolled over. Isaac had backed away immediately with the movement, kneeling at the very edge of the mattress with bare knees and eyes wide with dark sleepless circles highlighting the blank numbness that came with being haunted in your dreams. "Get over here," he said, not even trying to mask his irritation.
Isaac hesitated for about five seconds before he scrambled across the small space and then came to a rigid halt six inches away from Derek.
Derek wasted no time on letting Isaac fuss about getting physically close to him while they were both awake. He grabbed Isaac by one arm and in seconds had manhandled his pup down to the mattress and tucked him into the space against his chest - the dual advantage of being Alpha and a werewolf with a lifetime of experience was one he relished and didn't plan on giving up. Isaac's heart was racing so strong he could almost feel it between them instead of just hearing it with his enhanced senses. "Go to sleep," he ordered, tightening his grip on Isaac's shoulder to make it clear that it was pointless for Isaac to even attempt to struggle.
Isaac's heart slowed and his breathing began to even out and it wasn't long before he was asleep. Derek didn't have to hold Isaac against him now because Isaac was practically burrowing against him. He moved his arm until it was draped over Isaac's waist and let the breathing of one of his pups safe in his arms lull him back to sleep.
Not saying anything about the situation to Isaac seemed to communicate that Derek was fine with having his mattress invaded in the middle of the night. Which, wasn't entirely false, but it was a little unsettling nevertheless. It wasn't every night, or even every other night, but he'd gotten to the point where he'd feel his mattress dip with the weight of another body and then Isaac curling up next to his back and start pressing in as close as possible, and he'd simply roll over and grab around Isaac's chest until they both fell back to sleep. It worked, which was more than he could say about a lot of things when it came to his little misfit pack.
When he woke this time he had already rolled over and reached out for Isaac when he realized that there was no one next to him. He opened one eye and then the other, already mourning his lost sleep two nights after a full moon, ready to growl at his pup that if he was going to wake him up he could damn stay there instead of making him go looking. He cast out his senses, his enhanced hearing and his sense of pack the most useful for locating his pups in the twists and turns of their den, and stopped to double check when he immediately found the steady in and out breathing of Isaac sleeping curled up in his nest of blankets. Boyd was also sleeping, a calm and peaceful presence right on the edge of Derek's mind. Erica's hammock, on the other hand, was hanging empty.
He sighed and stood, not bothering to put his boots on even though the floor was still littered with debris. If he stepped on something, he'd heal. Erica had been in a bit of a sulk most of the evening, staying at the edge of the pack when she was usually chirping and bright and right in the center of everything, and he hadn't the slightest clue what that was all about. He knew teenagers were supposed to be moody and immature and everything, and he was absolutely getting a crash course in teenage mood swings now that he was responsible for three teenage werewolves, but he didn't remember being a teenager as anything like this. Everything had been divided into before and after; before he remembered as being with his family and racing around the woods with Laura and the feeling of limitless possibility, those few years after he didn't remember much at all except for what seemed like constant darkness and fear and running - always running. None of it had prepared him for sulking werewolves, and being woken with his pup's nightmares, and a damn kanima flitting around the town - whom they still hadn't managed to catch.
A steady scrapping sound from deep down one of the tunnels put him on the right track and five minutes later of balancing easily on the rails he found her sitting on the high wall where the track rose out of the underground, her claws steadily slipping out and digging into the already crumbling concrete before they retracted to leave her unprotected fingertips pressing into the rock so hard he could scent blood in the air. He considered the wall for a brief moment before he vaulted it and rolled into the soft mess of plants that had grown untended next to the concrete. He settled down with his back against where the wall continued into the foundation of the tunnel, facing away from Erica while still sitting right next to her. Words had really never been his strong suit, not even before his life had been torn into irreparable shreds, and he didn't even know where to start.
"This was supposed to fix things, you know," Erica said, not really speaking to Derek even though he was the only person close enough to hear. "I was supposed to be healthy, and beautiful, and popular, and perfect."
"You are beautiful," Derek said, because that was the only thing on that list he could attest to while remaining absolutely truthful. The bite may have helped control her epilepsy, but they'd already proven that it wasn't a perfect solution.
Erica laughed, soft and bitter and her voice catching on the edge of tears. "No one was supposed to laugh at me anymore."
He felt a small rush of rage at the thought of anyone laughing at member of his pack. In the long run maybe it wasn't so important, but he knew it wouldn't be like the laughter shared within the pack when one of them messed up in some dumb way. Isaac lisping his words when he couldn't get his teeth to retract for almost an hour, Boyd taking out an entire column in the subway station by accident and then turning to growl in rage at the remains with the most aggression they had ever heard from him, Erica falling through the ceiling of one of the train cars when she tried to jump to it from too far away; even Derek had joined in the laughter when he'd tangled himself while trying to sort the collection of chains in the chest he'd dragged from the tunnels under the old house. He'd wound up a heap on the floor, his pups sprawled around him utterly useless while they laughed hysterically, and he'd stopped trying to unhook his feet because he couldn't help but laugh as well. They were a pack and even if he shouldn't go to the school to scare whoever had made one of his pups spiral down like this didn't mean he wouldn't.
"What happened?" he asked, not entirely sure he wanted to know, but that was part of having a pack. He had to know about who they were and what they went through. He couldn't let them wander lost and alone like he had for so long.
"Nathan Gillispie," she said, her voice full of venom and pain. "He was talking to me in French class, while we were supposed to be practicing transaction conversations. He seemed really nice and he walked with me to my locker. I had a free period and he said he was skipping Econ, and that we should go around to the lacrosse field because it was nice outside. When we were out there he kissed me. That was nice too. And then he was putting his hands up my skirt."
Derek felt his eyebrows shoot up and he was instantly caught between the discomfort of anticipating hearing about the sexual escapades of one of his pups and furious anger that this asshole even tried to mess with Erica.
"He asked me what I expected, with a skirt that short. And that everyone knew that I was fucking Isaac and Boyd and some high school dropout that was probably dealing all of us drugs. And then he put his hands on my thighs again." Erica twisted around and gave him a feral grin. "I broke his wrist."
"Good," Derek said emphatically, a small part of him wondering why everyone was always going on about drugs. He had never done drugs, mostly because they simply wouldn't do anything for him.
Erica shrugged and looked away again, her smile falling away. "People were supposed to like me. They were supposed to think I'm cool and pretty. Not that I'm a slut. I haven't ever slept with anyone."
Derek closed his eyes as he was once again reminded of how damn young his pups still were. "Good," he said again.
When he opened his eyes Erica had come down off the wall and was sitting right in front of him. "Good?"
"Wait, until you know for sure. And then wait a little longer just in case," he told her. From the way she watched him, solemn and ghostlike against the backdrop of the night sky, he was instantly afraid that he'd said way too much. She scooted up until she was sitting in between his legs. His muscles tensed as he wondered if he'd somehow managed to send the wrong signals entirely, but she twisted around until her back was against his chest and her arms wrapped tight against her stomach.
After a long moment he wrapped his arms around her, much as he did with Isaac, and she sighed and let her head rest just below his left shoulder. Ten minutes later she was asleep, the ends of her long hair tickling his bare arms, and not long after that he closed his eyes to the stars and let himself ease back to sleep.
At some point Erica must have realized that Isaac was crawling into Derek's bed on a semi-regularly basis and now on half the nights when he doesn't wake to wrap his arm around Isaac, he wakes when Erica crawls directly on top of him and essentially uses him as a body pillow. He found that he didn't mind that too much either, Erica was light and her body softer where Isaac was all pointy bones. It didn't take long to fall back asleep when either of them decided to join him and again it possibly wasn't worth trying to talk about either. Why talk about something that seemed to be working for everyone when he'd just mess it up? Likewise, he never talked about the nights when he barely rose to consciousness and felt around for his pups before realizing that there were two heartbeats in a single location.
He felt like he'd been asleep forever and maybe all of five minutes - all at the same time - when he felt the edge of the mattress move and slowly rose to basic consciousness. Reaching out, leaving his eyes closed because he wasn't even sure he could open them, he fumbled for whichever pup had come to him that night. When his hand simply found the rest of his mattress he groaned and pried his eyes open. If Erica wanted him to follow her out through the tunnels so she could de-stress without worrying the rest of the pack, she was just going to have to pick another night. The one time Erica had cried from wounds that weren't physical in front of Isaac and Boyd, they had immediately lost control to their wolves - their desire for retribution for their distressed packmate outweighing any rational thought.
When he found Boyd, sitting on the floor next to the foot of the mattress, he wasn't entirely surprised. Boyd had a good head on his shoulders, he thought things through and was more inclined to respond tactically rather than emotionally, but for all that he was the most stable of his pups Boyd was still a teenager with all the uncertainty and pain that came with the territory.
Boyd twisted around to look at Derek, his eyes the only indication in his expression that he was struggling. After a moment he turned back to his original position and continued to sit as still as a statue, his head bowed.
Once again Derek was at a loss of what to do. He knew he wasn't good at talking to people. He never knew what to say to help and after enough times of saying the wrong thing and making the problem worse, he'd finally just stopped trying. After a while he'd discovered that if he said as little as possible other people usually just filled in what they wanted or expected to him to say. It worked, for the most part. Isaac didn't want to talk anymore than Derek did, but he would at least show Derek what he needed. Erica, given the time and space, would talk and give Derek enough clues that he could fill in what he was supposed to do or say in response. Boyd was about as revealing as a blank piece of paper when it came to what he wanted or needed from Derek.
"You okay?" he finally asked, his voice uncomfortably raw.
Boyd twisted back around again and hesitated, his brow furrowing in the way that it did when Derek was teaching the pack and asking questions and Boyd thought he had the answer but he wasn't sure it was right. More often than not, when Derek could get him to respond, Boyd's answer was right. "The Hunters," he started and then stopped as his eyes flickered away.
Derek nodded because the last scrimmage with the Hunters had not come out well for them. The Hunters had recently received more reinforcements. They were still no match for werewolves, but arrows with small explosives that dispersed a wolfsbane gas had left them in a confused retreat as they fled for their lives. It was starting to seem that they could barely go into the woods without encountering Hunters and it was wearing on all of them.
"Eventually they'll be called away to deal with a bigger threat, something that's killing humans, and we'll be left alone. It won't always be like this," Derek said, trying to believe what he was saying. When he'd been on the run it had seemed like Hunters had been two steps behind him all the way across the country. Now, looking back, he wasn't sure that it hadn't been paranoia chasing him rather than Hunters. Then again, he wasn't sure that it hadn't been Hunters either. They would go to any lengths if it was a prey they wanted badly enough. He didn't dare to hope that his little pack didn't qualify as that prey.
Boyd shook his head. "No. I mean, I had a question about us. About werewolves."
Derek nodded and made a motion for Boyd to continue.
"When werewolves get shot, not with the wolfsbane bullets but just with the regular ones, is it supposed to hurt for days after the wounds heal?" Boyd asked, busy staring through the windows into the darkness of the tunnels instead of looking at Derek. "Or is it just me? Erica and Isaac were hit too, and I saw Isaac's shoulder today and he was fine."
Derek frowned because that wasn't normal from what he'd seen and experienced. "There's still a mark where you were shot? Let me see."
Boyd kept his expression neutral as he pulled his t-shirt over his head but Derek could hear the spike in Boyd's heart rate. Derek moved closer and looked at the two circles of raw skin on Boyd's side, his mind racing through all the lore he knew about what could cause werewolves not to heal properly, settling on the idea that there might be bullet fragments in the wound that might prevent it from healing, but for the most part those fragments were pushed out during the healing process. "You've been shot before by bullets that weren't wolfsbane. How long did those take to heal completely?" he asked, leaning in but not daring to touch the wound until he had a better idea of what they were dealing with.
"Varies," Boyd said, following Derek's gaze to the wounds. "The first time, at the rave, it took over a week, but I thought that was normal. Then the next time it took less than an hour and it didn't even hurt after that. I haven't been able to find a pattern, except the times when it takes longer were almost always in the woods. Perhaps from a specific Hunter, but most of the time I can't tell who shot me."
Derek thought about it for a moment and then blinked as an idea came to him. "Are you allergic to brass or maybe copper?"
"Copper. How did you know?" Boyd asked.
"Many Hunters will use copper-plated or brass-plated steel jacketed bullets instead of lead rounds. The times you healed instantly were probably when you were shot with lead bullets instead of the copper-plated," Derek said, thinking of the red patches left briefly on his cousin's skin when she'd worn a necklace plated in copper for a few hours. He was relieved that the solution was probably that simple and the Hunters hadn't somehow released a new pathogen into his pack.
Boyd nodded and looked at Derek with a cross between appreciation and curiosity. "Okay. I guess I'll try harder not to get shot," Boyd said, which is what passed for a joke between them.
Derek rolled his eyes and moved back up onto the mattress, relieved that it had been the type of problem to which he could give an answer, even if he couldn't fix it. He had just settled onto the mattress when he felt it dip next to him. Boyd stretched out next to him, leaving a few inches of space between them. Before Derek could even think about objecting Boyd had fallen asleep. Derek closed his own eyes and drifted back to sleep while wondering if he was going to wake up to Boyd pressing closer the way that Isaac and Erica always did.
He woke to the sensation of his heart pounding and his lungs feeling like they were burning from lack of breathable air. That particular nightmare used to wake him nearly every night, though he hadn't had it for a few months now. It was one of those labyrinth dreams, where he kept trying to escape because the house was on fire, but he didn't know if he was trying to run to where he could hear Laura crying for him or run away from the flames that were licking at his heels. It didn't matter where he was trying to go because every turn led to the same tunnel, and even when he tried to turn back and get to the forest he wound up back in the room where his body was on fire even though there were no flames and it was all his fault. It was always his fault.
After these nightmares he would go to the woods so he could breathe again. In the cities, where he'd been just an another face in the sea of lost souls, he would go to the nearest park and run along the trails even though it was in the ungodly hours of the morning when no one with good intentions was lingering around the curves of the paths. He had been mugged twice - the first time he'd just been shocked at the demand for his wallet and had knocked the man unconscious in a single punch, the second time he'd laughed and kept jogging, ignoring the misaimed shots that had been fired after him.
He moved to get up, planning on tearing through the woods and returning before any of the pups even woke to realize he was gone, but stopped at the weight against his back. He grimaced to himself because he simply couldn't be there for Isaac or Erica at the moment, he didn't have the energy to take care of himself, let alone anyone else. It wasn't until then that he realized that there was a weight over his legs and he looked down to find that Erica had her legs hooked over his. He twisted back and sure enough it was Isaac at his back, but simply sleeping with his head pressed against Derek's shoulder instead of the twitching and rocking the way he did when he was distressed. With a shaky breath he settled back down to the mattress, willing to stay for another minute or two for the sake of his pack now that the nightmare was starting to fade from the panicked intensity. He finally noticed that Boyd was angled around Erica, though he was the only one of the pups with his eyes open.
"We know when you need us too," was all Boyd said, his words too quiet to be heard by human ears.
Derek nodded and watched as Boyd closed his eyes, clearly there for the night. Slowly his heart rate returned to something approaching normal and his eyes started to flicker closed again. Surrounded by the heartbeat of his pack, a single heartbeat in their sleep while they were crowded so close together, he let himself be lulled back to sleep.