He'd been shut away in his home office for most of the afternoon, having come off a long shift only at ten that morning. The case was only a week old but was already driving him to the point of low grade frustration. The second murder victim had been found the evening before, staked out on the roof of an apartment building. Forensics suggested she'd been up there for at least three days, and who knew how long it would have taken them to find her if the apartment building superintendent hadn't gone up to the roof to take a look at where a leak was running into the ceiling of one of the apartments. He'd called Derek shortly after he'd returned home, the cause of damage on the body wasn't readily identifiable, and Derek had only mumbled about things waiting in the woods before hanging up.
He stepped out in the hallway, intent on taking a half hour away from the files to have a meal and a cup of coffee before he made an attempt at the timeline again, and nearly jumped out of his skin when he bumped into Jackson. His eyebrows climbed as he got a good look at who he'd just walked into; Jackson's shirt was far too thin and clingy to be normal winter attire and his pants seemed like they'd almost been painted on.
"This is what happens when I let Danny help me pick an outfit," Jackson said when he took in the look he was receiving.
"You say that now but you'll be thanking me when you get eaten alive on the dance floor," Danny said as he descended the stairs in an outfit that was only slightly less exposing than Jackson's. "Don't worry, Mr. Stilinski. Stiles refused almost all of my suggestions for him. Not that he doesn't look nice, but he doesn't look like us either."
Thank God for small mercies, he thought and smiled at Danny. "I'm sure you did your best. I take it you're going out tonight?"
"New club, other side of town. We don't even need fake IDs to get in," Danny said, before quickly adding, "not that we have fake IDs."
"Uh huh," he said, knowing full well that most if not all of the pack had fake IDs. He figured that if they were old enough to fight the battles they faced, they were old enough to go clubbing. Mostly.
Jackson rolled his eyes. "If we ever get there. The girls closed themselves in the pack bedroom and we haven't heard anything from them forever."
"Are the rest of the guys around already?" he asked. He motioned them both into the living room when Danny nodded and pointed in that direction. All of the guys in the pack, with the exception of Derek, were hanging around in the living room. Fortunately Danny and Jackson's outfits were the most outrageous, though Boyd and Isaac seemed to be working the dark and dangerous leather look, while Scott and Stiles were both in outfits that actually fit them. Neither looked comfortable, Stiles continually tugging on the bottom of his form fitting dark blue shirt, but they did look nice.
"Dad," Stiles said, turning around when Scott nudged him. "I'm guessing you're wondering why some of us here look like we're about to be pimped out."
"Already got the memo that you're going clubbing," he said. "I just wanted to make sure you had a plan of action."
The guys all exchanged glances with each other. "Pick up hot chicks or dudes?" Jackson finally asked, shaking his head like it was obvious.
He didn't openly sigh, but it was a close thing. "That would be your goal. What I'm looking for is your plan to make sure you all return safely."
"We're pack," Boyd said after a moment. "We have a pretty good sense of each other, even for the humans."
"Even when your senses are overwhelmed by loud music and the scent of a few hundred people? You'd be able to know the instant that one of them was in trouble?" he asked. After some talking with a few different members of the pack he'd understood that while the werewolves in the pack were connected in a way that even they didn't understand, their connections to the humans were more limited and were influenced heavily by their senses.
The werewolves immediately looked to Stiles and Danny, Isaac actually baring his teeth for a brief moment even though his wolf fangs didn't come out. "Do you have a recommendation?" Boyd asked, his gaze intense when he looked away from the two male humans in the pack.
"In smaller groups I'd typically suggest the buddy system, but considering the unique abilities and limitations of the pack I recommend dividing into groups of three," he said, thinking back to the training he'd done in the city. "Each member of the trio is responsible for knowing where the other two in their group are. You can trade around groups as long as all of you are aware of the changes. At least one werewolf per group would be ideal. Don't accept drinks that aren't directly from the bar. No one leaves alone. Those last two are not debatable."
Danny's hand went to the back of his neck. "Yeah, sounds good."
He left the room as they started discussing how to split into groups and went upstairs. It was possible that he was being overprotective considering what the pack went up against on a semi-regular basis, but it had been less than a month since he'd worked an assault case at one of the smaller clubs. The victim had just turned sixteen and went to the same school as his son. Sometimes there was no such thing as overprotective.
"Jackson, if I have to tell you one more time that we're not ready yet, I won't even have to sic Derek on you because he'll be the least of your worries," Lydia called when he knocked on the pack bedroom door.
"I just wanted to have a word with you before you went out tonight," he called back, a little bit amused when he heard a few high pitched yelps and the sound of bare feet thumping across the floor.
"Just a minute!" Allison yelled.
Two minutes later the door opened and he was somewhat relieved to discover that none of the girls' outfits were as ostentatious as Danny and Jackson's. Erica smiled brightly at him and spun, her skirt flaring out a little. "What do you think?"
"You all look very nice, though you might want to consider going without the guys after you see them," he joked, receiving giggles and knowing smirks in return. "I just wanted to talk to you three for a minute, I've already had the conversation with the others."
Lydia put her hands on her hips. "We know. Don't accept drinks from strangers and don't drink something that has left our sights. Keep an eye on each other and don't go with anyone outside. Know where the exits are and stay alert. Believe us, we know. Besides, we're not exactly the average helpless teenagers."
He nodded because there probably wasn't a high schooler who didn't know that little speech. "I'm glad that you know, that's good, and I know all of you know how to fight. Which is why I'm asking that you three watch over each other and the guys. They don't always pay as much attention as they should and they're more likely to dismiss signs of a threat."
The girls looked at each other as they considered that. Allison nodded. "That makes sense, I guess."
"Different socialization norms for girls and boys in our culture. Girls are more typically raised to be alert to dangerous situations because they're believed to be more vulnerable, yet they're rarely also taught to defend themselves," Lydia agreed, though Erica and Allison both gave her a sideways glance.
"Exactly," he said. "You all look beautiful. Have fun tonight. It's not so often you all go out, any specific occasion?"
Erica grinned. "My birthday was two days ago! Seventeen!"
"Happy belated birthday," he told her and then retreated from the room as the girls returned to the containers of makeup that were spread out on the desk.
He went down into the kitchen and dug out leftovers from veggie lasagna they'd had two nights ago, nearly dozing off as he leaned against the fridge while it warmed up in the microwave. Maybe he needed to catch a few hours sleep instead of that cup of coffee he'd planned on.
"Dad, we're going. We'll be home by midnight," Stiles said, poking his head in the kitchen and waving dramatically.
He smiled and nodded. "Call me if there are any problems."
Stiles grinned. "Since when have we ever caused any problems?" he asked, and then disappeared before his dad had the opportunity to start a list.
What Stiles didn't realize, he would guess, was that Stiles and the pack were very rarely the actual cause of the problems. More often, they were the solution.
It was early in the afternoon when he arrived home, noting from the handful of cars parked in front of the house that most if not all the pack was probably there. The pack had been out most of the night, Stiles and Isaac only slipping in just after six in the morning to change and get ready for school. He'd texted with them throughout the night, once offering to come do what he could to help only to receive a short call from Stiles telling him to stay at the house and they'd come there if they needed to retreat. He wasn't sure how he felt about being told by his own son to stay away because it wasn't safe, which was entirely what Stiles meant even if it wasn't exactly what he had said, but seeing both Stiles and Isaac come home relatively unharmed had helped.
Stiles had called him shortly after school let out, asking if he and Derek could see the files from the latest double homicide which was still unsolved. He had agreed, on the condition that he could speak to Derek one on one. Stiles had started to protest but Derek had come on the line a moment later to say that they'd be at the house whenever he was available, Stiles still arguing in the background of the call when Derek had hung up. He had many reservations about passing along information to Derek from the Sheriff's Department, even more than he did about sharing the information with Stiles, but he had accepted that he could do very little about some of these cases without help from the supernatural side of the fence. Anyway, he'd wanted to have a talk with Derek for quite some time and he wasn't above using what leverage he had in order to make that happen.
The house was quiet when he stepped inside, far quieter than he would have expected for the number of people inside, and he went straight to the living room since that seemed to be the default gathering location for the pack when it wasn't a meal time. The entire pack was on the floor in a heap of bodies, blankets, and pillows. More than half of them were asleep though the eyes of most of the werewolves opened at his presence.
Lydia rested her head on Jackson's shoulder, Jackson's eyes blinking open as he wrapped his arm closer around Lydia's back. Danny was on Jackson's other side, his legs tangled with Jackson's and his head sharing a pillow with Erica. Erica was well and truly asleep with her back to Derek, curled up on her side with a wrist draped over her eyes. Derek was more awake than the rest of the pack, his eyes already fully open as he glanced back and forth at the bodies surrounding him. Boyd was next to Derek, his eyes also open, with Isaac using his hip as a pillow as Isaac was curled up in between Boyd and Derek's legs. Stiles was asleep with his back against Boyd's, his arm hooked over Scott's side. Scott and Allison were cuddled together, almost one form under a blanket as they slept without awareness of any of the rest of the pack waking.
Derek got up, moving carefully to avoid waking the rest of the pack and taking the extra time to untangle his legs from under Isaac. When he was standing, Derek leaned down and used Isaac's upper arms to drag him up into the space that had been left empty. Erica immediately rolled over and latched onto one of Isaac's arms with hers while Boyd turned so that he was providing a more obvious protection to the Betas Derek was leaving behind. Boyd's eyes didn't close even as Derek stepped out of the room entirely.
It was intriguing to watch the pack dynamics play out in front of him, though he could only guess about the meanings of what had happened. He had been told multiple times that Stiles was Derek's second with whatever responsibilities that entailed, and Stiles had once confided in him that if Derek should die it was most likely that Boyd would become the new Alpha of their pack and that Derek had been grooming Boyd for that eventuality. It wasn't until he had some time to really think about it that he realized that the pack was in worse shape than he'd thought if Derek was preparing one of the teenaged wolves to take over when he died protecting his pack.
He paused in the kitchen, regathering the thoughts he'd organized on the drive home, but looked up when Derek continued on toward the door that led out into the backyard.
"Werewolves have very good hearing when we choose to use it and most of us aren't above using our abilities to eavesdrop when we're curious," Derek said, and from the way he was looking toward the living room when he spoke it was clear he was addressing one or more of his pack. "Pretty much anywhere in the house and the immediate vicinity is like speaking in the same room for a werewolf."
"Alright then, I'll keep that in mind," he said, realizing that if he wanted to keep any of his work calls private he was going to have to go outside. He followed Derek out into the backyard, the January chill settling along the bare skin of his face and hands. "Is this really far enough?" he asked when they came to a stop near the fence that separated the yard from the woods.
Derek tipped his head. "They're mostly all asleep again and they know that I've asked them not to listen."
He gave a wry smile. "Not that it will stop them, if they're anything like Stiles."
"True enough," Derek admitted. "You brought the file."
He tightened his grip around the file folder in his hand, though he was keenly aware that wouldn't stop Derek from taking it if he truly wanted to do so. "Actually, I thought we could talk about a few things first."
If possible Derek managed to look more uncomfortable than he had just moments earlier. He looked out into the woods, his gaze scanning along the tree line like he was assessing it for the feasibility of escape. "Alright," he allowed, though his tone suggested that he'd rather be facing off against Hunters than having a civil conversation.
"First, when it's possible, can we try to cut back on the late nights for the pack? I know that most of the time it isn't, you do what you have to do. I probably get that better than most people would. But multiple all-nighters in a week is going to leave all of you more vulnerable, not even taking into consideration that your pack still attends high school," he said, not wanting to belabor the point, but just last Saturday he'd seen Stiles, Isaac, and Erica sleep fourteen hours straight and not for the first time either.
Derek nodded slowly, his eyes now focused at the half dead grass beneath his feet. "I'm aware. The circumstances are not what they should be."
He thought about that and figured that was probably the best he was going to get. He couldn't exactly tell Derek to let people die so that his pack could go home and sleep. "As I said, it's unavoidable in some situations, but we should try to keep that in mind."
"Anything else?" Derek asked, his eyes flickering to the file and then away as he shifted uncomfortably.
"Just one more thing. I understand that your living situation is currently in a location where a group of teenagers, super-powered or not, really shouldn't be seen frequenting. Secondary to that, it's not the type of place you should be associated with either, particularly not since people can't help but have noticed your return to Beacon Hills," he said, leaving out the more important factor that he didn't like the idea of Derek staying somewhere that dangerous and somewhere that only continued to facilitate his lack of commitment to living. "If it's a financial situation, I'm aware that your pack responsibilities limit your ability to work a nine to five job, but there are resources that we could use to at least get you set up in a small apartment."
Derek stared, really looking directly at him for the first time since the conversation had begun. "Money isn't an issue," he finally said, an odd, nearly amused expression appearing and disappearing nearly before it was there at all.
"Glad to hear it," he said, because that did make everything a lot more simple. "There are plenty of side streets in Beacon Hills that are near the woods and wouldn't notice werewolves running through the backyard. Anyway, it's something to consider." He held out the file folder now, having gotten about as far as he expected to in these particular conversations. He'd learned long ago with Stiles that sometimes if he planted the idea it would grow all on its own with just an occasional nudge from him.
Derek didn't move to take the file, instead thrusting his hand into his pocket and then shoving a piece of paper in his direction.
"What's this?" he asked, accepting the paper with his free hand and then staring in disbelief when he saw the amount written on the check addressed to him.
"For taking care of the pack when I can't," Derek said, his lips twisting with uncertainty before he covered the emotion with a tight frown. "I know how much it costs to house and feed teenagers and the money I have isn't much use to me and is more than I could need in a life time."
"I can't take this," he said, shaking his head and holding the check back out to Derek. "You do realize that I get a stipend from the state to cover the cost of fostering Isaac?"
"I know that you're also housing Erica and Lydia a fair amount of the time as well and that the stipend you receive isn't enough to feed one teenager on a regular basis, let alone nine," Derek said, taking the still proffered file and then stepping back so he couldn't be passed the check. "They're my pack and my responsibility. I need to take care of them."
He heard the genuine need in Derek's voice and came to the conclusion that this was something he could use to help all of the pack get on more stable ground, including Derek. "How about this, I'll set up an account for pack funds. We can decide who has authorization to get into it and both have the ability to deposit and withdraw funds as necessary when it comes to what the pack needs," he offered, hoping that what was best for the pack would outweigh whatever was going on in Derek's head.
Derek paused, his focus firmly on the cover of the file. "That's acceptable. Stiles should have access, as should Boyd. They know what they need to do. I'll have Stiles return the file to you tomorrow."
"Take as long as you need," he said, since it was copies of the documents and he'd blacked out information that would link the papers back to his department if they should be seen. "Whatever I can do to help."
Derek looked at him again, nodded cautiously, started to walk back to the house.
He pocketed the check and followed, thinking that Derek might be starting to believe that his offer to help the pack however he could was genuine. Derek stopped in the living room for about five minutes, his conversation brief, and then he was gone through whatever quiet exit he'd found.
In the living room the pack was still a pile of sleeping teenagers tangled together and he watched them for a moment before going back in the kitchen to leave out instructions for ordering take-out for dinner, betting none of them would want to cook when they finally woke. He left through the front door, deciding that he would stop on the bank on his way back to work to set up that account so it would be ready the next time Derek stopped by the house.
With his latest major case finally wrapped up, Derek and the pack having done more than their share of the work in exposing the human side of the operation while taking out the supernatural elements, for once he was home before any of the kids. He started dinner, two large casserole dishes filled with meat loaf, and took advantage of his hour of down time to sit in the kitchen with a cup of coffee and simply try not to think about anything at all. Of course that didn't work, not entirely, so instead he flipped through the classified section of the newspaper and marked some of the houses for sale or apartments for rent that were in the safer areas of Beacon Hills but still bordered on the woods that surrounded the town. If he left the paper out on the table he knew that it would get to Derek, even though he wasn't sure who the go-between was yet.
The front door opened and from the number of footsteps he heard in the hall and the voices babbling over each other it sounded like he had a full house for the evening. Less than a minute later Erica bounded into the kitchen with a paper in one hand and a big grin on her face, the rest of the pack following her into the room at a much more sedate pace.
"First semester report cards were handed out today," she said as she waved the paper in the air before handing it over to him. She laced her hands behind her back and gave an impatient bounce. "See, look. So much better than last year when I missing class all the time from being sick."
He looked down her first semester grades and was pleased to see that even in her English class, the class for which she sat at the kitchen table and struggled through her homework sometimes long after the other kids had gone to bed, she had done well. Her lowest grade was a B- and he smiled as he reached to give her report card back. "Very nice, Erica."
Erica didn't take the report card back immediately and instead ducked her head and wound her fingers in her hair. "On tv and in books, sometimes report cards get put on the fridge if they were good?"
He didn't have to ask to know it was a request and was probably something her own parents had never done. It had been a few years since Stiles had let him put a report card up on the fridge, but he stood and found a magnet to place it under, right on the front door. Erica smiled brightly, her cheeks flushing slightly, and he knew he'd made the right call.
"Stiles," he called, waggling his fingers in Stiles direction.
Stiles rolled his eyes but dug in his backpack until he found a crumpled piece of paper and handed it over.
"Anything you want to tell me before I open this?" he asked with his eyebrows raised.
"Only that Mrs. Cantor really doesn't like me so much and that you shouldn't let her opinion of me sway your opinion of me," Stiles said, meeting his gaze for a moment before looking away to the ceiling.
"Uh huh," he said and unfolded the paper. Report cards were never as bad as Stiles made them out to be, though more than a few times a teacher had taken issue with Stiles' more gregarious nature. Given that Stiles' report card was mostly A's, with nothing lower than a B, along with a comment about the number of tardies Stiles had a accumulated, he just nodded. "Good work. Keep it up," he said and put up Stiles' report card right next to Erica's, knowing that Stiles wouldn't fuss when it would possibly embarrass Erica. "Next?"
Lydia stepped forward and held out her report card with a flourish.
His eyebrows rose, though he wasn't sure what he'd really expected from Lydia. He'd known that she was smarter than she tried to let on, much smarter, but receiving straight A's while taking honors and Advanced Placement classes while being heavily involved with the pack was impressive. "Excellent," he told her. "Do you want yours on the fridge?"
Her expression flickered briefly but she nodded. "Yes. At least here people will actually look at it."
He placed it next to Erica's and looked around the room, not entirely certain how he'd wound up substitute parenting for seven more kids than he'd bargained for, but he found that it felt rather nice. "Who's next?"
Danny and Jackson both handed over report cards, Jackson's with straight A's and a class load as rigorous as Lydia's and Danny's not far behind, but they both kept their report cards to bring home to their parents.
Allison handed hers over with a little bit of a shrug and a frown. "Not my best," she said, her eyes glossy for a moment with unshed tears before she composed herself.
He looked it over, seeing more B's than A's along with a single C+, but not a terrible report card overall. "Maybe not your best, but not bad either," he told her before handing it back so she could take it home to her father.
Boyd stepped forward to hand his over next, offering it without a word or any indication what he thought of his grades.
He unfolded it and while he was impressed he wasn't entirely surprised. Boyd may have been quiet, one of the quietest in the pack, but when he spoke he always had something important to say. Boyd's report card was almost straight A's, with a B+ from the same teacher who had given Stiles a B. "Very good. Do I get to put this with the others or are you taking it with you?"
Boyd shifted on his feet but then smiled shyly. "On the fridge, please."
He placed Boyd's beneath Lydia's and then glanced over the group to see who he was missing. "Scott, you're up," he called, noticing how Scott was half-hiding behind Allison.
Scott sighed but stepped forward, digging into his pockets and then handing over a roughly folded piece of paper. "It's better than last year," he said.
"Dude, you almost failed out last year," Stiles pointed out.
"Thanks for the reminder," Scott said dryly and hunched his shoulders.
He looked over Scott's report card, most of the grades hovering in the low B and high C range, though his A in PhysEd gave his grade point average a much needed boost. "I know you can do better than this, keep trying," he said, folding up the paper and handing it back to Scott. "That goes to your mom."
"Yes sir," Scott said, hanging his head a little and stepping back to let Allison put her arms around his shoulders.
The last report card he was missing was of the second kid in the room for whom he was actually legally responsible. "Isaac?" he called, looking over the group more closely until he finally spotted Isaac at the back, his head ducked down so he was nearly out of sight behind Boyd and Danny. Both stepped aside, leaving a clear path to where Isaac was standing.
"I, uh," Isaac stopped and licked his lips. "I forgot mine in my locker after lacrosse practice."
He only had a chance to raise a single eyebrow in disbelief at the particularly poor excuse when Stiles stepped forward with another piece of paper.
"Yeah, I saw that it dropped out of your backpack on accident while we were in the locker room and grabbed it for you," Stiles said. "Hope you don't mind."
He sparred a glance for Isaac, unable to miss the way Isaac's eyes were wide but unfocused and his arms were folded tight against his chest. He had a brief moment of worry that Isaac was failing, though the school should have called him by now if that was the case, but most of his worries were alleviated when he opened the paper. Isaac's grades were about evenly split between A's and B's, except for the C- in physics. Before he had a chance to tell Isaac that it wasn't so bad, Stiles had dashed across the small space in the kitchen to place his hands on Isaac's shoulders.
Isaac was now pressed rigidly against the wall, his eyes still wide with panic but now glowing orange. His claws were extended, digging into the plaster of the wall, and his whole body was trembling.
If Isaac had been human his first instinct would have been to move closer and talk him down from what looked like either a panic attack or a dissociative episode, but he stayed where he was while Lydia, Danny, and Allison all slowly edged toward away from where the wolves were forming a loose protective circle around Isaac.
"It's okay, it's all fine, nothing bad is happening here," Stiles said, his voice pitched soothing rather than the commanding tone he had used when Jackson had started to shift in the living room a few months ago. "Just take a breath."
Erica broke from her spot and slowly walked up to the pair, pulling her hair back to reveal her neck to Stiles before she stepped up to Isaac's side and pressed her face against his shoulder. One of her hands slipped down so that she was covering Isaac's left hand and she started to talk, her voice too muffled against Isaac for the words to be understood, at least by the humans.
Isaac seemed to slowly come back to himself, his eyes refocusing on his surroundings. He closed his eyes and when he reopened them thirty seconds later they were once more closer to the color of a stormy ocean than that of the setting sun.
"Sorry, man," Stiles said. "I should have given it back to you before we came home."
Isaac shook his head, though his now clawless hand was intertwined tightly with Erica's. "Sorry," he said, his eyes skimming over everyone until he found his foster father. "Sorry."
"That's alright," he said, keeping his voice calm. Isaac had avoided being left alone with him over the past months, but he'd been getting better at addressing him directly when there were fewer of the pack around. From that reaction he could only guess at how Isaac's father must have reacted to grades that weren't up to his standards. "Your grades are fine, though if you need help with anything it's okay to ask." He walked over to the fridge and put Isaac's report card right next to Boyd's, just to prove his point.
"I think I smell dinner?" Lydia asked, her voice a little strangled and her smile clearly forced.
He nodded gratefully at Lydia. "Should be just about ready. Why don't all of you go get cleaned up, I'll see you back here in ten minutes for meat loaf."
The room cleared remarkably fast, though Isaac hung back for a long moment, his gaze traveling down to the eight small holes where his claws had punctured the wall.
"It's okay, don't worry about it," he told Isaac when Isaac didn't leave after another moment. "Walls can be fixed. Not a big deal."
Isaac gave him a look he couldn't even begin to decipher and then fled from the room, disappearing between one moment and the next.
He pulled out the meat loaves out of the oven and took off his oven mitts before he ran his hand over the back of his neck and wondered if he maybe should have told Isaac that if he wanted to talk he could come to him. He honestly didn't think that it would help, but he hadn't the slightest idea of what he could do that would help. Isaac was supposed to be seeing the school counselor on a regular basis, but from what she'd said at parent-teacher conferences Isaac never showed up and wouldn't even acknowledge to her that he'd had an appointment. At this point he wasn't even sure it was a good idea for Isaac to become emotionally distraught around someone who wasn't a werewolf. He'd considered going to Derek for suggestions, but he honestly thought that Derek needed some counseling himself rather than attempting to counsel teenaged werewolves.
That line of thought was temporarily put aside as he heard the pack returning down the stairs and he gave directions for people to set the table as they trailed in. When Isaac actually showed up for dinner, albeit being tugged along by Erica, he hoped that things weren't as bad as they had seemed for a moment there. That was proved wrong nearly instantly when Isaac barely touched what Stiles put on his plate and then slipped away that night with a text message to let him know that he was out running in the woods with Derek.
The next morning when he got up, he checked in the pack bedroom and then Stiles' bedroom in hopes that Isaac had returned late in the night, but found Boyd and Lydia in the pack bedroom and Erica curled up with Stiles. He went downstairs, his body demanding coffee before he could even begin to think, but he stopped in his tracks as soon as he let the fridge door swing shut. The paint on the wall Isaac had clawed was shiny and damp, and if he bent down he could barely see the places where the holes had been filled in with plaster before it had been repainted. Apparently Isaac had been home in the night and now he was left wondering if his reassurance to Isaac that walls could be fixed had been taken as an instruction. He wondered if using Stiles as a go-between to tell Isaac that he needn't have fixed the wall, much less in the middle of the night, would be a particularly bad thing to do in this instance, because he was rapidly running out of ideas on how to approach Isaac at all.
He woke slowly, the protest in his back and neck letting him know that he had fallen asleep still sitting up somewhere and he was strangely warm like someone had surrounded him with blankets. As he opened his eyes he managed to focus on the flickering light of the tv, still some sports commentary show that had probably started after the game though the sound was nearly completely muted. He supposed that falling asleep in front of the tv was better than falling asleep in his office and he started to shift slightly before he realized why exactly he was so warm.
Derek had taken Stiles, Scott, and Boyd with him on a short road trip to a neutral location in LA for a territory renegotiation, promising that they would be back before Sunday night. Apparently there were two other packs in towns that bordered Beacon Hills and both packs had been testing the boundaries of the Hale pack's territory now that Derek was an established Alpha with a small pack. It had led to more than one scrimmage and Derek had appealed to the Alpha in LA for assistance in redrawing territory lines so that everyone was satisfied - apparently the LA Alpha had agreed if only because werewolf wars were bad for werewolves and humans alike. Derek had grudgingly explained that he was willing to sacrifice some of the land that had been in the Hale pack for generations if it would keep the pack safe. The territory wasn't worth losing lives over.
He had offered to go with Derek, not overly keen on sending Stiles away to the city for a weekend, but had been refused since the numbers that each pack would send were established in tradition. The Alpha, the Alpha's second, and two enforcers were all that would be permitted of Derek's pack in the city while negotiations took place, and apparently he had enough associations with the pack to count under those rules. Isaac, Erica, and even Jackson had stayed close at hand all Friday evening and during the day on Saturday, and he'd invited Melissa over for dinner that night since she was undoubtably as worried about Scott as he was about Stiles. The dinner had actually been nice, quieter and smaller than he was getting used to without most of the pack there, but there was still the undeniable sense that it fit together somehow. Melissa had left after dessert and he had gone into the living room to catch the football game on his night off, though he didn't even remember reaching halftime before he must have fallen asleep.
And now he had woken to find himself surrounded by the remaining werewolves. Erica was the closest, leaning against his left side with her knees bunched up against the back of the couch. Her head was resting on his shoulder and upper arm with her long hair spilling down his chest, and every so often she shook her head slightly as she pressed her face against his arm. At his left knee he had Jackson sitting on a cushion on the floor with his head rolled to the side against the couch. Jackson's arm was wrapped tightly around his shin and he felt a little bit like he was being used as a security blanket. He could just see that Jackson's eyes were closed and that he was sleeping soundly. Isaac was curled up on the floor next to his right foot, Isaac's hand stretched out so that it was resting right next to his ankle but not quite touching. Isaac had his face tucked down almost under his own shoulder but he seemed to be sleeping peacefully.
It had been a long time since he'd had anyone fall asleep on him and a longer time still since he'd felt quite so needed as he did in that moment. His intention had been to help the pack survive, do what he could to keep them safe and alive, and to keep Stiles out of danger the best he knew how. At the beginning, when it had been Stiles and Scott sheepishly telling him about how they'd had to help kill Peter Hale before he killed all of them, and then meeting the ragtag group that made up the pack, he had never imagined that he'd come to being an emotional support to young werewolves and actually find that he liked it. That it completed something within him and that it was something he had needed as well without realizing it. Or maybe he had known - though not about the werewolves - but he'd known what drove him and had ignored that in favor of guarding what he had already lost.
Erica moved against him, arching her back sleepily and then leaning in against him so that he was now supporting part of her weight against his chest. She opened her eyes and blinked up at him, continuing to nuzzle the side of her face against his chest even when she saw that he was awake. "Your scent is like Stiles," she said, her words half mumbled into his chest.
"Oh?" he asked, not quite sure what to make of that. He knew that the werewolves had strong associations with scent, particularly with each other, and he supposed that it made a certain amount of sense that he would smell like Stiles.
"Like pack," Erica clarified. "It's okay that we're here, right? Derek says we shouldn't impose our 'touchy-feely stuff' on you. But Derek isn't here, and Stiles isn't here, and even Boyd's gone. You're kind of like them though, especially like Stiles. Fearless like Stiles, steady like Boyd, and strong like Derek."
"I'm not sure I'm fearless," he admitted, though he could see why she could see that in Stiles. Stiles hid some of his fear under banter and babbling, the rest he wore like a badge, and he so rarely let his fear stop him from doing anything.
Erica opened her eyes again and tipped her head up to look at him. "Fearless doesn't always mean not being afraid, not really. Anyway, if you don't mind us here, tell Isaac to come up to the couch. He's going to be irritable tomorrow if he sleeps like that," she said, twisting around briefly to peer down at Isaac before she resettled herself and closed her eyes.
He leaned slightly to the side and noticed that Isaac's eyes were now open though he was barely awake by his unseeing stare. "Do you want to come up here?" he asked Isaac, sparing a glance for where Jackson was still sleeping undisturbed by his conversation with Erica.
Isaac pushed himself up to his elbows and looked around the room like he was searching for something that was lurking in the shadows. He finished his search and then looked up at the couch, his gaze questioning as he nodded.
"Come on then," he said, patting the space next to him.
Isaac slunk up like a dog that wasn't sure he was really allowed on the couch but moments later he had curled up and his eyes had closed again. Isaac's breathing was too rapid for him to truly be falling back to sleep.
He reached out and rested his hand on Isaac's shoulder, waiting as Isaac's breathing slowed back to normal and then slowly drifted back into the regular rhythm of sleep. Very slowly he stretched his now free right leg and settled in for sleeping in this position on the couch for at least a little while longer. It was a comfort to have all three of them right there and know that they weren't out for this one night being terrorized by Hunters or enemy werewolves or whatever else was out in the dark waiting for them to misstep. Derek had promised him that territory negotiations wouldn't turn violent and they would all return safely, but there was also a reason he'd referred to Scott and Boyd as his enforcers for that particular excursion. All he could do for the moment though was keep the pack safe and together in Derek and Stiles' absence.
The noise level didn't drop when he stepped into the kitchen and if it wasn't for the way Derek looked up from the conversation he was having with Stiles and Boyd he would think that his presence had gone entirely unnoticed. Lydia and Isaac were at the counter next to the stove, Isaac dicing pears under Lydia's direction while she quartered strawberries. Isaac's wrinkled his nose at the strawberries, making a quiet comment about the smell, and Lydia only rolled her eyes in response and moved her cutting board to the counter space across the way. Jackson and Danny were near the fridge arranging drinks for everyone, not having to ask what other members of the pack wanted as they darted back and forth to the table. Their conversation was nearly overpowering the others in the room as they bickered about whatever had happened at lacrosse practice that afternoon. Scott interceded on Danny's behalf after a moment, finishing placing the last of the plates on the table and shaking his head in apology to Jackson as he defended Danny. Erica and Allison were gathered in quiet conversation at the sink as they washed the dishes that had been used in preparation of the meal, Erica flicking water at Isaac when he slipped between them to place his cutting board in the sink and rinse his hands under the water.
"Dad!" Stiles called, grinning and waving from across the kitchen. "I think we're about five minutes to ready. You're staying, right?"
"I am," he said, though he had to go back to the department for a few hours after dinner. He had his cellphone on in his pocket and he had told the deputy in command to call him if he was needed, but he hoped that he'd at least be able to stay through the meal. If nothing else it smelled fantastic and having the pack around had certainly increased the variety of meals he ate.
He wound his way through the crowded kitchen, stopping at the oven to take a peek at what was inside and getting shooed away by Lydia. He bumped into Scott, Scott's hands wrapped around a mass of silverware and Scott only grinned and handed him the forks. "Thanks, Scott," he said, getting a cheeky "you're welcome, Mr. Stilinksi," in response.
He helped Scott finish setting the table and was immediately handed a strawberry lemonade by Danny who was ferrying the last of the drinks to the table. A glance around the kitchen told him that dinner was well in hand and he sat down at his usual place at the table and watched as Lydia directed pack members over with bowls of fruit salad, two pans of cornbread, and Derek came last carrying a large chicken pot pie. The ongoing conversations continued over the meal, everyone serving themselves and reaching across each other in what should have led to a mess but was somehow coordinated. Raising Stiles had accustomed him the constant movement of bodies - Stiles would rarely stay in one place for a whole meal and it seemed most of the pack shared his predilection for activity. Seats were exchanged, pack members shared their plates almost interchangeably, and he found himself drawn into conversations ranging from the last lacrosse game to what was he'd heard about the activity in the woods lately, to whether he preferred cornbread with whole kernels of corn or not.
By the end of the meal he'd talked with almost every member of the pack - Stiles and Derek being the exceptions - and he noticed that they had touched him similar to the way they reached for Stiles and Derek. Even Isaac had sat next to him for a few minutes, asking him what he knew about the history of Beacon Hills High School because they thought the school might possibly be haunted. At the end of the conversation, though before he could get more information about why they thought the school was haunted, he'd felt Isaac nudge his foot under the table before darting back to an open place at the table between Stiles and Erica.
He leaned back in his chair, his stomach full and his plate empty, and watched the pack with a sense of contentment settling over him. This wasn't ever what he'd envisioned a family looking like, not his or anyone else's, but it was undeniable that it worked. Stiles was smiling and laughing more than he'd seen from him in years, some of the loss that had clung to him now buried under the way he took care of his pack mates and let them care for him in turn. There were no empty chairs at the table and he found himself thinking about how proud his wife would be to see them all now. The silent and broken places had haunted his house for far too long. While he would always see the afterimage of his wife when he looked in every room, now he felt that she would be more content when she saw that they were really living again. It wasn't moving on, he decided as he looked over the family that Stiles had surrounded himself by - the family his son had the strength to share with him - but it was rebuilding.
"Someone who didn't spent an hour in the kitchen prepping the meal gets to clean up," Lydia announced, her feet propped up on Danny's lap and her head resting on Jackson's shoulder.
"Boyd, Scott, Derek, that means you," Stiles announced as he got to his feet and collected Lydia's plate along with his own and Danny's.
He stood, picking up his own empty plate and the empty fruit salad bowls. One unfortunate thing about pack meals was that there were very rarely any leftovers. In the kitchen proper he started to load the dishwasher, sending Stiles, Scott, and Boyd back to the table for the rest of the plates and glasses while Derek set the pans and the large casserole dish in the sink to soak.
"Something's changed," Derek said, turning off the water and then looking around like he might find the source in the kitchen.
"What type of something?" he asked cautiously. When one of the werewolves said something ominous like that he always second guessed his decision to disarm himself when he was at home.
Derek looked directly at him and then tipped his head, his nostrils flaring briefly. "You. Your scent has changed since the last time I saw you. You're pack."
"Me?" he asked. He didn't know how he could have possibly have become pack sometime over the last three days. He hadn't done anything special at all that he could remember; he'd cooked mini-pizzas with Stiles, Erica, and Isaac, he'd listened to numerous complaints about teachers and homework, he'd caught the tail end of The Matrix when half the pack had stayed up late on Saturday night to marathon the movie trilogy, and in the morning he'd gone into bedrooms to pick up blankets that had been kicked off in the middle of the night. All of that and more had defined his home life for the past three months.
"That's good," Derek said and nodded once. "That helps, actually."
"Alright," he said, because he supposed that if his son was a member of the wolf pack it wasn't such a bad thing for him to join too. He looked down when he felt Derek touch his forearm and then reached over to squeeze Derek's shoulder in return. He was pack - apparently - and he wondered why that didn't really feel strange to him.
"See, I told you he smelled different," Erica said as she led the way through the kitchen, Isaac's hand captive in hers.
Isaac rolled his eyes but offered a brief smile in his direction.
Erica ignored Isaac entirely and came up to give him a one-armed hug before bounding out into the hallway with Isaac trailing after her.
When he looked back at Derek he saw that Derek was trying to suppress a smile and wasn't quite succeeding.
"I'm afraid you'll have to get used to that, and the touching thing. It's their wolves, they want to be close to the pack," Derek said, his tone of voice not quite apologetic. "I'll remind them to leave you out of the sleeping piles because otherwise you'll find them creeping up on you while you're asleep."
He shrugged, not wanting to tell Derek that it was too late for that and he'd woken more than once in the living room to find one or more of the werewolves sitting close and watching him intently. "I think I'll be okay," he said.
Stiles came flailing into the kitchen a moment later and gave him a firm thump on the back. "Jackson and Boyd said that Derek made it official. Welcome aboard, dad! Hey, Derek, I'm your second, so does that mean I technically outrank my dad?"
"Not a chance," he said before Derek could answer. He pulled his son into a brief hug and then gave him a gentle push back towards the dining room. "Go get the rest of the plates from the table." As soon as Stiles was gone he shot Derek a look of concern. "Stiles doesn't actually outrank me, does he?"
Derek finished drying his hands on the dishtowel. "Technically he does, but the only time it would come into play is in combat circumstances, which shouldn't happen. Even though you're pack I'm asking you to stay out the conflicts as much as possible. You're more useful to the pack in your position as the Sheriff of Beacon Hills."
He nodded as Stiles and Scott returned with the rest of the dirty dishes. "You hear that Stiles, not a chance."
Stiles shared a grin with Scott. "Got it, dad. I'll only give you orders when we're getting shot at or chased by werewolves," Stiles said and then ducked his head at the look he was receiving, "and maybe not even then."
He shook his head and backed away to let the boys get at the dishwasher.
"There is pie in the fridge for dessert," Allison said as she came into the kitchen with Jackson at her heels.
He smiled and checked the time - he had enough time for a slice of pie before he had to go back out. The whole werewolf pack thing may just wind up being one of the best things that ever happened to him, and his stomach was wholeheartedly in agreement.