Derek didn't speak, and kept a hard grip on the back of Isaac's neck, until after the sound of Stiles's rabbit-quick heartbeat had faded from Isaac's ears. He hadn't been paying attention to where they were going. It didn't matter. All that mattered was going where Derek was taking him, and keeping up so Derek wouldn't resort to dragging him, wouldn't dig claws into the vulnerable skin of Isaac's nape. Wouldn't turn that roar and those red eyes on him, though it seemed inevitable that more of that was coming sooner or later. Derek had stopped to get them both clear of the Sheriff's Department, but the reprieve never lasted longer than it took to get somewhere private.
Derek's car loomed out of the darkness on a silent street, and Isaac gritted his teeth with the effort of staying upright, staying still, bringing nothing worse on himself. He risked a glance over at Derek's face, and found Derek staring thoughtfully in the direction of the car's trunk. Isaac almost did fight, then, his whole body flooding with adrenaline and his vision going red, fangs and claws popping into place, braced to resist. He wouldn't go in there, he wouldn't, not ever again. Derek had promised him and if Derek tried to make him he would--he would--
"No," Derek said calmly, without looking at him but also without letting go, "You can lay down in the back seat, that should be enough for now. The sheriff will be distracted by Stiles and that hunter."
Derek released Isaac and stepped past him, walking over to the car and opening up the trunk. He reached in and pulled out a dark-colored bundle that resolved, when he shook it out, into a tarp. He shut the trunk, and the solid metallic thunk of it closing made Isaac flinch and chilled that burst of near-violence in his blood. Derek came back to where Isaac stood in the middle of the street, putting the tarp into Isaac's clawed hands while Isaac just stood there, frozen by his total confusion.
"Safer if you cover yourself up," Derek said. His face stayed smooth, his teeth blunt, his voice stern but ordinary, without the irresistible, brutal edge of the alpha. "Also safer if we don't stand around too long being obvious. Back seat, Isaac."
Isaac nodded jerkily and walked over to the car, opening the driver's side door and clambering into the back. He curled down small and spread the tarp over himself, listening to the thumping of Derek's heart as Derek approached, leaning into the car to tug the tarp into a better position.
"Okay," Derek said, shifting away again. "Sit tight. It's going to feel like a long time, but it won't be."
Isaac closed his eyes and tried to focus on the ways that this was not anything like being in the basement with his father. The car seat and the tarp were soft, yielding. The car smelled like Derek, the first scent he had ever really learned with his new senses, a world away from the cold metal nothing smell of the freezer, which always filled up rapidly with the stink of his own sweat and fear--and sometimes worse, depending on how long he was in for. Isaac breathed deep and focused on the sound of Derek's heartbeat, loud and steady in his ears even when Derek started the car; the roar of the engine was easy to ignore, mechanical and indifferent as it was.
He wondered, briefly, if he could tell where they were going by tracking the turns and accelerations, but he had no idea where they'd been starting from, and it wouldn't help to know where they were going. He was sitting tight. He was waiting. He could move if he really needed to, but Derek wanted him to hold still, so he was holding still.
He thought he was just imagining the smell that started to overtake the smell of Derek and the car and himself under the tarp, but it got suddenly stronger as the car turned and slowed, and Isaac's mouth started watering so hard it hurt. He had to swallow to keep from drooling on the seat, and flinched at the thought of that--making a mess in Derek's car, on top of everything else he'd done tonight--and then he heard the whir of the window rolling down and the smell was suddenly much stronger, along with a staticky electronic sound.
Isaac focused hard on the steady thud of Derek's heart, so much slower and calmer than his own, and didn't listen to Derek ordering. He didn't want to know if this was some kind of test or tease; it was so much better not to anticipate anything, and it wasn't Derek's responsibility to feed him on top of rescuing him and stopping him from doing anything too horrible.
Left more or less to his own devices, Isaac was good at ignoring things, at pretending that the worst wasn't happening to him. It was happening, sure, but far away, like a movie playing while Isaac sat alone in the darkened theater. That was where he was, more or less--far from the smell of food and Derek's overwhelming presence--when Derek said, a little bit sharply, "Isaac."
Isaac snapped back into himself. He also knew how to pay attention when he needed to. It had never been a good idea to be careless around his father (not never--but less and less often in the last five years, and not at all for a long time now), and he wasn't taking chances around Derek now. He opened his mouth and didn't know what to say. What was the safest way to address Derek--his first name? Mr. Hale? Sir? Alpha?
"The food is for you," Derek said, not seeming to notice Isaac's frozen hesitation. "You'll have an easier time staying under control if you're not hungry. We just need to get a little further out of town so you can sit up and uncover. Count to two hundred."
Isaac's mouth flooded with saliva all over again--impossible to ignore the food now that it had been promised--but he swallowed to clear his mouth and started counting quietly, under his breath but perfectly audible to Derek. He stumbled over the words, having to swallow again and again, trying to remember to breathe, to keep his voice low, to keep still, but he could smell meat, grease and salt and the sharp-sweet-tangy smell of condiments, and his stomach was wracked with hunger. But he had to count, he had to keep going, he--
He had just mumbled out one seventy-three when Derek said, "That's enough, here."
The bag of food was suddenly right there, crinkling heavily against the tarp where it lay over Isaac's carefully folded hands.
Isaac shoved the tarp back and snatched the bag before it could be taken away, sitting up straight. He hesitated with the warmth of the food in his hands, with the smell of it taking him over. He looked up, into the rearview mirror, where Derek was looking steadily back at him, no glimmer of red in his eyes, his lips closed over a mouth that showed no distortion of fangs.
"Eat up," Derek said, and shifted his eyes back to the road.
Isaac tore the bag open and fumbled the wrapper off a cheeseburger, cramming it down in a couple of bites. He barely tasted it until he'd already eaten it, the lingering pleasant feel of hot fatty meat in his mouth, and that was only a momentary sensation before he was digging into the bag and pulling out another burger, and another after that, devouring them frantically until there was no meat left--just the smell of it in the air, just what was left of the taste. He glanced up again. Derek kept his eyes on the road this time, but he picked up a soda cup and handed it back.
Isaac took a sip--bracing himself for the over-sweet chemical nastiness of soda through werewolf senses--but it was just water, icy and clean and doing nothing to take away the savor of what he'd already eaten. Isaac drained half the cup and then dug into the bag for the large order of curly fries that were turning the paper gray with grease. He ate them more slowly, sipping water between crammed mouthfuls, but the sick overstuffed feeling he was expecting never caught up with him. He just felt... content. Well-fed and comfortable.
He was sucking the last of the salt and grease off his fingers when the car stopped. Isaac realized that the ride had been bumpy for a while now, that they were deep into the woods of the Preserve. There were bushes close on all sides of the car; it wouldn't be readily visible to any casual passerby. They were alone here, hidden. Private even by the standards of werewolf senses. Isaac went still, feeling suddenly cold despite the body-warmth of the car, his stomach clenching tight around the meal he'd just eaten.
Derek turned the car off and got out, then folded the driver's seat forward and leaned in. He tugged the tarp away from Isaac and said, "Bring your trash, come on."
Isaac gathered all the wrappers into the torn bag, balled it all up and climbed out of the car. Maybe it wouldn't be so bad, maybe Derek just had to--had to make a point, had to keep him under control. It was the full moon, and Derek had told him the first full moon would be hard, that Derek would have to keep him contained to be sure he didn't hurt anyone. Maybe it was only that, maybe--maybe this wouldn't hurt too much.
Derek had already opened the trunk of the Camaro when Isaac came over to stand beside him. There were a few shopping bags and a cardboard box inside, holding neatly folded clothes and ziploc bags full of assorted supplies. Derek was making living out of his car look good. As Isaac watched he put the refolded tarp neatly into the box, and then took the trash out of Isaac's hands and shoved it onto a trash bag in one corner. Everything in its place. Isaac felt sickly, horribly relieved that he hadn't made a mess of the car. This time. Then he looked down and noticed the splashes of mud on the bumper and thought that's your fault, he had to come into the woods tonight because of you, you got the car dirty, you, you--
"Isaac," Derek said. His voice was maybe softer this time, but Isaac's focus snapped into place just the same. He raised his eyes as far as Derek's mouth, not quite daring to meet his gaze directly. You weren't supposed to with dogs, were you? It was considered a challenge. His father alternated--used to alternate--between demanding eye contact and considering it insolent.
Derek touched Isaac's shoulder, and Isaac flicked his eyes up and met Derek's. He realized--not for the first time, but for the first time tonight--that he was actually taller than Derek. He felt his shoulders start to fold in, trying to be smaller.
Derek didn't look angry, and his eyes still hadn't turned red again.
"I'm not angry," Derek said, and Isaac remembered the patient cadence of his voice as he'd explained all of this, only three nights ago, laying out the pros and cons before he offered Isaac the choice and told him to go home and think it over. "You didn't do anything wrong. I stopped you from attacking Stiles just like you would stop a kid from touching something hot or running out into the street. Roaring at you like that was just like picking you up and moving you before you could do something dangerous. I know it was scary, but it didn't mean I was mad."
Isaac nodded stiffly. Derek wasn't mad, but he was the alpha. He didn't have to be mad to need to teach Isaac a lesson, and sooner or later he was going to get mad, and right now it was the full moon and Isaac--
"I could tell you I won't hurt you," Derek went on. "But that would be a lie."
Isaac dropped his gaze and held completely still.
"I'll have to train you, and I'll have to keep you from hurting people when you get out of control, and that's going to mean hurting you sometimes. Sooner or later you'll challenge me on something, and we'll fight, and I'll hurt you then, too. What I won't do is hurt you more than you can heal from. I won't hurt you just because I want you to cringe. And I will never hurt you to make you scared of me. That's not what it means to be an alpha. That's not what it means to be part of my pack."
Isaac nodded, because he knew Derek wanted him to say something, to show he believed it.
"Yeah," Derek said softly. "I know. Even if I don't fuck up right now, all that means is I haven't done it yet."
Isaac was startled into looking up at that, because--because that was how it had been for so many years, waiting to make the mistake that set his dad off, waiting to make the mistake that finally got him locked in forever.
Derek smiled slightly and nodded. "I can't convince you not to be scared of me by standing here telling you not to. And it's the full moon--it's your first full moon. This is no time for talking. It's time for you to find out what you are."
Isaac blinked and looked down at himself. He could feel the wolf just under the surface, and between one breath and the next it was there. It didn't feel frantic or furious like it had been before, now that he was full-bellied and standing here with his alpha in the big open space of the woods. He just suddenly had these claws and these teeth and his vision shifted, showing him so much more despite the uneven darkness of the moonlit woods.
Derek grinned. "Have you tried it out, though?"
Isaac frowned. "I thought this was about keeping it--keeping me under control."
Derek shrugged. "It's a lost cause on the night of your first full moon, and I can handle whatever you get into out here."
Isaac just stood there, watching Derek smile at him, waiting for instructions or some idea of what he was supposed to do. What did try it out even actually mean?
Derek tapped his hand against Isaac's shoulder. "Tag. You're it."
Derek started backing away from him. He had his hands in his jacket pockets, a small smile lingering on his face, and he was taking slow, careful steps without looking where he was going. Isaac stepped after him when he was about to go out of sight behind the bushes, following him back along the faint tire tracks from the Camaro.
Derek picked up speed when he got onto open ground, and Isaac had to walk faster to keep up. Derek raised his eyebrows, starting to look amused, and Isaac thought, okay, fine, he would play along.
Isaac lunged forward--and felt the rush of moving faster than he quite believed he could--but Derek darted backward at the same instant. Isaac's fingers nearly brushed Derek's jacket, but Derek was safely out of reach again. Isaac's momentum kept carrying him forward, and Derek, still grinning, turned his back and ran.
Isaac chased, arms pumping hard as he tried to close the gap. He was constantly on the verge--just one more stride, one more leap over a dip in the ground or a fallen branch--but he never got there. He pushed harder, stretching his legs and running faster than he ever had, faster than any human could. A frustrated growl started in his chest; he stretched out one hand and saw it was clawed, and still his fingers didn't quite catch Derek's flapping jacket.
Then Derek dropped to all fours and sped away, opening up his lead, and before Isaac could think about how that worked or whether he could do it, his hands were down and he was bounding through the trees. He closed the distance between himself and Derek, ignoring every other distracting and fascinating scent that wafted by in favor of staying on the heels of his prey.
It occurred to him vaguely that he didn't have a hand to tag with, but he knew the answer to that before he even thought about it: that was what his teeth were for. He snarled, tasting and smelling the scent of the wolf running ahead of him, almost, almost in his reach--and then Derek missed his footing and stumbled, and Isaac took his chance and attacked.
He tackled Derek flat, his knees driving Derek satisfyingly into the ground, clawed hand pressing down the nape of his neck as he flexed the other before Derek's eyes, growling into his ear. Derek didn't tremble--didn't give off the satisfying feel of surrender--so Isaac shifted enough to turn him onto his back, dropping down onto his chest and curling his hand around Derek's throat, claws pricking his exposed skin.
Derek looked up at him calmly, eyes still a murky brown-gray-green, face still smooth and human. Isaac could kill him easily, kill him and take his place as--
Isaac jerked his hand back from Derek, claws vanishing in the half-second it took to fully understand his mistake. Derek gave a wide, fierce grin and surged up under Isaac, flipping him over and driving him into the ground on his back. The fingertips on his throat stayed soft and blunt, and Derek didn't growl as he leaned low over Isaac, only took a few deep, thoughtful breaths.
"Better," Derek said. "Getting there."
Isaac didn't let himself squirm, though he thought maybe he should--but he was already showing his throat and his belly, and there was no more he could do to show that he knew he'd been defeated. He lay under Derek, waiting for the inevitable punishment, but all that happened was that Derek grinned down at him, waiting for something.
"Come on, Isaac," Derek said finally, shaking Isaac a little with his hand on Isaac's throat and his knees tight on either side of Isaac's chest. "What do you say?"
Derek wasn't actually stopping his breath, Isaac realized. Derek wasn't even pinning his hands. Was he supposed to fight back? What could he say? Sorry? Please? Some other magic word?
"What game are we playing?" Derek asked patiently.
Isaac opened his mouth and then just stared up at Derek, not quite believing it.
Isaac raised his hand, tapped Derek's shoulder, and said, "Tag. You're it."
Derek jumped up immediately. "Go, I'll give you to the count of ten. One, two, three--"
Isaac rolled up onto his side and then onto all fours, clumsy for a few strides as he tried to remember how this worked, and then running in body-long bounds, making for the river, which might slow Derek down. He heard Derek begin the chase behind him, and he had to look back. Derek was only a few yards away. Isaac looked forward again, focusing, choosing his path, making tight turns around trees, scraping the shoulders of his sweater and enjoying the way his momentum was almost but not quite out of control. He was at the river--sailing out over it--before he could quite believe he'd covered all that ground, and he landed with a huge, flat, stinging splash that left him floundering.
He could hear his dad yelling, what the hell kind of dive was that, I taught you better than that, hands down, tuck your goddamn chin--and he knew this. His body found its form and he was swimming more strongly than he could ever have imagined, surging against the current like he was in a pool, slicing deep through the central channel of the river. He could see everything down here, despite the dark. He might never have to surface.
He looked back and found the unmistakable shape of Derek five meters behind him. A glance was enough; Isaac faced front and focused on his stroke. Derek's form was wild, overpowered and inefficient: the stroke of someone who had always had strength to spare and never had anyone drilling him on perfect movements. All else being equal, Isaac could outswim him, but all else would never be equal. Derek was the alpha, and Derek was going to catch him sooner or later.
Isaac grinned underwater and placed himself at the very center of the current, right where aerodynamics would matter the most. He arrowed straight toward the rapids, nailing the butterfly like he never had before. When he got there, with the water trying to tumble him and only werewolf strength keeping him on course, he let himself drop to the bottom of the river. His feet sank into silt for an instant before he had a base to push off. He leaped straight up, clear of the water and onto the rocks. He landed lightly, perfectly, and screamed--howled--up at the moon in triumph.
Derek howled back from the shore, and Isaac knew in his bones what it was: not that roar of warning and dominance, but a call-and-response between two members of the pack. I'm here, where are you? I'm here.
Isaac fell silent and looked, and Derek looked back, red-eyed but standing still, and then grinned with a mouthful of fangs and jumped up onto the rocks. Isaac grinned back and ran.
Derek was right behind him by the time he reached the far bank of the river, and as Isaac ran through the trees Derek pulled up beside him, shadowing him a few feet away. He could have made the sideways leap and tackled Isaac anytime, but he gave a red-eyed smile and kept running, biding his time.
Isaac decided to make it a challenge, and dodged around the next tree, throwing a hand out to catch himself and turn his momentum, and then slung himself up, jumping as much as climbing, his claws catching the bark and letting him throw himself up and up, higher and higher. When he was up high enough that his weight was making the tree sway wildly, he looked over to see Derek perched in the branches of the next tree, and Isaac looked around and picked his next direction, running out lightly as far as he could on a bending limb before he threw himself toward the next tree, landing in a snapping of branches and a rush of the green smell of the early leaves. He heard Derek follow, still shadowing him, and dropped a little lower before he jumped to his next tree, landing a little more steadily and barely pausing before he ran out along another branch and bounced off with a laughing howl toward the next one, and the next, and--
And a branch cracked and his momentum failed and he was falling, a fast, final rush that jerked sideways right at the end so that he was tumbling through the air, tangled up with Derek, instead of plummeting on a sick straight line. They crashed down together, Isaac mostly landing on Derek instead of the ground, and Isaac lay perfectly still for a moment, trying to remember how to breathe and whether all his limbs worked. He felt as much as heard Derek inhale in a sudden whoop; somehow that kicked his own lungs into motion and he gasped.
Derek didn't push him away, and Isaac stayed where he was, sprawled on top of Derek and feeling himself heal from the impact--and, he thought, almost feeling Derek heal too. He could feel the body under his shifting subtly with every heartbeat, becoming firmer and steadier. There was a moment when he felt Derek's arms move around him and realized that Derek hadn't moved at all before then, and Isaac finally raised his head to look.
Derek's face was human-smooth, with a little blood still trickling down from his mouth and nose, but Derek smiled when Isaac met his eyes, and he said hoarsely, "You okay?"
Isaac nodded and thought about sitting up, and then gave into the stronger impulse and cuddled down closer to Derek, letting his head rest on Derek's shoulder as his strength and wholeness returned to him breath by breath, with every pulse of his blood. Derek's hands swept over him lightly, checking here and there for injuries, and Isaac remembered the time he was six and fell out of the tree house, the way his father had rushed over to him, set him on his feet and swept his hands up and down even after Isaac insisted nothing was wrong.
Isaac turned his face into Derek's shoulder and tried not to think of anything but the sounds of their heartbeats settling slowly down from the flurry of pain and healing. He heard Derek inhale with purpose, and he tensed against whatever Derek was going to say.
Derek smacked a hand down on his shoulder. "Tag. You're it."
Isaac barely understood the words before Derek was pushing him off and running away. He stayed sitting there on the ground, disbelieving, until Derek looked back with a grin that shone bright in the moonlight, and then he pushed himself to his feet and gave chase.