You’re used to dealing with victims. You know how to walk the line between sympathy and stern professionalism. The last thing anyone wants in a crisis is a cop who needs a shoulder to cry on himself. You’ve got to be a rock, most of the time, for the victims, and sometimes for your deputies. The fallout, you save for later. A few fingers of Jack usually does the trick.
You know that it wears you down. You’re tired of seeing the worst in people. You sometimes worry that the job has damaged something inside of you that’s now irreparable. It becomes an effort not to think the worst of people all the time.
Every few months the department sends you along to some workshop on stress management and coping strategies. Like everyone else in the room, you sit and nod in pious agreement when some deskbound psychologist tells you that alcohol is not a healthy option for dealing with the strain of the job.
You never buy your booze from the same place twice in a row. Last thing a small town needs is people saying that the Sheriff has a drinking problem. It’s not until you’re driving two towns over on your day off to pick up a whole case, a story about a department function on the tip of your tongue in case you’re recognized, that it occurs to you that you do have a fucking problem and this is not the way to deal with it.
You man up and call that deskbound psychologist.
It’s a process.
- 2 -
Your kid never shuts up. The Adderall is fighting a losing battle. Once, when he’s about thirteen, you try to get him to run laps of the neighborhood to get rid of some of that excess energy. An hour later he’s still not home. When you go looking for him, you find him talking to the Kellermans’ dachshund. On the Kellermans’ trampoline.
“Yes,” you tell him as you’re dragging him home by the elbow, “it’s still trespassing even if they’re not using the trampoline because their kids are at college now.”
Nothing good ever comes of a sentence that begins, “But, Dad…”
“But, Stiles,” you say to pre-empt him, and then sigh as you notice his bare feet for the first time. “Where are your shoes?”
Stiles looks down, surprised, and wiggles his grubby toes. Then he looks back up at you, head on an angle. “Um. I don’t know.”
“How the hell did you manage to lose your shoes?”
“I don’t know.” Stiles shrugs his skinny shoulders and wrinkles his nose. “Hey, Dad, can we get a dog?”
Thirteen years old and he can still flabbergast you. “You just lost a pair of shoes that were laced to your feet, and you think you’re responsible enough to look after a living, breathing animal?”
It feels like a low blow, but it’s somehow less cruel than the truth. Stiles already does more chores than a thirteen year old kid should do. You and Claudia had always figured that with your shift work and her part-time work, at least one of you would be there for him before and after school so he wouldn’t be a latchkey kid, but best laid plans… Stiles already does the laundry, and most of the cooking. He’s even been known to vacuum.
He’s thirteen. He doesn’t realize how much work a dog would be.
Stiles looks at you like you’re an idiot. “But, Dad, if I lost a dog I could whistle for it! That won’t work for shoes.”
Sure, kiddo. And you also won’t have to cry yourself to sleep if we never find your damn shoes.
“No dogs,” you tell him.
His face doesn’t crumble. He frowns instead, determined, and you know this isn’t the last you’re going to hear of this argument. You sling an arm around his shoulders and head for home, watching the sidewalk carefully in case of broken glass.
It takes Stiles about half a minute to formulate what you’re sure would be a hell of a rebuttal, if given the chance. “But, Dad—”
“No dogs, Stiles.”
He huffs and grumbles and you’re going to be the bad guy for a while because of this.
You never do find his shoes.
You never saw eye to eye with your own dad. Well, it was more than that. There’s a long list of damn good reasons Stiles never met his grandfather. You told yourself you’d do better with your kid—pretty damn hard to do worse—but lately you’ve felt the distance growing between you.
Stiles is keeping secrets and telling lies, and as much as you tell yourself all teenagers do that, it doesn’t make it any easier to swallow. Because what if he’s gotten himself into trouble with drugs? It can happen to any kid, and Stiles… Stiles doesn’t always make the right decisions.
You sometimes hear back from your deputies that they saw his Jeep driving around at odd hours of the night, or parked up near the Preserve. It’s a worry, but his grades stay constantly high and he’s as bright-eyed and talkative as always.
You tell yourself that this distance between a teenage boy and his dad is normal, and that in a few years at most you’ll both be through the awkwardness of Stiles’s adolescence. You remind yourself that your kid’s figuring himself out right now, figuring out who he is when he’s standing on his own two feet, and that all teenagers and parents go through this. You try not to compare yourself with Claudia, who you’re sure would have handled this a hell of a lot better. Claudia wouldn’t have let Stiles just sidestep his way out of every uncomfortable conversation you try and start with him.
You tell yourself it’s just a teenage phase.
You tell yourself it’s not something worse.
A part of you is scared absolutely shitless that you’re lying to yourself.
- 4 -
She was your light, and one day she was gone.
- 5 -
“Friday night in the bustling metropolis of Beacon Hills,” you say, sliding back behind your desk and opening up your takeout bag.
“Curly fries, Sheriff?” Parrish asks. “Really?”
You jam a few in your mouth. “If you tell my son that I’m eating these, I will personally make sure they never find your body.”
“I would never!” Parrish shows you his palms.
You like Parrish. He’s new, and he looks about twelve years old, but he’s keen, and smart, and, from what you’ve seen, he treats people decently. Doesn’t matter if he’s dealing with someone from the mayor’s office, or old George Hobson who lives under the bridge and is working on drowning what’s left of his liver in cheap booze; Parrish treats everyone with respect. It’s the mark of a good cop.
Doesn’t stop him from leaning over and helping himself to one of your fries.
“Hey!” you grouse. “That’s stealing!”
Parrish just grins. “Oh yeah, Sheriff? And who are you gonna tell? Given the whole department got the email from Stiles with the list of foods you can and can’t eat.”
Parrish is a sneaky little smartass too, when he wants to be. You reward him with another fry, and then he heads out to the front counter to deal with Mrs. Schuler who, like clockwork, has turned up to complain about her neighbor cutting back her branches. If you know Mrs. Schuler, and unfortunately you do, she’ll have detailed diary entries and a folder full of photographic evidence.
And no, she literally has nothing better to do on a Friday night than this.
There are worse jobs than dealing with Mrs. Schuler though. She’s a pain in the ass, but she’s not… weird. There’s been a lot of weirdness in Beacon Hills lately. Reports of animal attacks, strange sightings, and generally a whole list of things that don’t make sense and can’t easily be written off to alcohol, drugs, mental illness, or a heady combination of all three.
Still, poor Parrish.
Still, more fries for you.
You go through your paperwork as you finish your fries, and send a text to Stiles reminding him that he’s got his Econ paper due on Monday, and you really don’t want a repeat of the last parent-teacher conference. The fewer teachers who ask about Stiles’s apparent obsession with the history of male circumcision, the better.
You know he’s only doing it to yank their chains.
Jesus. Your kid.
You hate leaving him alone so often. He acts out in strange ways. Hence the last parent-teacher conference. You tell yourself he’s your first priority, but of course work gets in the way. You might be the sheriff, but that doesn’t mean you get to work nine to five, Monday to Friday. A good sheriff works the same shifts as his deputies, whenever he can. He keeps his finger on the pulse.
At around midnight you figure it’s as good a time as any to take a drive around town. There’s a report of a teenage party over on Fifth that could use a cruiser driving slowly past a few times, just to make sure everyone behaves. You’re almost out the side door into the parking lot when Parrish catches you.
The look on his face chills you. “What is it?”
“The hospital called. Sir, it’s Stiles.”
- 6 -
“You’ll look after him, won’t you, John?” She says that a lot in her last months and weeks. She says it even when you aren’t sure she knows what she’s saying anymore.
“Yes. Yes, I’ll look after him.”
Her smile is faint, as though she’s already a ghost.
- 7 -
You’re used to dealing with victims. You spend as much time at the hospital as half the doctors. You know most of the staff by name. You know which floor has the machine that makes the only half-decent coffee in the place. You’re supposed to be at the point in your career where nothing shocks you.
Except this is your kid.
He’s lying on his side, facing away from the door. You can only see the top of his head. Everything else is hidden under the hospital blanket that’s pulled up to his neck.
“Sheriff,” Melissa McCall says. “Sheriff? John. Do you want to hear this from Dr. Frederickson, or from me?”
Frederickson. The new intern from Sacramento. Looks even younger than Parrish, or maybe you’re just getting old.
“There’s a code on the second floor.”
“Okay.” You pinch the bridge of your nose, and nod. “Okay, what can you tell me?”
Melissa’s been crying, so you know it’s bad. And you know what she’s going to say. You know it came into dispatch as a 261. You just haven’t found a way to reconcile that with Stiles though. With your kid.
She starts you off gently, with his contusions and his abrasions and his broken wrist and two cracked ribs. Then she tells you about the rape, and the tearing, and the bleeding, and the post-exposure prophylaxis treatment they’ve put him on because some fucking animal raped your sixteen-year-old kid and didn’t use a condom.
You don’t even realize you’re crying until Parrish puts a hand on your shoulder and squeezes.
“I’m okay,” you tell him. “I’m fine.”
Of course you are. You sat in your office eating curly fries while your son was being dragged through hell.
“Can I go in? Can I see him?”
Melissa nods. “He’s been sedated, John. He was in a lot of pain.”
“Why’s he on his side?” you ask. He should be on his back, shouldn’t he, with cracked ribs? The way he’s hunched over reminds you of how he used to curl up into a ball, like a hedgehog, when he had bad dreams.
“John.” Melissa reaches out to touch your wrist, her fingers resting softly against your skin briefly. She blinks, and her eyes fill with tears. “They cut him. They cut a word into his back.”
You hear nothing over the roar of blood in your skull.
“What word?” you ask, as though it makes any fucking difference at all.
- 8 -
He’s a funny looking baby. A tiny little pale thing with dark eyes as big as saucers.
“Shut up,” Claudia tells you. “He is not an alien!”
He’s the first baby born in the new maternity unit of the Beacon Hills Hospital. Some guy from the newspaper wants to photograph you with the baby for a story he’s writing on the unit.
“That’s just a cover,” you tell Claudia. “I’ll bet he’s really from the National Enquirer.”
“Shut up, John!” She smiles at the funny looking baby in her arms. “You’ll be sorry when he summons the mother ship and vaporizes your ass!”
The guy from the newspaper comes in to find you both giggling like naughty kids.
You can still remember the look on the poor guy’s face as you spelled out the baby’s full name for the article.
- 9 -
He’s not sleeping. His eyes are half-closed, but they track you slowly as you move to stand beside his bed. You can see his face now. He’s got a black eye and a split lip. He curls his fingers over the top of the blanket.
He looks… broken.
You can’t interview your own son. Not officially. So you do what every other parent does in circumstances like these. You sit beside him and try not to react to the terror and misery and guilt rolling off him in waves. You want to wrap him up in a hug and never let him go, but he’s already hunched into himself like he’s trying to disappear. You want to tell him that it’s okay, but it’s obviously fucking not. This is the furthest from okay that he’s ever been. This morning he was loud and brash and a smartass. This morning he thought he could take on the world. Tonight the world has crushed him, and it’s crushed you as well.
“Hey, Stiles,” Parrish says, offering him a small smile.
Stiles makes a jerky movement. “H-hey, Deputy Parrish.”
“It’s Jordan,” Parrish says.
“Jordan,” Stiles mumbles.
Parrish doesn’t look at you. You’re glad.
“I’m going to ask you some questions about what happened tonight, okay?” he says. He pulls a chair up beside yours.
Stiles nods, dropping his gaze. He balls the edge of the blanket up in his fists, and your eyes sting with tears as you see his busted knuckles. He fought. Your boy fought.
“Can you tell me where you were going tonight?”
Stiles blinks, and frowns, as though he can’t reconcile his decisions earlier in the night—to go out for an emergency milkshake, or pick up a pizza, or meet up with Scott, or something typically, pointlessly teenage—to what happened.
“I went to…” He shakes his head. “Me and Scott were gonna study. I went to get some sodas.”
“What time was that?”
You close your eyes briefly. It was past midnight when the paramedics brought him in.
“I was—I was walking back to the Jeep.” He clamps his mouth shut suddenly, jaw trembling.
Parrish’s voice is calm. “Can you tell me how many there were?”
“F-four?” He goes pale suddenly, wrenches sideways, and vomits over the edge of the bed. It’s mostly liquid. It hits the floor and splatters everywhere, stinking out the room. “I’m sorry! I’m sorry!”
“It’s okay,” you tell him, hands on his shoulders, easing him back against the pillows.
“Don’t worry about my boots.”
“Dad.” He twists a trembling hand into your uniform shirt. “Dad, there were four of them.”
“Okay,” you tell him, because what else can you say? “It’s gonna be okay, Stiles.”
It’s going to get worse first.
Melissa comes in and cleans up the vomit, murmuring to Stiles not to worry about it when he tearfully apologizes for the mess.
It takes a long time to settle him down enough that Parrish can keep asking questions. You hate every one of them, and not just because that’s your kid lying there. You’ve always hated these questions, but they’re a necessary evil.
Stiles can’t describe the guys. No, not even their voices. But he can’t look at you when he tells Parrish that, and you wonder if he’s lying. Then you hate yourself for wondering.
He can’t describe where they took him. Some sort of warehouse, but he’s not sure.
He doesn’t remember much else. There were four guys, but only two of them raped him. His words: only two. As though he’s somehow trying to take some consolation in that. As though it makes a difference.
“Hey, Stiles,” Parrish says. “Listen, I have to ask you something, okay?”
This is not how you should be having this conversation.
He’s immediately wary, shrinking back against his pillows. Whatever dim light had been slowly creeping back into his eyes is extinguished again.
Parrish looks solemn. “Are you gay, Stiles? Or did they say anything that indicated they thought so?”
Stiles jerks. “Wh-why would…why does that—”
“Kiddo.” You reach out and take his clammy, shaking hand. The one that’s not encased in plaster. “We need to know if it’s a hate crime.”
“Pretty…pretty fucking sure they didn’t like me much.” Stiles wrenches his hand away.
Of course it’s your kid that points out how ridiculous a term like “hate crime” is. Even at his worst, his mind’s sharp.
“Why would you—why would you even ask me that?”
Parrish looks to you.
“They cut you,” you say, and how the hell is your voice still steady? “They cut a word into your back.”
“What word?” he asks, his voice breaking on a sob. “What word?”
You don’t want to say it. They must have, and you don’t want him to hear it coming out of your mouth too.
“Bitch,” Parrish says, his voice soft, and you are so fucking grateful he didn’t wait for you to say it. “It’s bitch.”
Stiles cries so hard that he vomits again.
Dr. Frederickson comes in and sedates him again.
- 10 -
Your kid can talk underwater with a mouthful of marbles. He says his first word when he hits eight and a half months, and from that moment on doesn't ever shut up.
His first word is “Buh!” and you and Claudia argue for days over what it means. She says it’s obviously his word for her, and you say it’s obviously his word for you, but in the end you both agree it’s obviously his word for, “Holy crap! I have toes!”
You promised her you’d look after him.
Stiles is out. He’ll be out for another few hours yet, which means you need to get to work.
“Sheriff?” Parrish looks worried. “Do you want me to take you home so you can bring him back some clean clothes or something?”
Stiles’s clothes. The clothes he was wearing would have been bagged by the hospital staff. Melissa says they’ve done the rape kit, which means they’ll have taken all the swabs. Those need to get forwarded on to the lab in Sacramento straight away. Tomorrow, when Stiles is awake, he’ll have to get his injuries photographed. It’s always good to wait until the bruising comes out. It plays better for juries.
He’ll need to be interviewed again too. By detectives this time. Because he might think he doesn’t remember anything, but you know your kid. He’s sharp. When he’s had some rest, when he’s not in shock, he’ll remember more.
You start counting off on your fingers how many deputies you need called in for this, and fuck the overtime budget. You want the entire neighborhood where the Jeep was found canvassed. You want the CCTV footage from the store where he bought the sodas. You want traffic light cameras. You want everything.
And, maybe this isn’t a hate crime. Maybe Stiles was targeted because he’s your son. Bitch is prison slang, or course. Maybe some con has played out his sick revenge fantasies on Stiles because you put him in prison. You’re going to have to go through every threatening letter you’ve ever received, and you’ll need a list of recent parolees you put behind bars in the first place.
“Sheriff!” Parrish grabs you by the wrist. “I’m on it.”
“I’m on it,” Parrish repeats. “If you want someone else in charge, that’s fine, but you can’t be out on the road running this.”
“I know.” You do know, rationally. Of course you do. Emotionally though, you want to be out there, doing something. Hunting down the monsters who did this to your boy. “It’s a conflict of interest.”
“Oh, fuck that,” Parrish says, and you don’t think you’ve ever heard him swear before. “Sir, you need to be here when Stiles wakes up.”
You don’t know why the hell this is the point where you break down, but it is.
You cry like you haven’t in years. Like you haven’t since you lost Claudia.
And Parrish just slings an arm around your shoulders, steers you into an empty hospital room, and waits with you until it’s over.
- 12 -
You go home to pack a bag for Stiles.
You stand in his bedroom, and you think back to all the lies he’s told you over the past year, and to the distance that’s grown between you.
Hate crime. Maybe.
Random attack. Maybe.
Attack on you by proxy. Maybe.
You think of Deputy Garcia and the “home invasion” he went to last week. “Home invasion”, complete with air quotes. The address is well known to everyone in the department.
“Jesus,” he’d said as he headed out the door, “the number of times random strangers break down my door demanding money for unknown reasons, am I right?”
You’d snorted too, because yeah, of course it was a drug debt.
And now you’re wondering if those secrets Stiles has been keeping are somehow related to what happened to him tonight.
You take Stiles’s bedroom apart, looking for something, for anything. The magazine under the mattress is less of a shock for you than Stiles probably imagines. You figured out a while ago that Stiles is probably bi. He’s been crushing on that Lydia girl since grade school, but you’ve seen the way his gaze sometimes tracks a boy across a room like he’s not sure exactly why he’s staring, but can’t quite look away. He’s sixteen. He’s allowed to be confused about his sexuality, but he’s not allowed to be ashamed of it. You meant to tell him something like that long before tonight. And now, any talk you try to give him is going to be tainted by what’s happened.
A therapist. He’ll need a therapist. You’ll find a way to afford one.
The naked guys in the magazine don’t do anything for you, but it’s no more disturbing than finding a magazine full of naked women under the mattress, which, oh, okay, you find on the other side. Your boy’s been keeping his options open.
Probably another thing destroyed tonight.
Jesus. Not like you want to think of your kid getting laid, or jerking off, but he’s a sixteen-year-old boy. At least ninety percent of his brain is hardwired to think about nothing but sex.
They’ve ruined that.
There’s nothing in his room that makes you suspicious. No drugs. Not even any cigarettes. His laptop is password locked.
Of course there’s nothing. Stiles is a good kid.
He’s a fantastic kid.
You promised Claudia you’d protect him, and look what’s happened.
You want a fucking drink.
You want one like you haven’t wanted one in months. In years, probably.
But you don’t have one.
It doesn’t feel much like a victory.
- 13 -
There’s a huddle of teenagers in the waiting room when you get back to the hospital. Scott, and his girlfriend Allison, and Lydia Martin, the girl Stiles has been madly in love with since third grade. You look at your watch. It’s almost three in the morning.
“What are you kids doing here?” Your voice rasps.
“Is Stiles okay?” Scott’s eyes are wide. “We were supposed to be studying, but he never showed up, and he didn’t answer his phone, and I was texting everyone, and I guess I accidentally texted Mom too, because she said he’s here, but she won’t tell me what’s wrong with him!”
“He was assaulted,” you say.
Allison gasps, covering her mouth with her hands.
“Is he okay?” Scott asks.
“Cracked ribs,” you tell them. “Broken wrist. Some bruises.”
It sounds no worse than a sports injury, when you lay it out like that.
“Can I see him?”
“I won’t wake him up,” Scott says eagerly. “I’ll get something from the snack machine and leave it for him. He hates hospital food.”
“No. Don’t.” You pass your hand over your aching eyes. “I don’t want you going in there.”
Scott looks aghast. “But—”
“Scott!” Melissa hurries down the hall toward you. “Leave the sheriff alone.”
“Mom, I just wanted to see if Stiles is okay!”
“He’ll be okay,” you say.
Scott scowls at you. “You’re lying! Why are you lying?”
Melissa grips him tightly by the wrists. “Go home, Scott.”
“Hold on a second.” You catch her gaze, nod at her to let him go. “Did any of you hear from Stiles earlier tonight? After about seven?”
They look at one another, heads shaking.
“No texts? No missed calls?” You look each of them in the eye. These are his friends. Stiles might have been keeping secrets from you, but you’d bet you last dollar he doesn’t keep secrets from them. “If he was mixed up in anything, any dangerous people, or a dangerous situation, now would be the time to come clean.”
Scott’s not the only one who can pick a lie.
Scott looks away. Allison folds her arms over her chest. Lydia twists her mouth. Their denials sound hollow.
“This is serious,” you say. “I am not fucking around here.”
They look shocked at your language, and you suddenly hate them for that. You need to make them understand. Stiles is hurt, and it’s not just some sporting injury. He’s hurt deeper than skin and bone and muscle, and they need to know that. They need to know whatever shit they’re mixed up in, it’s time to come clean.
“My son,” you begin, but wherever the hell that lecture was going to go, it stalls on those words and you turn away. Your breath hitches.
“Okay,” Melissa says, behind you. “You kids go home.”
“Scott, go home.” She sounds on the verge of a breakdown herself.
You can’t listen to this anymore.
You stride down the hallway to Stiles’s room. You let yourself in and sit in the chair beside his bed.
He’s still sleeping. The dim light shines on the tears on his face.
He’s crying in his sleep.
- 14 -
He’s crazy about dinosaurs. Goes through a phase where it’s dinosaurs from the moment he wakes up to the moment he goes to bed.
“So when the hell did the brontosaurus become not a thing anymore?” you ask Claudia in bed one night.
“What do mean?”
“I mean, the brontosaurus isn’t a dinosaur.”
“Our kid says.”
“John, our kid is three and a half.”
“He told me what they thought was the brontosaurus was a misidentified apatosaurus. He’s right. I looked it up.”
“Where the heck did he learn that?” Claudia asks, laughing.
“He’s going to be a paleontologist,” you decide.
Two weeks later he’s not playing with dinosaurs anymore. He’s wearing a cape and insisting you call him Batman.
You kind of miss the dinosaur thing.
- 15 -
Sometime before dawn, you go up to the next floor to get a coffee from the only decent machine. You call Parrish. There’s nothing yet, but it’s still early. No witnesses, but the deputies will canvass the neighborhood in the morning when people are awake and more willing to answer their doors. The CCTV from the store shows two men followed Stiles out after he bought his soda. One of them was buying diapers, and walked off in the opposite direction. The other guy didn’t buy anything. Parrish thinks that maybe he was watching Stiles when he was in the store. He’s going to try and get an ID on the guy.
“Keep me posted,” you say.
“I will, sir.” He exhales. “How’s he doing?”
“Still asleep,” you tell him, and head back to the elevator.
When you get to Stiles’s door, you almost drop your coffee.
There’s a man in your son’s hospital room, standing beside the bed. He shifts, and the dim light spilling in through the half-open door catches his profile. Derek Hale. Why the fuck would Derek Hale be in Stiles’s room? For a second you’re furious. For a second you’re sure Hale’s the man who did this, paying Stiles back for getting him taken in for questioning over his sister’s death, because you can’t think of any other reason for Hale to be there, or any other connection he could possibly have with Stiles. You have one hand on your sidearm and you’re ready to barge into the room when Stiles’s voice stops you in his tracks.
“Derek!” It comes out in a sob.
You watch as Hale’s face crumbles, and he sits down on the edge of Stiles’s bed. Stiles pushes himself up, and shit, that has to hurt him, and then his arms are flung around Hale’s neck. He’s shaking, crying, and Hale is frozen for a moment. Then he puts his hands on Stiles’s back and rubs it. Up and down, up and down, while Stiles cries.
Something breaks inside you.
Stiles, who flinched away from you, has his arms around this man that you didn’t realize he even knew, and it implies an intimacy that you don’t even want to consider right now. Not after everything.
“I’m so sorry,” Hale says. “I’m so sorry. I should have been there, I’m so sorry!”
They’re both crying, you realize. It’s Stiles who breaks the embrace, leaning back and wiping his face with his good hand. “I’m sorry too. You were supposed to be my first.”
Your heartbeat freezes.
“Stiles, Jesus.” Hale shakes his head. His voice cracks. “That doesn’t matter.”
“It matters to me!” Stiles shoves at him, crying out as his plaster cast knocks against Hale’s chest.
Hale catches his flailing arms. “Stop it. You’re hurting yourself.”
“You were supposed to be my first. Derek! You were! And they knew that, they fucking knew that, and they said all I could ever be now was the pack bitch!”
Hale pulls him into a tight embrace, and rocks him back and forth gently. “That’s not true. I love you. I love you, Stiles, okay? And nothing they’ve done will ever change that.”
Here’s the secret Stiles’s has been hiding. He’s in a relationship. Was he scared you wouldn’t approve? Of course you wouldn’t. How old is Hale? Twenty-two? Twenty-three? And what the hell is Hale tangled up in if Stiles was attacked by people trying to get at him?
Stiles muffles the sound of his sobs in the crook of Hale's neck.
“I’m sorry,” he says at last, his voice sounding raw. “Shit, my dad’s probably right down the hall and everything.”
Hale strokes his hair. “He went to get coffee. It’s okay. Anything you want to say, you say. I’ve got you.”
Stiles lets out an audibly shaky breath. “You’ll hear him if he comes back?”
Hale’s gaze flicks to the door. It meets yours. There’s something challenging in that gaze. Something that dares you to deny him permission to be here for Stiles. “Yeah, I’d hear him.”
You could barge in and throw him out
You have every right.
He’s an adult.
He’s an adult who’s somehow involved in what happened to Stiles.
He’s also the only person Stiles has trusted enough to touch since he was brought into the hospital.
Stiles trusts this man.
So maybe, for now, you can trust that.
You move away from the door to give them some privacy.
- 16 -
There’s something strange about Beacon Hills.
It’s the sort of thing that everyone’s aware of, but nobody talks about directly.
Mostly it’s the animal attacks. There have been a few fatal animal attacks this last year or so. Everyone says it’s mountain lions, but since when were they so aggressive? You even brought in that ranger from Yosemite who spent a week in the Preserve and only found one set of mountain lion tracks, and those were old.
It’s other stuff, too. Everyone’s got at least one story. When you first started working as a deputy, you got sent to an alarm job at the back of a row of shops on Filmore. You surprised a guy inside one of the stores, too, and chased him. Right up until he scaled up the side of a building like Spiderman.
Must’ve been on ice or something, you told yourself until it sounded plausible.
Claudia had been dying for weeks. Longer, really, but for weeks you knew it was coming any day now. A death like hers isn’t pretty. It’s not sudden enough to be shocking. It’s not quick enough to be merciful. It’s slow and it’s drawn-out, and you still have to fit your regularly scheduled life in around it. You still have to go to work. You still have to get your kid to school. You can’t just drop everything, because you don’t know how long it’s going to take.
And then there was this girl. Teenager. Face covered in blood. You held her hand as the firemen tried to cut her out of the car wreck. You talked to her, because you knew she wasn’t going to make it.
“Deputy,” she’d whispered. “John.”
Had you told her your name? Must have.
“You need to go now. You need to go to the hospital. She can’t hold on.”
She was delirious, poor kid.
She didn’t know what she was saying.
And, even later, when you’d gotten the call, when they told you Claudia had passed, when the dying girl’s words made horrible, terrifying sense, would it have changed a thing?
You’d been holding that girl’s hand. You don’t think you could have let it go, even if you’d believed what she’d been telling you. By taking that girl’s hand in the first place, hadn’t you made a promise to stay with her?
You think that Claudia would have understood that. That she would have forgiven you for not being there.
You think that Stiles never really has.
- 17 -
You were still a deputy when the Hale house burned down. You remember Derek Hale and his sister Laura. Both teenagers pale, in shock, sitting on a bench at the station, staring at nothing.
They looked then how Stiles does now.
They left town after that. You didn’t blame them. If anyone needed a fresh start, it was those kids. They’d lost everything, and everyone.
And then they came back, at some point.
The first you knew of it was the half a body in the woods.
It was Stiles who babbled that Derek Hale was the guy, that he’d been lurking around the woods, that he was making threats, that he was a killer, and Stiles and Scott had found the other half of the body buried at the old Hale house.
It was more than enough to arrest him but not, it turned out, enough to charge him.
The dead girl was Laura Hale, his sister, and the forensics team from Sacramento said it was another animal attack. Why the hell Derek had buried her remains at his house… well, the kid’s screwed up, obviously. With his history, it’s not surprising.
You released him, apologized, and recommended he find a therapist to talk with.
“If your son comes onto my property again, I’ll press charges for trespass,” he’d said.
“I’ll be sure to mention that to him.”
And later, when you got home: “Stiles! Stay the hell away from Derek Hale!”
“Derek Hale the murderer?”
You sighed. “No, Derek Hale, whose sister got killed by a mountain lion.”
Stiles wandered off muttering under his breath, and you knew he wouldn’t let this go. Your kid has the attention span of a hummingbird on speed, but when he fixates on something…
When he fixates, he’s a machine.
“Stiles,” you yelled after him. “I mean it! Stay away from Derek Hale!”
How the hell did they get from that, to this? To last night?
To, “I love you. I love you, Stiles, okay?”
You’re going to need to talk to Derek Hale.
You go home for a shower and to change your clothes, then it’s straight back to the hospital. Stiles is awake when you get there, picking listlessly at something that might be scrambled eggs.
“You want me to get you pancakes from the diner?”
For a moment it looks like he might even grin, might actually forget for just a second at the promise of his favorite pancakes, but the slight curve of his lips turns into a tremble, and then vanishes. He pushes the tray away. “I’m not hungry.”
“Drink your juice, at least.” It’s going to be a long morning. He needs something.
He plays with the straw.
You take the seat next to the bed and look at your watch. “Okay. Parrish is gonna be here soon, and we’ll get your photographs done, okay?”
“I don’t want…” He trails off, then closes his eyes and nods sharply. “Okay.”
You don’t want him to do it either. You wish that none of this was necessary. You wish he’d stayed in last night.
By the time Stiles finishes his juice, Parrish has arrived.
“Hey,” he says, showing his smile. “How are you feeling?”
“Okay,” Stiles mumbles.
“All right. I guess your dad already told you about the photographs. The photographer’s outside now. We can do it in here, or we can do it in one of the suites, it’s up to you.”
“Here, I guess.”
“Okay. He’s gonna make it as quick and comfortable as possible for you. I’ll be just outside. You can have your dad here if you want, or someone else. Mrs. McCall, maybe?”
“I want my dad,” he says in a monotone.
Parrish brings the photographer in, a guy you usually only meet over crime scenes, and a part of you evaluates his performance here as the sheriff: he’s good. Professional, without being cold. He keeps talking to Stiles, giving him clear instructions—face that way, arm up, turn a little to the left—in a patient, polite tone. The other part of you, the father, wants to yell at him to leave your son the hell alone, he’s been through enough already.
Stiles flinches whenever the flash goes off.
He starts crying again when the photographer brings Melissa in to remove the bandage on his back so he can photograph the word they cut into him.
When it’s finally over you help him get settled in bed again.
He lies there, curled up on his side, and stares at the wall.
His gaze flicks to you, then away again.
“Stiles.” You put a hand on his shoulder. He shudders, but doesn’t pull away. “I need to go into work for a few hours.”
He jerks his head in a nod. He’s been hearing that his whole life, hasn’t he? You want to tell him that today it’s different, today it’s for him, but maybe it’s not different. You’re still leaving him alone.
“I’ll be back as soon as I can. Parrish is going to put someone on the door. If you need anything, you call them, and they’ll call me.” You squeeze his shoulder gently. “Do you want me to call Scott to come and see you?”
He twists his head sharply. “No!”
“Okay. I’ll tell them no visitors.’
Stiles opens his mouth as though he’s going to say something, then closes it again. You give him a moment longer to ask, but he doesn’t.
“If there’s anyone else,” you say, your voice wavering. “Anyone you want to visit…”
Something like fear flashes in his eyes, and he shakes his head. “No. Nobody.”
You don’t push. What the hell are you supposed to say? If he doesn’t want to tell you about Derek Hale, you’re not going to force it.
“Okay. I’ll be back soon. Try and get some sleep.”
He looks so small, curled up in that bed.
Parrish is waiting outside.
“Derek Hale,” you tell him. “I need him brought in.”
“A suspect?” he asks.
You shake your head. “No. I think…” You sigh. “I think he’s Stiles’s boyfriend, and that maybe Stiles was targeted because of that. There’s something here I’m not being told.”
“I get that feeling a lot in this town,” Parrish murmurs.
“What the hell is he into?” Parrish frowns, then makes a face when he realizes how it sounds. “Hale, I mean, not Stiles.”
“That’s what I’d like to know too.”
- 19 -
Parrish puts the word out, but nobody knows where Hale is living. Nobody even sees him, or his distinctive black Camaro, around town.
Two days after it happens, Stiles comes home. There’s a bouquet of colorful balloons waiting for him on the doorstep, each one emblazoned with “GET WELL SOON”. Stiles shuffles straight past them without looking.
You feel a burst of anger because people don’t know how to deal with this. You don’t. But get well soon sure as hell doesn’t cover it. You check the card because he can’t; it’s from Allison and Lydia. You wonder if they know yet. You don’t know who Stiles has told, but he’s had his phone back since yesterday, and you’ve seen him send a few texts. You can’t imagine it’s easy to spell out the word, but maybe it’s no harder than saying it aloud.
Or maybe he hasn’t told anyone yet.
Anyone except Derek Hale.
You follow him upstairs to his bedroom.
He curls up on his bed.
He’s not the same kid who slept here last. You both know it.
“Pizza for dinner?” you ask him.
“I’ll, ah, I’ll have to go out and pick it up.”
He turns his head to look at you. “It’s okay, Dad. I’ll be okay.”
You don’t want to leave him alone. Not ever again.
You check he’s got his phone within reach, and then you move to his window to pull it closed.
“Leave it, please.” He meets your gaze squarely for the first time in hours. “Leave it open.”
“Call me if you need anything,” you tell him. “Even if it’s just extra mozzarella sticks.”
He pulls his gaze away from the window and flashes you a weak smile. “I’ll be okay, Dad.”
You don’t know if that’s a yes or a no on the mozzarella sticks. You’ll get them just in case.
- 21 -
The photographs land on your desk the next day, because you’re the boss and everything crosses your desk as a matter of course. You shouldn’t open the folder, but you do. You see your son’s pale skin marked with bruises and abrasions. You see the rope burn around his left wrist, the cast around his right, and the raw, skinned knees. You see his face, pale and shocked, gaze averted. You see his black eye, and his split, swollen lip. You see exactly what a jury will if this ever makes it to court. You see a victim.
You see the word they cut into his back in with a penknife, the letters as sharp and jagged as lightning bolts: BITCH.
They carved it into your son’s back.
You wonder if you’d be as outraged if it was someone else’s kid, so consumed with hatred that if the men who did this were here right now, you’d press the barrel of your Glock against their skulls, one by one, and pull the trigger.
Fucking animals. Filthy fucking animals.
You hope so.
You flick through the rest of the report.
There’s DNA evidence. No matches though. These guys aren’t in the system. How the hell is that even possible?
“Sheriff.” Parrish sticks his head around the door. There are black shadows under his eyes. He’s probably been getting as much sleep as you. “Quinn just took a complaint for a black Camaro parked illegally in Bowman Street. It’s Hale’s.”
Ten minutes later you’re pulling in behind it.
Parrish runs the plates to double check while you scan the street.
There’s not much in Bowman Street. Old warehouses, mostly. Back when Beacon Hills had a lumber industry, this is where it was centered. Now though, most of these places have fallen into disuse. The ones closer to Main Street are being slowly converted into apartments, but gentrification comes slowly to a town like Beacon Hills. It’s not like the hipsters are clambering to move in.
Hipsters. Would it be hipsters moving into gentrified neighborhoods? Stiles would know. Then he’d laugh at you for being so out of touch.
You exchange a glance with Parrish, and pick the closest warehouse.
It’s empty. The windows were probably glass once, but every pane has been smashed. The cement floor is cracked and dirty.
There’s nothing here.
That’s when you hear the howl. It’s loud, and close, and it makes your skin prickle and the hair on the back of your neck stand up.
“What the hell is that?” Parrish asks, wide-eyed.
If you didn’t know better, you’d say it was a wolf.
You and Parrish draw your weapons and exit the warehouse, heading for the source of the sound. The next warehouse is smaller. The lock on the gate has been knocked off. The building itself is insecure. There’s enough graffiti on the walls to suggest someone’s been squatting here recently. Inside, it’s filthy. It stinks. And, for some reason, there’s a large ring of black dirt on the floor.
Parrish leans down and pinches some between his fingers. He sniffs it, and looks surprised. “Smells like ash.”
Parrish steps over it, into the circle. “Oh, hell.”
There are stains on the floor. The light’s not great, so you take your flashlight off your belt and turn it on.
You stare at them blankly for a moment.
You do not want to imagine Stiles here, for hours, with those four men, but of course it’s where your mind immediately takes you. This is where they brought him, and beat him, and raped him, and when they were done they dumped him back on the streets like a piece of garbage.
You need to get out of here. You shoulder past Parrish, back outside, into the sunlight. It takes a while to catch your breath.
“Sheriff,” Parrish says, and points down the street.
Derek Hale’s car is pulling away.
A pair of chubby fingers are, yep, they’re attempting to lever your eyelids open. You pull your head back before he blinds you, and grab his wrist gently. “Whoa there, kiddo.”
“You’re awake!” Stiles beams.
“Yes.” You blink blearily at the clock. It’s one p.m. You finished work at eight a.m. Damn graveyard shifts. “I’m awake, Stiles. Where’s your mom?”
“She’s talking to Mrs. Daniels on the phone.”
“Uh huh.” You stretch. “And where does she think you are?”
“Eating my lunch.” He shoves his other hand in your face. It’s full of a peanut butter sandwich. “Want some?”
You open your mouth to refuse, which is apparently a tactical error, because he’s jamming the sandwich in.
“Can we play now?”
You need at least another few hours sleep, and as soon as you finish choking on this sandwich, that’s what you’re going to tell him. Except that’s when you catch the expression on his face: his big dark eyes are wide with desperate hope, and you can’t actually remember the last time you just spend a few hours playing with your five-year-old son.
“Lego?” you clarify, and his whole face lights up.
“Yeah! Yeah, Daddy! We’re gonna play Lego!”
His triumphant crowing brings Claudia running.
“Mommy! Me and Daddy are gonna play Lego!” He barrels down the hallway toward his bedroom, and his toy box.
“Oh, John, I’m so sorry!”
You haul yourself upright, and brush sandwich crumbs off your shirt. “It’s okay. I’ll get a few hours in later.” You smile up at her. “Want to play Lego with us?”
Claudia pretends to consider it for a moment. “Can I be Batman?”
“Could be a deal breaker,” you warn her, and raise your voice. “Stiles, your mom wants to be Batman. Is that okay?”
There’s silence from the end of the hall, and you and Claudia try not to laugh.
This is serious fucking business.
“Okay,” Stiles calls back at last. “But just this once!”
“I’m Batman,” Claudia tells you, reaching down to pull you to your feet, then lowers her voice to a growl. “I’m Batman.”
“This is where he gets it,” you tell her, letting her drag you down toward Stiles’s room. “All the craziness.”
“All the awesomeness,” she counters.
“Yeah.” You poke her in the ribs until she squeals. “That too.”
- 23 -
“He’s tracking them too,” Parrish says suddenly.
“Maybe.” You don’t take your eyes off the road, off Hale’s car.
“How the hell did he find the scene though?” Parrish frowns. “We’ve been canvassing the neighborhood for two days. Unless Stiles remembered something—”
“Maybe. At this point, I’m more interested in where he’s going.”
“And who’s going to be there when he arrives,” Parrish agrees.
Which is why you’re following him from three cars back, instead of intercepting him. If Hale found the crime scene, maybe he can find Stiles’s attackers as well.
This is crazy, probably. Some combination of stress and trauma and sleep deprivation. There is absolutely no reason to think that Derek Hale will have more success finding the men than the entire Beacon Hills Sheriff’s Department, but at this point what have you got to lose?
Apart from your mind.
Hale pulls into the parking lot of a cheap motel on the edge of town, tires squealing.
Parrish pulls off the edge of the road. He doesn’t turn into the motel. He noses the cruiser up against a screen of bay laurels. You can see the parking lot from here. You see the driver’s door of the Camaro swing open. A moment later, the passenger door opens as well.
Hale isn’t alone.
Scott climbs out of the car.
What the hell is going on here?
Parrish leans forward over the steering wheel, squinting. “What are they doing?”
Hale and Scott are standing in the parking lot, facing the little row of ugly hotel rooms that open straight out onto the asphalt. If you didn’t know any better, you’d say they were lifting their faces to smell. Scott’s got the same look of intense concentration on his face that Bodie, the bloodhound the department sometimes calls out for searches, gets.
“I have no fucking idea,” you mutter.
Hale and Scott stare at one another for a moment, then, shoulders squared, approach one of the rooms.
Hale kicks the door in, and all hell breaks loose.
“Stop it,” Claudia laughs.
“It’s rock hard,” you tell her, pressing a hand against her belly.
“Oh, John, I love it when talk dirty to me!”
You burst out laughing. “I meant you, not me. I expected you to be squishy.”
“Well, there’s no room for squishy.” True. Even her belly button has popped out. She takes your hand and shifts it. You can feel a hard lump under her skin. “Feel that? It’s either an ass or an elbow.”
“Crazy to think he’ll be here soon.”
“Yeah.” Claudia pokes the baby in the ass. Or possibly the elbow. “Come out of there, baby, your daddy and I want to meet you.”
The baby’s already lighting up your whole world. You can’t wait until you can hold him.
- 25 -
The screaming is over almost as soon as it begins.
There are two gunshots.
The Camaro screeches out of the parking lot as you’re running for the motel room.
There are four dead men inside the motel room, and enough weapons to arm a small militia.
Four dead men who look like they’ve had their throats torn out.
It seems appropriate.
You don’t fucking understand it, but you’ll take it.
You’ll take it.
You never discuss it with Parrish, but you notice when he turns his report in that he’s made no mention of Derek Hale or Scott McCall either.
You like Parrish.
- 26 -
Normal comes creeping back slowly, by painful degrees.
Stiles goes back to school at the end of the week. Then he refuses to get out of bed the next two days in a row.
Scott comes over before school every morning. He comes over every afternoon as well, and plays video games with Stiles. He brings Allison a few times, and Lydia shows up once or twice looking as prim and perfectly turned out as always. You don’t like her on principle alone—spoiled little high school princess—but it only takes a few conversations with her for you to change your mind. Underneath the perfect hair and makeup, and the wide-eyed ingénue look she’s got happening, Lydia is clever. She’s formidable too. No wonder Stiles was crazy about her.
Stiles starts therapy. It’s awful. He hates it. He doesn’t want to go back.
But he does, and it very slowly starts to make a difference.
You take him to a consultation with a plastic surgeon, and wince a little at the cost. Stiles catches you, and you feel like a fucking asshole when you see how guilty he looks.
A few days later he plonks a magazine on the table in front of you. A tattoo magazine.
“What’s this?” you ask, but you already know.
“Cheaper than surgery,” he says, jutting out his jaw.
“You can sign the form for me.”
You flick through the magazine. “What were you thinking of?”
The tight lines around his eyes relax and his mouth quirks. “There’s a design called a triskelion…”
He pulls out his phone and Googles it to show you.
It takes about a month before you hear Stiles actually laugh at something. You’re making dinner with it happens—spaghetti—and you’re trying to describe exactly how shit unfolded when Garcia left a dead squirrel in Carter’s desk drawer, except it turned out not to be as dead as he’d thought.
The sound of his laugh startles you both a little, and before you know it tears are stinging your throat.
“Oh, Jesus, Dad,” Stiles tells you, wide-eyed. “What are you—don’t cry!”
“I’m not crying,” you tell him. “Onions.”
Onions that are still uncut. And in the pantry.
“Yeah,” he says, with a wry little twist of his mouth that you’ve missed more than you have the words to describe. “Onions.”
Later, when you’re eating, you decide that you’re both ready for this.
“You know,” you tell him. “If you ever wanted to invite Derek for dinner, that would be okay.”
“Derek,” you tell him. “Derek Hale, your boyfriend.”
He turns bright red, and then finds something absolutely fascinating about his spaghetti sauce that he needs to stare at immediately. And fixedly. He wrinkles his nose. “Oh, um, okay.” He looks up at you quickly, then back to his sauce. “Next week? Friday?”
“Friday would be fine.”
His smiles are so rare these days that you savor every one.
On Wednesday, you and Parrish drive out to the remains of the Hale house.
“He lives here?” Parrish asks, and then shrugs, as if he’s suddenly remembered that’s not the craziest thing he knows about Derek Hale.
Actually, ‘know’ might be an exaggeration. You and Parrish haven’t really discussed it.
“Weird town,” he’d said as you watched the guys from the coroner’s office bag the bodies in the motel room that night.
“Yep,” you’d said, and wondered if his resignation would hit your desk the next morning.
It hasn’t yet.
The one thing you know is that Derek Hale somehow tracked down the men who hurt Stiles, and he killed them. And probably saved your job—and your freedom—by doing it, because you wouldn’t have hesitated to do the same if you’d found them first.
Those monsters deserved every fucking thing they got.
Derek Hale is waiting on the blackened remains of the porch when you and Parrish get out of the car.
“You living here, Derek?” you ask.
“On and off,” he says. “Sir.”
“Get a decent place,” you tell him. “And a job.”
His brows draw together.
“That’s it. That’s the talk. Apart from the bit where I tell you if you hurt him, I’ll make you regret you were ever born.”
He straightens up. “I would never hurt him.”
You know that. “Also, keep it in your pants until he’s eighteen.”
You actually believe him, although once Stiles is back to himself, you’re pretty sure he’s going to have a battle on his hands. Teenage boys being what they are, and Stiles being particularly goal-motivated.
That dog he’d wanted when he was thirteen?
He’d kept that up for months. In the end you had to bargain him down to a Playstation. Which you then suspected had been his aim the whole time. The kid’s a schemer.
“He’s inviting you to dinner on Friday.” You rest your hands on your utility belt. “You’re going to say yes.”
“Good.” You turn to go.
“Sheriff?” He looks a little like the scared kid you remember from the night of the fire. “At the motel. I know…” His gaze flicks from you to Parrish and back again. “I know you saw—”
“You don’t know what I saw,” you tell him, “because you weren’t there.”
He frowns again. “Don’t you want to know?”
You exchange a glance with Parrish. “Derek, here’s all I need to know. My kid is a handful. He’s twitchy, and clumsy, and loud, and so fucking smart that he can run rings around most people, even me. Especially me. But I also know Stiles is the best thing that’s ever happened to me, and maybe that’s something we’ve got in common.”
Derek swallows and nods.
“I know he’s keeping secrets from me, and I know he’ll tell me when he’s ready. I know that whatever happened in that motel room couldn’t have happened to nicer people.” Your voices hitches a little on that. “And Derek? I know that sometimes looking after Stiles is more than a one person job.”
He nods again, flexing his fingers at his sides.
“You’re on the team now,” you tell him. “Don’t fuck it up.”
You actually believe that too.
- 28 -
“You’ll look after him, won’t you, John?”
“Yes. Yes, I’ll look after him.”
It was the last promise you ever made her.
It was the only thing that mattered to her, in the end.
To you, it’s still the only thing that matters.