Draw a circle with a piece of chalk. Imagine standing in a constant cone
of light. Imagine surrender. Imagine being useless.
A stone on the path means the tea's not ready,
a stone in the hand means somebody's angry, the stone inside you still
hasn't hit bottom.
-- Richard Siken, "Seaside Improvisation"
You were the baby of the family, not born for anything except to live, not like your sister the alpha, your brother the witch (magic flowing in and out of his human fingers; you can’t see it but you can smell it, always, not the moon but the earth and the wind, the water rising up to meet him if he put his hand to the ground and it willed it to be so), the other two trained soldiers from birth. You were late, the autumn child, and your mother loved you so much she cried more than you did the first day you were sent away to school.
You know, now, what you did not at first: that you were her favorite, the only baby who was hers and not your father’s. You were not trained for anything, except to be strong and swift and sure, because that was what it meant, she told you, to be a wolf. You followed her around the house your whole childhood and she never once rebuked you, even when Cooper teased you about it, and Laura slapped him in the face (not hard, although he cried anyway).
“Don’t worry, baby,” your mother used to tell you, “you’re going to live a charmed life. Trust me, a mother knows.”
And she pulled you close to her and that was all you knew, the soft warm give of her body, and you – six, seven, deaf dumb blind – believed her.
Your problem is that you’ve never been very good at people, at understanding what they mean instead of listening to what they say, and so when the Stilinski kid shows up in your yard a couple of weeks after you almost died (after you almost killed a boy who didn’t deserve it), you have no idea what he’s doing there, or what he wants.
Bodies – those are something you understand, mostly; you know immediately exactly how much smaller he is than the last time you saw him. Too skinny, too pale; his cheeks cave in a little too much, from his face. He’s a shadow of something: he looks like the dead walking. His hands are stuffed down in the pockets of his hoodie and he looks tentative but not afraid.
You smelled him coming from a mile away (it’s not an exaggeration when you say this) and so by the time he’s coming up to the porch you’re already out there, waiting. Peter and Isaac are out, wandering the edge of the forest, looking for signs. A large part of you expects that one day, they won’t come back, that Isaac will be found at the bottom of the river with his throat opened up, all the blood leeched out of him into the water, and Peter will be gone, or maybe at home waiting for you, waiting to slaughter you himself. These are the kinds of things you think about. You have no alternative to Peter, that’s the thing: you have nobody else upon whom you can even begin to rely.
“Stiles,” you say, and he raises an eyebrow. You raise yours back, and ask him what he’s doing here.
He shrugs, looks around almost but not quite evasively – he’s too tired, you think, to muster up the full-fledged feeling. “I thought I’d swing by, check in on how things are going in Werewolf Central, you know. Since you’re harboring psychopaths now.”
“Just the one,” you tell him, and he rolls his eyes.
“I try to keep the psychopaths to a minimum, myself,” he says.
“Yeah, well,” you say, because you’re not sure what else you’re supposed to tell him. You cross your arms instead.
“I’ve heard, uh, howling,” he says. “At night.”
“There are a few werewolves in Beacon Hills,” you reply, as blandly as you can manage.
“Yeah, thanks, I pretty much picked up on that,” he says, making a face like he can’t believe you’re attempting to be funny (and you’re not, really; you were never the funny one in your family: your siblings pulled tricks on you all the time, and you were so gullible that you always, always believed them). “I’m also pretty sure Scott isn’t, like, serenading the moon or whatever, and you don’t strike me as the musical type, which leaves Isaac and your charming uncle, and Boyd and Erica, who seem to have vanished anyway, and four wolves don’t account for all this fucking noise.”
“Two wolves pitching their voices right can create the illusion of –”
“Yeah, yeah, I know, what do you think I am, an idiot?” he asks.
“Well, that makes you more knowledgeable than any of your little friends,” you tell him. He rolls his eyes again.
“Yeah, well, they should have thought of consulting Wikipedia,” he says. “I mean, seriously, am I the only person with a working computer in this whole town? Jesus. Anyway, even if you factor in the fact that wolves howling together pretty much always sound more numerous than they are, there’s no way four of you guys could create that much sound. Especially since, need I remind you, Erica and Boyd are probably dead in a ditch somewhere, or – optimistically – hightailing it to Mexico.”
“Why don’t you ask Scott?” you ask.
“If you seriously think Scott has the initiative to figure out why there might be a couple extra werewolves in town while simultaneously trying to be, like, the best guy ever, in the history of the earth, to try to convince Allison they should be dating again without actually, you know, talking to her, you are seriously overestimating his mental capacity, my friend.”
You snort at that, you can’t help it. He smiles at you, a flicker of something that’s wan compared to what you’re used to, from him. Not – not you, specifically, just – well, he’s a lot, this kid; everything he does is a lot, is too big for him, for his fragile little human body.
“Anyway, he’s trying to take a break from saving the world, or something,” Stiles says, and turns his wandering gaze to your face. It feels uncomfortably like being pinned. His eyes are a little dull, though, and he’s not talking as fast as he normally does. “So I thought I’d ask you.”
“Why?” you ask. You can’t help it. Generally your policy with everyone – but especially with Stiles, who talks so much and so fast usually that you’re kind of surprised his tongue hasn’t fallen clean out of his mouth yet – is to say as little as possible, to get them to leave you alone. But you’re curious, even if you shouldn’t be.
“I’m still a little concerned about the world ending,” he says flatly, and you can tell immediately that he’s not lying. He’s not lying at all. He swallows. You can hear the sound of his throat moving very clearly.
“It’s not your job,” you tell him.
“I know,” he says, and raises his chin a little. “So, who are they?”
You probably shouldn’t tell him; he really shouldn’t get involved. He’s sixteen and when somebody hits him he bleeds. There is still a hint of a bruise on his cheek, two weeks after the fact. He’s got weaknesses, soft spots: if anybody threatens Scott or his father he’ll almost certainly break. It’s not sensible for either of you to be having this conversation; it puts you both at risk.
You tell him anyway.
Cooper was three years older than you and easily the most unpleasant of your siblings. He picked on you endlessly – you cried a lot, as a little kid (something you won’t ever be willing to admit, and also undeniably true), and he knew it was easy to get a rise out of you. He knew exactly what to say to you to draw your wolf out and exactly where to hurt you to twist your human self back to the fore, tears and all. At three it did not matter that you did not bruise, that your blood wended its way back into your veins without a trace. You were in pain, like any other three year old, and if your wailing sounded a little like a wolf pup’s wobbly howling – well, that was the only thing that differentiated you.
Your mother used to sit down with him and explain to him, carefully and calmly, all the ways what he had done was wrong, and then he would cry, too, big ugly tears. He was always genuinely contrite, and it never stopped him from coming back for more the next time.
“He’s jealous, because you’re Mama’s favorite,” Laura explained to you once, very matter-of-factly, when you were a little older.
“What?” you asked, blank.
“It’s okay,” she said, and hugged you. “You didn’t do anything wrong. Just try to forgive him next time. He gets sad sometimes.”
“Okay,” you said, confused and skeptical. But she stepped between you every once in a while, if she was around when he started in on you, and unlike your mother, Laura was not hesitant to use a little physical force to make her point.
You loved Laura – you loved, you loved Laura – but it was Patrick who was your favorite, your only human sibling, the second oldest after her. It was Patrick you trailed after when your mother was not around, and he never once complained, that you can remember, even though he was eight years older than you were, and in some ways – you understood this even then – a disappointment, because he was not a wolf and the rest of you were. It did not matter to your father that Patrick could do things none of the rest of you could – or maybe it did, a little, but not in the right ways. He tried, your father. He did try. He did not always succeed.
Patrick was the smart one in the family – you hated reading, Laura learned by doing, and Cooper and Alice were the athletes of the lot. Patrick was the scrawniest, almost dangerously so, you think now, and probably the most like your mother out of all of you (this was why you loved him). He took you on walks through the forest, long winding walks through every corner of the wood until you knew it intimately, knew it as well as you knew your own house, even at five or seven years old. He wrote runes on the trees to guide you back home, even if you got separated from him, and sometimes he could make the animals come out to nose at him tentatively, even though they should have been terrified of you. He could whisper words to make the wind come and sometimes when he wasn’t thinking his footprints would fill with water. (You, trailing behind him, splashing in each one, until your sneakers were soppy and caked with mud.) You wonder now whether he was human at all, or whether he was some other thing. A changeling child from under the mound, brought into your home from the darkness of the night.
When you heard about the fire, when the sheriff came to the school and took you out of class to tell you what had happened, your second thought was for Patrick, for his magic, for the way the water cleaved to him like love cleaved to your mother, power to your father, nothing to you (later: not nothing; sorrow). You found out after, from the autopsy report, that he didn’t die from fire but from a bullet to the back of the head.
(Your first thought was for your mother, and your grief was like a hot, blunt knife ripping through your gut. You have wondered so many times, since then, whether the price you’ve paid for your body’s ability to knit itself back together so easily is your absolute inability to do the same to the other kind of wounds you have sustained, the ones that are still open and bleeding all these years later.)
Stiles is sitting on the floor in your house, berating you about the lack of wifi, when Peter comes back from patrol the next day, without Isaac in tow. You tense on instinct – packpackpack, the song of your blood, your mother’s song and your sister’s song and your brother’s song, and Isaac means very little to you, in the end, but he is part of this, too; he is pack – and Peter rolls his eyes.
“Calm down,” he says. “He’s at the store, Derek. In case you haven’t noticed, you’re a little short on food.” You think there might be one more frozen dinner in the freezer of the fridge you managed to get hooked up in the basement, and a nearly empty box of cereal somewhere.
“And wifi,” Stiles mutters without looking up, fumbling with his hotspot.
Peter smiles. You do not like it, generally, when Peter smiles.
“Mr. Stilinski,” he says, hands in his pockets, leaning against the doorframe. “It’s been so long.”
Stiles’ eyes flick up to his and then back down to the computer. “I seem to remember you sticking your claws into a friend of mine only weeks ago,” he says. “So, not that long, actually.”
“You wound me,” Peter says drily. “Need I remind you that Derek here also, ah, got his claws into your… friend?”
“Yeah, well, he actually thinks he’s doing the right thing most of the time, even when he’s out of his fucking mind,” Stiles says without looking up from the computer screen. “Whereas you’re just creepy as shit, so pardon me if I’m not, like, thrilled to see you again, resurrected from the dead.”
There’s something going on here that you can’t quite identify, that you don’t understand, and you hate it; it makes you angry, or rather it adds to the anger you are always carrying around inside of you. If pack was your mother’s song in you this song is all your own. This is the one you hear in your sleep. You are made from your anger, now, as much as you were made by your mother; her phantom touches are sloughing off with every year that passes steeped in fury. You wish that she were here, to tell you what they mean: you can follow the words but not their significance.
“Well, the offer still stands,” Peter says easily. “I’m sure you remember what I’m talking about.”
Stiles finally does look up at him, distastefully. “Dude, you need to, like, cut it out with all this bad guy stuff, okay? You do realize that nobody actually talks like this in real life, right? It’s not nearly as intimidating as you seem to think.”
Stiles, you realize, is uncomfortable. And irritated, but you already knew that. And something else, something you almost can’t make out, it’s so faint, so deeply hidden: he is afraid. You’d never guess it from his face alone, from the flat way he’s looking at Peter like Peter is nothing more than the shit on the bottom of his shoe.
“That wasn’t a no,” Peter points out, and a muscle in Stiles’ cheek twitches.
“It was,” Stiles says, and Peter sighs melodramatically.
“I offered him the bite, you know,” he tells you, smirking a little – at Stiles, at you? You can’t tell. “He refused. It’s a pity, really; he would have been a much better choice than any of the deadbeats you picked. Someday you’re going to have to tell me exactly how you decided on the three of them, because really, it boggles the mind.”
Out of the corner of your eye, you see the taut muscle in Stiles’ cheek twitch again.
“Shut up, Peter,” you tell him, as flatly as you can manage, but his smirk just grows wider.
“Of course, Mister Alpha, Sir,” he says, and swans out.
You really hate him, sometimes. Most of the time. Nearly always.
“Dick,” Stiles mutters, and hits return with an excess of force.
“He can’t actually bite you, you know,” you tell him. “He’s not the alpha.”
“Yeah, you’re the alpha, I’ve heard,” Stiles says. “I’m not sure any of us has any idea what he is, though, do we? So I’d just as soon keep my fleshy parts away from his teeth, if it’s all the same to you.”
“Yes,” you say, awkward. “That sounds… good.”
He looks up at you for a moment, looking even more sickly in the bluish light of the computer screen, but he smiles crookedly before turning back to the laptop.
“Here we go,” he murmurs, and before you know it he has more windows open about alpha packs than you thought existed on the internet at all, and is rattling off information to you like it’s nothing to him, so you sit next to him and listen without saying anything at all.
Laura, who was sensible about these things without necessarily understanding them, was the one who told you that your mother hated Uncle Peter. This was not something you had considered possible before, although in retrospect it made sense: after all, you hated Cooper at least half of the time, and Mama and Uncle Peter weren’t even really related, so there wasn’t any good reason why she shouldn’t hate him just as much. He only ever came at Christmastime, when you were little, but when he came he stayed for two long weeks. You always assumed you liked him until you found out your mother did not: you were supposed to like your family, regardless of your opinions about them as individuals. This, at least, was what you had always been told.
You consulted Patrick about it, because if Laura knew things then Patrick was the one who understood them properly.
“I don’t think Uncle Peter is the type of werewolf Mom is, or wants you to be,” Patrick said, which was not exactly helpful. “He’s pretty angry, all the time.”
“Oh,” you said, since that didn’t really make any sense to you, either.
“Also I’m pretty sure he used to be in love with her,” Patrick added quietly. “Before Dad, you know.”
“Eww,” you said, and Patrick smiled, and reached out to the tree you were passing, pressed his fingers into the bark deliberately and watched as moss gathered there, gleaming and new. You craned your neck to see it and he picked you up, raised you high enough to see it close up.
“He’s so much younger than Dad, though,” you said.
“I know,” Patrick said. “Sometimes that doesn’t matter to people, though. Anyway, she’s in love with Dad.”
“I know,” you said, because you did.
“And Dad’s definitely in love with Mom,” Patrick said, laughing a little, and you grinned because this was also, undeniably, true. Your father loved your mother in the stupid, hopeless way you have promised yourself you will never love anybody. (His autopsy – what the police could tell from the crime scene – that he was the last one alive. That he could have escaped. That he could be somewhere other than the ground.) Your father was emotionally clumsy and dense and could be too harsh, unfairly harsh, and he loved your mother. You are like your father in all the ways that count, except that the one time you loved anybody it was not like that; it was stupid and juvenile and adolescent and the girl you were in love with murdered your family; the girl you were in love with did not deserve to be loved, not like your mother did. Your mother deserved it, deserved all of your father’s love and your siblings’ love and your love, your love most of all, and you have privately never believed it would be possible for you to love anybody as much as you loved her.
(You were tortured, always, by the fact that you were so much like your father, and you knew it; you even looked like him, except for your eyes, which were all hers. You told this to her once, when you were very small, told her very gravely how hard you were trying to be like her, and how you kept failing.
She just smiled and tried not to laugh, and kissed your forehead and held you close to her. “You’re more like me than you think,” she whispered in your ear. “And it’s okay for you to be like your father, you know. There’s a reason I married him.”)
“What about Mama’s family?” you asked Patrick as you kept walking. She never said anything about them.
“They died,” he told you, and lifted you over a puddle too wide for your little legs to cross on their own. So in the end you were like her: you, too, were the last one left.
You tried telling Stiles you didn’t need him to research for you, since you and Peter both knew what you were dealing with, but he just gave you a look that spoke volumes about his opinion of your intelligence and did his thing anyway. Then, of course, he turned up around five pertinent things that you hadn’t considered at all, a kind of triumphant gleam in his eye, and Peter snickered at you in the corner.
You really, really wish, sometimes (most of the time), that he had stayed dead.
Except for the howling the alphas have, bizarrely, been lying low, which terrifies you much more than violent aggression would. You can smell them around town – not that you’re in town very often – and in the woods, sometimes, but not clearly, not well; you don’t think you could track them without immense effort. Stiles says that some website he found reports that one of the side-effects of the amount of power that comes from a pack full of alphas is the ability to contain their scents at will, which is such a violation to you that it makes your skin crawl to think about it, to think about not being able to smell a threat. You couldn’t really smell Jackson, either, when he was the kanima, but these are wolves, these are your people and it makes you afraid, this knowledge. It makes you profoundly uncomfortable.
Stiles shows up at the house once or twice a week, and you ritualistically tell him he should leave every time. He always ignores you, and it’s become a kind of game the two of you are playing, a game to which he seems to have all the rules, and you none. You wish desperately (as you always do, every day) that your mother were here to tell you what she thought of him, to explain him to you. Your mother, you know, would be able to talk to Stiles for an hour and know everything there was to know about him, know what the inside of him looked like better than he did himself. She would probably have loved him, you realize with a jolt one day, although why you’re surprised, you couldn’t say: your mother loved nearly everybody, was generous with her affection, and Stiles – well, aside from his regrettable motor-mouth, Stiles is… likeable.
You try to see him as she would have seen him, try to suss him out in her way. It doesn’t work. He’s as much of an enigma as ever, and the new shadows to his face, the exhaustion there – it’s a bone-deep exhaustion that has nothing to do with the body – aren’t helping, are only confusing you further.
It is Peter who suggests, a couple weeks into this whole fiasco (you think of it as a fiasco) that Stiles go with you when it’s your turn to patrol. You feel a little foolish doing this every day, but you know as well as Peter does – as well as Stiles does – that there will come a day when they will come, and you will need to have done everything you can to sense them coming.
It’s a terrible idea for Stiles to come with you, though, because if today is that day, there will be nothing he can do to keep himself from getting slashed apart – or, worse, bitten. (And why is it worse? You couldn’t say, exactly. But you have never seriously considered it. You don’t know why, and it bothers you.)
But: “Yes,” Stiles says, shooting up from his position on the floor. “Yes, I support this plan, come on, let’s get out of here.” Peter looks amused. You stare at both of them.
“You could die,” you tell him, in case he doesn’t understand this for whatever reason.
“Yeah, well, I’m going to die of boredom if I stay in this house any longer, so let’s just get a move on, shall we?” he says, and bounds out the door before you can say anything. Peter is laughing silently and you don’t know why, so you snarl at him, fangs coming out instinctively. But Peter’s never been afraid of that, of you. He just keeps smiling to himself, so you snarl once more, for good measure, and stalk out of the house yourself to find Stiles waiting expectantly in the parking lot.
“You’re an idiot,” you tell him, and start walking.
“So I’ve been told, repeatedly,” he says cheerfully enough from behind you. This, you realize, isn’t going to work: he’s going to have to be in front of you, or you’ll be even more nervous this whole time than you have to be.
“It bears repeating,” you mutter, and stop. He stops, too, and raises his eyebrows when you turn to look at him. “You go ahead of me,” you tell him, irritated at having to explain yourself.
“Okay,” he says, frowning a little.
“So I can see you,” you grind out.
“Right,” he says, and starts walking.
You progress for a little while in silence, watching the slender cast of his body in front of you, and realize that even in the past few weeks he has lost weight – not enough to cause serious alarm, but enough for worry. You wonder whether his father notices these kinds of things.
It’s kind of remarkable, actually, that he isn’t saying anything. You wonder whether you should, instead – which is a weird impulse, so you quash it.
This forest is your favorite place, still. Your family and your home were taken from you (she took them from you) but even Kate Argent could not destroy this forest; this forest is its own wild thing and no human or wolf can contain it, control it – nobody except Patrick, who is dead.
This forest is cool and dark and not pretty, but it is beautiful: it is a harsh thing, a damp thing, a wet and musky thing; there are wet leaves and wriggling worms beneath your feet and lichen on the trees and it’s California but it’s the rough part and you love it. It is your home and its song is your song, too; it settles your bones and makes them shake, and you remember your mother and her big easy joy in this, in the world and her corner of it, in the sunlight and the moonlight and the smells of the forest and the small animals that fled from her, in the way her body changed, in the uncomplicated ecstasy of running out here, of the feeling of the earth beneath her feet. You inherited this from her and some of it has, miraculously, survived in you. Most of it is gone – you have no real joy anymore – but you can remember it well enough that there is a shadow of it inside of you still.
In front of you, Stiles is murmuring something to himself and moving one of his hands and a kind little breeze blows by you, touches your face gently as it goes, and the hairs stand up on the back of your neck.
“What?” Stiles asks when he realizes you’ve stopped. He’s walked a few more steps and he turns around to look at you.
“Where did you learn to do that?” you ask, and he doesn’t move at all, doesn’t say anything, just looks at you, and you don’t want to know what he can see in your face. You don’t – you really don’t want to know.
“Where?” you repeat.
“Deaton’s been showing me a few things,” he says cautiously. “And I’ve been doing some – research. Myself.” His fingers twitch against the leg of his pants.
You look around, try to feel the forest around you. Stiles watches you cautiously, and for once his face is entirely still.
“What have you been doing?” you ask, and he shrugs a little, eloquently evasive, but really it’s too late for that, now; you’ve caught him.
“Not much,” he says, and the thrum of his heart is steady and true. “I’m not very – advanced. Yet. I can sort of do, um, general – protection. More like good intentions, honestly, I mean, who knows. I’m hoping if I get better I can come up with something that’ll – I dunno, like a kind of trip wire, to signal – that they’re coming, but it’s complicated. The books keep saying the silly stuff is easier, like, you know, the wind or whatever.” He cracks the joints in his long fingers and reaches out to rest one palm on the bark of a nearby tree and whispers something under his breath, and there it is: the moss.
You stare at it, and take a step back. Stiles is frowning.
“Derek?” he asks, and steps forward, toward you. He sounds young again – he’s been sounding increasingly like an adult, recently, but now he is small and unsure and a child, and some long-dead part of you wants to send him as far away from you as possible, to keep him safe, to keep him out of all of this.
Your brother died with a bullet in his brain.
“Derek,” Stiles says again, clearly alarmed now. “Derek, what’s going on, come on, talk to me –”
“It’s nothing,” you manage, mouth dry. “It’s nothing.”
“That really did not look like nothing,” he says, and you blink, and turn away from the moss to look at him. He swallows but doesn’t back down, meets your gaze straight-on, and somehow it is only now that you realize, that you really understand, how much trouble he is going to be – how much trouble you are in, with him.
“Really,” you tell him. “It just – I used to know somebody who could do that.”
He blinks, surprised. “Really? Who?”
“My brother,” you say before you know what you’re doing, and you cringe once you’ve said it: stupid, stupid, stupid. Stiles’ eyes go wide.
“Whoa,” he says quietly, and you look away.
“Did he – I mean, did he, you know, study?” Stiles asks hesitantly, and you don’t want to tell him but you do, you want Patrick to be standing here right now, you want Stiles to understand who he was, you want him to be a person to him, not just an attendant part of your miserable personal tragedy. You can’t explain him with words; you haven’t got enough, or the right ones.
“No,” you tell him. “Well – yes. But he was a, uh, a natural. He wasn’t a wolf,” you add after a beat.
“Lucky bastard,” Stiles mutters, and it’s so unexpected that it startles a laugh out of you, if the weird huff of breath you just let out could really be classified as laughter.
“What was he like?” Stiles asks, and you have to look at him now, you have to, but you don’t want to, because you know it’s going to hurt. You look at the moss for a moment before turning to him, and his face is open and curious and his body has forgotten to be tense and afraid, and you don’t know why he wants to know. You don’t have what it takes to read these things, to read people – to read him, let alone yourself.
“He was… I don’t know,” you say. “He was… smart. He was the oldest boy, so it was – hard for him. The wolf thing.” What else to say about Patrick? What else to say? He’s gone. He’s been gone for so long. “He was my favorite,” you say. It’s not enough – it’s not about Patrick at all, it’s about you, but that’s all you have: yourself, the way you felt. The way you still feel.
“Oh,” Stiles says softly, and he still hasn’t moved. His scent is complicated and confusing right now and you can’t read that, either, even though bodies are your thing, even though you are supposed to understand them. You want to close your eyes and go to sleep right here in the forest; you want to put all of this aside for a while. (And oh, you will pray to whatever god will deliver you from nightmares, just for tonight, just for these few hours.)
“What was his name?” Stiles asks, and you swallow.
“Patrick,” you tell him. It sounds strange in your mouth. It’s been a long time since you’ve said it.
“Patrick,” Stiles repeats, like he’s trying it out, and the breeze comes back, like it’s been called.
Patrick and Laura used to stay up all night talking, and sometimes you crept out of your bed and listened in, even though you were supposed to be sleeping, and it didn’t matter that you didn’t really understand what they were talking about, because you just wanted to listen to their voices. You can’t remember any of the content of these conversations, now, but you remember lying on the floor in the hall, listening, and you remember your mother finding you out there, half-asleep, and laughing her quiet laugh, and picking you up, and bringing you back to your big welcoming bed, smoothing your dark hair aside and pressing her love against your temple with her dry lips.
“You know,” Stiles tells you in the middle of writing down a long string of symbols you don’t recognize in the back of his math notebook, “this whole defeating the alpha pack thing would be a lot easier if you actually had, you know, a real pack to defend yourself with, I’m just saying.”
“Two of my pack members are gone,” you remind him, because that’s not still bothering you; that doesn’t still sting.
“Yeah, well, maybe you wouldn’t have that problem if you weren’t so deeply fucking awful at picking packmates. Like, dude, you are legendarily bad.”
“I resent that,” you tell him, and he rolls his eyes.
“Seriously? Okay, Boyd’s all right – or was all right, or whatever – but Erica is just a disaster waiting to happen, and Isaac’s got more than a few screws loose, if you know what I mean.”
“Isaac’s still around,” you point out.
“Yeah,” he says, “and someday soon your lunatic uncle will probably, like, eat him and use his power to become some sort of weird mutant alpha, and then you can say sayonara to Stiles, because I will be getting the hell out of dodge.”
“That’s not possible.”
“What, the eating, or the, uh, power ingestion thing? Because I really would not count anything out when it comes to Peter, including cannibalism, and a year ago I would also have told you that, um, werewolves, and crazy paralyzing lizard creatures, and being resurrected from the dead were also impossible, and yet here we are.”
You sigh. “If Peter were to kill Isaac – I said if – he wouldn’t become an alpha, because Isaac’s not an alpha himself. That’s just how it works.”
“If you say so,” he replies, and you can tell from the tone of his voice that he doesn’t believe you. “I’m just saying, maybe you could have actually discussed all this crap with people before turning them into rabid creatures of the night, and maybe could have chosen some people who aren’t wildly insecure, hormonal teenagers. Like, Scott may have the intellectual capacity of a rutabaga, but he at least has some principles.”
“A rutabaga,” you repeat, incredulous.
“Okay, generously a winter squash,” he continues blithely, slapping his notebook closed when he’s done writing out the runes. “What?” he says in response to your blank square. “Everybody knows the winter squash is the most intelligent of vegetables.”
“What it must be like inside your mind,” you say, astounded. He makes a face.
“Yeah, well, luckily for you, you’ll never get to visit,” he says sourly. “Come on, chop chop, time for me to save your ass again, as usual.”
“I have saved your ass at least as many times as you’ve saved mine,” you argue, because you have a hard time letting things go.
“Whatever,” he says, “I am holding the pool incident over your head for as long as we two shall live; I’m pretty sure my legs are still sore from treading water for that long.”
“Okay,” you say, just to shut him up, and he smirks a little, victorious. “Come on, let’s go.”
“You weren’t supposed to be the alpha, right?” he asks you a while later, when you’ve been walking through the forest for a solid mile, Stiles drawing out symbols on tree trunks with a finger. At the beginning he needed to concentrate and mutter along to himself as he went but now he’s almost absent-minded, or at least that’s how it seems to you.
“What?” you ask, startled out of your brooding.
“You weren’t supposed to be the alpha,” he repeats, and it’s less of a question this time, more of a formality.
“No,” you tell him.
“That was – your sister,” he says, and you wish you could see his face, even though you probably wouldn’t be able to glean anything useful from it, but instead you’re stuck staring at the back of his head and his too-skinny neck, the bones of his spine protruding visibly from beneath his skin.
“Laura,” you agree before you can stop yourself, but then he already knows about Laura – knows enough, anyway; knows that Peter killed her, that she died.
“Was she always going to be the alpha, or – was it supposed to be somebody else?”
You don’t know why he’s asking these questions and you’re pretty sure you want him to stop, but for some reason you respond anyway. You tell yourself it’s because this is the easiest way of getting him to shut up.
“Yes,” you tell him. “It was always her.”
“Oh,” Stiles says. “I thought – never mind.”
“What?” you ask, curiosity getting the better of you yet again.
“Nothing,” he says, but it’s thoughtful, not evasive, and you don’t think that he’s lying. “I mean, I guess I didn’t give it a lot of – thought, per se, I just sort of assumed she took over after – well, just because. Um. You know.”
“She was the oldest,” you hear yourself saying. “Not that that necessarily denotes alpha status, but – it often does. In families.”
“Hmm,” Stiles say, or hums, really, stopping in front of another tree to swipe his thumb over the bark. You want to ask him how this will help when he’s not even leaving anything there to denote the charm, but you don’t. Patrick never needed to do that, either. “What about you?” he continues, and you start.
“What about me?” you ask, blank.
“Which one were you?” Stiles asks, and actually turns to glance over his shoulder at you, eyebrow cocked expectantly. “Birth order, come on, you know what I mean.”
“Oh,” you say, surprised he doesn’t know this; you thought everybody in town knew this, knew all these superficial but nevertheless maddening details about your life. “Youngest.”
“Oh,” Stiles says, softly, still looking at you, and you don’t know what the look on his face means, or why he’s making it.
“What?” you ask, unsettled.
“Nothing,” he says, and he is lying, now; you can hear the uptick of his pulse and growl for a moment, in spite of yourself. “Sorry,” he says mildly, almost absently, but he doesn’t elaborate, just turns around again and keeps walking. You want to stop him; you want to grab him by the shoulder and turn him around and demand some kind of explanation – of why he’s asking these questions, of what they mean, of – of why he cares enough to bother, of why he’s out here in the first place, with you of all people; why, given his options, he would ever think of choosing you.
“Why didn’t you ever think about turning me?” he asks a moment later, and you’re so surprised you actually stop walking, so he does, too, but he doesn’t turn around, just lays his palm flat on the tree trunk in front of him. His fingers are long and white and make his hand look even bigger than it is when they’re splayed out like this on the bark.
“Did – did you want to be turned?” you ask, confused, because you’d thought –
“No,” he says emphatically, honestly. He rubs his thumb back and forth over the tree. “I was just wondering. Was all.”
“You – you didn’t want me to,” you tell him. “I mean – I thought –”
“I just – I didn’t think that would, ah. Matter. Necessarily.”
“Of course it would,” you tell him.
“Oh,” he says, and his voice is small suddenly, a boy’s voice, a child’s. He still hasn’t turned around to look at you. “Oh, okay.”
He is too skinny and pale, this boy in front of you, and his human limbs would snap so very easily beneath your hands. You could crush his spine in an instant. The blood that comes out of him when he bleeds is a bright high red that smells different to you than your blood and that of your kind; it has a sweeter scent, a taste you could get drunk on, because you are a predator, no matter what your mother told you. You do not think you have ever understood, before this moment, how much you want – how much you need – him to survive. You can, you realize, smell your own fear.
“Stiles,” you say slowly, hesitantly, “you’re – you’re going to leave. You’re going to – to get into a good college, and go there, and – you’re going to have a life.” Because he is: he is going to live, not like the rest of them. Not like you.
He just looks confused, now, and you don’t know what else to say to him; you don’t know how else to say it. Words and people: your two weakest points.
“People want to – belong in, in things, in groups,” you say clumsily, trying anyway. “When you’re part of a pack, it’s – you have to belong, it’s – it’s in your blood, it’s – it’s like family, you just – you’re just pack, it doesn’t matter if you like them or not, you just – you make it work.” You pause. Stiles is watching you very closely. “You’re – you’re going to find people who want to belong to you because of you, not because you can grow fangs and run fast.”
“Oh,” Stiles says softly, and you push past him before you’re even aware that you’re moving – that’s how much you want to get away from this conversation, though you’d grudgingly admit that you’re relieved by the sound of his footsteps following yours.
Sometimes when you are lying awake in the shell of the house you grew up in – in the shell of your home, listening to the wind whip through the broken windows and burned-out walls, watching the changing shadows of the trees in the moonlight – you find yourself thinking about your father, because even though you loved your mother more, even though you miss her more, every day, if you could get one of them back for a day, for an hour, it would be your father. You need him, now, in a way you did not back then, or at least in a way you had not yet really begun to understand.
Your father could be frightening, but it was not his anger you were afraid of, his occasional bouts of terrifying rage (he never touched any of you; it was not like that – he went to the wolf and into the woods instead, and sometimes you did not see him for days): you were afraid of his disapproval. (You wonder now whether he was nearly as disapproving as you had always believed, whether he might in fact have just been incapable of saying what he really meant.)
You were lucky because you had your mother. Cooper had her, too – she never neglected your brothers and sisters, just because she loved you best – but he was too jealous, always, and he turned to your father instead with a desperate, blind need for approval. Your father was bad at this, at affection, and Cooper lived in a state of constant disappointment. You can remember a few incidents of your father clumsily trying to praise him and not quite managing, or not getting to the end without slipping back into some kind of cutting aside, sabotaging himself. You feel more sympathy for him now than you did at the time, even though it was usually Cooper, and not you, who bore the brunt of his ineptitude.
Laura was his favorite, the most like him in all the right ways: strong and forceful and decisive, smart at strategy – she was your father leavened heavily with your mother, with her kindness. She was the child they should ideally have produced, right on the first try; the rest of you were the strange ones, the less successful lot. He got along with Alice well enough, too; it was you boys who were the problem. He had a kind of weird, tentative peace with Patrick: they did not act like a father and son at all, and in the years you’ve had to think about this you’ve found yourself wondering whether Patrick was so calm and easy about it after all, whether maybe he was just as hungry for your father’s love as the rest of you, just better at hiding it. (But there’s no answer to the question, no point in contemplating it endlessly: they are dead, they are dead, they are dead.)
It wasn’t until your adolescence that you began to hate him, not in the bone-deep way the unluckiest children hate their parents, but with a deep and fiery teenaged passion that ate you up from the inside. You hated his reticence and his cruel humor and even the sheer physicality of him – your exact double, aged up. You hated this idea of pack, the restraint of it, the idea that you could not go out into the world and do exactly what you liked. You hated the implication that you would have to train with the others: you did not want to be a pawn in some territorial game of his, with the Argents, whom he hated. You went careening into Kate Argent’s arms and you threw it in his face and he hated it – hated you, you thought. His hatred was like a drug, corrosive and addicting, and you tasted it in Kate’s mouth, in the thick scent of her that you knew better than she knew it herself, in all her darkest places. She was older than you; she had already had boyfriends.
“Stop pawing at me, you animal,” she told you the first time, grinning, and it wasn’t until later that you understood she hadn’t been joking.
You want your father now because you don’t hate him anymore. You’re too tired and too old to keep hating him (you’re twenty-four; you’re ancient), and if Laura was like him in the right ways, you’ve inherited each and every one of his flaws. You resent him for them but you want to be able to forgive him, too. You want to tell him that you understand now, you understand what he meant when he told you you’d done all right but not as well as he’d hoped. You understand. But you can’t tell him, and you can’t ask him how to change, how to twist yourself into something a little better, into something somebody like your mother could love. You can’t ask him what you should be doing to keep your pack safe, your land safe; you can’t ask him how to be an alpha, how to be a leader; you can’t ask him what exactly happened to Peter in all the years he only came home at Christmas; you can’t ask him anything, because he is dead, because he stayed in the house while it burned, because he was too afraid of his grief to risk surviving – because he chose her over you and Laura, even though you were the ones still alive.
You are in the woods a lot, these days; you have grown intimately acquainted with the back of Stiles’ head, the slender column of his neck, his shoulders. He still talks a lot but not as much as he does around the other kids, you’ve noticed. He’s not so – on, all the time. By this point you can grudgingly admit to yourself that you don’t mind his talking, not really, but you like his silence better. You like to be able to just listen to his heartbeat, and the sounds of the small creatures of the forest scurrying away as you approach, while you smell the earth, the old rainwater soaking down the sides of the trees, the rotting leaves underfoot.
His father calls him once, when you are out there together – you didn’t know anybody could get cell service out here, and you don’t like it, the intrusion of the world into this space that is still somehow sacred to you in a way that your house isn’t, anymore. Your irritation makes you feel old, obsolete.
“Yeah, I’ll be home tonight, Dad,” Stiles is saying, still wandering through the trees. You could swear you can feel him roll his eyes, even though you can’t see his face. “I don’t know what your impression is of my social life, dude, but I can pretty much guarantee that you are overestimating it wildly.”
You see the moment he goes from comfortably exasperated to genuinely distressed, and it makes you stop in your tracks – not the distress itself, exactly, but the ease with which you can identify it, in nothing more than the slight compression of his shoulders and the slow halt of his steps.
“Dad, you promised you wouldn’t –” he starts, and stops, huffing – his father must have cut him off. You can hear the tinny sound of his voice in Stiles’ ear but you haven’t been paying enough attention to know what he’s saying. “Dad, don’t – I’m being serious, here, okay? Would you just listen to – Dad! I – okay, fine, you’re getting nothing but soy-based foods tonight, and tomorrow night, and the night after that – soy-based foods and, like, kale, are you listening to me? I am not messing with you. You are going to regret this.” He probably thinks he sounds like he’s kidding; he doesn’t sound like that at all.
“Yeah, fine, whatever,” he says into the phone. “See you later.” He hangs up and just stands there, hands on his hips, huffing out breath angrily. If you were human, you wouldn’t be able to hear it. But you’re not.
“What is it?” you ask after a long, quiet minute, and he shakes his head, as if to clear it of something.
“It’s – it’s nothing,” he says.
“Uh huh,” you say, and his shoulders twitch.
“He’s – my dad’s got heart problems,” he says, too fast. “He’s not supposed to eat – he’s on a very strict diet, of my devising, and he is on a constant quest to undermine my dubious authority.”
It’s the youngest and the oldest you’ve seen him, you think: no child should ever have to worry about things like this, certainly not alone – but then there was the hysterical tilt to his voice, too, the panic of it. The little boy terrified of being alone.
This is something you know: when your parents die, you are always a child. You were never younger than the day your family burned.
“I’m going to make him tofu tonight,” Stiles mutters. “He hates tofu.”
“My sister was allergic to chocolate,” you find yourself telling him, in spite of yourself. “My mother tried to keep it away from her but – she gave in once a year or so. My sister, I mean. Then she spent the whole next day throwing up.”
He turns around to look at you, hands stuffed in the pockets of his hoodie. “Was it a – a werewolf thing?” he asks, and you blink, baffled.
“You know,” he says, waving his hand vaguely. “Like, dogs and chocolate.”
It takes you a moment to follow his train of thought, and when you finally get there it must show on your face, because he turns red, embarrassed. “Okay, no, stupid idea, forget I mentioned it,” he mumbles, but you’re smiling, in spite of yourself – and you’re laughing, even, because the idea is so patently, fundamentally ludicrous. It makes him smile, too, though – have you ever laughed in front of him, you wonder? You can barely remember the last time you laughed at all.
“Careful,” he says. “Your face might stick like that.”
Laura’s chocolate allergy had developed late, but by the time you were old enough to notice it had set in with a vengeance. She really did get ill if she ate any; it didn’t matter how much. And she always did it on the day after her birthday.
The first time you can remember this happening you were little, five or six, maybe – Laura was a teenager. Your mother was holding back her hair while she emptied her stomach into the toilet, hacking and coughing, claws digging into the plastic of the toilet seat.
“Go get her a glass of water, baby,” your mother whispered to you over Laura’s curls, and you did as you were told.
She was laid up in her bed that night, pale and spent, and you shouldn’t have been surprised that she knew you were lurking outside of her door, peering in through the crack, but you were very young still: you still thought there were places you could hide from your family. You thought it was possible to escape their notice.
“Come in,” she rasped, and you hesitated before pushing the door open, just a little. She raised an eyebrow and waved you over.
“Are you sure?” you whispered, because for some reason you thought you probably should be as quiet as possible, and she nodded, so you walked over and crawled into the bed with her when she patted the quilt next to her.
“Thanks for earlier,” she murmured into your hair when you pushed your warm little body against hers.
“What happened?” you asked, peering up at her. She smelled like sick, still, but underneath that was her own scent, just Laura, and your chest thrummed with it.
“Oh, it was nothing,” she said, adjusting her arm around you. “I was dumb. It’s no big deal. I’ll be fine tomorrow.”
“Are you sure?” you asked.
“Yes,” she told you. “You don’t have to worry about me, okay?”
“Okay,” you agreed sleepily, and when you woke up in the morning you were still in her bed, the two of you a furnace under the covers, your wolf blood jumping through your veins, bright and hot and alive.
For all of Beacon Hills’ troubles, its supernatural population is pretty well restricted to a lot of werewolves and one ex-kanima, so when a lamia tries to seduce you in the woods you don’t think it’s much of a stretch to assume this is somehow connected to the pack of alphas, and make a mental note while you’re disemboweling her shrieking form to ask Stiles if he knows anything about this.
Disemboweling doesn’t seem to entirely do the trick, though, because when you wake up you’re lying on the ground staring up at the overcast sky, shaking like a leaf, weak and clammy. Somebody’s hands are on your face and Stiles’ face appears above you, wan and worried and upside-down.
“Ohthankfuck,” he exhales, all in a rush. You frown muzzily up at him, confused; you’re not sure where you are, or what happened to you to get you in this state, and his fingers are warm and dry on your cheeks but not, you think distantly, as warm as they should be.
“What,” you say, and don’t think you’re going to be saying anything else for a good while, now. You breathe instead.
“You had a friend who wanted to feast on your nubile young flesh,” Stiles says, “but she only made out with, oh, around half of your blood before I got here to save your life, like the knight and shining armor I am.”
He’s joking but his hands are still on your face and his fingers are shaking a little, and you wonder whether he’s using you to hold himself upright. You know you’re right when he moves one of them to your shoulder and leans on it heavily.
“How,” you manage, and luckily he knows what you mean.
“Well, you did half the work,” he admits. “I mostly just scared her off.”
You nod vaguely, and he pulls the hand that was still on your face away quickly.
“How did you know…” you trail off, and take another big huff of breath. “…here?” you finish, inanely. He frowns, putting it together.
“Oh,” he says. “I have my ways,” and you understand, finally, the sickly pallor his skin recently, the fact that he’s barely more than skin and bones, his somehow knowing exactly where you were in the middle of the woods, his coming to find you.
You want to tell him: you’re killing yourself, you don’t understand what you’re using up, you don’t understand the toll, the cost – and also what you really mean, which is: don’t do this for me, I’m not worth it, I’m not ever going to be worth it. But you’re so tired, and you don’t think you can speak right now anyway, so you turn your head toward his arm, the one leaning on your shoulder, and breathe in the smell of him rolling off his slender, bony wrist. You imagine taking it in your teeth – gently, without even breaking the skin, touching the blue veins with your tongue – and that is how you fall asleep again.
When you wake up you’re in your bed and it’s the middle of the night, and Stiles is curled in a ball in the corner, in your father’s huge armchair, one of the few things in the house that survived mostly uncharred, and you don’t bother to open your eyes to look at him: you can smell the exact shape of him, and that is enough.
You and your father did not exactly have it out the night before – before everything; it was nothing so dramatic or memorable as all that. But you were angry at him – you thought you were furious, because this was before you knew what anger was, before it had replaced love as the lodestar of your life, the hot burning thing inside you around which you turn. In a backwards way you enjoyed your anger then, relished in it. It was not yet a weight.
You and Kate had trawled through the whole house, through nearly every room, so the whole thing smelled of her, and when your father came home you were there, waiting, to see his nostrils flare, to hear the growl low in his throat. You were sprawled across the couch, acting as though you didn’t have a care in the world, and something thrummed inside of you in anticipation.
“You’re worse than a dog in heat,” he told you, almost sneering, and you just grinned, bared your teeth at him, but you didn’t say anything.
“Seriously, Derek, this is gross,” Alice said from somewhere else in the house. “If you guys did it in my room, I’m going to kill you in your sleep.”
“Grow up, Alice,” Laura said over her shoulder as she walked into the family room. “They didn’t fuck in your bed; you’d know.”
Laura raised her eyebrows at you, though, unimpressed. “I think this is a new low,” she said, and you shrugged.
“It apparently didn’t occur to Derek that leading an Argent through every nook and cranny of our house was dangerously irresponsible behavior,” your father said from the kitchen, and you heard your mother tsk him. (This was the problem with growing up in a house full of werewolves: you had no privacy anywhere.)
You rolled your eyes.
“Yeah,” you muttered, well aware that every one of them could hear you clearly. “My girlfriend’s definitely the enemy.”
“She will be,” your father said, and you growled.
“Stop it,” Laura snapped. “Just grow up, would you?” You desisted, stung, and sunk back further into the couch cushions.
Peter was visiting – why, you didn’t know, and didn’t care, so long as it kept him out of your hair – and when he came home he, too, stopped at the smell of you, but instead of feeling vindictive you mostly felt irritable, and just glared at him when he looked over at you and raised his eyebrows.
“Ah, young love,” he said, and left you alone.
Dinner was strained. Your mother made chicken and rice and asparagus, and because you didn’t know then that it was going to be the last meal she cooked for you, you ate it too fast without giving it a moment’s thought. You and Cooper sniped about something, because you were always at each other’s throats, literally and metaphorically. Laura talked to your father and Peter while Alice chattered at your mother, and Patrick just sat quietly, listening to everything all of you said, smiling to himself every once in a while.
They were all out of school by then, Laura the only one who had bothered to enroll for classes in BHCC, in practical things like bookkeeping. “Somebody’s got to run this ship,” she said drily whenever anybody asked about it. The rest of them didn’t bother much with the outside world. They had their pack, and that was their work, their real work. Alice and Cooper and Laura all worked bad jobs part-time, to make a little money, and your father always had money coming from somewhere. Your mother took care of the house and Patrick took care of the woods. You had no idea what your uncle did but it was wolf business, pack business.
You were the one who wanted to get out; you were the one who wanted a life out there, who wanted choices, who wanted to not be constrained by this thing that was your bloodright and not something you had earned. You liked the way Kate’s skin bruised if you pressed your fingers against it too hard; you liked the permanence of her, of her body. You were not breakable, not like that: you could not ever get away from yourself, from your family, because they were in you, and not in the same way that people’s families are always in them. Later, maybe, you thought you’d like to come back, to help with the pack; to talk to Patrick again, in the way that you used to; to be with your mother, to close your eyes and lean into her and feel her heartbeat and smell the old musk of her.
But that was not for you then – that was for your distant adulthood. You would be different then; you would be quieter and more peaceful; you would understand everything you were supposed to do with your life. Now you were all fire and blood: you were a spark.
When you wake up Stiles is still there, still asleep in the armchair in the corner. You know you’ve slept but it feels like you haven’t; it feels like you haven’t slept in years. If it weren’t for the nightmares you have as proof, you maybe wouldn’t believe you’d slept at all. You don’t move for a long time and when you finally heave yourself off of the bed your whole body is heavy, like your blood has been replaced by something thicker, oozing slowly through your veins.
You are so, so tired.
Peter’s awake, of course, lounging in the remnants of the family room, though the beat-up couch that he’s lying on isn’t the one you used to occupy as a boy. He raises his eyebrows at you when you come in the room and you want nothing more than to ignore him, to bypass him completely, but if Peter can do anything well it is insinuate himself in situations where he doesn’t belong, and stay there.
“Quite a knight in shining armor you’ve got, there,” he says idly, rolling his head backwards and around, one way and then the other. The bones in his neck pop as they shift in and out of position, and you don’t know how loud the sound is to human ears but to yours it is almost excruciating. You glare at him.
“It’s very sweet, really,” Peter continues blithely. “The way he follows you around like a puppy – or, well, maybe not a dog, poor choice of words. Now what does that remind me of? You and your charming former paramour – although that was the other way around.”
“Fuck off, Peter,” you tell him, and head down to the basement. It’s no surprise that he follows you.
“Really, you should have seen him,” he says from behind you as you open the refrigerator. “He even enlisted my help, and you know that boy doesn’t trust me as far as he can throw me.”
“That’s because he has an ounce of self-preservation,” you tell him.
“Not much more than that, though,” Peter counters, and the sad thing is, he’s not wrong. You ignore him anyway.
“I wonder what he’d do,” he says, thoughtful, “if you offered it to him, this time.”
“I’m not going to bite him,” you tell him, finally closing the fridge – you don’t have any food anyway – and turning around to look him in the eye. He’s enjoying himself far too much, you can tell. You don’t remember him well enough as he was in your childhood to know whether he possessed this strange glint of sociopathy then, but he does now. You can smell it on him.
“You should,” he tells you baldly. “You haven’t got anyone else except Isaac, and as somebody who’s been spending a lot of time with him recently, let me tell you – the kid is not up to par.”
“Isaac’s fine,” you say, out of loyalty more than anything; Isaac is fine, but only barely. He’s competent. He’s acceptable. You would not trust him with your life.
Peter’s grinning, now, and it makes the hairs on the back of your neck stand up. “Oh, Derek,” he says. “And here I was thinking you had a heart of stone.”
“That’s you, Peter,” you tell him, and he laughs.
“Yes,” he agrees, leaning into your space, too close. “Yes, that’s me. That’s not you, oh no. Oh no, oh no.”
You walk past him without acknowledging this, but you hear him laughing all the way back upstairs.
Stiles is still sleeping when you go back into the room. You don’t bother pausing to look at him, to appreciate the clear lines of his face and the slow deep settling sound of his breathing, before shaking his shoulder and waking him up. He starts and blinks, slow and groggy, his long dark lashes flickering over his eyes.
“Oh,” he says, looking up at you with surprise. “You’re up.” He blinks a few times, gaze clearing, and he looks you up and down appraisingly. “How are you feeling? I don’t think you should be out of bed yet.”
“I’m fine,” you tell him, even though you’re manifestly not fine, and you know that he can tell. You keep standing over him anyway, because maybe there’s some small part of him that’s still intimidated by you, by your bulk, although you’re not exactly optimistic on that front, either.
“I’m fine,” you say again, “so you can go.”
He blinks again, and frowns. The pallor of his skin is even more noticeable in this light. You wish your mother were here to take care of him. This was something she could do, one of the many things she was good at for which you have absolutely no facility.
“Nah, man, it’s fine,” he says finally, and yawns hugely, jaw popping. “I don’t have anything to do today anyway.”
“Stiles,” you say. “Go home.”
He looks straight at you and says, “No thanks.”
“I wasn’t asking,” you growl, but you’re tired enough that your teeth don’t even come out.
“God, you really are just a huge dick, you know,” Stiles says, and he’s irritated now, which is something. “I’m pretty sure there’s a group of, like, evil super-powerful creatures of the night out to get you for no reason, and you have no way of protecting yourself except by growing some fangs, which, sorry, are really not that impressive in the grand scheme of things. You’d think you’d appreciate a little help, but oh no, Derek Hale doesn’t need help, he’s a big strong man all by himself, thank you! God forbid I try to do something useful for a change, Jesus.” He’s glaring at you now, and you want to go back to bed, to close your eyes and vanish for a while.
“I don’t need your help,” you tell him. “And once they come – what’s your plan then, Stiles? What exactly are you going to do? Because they’ll rip you apart and you won’t be able to do anything to stop them. You think my fangs aren’t worth much? Your little tricks aren’t going to do shit to these people, Stiles. You’ll only be a liability.”
He looks like he’s been slapped.
“Well, fuck you, too,” he says, and gets up, tottering a little on muscles that aren’t fully awake yet. He’s leaving, you can tell that he’s going to leave, but you can’t help yourself from twisting the knife; it’s better, you tell yourself, to get it over with now, to make it clean. He’ll come back – you know he’ll come back – but it’ll be with Scott, once he’s finally realized that it’s useless to ignore you, and that won’t be for a while. You might be dead by the time they come around, anyway: you really don’t have any sort of plan for what to do, when the alphas come. You have no idea what they want with you, really, except that it is nothing good. You know that on instinct. You don’t need much of a sign for that; you don’t need proof.
“Why do you even keep coming here?” you ask, too aggressive, so much more aggressively than you feel. No matter that you’ve gotten used to it, in the past few weeks; no matter that you’ve relied on him, on his mind and the strength of its ideas and just – his presence, the sound of his heartbeat in front of you. He’s too upset to think too rationally about this, now, though: he’s an open wound and you have no compunctions about rubbing salt into it with all the force you can muster. “You just keep hanging around, Stiles, like you can’t take a fucking hint –”
“Because I’m lonely, you miserable asshole,” he cries, interrupting you, and his voice breaks on lonely, skips and shatters, and you hate yourself, but that’s nothing new. What’s new is the sting of it, its vicious aftertaste. You thought you were numb to it by now, your self-loathing. But you always seem to surprise yourself.
“I’m lonely,” he repeats, and you wish you could look at something other than his face, but you can’t, now that you’ve caught a glimpse of it; you can’t, you can’t, you can’t look away.
“I thought maybe, with Scott broken up with Allison, that he’d – that he’d – that I’d actually get to talk to him, but he’s even worse like this, do you have any idea how much time he spends talking about her? He never stops, and I have to just fucking listen to it, on and on, every single fucking day – and I don’t really have anybody else to talk to – in case you hadn’t noticed, I’m kind of a huge loser, and Lydia and Jackson are off doing – whatever – and I can’t talk to anybody else because nobody else knows that all of you people are fucking werewolves! I can’t talk to my dad about anything that’s happening in my life, do you realize that? Not a single fucking thing – and – and you –” he says, but you don’t want to hear what he says next, you don’t think you can take it, whatever it is.
So you say, “At least you have a dad to talk to,” as viciously as you can, and that’s what does it, that’s what gets him to leave.
You can hear him all the way out to his Jeep, and listen to the sound of the engine starting and the car driving away before going over to your bed and lying down on the sheets. You can still smell him – the room will smell like him for hours, for days. It’s going to keep you from sleeping, but you won’t air it out. You don’t really want to sleep, anyway, not with these dreams.
You could smell their bodies, the burned up flesh of them, when you went to the house for the first time after the fire. The police didn’t know you were going, but you and Laura were leaving the next morning, were fleeing Beacon Hills for the East Coast, and you did not know when you would be back again, whether you would ever be back again. They’d shown you pictures of the burned-out building, because you’d insisted, but they hadn’t taken you. They said the staff psychologist had ruled it a very bad idea, but you didn’t give a shit about what some state shrink had to say about your mental health. You didn’t, frankly, give much of a shit about anything at all. Your family was gone.
Laura had already been, you knew without her having told you: you could smell it on her. And she knew where you are going, even though you hadn’t told her, but she didn’t say anything, so you didn’t volunteer the information. You were leaving the next day.
You knew what the house was going to look like, even if it was still jarring to see it, charred and crumbling. What you weren’t expecting was the smell, even though it made sense – they couldn’t possibly smell the space like you could; they couldn’t pick out each of the bodies, each individual death going on forever in the air, in the wood, in the walls.
You threw up in the woods for what felt like hours, and you sobbed like the child you were and the child you had been, because you were not going to be get to be a child anymore; you were not going to get to do any of the things you had wanted to, and neither were they. Alice and Cooper had spent their whole lives training for a threat that you brought to their door, a threat they didn’t even get to die fighting. Your mother and father were not going to grow old. Your mother was never going to touch you again, and it did not matter that she had loved you, because she could not love you anymore. The only person who loved you was Laura, and you were here, throwing all of your love out to the dead, who could not take it and reciprocate in kind.
You put your hand to the ground, but no water rose to your touch, and you howled, without even realizing you had turned.
You still smell them, sometimes, when you are in the house – not a real smell but a phantom one, a memory. Your stomach turns every time.
You hadn’t really expected Stiles to give up easily, but you thought you’d at least bought yourself some time to figure out what was going on, and what to do about it, without him around. Which is all to say that you can’t help but be surprised by the sight of him sprinting at full tilt through the woods and up to the house. For once you see him before you smell him, but you see him from very far off – and then when his scent does reach you, you almost choke, it is so full of fear, and something else – a wrongness, something that is subtly off, something that does not normally belong to him, to the thick teenaged smell of him.
“Stiles,” you growl when he’s close enough, but he doesn’t look remotely afraid of you. He isn’t even expending the effort to look sheepish. Now that he’s only a few feet away from where you’re standing on the porch, the smell of his fear is almost overpowering. His whole body is thrumming, a kind of livewire, but his eyes are wide but clear, lucid.
“Yell at me later,” he says without beating about the bush. “The alpha pack is coming here, now, immediately, and I don’t think there’s anything you can do to stop them, so I’d recommend either running for your life or figuring out what you’re going to do when they show up ready to rip your throat out.”
“How do you –” you start, because you can’t smell them, and you know rationally that you’re not supposed to, but with your brain grinding to a halt like it is now you can’t really grasp that, that they could really be coming when none of your senses have picked up on them at all.
Stiles cuts you off, though, just as well: “I just do, okay, come on, come on, I know you’re mostly shit at this stuff but you’re at least supposed to be the one who knows how to fight, ‘cause I may know a lot of, uh, facts, but really, combat is not my area –”
You snarl at him to shut up, no words necessary, and grab him by the wrist to haul him into the house. There’s nothing about this that isn’t already a disaster: the house is a terrible place to fight – you’re reminded of Kate standing above you, beating you easily – but it’s better than being out in the open, where they can see the two of you clearly. There’s no way you could run fast enough to get away from them, especially not with Stiles, so you haven’t really got any other choice. The whole house smells like you, so maybe they won’t be able to pick you out immediately – but you’re not really optimistic about that, because even if that were somehow true they’d be drawn to Stiles like moths to a flame.
You don’t know what they want with you, even now, but you could, you realize, be dead within minutes.
You really, really do not want to die in this house, but maybe worse would be if they killed Stiles in front of you, here where your brother’s skull collapsed from the pressure of a bullet, where your father let himself be consumed, where your mother died trying to save Cooper and Alice, where your uncle murdered your sister.
You push him into the shadows in the basement, in a corner behind a stack of empty crates (nothing to put in them; it was all on fire) and you are the wolf, now; you don’t know when it happened, but the line between you and the thing inside of you is fluid and always has been. This is biology, now; this is the pack song in your blood surging to the fore, because you are standing in between pack and a threat, and you may be a coward but it doesn’t matter, not here; you have no choice but to fight until you are dead before you let them get to him, the human boy behind you who is too skinny because he is using up his life force trying to keep you safe, you who do not deserve to be safe, you who should have died here eight years ago.
“So,” Stiles whispers. “Strategy?” You growl at him in response. “Ah,” he says, as though he understands, and he puts his left hand on your arm, patting it almost absent-mindedly, fingers long and dry. You want to shake him off but you just push back farther into the shadows, trying to keep your breathing quiet.
You hear them before you smell them, and it’s jarring, it’s off; you want to roar at them to get away, to get away from your place, your home. Laura used to like to talk about how wolves were nomadic, how you were meant to be on the road, but you know you’re territorial: you can’t let go of anything, of people or places or things, even when they’re long gone.
There are footsteps above you, moving along the creaking floorboards, and Stiles is shaking now; you can feel him rattling against your back. There is nothing you can do about any of this, except fight, and die: the footsteps are on the stairs.
“Derek?” a voice says. It’s a woman. You don’t move; Stiles’ hand tightens reflexively on your arm. He smells afraid. “Come on, now, we know you’re over there. Don’t make this more difficult than it has to be.” She pauses, and sighs when you stay still. “Do you want to do the honors?” she asks, to somebody else, not to you.
“I suppose,” someone says, sighing insincerely, and you freeze, and Stiles freezes, because it’s Peter; it’s Peter’s voice speaking to you now. “Come on, now, Derek, have some sense.”
You can’t help the growl that escapes you, and he laughs. “We’ve got Isaac here, too,” he says cheerfully, gleefully. “And Erica, and even Boyd. I’m afraid nobody’s coming to help you, Derek. It’s a pity you didn’t spend more time making friends worth the space they take up in a room. No offense, Isaac."
“None taken,” Isaac replies, but it sounds grudging.
Stiles leans his forehead down against your back, right in-between your shoulder blades, where the muscle creases and joins together, where your tattoo beats a useless pulse against your skin.
You try to think with your human brain, your rational brain, and not with the other part of you. You have to protect him, protect the boy whose skull might collapse any minute, who could burn so very, very easily – but you have to try to be smart, you have to try to figure out what these people will do before they do it, and this is something you have never been good at; this is not your area. You are good at bodies. You have a body at your back, a warm slender body that heals achingly slowly.
You walk forward slowly, one arm back to make sure Stiles stays behind you, out into the light cast by the single bulb hanging from the ceiling, and there they all are: so many alphas, too many – eight? Ten? It’s hard to tell, in the dark – and Peter, lurking at the edge, smirking, Isaac behind him, looking sheepish, rubbing one hand over his other arm compulsively.
“Don’t expect anybody to come help you,” a woman says from the back, walking forward into the light. Her eyes are bright and terrifying and the animal part of you knows immediately that she has more power in her hands than you do in your whole body. “We’ve got a hold of all of your pets, don’t we?” she asks, and turns to look back at the wolves behind her – and you see Erica and Boyd there, skulking at the back, ashamed. You growl at them – you can’t help it – and she laughs, delighted.
“It appears you didn’t do a very good job picking your pack-mates,” she tells you, a mockery of sympathy, of concern, and her eyes flick over to Stiles. “Even this one chose you, didn’t he, Derek? And you were too stupid to turn him, so he won’t be of any use to you, now.”
“Hey,” Stiles interjects, irritated, and you snarl wordlessly at him, but of course he doesn’t listen. “I’ll have you know I’m very useful, thanks. I’m, like, the definition of useful.”
She just smiles at him. “You are very darling, but I’m afraid you aren’t any match for any of us, and neither is your big, bad wolf friend.”
You can hear him rolling his eyes in the way he speaks. “Jesus, what is it with the bad guys in this town, huh? You realize it’s not actually in your contract to talk like a supervillain in a bad comic book movie all the time, right? I mean, a big bad wolf joke? Really? I expect better.”
She’s still smiling, which is more worrying to you than the alternative.
“We’ll have to use your writer’s mind in future, then,” she says, and this is when you realize what they are going to do, what she is going to do, and you know from the way she laughs that she can smell your terror.
“Oh, Derek,” she says. “You think we are going to let a little mage-in-training like this one go to waste? I should think not.”
“Hey,” Stiles said, sounding nervous now, “what are you talking about? Derek, what’s – what’s she –”
“Darling,” she says. “Don’t worry, we’re going to take very good care of you. He’s going to be strong,” she tells you, eyes flicking away from him. “He’s going to be stronger than you, I think.”
“Okay, I know what you’re thinking, and seriously – no –” he starts, but she cuts him off.
“You’re going to be stronger than all of them, Stiles,” she says, taking a step closer to both of you, and you instinctively move to try to cover him better, but you know it’s no use. She’s got you exactly where she wants you, and there’s nothing you can do about it. You growl at her anyway, and she shoots you an irritated glance, and before you know what’s happening she’s kicked you, in the face – you’re on the ground, face halfway crumpled, rebuilding itself messily, blood everywhere. Stiles is staring at you, eyes wide. There are dark circles under his eyes. You didn’t notice them before.
She rolls her neck around and takes another step toward Stiles, who backs away from her clumsily. “Think about that. You’ll be stronger than this one – you’d like that, I think – and stronger than Jackson, and even Scott. They haven’t taken you very seriously, have they? You’re just the human tagging along with the wolves: you don’t really belong, do you? You’re not really pack. They’ll never accept you, not really – and why should they? They’ve all got something you don’t, something that makes them special – something that makes them strong – you’re just a nuisance, coming around here, trying to play in the big leagues. They put up with you – well, Jackson doesn’t, and Scott barely does anymore, does he? They didn’t even come to help you – we talked to them, and they agreed to stay ago. Jackson, Allison, Deaton, Scott – they’re just trying to save their own skins – you can’t blame them, I suppose – except that you can, Stiles, can’t you? You can blame them for not coming. For not caring.
“We play the long game,” she tells you. “You always try to rush, Derek, and you’ve got no head for strategy at all. It’s pitiable, really.
“This one’s all you’ve got left,” she continues, turning back to Stiles, “and let me tell you, honey, you’re never going to get what you want out of him. He’s broken, and nothing’s ever going to put him back together. Do you know what he did when he left here, all those years ago? Do you know what he and his sister did? He’s got blood on his hands, he’s got more blood than you could imagine.”
You want to get up, you want to put your hands around her throat and throttle her where he stands; you want to stick your claws into her so deep that her flesh can’t heal. She smirks, knowing, and all you can do is growl weakly up at her. You don’t know what she hit you with, but it was something more than a simple kick; this is wrong; you are wrong, off somehow. Stiles is looking at you and there is something wavering in him, a kind of doubt, and it figures that he was going to leave you, too. Everybody you have ever known has left you, one way or another.
“And sweetheart,” she says, getting closer and closer to him, even as he backs up more and more, “if you think anything’s ever going to come of this little crush of yours, I’m sorry to tell you that you are sadly mistaken. You’re not exactly his type.”
Stiles’ cheeks burn bright red, and you’re not entirely sure what is happening, whether you’ve missed some crucial piece of information that has set everything on a different path.
“Come with us,” she tells him, crooning, “come with us, Stiles, we’ll take care of you. You don’t have to be useless anymore.”
He’s not looking at her in the eye, his face is turned to the side – he’s staring at the ground. It’s only a matter of time, you know, until he offers her his body, the smooth translucent skin of his body that has gotten so much paler recently. You won’t blame him. It is, you think, what anyone would do.
But he turns to her and steps back, shoulders very straight – too straight, as though he’s trying so goddamn hard to keep them that way – and says, voice only wobbling a little bit, “I think I’ll pass, actually, thanks.”
She blinks once, and this is the thing about him that you want to keep, the thing you want to hoard, to curl around and listen to forever: the slender strong thread of bravery inside of him that you wish you had yourself. It’s what makes him different from the others, from all the other stupid teenagers who want nothing more than to fit in, to be liked. There is, in Stiles, a shaking, trembling self that is going to turn into something strong. He is going to be stronger for having had to fight against hating himself: he already is stronger, stronger than any of them, stronger than you.
She snarls, and he brings his right hand around faster than anything and opens it and blows –
It’s Mountain Ash, coating her face, and you can tell that she’s breathed in because she gags, reels backwards as the rest of the pack staggers by extension, and the boy has a look on his face that’s something like ecstasy; his eyes are rolling back in his head a little, and when he blows again it flows out from his hand like a storm, too much of it, more than he could possibly have been holding, and they whine when it gets to them, gets into them. You stagger up, barely standing, and will your body to heal faster, to be whole again.
You suppose you shouldn’t be surprised that it’s Peter who manages to cover his face, Peter who slinks around the edges, Peter who slashes your chest open when you try to get in his way, Peter who reaches out and breaks Stiles’ arm with a snap like a gunshot, like a twig snapping underfoot in the forest.
Stiles’ face as he comes back to himself – suddenly, horrifyingly – is a study in pain, in agony, and you hear yourself whining up at them, from where you are bleeding on the ground, your abdomen slowly pulling back together.
“I’ll let you do the honors,” Peter says to the woman, who is brushing the powder off of her face, coughing it out of her lungs, and she slides over to Stiles where he’s collapsed on the ground, curled around his broken arm like a child, and opens her mouth wide, fangs hot and white.
You howl when he does. You can’t help yourself.
“We’re going to leave him with you, Derek,” Peter tells you. “For the bad part. The full moon’s tomorrow, after all.” He smirks. “We’ll be back, never you fear. To reap what we’ve sown. Don’t think he belongs to you. She’ll pull him back. And you’ll come, too. I’ve never wanted you dead, Derek. You’re just not much of an alpha.” And he steps over you on his way to the staircase, over you and the other wolves heaving themselves up, crawling up behind him.
She’s the last to go, and she turns around to look at you one last time before she leaves.
“Later, boys,” she says, and slams the door behind her.
You crawl over to Stiles, who is whimpering where he lies, still bent in half on the floor. His arm is putting itself back together, slowly but surely. It probably hurts: you wouldn’t know; you can’t remember back that far, when you were fresh, and new, and had lived without pain.
He smells right, now, though; he smells better. He smells more like himself, and he smells like you, and when you push him into a sitting position you realize he’s not breathing right, that he’s hyperventilating. His hands are shaking: his whole body’s shaking. You go behind him, press his head down between his knees, and do something your mother used to do for you, when you were very small, when the change scared you: you press yourself against his back and bite down on the nape of his neck, not hard, not breaking the skin – she used to do it just to let you know that she was there. You curl around him and breathe him in and wait, and slowly the rabbit-quick thump of his heart beneath you slows down.
You were so easily scared as a child – scared into paralysis, scared into panic. Cooper teased you mercilessly for this; Alice, too, sometimes, when you were really getting on their nerves. Laura and Patrick took care of you if they were around – there was a reason you always loved them best.
It was your father who brought on these episodes, more than anything; it was his rage. He was so very, very angry. And when you were older you were more afraid of his disapproval, but when you were little – oh, when you were little, his rage set you off instantly. You never understood why he got so mad, but you assumed it was you, that it was something you had done or were doing, you or the whole lot of you, all of the children. It could not be your mother, you knew: your father got angry with her, sometimes, but even when you were very small – even you, who were so mystified by other people – you could tell that he was not really mad at her.
You could not do anything to make him less angry, when he was in these moods: there was never any calming down, just his vanished periods, when he allowed himself to go feral and took to the wood. And when he had gone you shook so hard you couldn’t see straight, and cried. This was you, as a child: crying, and crying, and crying.
You turned in these states; you couldn’t help it, and when you were very small it hurt, it hurt so much that this only made your panic worse. So your mother, who was always the wolf and so rarely showed it, would turn too, and hold you from behind, teeth light against your neck, and when you had finally calmed down enough to slide back into yourself she would put her human arms around you and rest her cheek against the top of your head, and you would wonder what you would do if she was ever not around to do this for you anymore.
As you got older, this didn’t happen so much anymore; not at all, between ten and sixteen. After the fire, the attacks came back, once in a while, and if Laura was there she did the same thing, pressing herself against your back and resting her forehead against your neck. She didn’t bite you, usually. But it helped. Laura, Laura: more like your mother than she ever knew. But she is gone, now, too.
You don’t lose control anymore, anyway. You turn your fear, your self-loathing, your panic into anger, and that, the wolf can understand. Anger is what fuels it. Anger is everything.
(Your mother’s warm body, behind you. The feeling that nothing could get between her and you, nothing in the world. The idea that she was immortal, infallible. The charred lump of her body, going into the ground.)
When he’s calmed down enough you pull back, strangely self-conscious now, fangs sliding back into your regular incisors, hands once again hands. He’s still shaking, a little, but it’s an exhausted tremor, not a panicked one any longer. You don’t know what to say to him to make it better. You know you were terrible explaining things to Scott but you hadn’t – you hadn’t known, you hadn’t understood it. This was your birthright; it was in your blood and your mother’s blood and your father’s blood. But it was not Scott’s, and it is not Stiles’. You think you understand a little better, now, what it means, even if you don’t have the language for it, don’t have any of the right words.
“Sorry,” he manages, voice teetering. He wipes at his face with the back of his hand but you’re still behind him and can’t see his expression. “I haven’t done that in – a long time.”
You want to tell him that he shouldn’t be sorry, that he has nothing to be sorry for, but instead you find yourself saying, “I used to – get panic attacks. A lot. As a kid.”
He goes still and then turns to look at you over his shoulder, incredulous. His face is splotchy and red and his cheeks are still a little shiny from his tears, and there’s some snot under his nose. If you were a wolf you would lick his face and lie down next to him, radiating heat, tail thumping against his leg, but you’re a man instead, right now, and you cross your legs instead, looking down at your hands for a moment to avoid his gaze.
“No way,” he says, but you can hear what he really means, which is: Tell me.
You shrug, frowning down at your fingers, locked together in your lap. “My dad got angry a lot,” you tell him.
“I don’t think so,” you say. “I mean – I used to. Think so. But I don’t think – I don’t think it had anything to do with us, really. But I didn’t – I didn’t know that, back then.”
He’s turned his whole body around now, to watch you properly. “What happened?” he asked. “I mean, how did you – you know.”
“My mother knew how to deal with them,” you tell him.
“Yeah,” he says, wistful and sad, and you feel like everything about him has come apart in the past hour, and now you can see him clearly for who he is. He is the thin thread of strength and the raw tragedy of death and you know him, you know him: he’s the better version of you. “I used to – I used to get them, too,” he mumbles, and now it’s him who’s not looking at you. “But it was – after my mom, you know.” He swallows. “Died.”
You wonder what she was like. You’ve met his father, and you know he doesn’t take after him.
You wonder if maybe your mothers knew each other.
“My dad wasn’t – he didn’t really know what to do,” he says. “He wanted to, he just – he just couldn’t. It wasn’t his fault. I mean, I – it wasn’t his fault.” It was mine, his face says. “What you did was, um,” he continues, face red and embarrassed. “It was… good. I think.”
“It’s what my mom used to do,” you tell him, and he looks up at you. He meets your eyes.
“Oh,” he says.
“What was she like?” he asks, and he’s hungry, he’s so hungry for this, for anything you could tell him. You can see it all over his face.
You feel like she’s here, in the room, watching you. You wish you could produce something other than a poor facsimile of her – you couldn’t do any better with Patrick, and she – she was your mother. You swallow. “Not anything like me,” you say finally. “I – I take after my dad, I’m like my dad. She was – she was different. My brother was the most like her. Patrick.” He nods, like he remembers, and maybe he does. Maybe he’s kept track of everything you’ve said to him. That seems insane to you. You don’t expect anybody to pay attention.
“She didn’t shift much. When she did, she liked to – to do it all the way. She liked the forest, she liked to run out there. But not very much.”
“What do you mean, all the way?” he asks, eyes wide.
“Uh,” you say, gesturing ineffectually. “Become a wolf wolf, not – like you’ve seen.”
“You can do that?” he asks, and he sounds – wondering.
“Yeah,” you tell him, self-conscious. “It’s – it takes effort.”
“Does Scott know?” he asks.
“I don’t think so,” you say. “Not unless he’s figured it out on his own.”
“Nah, I’d know,” he says idly, and then winces a little – because, you realize, that might no longer be true.
Neither of you says anything for a moment, but you’re still trying to figure out what to say to make him get her, to make him understand. “Laura used to say I was her favorite,” you tell him awkwardly. “My mom’s favorite. Because I was the youngest, I guess. I was kind of a – a mama’s boy.” His lips twitch; you think he’s trying not to smile.
“Or because you were like your dad,” he offers, and you shrug.
“Maybe,” you allow.
“I miss her,” you hear yourself saying. “All the – every day.”
“Yeah,” he whispers, and he sounds ancient. “I know.”
You watch him for a second, as he looks down at his unbroken arms and remembers what he is, what he’s become. He’s not going to be able to get himself up the stairs, you know, but he should be in a bed, tonight; he should have some element of normalcy in the midst of all of this.
He should, you realize, call his father.
You get up and reach down to pull him up, slinging one of his shaking arms over your shoulder and putting one of yours under his knees. He scowls at you but it’s half-hearted, and he doesn’t complain as you try to walk around the Mountain Ash toward the stairs. Your feet get a little burned but it’s not in a coherent line so you can get through it. You’re going to have to ask him how he managed that: that should not have been possible.
You take him upstairs to your room – to the space you’ve claimed as your room, anyway; you think it was Alice’s room, back when the house was still a home – and put him on the bed. He lies on his back, staring at the ceiling, and his hands are still shaking.
“I don’t know what I’m going to do,” he says, more to the ceiling than to you, and you don’t know, either. You have no fucking idea.
When he reaches up to cover his face with his hands, his hands that are too large for his body, you want to do something to comfort him so badly that you find your body shifting and collapsing almost against your will, certainly unintentionally. But it’s not difficult, for some reason, even though you have always found this a struggle. It doesn’t feel like you’re exerting any effort at all: you are just yourself, and then yourself again, but different.
You jump up onto the bed and poke at his shaking hands with your nose, whining a little and butting your head against him when he doesn’t move. But he does, a moment later, and looks at you like you are some kind of miracle, and though you know that couldn’t be farther from the truth you love him for it anyway, in the hot feverish mindless way that animals do. You are yourself but you are different.
“Oh,” he whispers. “Oh, hey, hi –” and he reaches his hand out tentatively for you to sniff, and you do, and it smells like him and you duck your head so he can pet you there, more for his benefit than yours, but if you’re being honest with yourself you have to admit that you like the feeling of his hands in your fur, and your tail thumps up and down, primal, pleased. You lean down to lick his face, carefully, until it is clean, and he presses it into the fur of your neck when you’ve finished.
“Thanks,” he whispers against you, and you settle down next to him, and he’s warmer than he has been; he runs hot, now. He’s one of you. This makes you happy for reasons you aren’t ready to investigate, so instead you close your eyes and listen to his heartbeat, take in the distinct smell of him, and rumble your pleasure when his hand smoothes through the fur over your ribs.
When you wake up he’s curled against you like a child and his hand is fisted in your coat, but for whatever reason you aren’t at all bothered. You feel safe.
You: the wolf. Not the poor imitation that you usually manage, that twisted humanoid creature: the wolf. The forest, the earth, your pack – your pack. Your mother, running through the trees, howling as she went. The jangling joy of this dance; the wolves in the wood; the moon, the moon, the moon.
Your father became the wolf in his absent days, when he could not hold himself in his human body anymore. You knew this, although you rarely saw him this way. You knew he broke apart and came back together as the animal, that he went out into the forest and savaged small creatures until his fur was stained with blood. You saw him, once, late at night, after he’d come back. Your mother was washing the blood off of his face in the kitchen and they were both so wrapped up in the task that they didn’t notice you peering in at them from the family room. He looked so tired, so old – he was not old, then; you know that now – and your mother was touching him so carefully, making him clean.
(Funny how these things survive, these moments, even if you are the only one who still remembers them.)
For your mother it was different. (For your mother, everything was different.) For her it was joy. For her it was the heart of the world. She ran and she ran and she ran and she circled back for you, to make sure you could keep up, your puppy legs short and weak compared to hers. Her snout pushing through your fur, inspecting, making sure you were all right. All of you, but you most of all. You, who lagged the farthest behind; you, the smallest; you, the one she kept closest to, even so. Your fur was her color, the two of you black like the sky at night, eyes like stars.
This is what you want. This is what you miss the most. Your mother did not turn when she was angry: she turned when she was so happy she couldn’t keep it in anymore. Her anchor was love.
You wonder sometimes whether you could get back to that, somehow, whether you could try to reprogram yourself so that it was she who beat in your heart and not your anger. But you do not know how, and she is gone – she has been gone a long time – she cannot tell you. Nobody can tell you what to do anymore.
(If your anger is a bite, a wound, then you think maybe he is sucking out the poison, one mouthful at a time, spitting it out next to you. It is taking a long time, and it is killing him slowly, but you do not know what else to do. You do not know what else to do.)
When you wake up again he is already awake, sitting up and gazing vacantly at the ceiling. You whine and butt your head against his thigh, and he buries his hand in the fur behind your head.
“I talked to my dad,” he says. “He’s fine. I told him I was at Scott’s. If he calls them I guess he’s find out, but –” he pauses. “He probably won’t,” he finishes, swallowing.
“What’s going to happen to me tonight?” he asks, and his hand tightens in your fur, but you have to pull back, pull away from him, because you have to talk to him, now, and you cannot do that like this, even though it seems like that would be easier, if it were possible.
You sit back and let the change go through you, bones stretching and breaking and re-forming, and you see that Stiles’ eyes are wide when you open yours again. You body feels foreign to you, clumsy; you don’t like the look of your hands. You fold your legs beneath you and breathe in, and out, reorienting yourself with the smell of the bed, your smell and his mixed up together.
“I don’t know,” you say, although you do, really.
“Why’d they leave me here?” he asks, nervous.
“I don’t know,” you say again, weary. “The first time’s always the worst. I think they probably thought…”
“I’m not going to do anything to you,” he says, interrupting, and he sounds staunch but you can tell from looking at him that he isn’t sure. He can’t be – you know that as well as anyone.
“You might,” you tell him, because it is the truth. “I’m older than you, and I’m bigger, and I’ve been doing this my whole life, but – you’re new. You’re going to want to kill something, anything.”
“I don’t want to kill anybody,” he tells you, voice small.
“I know,” you say.
“What happens…” he begins, and pauses. “What happens if – if I – do –”
You shrug. “Bloodlust. It’s… it’s hard to turn off, once you’ve – you know.”
He’s looking at you like he knows what you’re saying, like he knows what you really mean.
“What did you do?” he asks.
“I got tired,” you tell him.
He wraps his arms around himself, even though it’s not cold, and his body heat is warmer, now, than it used to be.
“I don’t want to kill anyone,” he whispers again. “That’s what they’re going to want me to do, isn’t it? They’re going to want me to kill people?"
“Yes,” you say.
“And they’ll be able to make me,” he says, the horror of it dawning on him. “They’re going to be able to make me like Peter tried to make Scott – but there are more of them – and –”
“Yes,” you tell him.
He stares at you for a long moment. “There’s nobody else we can ask for help, is there,” he says, and you shake your head. He swallows again. “I called Deaton earlier,” he continues. “He didn’t pick up.”
“Nobody’s going to pick up, Stiles,” you tell him, and you feel so old, so old and tired; you want to lie down in the ground with your mother and close your eyes forever. But you can’t do that, not yet. The universe dealt you a crueler hand.
“So it’s us against them,” he says, and you can tell from the way his voice wavers that he’s asking you, that he doesn’t really know.
“Yes,” you tell him. “It’s us against them.”
He relaxes a little, leans his head back against the wall, and you hate yourself.
“But we can’t beat them,” you continue, even though you wish it weren’t the case. “It’s not possible, Stiles.”
He hums a little, under his breath. “So our only chance is magic,” he says, as if it’s that simple. You feel your eyebrows rising and when he glances over at you he smiles a little. “Now that’s the Derek Hale I know and love,” he says drily, and you scowl, which only makes him smile more. “Yes, exactly: that,” he adds.
“I mean, why do you think they wanted me so badly in the first place?” he says, thinking aloud, eyes roaming around the room, not taking anything in. “It’s not like I have anything else that they could be after.”
You squeeze your hands into fists to stop yourself from doing anything else, from saying anything. He’s not looking at you, so he doesn’t notice.
“Deaton’s always telling me that it’s about… believing it, believing in what you’re doing,” he says, almost talking to himself now. “That all the other stuff is kind of beside the point if you just – believe what you’re doing is going to work. You know?”
You think of Patrick, who smelled of magic, who was himself the forest. “My brother used to be able to… call up water from the ground,” you tell him. “It just… filled his footprints.”
“Elements are easier,” Stiles muses. “Water’s easy, fire’s easy. Deaton told me that, too, but he hasn’t shown me how to – you know – do anything. Yet.” He pauses. “But I could try.”
“You’re too tired,” you tell him baldly, because he is. He’s drawn and pale and there are purple smudges beneath his eyes, and he is going to turn tonight, and he is going to need all of his strength. “Try tomorrow.”
He scowls at you but doesn’t argue. “Well, tell me what I’m going to have to do tonight, then.”
“You have to find an anchor,” you tell him. “Something to – to fixate on, to keep yourself – in yourself. Scott’s is –”
“Allison, I know,” he says, a little dryly. He’s looking at you in that way that he has, too insightfully, like he can see things you’ve tried to keep hidden for years and years. “What’s yours?” he asks.
“Anger,” you tell him, because you can’t not tell him, not now, but you’re not expecting the way his face twists, like you’ve just told him something that’s heartbreaking. You feel yourself curling inward, defensive; you look away from him.
He doesn’t say anything.
He sleeps off most of the day while you prowl around the house, paranoid. You want to do something – you want there to be something you can do – but there’s nothing, nothing until tonight, nothing until the moon rises.
You heat up a couple of microwave dinners for the two of you when the sun starts going down and take them up to him. He eats like he hasn’t had anything to eat in years – so, like a teenage boy. You’re not hungry – you’re nauseous – but you finish yours, too. You’re going to need it.
Neither of you says much before the moon starts coming up. You can feel it deep in you, in your gut; it’s an itch that courses through you every time, even though you have enough control now to keep yourself from turning. Stiles twitches. He’s rank with fear and his whole body is trembling.
“Derek,” he says shakily. “Derek –” and you don’t know what to do, or say, except to push forward toward him, not as the wolf this time but as yourself, and press against his side, wrap one of your arms around him as he shakes, as he starts to hyperventilate, as he starts to panic. You are good at bodies. You press a hand against his forehead, against his short, shorn hair; you let him grab onto your arm, even when his claws come out and drive into your skin. You growl, make your chest rumble against him, not a threat this time but a reassurance that you are still here, that he is not alone. That you are not going to leave, no matter what he does.
Part of you expects him to turn on you, and when he turns toward your neck you think it is happening now, that it has come. But he does not bite you, just presses his face against the soft skin there and breathes, shaky, like he is lost and afraid and you are the only thing that is real. You are, you realize: you are real. You are there. You are still alive.
When you wake up it is light out, and there is a ribbon if fire running around Stiles’ hand, and he smells like Patrick used to, something you’d forgotten until now: he smells like magic.
The first person you killed was in Ohio, in a cornfield in the winter, and nobody found the body until weeks later, by which time you and Laura were long gone.
He was a hunter, because you were both still telling yourselves, at that point, that you were good people, that you weren’t going to just go around murdering innocent people. You didn’t necessarily set out to kill anybody; if you were going to commit an act of revenge it would be against Kate Argent and not any hunter who crossed your path, but she had the entire Argent clan behind her, and though you might have been stupid enough to go after them yourself – you were sixteen, and although you did not think you were invincible anymore, you cared very little about your future – Laura was not. Even in her grief, Laura was sensible, a born alpha, a born leader. So you followed her east.
You wouldn’t have killed the man in Ohio if he hadn’t murdered a little girl in cold blood. You kill him because the little girl was a wolf, and you heard the man bragging about it in a bar you shouldn’t legally have been frequenting. But you and Laura had figured out, by that time, how and where to get information out of people.
He was middle-aged, and not in very good shape, though he’d been fit enough, apparently, to murder a child. You and Laura took him down together, and though part of you wanted to just bite him and let him live as the thing he hated, the larger part of you wanted to kill him, wanted to rip the life out of him, so that was what you did, while Laura held him down. His blood ran into the hard, packed earth of the field in the winter, and the dry cornstalks brushing together above you made a sound like sorrow slipping away.
You don’t feel guilty about him, even now. He didn’t deserve to live – you feel no moral queasiness about whether you had the right to decide this. You’re happy to be labeled a vigilante, as long as the authorities don’t come knocking down your door.
You don’t even really feel like you were in the wrong when you killed all the people who came after him – they, too, deserved what they got – but when you have killed one man it becomes much easier to kill another, and then even easier with every subsequent body you put in the ground – until at some point they start getting harder and harder every time. You got tired of violence, of murder, of death, of the blood that was always, always on your hands and in your mouth. It will never go away fully; you know that perfectly well. You’ll be tasting that metallic tang on your teeth for the rest of your life.
You didn’t stop killing people – unless you had to, unless you had to – because you’d changed your mind and thought they didn’t deserve to die. You stopped killing people because you did not want to be the kind of person for whom murder is incidental. You did not and do not think that is the kind of person your mother would have wanted you to be, and if that’s a hackneyed and sentimental thought, so be it. You don’t have any other viable belief system to work with, no other moral code to guide you except the thought of her.
(There is still that animal part of you that has tasted blood and will always, always want more. You know this. You live with it every day.)
“They’re going to come back sometime today,” you tell him. “Tonight, maybe.”
“Yes,” he says, and spreads his hand out in front of him, white flame sliding through his splayed-out fingers. He looks drunk on it, for a moment, before snapping his hand back into a fist.
“We need a plan,” he says, decisive, and you can’t exactly argue with that.
“I’m no good at plans,” you say, brutally honest, and he grins.
“I know,” he says. “No offense. But it kinda goes along with the whole spectacularly bad at pack thing.”
“Thanks,” you growl, and he just grins more, eyes going distant and hazy as he thinks.
The two of you establish very quickly that you, despite being a supernatural creature yourself, have no facility whatsoever for magic, or maybe that Stiles has no affinity for explaining things in an easily comprehensible manner. He’s sensible enough, at least, not to try to get you to conjure fire – and oh, the chill that went down your spine at the sight of it so close to his fingers, hot and wild and dangerous – but you don’t know anything about water, either, or air. You know the earth, maybe, and the trees – but not like Patrick did, not like Stiles does. You think about Patrick when you try to do what Stiles tells you, try to feel everything around you, try to believe in what you’re supposed to be doing. But with him it was never an effort, and even if it is for Stiles, it’s accompanied by that deep pleasure you see in his face when it goes slack, when his eyes roll back in his head. (You know what this looks like; you wish you did not. You wish this was something you had not seen, the way his cheeks go pale and then red with exertion.)
“This is a waste of time,” you tell him eventually, and he nods, thoughtful.
“Okay,” he says, rolling a sharp prick of light around his hand, twitching it through his fingers. It’s grounding him, you think – or it’s keeping the magic steady, maybe; either way, it has the effect of focusing him, laser-like, on the task at hand. You like this better than the ribbon of flame, and you can’t help wondering whether he’d switched over on purpose.
“I’m not going to be powerful enough to just – take them all out,” he says, half to himself, not looking at you. He’s pacing up and down the length of the room, floorboards creaking mournfully below his feet. “But I think – I think I’ll be able to… do a lot. I feel stronger, now. They’ll probably be expecting it, but – they might not know exactly what to expect?” He stops walking, tosses the pinprick of light up in front of him and it hangs there, slowly growing brighter. It’s mesmerizing: you don’t realize how long you’ve been staring at it until Stiles snaps his fingers and it vanishes. He’s grinning, and there’s a dangerous edge to him that you don’t recognize (almost, almost).
“Even so,” he says. “There are a lot of them. And Peter’s wise, I think.”
“Erica and Boyd probably won’t want to kill you,” you tell him. “Isaac, maybe.”
“Isaac’s basically deranged,” he points out, and a half-hearted part of you wants to say something in his defense, but the rest of you really doesn’t.
“I don’t really want to kill all of them,” he muses. “But I don’t really know how else to stop them. And I can’t use Mountain Ash again, for – obvious reasons.” He’s pointedly not looking at you, now, but you’re more than used to this state of affairs: you’ve spent a lot more time looking at him, in the past month, than he’s spent looking at you.
“They came into my territory and attacked my pack,” you tell him flatly. “We have every right to kill them.”
He slide you a glance out of the corner of his eyes. “Man, sometimes I think you and Chris Argent should really get to know each other better,” he mutters, and spreads his hand wide again, but instead of a sharp little flare of light it’s darkness this time, a void, sucking everything into it. You can’t look away from this, either, but it fills you with fear, with dread – you are trapped in a small space and can’t get out, you can’t get out, and the fire is coming for you, it is coming –
His hand snaps closed. When you look up at his face he looks more shaken than you feel.
“I – sorry,” he says, shoulders hunched. He sounds very young. “I didn’t realize – I didn’t realize – I could smell that. What you were –”
You shrug, uncomfortable all of the sudden in your own skin. “Yeah,” you say. “That’s how it works.”
“Sorry,” he says again, and you can smell how much he means it. You can smell his fear.
“How are you doing this?” you ask him.
“I don’t know,” he tells you, and you know that he’s not lying. “I don’t – I don’t know.”
“Okay,” you say, because when it comes down to it you don’t really care. You’re not your father, who you think was afraid of your brother in some way, afraid of what he was and what he could do, because he couldn’t ever understand him. You don’t understand Stiles but you can see him, now; you can see who he is, and you don’t care.
“So,” he says after a long silence, forcing himself to stand up a little straighter, forcing the shiver out of his voice. “I can – distract them. I can probably, uh, burn some of them, but I don’t know how much I could control it, and I – really don’t want to, um, burn the forest down. For – a lot of reasons, besides the obvious. And I’d still – I’d still rather not kill anybody. If possible.”
“I can kill people,” you tell him, and you do not add, It’s the one thing I’m good at, but you think he hears that anyway.
“Okay,” he says.
“They’re going to be scared of you,” you tell him. “They’re going to be scared of that, unless they’ve seen a lot more than I have.” And you – you’ve seen so much, too much, even though you don’t think about it very often. “Most mages, witches – there aren’t very many of them – rely heavily on material things, and signs, spells – stuff Deaton’s good at. They don’t do things like this.” The light is back, now, and you think he might have infused it with some kind of emotion, because it makes you actively happy to watch it, but that might just be you.
Stiles frowns. “Deaton didn’t – explain all of this to me, exactly, but he definitely, I mean, he – suggested things, that didn’t really have a lot to do with runes, or whatever. Those too, but.”
You shrug. “He knew Patrick,” you tell him. “He’d seen what he could do.”
“But I’m not – like that,” Stiles says. “I mean. I’m practicing and everything, but it’s not like – he could do stuff his whole life, right? That’s just what I’d sort of – assumed – given – just, you know, what you’d said about him, which was… not much…” he trails off, and you take pity on him.
“Yes,” you say, “but he grew up in a family of werewolves.” And there’s something in the water in this town, you don’t know what but you know it’s there; there’s a reason you and your family and the Argents and the alphas have all come here, at one time or another.
You remember what you used to think about Patrick, about changelings, and wonder whether Stiles isn’t a little like that himself, just – wired wrong, a little to the left, a little off. Stiles, with his white skin and sharp features that are beginning to show through his puppy fat, Stiles with his wide eyes and the terrifying steel in his spine. You wonder.
“But I’m – I mean, I’m just – normal,” he says, and more than anything he looks confused.
“No, you’re not,” you tell him, and he doesn’t know what to say to that, so he stares, instead.
You give him a moment before you start talking again, because you really don’t have any time to spare (even though you think, now, you might be able to just watch him think, watch his mind careen through thought upon thought, all played out on his face, for longer than you’d necessarily like to admit). “So,” you say. “The plan.”
He blinks, shakes himself out of – whatever that was. “Right,” he says. “Plans. My specialty. Or, um, not.”
“Stiles,” you say.
“No, no, I know,” he says, a little sheepish but mostly distracted. He doesn’t say anything for a long time.
“Do the second one again,” you say suddenly, an idea forming slowly at the back of your mind.
“Yeah, uh, I think that is – maybe not the best idea you’ve ever had –”
“Do it,” you growl, and his sighs, put upon.
“Fine,” he mutters, and opens his hands –
It’s the same thing all over again – the nothingness at the center, and then the immobility – paralysis – and the fire, the fire, and you can hear them, your brothers and your sisters and your father and your mother, you can hear them howling, and you can’t go to them, and the fire is coming for you, too, and there’s nothing – there’s nothing you can – nothing –
“Derek,” Stiles is saying, and he sounds terrified – he smells terrified – he’s too close to you, he’s right in front of you, and one of his hands is on your cheek.
“I’m fine,” you manage, and let yourself think, for a moment, about the feeling of his dry fingers on your skin before stepping away.
“I think it’s… tied to the person,” you say slowly, trying to explain as clearly as you can something you haven’t got words for. “I felt like – like I was trapped – and – the fire was coming, and I couldn’t do anything about it.”
He’s startled, you can tell, and you avoid his eyes.
“So, like… Dementors, basically,” he says, and you blink.
“What?” you ask, and he smiles a little, wan.
“Harry Potter,” he says. “Man, you have got to work on your cultural literacy.”
“Whatever,” you say. “I just think – it’s going to make them think of – of things they don’t want to think about. And it’ll probably stop them. At least – temporarily.”
“But if I just, you know, whip this thing out, or whatever, that’ll affect you, too – right?” he asks. “Which would kind of defeat the whole purpose of this, uh, plan.”
“Do it again,” you tell him. “I’ll close my eyes."
“Okay,” he says dubiously, and you do, and wait, and – nothing happens.
“Derek?” he asks uncertainly.
“I’m fine,” you say, and open your eyes.
“Okay,” he says. “So… what that establishes is that… we can totally have this fight if you do it blind. That seems like maybe not the best idea, I’m just saying.”
“I’ll be able to smell them, and hear them,” you reason. “At that proximity, I should be able to tell where they are, at least –”
“And, what, just – ambush them one by one? I mean, I don’t actually care about – all of them, and I’m not exactly anti-murder as long as I’m not, um, technically the one committing it, just for the sake of my father’s continued sanity, but I’d just as soon not leave that many bodies in the woods, and I’m pretty sure Erica and Boyd don’t deserve to die. Or Isaac,” he adds, but it’s grudging.
“Well, something like that,” you agree, because it’s not like you have any other ideas. “I’m not really interested in killing fifteen people tonight either. But they might just – scare off.”
“Seriously?” he asks, skeptical, and you shrug.
“So – what, I just – intimidate them with my freaky-deaky magical powers?” Stiles asks, and no, it’s not exactly the best idea either of you has ever had, but it seems to be the only option you’ve got.
“Yeah,” you say. “Something like that.”
He swallows. “Right,” he says. “Right.”
“This is power they don’t understand,” you tell him. “And I don’t think they care enough about us to risk dying. We don’t even know why they’re coming after us in the first place, except to have you in their pack.”
“You, too,” he says, but he sounds uncertain.
“Yeah,” you say. “Maybe.”
You can only remember one time that Patrick had that look on his face, the one that Stiles is getting now, from his magic. You must have been very young, because looking back at it now you can see that Patrick himself was young – fourteen, fifteen maybe, so you would have been six or seven.
You had forgotten about this entirely until now, and it disturbs you that your mind could have hidden things like this from you, that there might be a whole hoard of memories buried deep down inside of your grief that could break free at any moment.
Your family’s house is on a hill but there are floods in Beacon Hills sometimes – the river rises in the spring – and there was one year where it flooded everything, all the way up to where you were, to the house, and none of you knew what to do, because it was too late to drive away, and there wasn’t anywhere higher for you to go that wasn’t going to be flooded.
“Patrick,” your mother said, “do something.” You were crying, you’re pretty sure, but Patrick wasn’t crying at all; Patrick wasn’t scared.
“Okay,” he said, and walked outside. Your mother followed him, at a distance, carrying you, and you had been mostly keeping your face buried in her shoulder but snuck a peek out at your brother when she stopped moving.
The water was rising, and rising, and then – not, anymore; it was sinking into the earth, wide swathes of it, and there was fire dancing on top of it as it went, bright and white and not like fire at all, really – or maybe like the epitome of it, the very purest thing flame could be. And for a minute it was like everything you could see was in concert, like all of nature hinged on the bright point that was your brother, standing a few feet in front of the porch, hands trembling with power.
The heartbeat of the earth was his heartbeat.
And then it was over, and the water was gone, and Patrick was turning around, and his whole body was looser than bodies are supposed to be, and his face was – his face was ecstatic, like the universe had just spoken all of its secrets directly into his heart. The air around him was shaking – you couldn’t see it but you could feel it – and then he crumpled down to the ground.
He stayed in bed for a week, and you stayed with him most of the time, except when Laura was in there to talk to him privately. You didn’t ask him what he had done, or how, like Cooper and Alice did, and you didn’t stare at him like he was some foreign thing like your father did. You lay next to him and listened to his heartbeat, which did not beat like yours did, and fell asleep with his fingers stroking through your hair.
It’s night when they come, and you’re out there, in the wood – shelter won’t help you, not anymore.
“They’re coming,” Stiles whispers to you, and you can feel the tremble in the earth, too, the faintest tremor of movement.
“Yes,” you say.
“Well, here goes nothing,” he mutters just before they approach, and you step away from him, to give him space.
“Hello!” he calls out into the trees. “Fancy meeting you all here.”
“How was the full moon, boys?” the woman asks, the same one, though you can’t see her. “Get into a few spats, did you?”
“Oh, yeah,” Stiles says cheerfully, rocking back and forth on his heels. “You know me, never pass up a good ol’ rough-and-tumble.”
“Well,” she says, and you can see them now, just the faint shadows of them were the forest should be – and you can smell them, too, distantly. “Now it’s time for you to come with us, don’t you think?”
“You know, I have been thinking about it,” Stiles tells her, and it says a lot about you that for one instant, for one horrible second you wonder whether he actually has, whether he might actually leave you and go with these people. But then he says, “and I don’t really think I will, actually,” and you wonder whether he could hear the beat of your heart accelerating.
“That’s a pity,” she says. “But I think you might have misunderstood me. I’m not actually giving you an option.”
“Yeah, well, I don’t actually give a shit, so,” he says, and tosses up a flash of light above them. You can, you realize, see all of them –
Somebody growls. “What’s –” he asks, and Stiles’ pulse rockets, and you close your eyes before –
You can tell when the light goes away an instant later, the backs of your eyelids suddenly dark, and when none of them move for a long, torturous moment you move, you move toward the alpha, the alpha, the woman.
One of the others moans, and another keens – a high, animal sound. You’re moving more slowly than you’d like – you don’t want to trip – but you’re getting closer, you’re nearly there, and if you take her down then the others will be easy – they’ll be weaker, you saw what happened to all of them when the Mountain Ash got into her –
“You’re going to leave this place,” Stiles is saying, and there’s something old and terrible in his voice, and even you stop for a moment, startled, before continuing on. “You don’t belong here. This isn’t your territory. This territory already has a pack. It’s spoken for.”
You can feel them cowering away from him, all of them, and it’s beautiful and terrifying, and you’re almost there, you’re so close, but then Peter says, “Close your eyes, you idiots –” and everything goes to hell.
Your eyes snap open when you feel them come back to themselves, and they’ve still got their eyes closed but they can smell better than you can, hear better than you can; they are more powerful than you are and you can’t possibly do this, you can’t. You can take them one at a time, and that is what you do – your claws are dripping with blood – but there are so many of them –
It’s lucky, then, that you have Stiles, and that Stiles has the forest, that Stiles has something strange and frightening and beautiful inside of him, because there’s water coming from the ground, rising in pools under all of their feet, and the wind is rising, and there are tongues of flame rising from the water, pale and slender, and they’re terrified – you were right, they are terrified of Stiles; they’re not even trying to get near him.
But the alpha is getting away – you can’t see here anywhere, can’t smell her anymore, where is she? She is the one you want to find; she is the only one who matters – because without her that pack is headless, without a brain, and because she is the one who sunk her long white fangs into the soft flesh of Stiles’ side, and if anybody was going to do that it should have been you, you didn’t even realize that you’d wanted to but it should have been you – it was yours and she took it from you and you do not like people who take things that belong to you (who take your people).
You think you catch a glimpse of her, in the darkness, but then you have the most terrible, dizzying pain in your shoulder, and you realize that your uncle has his teeth in you, and not for the first time you wonder, with all the rage you are capable of, why this was the family member you wound up with, why this was the only one of them who survived besides you and Laura, whom he was always going to kill anyway.
But his teeth are sharp and painful and sunk deep into you and you’re in so much pain that you can’t scream, or maybe you are screaming and don’t realize it; you can’t tell – and then –
And then –
The earth rises like the sea and rips him away from you –
And buries him –
Down in the deep –
You stare at the smooth ground where Peter was only a moment ago, and then back up at Stiles, whose eyes are wide, who has no idea what he’s just done.
The other wolves – the ones who are left, anyway, the ones who haven’t already fled – are doing the same thing, and evidently decide that it’s not in their best interest to stick around, because all of them turn and run, even Boyd and Erica, whom you avoided, for Stiles’ sake more than theirs, or your own. Stiles, who is shaking, and looks almost dead.
“You should go – get her,” he says hazily, swaying before slowly lowering himself to the ground. “I’ll be… fine, I think.”
“Okay,” you tell him, for lack of anything better to say, and because you are afraid of what you might do if you stay, you turn and go after her.
It’s easier to track people as the wolf, the real wolf, and so that’s who you become, the animal who is hungry for his prey. You want to rip your throat out; you want to rip every part of her out and fling them across the earth as a sign of your rage and your dominance and your pack.
She’s fast – she’s faster than you – but this is your land, this is your home, and you know it better than she ever will, and she’s injured badly, worse than you are – you can smell it – and you are going to catch her, you know; you are going to catch her.
She’s down in the ravine by the time you get to her, a wolf herself, brown and gold, and when you leap down on her from the ledge above, her knees buckle and her skull slams down on to the rocks, and she shivers back into a human faster than you’ve ever seen anybody change before. She digs her claws into your belly but you don’t move off of her – you bite down, savage, into her arm, and she growls. The night is with you, and the land is with you, and the moon is with you. She is not going to survive this.
“You’re pathetic,” she snarls. “You and that little boy, all alone out here – that’s what you call pack? You don’t know anything about pack, Derek – you’ve gone your whole adult life without one, and now you’ve got nobody but that snot and his infatuation, and what do you think he’ll do when he figures you out? When he realizes you’re not exactly what anybody’s looking for in a mate? He’s going to leave you, he’s going to go far, far away, and you’re going to be alone again – you’re going to be alone forever, Derek, you fucking idiot –”
You bite down harder, feel the bones of her shoulder splintering under your jaw, and she screams, and drags her claws up your side, but you don’t care; you’ll heal. You’ll heal, and she’ll be dead.
“You idiot,” she pants. “We sent that lamia, we know all about you – you’re just as bad as he is, don’t try to tell yourself otherwise. But you know just as well as I do that he’s going to go off and find some nice girl who’ll appreciate his personality, some girl who’ll actually be able to have a conversation with him, because you sure as hell can’t – I’ve been watching you for a long time, Derek, I know your family, and you always were the weak one –"
You want to ask her who she is, and why she’s come here, and how she knows anything about you, how she knows enough about you to get inside your head like this – but then you realize that you really, really don’t care, and you grab her broken shoulder in your teeth and haul her to the side and knock her head against a rock, and she stops moving.
Her heart’s still beating, and you’re close, you’re so close to ripping out her throat, to letting all of her blood spill out in this river, because if you do then Stiles will have to stay with you, because you’ll be the only pack he has. He’ll be yours and you’ll teach him how to do this, how to become the wolf, how to run in the woods under the moon, like your mother used to. He’ll smell like you, he’ll smell right and you won’t be alone anymore, you won’t be lonely. You’re so, so lonely, and there’s not a single person in the world who loves you – and that could be Stiles, maybe, Stiles who is – who is infatuated, she said – and you know that’s true, now that somebody else has said it (and why do you always need other people to tell you what you should already know?) you know that you know. You know why he’s been coming out to the house; you never really had to ask. You know what the flush in his cheeks means; you know he smells like longing (just like you do). That could be love, you think – you could try to make that love.
He wouldn’t have any other choice.
You think, sometimes, about your mother and your father. About how you never really understood them, understood why they loved each other, even though you knew without doubt that they did. You try to remember what they were like to each other, not just to you. You try to remember what they were like when they didn’t know you were watching.
Your father only smiled when your mother was around, when she was making a joke. He never laughed otherwise, either. And your mother was funnier when he was there – they were, you realize, playing. They were playing.
And then, other times – other times they were running together, howling together, temporarily insane in their joy. Your father turned when he was angry and when your mother wanted him to: when he was unbearably happy. It didn’t happen very often, but it happened.
What made your father that way? What made him so angry, and afraid? You don’t know. You’re never going to know. But your mother fixed him. Not always, not forever, but – when she was there, and he was there, and they were looking at each other – he was better. He was all right.
Stiles is still conscious when you come up the slope, though only barely, and his eyes widen when he sees you, and the body of the alpha you’re dragging behind you.
He stares at you when you deposit her in front of him, and then stares at her, and back at you, and you realize he wants an explanation, so you twist back into your body even though you are so, so tired, and old.
“She’s not dead,” you say, unnecessarily, and then: “I don’t know if Scott’s theory is right. But. You can try.”
His mouth drops open but he doesn’t say anything, just stares at you with this kind of – wonder – that’s not what you’re used to.
“Soon,” you grunt. “Please.”
“Okay,” he whispers, and reaches out one trembling hand, claws outstretched, and swallows before slashing them across her throat.
Her blood gushes out into the ground, onto your legs and Stiles’, and you can hear the exact moment when her heart stops – but it doesn’t matter, because even if you couldn’t you’d be able to see Stiles’ hands slide back into what they’re supposed to look like.
He stares at them, holding his breath. “Is – is that –” he asks, and it is, because he smells like himself again, too.
“Yes,” you say, and you haven’t done many good things with your life but this is one of them, this is maybe the best one, even though it feels like somebody has reached inside of you and pulled out your heart and ruined it.
“Oh,” he breathes, and his hands are still shaking when he reaches out to you, settles them either side of your face, and pulls you close to him, presses you against his neck. You breathe, and breathe, and breathe, and then you sleep.
You were the last one awake downstairs that night, that last night, listening to the sounds of the forest outside moving around you as you sat at the kitchen table, copying out algebra problems from your textbook and working through them one by one. You weren’t a very good student but you plodded through your work with a determination born out of your father’s disdain. He thought, you knew, that you were going to be a burnout; you were going to prove him wrong.
So much of what you did was all about your father. You had no idea.
Your heard your mother before you saw her, smelled her before you heard her.
“It’s late,” she told you, and it was, but you’d wasted your afternoon. You shrugged, and she squeezed your shoulder. Her hands were still strong but they were beginning to look like an old woman’s hands. You hated that; it reminded you that she was going to die someday, and the thought of this was so unconscionable you barely let it enter your mind.
“Poor boy,” she said gently, half-teasing and half-not, and you ducked your head to avoid meeting her gaze.
“I love you,” she told you, running her hand through your hair. “And someday somebody else is going to love you just as much as I do.”
You didn’t know what to say; you never did – you never do. You just let out a sort of rumble, a wolf sound, and she laughed, your mother who was so rarely the wolf, and wrapped herself around you from behind for a moment, and you hoped she could taste it on your smell, how much you loved her, how you thought maybe you wouldn’t mind staying here forever, in this old creaking house, if you could only be small again, and pressed against her, the sound of her heart pulsing through you like moonlight, like magic, like joy.
But here’s the thing: you were always going to grow up.
When you wake up Stiles is curled up against you, a warm (hot bright alive human) weight. You turn to look at him and you know from the look in his eyes and the pattern of his heartbeat that you are going to be okay, that everything is going to be all right.
And there will be wolves in the wood and the jangling song of pack in the trees, and you will howl at the moon and come home and bury yourself in your joy, and there will be the hot spark of life there, in your house, in your forest, in your mate, for as long as he will have you, the raw magic spill of him the most alive thing you know.
Death will come back for you eventually, you know. But not now, not now: you are done with death for a while.