i'll eat you up, i love you so
Derek is nine when he transforms for the first time. He isn't old enough to understand why the sight of the moon fills him up all the way to the top, why he always feels like he has to walk slow and steady to keep from spilling over. He has his mother's eyes and his father's jaw. He tastes metal when his eyes flash blue for the first time and he is too young to fight it, so he doesn't.
His mother waits in the yard, her eyes bright and burning in the porch light and her teeth sharp. Derek skids to a halt at the edge of the garden and he stares at her, not understanding, not understanding anything at all.
His mother stands, walking over to him with the grace with which she always moves, but there is something different in the movement now, something stronger. She kneels before him, her eyes red, and he whines, touching his nose to the ground.
"Derek," she calls to him, in a voice he cannot hear but feel, a language he does not know but understands. "Do you submit to the will of your Alpha and the loyalty of this pack?"
He sits back on his haunches and howls, spilling out the moon with every note.
Laura is like him, and his mother, and his uncle Peter; his grandparents are both like him, and so is Uncle Kevin Who Is Not Allowed Back In Beacon Hills. They don't know yet about the baby. Natalie is too little to show any signs.
But cousin Charlotte isn't, nor Aunt Emily; the twins should have been but somehow aren't, and he's pretty sure his grandfather doesn't even know that anyone is anything at all.
The rules aren't taught, but known. Derek will never be an Alpha, not even when his mother dies. The title goes to the oldest of the same blood.
Derek doesn't mind. He doesn't like being in charge of other people. Other people are exhausting. He wants to be left alone to read and to run and to sit in the kitchen and listen to his mother singing hymns.
Laura is fifteen and spends a thousand hours in the bathroom every morning before school. She says that Derek is anti-social. Laura doesn't care that none of her friends are Like Them, that they are small and fragile and weak. Derek doesn't exactly care about those things either, but he can never run with any of the boys in his class because they can never keep up, so he stops trying.
When his big sister turns sixteen, their mother buys her a new pair of running shoes. Laura laughs, eyes flashing blue, and says dryly, "Well, I wanted a car."
Their mother smiles widely enough to show her teeth. She is braiding Laura's long, dark hair into a plait. "These are faster than a car," she counters in a singsong voice, and the two women laugh together, the sunlight catching the heart-shaped lockets they both wear.
Derek reads Dostoevsky for the first time because Uncle Peter leaves Crime and Punishment out on the kitchen is interested in both of those things, how to accomplish the former and avoid the latter, so he sits on the couch and leafs through the first few pages.
By it time it gets too dark to read, he is halfway through. The words twist into him like his mother's fingers in Laura's hair and he sighs into the back of the couch. He tucks the book under the couch cushions and sneaks back down after his bedtime to read with a flashlight under the dining room table. He is eleven, and doesn't understand everything, but the weight of what happens presses on his chest like a secret, like a promise, like the moon pulling him into the sky.
"Ummmm, Anna Karenina," his mother offers, and Derek says, "Too easy. Tolstoy."
She laughs. He thinks her laugh sounds the way that sunflowers look. He thinks she is the most beautiful woman in the world, or at least in Beacon Hills.
Laura makes an exasperated sound over her cornflakes and his father hums a laugh. They meet one another's eyes and roll them together, grinning, raising mugs of coffee in salute.
"Harry Potter," says Laura, voice heavy with sarcasm.
His father pretends to think. "Hmm. Tolkein?"
Derek scowls at both of them, but his mother puts her Alpha's touch against his shoulder and he sinks back into his seat. She places a bowl of cereal before him and, under the table, slips him a blueberry muffin. She'd made a baker's dozen for the school's bake sale yesterday, and always saves the baker for Derek.
"Hey!" Laura whines when she sees Derek raise the muffin to his mouth. "Favoritism! Blatant favoritism!"
"How's that Chemistry grade?" his mother asks smoothly, and Laura's mouth snaps shut.
"Uh, what I meant was: hey little bro, enjoy that muffin, you totally deserve it."
His father laughs, Laura winks across the table, and his mother kisses his temple before prompting, "Dead Souls."
His grades in science and math are shit. His fifteenth birthday was last week and he didn't try out for the lacrosse team. Laura thinks he's an idiot; she's graduating this spring and has griped for the past four years about not being able to kick ass at sports because no one in Beacon Hills cares about the winning record of the girls' soccer team.
But it's not fun to play when you always win. Derek gets bored of lacrosse the first time he ever picks up a stick. Who cares that you can throw a tiny ball into a large net? Derek can rip your throat out. With his teeth.
Seriously: lacrosse is stupid.
He goes to the games because Laura has the car and Laura is dating the captain, but he reads Doctor Zhivago in the stands and doesn't pay attention. Nobody bothers him but Laura, who reads a few lines over his shoulder and wrinkles her nose when she says, "Dude. What is it with you and Russia? Do they understand something we don't?"
Derek grins at her. "Yeah," he says. "People."
Laura graduates Valedictorian. She takes a few deep breaths when she gets to the podium and then says, joy bright in her voice, "So? We did it!"
She throws her head back and laughs, lips the reddest red that she had been able to find in Walmart's cosmetics section. The auditorium laughs with her, swept up in the way that her shoulders shake as she gives herself over to sound.
Natalie claps and giggles from their mother's lap, and Derek thinks she looks like their father. He thinks she is going to turn out like Laura: bright and loud and all of the things that Derek likes to stand next to. He thinks her tiny hands are perfect.
Uncle Peter leans in and murmurs, "What do you think, is that a threat or a promise?"
Derek grins, shrugs. "Is there a difference with Laura?" he asks, and Uncle Peter wraps his arm around Derek's shoulders as he laughs.
His first day of sophomore year, he breaks the lacrosse captain's nose. He had stayed back to argue the librarian into ordering a new copy of Eugene Onegin, since the last one has been missing since last year. He plans to run home, backpack pulled tight against his shoulders to keep from bouncing, but Garrett Weil stops him with a hand on his wrist.
"Where you going, Hale?" he asks, the slide in his voice low and nasty. There are five or six players behind him, and Derek can smell the fight that is coming. "We were hoping we could talk."
He slips his backpack off his shoulders, calm. Uncle Peter is excitable during the moon, and you can smell the testosterone peeling off him like layers on an onion, stinging your eyes. Derek squares his chest. "Okay," he says. "So talk."
Garrett makes a face. "Actually, Coach wanted us to see if we couldn't get you to join the team. But I don't think a little heart-to-heart is going to do the trick, do you?"
"Sure don't," says Derek, and winds his fist back, throwing his weight into the punch the way Laura and his father had taught him. That night, when the moon is full and he is howling beneath it, his mother brushes up against him and nips his ear in reproach. Violence is only necessary when it's necessary, he can hear her say, and he nips her back.
His Alpha howls a laugh. "Cheeky," she tells him, and he can hear pride in the words.
Two weeks later, Mrs. Finnegan, his Literature teacher, falls ill. The substitute writes her name on the board in smooth cursive: Ms. Kate Argent.
Kate Argent: twenty, blonde, short enough to always wear boots with heels on them. The Argents are migratory—this is the word she uses that first day, when Derek wipes his sweaty, sixteen-year-old palms on his jeans and asks, "so, uh, you new in town?"
Kate Argent: a laugh so sharp it cuts him, skin so soft he can't help but bump his nose against it, inhaling. Her father goes where the game is—this is what she tells him when he asks her, in her dark bedroom as she takes him apart with her hands, what he can do to make her stay.
Kate Argent: fingers dancing on a silver trigger, eyes watery from smoke, scent buried beneath the layers of Derek's clothing that she has been collecting. She hunts those who hunt her—this is the catchphrase she blows out of the window of her Toyota as Derek kneels stunned on crackling dead leaves and nobody screams, because everyone is burned down like house around them.
"I am not looking," Derek snarls at Laura the first time her eyes light up red, "for a new pack."
She kneels before him, untransformed, and he can smell the sorrow and the pity rolling off of her in waves. "An omega never survives," she murmurs, reaching out to touch his arm.
Good, Derek thinks, because Laura doesn't know that this is his fault, that their mother's sunflower laughter and Natalie's tiny hands and the bookshelves filled with Russian names are dust and charcoal because of him.
He sets his jaw and doesn't answer.
"If you don't join me, I'll be an Omega too," Laura reminds him, her voice gentler than all the times Kate had run the pad of her thumb along his cheekbones. "An Alpha's only an Alpha if she has a pack."
Derek touches his nose to her shoulder and wants to weep. Doesn't.
Three years in Indiana, two in Arkansas, four just outside of Maine and six months in New York. He gets an online degree in Russian literature because it is the only thing he's good at. Laura is looking for territory, Derek knows; they move because they are run out or drawn out, but nothing becomes home so nothing becomes permanent.
He prints out his degree and Laura frames it in the living room of their little house in Astoria. He drives a cab for extra money and she works behind the bar at one of the local dives. Sometimes she sings when the usual entertainment calls out.
Her voice sounds nothing like their mother's had, low and sweet. Laura's voice is bright and loud and commands attention. Maybe it would have mellowed out by now, if it had been given the chance. Maybe a lot of things would have happened if Derek hadn't lit them all ablaze.
He drives in circles around the city and comes home smelling of gasoline and traffic.
"I have to go home for a few days," Laura tells him, and he knows, no matter how long it's been, exactly where she means.
He tenses. "Why?"
"Dude," Laura teases, gentler than usual, "a girl's gotta have her secrets."
He looks up from his book and carefully does not let his face fall into expression. "Why do you have to go back to Beacon Hills?"
She sighs. "You're the shittiest beta ever," she informs him, but the light tone is forced and they both know it. "So demanding."
"Oh-kay, Jesus. There's been . . . activity. Around the house."
He sits up, tossing One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich to the side as he does. "What sort of activity? By who? Why? When?"
Laura growls softly, comfortingly, her eyes sinking into a deep shade of red, and he relaxes instinctively against her palm. He rests his forehead on her shoulder and she runs her hands through his hair. "There was a dead deer. The mark on its side was in the shape of a spiral."
He draws back. "But . . . who-?"
"I don't know. That's what I have to find out." Her voice goes tender. "You understand, don't you?"
"You're my Alpha," he says, instead of answering.
When Laura dies, he feels it like a match set fire to his insides, flame curling around all his organs and the bone frame of them, biting and tearing until he can see his skin scab over. He wonders if this is what it feels like to be the Alpha, until his eyes flash blue and he realizes he isn't.
He tries to believe that it is because the universe knows that he is not worthy, but even he knows that in his world, worth does not determine rank. He is not the Alpha because someone else has stolen Laura's red eyes, and he doesn't look back at the city as he drives out of it, toward home.