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She was always there between them.

Laura was always there between them.

Because Derek was Laura was Derek, and Laura was Derek was Laura.

Because they had never been whole without the other.

And that lose, that emptiness, echoed through Derek’s days and colored everything he did and said.

A gaping hole in everything, every day—half his soul lost to vengeance, the other half drowning by inches in the fallout.

There was nothing that wasn’t touched.

Laura’s echo haunted the edges of Stiles’ rambling; her heart haunting every decision—good or bad or indifferent—that Derek made.

Even Stiles.  Even the decision to draw Stiles into the Pack, to take him into Derek’s bed, to steal him away from a bright, safe, ordinary life.

Even Stiles.

Even when Stiles was like this—riding his cock, hands almost painfully tight against Derek’s shoulders, tongue and teeth everywhere that they could reach, Derek’s hands on Stiles’ hips and ass, pulling and pushing harder, trailing bruises like promises, words flowing from Stiles’ mouth in breathy gasps about beauty and ohmygod, harder Derek and something about physics and phi that Derek wasn’t entirely certain he understood other than it was caught up in sublimity and pleasure and the way Derek moved—Derek felt Laura there, that she should have been there, moving them all the way she wanted them, ensuring that they were all headed towards the same place in relatively the same time, orchestrating everything.

He could hear her, see her, feel her even when it was just him and Stiles.

And Derek kinda hated Laura for it, hated that even this tiny bit of peace was soaked with grief for Pack and Laura and tainted by Kate’s betrayal.

By Derek’s own betrayal.

Because, once upon a time, Laura and Derek had seen Stiles—Stiles and Scott, really—playing in the Sheriff’s front yard, playing something young and innocent and knowing nothing of the horrors that life would bring upon them, before parents died or left, before there was a charred house in the woods reminding the town that bad things happened even here, before every day was covered in blood and ringing with bell-like screams.

And Laura had—stopped. 

Just stopped.  In the middle of the sidewalk.

She had stopped and scented the air and had held Derek back.  Do you smell that?   She had asked all her attention focused on the two small boys across the street.  And Derek had, had smelled something like brown sugar and medicine and peppermint and black tea and had known that it was Stiles—all ridiculously sweet-faced and doe-eyed and laughing with joy on a bright Saturday morning with dirt on his cheek and sap on his fingers—and had know that the smell was important, that it was a smell that Derek wanted forever mixed with his and Laura’s.  Someday, when he’s older—old enough to know better than to stay with us, old enough to want to leave this suffocating town—he’s going to be ours.  He’s going to be our Pack; he’s going to be our Mate.

And Derek hadn’t questioned the statement (He hadn’t really understood it, either, but that was a different matter.) or the creepiness of his sister asserting this eventuality or of his own very vehement agreement.

But he had questioned why they couldn’t at least be his friends now.

Oh, Derek.  Laura had sighed sadness and knowing in her eyes.  He’s too young yet.  We’re too young yet.  This isn’t something—someone—we can have now.

Derek accepted it, like everything that Laura said. 

Laura hadn’t been Derek’s Alpha yet (Although, it had been coming up soon, Derek remembered; it had been coming soon in fire and heat and screaming and ash and loneliness so deep and profound that Derek had almost gone to find Stiles after, to steal him away in the night when Derek and Laura had run from Beacon Hills.) because Laura was always the one with the Plan, with understanding of every situation because, well, because Laura had the dominate personality.

It wasn’t like they weren’t two separate people—they were, after all—but they were so much a part of each, shared so many of the same experiences that they were like two sides of a coin—obverse and reverse—or complimentary colors.

It was like they were two sides of a single soul:  separate and apart and totally belonging to each other.

Laura was the extrovert, the leader, the one that gave orders, the one who talked (almost constantly—and, oh, how much Stiles would have enjoyed that about Laura!  All those words and images and thoughts just pouring out to be heard and analyzed and teased and understood.  Stiles would have really liked Laura, and part of Derek is happy—a twisted up happiness mixed with grief and envy and jealousy and million other things that Derek couldn’t really define—that Laura wasn’t there, wasn’t alive—for once—because she might have stolen Stiles away from Derek with all of her incandescence and wit and joy and laughter to be just her own, and Derek wouldn’t have faulted her or Stiles in that decision even though Stiles was his and he would have been theirs, but Derek would have never been truly okay in Stiles having been just hers), the one who was being groomed to become an Alpha herself one day.

Derek was introverted, a follower (only of Laura—Derek only ever followed Laura; he barely even followed his mother’s orders when she was alive and the Alpha), he took orders, he was silent and listened and observed everyone and everything—Derek was being groomed to be Laura’s Second one day.

And their relationship, their dynamic, was weird and peculiar and probably more than a bit twisted (abomination) in the way that they shared everything (including their first kiss because they had been curious—okay, Laura had been curious; Derek had still thought girls, and really other guys, were icky, but since Laura had wanted to, Derek had agreed.), and no one in their family really knew just how far that reliance on each other went, how far any of it went.

Derek often thinks that no one really wanted to know.

All of that had been tested with Kate because, of course, Kate had been their first mutual conquest—or were they the conquered?  Derek was never sure. 

Maybe, only Derek had been conquered. 

Kate had been beautiful and older and willing to fuck both the Hale Twins, had been willing to teach them about the edge between pleasure and pain, dominance and submission in a way that they hadn’t learned even though Pack dynamics were all about dominance and submission, had been willing because Kate had a Plan too and they were integral parts of that plan in the end.  More kindling on the fire, a first sacrifice made of sex and pleasure that was followed by fire and pain.

Really, they had never discussed it—if Laura had been smarter than Derek in regards to Kate.  Had Laura kept everything hidden from Kate so that, in the end, Derek was the only one who handed a dangerous Hunter the means by which to destroy their entire family, their Pack?  As much as he blamed himself—and, oh gods, did he blame himself and punish himself with self-imposed fire and quick slices of bright silver knives and little bits of wolfsbane here and there when everything was badbadbadworsebad—Derek never could really be sure, and he didn’t want to know if Laura was to blame too—would rather believe that she would have had nothing to do with it, that it was completely and utterly his own fault, save her from this one responsibility this one time—and, yeah, it had been ridiculously hot and definitely a test run for when they decided to take a Mate (when Stiles was old enough to understand, when Stiles was old enough to reciprocate, and how wrong was it that they were practicing for someone who was, at best, seven years in their future?).

No one’s first love should ever come with a body count.

(Although, it hadn't.  Not really.  That position was still tied up with a child who didn’t even know that Derek and Laura had existed other than as the Hale Twins and occasional run-ins at the grocer or the park.)

But theirs had, and they had run.

(And Derek really had tried to convince Laura that Stiles should come with them, up to and including chatting him up in the park—because the universe was truly a cruel bitch and Stiles’ mother had died shortly before the Hale Fire—because Derek couldn’t stand how Stiles’ smile and laugh had diminished and disappeared and why couldn’t they all run away and join the circus or something and get away from this place that was so filled with smoke and ash and burned memories, and Derek swore that Stiles always carried a hint of smoke on his person anymore, some sort of sensory echo of Derek’s own grief).

They had continued sharing everything—even the people who occasionally were in their bed—but the first time that Laura hadn’t shared something with Derek was when she had returned to Beacon Hills.

He had received a call after she was already there—and the only thing that Derek could think was that Laura had gone to collect Stiles (and it wasn’t like Derek hadn’t thought about Stiles every day since they had run, and yeah, that was obsessive and creepy but he couldn’t help it, help the way he woke up smelling peppermint and smoke and warm tea every morning, or when he had night terrors, or when his nightmares were so bad that he didn’t sleep for days), that this was Derek’s punishment:  he didn’t get to have any part of Stiles in his life because Laura was going to keep him completely for herself.

But, Laura had said come and we’re not running anymore and we’re going to be a Pack again if I have anything to say about it.

And, the first time that Laura hadn’t shared something, Laura had died. 

Laura had died, and again, it was Derek’s fault because he hadn’t been with her, hadn’t gotten back to Beacon Hills quick enough, had gone to stare through Stiles’ window for a few stolen moments rather than going directly to the burned out house like Laura had told him to do.

And Derek was lost and making things up as he went along and terrified when he ran into Stiles in the woods with Scott—all tall and lanky and mouth opened prettily in shock and arousal (and it was arousal, Derek could smell it across the clearing, could have smelled it across the forest, would smell it across town and be drawn to it more than Derek would ever want to admit).

And, Derek couldn’t handle it right then.

There was just—too much:  too much blood, too much grief, too much panic, too much everything going to hell in a spectacular fashion.

And, somehow, they all managed to survive it:  Scott, Jackson, Lydia, Allison, Isaac, Erica, Boyd, Danny, Peter (though, why, Derek never understood—it was like the universe had decided to mock him just a touch more because, yeah, Derek deserved it), Derek, and Stiles.

Stiles had survived.

He had survived and was Pack and was some sort of weird secondary-Alpha and knew just about everything about everything and, if he didn’t, he knew where to look for it and how to get Lydia to help.

They had all survived and inexplicably thrived.

Laura would have been proud.

And when Derek had finally approached Stiles, had finally kissed him softly as they stood under moon and stars and in the shadow of the Hale House—not fully restored but not far from it either—surrounded by the silent forest and hearing the soft sounds of the Pack sleeping in the meadow, Stiles had just breathed finally and I’ve been waiting forever and why didn’t you take me with you to the circus all those years ago?  I was ready to go with you, anywhere with you.

Stiles hadn’t said ready to go with you and Laura.  He had said ready to go with you.

Derek thought that was an important distinction.

And Derek never asked Stiles if things would have been different if Laura had still been alive, had been there to be part of their odd little relationship rather than her memory haunting it around the edges, but every day, Stiles ignores the echoes of Laura in favor of Derek’s silence.

And Derek thinks that—maybe—that might be answer enough.