When he sees his mother frowning at him, he knows that it was no ordinary wolfsbane.
It’s been about six years since the fire, and she looks just the same as she did that morning before he left for school. She’s even wearing the exact same outfit, with the same stain from where Cora tried to throw a strawberry at Laura and Mom just happened to be in the way.
She is not real. She can’t be.
“Mom,” he says nonetheless, because it hurts not to acknowledge her.
“My boy,” the smile on her face is forced.
It is the smile that means he’s in trouble. The smile that means she is about to use his middle name and maybe ground him or force him to babysit Cora while his parents have date night. It’s not that he doesn’t love his baby sister, it’s just… He’s fifteen and he can’t let anyone see his true colors (blue, so very blue, not beta gold like they used to be) and he knows that she is going to turn away from him when she finds out.
And she should, because he’s bad news. Because it’s his fault.
Movement behind him. “You killed me, Derek.”
He turns, claws out and ready to lash out, only to stop in his tracks when he sees her. She looks so young, so… fifteen. Black goo is dripping from her mouth slowly as she coughs and chokes, but when he reaches for her his hands go right through her.
It wouldn’t be the first time he’s hallucinated Paige. And he’s sure it won’t be the last.
“That poor girl,” his mother adds her voice once again. “You should have just come to me. You know that your uncle Peter only has terrible ideas.”
That joke had been funny once, but it certainly isn’t anymore.
“Like killing me. That was not a good plan. Or, well, I think he’s had better ideas.”
Laura looks perfectly healthy - barring the slash marks bisecting her torso. She looks at him like she did in New York, like she’s been burdened with this pain in the ass that she doesn’t know how to deal with. She had always tried hard with him, and he had never been too good at listening and forcing himself to deal with the rest of the world.
Maybe if he had, she’d still be...
“Murderer,” his father’s voice growls.
Yes, his relationship with his father has always been… less than perfect. Derek has always been a Mama’s Boy - and rather shamelessly so when he was a kid. But this? This stings.
Nothing hurts like seeing Granny’s weathered face set in a snarl, like seeing aunt Rosalie with burns all over her face while she cradles little Seth to her chest, like seeing Cora gasping for air that will never come. Ten people surround him now, and he failed all of them. He failed Paige, he failed his family, and then he failed Laura when they had no one else left.
“Murderer,” their voices start hissing at him from all around. “Murderer. Murderer. Murderer. Murderer. Murderer. Murderer.”
They all crowd in closer, their fangs and claws outstretched as they try to tear him apart - like he deserves. Even the humans are dangerous to him now - they all want to hurt him.
“Please, just kill me,” he closes his eyes and wishes he could finally just give up. “Kill me! I deserve it. Please. I can’t fight anymore.”
Everything in him aches, like he’s still in the process of healing - but he doesn’t feel any better. He just feels tired, exhausted. Because he’s not used to continued pain, not like this. There’s no one left to take the pain - no one left who’d want to.
“Don’t you know? Life is a fight.”
He chokes on a sob. “What am I supposed to do, mom?”
A non-murderous Alpha, someone to tell him what to do and how to fix his mess of a life. That is all he wants right now. Not to be alone anymore, not to be the only one making these decisions that could potentially cost people their lives. Not to be the only one fighting for his life and for the lives of everyone in this damn town he should have left in his rearview mirror.
Though, what would have happened to Scott if he hadn’t? Would he be dead, killed by the Argents for daring to be a werewolf and attempting to date their daughter? Would Stiles be left broken, or worse, torn apart by claws from a newly turned wolf who’d never had the chance to learn control?
“Live,” his mother orders, her eyes shining a bright, deep crimson that should by all rights be comforting to him. “Breathe. Suffer. You owe them that. You owe us that. You want the peace of death? The reunion? You’re gonna have to earn it.”
He wants to be with his family, desperately. He doesn’t want any other pack, no matter how much he may crave an Alpha to make him feel safe and cared for. But there is no one left who gives a shit, and nothing more people can take from him. There’s nothing left of him.
Mom claws at him and he keeps looking at her face instead, because he cannot watch her tear him apart, no matter how much he deserves it.
She shouldn’t even be able to touch him, but it feels like her claws are right in his gut, and he groans. And waits.
“Fight back!” Red eyes bore into his, forcing him to listen. “Do you really think you deserve to be free of your pain? Do you deserve that gift?”
No, he doesn’t. He only deserves to suffer.
“Because you’re gonna get it,” Kate smirks at him from his mother’s place, a gun pointed at the center of his chest.
Suddenly the world shifts, and his family is gone. Again. Not that they were really there in the first place - that is just this weird wolfsbane talking. That can also be blamed for Kate sneaking up on him so easily. He didn’t even hear or smell or see her coming, and now she has him dead to rights. No way to escape before she fires a shot.
“Nothing personal. Just animal.”
Something hits the gun before she can fire at him. It shifts Kate’s grip and ruins the shot, so the bullet bounces off on a tree to the side of him. The attempt to shift into beta form and to get away from her is completely instinctive, and it fails. That side of him is impossible to access at the moment, like he is trying to grasp at sand. He can’t focus on his anger, on his anchor, when he is just so tired. And sad. Most of all, he’s sad.
“Put it down, Kate. Now.”
Stiles? No, Stiles!
Why would that idiot put himself in danger like that? He’s not even all that surprised that Stiles is here, because of course he is. He has undoubtedly figured it all out - he probably knows all Derek’s done now, and he can try to get him arrested once more. He’d plead guilty if that fixed anything, if that saved people.
But it won’t. Maybe Stiles knows that too.
“Should've stayed down there, Stiles,” Kate’s voice is like nails on a chalkboard to him. “I tried not to kill you, but here you are, and we can’t have any witnesses to me putting this killer down.”
His father’s voice is calling him a murderer again, and Paige is bleeding out in his arms while he is helpless to do anything but end her pain. He is a killer - Kate has gotten that much right. She’s always known, because he was stupid enough to confide in her. Because she was all his and she was still interested even though his eyes were blue and he was a weird-looking kid with big ears and bigger front teeth. Because it was flattering, at first.
Until he realized how wrong it was.
“What is she talking about?” Stiles has to ask. Because he’s Stiles.
“The fire was my fault,” he gives up so easily. “I gave her all the opportunity she needed. I showed her the house. How to get in. Where the exits were. But I didn’t…”
He just let Kate do it, didn’t stop her - didn’t know what she’d do with the information he’d been naive enough to give to her. But he did give it to her, and that’s on him. That’ll always be on him, because without him she never could have done it.
His fault. His own family, and he just… His fault.
“Walk away now, and I won’t kill you,” Derek doesn’t need to hear the blip in her heartbeat to know that Kate is lying to Stiles. “My niece would be so upset.”
Scott’s girlfriend (?) Allison. She probably will be upset when she finds out one of her classmates has been killed. Scott will be inconsolable, and the Sheriff will be out for blood. Not that Kate gives a damn about that - she already knows that she can get away with murder.
Derek can’t let it happen again.
Stiles’ hands have a firm grip on the gun. “Put it down.”
For once Stiles doesn’t jitter or flail. He is perfectly focused. His hands are steady. This boy would have cut off Derek’s arm without hesitation. Who is he?
“Your choice,” Kate laughs mockingly.
The gun shots are loud to his sensitive hearing, and he’s too close to the struggle regardless of noise. He looks up at Kate, hoping desperately that she’s been hit, only there is no visible wound, so his head swings to check on Stiles.
Who has disappeared, probably behind that big tree that has a couple bullet marks on it. He hopes that Stiles hasn’t been hit - wouldn’t he know if Stiles had been? He can’t smell blood, and Stiles would not be subtle about it.
Stiles has never been subtle a day in his life.
Kate cocks her gun once more.
“No!” The word escapes him without his consent.
He lunges at her desperately, with his claws out now that he has suddenly found his anger again. He is clumsier than usual, but he manages to slice up Kate’s arm so that she momentarily drops that stupid gun.
“Stiles, just run!”
But it doesn’t last nearly long enough before she recovers and tries to strangle him while holding on to the gun. She’s too close, and it makes things more difficult - for Stiles as well, since he won’t be able to get a clean shot that way.
The world is wobbly still, and he can’t seem to get the upper hand with how drugged he is. He is more prey than predator at this point and he struggles to get a real breath in. He might be hyperventilating, on the cusp of a panic attack at having his tormentor so close.
“Get the hell off him!”
Stiles’ voice is ice cold. He’s never sounded more like his father to Derek. Like the Sheriff - or like the Deputy who’d offered Derek some clothes and vowed to him that they’d catch the monster responsible. Like the man who’d shown kindness on the worst day of his life.
But what would be kindness here, now?
Kate raises her gun again, and Derek just can’t risk it again. He cannot have another death on his conscience, can’t have Stiles’ death on his conscience. With a frantic leap, he throws himself at Kate before she can get off another shot. They grapple briefly before Derek can get an arm free. He closes his eyes and slashes her throat.
The following sound will stay with him forever, and he is frozen on top of her. But she’s stopped moving, and so he looks.
There is so much blood.
He leaps off in the direction of the tree Stiles was hiding behind before. He wants to vomit, but he knows he can’t contaminate the scene any more than he’s already done.
This time, he won’t escape punishment.
Derek isn’t sure if Stiles means it as a question or as reassurance, but his answer is the same.
“No,” he shakes his head, “I'm not. My mother... If she knew what I've done, who I am, she raised me to be better, to be good. And I killed her. I killed all of them.”
Maybe he should have lost, should have kept his claws sheathed and let Kate win. That is what he deserves, after all. To be with his family again.
Or maybe he doesn’t. Maybe he deserves to suffer without them a little while longer. Maybe that’s why he’s still here, on his family’s land, with nothing to show for it but Kate’s body bleeding out a few feet away while he sits under a tree with the kid who saved his life. Again.
“Derek…” Stiles is looking at him again.
He doesn’t have a handle on what tone Stiles is using with him. He wonders why Stiles hasn’t called his father yet, because there’s a dead body in the Preserve - again - and Derek has blood on his hands - again. Stiles has the killer dead to rights and he isn’t doing anything about it.
“All I do is hurt people and get them killed. I'm a monster.”
Is he trying to get arrested again? Maybe. At least this time he has actually committed the murder that he’ll be accused of. And he can do the time, and get himself in solitary on the full moon, and he’ll have all the anger he needs to anchor himself.
Penance, he thinks. He needs to do penance.
“Hey,” Stiles just keeps elbowing and prodding him until Derek looks at him. “You saved my life today. And not just today. You may be a total ass half the time - or more than half the time, really. Not the point. The point is: I need you. We all need you. None of us would've survived if it wasn't for you. You want forgiveness, fine, I'll give it to you. You're forgiven, ok, but you can't run, Derek. You have to come back with me. You have to face it.”
How Stiles can say all this without lying is beyond Derek. But he isn’t lying - Stiles genuinely believes what he is saying. Sure, he could get upset about the total ass thing, but even about that, Stiles isn’t exactly wrong. Not that Derek doesn’t have his reasons.
But face it? Face what? Prison? The psychopath Alpha? What is he facing? He doesn’t know.
And so he digs his metaphorical heels in the metaphorical sand and refuses to look at Stiles.
“Like you faced your dad?” He feels like an asshole as soon as he says it.
“You're right,” Stiles says, and Derek can hardly believe he’d admit it. “I don't want to face my dad. I don't want to face any of it. All I think about every day is how we're gonna keep everyone alive, but we don't have a choice.”
Stiles is right - not that Derek is going to tell him that, because he is enough of a smug little shit already. But they don’t have a choice except to just keep going, to keep trying to keep people alive in the face of seemingly insurmountable obstacles.
Derek breaks the silence. “Chris Argent is going to kill us for this.”
“We'll figure something out,” Stiles tries to sound reassuring, even though he’s not.
Here’s a mere teenager, a sixteen year old human boy trying to be an Alpha. He probably doesn’t even realize that he’s doing it, but he’s holding himself like he’s the one in charge, even though Derek can scent terror on him still. He’s pushing aside his own concerns to help Derek - that’s what a good Alpha does.
That is what his mother and Laura have taught him.
“Can we figure it out later?”
The memories sting - probably always will. The reminder that he’ll never have a family Alpha again. He’s the only sane Hale left, the only one who can use that old name and make it mean something again. It’s a lot of pressure.
“Whenever you're ready,” Stiles leans in closer until their shoulders touch.
It is comforting, having actual human contact that doesn’t involve violence. He feels like shit for pushing Stiles around so much, and wonders why Stiles would even want to keep saving him after all they’ve been through.
He’s been forgiven, though. Stiles has forgiven him.
So he takes another deep breath to push away the darkest thoughts and takes a bit more of Stiles’ weight against his side.
Anything else can wait until he’s ready.