“Wait, you let her go?” Stiles is agitated, even jumps up from his seat, and David rubs at his aching temple then slams his hands down on the table in front of him, meanly grateful when Stiles flinches and shrinks back. He never wanted his son to be afraid of him, would have much preferred to keep the respect he once took for granted, but if this is what he has left, it'll have to do.
“Let her go? She is the victim, Stiles. Your victim. If I'd ever thought I'd see the day I'd nearly have to arrest a son of mine for assault...”
Stiles looks down and David searches his face desperately, hoping for some guilt, some remorse, something.
“Nearly?” Stiles says quietly. It's not there; his face is blank.
He wipes his hand over his mouth. “She's not pressing charges. I have to finish up here. Go wait in the car.”
* * *
The ride home is silent. David prepares a speech, another one like so many he's delivered over the past couple of years. Your future, the people you hurt, right, wrong. Me. None of it ever seems to take and by the time they get in the house, Stiles subdued and hunch-shouldered, he's too heartsick to say any of it.
He pours himself a tumbler of whiskey straight off. He can feel Stiles hovering but he doesn't look at him when he says, “You know, some days I don't know which of us your mom would be most disappointed in. I can't look at you right now, Stiles. Get out.”
There's a choked sound behind him, and then Stiles is gone.
* * *
There's no stirring the next morning and he raps on the door and opens it without waiting for an answer.
The bed hasn't been slept in. The laptop is gone, cell phone charger and external hard drive too, and when he opens the drawers and closet on a feeling of dread there's far too few clothes even for a kid who cares as little about what he's wearing as Stiles does.
He dials Stiles' phone on the way down the stairs. “I just meant go to your room,” he tells the voicemail. “This is – this is a rough patch. But I am not, I would never kick you out. You're my son, and this is your home. Call me when you get this.”
He calls the school next, willing the panic to die down.
“Yes, Stiles was in attendance at homeroom,” Angie in the office says, unruffled and polite. “Do you need me to pass a message to him, Sheriff?”
“No, it's fine,” he says. It's fine. This is good. A night away, some time to cool off, and he will sit Stiles down and by God they will finally have this out and maybe he'll see his son again, the one who came on ridealongs with his old man and had a good head and a sweet heart on him, the one who talked and talked until David knew every thought that passed through his brain, and got into harmless trouble he got himself out of before David ever heard about it.
He clasps his hands around his coffee mug and doesn't get in the car to drive to work until he's stopped shaking.
* * *
He gets a text around lunchtime, just I'm ok but something unclenches around his stomach and he actually manages to focus on his work in the afternoon. Stiles doesn't come home straight after school and he thinks for a second before dialling Scott's house.
“Sure, let me get him,” Melissa says, and then Stiles is on the phone.
“Hi, son,” he says. “You staying at Scott's?”
There's a pause. “We have a lab report, so...” Stiles says carefully, and David shuts his eyes and rests his head on one hand at the distance behind it.
“Look,” he starts at the same time as Stiles says, “Dad-”
“Sorry, go ahead,” he says.
“Just – I'm sorry, okay?” Stiles sounds defeated. “I know you don't believe me anymore and I'm sorry for that too. But it's not – okay, whatever you think is going on with me, it isn't. And it's not you. It's nothing you've done, or not done. It's just me, and the stuff I have to do.”
“You don't have to do anything,” David says softly. “We can work this out. Trust me.”
“It's not a question of trusting you,” Stiles says dully and David aches to take him into his arms, to pull Stiles onto his lap and rock him as if he were a tiny child again, crying about playground booboos, easily fixed and quickly forgotten. “It's – you don't understand, and I know teenagers say that all the time, but this really is. Something. It's not easy.”
“I can help you.”
“I need some time,” Stiles says. “I'm not – I don't know when I'll be home. I'm sorry.”
* * *
The I'm ok texts keep coming, every day, and he relaxes and starts thinking of it as something Stiles needs, even late at night when the house echoes with silence and it's almost a physical pain not to have his child with him. He goes grocery shopping on the fourth day of Stiles' absence, having been blindsided by the fact that no Stiles means no food magically coming into the house, and wanders round, somewhat guiltily enjoying putting burgers and cheese and frozen fries in his basket.
He sees Derek Hale in one aisle and nods cordially; Derek gives him a rictus smile back and almost flees. Some people never get over being arrested, although he'd have figured Hale for the type to brush it off pretty easy. He sees him again further into the store, on the phone, and grins when he overhears some of the conversation, recognising the cadences: “... think I know when meat's cooked through but fine, do it for fifteen, don't blame me when the cheese is burnt. What? Yeah, you too. Hey, can you check if we need toothpaste?... Okay. Yeah, about half an hour, see you later.” Looks like Hale finally got himself a lady friend, although with that face he bets it wasn't too much trouble.
It's not until the next day that he thinks about the groceries and the vastly reduced bill and feels guilty. Melissa McCall already has herself and Scott to support on that nurse's salary, and no doubt Scott eats the way Stiles seems to, enormously and often. He doesn't know her shift pattern but he calls the house anyway and is pleased when she picks up; easier to have this conversation while the boys are in school.
“I'm sorry for not thinking about this earlier,” he says. “I need to make some arrangements to cover Stiles' keep with you.”
“What?” she says.
“Food, gas,” he says. “You shouldn't be covering him. I appreciate this more than I can say, Melissa, I really do, I think this is going to help a lot when he comes home. Which will be soon, I hope. You've been great, but we can't impose too long.”
“David,” she says slowly. “Do you think Stiles is staying here?”
“What?” he says back. “He's – I spoke to him, at your house. He said he was at Scott's.”
“For the evening,” she says. “I've seen him a couple of times, he's fine, he looks fine, but I'm sorry, David, I don't know where he's sleeping, but it's not here.”
“Jesus,” he says faintly. He feels ill. Where the hell – and what the hell kind of father is he that he doesn't even know, didn't even check? Is Stiles sleeping in the Jeep, in the open? He thinks of all the things that could have happened and the whiskey is in his hand before he even registers opening the locked bottom drawer.
“David,” Melissa is saying, “David, I'm so sorry – if I'd known – come over, I'll call Scott and get him home from Allison's and he will tell me what's going on. I saw Stiles two nights ago, he's fine.”
* * *
He goes straight out of his office and over to Mindy Barnes. Mindy is a fuschia-lipstick-wearing blue-rinse-and-perm-having sixty-something secretary and general good luck charm. Her family have lived in the town for a hundred fifty years and she knows everything about everyone, often before they know it themselves.
“Mindy,” he says, trying to keep the desperation out of his voice and failing; screw it, she'll smell it on him anyway and it's not like the question he has to ask isn't going to show him for the sorry wretch he is. “Do you know where my son is living?”
She looks at him over her glasses, the look which means she's seen to the depths of your soul and sorry, sunshine, but some of it is rotting away.
“That Jeep of his has been outside Derek Hale's apartment building all night, all week,” she says.
Jesus. That's – Hale. How old is he? A man, anyway, when Stiles is still so much of a boy, and for all nothing was never proven against him David has often suspected it's more skill at getting away from trouble in time than staying out of it. Older and dangerous and handsome, and for all Stiles is smart as a whip he's so innocent in some ways, hungry for attention and longing to be wanted, and how the hell did he miss this?
He nods and stumbles away, back to his office.
“Sheriff,” she calls after him. He looks back and she stops typing to level a stare at him. “It's been there on and off through the days this last nine months or more.” She adjusts her glasses and leans forward to her screen. “Thought you might want to know that.”
He does want to know that. He would have liked to know that nine months ago.
He doesn't know how he didn't.
* * *
“What do you think about statutory rape?” He asks Morton next time he comes into the office.
“Professional opinion?” Morton says. “I think it's pretty hard to get a conviction when the kid in question turned 18 already, especially since he'll get up in front of a judge and swear to God and everyone nothing happened when he was underage.”
David barks out a humourless laugh. “So what you're saying is, everyone knew about Stiles and Derek Hale except for me.”
“Knew? No.” Morton takes a seat. “Just plenty of rumour. But even then, you'll get people see them together, that's it. You won't find anyone in this town who's actually seen them doing something inappropriate.” His tone turns sly. “It's almost like one of them's the Sheriff's kid or something.”
He flicks a glance up at him – not the time – and Morton puts his hands up with a nod, gets down to business.
* * *
After Morton goes he leafs through the papers left in his in-tray, aimless and unable to concentrate. One of them falls out and he picks it up.
It's a BOLO from upstate, three men left in suspicious coma-like states, and he's drawn to the photofit of the suspect, an attractive middle-aged woman. A minute's racking his brains and the memory is back and he's picking up the phone to call the Sheriff of Batason County, to give him the name and details of the woman who was in town a week ago, the woman Stiles assaulted that night.
The pieces are falling into place, he's enough of an old lawman to sense that, but he's damned if he can make out what the picture is.
* * *
He abuses Sheriff's privileges to get Hale's address and heads over straight from work. Stiles should be out of school, but he doesn't know what Hale does – tends bar, apparently, possibly, at one of the rougher bars out by the highway where the truckers stop, but Mindy wasn't sure if he was even still doing it, never mind when he might be there. He doesn't know what he's hoping for: a chance to punch the son of a bitch in the mouth wouldn't be half bad, but he doesn't want to drive his son away forever and if Stiles thinks he's in love, well. Loyalty to the point of wilful stupidity is something they have in common.
Hale’s place is in neither the best nor the worst part of town, about five minutes from the woods which house the old Hale property, and it looks decent enough from the outside; it’s a utilitarian apartment block, four storeys high with eight apartments, with the outside well kept up and a smattering of grass and an unenthusiastic flower border at one side of the parking lot. The Jeep is there, parked next to a shiny, sleek black Camaro. He’s not sure whether that’s better or worse, but he figures if he wanted to talk to Hale without Stiles he’d have headed out to his workplace, not his home. He wants to see his son.
David firms his mouth and gets out of the car. It’s his lucky day: a young blonde lady heading out nods at him and his uniform and holds the door open to let him in, which means at least he’s going to get inside.
He walks up a flight of stairs and knocks on apartment three. A few moments later and then Stiles is there in the open door, grinning and saying, “Yeah, what’d you for- Dad,” eyes big and round, and he steps forward and has Stiles in a hug before he even knows that’s what he’s going to do. He can feel Stiles shudder against him, hard, and then, thank God, he relaxes and puts his arms around David and David shuts his eyes and lets himself feel his son safe and well.
They pull back and David sees Hale further into the apartment, hovering. He’s wearing an apron. “Come in,” Stiles is saying, and he pushes the door closed behind David with a sense of finality, making an aborted gesture towards David’s arm as if to pull him inside. David raises his eyebrows at Hale over Stiles’ shoulder and Hale shrugs at him, a set to his mouth that on somebody else might almost look like the faintest hint of a smile.
He’s not sure what he expected, feared, from Hale’s apartment. Fratboy chic, beer can mountains and mess and – well, if he’s absolutely honest he’d been afraid of finding evidence of what this man is doing to his baby boy, shirts or worse off or items lying around. But it’s clean and fresh and fairly neat, and when Stiles brings him into the kitchen it could almost be their own, domestic and normal, scent of roasting chicken in the air, half-chopped vegetables on the counter and a pot waiting on the stove, and Stiles’ homework spread out over the table.
“You remember Derek,” Stiles says brightly, obviously having decided to bull on through like he hasn’t left his father’s house to shack up with an older guy David had only previously known from the other side of a holding cell.
“Sir,” Hale says politely and David shakes his hand. He’s been in some weird situations with Stiles – Stiles is just that kind of kid – but acting like this is all totally normal and okay is approaching the weirdest.
“Derek has to go watch some TV now,” Stiles announces and when David looks between them he catches Hale rolling his eyes and has to hide a reluctant smile. He knows how irrepressible Stiles is, has been worrying since he first heard about this – thing between Stiles and Hale that his son might be working too hard to please an attractive older man, all his brightness and personality squashed, but there’s still a ready smile on Stiles’ face and it seems clear they're comfortable together.
“Fine,” Hale says. “You know where I am.”
“Yes, in front of the TV,” Stiles says, nodding. “With the sound turned up. Loud.”
“Not too loud,” Hale says, with a smile that shows teeth. “You and your father need to be able to hear yourselves talk.”
David looks between them, well aware there’s another conversation happening than the one he’s hearing but without much idea of what the hell it could be. Whatever it is, Stiles appears to concede the point and Hale heads out of the kitchen. David’s looking for it, so as they brush past one another he sees how Stiles’ hand seeks Hale’s, how their fingers weave together and squeeze for a brief moment.
The TV switches on in the next room and blares obnoxiously loud for a second before settling to gentle background noise. Stiles sits down at the table, pushing his homework to one side, and waves David into a seat. David’s struck by the casualness of it, his confidence and easy ownership in the space; it’s obvious Stiles considers David his guest, not Hale's, has himself been a permanent fixture in the apartment much longer than the week or so since he left their house.
“I thought you were staying at Scott’s,” David says, pleased that it comes out level and neutral.
“I didn’t say that,” Stiles says quickly. “I didn’t lie.”
“Maybe not about that,” David mutters. Stiles looks down, picks up his pen and bats it distractedly at the table a couple of times, and there’s a creak from the next room, as if somebody who’d been relaxed into the sofa has gotten up. “Sorry,” he says. “I didn’t mean – I haven’t come here to fight with you, Stiles. I just want to know you’re okay.”
“I’m fine,” Stiles says. “I really am. I’m at school every day, my homework is in on time, I’m taking my vitamins, in bed by eleven...” he trails off, going red, and David could have also lived happily without such a specific reminder of where and who Stiles is going to bed with these days, but he moves manfully past it.
“How long has this been going on?” he says instead, keeping his voice as gentle as he can.
“About a year,” Stiles says quietly.
A year. Jesus. That’s pretty serious; if Stiles weren’t so young, he wouldn’t be surprised they were at the living together stage. He’d been engaged after six months, himself. “You’re eighteen,” he says, instead of admitting it. “You’ve been eighteen only about four months. And Derek is-?”
“Twenty-four,” Stiles mumbles and David is about to call him on it when Stiles seems to come to some sort of decision: his head comes up, he stops fidgeting, he looks David in the eye and says more strongly, “He’s twenty-four. But it was my decision. Everything, all of it. He never would’ve – he’d have waited. He’s never pressured me or asked for anything I wasn’t ready to give.”
David chooses his words carefully. “I’m not trying to say you haven’t made your own choices. But it’s very easy – you know the kinds of things I’ve seen, Stiles, and it can be very easy for an experienced older man to convince somebody that what they’re thinking and feeling is all them.”
“I know that,” Stiles says. “I can’t convince you that’s not what happened, I guess. But you’ll – you know, now, and you’ll see us together, and you’ll see what it’s like.”
It’s a surprisingly mature answer and David wishes ruefully for a second that Stiles had been histrionic, insisted that they couldn’t be understood, been in the grip of some ridiculous Romeo and Juliet fantasy where he could have had a comfortable script and dragged Stiles out home by the scruff of his neck. He wasn’t really prepared for this to be a functioning relationship.
“Is he good to you?” he says instead.
“Yeah,” Stiles says, and at least the involuntary smile that lights him up is heartening. “He is. He’s – he makes me happy, Dad.”
“I’m glad to hear that,” David says. “Because I can’t help but notice that it was around the time Derek came into your life that you started getting in trouble, Stiles. And if this has been a year, it hasn’t got better since you’ve been together.”
Stiles looks stricken and David leans across the table, anxious, capturing Stiles’ hand against the table in his urgency. “If there’s – if he’s gotten you into something – something you think you can’t get out of – I can help you, Stiles, I promise.”
Stiles is shaking his head, showing the remorse he’s been looking to see for months now, and he gets desperate, says, “I can help you both, I will. You can turn this around.”
Stiles leans away, moving his hand slowly enough not to be a rejection, and David’s heart breaks a little at his small, pained smile. “I can’t – okay.” He takes a deep breath and looks earnestly into David’s eyes. “One day I’m gonna tell you what’s been going on with me. And you won’t like it. But what you need to know now is that it’s not Derek, okay? He’s – he is involved. But it’s not his fault, and he does what he can to protect me. We look after each other. And we’re trying – we’re trying to look after everyone. I know what you think, how it looks. But we’re doing our best, we really are, and – I have no right to ask you to trust me, after everything, I know that. But I wish you could.”
David doesn’t know what to do with any of that, with this adult looking out at him from the warm brown eyes of his child, locked into something he thinks David can’t comprehend, against the world with a stranger instead of with his family. Instead he impulsively says, “Come home.”
Stiles shuts his eyes and breathes out. “Dad.”
“Just – think about it,” he hurries to say. He doesn’t want to hear no, not right now. “And as for the other stuff.” He puts the BOLO on the table between them and slides it forward. “Came through this afternoon.”
Stiles looks at it, glances up at him and picks it up. David knows as soon as he takes it in: he curses under his breath. Hale appears in the doorway behind him almost instantly, one moment absent and the next there, and Stiles holds it out to him.
Hale looks at it, looks at David, and then he looks at Stiles and there's a whole conversation in a grimace, the quirk of an eyebrow, a bitten and licked lip, and David hurts suddenly, briefly, because he's been there, he's had that, he was once that in tune with another person, and he realises that without actually wanting to he's already accepted Stiles and Hale as something real, even – maybe – something precious.
He can't tell what they've decided but Hale leans in before remembering his presence, glowers at David before visibly also remembering that this is Stiles' father and looking disconcerted in a way that somehow reminds David that Hale's father was dead by the time he was Stiles' age.
“I'm okay,” Stiles says and he leans up to press a kiss to Hale's lips, quick enough to be habit and slow enough to be meaningful. “Go take care of it.”
“This is police business,” David says, more for form than anything else, because there's something that isn't adding up with this case, and what is adding up is the man his son was fast becoming before they seemed to get so spectacularly derailed. The man he still is becoming, or maybe already is; the one that sees the right thing, and does it.
“It really isn't,” Hale says flatly, then to Stiles, “I'll call you.”
“You better,” Stiles says and David doesn't follow them to the door, trying to sort through what he knows against what he thinks is going on.
Stiles comes back in, rubbing his forehead; he looks tense, and he glances back at the door once as if he'd have liked to follow Hale out. “What does this mean, Stiles?” he asks.
“Well,” Stiles says, and stops. “Right now it means you get to eat his chicken. If you want to.”
It's not Stiles' secrets – or Stiles' and Hale's secrets, maybe. It's not even Stiles' trust. But it's his company, and his hand reached out, and for this evening it's enough.
“Show me where you keep the cutlery,” he says, and his son smiles.