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you can only feel it

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"I've met werewolves before, you know."

Derek, who was staring at the ceiling of their cell and trying to ignore the disconcerting quadruple beat of his alien cellmate's heart, had not known, nor particularly cared. His thoughts were still stuck on the "alien" part of things, such as the alien spaceship that had abducted him, mistaking him for an alien werewolf - since those apparently existed - and deciding to make him part of their alien zoo when they realized he wasn't what they'd expected. His cellmate, another so-called "exotic alien specimen" who appeared just like a human being but for that strange heartbeat and a peculiar scent, had introduced himself - with a British accent, bizarrely enough - as "the doctor, just the doctor" and stared, fascinated, when he shifted in an attempt to break free. Unfortunately, the bars had withstood even his alpha strength, and for the moment he was stuck.

"Not quite like you, though," the doctor said ponderously. "More... beastly. All fur and howling, a little bit primal, you know?" Derek rolled his eyes. Great, he was stuck with a chatterbox. "But you, you're... remarkably human."

When the doctor said nothing else after that, curiosity got the best of Derek, and he looked over. The alien was staring at him, an indescribable look on his face. Not sadness, not pity, but not the intellectual interest of earlier. There was an emotion there, but not one Derek wanted to try to name.


He huffed a sigh and sat up. "Is that supposed to be a compliment?"

The doctor blinked, taken aback. "Ah... only if you want it to be, I suppose?" he said at last. "But it's my experience that people often mistaken for monsters would prefer to be considered human." His eyes went distant and cold. "Though the most harmless, human-looking among us can be the worst monsters of all."

Derek knew that look. He'd seen it too many times in the mirror to forget.

The doctor's gaze sharpened suddenly, focusing on Derek with an unexpected intensity. Derek swallowed involuntarily, unable to look away. He hadn't felt so bare and vulnerable in years. The moment the lines around the doctor's eyes softened, he knew that somehow, some way, the doctor had seen everything. Derek looked away, but it was too late. And, strangely, with this alien man, it didn't hurt to be known, not like he'd expected.

Maybe it was because of that familiar, empty look in the doctor's eyes.

"Oh, yes," the doctor said, voice low. "You are terribly human, Derek Hale, to feel a loss that strongly." Derek stilled, breath hitching, afraid of the accusations that were to come, the blame, but instead the doctor asked, "How long has it been?"

Too long. Not long enough. An eternity. Not even a moment. "Six years," he said at last. "Almost seven. You?"

The doctor smiled weakly. "You know, I'm not even sure anymore. It's been two lifetimes, but they were short ones." Before Derek could wonder what he meant by that, a klaxon started wailing, and the doors to their cell flung open - along with those to every other cell in the ship, by the sound of things. Creatures of all sizes, colors, and shapes rushed into the hallway with triumphant bleats and shouts, reveling in their freedom, and after a moment's shared glance, Derek and the doctor joined them.

A few hours later, every would-be zoo animal but one had been returned to their planet, thanks to the Doctor's strange little-but-not ship. Derek had stood by his shoulder and watched as loved ones were reunited on a hundred different worlds in a hundred different ways. The sight weighed heavily on Derek, knowing what he wouldn't be returning to, and from the set of his shoulders he suspected the Doctor felt the same.

Opening the wooden blue box's door once again, the Doctor waved a hand towards familiar dark woods. "Here we are, then! Beacon Hills, California, America, Earth! June 2011," he added, wincing. "I made sure to double check after nearly leaving that Rutan two centuries in its own past." He glanced between Derek and the woods uncertainly. "Everything the way you left it?"

"It's fine," Derek muttered, stepping outside. And it was - the scent on the air was familiar, that almost-but-not-quite home smell he'd gotten used to in the months since he returned to California. He could just barely smell a burnt, ashy odor, faintly permeating the air in a way that made something in his stomach clench painfully, but even that was becoming normal. He sighed, and a stiffness he hadn't realized was there left his shoulders.

"Well," the Doctor said after a moment's silence. Derek almost grinned; the man just could not stand a silence. "Guess I'll be off, then."

"Doctor," Derek said, and something of the hoarseness of his voice must have told the Doctor what he was about to ask, because he went still and silent. "Who did you lose?"

The pain and loss he'd seen hints of in the Doctor's eyes momentarily blossomed across his face. His mouth twisted in on itself, and he whispered, "Everyone."

Derek nodded, not breaking eye contact. "Me too."

The Doctor opened his mouth to respond, but an echoing howl from not far off interrupted him. His face went blank, and then he smiled, ever so slightly. "Are you sure about that? Unless I'm misremembering - and I rarely do - there aren't any wolves in California in this time period." The howl repeated, joined by a second, a third, maybe more. "See?" the Doctor said, grinning. "You're not so alone after all."

Derek stared out into the woods, not really seeing anything. It could just be the beau geste effect, he knew better than to get his hopes up... but even that required at least two wolves. After a moment's indecision, Derek shifted and howled. The other howls repeated a few seconds later, growing louder and closer. The corners of his lips turned up, and Derek turned back to that little blue box, to say... he didn't know what. Thank you, maybe, or some ridiculous, meaningless platitude of his own. As if a werewolf's words could erase the pain of two lifetimes of grief, when a Time Lord's had only momentarily distracted Derek from six years of his.

In the end, it didn't matter. The box was disappearing, fading in and out of sight with a discordant whirring that made Derek want to cover his ears. He didn't, though, choosing to keep all his senses focused on that box. As it faded away for the last time, he found his words again, and hoped the Doctor could hear them.

"Maybe you aren't either."