Julia had died in the early hours of a spring morning eerily similar to this one – dew heavy in the air, promising a damp heat long before summer’s legitimate return. Stiles had wheezed worse than Scott that whole summer, never able to catch his breath from the weight of the air and his own sorrow. Jeremiah pinched the bridge of his nose and wondered for the millionth time – what if? If his wife was alive here and now, could she have possibly prevented the secrets that were splashed, bloody and foul, across the station?
"Sir?" Deputy Hammond drew a shaky hand across his mouth for the fifth time. His breath stunk of vomit and blood and the little egg-n-sausage sandwiches Margie made for him every morning. "Sheriff?"
"Just Stilinski, Deputy," Jeremiah reminded him gently.
"Right. But, uh… what do we do now?"
Jeremiah sighed. He wanted to talk to his son, is what he wanted to do. He wanted to force Stiles to tell him the truth. His eyes focused back on Stiles, drawn as to a lodestone. Stiles sat hunched over on the curb between Scott and Melissa. Something happened after that shithead Matt had knocked him out, something bad enough to make Melissa shrink back from her son. Melissa was not the type to back down from a challenge, but her eyes this morning were wide and scared. Jeremiah turned back to Hammond.
"You call in your deputies. You're the acting sheriff now. Establish your authority, reach out to other stations. You need to arrange a manhunt for Matthew Daehler. That has to be your top priority."
Hammond blinked. "Did he shoot out the windows, too, and throw the smoke bombs?"
Well, at least he hadn't trained an unobservant idiot.
"I don't know who did those. I only ever saw Matt, but he must have had an accomplice or accomplices."
"The security footage was destroyed," Deputy Johnson said, walking up to them, her mouth set in a straighter line than usual, which was saying something. "That kid waving his gun at two Stilinskis and a McCall is the last thing before it turns to snow."
That was something. At least he and Stiles wouldn't be blamed for shooting up the station. Carol Davis, youngest deputy in Beacon Hills. She loved basketball, bean sprouts and her kid sister. Rick Worster, divorced father of two. He volunteered at the animal shelter in his spare time and rehabilitated fighting dogs. Jonah Lutz, engaged to be married in the summer. He had helped Jeremiah pack up his desk and slipped a wedding invitation into the box. Michael Switter, champion alphabet-belcher. He'd taught Stiles how, and how to turn a blade of grass into a whistle, and balance a spoon on his nose.
Johnson gave him a knowing look. "You been up all night? Won't be much help to us if you don't get some rest, get your head looked at."
Hammond looked like he wanted to protest, but he nodded his permission. "I got their statements already," he said, nodding toward the group huddled on the curb. "Didn't tell me much. Will you come back later?"
With useful information, was left unsaid, as was Please, please, please take this responsibility from my shoulders!
"Sure thing." Jeremiah leaned in to give Hammond a handshake and one-armed hug, but wasn't surprised when the other man changed it into a clingy full-body hug. Hammond was supposed to have been Jonah Lutz's best man. Jeremiah patted him awkwardly on the back. Johnson squeezed both their shoulders and murmured something conciliatory. She had terrible people skills but was a damn good investigator.
Stiles stood up, scuffing his shoes when Jeremiah joined them. Melissa looked up at him blankly and Scott kept staring off into the middle distance.
"Stilinski house," Jeremiah announced. "We need to talk."
Stiles swallowed hard and held out his arm to help Melissa up.
It was the most awkward breakfast their kitchen had seen since the weeks immediately following Julia's death. Melissa didn't eat a thing, just stared at her hands. Scott stared at her. Stiles fumbled the orange juice and spilled it across the table.
"All right," Jeremiah said, as Stiles and Scott mopped up the juice. "It's time to address the elephant in the room. Melissa, you've seen dead bodies before. I know that's not what's freaking you out here. What did you see? It could help me – the cops. It could help the police find Matt."
"Ask Scott," Melissa said, her voice brittle enough to snap. Well, if that was the only thing he was going to get from her…
"Scott? You want to fill me in?"
Scott looked at Stiles. Stiles stared back. Jeremiah had always envied this nonverbal means of communication the two boys seemed to have, but now it just angered him.
"Enough! I've had enough. No more secrets, kids. Those deputies that died last night? Those were my people. My responsibility. If you know anything about what happened, you owe it to me to tell me."
"It's called a kanima," Stiles said, and cleared his throat. "It, uh, turns into this lizard thing with sharp claws and a tail and a paralyzing venom."
Jeremiah blinked. How the hell could Stiles take this as a joke?! "Stiles," he started, but Melissa interrupted him.
"I saw it. That's what it looked like. And there were two," she gestured at Scott. "You continue. I want to hear you say it."
Jeremiah stared at Scott. What could he possibly say that was weirder than a lizard-man?
"Werewolves," Scott said reluctantly, and yes, that was it.
"Melissa, you must have hit your head—"
"She didn't hit anything, Dad!" Stiles interrupted. "Derek was there—"
"Derek Hale? You want me to believe he's a werewolf now?"
"He's always been a werewolf. And." He looked across at Scott. Scott looked back at him for a long moment before sighing and rolling his shoulders, then turning to face him.
Jeremiah gaped at him. Scott's face was no longer his face. His eyes glowed golden, sideburns covered his cheeks, and his nose and forehead looked like he had run afoul of a makeup cart on Halloween.
"What the everloving fuck."
A laugh burst out of Melissa, then another, and another, and then her shoulders were shaking as she laughed hysterically. Stiles edged away from her. Jeremiah gripped the corner of the table and tried to bring his emotions into check.
"How long?" he asked quietly.
"What?" Stiles asked, distracted by Melissa's flailing hands.
"For how long have you been lying to me about something so fucking fundamental?!" Jeremiah's voice was a roar by the time he got to the f-word, the word he'd never flung at his son before, his wonderful, amazing, manipulative beast of a son.
Stiles' eyes widened in shock and his jaw dropped open, but he was fresh out of smart remarks for once. At any other time, Jeremiah would have documented the occasion.
"Since the beginning of this school year," Scott answered for him. "Please, don't blame Stiles, he was just trying to protect you, we just wanted to protect you both."
"Son," Jeremiah sighed, "we do the protecting here. Your mother's a nurse. I'm a cop. What we do is protect people. You don't trust us to protect you? I guess not," he laughed bitterly, "since someone turned you into a werewolf under our very noses. Wait. Was it Derek Hale?"
"No!" Stiles found his voice again. "He's a good guy. Well. A guy. That we ally ourselves with. It was Peter Hale that bit Scott, but don't worry; Derek and, uh, I kind of helped, and anyhow, he's dead now."
Jeremiah stared at him. Stiles had helped kill someone? His son? Stiles was good to the core of his being, Jeremiah had no doubt at all about that. What the hell had happened with Peter Hale?
"Dad?" Stiles asked, his voice small and young and lacking the speedy confidence that was his trademark. "How are you feeling? Your heart still fine?"
"I'm not going to have a heart attack. Come here."
Jeremiah pulled him into a tight hug. Across the table, Melissa quieted and watched with sad eyes. She didn't look at Scott.
"Okay," Jeremiah said, releasing his son reluctantly. "Let's all sit down, and you tell us the story from the beginning."
It took two hours. Scott started, then Stiles picked it up, then they spoke over each other. Apparently the people who had shot up the station after Jackson, the lizard-man as controlled by Matt, had killed everyone, were Scott's girlfriend's family. And Scott's girlfriend's mother had just tried to kill Scott. With a magical herb or something. And now Allison wasn't speaking to Scott. Jeremiah and Melissa exchanged a look over that. The drama.
"So your principal is the leader of these Hunters who want to kill werewolves, the Alpha and several… Betas?" Jeremiah interrupted Scott finally.
"Well, yes, but he doesn't want to kill me."
"Just his daughter-in-law wanted to kill you? How do you know?"
"Um. We, kind of, have a deal…"
"Wait, what?" Stiles leaned across the table, his shirt sticking in orange juice residue. "We don't have a deal with Gerard."
"Oh my God, Scott, what did you do?"
"Hey! He said he'd hurt my mom! So I joined Derek's pack and gave Gerard information, just enough to keep him satisfied, about Derek and, uh, Jackson."
Melissa was staring at her son like she'd never seen him before.
"Scott. You tell me when my life is in danger. You tell the sheriff! You don't make a deal with the devil!"
"Why didn't you tell me?" Stiles asked, bewildered. "I would want to save your mom, too! And you should have told Derek; we totally could have double-crossed Gerard! He's a creep. And he has halitosis, have you noticed that?"
"Hali—what?" Scott clung to the smallest detail, beleaguered.
"Bad breath," Jeremiah told him. "Maybe we can still fix the situation with Gerard," he started, but then his cell phone buzzed in his hip pocket. "It's the station."
The others watched him, argument put aside while they tried to figure out what had happened from his side of the conversation. Scott heard the whole thing, and Jeremiah was going to have to start remembering stuff like that about his son's best friend.
"It was Johnson," he announced to the others when he hung up. "They found Matt's body. Drowned."
Melissa gasped, and Stiles exclaimed, "Shit!"
"Indeed. Coroner is putting the time of death to about 3:30 AM, so right after he left the station."
"Did she say anything about any scales on his body?" Stiles asked, chewing on his lower lip. "Derek said Matt wasn't following the rules of the kanima, and that's why he was changing."
"She didn't mention it." Jeremiah frowned. "What do you mean, the rules of the kanima?"
"Matt was killing people who weren't murderers. The kanima is only supposed to kill people who deserve it. He was being used wrong, so Matt had to pay."
"Well he paid, all right," Jeremiah said grimly. "Look. They're seriously understaffed right now. I should really go in and help."
"Okay." Stiles slapped his hands together briskly. "You work that angle, and we'll try to find Jackson."
"No," Jeremiah said firmly. "You're going to get some sleep. And when I get back, then we'll discuss Jackson. Is that clear?"
"You need some sleep, too, Miah," Melissa said. "You sleep, and I'll wake you in a few hours. All of you."
Jeremiah weighed his options, and decided to graciously concede to her wishes. They left Melissa on the couch downstairs and trooped up the stairs. Jeremiah could hear Stiles and Scott arguing as he brushed his teeth and changed out of his grimy clothes. It sounded like Stiles was still pissed about the Gerard and Derek situation. Despite agreeing with Melissa about needing sleep, he crept down the hall a few minutes later to check on them. Stiles was sprawled out in his bed, snoring already, but Scott was huddled on a pile of sleeping bags and blankets in the corner of the room, staring at the ceiling.
"I'm sorry I screwed things up, Mr. Stilinski," he said.
"It will be okay, Scott. I don't know how just yet," he admitted. "But we'll get there in the end."
Scott shot him a lopsided smile. “My mom won’t touch me.”
And just like that, he was the little boy Jeremiah had found crying in the corner of Stiles’ room the night his parents had announced they were getting divorced. Jeremiah hurried over to his nest of blankets and pulled him into an awkward hug, very deliberately patting his back. He felt no different, and Melissa would feel it, too, eventually.
“She’ll come around, Scott. You’re the most important thing in the world to her. You’ll see.”
Scott shuddered once in his arms and clutched at his shirt, once, before relaxing back into his pile of blankets. Jeremiah got up, knees aching, and backed out of the room, shutting the door softly behind him.
Eight hours later, the sun was going down again, and Jeremiah wanted to sink into the horizon along with it. They hadn't found Jackson. After a quiet tip to Hammond, Johnson had gone knocking at the Argents' door, only to find the family in mourning. Johnson had spied guns that could have been used to assault the station… or could have been part of Chris Argent's legitimate business. The judge didn't want to issue a warrant without an eye witness linking Chris Argent to the station. Neither Stiles nor Melissa had actually seen any of the Hunters, and Scott reacted like an abused puppy when he found out Allison's mom was dead. There was definitely something fishy going on there. Jeremiah seriously doubted that woman had committed suicide. At the end of the day, all they had was a dead teenage shooter, no substantial evidence on any accomplices, and a dump truck full of tears and condolences for the four murdered deputies.
Stiles and Scott had gotten nowhere on the search for Jackson's whereabouts, a search complicated by the presence of restraining orders and the reluctance of Jeremiah and Melissa to let their sons go chasing after a poisonous, murderous lizard monster. Jeremiah turned onto his street, dreaming of his bed, when familiar taillights caused him to straighten up and scowl. Stiles!
Jeremiah reached for his phone, then paused, making a split decision to follow his son.
Jeremiah kept his distance. Stiles was clearly trying to be cautious, but Jeremiah was the one who taught him how to do that. He followed easily. The jeep stopped outside a warehouse connected to the defunct train station. Jeremiah pulled over and killed his lights. Before Stiles could even get out of the jeep, however, he was joined by a dark figure. The gun was out of the glove compartment and in Jeremiah's hand while he was still registering the fact.
Stiles didn't look like he was in trouble, though – arguing loudly, yes, but not in trouble. Jeremiah cracked his window, but he couldn't hear the words, just the tone. Angry, accusatory, and Stiles being defensive. Jeremiah's finger twitched on the trigger. Their shadows looked like giants in the glow of the streetlamp. The larger one, Stiles' companion, turned abruptly away. Jeremiah waited, tense, for him to get out of the jeep, but instead Stiles laid a hand on the other's back. They seemed to freeze like that. Jeremiah kept one eye on the clock. It ticked past one, three, five minutes before the larger shadow turned and melted into Stiles.
"Holy shit." He couldn't stifle his exclamation. Somehow it almost hurt worse that Stiles had kept this thing from him. The werewolves, he could almost understand. But the man, it was most definitely a man, in the jeep – he was all over his son. Why would Stiles hide that?
He put his car in reverse and drove home.
He was still waiting in the dark living room, tumbler of whiskey at his elbow, when he heard the jeep pull up in the driveway and Stiles fumble with his keys at the front door.
"Stiles," he said, and turned on the lamp. His son looked… like he had just come from an epic make-out session with someone with a healthy amount of stubble. "Something you were planning to tell me?"
"Um… I think the jeep needs new brake pads."
Stiles was so young and defiant and felt everything. He got that from him. Julia could wave anything off. Jeremiah tried to, and maybe he acted like he could, but he couldn't.
"Fuck the brake pads, Stiles," he said with a calm he didn't feel. Stiles' loopy I-just-made-out-with-someone-who's-into-me smile faded and he sat down heavily on the couch across from Jeremiah. "We said no more secrets. Well, Secret just rubbed his stubble across your face and neck. Who the hell is he and why didn't you tell me about him?"
Stiles' hand went up to his neck. "I wasn't… it wasn't a secret, it just happened. I didn't know he wanted to rub his stubble anywhere, trust me!"
"Okay, okay, geez, I just… I needed to find him and apologize for Scott's dumbassery. It was important!"
"Who?" Jeremiah had a sneaky suspicion he knew exactly who it was now, but he wanted to hear Stiles say it.
"I mean, Scott went behind his back at least six different times and they're supposed to have this weird bond thing, and Derek saved his life and everything –"
"Derek?" Jeremiah interrupted sharply, rising to his feet. "Derek Hale, the man you've accused of murder on more than one occasion?"
Stiles winced. "Not my finest hour. Though again, one of those was totally Scott…"
"Focus, Stiles. You're dating Derek Hale, a man – a werewolf, I might add – what? Six years older than you? Eight? Are you out of your damn mind?" He loomed over his son, his sweet, brilliant, confused little boy.
Stiles flushed and the mulish expression he definitely got right from Jeremiah came over his face. "I'm not crazy," he said stiffly. "And we're not… we're not dating, per se. We just…"
He seemed to lose steam and his eyes clouded over. He had no idea what they were, Jeremiah could tell. His son had just been taken advantage of, whether Derek had intended to or not, the man was a fucking adult and if he thought he was going to go around giving high school kids hickeys… well. He had another think coming, powerful werewolf or not.
But first, Stiles.
"Stiles? What do you want him to be? You can tell me, and I promise to listen."
"I don't – gah!" Stiles threw his hands up in the air and began to pace around the room. "I don't have time to have some sort of sexual identity crisis, Dad! There's a lizard monster that wants to kill us, a group of hunters who are batshit insane and gunning for my best friend, who, I might add, is also a werewolf who continually defies his Alpha, the dude I just made out with, and continually makes dumbass decisions for us without asking me first! And last night I almost got my dad killed." His face crumpled. "I just wanted someone to not hate me for five seconds," he mumbled, collapsing back down on the couch, his head in his hands.
"I have never hated you, not one second of my life," Jeremiah said quietly. His hands were shaking with the need to touch his son, pull him close and scare off all the monsters that lurked beneath his bed. He sat down next to Stiles and put a tentative hand on his shoulder. Just like Stiles tried to comfort Hale. It was an uncomfortable thought.
"I'm not an easy kid to raise," Stiles muttered. He didn't seem to notice the tears dripping off the end of his nose. Julia's nose, Julia's eyes and her eyelashes thick with tears. "I run you down and lost you your job and lie like a fly with a booger in its eye."
"Well, when you bring boogers into it," Jeremiah said lightly. All of those things had a kernel of truth to them, sure, but Stiles was so worth it.
Stiles snorted. Jeremiah fished in his pocket for a Kleenex and handed it over, and waited patiently for Stiles to blow his nose and get his breath back.
"Back to Derek," Jeremiah said.
"It won't happen again!" Stiles said quickly, his hand closing in a fist around his used Kleenex.
"And that's what you want?" Jeremiah asked. He was determined to meet his son's eyes. He'd never had a talk like this with his own dad, but then, his dad had never witnessed him and Julia making out in a dark alley. And they had.
"I don't – I don't know," Stiles said slowly. "I thought he hated me, but, well, he doesn't. I've saved him before, and he's saved me, so I guess that counts for something. And I – he's just so, you know."
"No, I don't."
"Um, really hot? Objectively, I mean! Obvious to anyone. Right? That's not just me, right?"
Stiles was looking at him like he expected an answer. "Uh, yeah, sure, Hale is an attractive man."
"Exactly! So I wasn't expecting him to go for someone like me, obviously, because I'm, well, you know."
"No, I don't," Jeremiah said again.
"Well, I'm… really average, and a klutz, and I talk too much and too fast. But he said, uh, that I didn't take his shit, and this is weird, isn't it? It's weird to be telling you these things. But Scott's not going to want to hear them. Derek said he trusted me more than anyone else. He doesn't trust Scott. Not that Scott would kiss him! I'm the only one who wanted to do that. He made me feel, um…" Stiles' voice dropped to a murmur, "… special and wanted. So I guess that, uh, answers the question."
He finally paused for breath and Jeremiah leapt on the silence.
"You want it to happen again."
"Um, yeah. Yeah. It was – I'm not going to tell you what it was like! I think my skin's a little prune-y with all this bathing in the truth stuff. There are some things you don't, you know."
"That one I do know – I don't need to know it." He pulled Stiles into a hug and his son's hands flailed a moment before landing on his back. "Okay, you need to get to bed. Three hours this morning does not equal a full night's sleep."
He waited fifteen minutes after he heard the toilet flush in Stiles' bathroom and his bedroom door close before leaving the house, locking the doors securely behind him, and drove to Derek Hale's warehouse.
A kid peeled off from the shadows when he got closer.
Jeremiah squinted at him. He didn't know all the kids at Stiles' school, but he knew everyone who'd played lacrosse, at least. "Boyd, right? Are you lost?"
Beacon Hills didn't exactly have a sordid underbelly, but if it did, this neighborhood would be gunning for the dubious distinction. Jeremiah was no longer the sheriff, but as far as could remember, Boyd was a good kid, not the sort to be on law enforcement's radar.
Boyd grinned, and Jeremiah almost swore aloud. Of course, Boyd would be one of the betas Stiles and Scott had referred to. At least it didn't look like Hale had been making out with him, too.
"Just keeping an eye out," Boyd said. "Derek's inside."
Jeremiah grunted in response and moved past him.
"Hey, Sheriff?" Boyd called after him, voice pitched low.
"Not the sheriff anymore, Boyd." He was getting a little tired of reminding people of this.
"Whittemore's kid's a lizard killing-machine. Your kid is golden in comparison. You're the sheriff." Boyd took a step closer to him. "You're on our side now?"
As if he could really answer anything else to a werewolf's face. But still, he didn't appreciate being backed into a corner. "I'm on Stiles' side. And I need to talk to Derek Hale now."
Boyd nodded and stepped aside.
The décor inside the warehouse left much to be desired. Tetanus was Jeremiah's first thought, followed immediately in Stiles' voice by hygiene fail. Then he shook it off and looked around as the sheriff. The place was riddled with both hiding places and exits, so maybe they had some idea what they were doing.
"Hale," he addressed the empty space. "I need to talk to you."
He took it as a courtesy when Hale appeared in front of him instead of sneaking up on him from behind, which he had no doubt a werewolf could do. As Stiles would say, What even is my life?
"I've been told a lot of things today," Jeremiah started, sizing up the man before him. Hale looked like he always looked to him: young guy with a chip on his shoulder, too handsome for his own good. Jeremiah looked harder now, past the screens Hale was obviously projecting. "That there are werewolves. That you're a werewolf. That a boy I look at as a second son is a werewolf. That four men and women I hired and trained and stood shoulder to shoulder with for years were murdered by a lizard-man, the son of the man who pretty much kicked me out of my job." There were cracks in the screen, so many, and Jeremiah wondered how he had never seen them before. "And finally. That you, a grown adult, and my son who, for all his intelligence and… helpfulness… to you, is still a kid…"
The cracks were shoring up, the wall building up, and God, Derek was so young. So young.
"Jesus, Hale. Relax."
"I am relaxed," Hale said with an arrogant toss of his head.
"Uh-huh. Super relaxed. I came over here to tell you I have a shotgun and a shovel, and I doubt anyone would miss you. Except you already know that, and you believe it, too."
Jeremiah knew Stiles had low self-esteem, and he didn't know how to fix it. But Hale, despite his posturing, could give Stiles a run for his money in the I'm-not-worthy department. He was reminded forcefully of one of Rick Worster's pit bulls, trained to be a killing machine and scared as fuck of rejection, creeping forward for a pat and expecting a slap, but still creeping forward.
"Well, if we're done here, sheriff…"
"I didn't say we were done. You're not going to promise never to see my son again?" Jeremiah couldn't help but ask, arching his brows.
"I think we both know that Stiles will do whatever the hell Stiles wants."
They stared at each other a moment, and then Jeremiah started to laugh.
"Yeah. That's Stiles," he said finally.
Hale wasn't laughing, as tense as ever. He must loosen up around Stiles because otherwise Jeremiah hadn't a clue how they had ever… come together.
"So!" he said briskly. "I've threatened you, you've defied me, Stiles will do what he wants, now let's talk about pooling resources to catch the lizard-man."
Hale blinked. "That's it?"
"Do I really need to tell you not to do anything illegal with my son?"
"No, sir," Hale said, flushing slightly. "But you know I would never do anything deliberately to hurt your son, and he's still going to get hurt."
Jeremiah felt at least one hundred years old. "Look at my kid and try to tell me he's not already bruised and battered."
Hale – Derek, he'd have to start getting used to thinking of him by his first name – nodded slowly. "Fair point. But as to the kanima, I think Stiles knows as much as anyone.” Derek paused, and Jeremiah got the sense that he was sniffing the air, trying to come to a decision. “And there’s another issue I have to deal with that could cause problems for you. If you really want to pool resources, Stiles is a good resource."
Of course he was.
"Well, then, Derek, you're officially invited back to the Stilinski homestead. Stiles went to bed already, which means he'll be on his computer."
And that, finally, got the hint of a smile from the other man.
Driving home with a brooding werewolf in the passenger seat, Jeremiah doubted he would ever stop second-guessing his own decisions and wondering what Julia would think. What would she think about him inviting this werewolf into their home, what she would say about Stiles sitting with his shoulder and knee brushing up against this older man. Would she forgive him for the alliance he made with the monsters beneath the bed? Would she think he was doing a good job with their son? He had to believe she would. At least they were talking now, secrets fanned out across the living room's coffee table, and maybe that would make a difference. Maybe now they would have a chance against the lizard-man, and after that, extricating Scott from his bargain with Gerard, then dealing with Derek’s family issue, and then something mundane, like college applications and Stiles' eighteenth birthday.
Jeremiah's eyes slid back to Derek and Stiles on the couch. Well, maybe he wasn't in a hurry for that last one.