December 30th, 11:50p
Derek jolted out of a dead sleep, eyes flashing. He flexed his claws deep in the sheets and gasped. It felt like something was sucking the life out of him, straight through the core of him. He pried his hand out of the sheet and snatched his phone off the nightstand, tapping the first phone number on his call log.
“Something happened,” he said as soon as the call was answered. “Something bad. I think we need to get together.”
“You always think that.” Stiles cleared his throat. “Come on, then. I’ll galvanize the troops.”
“You’ve been studying too much. I’ll see you in a few.”
Bathroom. Toilet. Brush teeth. Shower. Wash hair.
The hands don’t have scars or marks, nor do the arms. There are, upon closer inspection, fingerprints on the fingertips. They don’t have any other discernible marks.
Get out, dry off, dress. Head to work.
Say hello to the homeless man outside the doors, keep walking. Cubicle, computer, tapping away at work that seems dire but at the end of the day, nothing seems to have been done.
Home. Dinner, then reading a book that’s interesting until it’s not. Bathroom, brushing teeth, bed.
In the shower, soap runs over the hands, still with no marks or scars. Glance at the shoulders, similarly bare and unremarkable. Swallow as panic threatens to crash down like a wave. Numbness spreads just as quickly, calm spreading like a pill had been taken.
Dress, head to work. Stop to greet the homeless man and freeze, staring into eyes green-blue-hazel. What color are the eyes? Are they brown or are they blue-green-hazel? Why were the homeless man’s eyes so familiar?
A snap, like a rubber band, and gasping in air. “Derek?” Numbness spreads. Fighting it, struggling against the surge of apathy.
Straighten, stare at the person speaking. “What?” Words feel strange on the mouth, the lips unused to forming questions. Questions don’t need to be asked; everything that must be done is done and everything that should not be done isn’t.
Cough, lift the hands and stare at them. Blink, turn them around, blink again, repeat. They are still featureless and strange, but now there is understanding. Pull in too much air, let out too little. Curl the right hand into a fist, thump it against the chest.
Laura gasped, stumbling forward. She blinked and looked around. “Where am I?” she snapped.
The two people standing in front of her sighed. “We wondered when you’d come out of it. It’s been a few years, dear.”
The man bobbed his head. “We thought you’d stay like that forever. Some people do, you know.”
“Stay like what? What are you talking about? Who are you?”
“There’s an adjustment period when people first arrive. Keeps ’em calm, you know, while they come to terms with it.”
“Come to terms with what?”
The woman tilted her head and smiled sadly. “You’re dead, dear.”
Laura laughed. “No, I’m not.”
“Oh, yes you are. Why do you think you’ve been wandering around doing the same thing every day for three years? You’re dead. Probably murdered.” He nodded. “Most people got here by murder.”
“Yes, my neighbor strangled me,” the old woman said cheerfully. “But I’ve come to terms with it. It’s been about thirty years.”
“Mm. Anyhow, now that you’re awake, you don’t have to do any of that boring stuff anymore,” the man said, waving a hand. “That’s just for the new ones. Or the stubborn ones.” He winked.
Laura looked at the building she’d been going into for the past—three years, apparently. Then down at the homeless man, who no longer looked real; in fact, the longer she looked at him, the more he started to look like a shoddy hologram. She rubbed her temple. “I don’t…I don’t understand…” She waved a hand. “Don’t explain it again, I don’t care. How can I get back?”
“Get back where, dear?”
She sighed and looked at them. “Who do I need to talk to so they’ll give me my life back?”
They looked at each other.
“Laura,” Peter’s voice said suddenly, “you don’t hold out your hand and wait for things.”
Laura’s spine stiffened. She looked around, but didn’t see her uncle anywhere. She bared her teeth. Stinking coward. “What about the guy that killed me? Is he around somewhere?”
“Ah…we wouldn’t know. You’ve been alone the whole time, if that’s what you mean.”
She refused to believe that Derek wouldn’t have avenged her death, wouldn’t have made sure that Peter wasn’t the alpha for longer than it took to hunt his sneaking, turncoat ass down. She inhaled. “What are your names?”
“Maude and Ben, ma’am.”
“I’m Laura.” She looked at Maude first. “I have business to attend to in the living world. Who can send me back?”
“Well, no one. You don’t just…get sent back.” Maude looked at Ben, apparently puzzled. “No one’s ever been sent back, as far as I know.”
“You don’t wait for people to give you things, Laura,” Peter said, making her snarl.
“Where are you?!” she shouted, turning her back on Maude and Ben. “Show your face, you fucking coward!” She looked to her left, then her right, but she couldn’t even tell where Peter’s voice was coming from; it was just as likely to be coming from her own head as anywhere else on the street.
When she looked back, Maude was gone, and Ben was walking away.
“Wait! Where are you going?”
“To find some people who know about going back, of course,” Ben said, bemused. “That’s what you wanted, right?”
“Well, I…right. But-” She lifted a hand, then dropped it. “How will you find me?”
He laughed. “How I always find you. You’re always in the same place, Laura.”
“Hales don’t wait for things they want, Laura.”
“Peter!” She slammed her palm against the bricks of the building beside her; they crumbled to dust and left a gaping hole that no one inside even looked twice at. She let out a furious roar and stalked down the sidewalk. “Well?!” she shouted at the sky. “Where are you? What pearls of wisdom do you have to impart? How the fuck do I get out of here? I have some un-fucking-finished business to attend to, and you’re item number one!”
“If there’s something you want, you don’t wait for it, Laura. You. Take. It.”
The sidewalk fell away, leaving a beaten dirt path. On either side was well manicured grass. Laura didn’t move, unsure. She looked around; everything was damp, as though it had just rained, and smelled earthy. She shuddered. “Where am I?” she demanded, rolling her shoulders back. Like hell she was going to look weak if Peter could see her.
“You’re at the graveyard,” Maude said cheerfully.
Laura flinched. “Where’d you come from?”
She was on Laura’s right, smiling and generally peaceful. “Oh, wherever.” She shrugged. “Ben wanted me to show you this. He thinks it might show you how things are.” She held her hand out.
Laura made a face and marched ahead, following the curving path. Her boots sunk into the mud with each step, leaving a clearly marked trail. “So what is this? He wants me to see my own grave?”
“I suppose, dear. We’ve all gotten curious sometime or another. Though you are the only one who’s asked how to get back, once they’ve woken up.”
“Why?” she snapped. “People don’t want to go back?”
“Oh, they do, I imagine. But they’re too afraid to ask.”
“I’m not afraid of anything.”
“Don’t lie, dear, it’s rude.”
Laura snarled. “I’m not afraid.” She was, a little bit, but only of finding out what had happened to Derek while she was gone, what had happened to their family territory and their home. She was afraid to discover what Peter had become, though she wasn’t afraid of Peter himself. She was fucking eager to see Peter. She bared her teeth and pushed on.
The graveyard was the only clear, crisp sight she’d beheld since she’d “awoken”. The fence and gate were made of wrought iron, all curling details and extravagance. The headstones were just as ornate, so much so that Laura was surprised when the gate opened without resistance. She’d expect it to be locked.
She didn’t know how she knew where to go, just that she felt no hesitation falter her steps. She swept past headstones with piles of gold jewelry heaped on them, graves overflowing with expensive bouquets, markers draped with lavish and expensive fabrics, all the way to one near the back.
Laura Hale, 24 The dates weren’t on there, there was no other information besides her name and age, nothing to tell her that this was her except the feeling of satisfaction, deep in her bones.
Maude appeared beside her again. “You see?” she asked gently. “You’re where you’re supposed to be.”
“You take what you want, Laura. You take it and you don’t give an inch,” Peter hissed.
Laura looked at the clean grass covering her grave in front of her headstone, head tilted. “This is not,” she said evenly, “where I’m supposed to be.”
Maude looked confused.
Laura dropped to her knees. Dug her fingers down into the grass, under it to the soft dirt beneath it. Dragged up and out.
The sky turned gray and rumbled threateningly.
Maude squeaked and disappeared.
Laura dug further, claws elongating from her fingertips. She scratched and clawed and dug until the dirt turned to mud. Rain poured over her head, but she didn’t stop. She bared her teeth and kept going, even when she ripped her fingertips open, when her blood mixed with the dirt and she felt like a waterfall was beating down on her back, she kept digging.
December 30th, 11:50p
She never found a casket; she didn’t know when it stopped feeling like she was digging into the earth and when it started feeling like she was digging her way out of it. She just kept going, until her hand broke through the surface and the dirt crumpled away. She clawed her way free, gasping. Her skin felt scraped raw as she dragged herself out of the ground. Wolfsbane burned across her shoulders.
The errant thought that Derek had most definitely buried her crossed her mind when she finally managed to get her legs free.
She laid on her back, gasping as rain drenched her, for just a moment. She let her eyes close as scents and sounds and tastes came to her, as well as the surge of power. She pressed her palm to her chest and just felt her heart beating. Her hand trailed up first, to her throat, and then down, to the slow-healing scar of what had killed her before. She bared her teeth and stood. She was covered head to toe in mud, soaking wet from the rain, and utterly nude, but she didn’t care.
She was the alpha again, and she could feel the tender stirrings of her pack bonds, telling her exactly where item number one was. She began walking, letting her instincts lead her. She was limping, her muscles stiff and sore, like her joints had rusted. She followed her instincts into town, shambling along the sidewalk. It was dark and late; no one would notice her. Even if they did, she didn’t think she cared. She’d just clawed her way back from death.
It was drizzling, though not nearly enough to wash the caked-on dirt and blood from her bare skin; her hair hung in lank, muddy strings around her face. She felt Peter, and Derek, and whoever else she could feel stirring in the back of her mind. They were together, and she couldn’t wrap her brain around that. She didn’t need to; she’d take care of business once she got to them.
She felt someone watching her as she got closer to her pack; she didn’t turn around, but she could hear the slow roll of tires as a car creeped along behind her. She could hear the heartbeat of the person within, even but slightly elevated, possibly from spotting a naked, filthy woman stalking down the sidewalk like something from Dawn of the Dead.
Something crackled within, like a radio or CB or something. A voice murmured in response.
Laura had the errant thought that possibly a cop was chasing her, but she couldn’t find it in her to care.
The house was two stories; there were several cars parked in the driveway and on the street in front of it. Inside, voices talked over each other, each one higher than the last with panic. They were afraid.
They should be, Laura thought. She bared her teeth and stalked up the front walk. She banged the side of her fist on the door, staring intensely at it as if she could see through it.
The voices inside stopped.
“Your dad has a key,” someone muttered.
“And everyone’s here…”
Someone inhaled sharply. “Derek?”
Laura’s heart pounded in her chest.
Footsteps approached. Lock flipped and—what kind of werewolf pack locked the door?
Derek stood before her, momentarily the only thing she could see; he looked older and somehow less haunted, his hair soft and messy from sleep; he was wearing sweat pants and a sweatshirt.
Laura’s vision widened; a boy stood just behind Derek with his arms crossed, a scowl set to his face just until he made eye contact with her. Then something like shock crossed his face, softening it.
She felt something, felt a connection to the other people within the room, but she didn’t care. She shouldered past Derek, who was gaping at her, and pointed. “You. Outside. Now.”
Peter blinked at her. Inhaled softly. Blinked again. “Well, it’s about time.”
“What?!” Derek snapped.
“Outside. Now.” She flashed her eyes and fangs.
A woman on the couch with red hair made a quiet “aha” noise, turning to the boy—who must’ve been at least as old as the other people in the room, but something about him looked young—who was still standing near Derek.
There was something in Derek’s scent—or maybe the boy’s scent—that drew Laura’s attention partly away from Peter, though not long enough to really distract her.
When Peter continued to sit on the threadbare gray sofa, she stalked to him, ignoring the squeak of either terror or amusement from the man beside him.
He stared up at her with blatant disregard, like he didn’t even care that his alpha was about to trounce his ass.
She would change that. “I said outside!” she roared. She grabbed the back of his neck and dragged him to his feet. She ignored his snarls and hissing and spitting, ignored the way he fought against her, and she ignored the stares of the rest of the pack.
She flung Peter off the porch and into the yard. “I think we’ve got some stuff to settle,” she said, and leaped from the porch. She landed on her feet in front of him.
He stared up at her. “In my defense, I did help you get back,” he said.
“Words later,” she snarled. She dragged him to his feet, waited until he was standing on his own, then hit him square in the jaw with a right hook.
He nearly flew off his feet, stumbling away. “Laura-”
She plowed her fist into his gut, then uppercut him under the jaw. She turned and snapped a kick at his chest, sending him flying into the grass.
He lunged up, snarling, and tackled her.
Laura twisted so he was under her and punched him in the face twice, until his nose started bleeding.
A siren blipped behind them, but she didn’t care; this was family business. Pack business.
Peter snapped his teeth at her but didn’t connect; she pressed his shoulders down and bared her teeth close to his throat. He turned his head, leaving it exposed, and waited, panting.
She relaxed. “What did you mean, you helped me get back?” she asked, still sitting on his stomach.
“I left that message for you years ago, after Derek killed me,” Peter said placidly. His voice was thick; his nose was still broken and bleeding all over the place.
He lifted a brow. “Derek killed me so he would become the alpha.”
“Vengeance,” she said approvingly. She dug her thumb into the side of Peter’s neck, drawing just enough blood that he flinched.
“He was acting out of fear.” He shrugged. “I came back anyway. But I left a message for you.” His gaze finally lifted to hers, something he’d been avoiding doing since she pinned him. “I did…want you to come back, Laura.” He swallowed audibly. “I didn’t want you dead.” He didn’t apologize for killing her, but she understood that he wasn’t capable of that.
“Why did you do it?”
“I needed to. I thought that was the only way.” He looked away again. “There’s no making it right.” His jaw clenched. “So do what you have to.”
“Laura!” Derek’s voice sounded broken.
Laura shoved Peter’s head back against the ground. “Unlike you, I won’t kill my family.” She stood up and looked at Derek. She grinned. “Hey, Derek. Long time no see.”
And then a human tackled her from behind. Before she knew it, her hands were being dragged behind her back, cuffs snapping around her wrists.
“No, no, Sheriff, don’t.” Peter stood quickly. “That’s my niece.”
The man on Laura’s back scoffed. “This isn’t a joke, Peter.”
Laura shook him off and yanked her wrists apart, snapping the cuffs in half. She stood and looked at the man who’d rolled to his feet already. She lifted her brow at the gun pointing at her.
The people from the house crowded outside; the man who smelled just enough like Derek to raise red flags went straight to the sheriff.
“Dad, this is Laura Hale,” he said quickly. He looked past her and waved someone over.
Derek approached like he was afraid of her. “How—how did you get back?”
The sheriff pinched the bridge of his nose like he had a headache. “Can someone please give the naked woman some clothes, at least?”
Laura glanced down at herself, surprised.
“I’ll go get some stuff,” the sheriff’s son said quickly, stepping around her.
“Everyone back inside. Jackson, can you start the coffee maker?” the sheriff asked with a heavy sigh.
The man standing closest to the redhead nodded and went inside.
The redhead looked surprised, possibly that he’d listened.
Laura shrugged and looked at Derek. “Who are they?”
He moved his mouth soundlessly, gestured vaguely, and finally said, “Pack.”
The redhead sighed. “He gathered us at midnight because he suddenly lost his alpha status and we were all rightfully concerned about our alpha losing his powers.”
“Our alpha? You’re human.”
“Yes, and?” she asked dangerously.
“Alright, inside,” the sheriff barked. “Now!”
They trooped inside. Derek nudged Laura’s shoulder lightly and nodded toward the stairs, so she went to them; she was pleased when he followed her.
“We, ah…we’ll be right back,” he muttered as they went up to the second floor.
The sheriff’s boy came out of a bedroom. “Here, I found some of your…” He paused at the sight of Laura, then shook his head and offered a self-deprecating smile. “Sorry, it’s just weird to see you, y’know, whole.”
She bared her teeth at him.
Derek let out a little, unhappy rumble.
She glanced at him, then back at the boy. “Who’re you?”
“Stiles Stilinski.” He held out a pile of clothes. “You can wear these after you wash off.” He nodded at a door to her left. “That’s the bathroom.”
She took the clothes. “Thanks. Derek?”
“Aren’t you going to fill me in?”
He looked at Stiles, who nodded encouragingly.
Laura narrowed her eyes.
“Okay.” He followed her to the bathroom in a daze.
Laura left the clothes on the counter and pulled the shower curtain behind her. She glared at the knobs, mystified, and figured she’d rather suffer an ice cold shower than have to ask for help. “So, that’s our pack, downstairs?”
“Um…yeah.” It sounded like he was hovering near the open door. “Laura, how…”
She twisted the water on and jumped when it sprayed directly in her face. Mud started falling off her in clumps. Gross. “I don’t really know. I was somewhere…else.” She frowned. She couldn’t quite remember any details; she just knew she’d been digging down, and then she’d been digging up. “I had to dig my way out, and I know I heard Peter telling me what to do, but I don’t remember why, or where I was.” She used her nails to scrape some mud off her arms.
“I didn’t know you could come back,” he said in a quiet, sad voice. “If I did, I would have tried harder.”
“That doesn’t matter,” she said briskly. “I’m back now.”
“For how long?” he muttered.
She stiffened. “Forever.” She looked down at the scar on her stomach; it was already healing further, now faded to a flesh color. “If Peter’s allowed to come back without dropping dead again, then I certainly am.”
“I guess.” He made a noise of assent. “Alright, then I guess…I’ll tell you everything.”
Laura listened, trying to keep her reactions to herself whenever he mentioned how much they’d been through. He had made a home for himself, it seemed, and sacrificed flesh, blood, and safety to keep it. The people downstairs, werewolf or not, were their pack members; the sheriff was in the know and on their side. He was in their pack too; she could feel him. Even Peter had somewhat reformed himself, somehow. She wasn’t ready to trust that, and she could tell Derek didn’t either. “What about the boy?”
Derek’s pause was heavy. “He’s…we’re…”
“Hmm.” She flipped the water off and stood, dripping, in the tub. She hadn’t asked for a towel.
Derek stepped closer and held a towel over the shower rod.
She lifted a brow and accepted it. “Thanks.”
“We’re dating. Stiles. I’m dating Stiles. We’re together.”
“Yeah, I figured that out from your stammering.”
He was quiet a moment. “He’s great,” he said very quietly. “He’s in college. Nineteen.”
“We only just started dating a few months ago,” he explained quickly. “I wasn’t—we weren’t—when he was-” He growled, frustrated. “You know I would never.”
She wrapped the towel around her hair. “I know. It was knee jerk, I’m sorry. Can you hand me those clothes?”
He passed them around the curtain wordlessly.
“These are yours.” She pulled them on. “Few months ago, huh?”
“We…have sort of been heading this way for a while.”
She smiled, imagining Derek’s fury upon realizing he had feelings for someone. “Oh?”
“I’m glad you’re back, but death didn’t change you a bit.”
She stepped out of the shower. “Aren’t you lucky?”
He rolled his eyes at her. Then he lunged forward and hugged her tight around the neck. “I missed you.”
She squeezed him back. “I missed you, too.” She wasn’t sure if that was true, she couldn’t remember, but she felt an ache in her heart. She’d wanted to come home. She let go and left her hands on his shoulders. “Now, let’s go introduce the pack to their new alpha.” She winked.
Derek laughed. “I’m sure this is going to go well.”
“Isaac’s the one with the curls, you said?”
“Erica’s the blonde, Boyd’s the one with those beautiful eyes?”
Derek snorted. “That’s not how I described any of them.”
“I’m very observant.” She took the towel off her head and hung it over the shower rod, then shook her hair out. She’d figure out brushing it later. The clothes she’d been given were too big, the pants trailing past her feet, sleeves going past her fingers, but she didn’t care. She rolled her shoulders back and marched toward the stairs.
In the living room, the pack had gathered; most of the werewolves had instinctively put themselves in front of the humans.
Laura’s gaze roved over the group, matching them up with Derek’s descriptions.
Erica and Boyd were together on a recliner, watching Laura like they weren’t afraid of her, though they were definitely wary.
Isaac was nearest to the sheriff, standing behind the sofa with his hands clenched on the back of it.
Jackson, Lydia, and a woman named Allison, according to Derek, were all on the sofa, with a man called Scott standing at the end with a hand on Allison’s. Peter stood off to the side with a dishrag to his nose, looking ruffled but calm.
Derek and Stiles came down stairs a moment later.
Laura went to the front of the room and put her hands on her hips.
“So, who’s alpha now?” Erica demanded. “You or Derek?”
“Me,” Laura said, at the same time Derek said, “Laura.” She smirked. “Anyone who has a problem with that can come outside with me now and we’ll deal with it the same way I dealt with Peter.”
The room collectively glanced at him, where he was still staunching the blood from his nose. He shrugged.
“Anyone?” She flicked her gaze from person to person, but no one rose to the challenge. “Great! So where do we live? Here?”
Stiles let out a barking laugh.
“We don’t live together,” Jackson scoffed.
Laura lifted her brows. “But isn’t there a-”
Derek shook his head.
She narrowed her eyes at him. “Well, that’s just not going to work. This is your house, Sheriff?”
“That’s right.” He looked weary, like he’d seen it all and wasn’t impressed.
“The pack should gather at the alpha’s house. Derek, where do you live?”
“I have a loft,” he muttered.
Laura stared at him. She wanted to ask why he was living alone, why none of the pack lived with him, not even one, but she was afraid of what his answer would be. “Well, that’s not going to work. We need to find a space big enough for everyone, even if they don’t live there.” She clapped her hands together. “Tomorrow, we’ll find a time when you’re all available and we’re going to find a house.”
Her eyes snapped to Isaac. “Yes?”
He seemed to shrink in on himself. “Why are we finding a house together?”
“Because we’re a pack,” she said firmly. “And that means we always have space for each other, even if we don’t need it. That means we spend time with each other and we get along. So tomorrow, we make plans, and we follow through.” She stared at them all until they murmured agreements. “Good.”
Stiles looked around the room. “If that’s all, some of us have to get up early.”
Derek covered his eyes.
Laura nodded. “That’s fine. I’ll get your numbers from Derek.” She thought about it. “And then I’ll get a phone.”
Sheriff Stilinski sighed. “Perfect. Now, everyone who isn’t sleeping over, please get back to your own houses. Miss Hale, I’d appreciate it if you came down to the station tomorrow so we can begin undoing your death,” he said dryly.
“No problem, Sheriff. I’m sure it was just a case of mistaken identity,” she chirped.
He looked reluctantly amused.
“Derek, I’m sure you can drive me, right? You’ve still got my car?”
The entire pack whipped around to stare at Derek.
He held his hands up. “What, you all thought that thing was my choice?”
“You never said it wasn’t!”
“None of you ever asked!”
Laura prompted, “So you still have it?”
“Yes,” he muttered. “Of course I still have it.”
“Perfect. Then I guess we’re all set.”
She waited while the pack trickled out, ghosting a palm over their shoulders or shaking their hands as they passed; she only held her hand out at Isaac, letting him decide whether he wanted to take it or not. She was pleased when he did. The pack was small and patchwork, but she liked it. The bonds had been created through battles and blood, but that was okay. From what Derek had told her, they’d grown closer because of it, had grown as a pack, and that was all that mattered.
Of course, there were still things to set right—the pack hadn’t instinctively gathered at their alpha’s home in the face of danger, they weren’t as close as they could be, and they only seemed to rely on their alpha for protection and guidance in emergencies. That wasn’t what a pack was; they were supposed to be there for each other no matter what the problem was.
But that was okay. Laura was back, and she wasn’t perfect, but they could all work together to be a family.
“You’re getting sappy,” Derek murmured from behind her.
She spun around. “I’m just glad it’s not just the two of us alone anymore.” She shrugged. “Anyway, come on. We’ll be back to see your boyfriend tomorrow.”
Stiles flinched in surprise. “Ah…”
“Oh, don’t worry. I’ll find a way to interrogate you later.” She winked at him and walked out onto the porch. “Come on, Derek, I don’t have a valid driver’s license.” She tilted her head back, letting the rain drizzle over her face, and took a deep breath. She looked at her hands, at the old scars and marks from a lifetime in the same skin. She laughed quietly and raced to the Camaro.