This is what you know:
You’re running with a man who possesses you in a way that no other person will ever match or even come close to ever again. A man who’s no more a man than you are entirely human, yourself, these days.
But there’s no time for comparisons, no time for deciding the most fitting definition.
You run. The snow crunches under your feet. The man running beside you occasionally breaks off and charges ahead without ever glancing back in your direction and it makes sense - he’s giving you something to chase, someone to keep pace with. He pushes you to be more, to be better, not because you’re so much worse, lesser compared to him. He doesn’t push because he feels you have to prove yourself. He pushes you because he knows you can do it. He knows you will.
You can be for him what you were always intended to be, what you knew you were meant to be: the first. The one he chose.
You already know, even if you don’t say it aloud and can’t even admit to it in your head that you would give your life for this man with all the eagerness of instinct. It is with a perfect, dreadful certainty that you know this.
The sky is black, dotted with cold, crystallized breath that rises and hangs in the air. The grass smells peppery sweet as it’s crushed beneath the tread of your sneakers and you can hear the rustle of birds as they take wing and scatter to get away from you. The air is thick with the bitter, pungent odor of pine sap and you’re careful not to brush against any of the trees you pass, knowing that stink would drive your new wolf senses mad for weeks.
You are seventeen years old and you are out on your first run as a newborn werewolf with your new master -- your teacher, your Alpha -- by your side.
Your heartbeat matches his, off no more than a millisecond, huffing breaths creating huge draughts of fog as you dart in and around and through the trees that surge forward to meet you so much faster than they used to.
You don’t remember ever running this fast, but you know that if you stop right now you would not be winded. Neither would he.
A clutch of grazing deer scatter when they catch your scent downwind and you can hear the panicked clamor of their pulses as you pass, but tonight is not for killing. Tonight is for you, whether Derek says as much or not.
He was never much of a talker, before, but now even rudimentary human speech is no longer necessary, to the point of it being almost obscene at moments like this.
So you don’t speak. Neither of you do. There is only the rhythmic thump of your feet pounding down to meet earth and you’re not sure how far you’ve run or how far you have left. But, then, when you can move this fast, it doesn’t really matter, does it?
When you reach the river, your pelting steps slow and the two of you draw up close to the edge of the riverbank together, staring at the water coursing over the smooth, dark stones. You kneel there, fingers trailing into the water, feeling the welcoming sting of the cold as it laps at your palm. You remember this place, though it’s in a distant way that’s fuzzy at the edges, like a dream or a story a friend of a friend told you one night when you were really, really drunk.
This is the place where you were reborn. Shaped by your failings into a monster that would have given you nightmares as a child. A monster that slithered and struck like a viper and part of you wants it all to be a nightmare, still, but the rest of you knows that it took being that monster to get where you are now, to become the person -- the wolf -- you are now. You crawled up onto the bank no more than two-hundred feet downstream from where the two of you stand now. You’d found that bite in the muscle along your side, and it felt like victory; even a million wins as captain on the lacrosse field could never give you such a rush of satisfaction and rightness.
You look to Derek, standing an arm’s length away, watching as he lifts his head and scents the air, eyes searching the sky. The full moon isn’t for another couple of nights, yet, but it’s still good to get out and away and breathe.
Derek’s eyes are like the moon, gray and gleaming and strangely shadowed, and you’re not sure how much of that is the Alpha - and how much of it is just him.
You’re all he has left. If you were the jerk you used to be, you’d dangle that over his head without hesitation, just because you could. But now? Now, knowing that - that you’re the only packmate he has left - it makes pride glow warm in your chest. Because you chased him and he chose you and that feels like something -- like something important.
All you have is each other and he doesn’t care about the trappings. About the popularity, about the big houses and skiing vacations in Gstaad and the expensive car your parents bought for you. He doesn’t care how many goals you score in a quarter or what kind of grades you’re making in Calculus. He cares about you being there with him, being there when he needs you. He cares about you becoming the best you can be, because it means he’s slowly but surely redeeming himself, even if it’s only in his own mind.
It’s enough. For you, it feels like enough, just knowing that.
On impulse, you plunge both hands into the rush of the water and scoop out doubled-up handfuls and dump them over your head, splash them up into your face. The icy deluge plasters the spikes of your hair to your skull and forces shivers down into your bones. The chill shocks adrenaline into your blood and you find yourself stripping off your jacket and t-shirt and tossing them aside.
You can see Derek watching you out of the corner of your eye and you can practically feel the question marks pinging off the side of your head as you let out a pleased chuckle. Bracing one hand on the rocky edge, you jump down into the thrum of the water, sneakers and all, and let out a high-pitched whoop as the cold water stomps down on your heart’s brakes for just a moment.
Wading out, you start shivering almost immediately, but you make your way out into the deeper run of the river in the middle of its bed and you sink down, immersing yourself. The current’s not strong enough to pull you away, but the water is icy enough to make your body think that you’re chin-deep in the middle of a white-breaking crest of rapids.
"What are you doing?" Derek asks, mouth bending itself out of shape and into that perpetual frown.
"I’m cooling off," you joke and bat at the surface of the water with your palm, sending up a lash of water towards the shore.
"It’s thirty degrees outside," he replies flatly and crosses his arms over his chest.
"So? I mean, it’s not like we feel it like they do, anymore, right?" You ask with a wry grin and chop your hand at the flowing water again, another miniature rip curl flying loose. More than a few drops of water land on the tops of his sneakers and he lets out a soft grunt of surprise and looks down, frowning at his sneakers as though they’ve done something very wrong, indeed.
"You could come in, too, y'know," you point out and you feel the grin turn into a more genuine smile as you let your hands fall to your sides, hands paddling gently in the water as it laps around your hips.
"We should start heading back," he hedges, his dark, heavy brows knitting together, eyes looking everywhere but in your direction. "It’s getting late."
You snort. "Winter break, man, remember? The only thing I have to worry about is training," you point out. "And that’s not starting for another two weeks." Another defiant splash in his direction and you can’t stop your grin. "C’mon. You don’t always have to be such a tough guy. You can have fun sometimes, too, you know. It’s not like I’m gonna tell McCall or Stilinski."
Derek’s frown intensifies for a brief instant and you find yourself worrying that you might have made a misstep, mentioning McCall and the sheriff’s kid. Almost as soon as you begin to open your mouth to try to play off the slip, Derek is unfolding his arms and shucking off his black leather jacket and reaching back to grab the collar of his snug-fitting thermal shirt, yanking it off roughly over his head.
He takes half a step towards the bank and then hesitates, looking down at his sneakers. Huffing out a sigh, he bends down and pulls them off and soon enough, he’s awkwardly wading out into the water to stand beside you at the deepest point. Somehow, his skin seems even paler than normal, gray-white, and he shudders as he steps in, but still, he’s there. Right there, beside you.
You look up at the sky and see the gibbous moon hanging over the trees like it’s dangling by a string. Taking a deep breath in, you close your eyes and it’s not a surprise when you feel the light tickling of hair as his forearm brushes against yours, the heat of him even more startling than the cold was. But even that feels right in a way you couldn’t begin to explain to him, much less yourself.
Derek insists you both get out of the water and he builds a small fire for the two of you, to help dry you off. The shadows enfold and shelter you and on more than one occasion, you catch the sight of red in the periphery of your vision, the same red that replaced your bones with frost in that video store. You know it’s not Peter, the original Alpha who bit Scott, and yet something in your mind has been branded by that color, that play of light, and you still can’t push the association, the fright, away.
Still, you don’t talk. The wood smolders and the resinous scent of it burning surrounds you, punctuated by the occasional pop or rustle as one of the logs shifts.
You think about fire. You think about the decimated shell of the Hale family home that Derek was forced, by the hunters, to abandon. You want to ask him if it’ll always be like this, if you’ll always be chased. If there’s anywhere you can go where you can live in peace. If he’s ever had a place like that, if he ever left it. If he misses it. If the mansion ever feels, to him, like the haunted place it pretty much always felt like to you.
If he’s as lonely as he so often seems.
Soon enough, he’s kicking dirt over the dimming embers and muttering ‘come with me’ as he brushes past you. You follow. Of course, you follow.
The two of you walk at a measured pace and you take the time to study your surroundings: the writhing, alive place that was nothing more than blurred scenery to you, before. Twigs give with a snap under your feet and tiny shadows dart off from the underbrush and you can sense their terror, that singular instinct to preserve the self at all costs.
You follow Derek up, eyes fixed on his sharp-featured profile as he prowls along, moving like what he is: a creature who came up in the world with very little he ever had to truly fear. Of course, there are some exceptions to that. You find yourself thinking about the Hale mansion again, in spite of yourself.
Walking along, you’re surprised to find that you’re not so much proceeding deeper into the woods themselves, but rather slowly progressing upwards. The slope heading up the side of the mountain is gentle, but the trail itself is faint -- or would be, if you were still seeing it with human eyes.
The air is almost brittle, here, colder, and every breath that leaves your lungs sends out great plumes of fog in its wake. Somehow, the stars seem closer.
You walk for what feels like forever, your eyes following Derek’s movements more than you’re really bothering to try to keep an eye on where your own footsteps are landing.
When his steps finally slow, you feel your breath catch hard and sharp in your lungs as you look out at the vista of Beacon Hills spread out beneath you. It seems so close, like you could reach out and brush your fingertips over the roof of the high school. Apart from a street light or stop light glowing here or there, the town is dark and silent.
You shiver in spite of yourself and you can feel his eyes on you, watching, considering. He’s not the type to tease or give you grief, like your teammates would, and you’re grateful for that.
"I want to rebuild my home," Derek says, so quietly that, for a moment, you could swear you’d been imagining things. The certainty, the determination in his voice is unmistakable. "Pack need to have a safe place to go."
"What about the trainyard?" You ask before you can stop yourself. You actually hated the trainyard; even with as miserable a state as the Hale place was in, it still didn’t feel right to see Derek amongst the wrecked and forgotten traincars. It felt like he was running, like he was scared and hiding, and you don’t like thinking of him in that way.
"It was only temporary. I had to make sure there was a place where I could train the new betas without being disturbed," he replies. Derek ducks his head and there’s the slightest twitch of a frown at the corners of his mouth. "Not like it matters anymore."
"You still have me," you say softly. Somehow, it feels so important to say that in this moment and yet the implications of your words cause a flash fire of a flush to blossom high on your cheeks, forcing you to turn your face away.
You hear as well as feel a soft, oddly crunchy patter of something landing on the sleeve of your jacket. Looking down, you blink in amazement at the fat, fluffy snowflake you find beginning to melt on your sleeve. Soon enough, more of them come fluttering down, landing on your cheeks and sticking there and you can see even more of them have settled in the thick of Derek’s black hair and on his jacket.
Derek meets your eyes, then, and you feel that catch in your throat, in your lungs again, but it’s gentler, this time. More a tugging ache than anything else you could think of.
"I can’t do this without you, you know," he says, voice roughened by being held to such a low volume. His gaze is steady and you can feel it piercing you through, pinning you.
A lump forms at the back of your throat and you swallow, hard, but the tightness won't go away. Even as you watch him watching you, out of the corner of your eye, you can see the first rays of daylight beginning to trickle in over the horizon. The light catches on the fresh snowfall around the both of you, making it twinkle.
"Yeah, well... good," you say at last, boldly, meeting his eyes and staring back at him. Your face feels like it must be glowing like coals, now, even being up in all this chilly air. There’s a glint in his eyes -- a question. Wariness. "Because I wouldn’t want you to have to."
His lips press into a firm line and it’s not a smile but it’s definitely not a frown, either. So that’s something. Derek nods his head and he doesn’t have to say it for you to know: he’s pleased.
You are seventeen years old and you are finally, finally home.