It was the easiest Christmas tree the Sheriff could ever remember getting, mostly because he'd told the kids absolutely nothing over seven feet and then set them loose on the tree lot while he stepped back and watched. More than once he saw various werewolves with their faces deep in the branches of a tree, pulling back with either approving nods or shaking their heads and rubbing at their noses - at one point Scott stumbled away from a Douglas Fir and sneezed violently. It only took about thirty minutes for them to find a tree that was the right height, that all the werewolves could stand the smell of - they all preferred spruces to the firs and pines - and that Lydia, Danny, and Jackson decided was appropriately shaped. They wound up with a Blue Spruce that just scraped under the seven foot limit. The Sheriff didn't even have to lift the tree, Derek hefting the weight while Erica grabbed onto the far end to keep it balanced, though he did nab Stiles to keep him out of the way while the werewolves got it tied to the roof of Stiles' jeep.
With four cars, Stiles' jeep in the lead, the Sheriff couldn't help think that they looked like a miniature parade - if Christmas parades were overwhelmingly comprised of festive werewolves - particularly since several members of the pack had donned santa hats and cloth reindeer antlers. Scott was sitting in the back of the Sheriff's car with Allison, and when the Sheriff glanced back in the rear view mirror he saw Allison adjusting Scott's antlers and then resting her head on his shoulder.
"It's nice that we're doing a Christmas tree," she said. "We appreciate it."
The Sheriff glanced back again as he pulled up behind Jackson's Porsche at the red light. "Don't worry about it. It's good to have all of you around," he said, catching Scott's concern as well.
"We're not doing a tree this year; me and my dad, I mean," she continued, her mouth flattening as she looked out the side window. "He says there's no point, since we're going to spend Christmas with my mom's family. But, it's not the same. Everywhere we've lived we've always had a tree at Christmas. Even when we moved to Spokane five days before Christmas, the first thing we got was a tree."
Scott wrapped his arm around Allison's shoulder. "It's not the same," he agree quietly. "But maybe it would be weirder if it was the same."
Allison nodded and closed her eyes. "I'm just glad we get to have one with the pack. It's good."
The Sheriff swallowed and met Scott's gaze very briefly before he had to turn his attention back to the road. He had known that this was Allison's first Christmas without her mother, and even if the situation had been less than ideal before Victoria Argent's death, that didn't mean that Allison wouldn't miss her and be thinking about her. It sounded like Chris Argent was struggling as well, understandably so, and the Sheriff thought of that first Christmas after his wife died. "Do you kids want a snack while you decorate the tree?" he asked, pushing past the tightness that had briefly constricted his breathing.
"I think we have some of the left over pizza rolls that Boyd froze," Scott said hopefully. "Oh, and isn't there ice cream too?"
"We just had dinner before we went looking for trees," Allison protested. "That wasn't even an hour ago."
The Sheriff chucked to himself as he pulled into the driveway behind Stiles. If he'd learned anything in the past few months it was that the appetites of teenaged werewolves far surpassed anything that he'd previously imagined possible, and even Derek could pack away more food than seemed likely. "I'm pretty sure there are pizza rolls left, that's if Stiles and Isaac didn't already get to them," he said as he parked and let the kids bound out of the car before he got out and went inside before they wrangled the tree off the roof of Stiles' jeep.
By the time he'd heated the oven and popped the pizza rolls inside, as well as poured himself a cup of coffee that he'd probably regret later but desperately needed at the moment, and made his way back into the living room, the tree was in the stand and the pack was digging through the various boxes Stiles must have dug up from the basement.
"We're supposed to have a third strand of lights in here somewhere," Stiles said as he went through the box labeled 'Lights'. "I swear we do."
"In here?" Boyd asked, holding up a box that had 'Lights' crossed out and 'Assorted Decorations' written above it, both in the Sheriff's wife's swooping handwriting.
"No, that box didn't fit the things," Stiles said, using his hands to indicate the plastic storage pieces they wrapped the string of lights around so they wouldn't get tangled. "Hmm, maybe in the garage."
"I'll look," Lydia said from where she was standing near the entrance of the room. She wrapped her hand around Jackson's and tugged him with her.
"Try the shelves on the far side!" Stiles shouted.
"You don't have to shout!" Jackson hollered back, the garage door slamming behind him.
Stiles tipped his head from side to side as he dug back in the box. "Don't have to," he muttered and then he found a green hat with elf ears in the box labeled 'Lights' and jammed it on his head.
The Sheriff leaned against the wall and watched as they started with the first set of lights, Derek wading into the fray before long to prevent an all out battle about how the lights were supposed to go on the tree. A beep from the kitchen drew him back and he pulled out the tray of pizza rolls and refreshed his cup of coffee - he was definitely going to regret that come tomorrow morning. He brought the plate of pizza rolls into the living room, snacking on one while he watched the ongoing struggle with the lights.
"I think Lydia and Jackson got lost," Stiles said from where he and Erica were half in the tree with the tail end of a string of lights. "Would someone go help them?"
"I'll go," the Sheriff said, taking his coffee and another pizza roll with him. He hadn't the slightest idea if there were actually Christmas tree lights in the garage or not, or where he'd find them if there were, but he figured he'd have the best chance of actually finding them. He opened the door and went down the steps into the garage, stopping abruptly when he saw Lydia pressing Jackson up against the shelves and their mouths locked together. Sure enough, when he glanced up, the mistletoe was hanging right above them. The Sheriff hadn't seen it since Derek had ran off with it, and he'd started to think that maybe Derek had gotten rid of it entirely. But instead it was right where no one could see it if the garage door was up and pretty much no one went in the garage unless they'd driven inside.
Jackson's eyes had opened at the sound of the Sheriff's footsteps and he tapped Lydia's shoulder, but Lydia kept her mouth to Jackson's for another few seconds before she backed away with a sly smile.
"Oh, look. I think these were the lights Stiles was looking for," she said and reached past Jackson's head to a box on one of the shelves that was labeled 'lights - xmas' in Stiles' handwriting. She took the box and smiled at the Sheriff as she walked primly up the steps and back into the house.
The Sheriff raised his eyes at Jackson, who rubbed at his mouth and then reached up to unhook the mistletoe.
"I'll just, put this somewhere else," Jackson said, and then he hurried past the Sheriff with far less poise than Lydia had managed.
The Sheriff shook his head and took another sip of his coffee, and then finally decided to cut his losses by simply being thankful that everyone still had their clothes on when he'd come into the garage. He went back into the living room and settled back in his chair, watching as they finished with the lights and started in on the rest of the decorations. With all of them going back and forth, digging through boxes, and talking over each other, it took the Sheriff a few minutes to notice Isaac sitting on the side of the couch with an ornament in his hands and a concentrated expression. It was one of those glass baubles, this one a dark blue with glittery silver in patterns over the surface. Some of the silver had worn off through years of being handled, and Isaac was gently twirling it back and forth as he stared with furrowed eyebrows.
Allison came to Isaac's side and rested her hand on his shoulder. "Hey, I think I see a good place for that," she said, bending down to meet his eyes.
Isaac nodded after a moment and stood, letting Allison guide him over to the tree and point out a place for him to hang the bauble. Scott popped up next to Isaac a moment late and draped a spare piece of tinsel around Isaac's neck, all three of them huddled together as they passed each other ornaments, and after a few minutes Isaac stole Scott's reindeer antlers in retaliation for being decorated with tinsle.
They were just about finished, the tree weighed down under pretty much every ornament in the house, when Stiles wiggled his way free of the pack and picked up a box about the size of a shoe box and held it out to his dad.
The Sheriff set aside his now empty cup and got to his feet, accepting the box and opening it carefully. It was an angel, one of the things his wife had brought with her into their marriage, and it had topped every Christmas tree they'd put up for more than twenty years now. The pack stepped back enough to let him through and the Sheriff reached up and was just barely tall enough to slip the angel in place over the top branches. He moved back and Derek ducked down to plug in the tree lights and someone turned off the overhead light.
In the muted, colored lights, everyone was cast in shadows and they stood in a rough circle and gazed at their handiwork. Derek was standing surrounded by Boyd, Erica, and Isaac. To Isaac's right were Allison and Scott, their hands intertwined. Stiles stepped in between Scott and the Sheriff, smiling briefly at his dad before he turned back to the tree. Lydia was to the Sheriff's right, Jackson's arm around her waist, and Danny stood shoulder to shoulder with Jackson. "Perfect," someone said, their voice half lost in the group, and the Sheriff thought that it as perfect as it could be in an imperfect world.
He paused in the entrance to the living room, surprised to find the Christmas tree still lit up. Isaac was sitting on the floor staring up at the tree with a rapt expression - he didn't even look up at the Sheriff's approach. Isaac had been quiet most of the night, more quiet than usual even, and the Sheriff couldn't help but think that the tree had some meaning for Isaac that the rest of them weren't seeing. On the verge of going in and seeing if Isaac wanted to talk when the sound of Stiles half tripping down the stairs drew his attention away.
"Boyd's already gone? I was going to loan him this and I keep forgetting," Stiles said, waving a thick book.
The click of the window falling closed caught both their attention before the Sheriff could respond and he stepped back into the living room despite already knowing what he'd find. The room was empty, the curtain still swaying slightly from Isaac's abrupt exit, and Stiles sighed when he stopped at his dad's side.
"Any ideas?" the Sheriff asked, knowing that Isaac would sometimes talk to Stiles when he wouldn't talk to anyone else.
Stiles shook his head. "I don't know. All of Derek's Betas do this sometimes."
"Just Derek's Beta wolves?" the Sheriff asked, genuinely curious.
"Everyone in the pack is damaged in someway, I don't think we could have done this," Stiles waved his hands around to indicate the pack as a whole, "if we weren't. It's just more obvious with some of us," Stiles said and then sighed. "He didn't take his jacket."
The Sheriff smiled a little because just the other day he'd worried about Stiles being at school without a jacket. He turned and clasped his hand on Stiles' shoulder, wishing - just a little - that Stiles hadn't needed the pack. It wasn't that he hadn't come to enjoy the company of the pack, or that he hadn't started to think of some of them as practically his own children, but he wished that he had been there enough that Stiles hadn't had a void he needed to fill.
Stiles leaned into the touch and nodded to the tree. "I think it came out pretty good, all things considered."
The Sheriff followed his son's gaze and nodded. "You guys did a good job." They stood together for a minute before Stiles' pulled away and went back to the stairs. "Are you going with Melissa tomorrow?"
"Nah, me and Isaac and Boyd are hanging around here for a video game marathon. Everyone else got suckered into shopping," Stiles said, pausing on the steps briefly before he hurried upstairs.
Heaving a sigh the Sheriff finished locking up the house, except for the living room window that had practically become a second doorway, and picked up a book and settled back into his chair. With his reading glasses on and the lamp next to him, he let himself get absorbed in the mystery - though he was reasonably sure he'd pegged the bad guy within the first fifty pages - and checked his cellphone every twenty minutes or so. He'd been right that drinking coffee so late in the evening had been a spectacularly bad idea, his eyes wide-open as he finished the book and he shuffled through the house once more. Stiles had fallen asleep with his laptop in bed and the Sheriff saved the document Stiles had been working on before he closed the laptop and placed it on Stiles' desk, drawing Stiles' blankets over him and turning out his lamp before he backed out of the bedroom.
It was close to midnight by the time he returned to the living room and if Isaac didn't text him in the next ten minutes or so he was going to have to call Derek to see if Isaac had shown up. The thought that there were still werewolf Hunters in Beacon Hills, Hunters that evidently regularly patrolled the woods, set him on edge every time he knew one or more of the kids was out late at night. He thought it was the number of bodies he'd recovered from the woods in the past year and that it was all too easy to imagine being called in only to discover that the body was Isaac's or Erica's, or even Derek's. He didn't know that the pack would survive the death of any of them, and the Sheriff didn't know how well he'd handle losing any of them either. There had been too much death already.
The window slid open two minutes before midnight and Isaac climbed in, freezing in place when he saw that the Sheriff had stayed up waiting.
"Close the window," the Sheriff instructed after a moment. Isaac did as he was asked and then wrapped his arms around his chest, shifting uncomfortably on his feet. "Come take a seat," the Sheriff added when Isaac made no move to leave the room.
Isaac did, sitting on the edge of the couch with his eyes flickering towards the exits every couple of seconds. "Am I late?" he finally asked, his voice low.
The Sheriff shook his head. "Nope, right on time. I just wanted to check in with you. Everything alright?"
Isaac nodded immediately, but he glanced to the tree and his gaze stayed there for an endless moment before he looked away. "It's just been a long time," he finally said, nodding his head in the direction of the tree.
It didn't take him more than a second to remember that this was Isaac's first Christmas since his father's death and, much like the death of Victoria Argent, it had probably left a mess of mixed emotions for the kids to deal with. "Since you last celebrated Christmas?" the Sheriff finally asked, watching Isaac watch the tree.
Isaac nodded again, more slowly this time. "The first Christmas after my mom died, I'd been over at Matt's and his family had a tree. And I asked my dad if we were going to have a Christmas tree that year. He kinda looked at me and said that Camden and I were too old for Christmas, that Christmas was for little kids. After that Camden and I did Christmas stuff just between the two of us; he got me a comic book I'd been wanting, and I think I gave him a candy bar I'd been saving and an ornament thing I made at school because I knew my dad wouldn't want it. Camden always made sure I got something for Christmas, he even put decorations under the top bunk so I could see them. After he was gone, there didn't really seem any point in doing anything."
"I'm glad you're here with us," the Sheriff said, meaning that and more, but wary of how far he could push Isaac about the topic. "I've been meaning to ask you what you wanted for Christmas."
Isaac looked at the Sheriff, his expression almost frighteningly blank. "I have everything I need, thank you. More than everything. I'm going to go to bed, if that's okay?"
The Sheriff nodded. "Of course," he said, and he sat back in his chair and watched as Isaac darted up the stairs in a blur of motion. He sat for a long time before he unplugged the lights on the tree and went upstairs, pausing by the pack bedroom to make sure that Isaac had stayed in the house and hadn't bolted again. With both of his kids safe in their beds, the Sheriff went to his own bed and eventually fell into an uneasy sleep.