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Seven years and a new skin

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It's not that Isaac heals, because he doesn’t.

Isaac has heard them talk, and he doesn’t think they’ve actually thought about what healing might look like. Leaving the door to his room unlocked? Hanging pictures on his walls? Leaving clutter out? He knows that Allison will think he’s healed when he can go down into a basement without smirking, that Scott thinks it will be when he can take on an animal’s pain without turning it against himself, that Stiles will count it on the day Isaac sits down when the sheriff is in the room.

Isaac doesn’t think about it. He does wonder, idly, if one day he’ll be able to watch someone take off their glasses without going cold and sharp and focused. But it’s been seven years, and high-school ways of thinking about this are long over thank god, and Isaac really just doesn’t think about it.

So it’s not that Isaac heals, because that’s not something that’s ever going to happen.

But it is that, slowly, one year turns into two turns into five turns into seven, and Isaac is standing on the corner of the street with a cup of coffee in his hand and a leather jacket that’s seen better days, just the right amount of product in his hair, and for the first time in his life there isn’t a single inch of his skin that his father has touched.

The coffee burns just the wrong side of hot in his mouth, but that’s okay. That’s how he needs it.

And it’s something.

 

 

Isaac does not, actually, have very many scars to his name. He doesn’t scar now, obviously, but he’d never scarred easily Before, either. Bruised, cut, bled, sure. But he didn’t collect many scars, and half of the ones he did were tiny and mundane and embarrassing.

The thin lines across his left knee are from when he jumped into a leaf pile when he was eight and fell on a rake.

The half-moon on his bicep, where the gravel bit him when he fell off his bike after an overly ambitious jump.

A tiny discoloration on the back of his hand, from when he tried to grab pizza rolls without an oven mitt.

Standard stuff. Battle scars of a stupid kid.

(The other ones are just humiliating.)

 

 

The summer between sophomore and junior year, Isaac spends a lot of days at the vet clinic. Erica reminds him that sharing is caring and they could be so good at threesomes, and Jackson tells him that just because he has cripplingly low self-esteem, it doesn’t mean he has to settle for McCall. Boyd watches them like a game of ping pong, and Isaac gives Erica his filthiest grin and punches Jackson in the arm and is running and gone before Jackson can retaliate. Jackson is bigger and stronger, but Isaac is always going to be faster.

It’s not that Erica and Jackson are wrong, exactly. They aren’t right, either, but they aren’t wrong--Isaac has relatively little interest in naked girls on or off his computer screen, and he wouldn’t mind putting his hands in Scott’s hair, just once. He’s pretty sure that if he told Scott that he wanted to touch his hair because the last person’s he’d played with was his mom’s, Scott wouldn’t even check to see if he was lying.

Which is the problem.

 

 

If he’s asked, Isaac has a story for each scar. They’re good ones, too. Isaac’s never run into any doors. He has slipped and fallen on some black ice and hit his forehead on the corner of their mailbox, and he has a crooked pinkie from the time he shut the car door too fast, and his right elbow slips from its socket so easily because he was always falling out of bed, and his left wrist makes that noise because he fell out of so many trees as a kid.

That the people who ask can tell he’s lying is half the point.

(When he was younger, and people at school would ask, it was rare that he ever had to properly lie. He was running up the stairs and his arm snagged on the bannister and got pulled from the socket, his ribs cracked when he was running through the living room and tripped over the coffee table, he burned his arm on a cigarette. All true.)

It’s three years after they’ve stopped asking, and five since his dad, when his (fourth, and the first to make it past three months) therapist tells him that sometimes self-defensive wounds do the most damage.

Isaac is silent for a minute, watching her. She looks back at him, calmly, and waits him out.

He tugs the neck of his shirt aside, shows her the lumps on his collarbone. “Fell down the stairs, trying to get away,” he says. “Twice. Tripped both times. No one was madder at me than I was.”

“I believe you,” she says.

 

 

Junior year, Isaac sleeps in the spare room at the McCall’s three nights out of seven. There’s the inevitable two or three nights a week where he and Scott have to chase monsters with everyone else, and sometimes they make it back in time to sleep and sometimes they don’t. Scott tries to convince his mom they’re in their beds every night, but half the time when they slip back in through the window, she’s waiting with mugs of hot chocolate and eyebrows that demand accurate information. Scott can lie to her, but he doesn’t like to, and Isaac can’t.

The guest room is technically Isaac’s every night of the week. He keeps his clothes and backpack and laptop under the bed (except for when Mrs. McCall goes in while he’s at school and puts things in dresser drawers and on desks,) and uses the washing machine when no one is around, and two or three nights a week he and Scott and Mrs. McCall eat dinner on the couch and make fun of terrible television. Those nights have some overlap with the one or two nights a week where Isaac never settles or wakes up five times in an hour, itching. He’ll slip out the window and wander, and if nine times out of ten he ends up by the graveyard, no one needs to know. Some nights, he needs to be somewhere without walls.

Scott doesn’t notice. Isaac thinks Mrs. McCall might.

 

 

The trouble with Scott is that he thinks Isaac is good. Isaac has had a whole summer to think about this, and that is his conclusion. Scott thinks that Isaac is somehow, fundamentally, good, that Isaac is, in any way, like Scott. And Isaac isn’t going to tell him he’s wrong, because he likes the mattress in the guest room a lot more than the seats in the subway car, but that right there is the first sign of how wrong Scott is.

Scott is good, he’s so good, and when he’s around Isaac, Isaac can pretend. Scott says I don’t want you getting hurt and Isaac can pretend that his injuries matter or are anything besides things to be hidden, Scott smiles at Isaac and Isaac feels like someone people smile at, and Scott gives Isaac nice things and, because it so clearly hurts and confuses him when Isaac doesn’t, Isaac pretends to be someone who deserves them.

Scott would never kill someone. Isaac pretends, not for his own sake, that it wouldn’t take just one look from Scott for Isaac to kill anyone at all.

 

 

 

It’s just after Christmas, and Isaac is ten minutes late getting to the clinic because he made a detour by the graveyard. His palms are still raw from where his claws were scraping against them when he slips in through the door, hoping he can get to the german shepard with the broken leg before Scott does. Instead, he finds Dr. Deaton and Scott waiting for him. Scott has that confused, wounded look on his face that Isaac has gotten so good at keeping at bay, but Dr. Deaton just looks resigned.

“I’m sorry I’m late,” he says, and he doesn’t take his coat off or step closer. “I can stay late and close up, I didn’t think it would take so long, I’m sorry...”

“We know, Isaac,” Dr. Deaton says, placidly. “You’re not in trouble.”

Scott scowls. “Not for that, anyway,” he corrects, and Isaac’s hand is on the doorknob before he’s finished saying it.

“I, I didn’t, I didn’t do...”

“You’re here all the time, Isaac,” Scott says. “You pick up more shifts than I do. We were just talking about that.”

“Well, but, you have Allison,” Isaac points out. Scott steps closer, and Isaac’s fingers tighten on the doorknob. “I just have Derek. I don’t know if you’ve realized, but he’s a little bit less of an appealing distraction...”

“You both train with Derek,” Dr. Deaton says from the table. “You both have school, and homework. You both have lacrosse, and you’re both first line. Scott has Allison, but you have a pack of your own. And yet, given a choice, you miss those things and come here. And we’re wondering why that might be.”

Isaac swallows and starts to ease the door caaaaaaarefully open and doesn’t understand. “I....I think you do really good work here. Really important work. They’re all these animals, and they’re in so much pain, and you can make them better. That’s so awesome.”

“Mmmm. We do,” Dr. Deaton agrees. “But I’m curious, Isaac--can you tell me who of us here actually does the most to make these animals feel better?”

Isaac needs the door to open three more inches without Scott noticing before he can bolt. “You, right? You’re the vet!”

“It’s you,” Scott says, and he sounds so confused and so sad that Isaac has to swallow a whine. “It’s you. You do almost all of them. Half the time, you know, I’ll get to one, or Dr. Deaton will, and there won’t be anything left for us to take away. All the pain, it’s already gone.”

Isaac doesn’t say anything.

“But the pain doesn’t go anywhere, right? Someone else has to hold it. And on the nights when it’s just you closing up, Dr. Deaton will come in the next morning, and there isn’t a single animal hurting in the whole place.”

Scott looks like he wants to cry, and Isaac thinks he knows what he’s in trouble for, but it doesn’t make any sense.

“Isaac, that’s...it’s way too much for you to hold.”

“I don’t mind,” he tries, but the confirmation just makes Scott’s shoulders hunch inward, and Dr. Deaton sighs. “No, it’s okay, I mean. I can take a lot? And I’m good at it, and that’s what this place is about, healing, and I really don’t mind, it’s okay...”

“No,” Scott insists, “it’s not, it’s really not okay, not when you’re psychically breaking every bone in your body!” He’s pacing, working himself up, and Isaac only needs another inch on the door. “Pain means something is not good, Isaac! Pain is something we avoid! You don’t have to take on the pain of every animal in here, we have other ways of--”

Dr. Deaton places a hand on Scott’s shoulder, stilling him. Isaac’s ears are ringing, and he just needs half an inch...

“Isaac,” Dr. Deaton says, softly. “I can’t let you use working for me as an excuse to hurt yourself.”

 

 

 

Isaac takes his coffee scalding, and doesn’t wear sunscreen, and kneels on hardwood floors for hours at a time without complaint.

Usually, he does it for focus.

 

 

 

 

Isaac gets fired, and he picks up a job at Macy’s, and then he starts picking fights with Derek.

The first fight is because Scott told, and Derek says Isaac isn’t allowed to try the humane society or the nursing home or the hospital. He can’t tell Isaac what to do. He isn’t his dad. Derek points out that his dad is what got Isaac into this mess. Isaac punches him, and Derek throws him against a wall, and half an hour later Isaac is buzzing and bruised and a little better.

It goes on for a couple of months. Isaac comes back from a shift at Macy’s with his ears aching, or slips away after dinner with Scott with his skin crawling from those looks, and Derek says something he shouldn’t, and Isaac lunges. In training he’s rarely able to even touch Derek; that Derek is pretending now to fight at even half of his capacity makes Isaac angry enough to get careless. But he always ends up aching and buzzing and empty, and Derek doesn’t talk about it and keeps any pitying looks to himself, and so Isaac keeps coming back.

One night in March, he gets to the subway station, and Derek isn’t there. Stiles, however, is.

“Yeah, Derek isn’t showing up,” he says, perched on the hood of his jeep and mending the net of his lacrosse stick. “You can go on in and check, but I figured we might have a little chat first.”

Isaac thinks about breaking his stick.

“See, I love that look you get,” Stiles says. “Murder, he wrote. It’s perfect.”

 

 

 

Mostly, Stiles and Isaac don’t kill anyone. They both know Scott wouldn’t like it, and “this whole deal is about you finding less violent outlets, like origami or knitting or something,” Stiles says.

“If I wanted a therapist, I’d go see the guidance counsellor,” Isaac snaps.

“Dude, awesome, I could not be less interested in babysitting you,” Stiles says. “I just have a vested interest in you not snapping and killing anyone or everyone before I graduate. So. Ever tried baking?”

Isaac is not interested in baking, but Stiles is convinced that feeding his dad only home-baked goods will make him less delicious to supernatural creators, so they do a lot of it anyway. Isaac has tasted Stiles’ creations; he suspects he might be onto something.

Stiles dumps a cup of flour over Isaac’s head, and Isaac wipes his eyes clean and very calmly says, “do that again and I kill you.”

“Oh come on,” Stiles says, “you’ve got to have a better reason than that for murder,” and does it again. Isaac slams him up against the refridgerator, and Stiles watches him blandly. “You don’t scare me,” he says, “and that’s not a challenge or a threat. It’s an offer.”

Isaac waits.

“Wouldn’t you like to have one person,” Stiles says, and he reaches up to dust some of the lumps of flour out of Isaac’s hair, “who knows exactly who you are and what you’ve been through and what you’re capable of...and who isn’t scared?”

 

 

 

Stiles is the first person Isaac is honest with. They bake, or do homework, or fight dragons and druids on Stiles’ laptop, or play catch because Stiles thinks he’s hilarious, or do lacrosse drills because Isaac feels vengeful, and Isaac is honest. Stiles doesn’t make that a rule (Stiles’ only rule is that Isaac makes agreeable noises whenever he starts talking about Lydia); he makes it a dare, and Isaac dares him right back.

He starts small. He pushes his physics homework at Stiles with a groan and a “I don’t understand this shit,” and Stiles faceplants into his textbook.

“Neither do I,” he mutters. “Now is the time when we call Danny. How do you feel about partial nudity?”

Sometimes, Stiles asks him a question, and then raises his eyebrows and tosses something back and forth in his hands and waits, like he thinks Isaac will have no choice but to rise to the bait. “So, exactly how much fun did you have stealing my best friend?”

Isaac is usually left with no choice but to counter with his own “I dunno, exactly how into Danny are you?”

“Shit, I always forget, you’re on that team. Wanna make out? For science. I have some theories that need confirming.”

(Isaac makes a mental note to tell Derek that slamming Stiles into walls is actually just a turn-on, not an effective intimidation tactic.)

They don’t date, because Stiles still can’t conceive of dating anyone not-Lydia and Isaac has better ways to waste his time. But it’s easier, lying with his head on Stiles’ chest, to test the boundaries of I’m not scared of you.

“It wasn’t too bad, when Mom died,” he says quietly one evening, rubbing his fingers over the couch. “I just had to keep quiet, stay out of the way, you know? And Cam was still home.”

Stiles hums.

“And then he left, and I missed him, but things were pretty much the same.”

“And then,” prompts Stiles, his fingers in Isaac’s hair.

“And then,” Isaac says “two guys in uniform knocked on our door, and then they left, and dad knocked me down the stairs.”

Stiles’ heart beats steady under Isaac’s ear.

 

 

 

It’s not a turning point. Those only happen in stories, and this is Isaac’s life. A turning point implies a scale, some sort of linear journey between the Isaac who practiced digging his own grave and the Isaac who can visit his family’s plot without picking a fight later. It doesn’t work like that.

It works like this: Isaac mostly stops beating kids up at school, and starts having nightmares.

(Scott tries to wake him up one night, and finds himself thrown out in the hall with four lines across his throat before Isaac’s eyes are open. Isaac spends three days apologizing, starts locking his bedroom door again, and refuses to sleep at Stiles’ anymore. Stiles declares this bullshit, because he knows to let sleeping wolves lie.)

It works like this: Isaac becomes willing to stay in the main areas of the house when Stiles’ father is home, so long as Stiles is there too, and he starts having trouble anchoring.

(Derek starts to follow him everywhere; he can’t have one of his betas shifting where anyone might be, just waiting to have their throats torn out. It’s a long two months.)

It works like this: Isaac keeps calculating different ways he could incapacitate each person around him, but he starts stopping at 3.

(On bad days, he matches each way he could kill them with each way they could kill him.)

It works like this: It’s one year, then two, and Isaac spends a lot of time thinking about Derek and Scott and Erica and Stiles, and not very much time at all thinking about older things.

 

 

 

Of course, not thinking about the past doesn’t mean that Isaac knows how to think about the present. They pack up and head out to the Bay Area--“a change will do us good,” Allison says, and Lydia is Stanford-bound and not going to sit around Beacon Hills for another year just because a few wolves have some delusion of pack--but Isaac still feels the same: empty, restless, half-baked. He has friends, but they want implausible things from him, and Isaac laughs and sneers and lets his body go long and loose as though he’s stalking them at the kitchen table.

He takes the classes Stiles picked for him at San Francisco State and does okay. He does his homework and goes to class and learns more about the ecology of California than he ever needed to know, and he does okay, and there is absolutely no justification for the way Lydia frowns at him when she spends winter break at the pack house. Isaac hasn’t hidden from anyone in three years, but he starts to spend more of his time in his barren room, or out on the rooftop, because Lydia is everyone’s exception. He’d wander the city, but Erica or Derek or, once, Jackson, tail him with an incredible lack of subtlety, and being followed is not conducive to emptying your mind.

(Allison insisted on the tail. “He’s still got that smirk,” she said. “And it’s back more and more. I’m not saying he’s...but we all remember what used to happen whenever he started moving like a dare. This isn’t high school; if he hurts someone he’s going to get arrested, and if the Laus hear about it, and they will, they’ll put him down.”

“And god knows, you couldn’t bear for anyone else to put a bullet in him,” Erica muttered, “that’s just for you, right.”

“He’s pack,” Allison had said flatly. “And if you do your jobs, I won’t have to do mine.”)

It’s easiest to trust his pack when he knows exactly where the lines are.

(And while he’d like to see them try, he also wonders what Allison might be willing to do, if he asked. She’s her father’s daughter, and she’s not wrong.)

 

 

 

Derek takes them all back to Beacon Hills for a week at the beginning of January, and Isaac runs everyone else into the ground. Going back is a mistake. His father never came within 50 miles of San Francisco, but now Isaac feels him on every corner.

Eating would become optional, were it not for the fact that Isaac lives with Stiles, and Stiles is not about to die an easily-preventable death caused by a werewolf’s low blood sugar. So he eats, but he can’t sleep anymore. He and Erica start going out nights and competing to see who can fuck whichever poor mark looks the most fun first, but a month goes by, and then two, and he’s too wound up and losing more often than not.

“You’re brooding,” Stiles says, “and we’ve already got one Sourwolf, so this has got to stop right now.”

“I’m not brooding,” says Isaac, offended. “I’m very present. I’m paying more attention than any of you.”

“Well that’s called hyper-vigilance,” Stiles says, rooting through his pockets for a card, “and you’ll be happy to know there’s a cure.”

 

 

 

They get out of Beacon Hills alive, which is more than any of them expected. By the end of their first year out, Allison and Lydia and Stiles are all in therapy, and by the end of the first semester of sophomore year, Jackson and Derek have joined them. They all see separate doctors, and they all tell them they come from a mob town, and they all leave their therapists’ cards in Isaac’s room. Isaac scratches careful fuck you spirals into each card and returns them to the sender.

Danny, who decided last year that the only way to cope with Jackson declaring him pack and dragging him even further into this werewolf mess was extreme sarcasm, suggests Isaac try yoga. Isaac makes a vague death threat and Stiles sighs from the couch and tells him it’s not his best work. Danny goes back to his laptop, but he gets Isaac alone in Isaac’s room (technically it’s a room; in reality it’s more of a nest of blankets and books on the floor, and a couple of bags and suitcases in the closet,) and asks if Isaac wants to go out that weekend.

“We’ve already been to every single gay bar in this city, Danny,” Isaac reminds him. “They’re all boring as fuck. They need more kanimas, we discussed this.”

“Nothing ever needs more kanimas,” Danny says, “and actually, there is one place we never tried.”

It’s really not Danny’s thing, but when Isaac emerges from The Citadel quiet and smiling, he thinks he might bring him back every week.

 

 

Isaac majors in plant biology and, because he needs amusement in his life, psychology. He makes sure that every therapist he sees knows he’s on to them. He holds out on going at all until it’s been five years and he’s got Stiles by the throat against the wall and no one home to stop him.

Stiles’ heart beats steady as ever when he says “So, okay dude, I know you’re upset with me, but--”

“I’m not angry,” Isaac says patiently, and then he lets go of Stiles and barely makes it to a trash can in time.

“Well, we can work on identifying emotions sometime if you want,” Stiles says, hoarsely, when Isaac’s done gagging, “but I think we might want to bring in a professional.”

 

 

 

It’s not that Isaac heals, because he doesn’t.

Isaac’s favorite part of the hunt is always going to be playing bait, because it’s such a joke. Erica outgrows needing to slink and strut, but Isaac will never get used to the feeling of fitting perfectly into his skin. Isaac is always going to have a fang-tipped smirk lurking just around the side of his mouth, and Isaac is never going to be cornered again, and Isaac is always going to be the tiniest bit afraid of himself whenever the pack acquires a new pup.

It’s not that Isaac heals, because he might be a werewolf, but personality transplants are still firmly the realm of science fiction. Isaac is always going to make bad jokes about hurting people in ways he may or may not have been hurt, and the pack is always going to have to take those jokes more seriously than he’d like. He’s going to, eventually, share a bed with someone, and leave things lying around on the top of the dresser, and he’s also going to keep seeing his therapist until he dies. Isaac is going to have a perfectly successful career maintaining a mostly-non-magical greenhouse, and he’s also going to growl at anyone who suggests that the constant blooming of new life is anything like a metaphor. (And Isaac will throw you up against a wall if you call that growl progress.)

It’s not that Isaac heals. It’s that he bakes.

Isaac was never broken, so much as he was made into someone who understood things he might never have chosen to, someone with some parts split apart and some sanded away and some pushed into the light before their time. And Isaac doesn’t heal, but he does grow up, and he bakes, and the final product is amused and patient and just this side of feral.

And it’s not that Isaac heals. It’s that one day, Derek Hale bites him, and the next day, his dad is dead, and then there are no more picture frames to heal from.

And life goes on.