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When the Sun Goes Down

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“Look at this place, Jesus Christ. Is it true that this is one of the worst cities in the country?” She lights her cigarette, leans back against the brick wall outside of the club, and gives Derek a quick once over. He ignores her gaze with a scowl, focusing intently on watching the streetlight above their heads flickering on and off.

“Across the board, yeah,” her friend tells her, dress glittering in the neon lights. “Worst schools, highest crime rate, a crazy high number of homeless youth -”

“Where are you getting these fuckin' statistics -”

“It's just true! Everyone knows it's true!”

Derek doesn't know the exact numbers. He tries to ignore all that shit just as much as he ignores people like this whenever they come around the club – outsiders who appear just for the novelty of it all. It doesn't help the situation one bit to go along rattling off facts and figures about just how much the place you live fucking sucks; Derek doesn't need numbers to know it's a shithole. He's lived here long enough to cuss that out for himself.

“I mean – it's shit here and all. But worst city in America? That seems -”

“Number three. Third worst city in America.”

Third worst city in America. From Derek's point of view, it's the worst city in the entire god damn world. Everyone would probably be better off if someone managed to saw it off of California, off of the country altogether, send the entire lot of them floating off into the middle of the Pacific.

The days here tend to all blur into one long weekend. Derek's entire life is, essentially, one long vacation where he sleeps, and he eats, and he goes out, and then he does it all over again. No responsibilities, no one asking after his whereabouts, no one except for the utterly disinterested Lydia Martin keeping watch to make sure that he's not getting himself in trouble.

Which is a shame, because Derek is nearly always getting into trouble. It's just beneficial for him that he has an entire slew of people to get him out of it until he's back walking the streets again like nothing ever happened. Considering by now he should at least have served a solid four months in a county jail, he thinks himself lucky to have the family that he has.

He squints at that streetlight buzzing on and off above his head and starts walking away from the women and the club itself – or stumbles, might be more accurate – muttering under his breath about how someone should really fucking fix that. The thing has been flickering for months now, or maybe longer than that. It's a streetlight he knows very, very well, as well as the sidewalk it sits on and the street it's supposed to illuminate.

The neon lights he walks past are just as garish as they've always been, blue and purple and red and unappealing to anyone who has even half an ounce of self respect. He's been coming here since before he could even talk, sometimes being set up in the corner of the backroom upstairs above the dancefloor with a coloring book, listening to this mother and his uncle go back and forth with one another about things he couldn't understand yet.

Now, he just frequents it because it isn't like he has anywhere else to go. Anyone he's ever been able to call a friend his entire life has either been an employee behind the bar, working security, or a regular customer pulling ziploc bags of whatever-the-hell out of their pockets and asking him if he wants to have fun. Derek's life is all about having fun, but even that said, he can't make himself believe that he's had a single second of genuine fun and enjoyment for years, now.

Derek forgets the date and the name of the person he wakes up next to, and the next morning it's someone else, and that same night he's back standing underneath this streetlight listening to someone else talk about how terrible Beacon Hills is.

This expanse of road is his life. It gets depressing when he thinks on it too long, so he doesn't. Usually, he just orders something stronger and blocks it out.

Tonight, he's drunk and trying to catch a cab because Erica took his car keys and told him to get the fuck home before you embarrass yourself, pacing back and forth as he waits for the inevitable cabby to show up and cart him off, or even the college drunk bus would be a viable option at this point. He's been out here for hours.

Or, twenty minutes. He's not sure.

Across the street, there's a kid shuffling cards in his hand, leaning back up against the abandoned warehouse Peter keeps saying he's going to use to expand the business, staring directly back at him. Derek squints at him blearily. He recognizes this kid. Recognizing someone around the perimeter of the bar is no unique occurrence, seeing as how it's nearly always the same hundred or so people in a constant rotation, but this is a person who does not look old enough to even skirt by Boyd with a fake ID, no matter how convincing a job it might've been.

Still, Derek knows he's seen him before. Possibly, he's always standing on this street corner with his cards and his ratty jeans and unkempt hair, and Derek has only ever seen him out of the corners of his eyes or at a safe distance.

The staring match continues. Derek plans on eyeballing him down until getting a ride, but the kid huffs and straightens up, taking a couple of steps across the sidewalk in Derek's direction. “Hey,” he calls, and Derek blinks at him. “Do you need something?”

Derek has heard that question many, many times. It's never been a question of if Derek needs help, needs a ride, needs someone to take his drink away from him before he does something fucking stupid – it's always a very fucking different question, when it's asked like that.

He looks both ways across the street, and of course there's no one coming. It's two o'clock in the morning in one of the ugliest parts of town. The only sound for a mile or so is the thrum of the bassline from inside the club, people laughing and drinking – and, of course, the shuffle of cards across the street. A little unsteadily, Derek crosses, hands in his pockets to make himself look casual and not at all blasted drunk. All the same, he gets eyeballed up and down with a bemused smirk, as though this kid knows beyond any shadow of a doubt that he's about to be interacting with someone heavily intoxicated. He looks like he thinks it's funny.

Derek hops up onto the curb, and they meet halfway in the center of the sidewalk. The cards shuffle some more, and there's a silence. “You wanna see a trick?” He asks, lips pulling up at the corners.

“A card trick?” Derek clarifies, mouth twisting like he's just tasted something sour.

The cards fan out in between them, and he gets a raised eyebrow as they meet eyes. “Pick a card. I'm good at it, I promise.”

Dutifully, because he's drunk enough to go along with it, Derek pilfers a card out of the stack and looks at it. He has to blink a few times to register what it is he's got in his hand, the five of clubs, and then slides it back inside and looks to the kid expectantly.

The shuffling begins again, and neither of them say anything. Derek is content to just hazily watch his fingers move expertly, like he does this every single night, multiple times a night, as if this is all he does. Stand on a street corner and waggle his eyebrows at passersby as he asks them if they want to see some magic – it'd be funny if it weren't on some level a little sad.

He holds a single card up in the air between them, with a shit eating grin, and says, “is this what you were looking for?”

It's the five of clubs, all right. Derek examines the number steadily, and then slides his eyes to where a long finger is pressing a dime bag over the top of the five in the bottom corner of the card. He has to stare at it for a second to fully comprehend what he's seeing; mostly, all he can focus on is the startlingly familiar sight of the blood red H stamped onto the bottom corner of the plastic.

They meet eyes. “How old are you?” Derek asks.

He's met with a sigh, and a brown eye roll. “Is there, like, an age restriction on slinging?”

There should be. There is, as a matter of fact, written somewhere in the Hale family code by Derek's grandfather. Far as he remembers, sixteen year old kids, which is exactly what this one looks like, don't get scooped up by his uncle or Boyd or anyone else to start working corners for them, and that has been the rule since the dawn of fucking time, enforced much more heavily when Talia was in control. And this fucking kid looks like he just got out of history class.

He's only an inch or so shorter than Derek, but he's thin. His collarbones and shoulders stick out in a way that suggests his last meal was whatever he could buy with the change he found underneath his couch, he's wearing nothing but a white t-shirt covered in dirt and maybe a couple of specks of blood, and jeans that look more lived in than they do artfully distressed.

“Do you want this?” He waves the card and the illicits in his face, as though he's annoyed, now. “It's about time for me to switch streets, so if you want -”

“Fine,” Derek pulls out his wallet, and in front of him, the teenager seems surprised. He raises his eyebrows and then makes a face like okay, cool, holding out his hand for the money. Derek slaps the ten dollar bill into his hand, and then it gets examined like he's making sure it isn't fake. Derek barely holds back the eye roll.

Finally, both the weed and the card get dropped into Derek's open and waiting palm. “We appreciate your business,” he sing-songs, winking at him before turning to walk away, down to another corner somewhere.

Derek makes a face at the card. “I didn't want -”

“It's my calling card,” he's told from over a shoulder. Derek's gotten a lot of calling cards in his time – Erica's used to be a stick of a particular brand of bubblegum, and if he slid it across the counter at the right place, he'd get an ounce pushed back at him, no questions asked.

Derek watches him walk away, until he's gone around a corner.

The next morning, or afternoon whatever-the-hell, Derek holds the card and the drugs up in front of his uncle's face and levels him with a stare. Peter blinks at it, like he certainly recognizes it, his mouth slowly forming a cruel smile. “Why did I buy this off a kid who looked sixteen years old outside of Pacers last night?”

Peter leans back in his office chair, the afternoon sun shining bright through the window behind him, and smiles wider. “What you do with your time is of little to no interest to me,” he says back smoothly. “Why you do what you do is even less -”

A sixteen year old,” Derek repeats, flapping the card around in the air for emphasis. Peter's eyes track it, zooming in on every aspect of the card as though he expects there to be something else written on it, just for him, and Derek is certain then and there that Peter knows where he got this. Who he got it from, more specifically. “We don't recruit teenagers. Or is that something you've conveniently forgotten?”

When Talia was running things, this was a hard and fast rule that she more or less lived by. As heartless as some people, cops and do-gooders alike, might think that the Hale family ultimately is, one thing that at least gives them some iota of a moral compass is the dedication to not dragging children into a world they won't be able to get out of – unless, of course, in a coffin. Talia used to threaten Derek with that cheesy line whenever she'd catch him with drugs or a gun as a teenager, but evidently, the threat never stuck.

All the same, if Talia or any of her underlings ever picked a kid up off the side of the road, the most they'd do is drag them to a shelter and tell them to stay the fuck away from Pacers if they knew what was good for them. It always made Derek laugh. Like, sure, we'll put a bullet through anyone's head and traffick illegal drugs all over the Hale half of the city without a care in the world – so long as we're not forcing kids to do our dirty work.

Now that Talia's dead, maybe he sees the merit in some of her rules. Or, if he doesn't, he at least has enough fucking respect for her and what she believed that he doesn't want to see his fuckbag of an uncle shit all over it like it's nothing to him.

“There's a dozen ways a kid could've gotten his hands on that to sell it,” he says, all the air of innocence in the world. Derek knows better – he's gone and used the male pronoun even though Derek never said if it was a boy or a girl. “You've never had to sell, Derek, so you don't understand how it works.”

It's a fair dig. Derek's never done anything, not a single thing, to help the family business. He just takes the money and parties and goes to the shooting range a lot.

“Things get sold and re-sold. Probably, someone sold it to him and he needed money, so he sold it back to you,” he shrugs, like that's the end of the conversation, and leans back in his chair to fit his hands back on top of his laptop keys.

Derek stares at him for a long moment. He curls his fingers over the card and fits it back inside of his pocket, swallowing and glaring out the window. The yard and the woods beyond it seem to go on endlessly, stretching off into the distance so far that Derek can't see the other side – but he knows that on the other side the Hale half of the city sits, and waits, always for Peter's command. He thinks it fared better waiting for Talia.

“You swear to me you're not picking up kids,” he puts on his best warning voice, all serious and adult and threatening. “Swear it.”

Peter looks at him like he's always looked at him whenever he's tried to exert any kind of dominance over him. It's a lot like the way a grown dog might look at a puppy barking around its paws. “I swear I'm not breaking your mother's precious rules,” he drawls, not a hint of sincerity anywhere in his tone. “Though, if I were, one street urchin isn't anything to burst down the doors of my office about.”

One street urchin. Derek feels like climbing over the top of the desk to punch Peter hard enough to send a handful of his teeth scattering across the floor, hard enough that his blood would drip all over Derek's shirt and hands and make him feel like he's done something for the day. To Peter, everyone has always been expendable.

Maybe that's the way business like this works, or is supposed to. Everyone who isn't sitting on the throne is someone who can be replaced with another – even Derek could be shot in his sleep and dragged off to a shallow grave somewhere, and most people wouldn't bat an eyelash. Erica might cause a scene, just for the sake of it, but then she'd just find someone else to be her party buddy and move right along with her life.

It's the core reason why Talia never wanted anyone younger than eighteen working in any level of her empire. She knew better than anyone how easy it would be for a kid to throw their entire life away, here, and she had a fucking soul, or at least half of one, and couldn't live with the blood of children who never knew any better on her hands. Everyone else's blood she practically bathed in, but she had her soft spots.

Peter has none. Derek knows this and knew it the second he slid the ring on his finger after prying it out of Talia's dead hand. To him, anyone is fair game, so long as he's making enough money to evade any consequences.

He isn't telling the truth, and Derek knows. There's nothing he can do about it. He gives Peter one last withering stare, which is met with only a smirk and a shrug of shoulders, and turns on his heel to walk out of the office and the house altogether. Huge as it may be, a castle in some respects, whenever Peter is around Derek feels like he's fucking suffocating. It's been that way ever since Talia was found dead, in a bloody heap surrounded by a handful of dead cops, the Sheriff himself included in that pool. It's been two years since then, but still, Derek finds himself wishing that he could either get his mother back somehow or just vanish out of this world altogether.

He has money in his bank account. He could make a go of it somewhere, anywhere else, far away from his uncle and Pacers and the business. He could do it.

The trouble is, he can't. It's like his mother always said, and warned him about. The only way you get out of this life once you're inside of it is to bury yourself. And Derek is too much of a coward, he knows he is, so he stays, and drinks, and pretends. He doesn't go near the lackeys, he doesn't speak to a single one of them – Lydia and Erica, his only friends, are the two he tolerates – and he keeps himself on the outskirts. People know his name, and his status, and they fear him on recognition alone.

But no one's more afraid of him than he is of himself.

+

Derek must spend minutes out of every night for a week tossing and turning that card around in his hands, examining every detail of it. It's dirty, just like its owner's shirt was, like it's been sitting in his back pocket for months, collecting dirt and stains from old ketchup packets. Derek doesn't see him lurking outside of Pacers again, though he goes out of his way to glance up and down the opposite street, searching for any sign of him under a streetlight. Kids in the system are a lot like mice – there's thousands of them, but they lay low, vanish into shelters and alleys and soup kitchens, under the radar, out of the eyes of the cops. It's why they're a smart commodity.

Still. For some reason, Derek can't stop thinking about him. He wonders where he goes at night, what he's doing, if he really knows Peter like Derek strongly suspects that he does, how Peter even found him, and on and on and on. It starts driving him borderline nuts, so he does the only thing he can think to do.

He walks into a seedy bar a couple blocks away from his homestead of Pacers on a Friday night, sits down on a stool, and takes the card out of his pocket. The bartender, a gangly kid with a huge smile who doesn't look nearly old enough to have this job (but it's the fucking slum district, so Derek ignores that), chirps a question of what he wants to drink. He leans over, heedless of who exactly it is he's speaking to, and stares directly into Derek's eyes.

Derek probably looks like anyone else. He's got a black t-shirt and a dark green coat on, dark jeans, and sneakers. The barkid must peg him as a college student, like any of the other dozen of kids in here waving drink tokens in the air and slurping at pink drinks.

Of course, that's not who he is.

Without a word, he slides the playing card across the bar and taps it with his pointer finger. He's met with a blank stare for a second, and then, nervously, the bartender licks his lips and sighs through his nose. “Um.” He says.

Derek doesn't say anything. He just stares, hard, cold, barely even blinking.

“That is not a drink token,” is the response he finally gets. Derek looks him up and down, from the sticky, alcohol smelling black shirt, to the nametag that reads Scott in scrawling handwriting with a smiling emoji sticker right beside it.

“No, it isn't,” Derek says.

The bartender – Scott – scratches at the back of his neck and looks away, skittish, as though Derek has got him in an interrogation room with a bright light shining directly into his face. “I don't – it only costs ten dollars for five tokens. I can get them for you, if you -”

Derek stares him down, and Scott trails off without having to be told to shut the fuck up. He's positive that Scott must think he's a cop, because Derek is so well kept and showered and clean, and not at all looking like the type of person who would burst into a random bar and slam a drug dealer's card down on the bartop expecting a service.

So, as his only option, Derek takes his driver's license out of his pocket, and slides that right alongside the five of clubs. Scott leans down to get a look at it, brow furrowing as he reads. Derek recognizes it the exact second that Scott's eyes scan over the name – his whole body reacts to the information. He steps back, an entire step away from the bar, and puts his hands up, by his shoulders, as though he's about to surrender even though Derek hasn't even pulled a gun on him.

He meets Derek's eyes, jaw dropped, and then looks back to the card in between them once again. “Okay,” he says, probably to himself. “You're Derek Hale. Okay.” Like Derek has said. He has name recognition; the issue is, most people have no idea what he looks like or the places aside from Pacers he frequents. “It's Derek Hale. Derek Hale is sitting at the bar,” he goes on, and Derek squints at him, cocking his head to the side.

If he didn't know any better, he'd think that Scott was somehow communicating with another person. Through a wire or a walkie talkie or even if someone was just on the other side of the bar mirror, listening in to every thing. He narrows his eyes and taps one finger on the bar, before snatching his license away and stuffing it back into his pocket. “Yeah, I'm Derek Hale. You know who this belongs to?”

“Nope,” Scott immediately says. He's a horrible liar.

“Do you need me to remind you?”

“Oh, my God.” There's genuine fear there, and Derek almost laughs. Truthfully, Derek wouldn't do anything to this kid. He'd maybe knock him around a little bit, just because he could, but Scott likely thinks Derek would take him out into the alley and shoot him in the back of the head. Derek wouldn't do that. He's pretty sure he wouldn't.

He's about to open his mouth to threaten it anyway, when he notices someone skirting towards the backdoor, awkwardly, like a crab. He scuttles a bit sideways, keeping his back to where Derek and Scott are talking so that neither of them can see his face. It doesn't matter anyway, because he's made the mistake of having a mop of instantly recognizable hair on top of his head, along with a birth mark stamped onto the back of his neck.

Scott holds his hand out, maybe to stop him, but Derek's already on his feet. “Hey,” he snaps, and that does it. Without even looking over his shoulder, the kid is scrambling in a run across the wooden floor of the bar at top speed, all long legs and flailing arms, before throwing his body against the back door until it opens and sends him spilling out into the darkness of the alley beyond.

Derek curses under his breath, gives Scott a warning glare that says if you fucking follow me and try to stop me I'll do something horrible, which Scott takes at face value and meeps, and then Derek runs himself out the back door.

He works out, so he's fast. At least, faster than a kid who doesn't eat enough and likely spends his time either shooting up or digging around in dumpsters. Case in point, he manages to catch an arm and shove the entire smaller body against the brick wall before his charge can even make it ten feet down the alleyway.

He presses his forearm up against a long pale neck and keeps it there, even as bony fingers scramble to scratch and claw at it. “Oh, fuck -” he wheezes, kicking his legs out uselessly.

“You're not in trouble,” Derek assures him – it apparently is no real reassurance, because the spastic struggling just gets worse. Derek gets kneed in the balls, not with a lot of strength but the boniness of the knee itself is the real killer, and grunts.

“I'm not stealing your stuff!” He caws, abruptly going limp as he realizes that fighting might actually just make everything worse. “I swear, I swear to fucking Jesus lord in heaven, please don't kill me, holy shit -”

“I'm not going to kill you,” Derek says. And he means it. “I don't even want to hurt you, but you're making this more difficult than it has to be.”

He gets a wary and disbelieving eye for that, and he knows it's fair to not be trusted just yet. He is, after all, Derek Hale, and the stories they tell about him are so fantastical he's amazed anyone believes it. The dregs, the kids living out of shelter beds, must believe them all like Biblical fucking truth – the one he has pinned to a wall right now must think he's either about to get his eyeballs eaten out of his skull or his guts ripped out slowly, one by one.

“I need to ask you a question,” he presses his arm just a little bit harder against the flesh and bones of his neck in warning, “and I expect the truth. I'll know if you lie to me.”

Even a little handicapped from the arm restricting him, the kid nods frantically up and down.

Derek sizes him up again, taking in the huge brown eyes and the messy hair and the dirty cheeks, like he slept in a dumpster. He swallows, bizarrely feels like taking him and giving him a proper meal for probably the first time in months, and sets his jaw. “Do you know my uncle?”

“Peter?”

The casual way that he says it is damning enough, but Derek nods his assent. “You know him? You know him personally? Met him?”

“We -” he coughs, wheezes, and Derek realizes he's started pressing too hard. He curses and mutters an apology, pulling the arm completely off and away, choosing to hold him steady with a hand against his chest, instead. As soon as he catches his breath, he starts talking again. “We've met before, like...it was a lot less pomp and circumstance than this,” he gestures in between himself and Derek, and Derek scowls, “but we -”

“He asked you to sell for him?”

A furrowed brow. “No?”

That's not the answer that Derek was expecting, but there's no trace of mistruth or a flat out lie anywhere in his body language. He looks genuinely confused by the question. “Then why are you selling Hale product?”

Sheepishly, the kid looks away to stare down the alley, cheeks coloring like a child caught with his hand in the cookie jar. “I sell whatever I get my hands on, and Hale stuff is all over this part of the city, you know?” All over the Hale half of Beacon Hills, at least, and that seems to be where he spend most of his time. Wandering over to Raeken territory is never a good idea, anyway, no matter who you are. “I wasn't – I swear on my shitty life I never stole it, I just happened upon it, like anyone else happens upon anything. I wouldn't steal from the Hales, like – I'm not – I'm not trying to get whacked off, you know?”

He jabbers on nervously and Derek pinches the bridge of his nose. “How old are you?”

There's a beat of hesitation. “Twenty.”

Derek looks at him steadily from between his fingers, a no nonsense glare that works on literally everyone, and brown eyes skirt away again.

“Okay. Eighteen.” Another beat, and then he throws his hands in the air. “Seventeen. Like I said, there's no age limit on when I can sling,” he puffs himself up, even with Derek Hale standing inches away from him, and tries to look bigger, tougher. It must work on the fourteen year olds scrounging for LSD and ex, but to Derek, it just looks like a little kid playing dress up, almost. “Am I – what is this about?”

Derek rubs his jaw and frowns. “You said you met Peter,” he begins, and receives a nod in response. “Where?” Peter doesn't exactly go down to visit the shelters or any other club aside from the one he actually owns, so he can't imagine that he and random street dealing kids would have many places to intersect.

He looks uncomfortable. He glares down at his hands, something like shame coloring his features, before he looks back up and meets Derek's eyes head on, as though convincing himself he has nothing to be ashamed of. “Card tricks aren't the only ones I pull, you know?”

They stare at each other. A seventeen year old kid who sleeps with people and sells drugs for money and a twenty-three year old fuck up with more money than he knows what to do with, holding each other's eye contact in the back alley of a shitty bar on the south end of Beacon fucking Hills.

It's not that it's a surprise, necessarily, that his uncle has gone out and occasionally picked up a hooker. The man might be a sadist who has no concerns for anyone but himself, so of course, he bribes hungry and homeless teenagers with hot pizzas and gets them inside of his car. It's not shocking, but Derek can't help but feel lightheaded. He's suspected it, always, but something about having an actual victim of Peter's treachery right here in front of him, telling him that this happened...it makes his stomach churn. Bizarrely, he thinks, Peter doesn't even like men, but then he thinks, this isn't a man, and that's the last thought he can really think before he almost throws up.

Derek tries to hide the horror, because he doesn't want him to feel like Derek is judging him. Instead, he schools his face into something less disgusted. “What's your name?”

He scratches at his cheek. “People call me Stiles.”

It sounds like something he came up with to make it harder to find him – assuming there's anyone even left to look for him, anymore. “What's your real name?”

A smile, self-deprecating. “Does it matter? I don't have one anymore.”

Likely, Stiles doesn't have a home, or parents, or friends, or a name, or anything except the jeans he's wearing and that same crusty old white shirt. He feels responsible for this kid, now, after attacking him more or less and interrogating him for information on a hunch that turned out to not be true. Not to mention the fact that his own uncle has coerced him into doing something he felt he had no choice but to do.

So, he points to the backdoor of the bar. “You staying here?”

Stiles follows where his finger is pointing, and then shrugs. “They give me the fries that come out too crispy, sometimes. The bartender is my friend,” he glares at his hands, again, a nervous tic he must have picked up from somewhere. “He can't do much. I try to stay away. I was just -” he glares harder, and Derek is afraid that he might start to cry. “...I'm hungry.”

For fuck's sake, Derek thinks, raising his eyes to the sky. Without a doubt, he's responsible for this. He's dragged him out and harassed and threatened him, and he's standing there looking like he weighs eighty pounds wet and nearly crying over how hungry he is, and the best prospect he has for food is burnt fries.

Derek's not a good person. He's not even a particularly decent person, all things said and done. But like his mother, he has his soft spots.

He grabs Stiles by his upperarms and begins carting him off down the alley. “Come on,” he says, gritting it out through his teeth.

“Hey,” Stiles struggles, fruitlessly punching and skidding his feet against the alley. He's been dragged a lot of places against his will, Derek would wager. “Hey, I don't wanna go anywhere.”

“I'm taking you to the shelter,” he says, no room for argument.

“I don't wanna go -”

“They have hot food and a warm bed and a shower,” Derek talks over him as they spill out into the main street. If anyone sees this, a grown man maneuvering a struggling teenager into a fancy sports car, they all turn away. It's probably commonplace enough on this side of the tracks that people have learned to just shake their heads and cluck their tongues, but do absolutely nothing about it. Ever since the Sheriff got shot, people are less inclined to call the police, and even sometimes, the police are less inclined to show up.

“I hate it there,” Stiles argues, even as the passenger door is opening and he's being shoved unceremoniously inside.

“You'd rather starve and die out here?” Derek gestures to the streets, half empty, ugly, dirty, and Stiles frowns. He doesn't say anything, and stays immobile for a long time. Then, he swings his legs inside the car, and Derek closes the door for him.

Once Derek is inside and starting the engine, he can actually smell Stiles for the first time since they've met. And holy hell, he doesn't smell nice. He smells like weed, and alcohol, and ninety-nine cent bubble gum lube. It baffles him that anyone would want sex so bad they'd turn to a dirty teenager with hunger lines all over his face, but people are shitty and terrible, so maybe it's not that baffling at all.

“Which one?” Stiles asks, glancing longingly inside the window of the bar as Derek pulls away from the curb and drives him off.

Derek thinks for a second. “Saint Mary's,” he decides.

“Oh,” Stiles sounds a little pleased, as pleased as he can be in the situation. “They have macaroni and cheese, sometimes.”

He taps his fingers on the steering wheel, slowing at a stop sign. “You go to these places a lot?”

“No,” he shrugs, lifting his leg up to press a dirty sneaker into the fabric of Derek's leather seat, perching his chin on his knee. “I get pulled in a lot, and they always dump me into one of the shelters after.”

Pulled in, meaning, he gets picked up by the police and they interrogate him about where he gets the drugs, or if he's seen a man that looks like this, or if he's going to help them pinpoint where one of the Hales is, or one of the Raekens. Stiles probably leans back in that squeaky interrogation room chair, chugs the soda and chews the candy bar they give him, and shrugs his way through it. There's only so much the cops can do with a teenaged hooker before it starts to look bad, so it's to the shelter, and then back to the streets to do it all over again.

“You should go more,” Derek says, just for something to say. “They can – you know. Help you.”

There's a stretch of silence. When Derek turns to look at what Stiles is doing, he finds the teenager staring at him with an incredulous, somewhat mocking, smile on his face. “Oh?” He says, one eyebrow raising. “Derek Hale is going to tell me to suit up and be a good boy?”

Derek levels him with a hard stare. Stiles might be starting to think of him as somewhat softer than he's been portrayed as, because he doesn't back down so much this time. He just raises his eyebrows higher and grins with all his teeth.

“It just seem hypocritical,” he goes on, shrugging yet again. “I mean – I'm street trash. I do what I have to just to, like, live. But on the criminal scale, I'm like, a two. Maybe a three. You, on the other hand, are a solid ten.”

“You don't know anything about me,” Derek says, shaking his head.

“You don't know anything about me,” Stiles parrots back to him, pointing to himself. “I don't fucking need help. Not from the nuns at the shelter, and not from people like you.”

Tough guy act, Derek thinks, with a roll of his eyes. Stiles is really going to sit there in the only set of clothes he owns chirping about how he can make it on his own. Stiles is going to die on his own, if he keeps this up, but Derek bites that one down. He's still a kid. “That's why you're letting me drive you to the shelter right now, then, huh?”

Stiles crosses his arms over his chest and glares out the window, but doesn't say a word. He's remembering nearly crying in the alley about needing food, and he's ashamed and embarrassed and humiliated and alone, so Derek doesn't push the issue any farther. He's not a complete fucking asshole, after all.

As they pull up outside of the dingy looking building by the hospital, all lit up even at this hour of the night, a nun sitting at the reception area in front of the computer probably watching funny cat videos or whatever nuns do on the internet, Derek takes a second to hold onto Stiles' arm before he can get out. “Take care of yourself,” he says, because it's all he can think to say. There's not much else he can say. It doesn't matter what he says.

Stiles blinks at him, and then shakes the hand off and climbs out of the car. He slams the door behind him, hard, like he's mad.

Derek watches as Stiles pushes through the glass doors, watches as the nun instantly recognizes him and greets him with a blanket and a hug, and then gets eyeballed himself like she's about to come out there and smack Derek with a ruler. More likely than not, she suspects him of being one of Stiles' clients.

She takes Stiles off down a hallway, hopefully to where a shower is waiting for him, and Derek drives away.

+

“I'm just a girl,” Erica adjusts her dress and flips her hair over her shoulder in testament to this, her six hundred dollar wallet clutched in between one hand as she scowls behind her sunglasses. “And I'm tired. I can only do so much, and he acts like it's not enough, when I'm doing my best.”

Derek nods his head. He's heard this rant from her upwards of a dozen times by now, and has learned to just nod along and act like he's listening. Erica doesn't really want him to offer any advice anyway, since there's none to give. She just loves having a sounding board, which is half of why she and Boyd even wound up together in the first place. Boyd will sit there stoically and listen and drink and say man, that's fucked up, and she'll say, I know, right?

“I do everything he asks me to and he acts like I'm a burden,” she looks down the sidewalk as people walk past, some giving her a casual up and down that she's used to by now. “I'm not a fucking twenty year old lackey anymore, I'm supposed to be important.”

She climbed her way up the ranks from a girl at the bar who'd flip her hair and slide ounces across the table up to eating at expensive restaurants while other people she collected and hired do the dirty work for her. Really, Peter owes her a debt of gratitude for dealing with the addicts and fuckups they have wandering the streets for them, but he does have a tendency to treat her like she's still just another one of them. He's an asshole.

Among other things.

“Whatever,” she sniffs, gesturing towards the diner with an imperious hand, “I want my coffee.”

Derek nods again and locks the car. They've been standing on the sidewalk outside of it ever since Erica started talking, a good ten minutes ago, watching passersby. He follows behind her through the glass door, and it rings to signal their arrival. The waitress that always works on Saturday mornings, a pretty girl whose name tag reads Allison in swooping black script, smiles at them genially from behind the counter.

“The usual?” She asks, tapping her pen on top of her notepad.

“Make mine a triple,” Erica tells her with a broad grin, pushing a twenty over the counter. “And keep the change.”

Allison probably loves it whenever they come for coffee, because they always tip generously. It's something left over from when Talia was still around, and Derek and Erica were more or less raised in the business underneath her tutelage. Whenever there's a kid busting their ass in food service or bartending or actually trying to make it the hell out of Beacon Hills, they tip them extra. It's the most they can ever do.

She smiles and sets off to work, revving up the cappuccino machine and pulling two large hot takeaway cups off of their stack. Derek leans against the counter and listens as Erica make comments about where they should go for dinner or if they should go to the club – or, at least, he half listens. Mostly, he watches Allison work and trails his eyes all around the rest of the diner, a familiar place that he's been coming to since he started getting his own share of the money.

He looks down the row of pastel booths, noticing some other regulars and a few strangers, before he lands on a familiar mess of brown hair and a prominent birth mark. He squints, as though he has to make sure of what he's actually seeing, and sure enough – it's Stiles.

He's bent over a large pile of what looks like pennies and nickels, counting them meticulously with his long fingers, separating them into stacks. There's a mug of coffee sitting next to him, but nothing else aside from an untouched silverware bundle and a sugar shaker. Derek doesn't need to be a detective to figure out that he can't afford anything else but the coffee, and even then, watching him obsessively counting that change, he'd say he can barely afford that.

Derek rubs his forehead. He had thought that he would shuck Stiles off to the shelter and never see him again, or only see him in passing outside of Pacers every now and again, but apparently now that Derek has noticed him once, he's going to keep on noticing him for weeks to come. It's been three days since Derek saw him last, and that's probably three days since the last time he ate something that wasn't ninety-nine cents from a mini mart, or slept in a real bed.

Allison comes back with the coffees, and Erica scoops hers up, turning to leave. Derek hesitates, mutters a curse under his breath, and pulls out his wallet.

“Can you do me a favor?” He asks Allison, who nods and smiles. Her job is doing customers favors, after all. Pulling a twenty out – he'd give more, but he shudders to think of Stiles using his money to load his arms with track marks – he hands it to her and gestures to where Stiles is sitting. “Give this to that kid and tell him to get what he wants.”

Allison blinks, looking between the money and Stiles, and then she nods her head and looks almost relieved that someone is going to feed Stiles. It's possible that Stiles comes here often, sitting and drinking the coffee and paying in nickels and dimes. Beside him, Erica slurps her coffee and peers down the booths to get a look at Stiles herself, and then she snorts.

“A little charity work today, Derek?”

Derek pockets his wallet and takes the hot coffee waiting for him, hightailing it out of there before Stiles can look over and spot him. “Something like that.”

“Aw,” she pats him on the back as they leave, mocking him, really, but Derek knows she would never genuinely mock him for doing something that wasn't terrible, for once. “You've grown soft in your old age.”

“Don't act like you've never done the same,” he tells her as he unlocks the car. Before she climbs in, she gives Derek a blank look, and then a small smile, and ducks her head to get in the car. Erica has more than just done the same before – she used to be that kid counting pennies at restaurants. She knows better than anyone else what it's fucking like.

He starts the engine, and glances sidelong through the wide window of the diner just in time to see Allison talking to Stiles at his table. She's nodding her head, smiling at him the same way she does to everyone, and then points a finger to where Derek and Erica are still sitting in the car on the side of the street. Stiles turns, locks eyes with Derek, and frowns. He might have also thought that he wouldn't be seeing Derek ever again, but now here they are, staring at each other through two layers of glass after Derek paid for his food.

Stiles blinks at him, and then leans closer to the window. He mouths, very clearly, FUCK. YOU., but then his face splits into a grin and he rips the menu Allison has waiting for him out of her hands and starts emphatically pointing to things. Allison smiles, writes down what he asks, and Derek feels relieved.

That's at least one more day this week Stiles won't have to do something terrible just to feed himself. Why he cares about that, he doesn't know.

It could partly be because one of the people who apparently feeds him otherwise, though not without any strings attached, is Derek's own uncle.

Today, Peter is in a suit. He's standing in front of a window that overlooks most of the city, all the way from the high rises and fashion stores, down to the outskirts with the bars and the streetlights that never get fixed. He looks across the room, to where the handful of people he considers to be at the top, though no higher than him, are all sitting at a table. Erica, for one, is on her phone and smacking bubblegum between her teeth like she could give a fuck, Laura and Lydia blankly glare straight ahead at the walls, and Boyd looks like he's about to fall right to sleep, while Derek leans back in his chair and does his level best to not think about Peter putting his hands on that stupid street urchin kid.

They have these meetings every now and again, and Derek knows that there's no real point to them. Peter barks out orders at everyone, tells them they're all doing shitty jobs at what they're supposed to, and then sends them off without another word. It's, at best, a shoddy attempt at trying to remind them all who's in charge, at the end of the day.

Talia never had to do that. No one ever needed to be reminded who ran everything back when she was the one calling the shots. Apparently, Peter feels insecure enough in his position that he feels the need to belittle everyone around him just to emphasize the point.

“...if Erica wants to continue pulling useless addicts into every level of what we do -”

Erica drops her phone and leans forward, her necklace dangling over the glass top of the meeting table as she does so. “You said you wanted low level,” she reminds him in an even tone of voice, while everyone around her shifts in their seats and looks uncomfortable. “I got you low level. If you want fucking rogues scholars, maybe you should consider a new line of work.”

Peter smiles at her. It is not a kind smile. It's like watching a wolf pull its muzzle back to show prey its teeth. “If you want to keep your place, maybe you should watch your tone.”

Erica opens her mouth to retort, to argue, to start screaming, maybe, but then she snaps her jaw shut with a click of her teeth and leans back, effectively silenced. As much as Erica might actually want to get the hell out of this, she can't – maybe she's afraid of having to go out and start all over again, working the bottom level, or maybe she's afraid she couldn't even do that. She might wind up like Stiles. It keeps her awake at night, thinking about that. Better to suffer under Peter than to wind up without him, she figures.

Peter waves his hand dismissively and glares out the window, down onto the streets. “It doesn't matter. I want you to replace all of them with people who can actually remember their own names when they're asked.”

With a sigh, Erica pushes her hair behind her ear and nods. “I can do that,” she says through grit teeth. “I'll fire them, and -”

“I didn't say fire them,” Peter turns around and doesn't look directly at Erica. He just scans his eyes over the room, each and every person there, Derek included, like he's addressing everyone instead of just her. “I want you to get rid of them.”

Erica pauses for just a moment. She does her best not to react, because she should be able to hear something like that and just not react, by now, but her fingers twitch and she can't help the startled blink. “That seems extreme,” she says evenly.

Everyone exchanges glances, because yes, yes it certainly does. They're talking about the five twenty-something fuck-ups that Erica has roaming a specific area in Hale-controlled Beacon Hills, one of the worst parts – actually down by where Stiles seems to have set up camp, near the bar his friend Scott bartends at. They're at the literal bottom of the rung, a handful of addicts that mean nothing in the long run, that could be just let go and never seen or heard from again.

Derek can't think of a good reason to kill them, but Peter apparently can.

“They know too much,” he shrugs. Derek wants to say they know nothing, not a single god damn thing, except for Erica's fake name and the number of a burner phone she keeps and replaces every two weeks. They know meet-up points, a big black escalade, and a pretty blonde girl who never shows them her eyes. If they can even remember that much. “I can't have liabilities running around the city, can I?”

Erica purses her lips. She doesn't know these people, not at all, but she knows their faces and their voices and has spent two months working with them, and now she has to arrange to have them killed. It should be peanuts to her, considering that out of everyone in this room, she's shot and killed the most people. This is something that everyone who knows her name knows – something she actually holds pride in. But then, there's something different about killing someone who's a legitimate threat, and killing someone who doesn't know up from down.

“Nobody will notice,” Peter says with another dismissive hand wave, before shoving both hands down into his pockets. “If you actually manage to find people worth keeping, this won't be a fucking problem again.”

She nods, head down, and doesn't meet Derek's eyes across the table.

“I have to have complete and total order of everything that goes on inside of this business,” Peter starts, opening up another one of his half-crazed rants about structure and order and keeping things in the family. “If even one thing tilts out of place, the entire infrastructure of what I've built here will come tumbling down, and all of us will go down with it.”

Talia is the one who built the infrastructure of things the way they know them today. It seems that Peter is the one hellbent on fucking ripping it apart, beam by beam, brick by brick.

“I can't have untrustworthy people working in any level. Bottomfeeders they might be, but all collapses start at ground level,” he stares at the side of Erica's face. “I want them gone by tonight, or you'll have to join them.”

Erica pretends like nothing ever phases or frightens her, straightening up in her chair and nodding like it's no problem, not at all, just another day on the job. But Derek knows her well enough to see the cracks in the facade, the purse of her lips, the frantic motion of her fingers across the keyboard of her phone.

Not for the first time, Derek seriously considers telling Peter to go off and fuck himself. Everyone in the room, Boyd and Lydia and Laura, they all know that this isn't about removing liabilities. Peter knows as well as anyone else does that a handful of heroin addicts peddling shit in the part of the town the cops hardly ever visit aren't a fucking issue, not to the extent he's making them out to be. They'd find themselves dead within a week whether Peter ordered it or not.

It's about power, like it always is. He's reminding them all, under the guise of a business meeting, that he can do things like this. He can make them kill people for him, he can make them sell whatever he wants them to, and he can make them sit here and listen to him and believe every word that he says.

Most importantly, he can kill them. If he wants to. Derek always thought that he and Laura might be two people safe from that threat, but lately, Derek has started to wonder if his uncle isn't cracking under the pressure, going even more off the hinges than he already was to begin with.

As they file into the hallway, the potted plants and the bland blue carpeting, Lydia takes Derek by the arm and pulls him off to the side. She's got her hair pulled up into a messy bun, dark circles under her eyes, and her sweater looks like it's been slept in. Derek purses his lips. This is out of sorts, for her, but then again, he can't say he's had much one on one time with her since Talia died, so maybe this is the new normal where she's concerned.

“I hear you've got a new friend,” she says, no introduction. Derek cocks his head to the side and frowns.

“Who?”

She sighs through her nose and snaps her fingers in his face, as if she's asking him to wake up and fucking pay attention. “The teenager you're driving to shelters and buying food for.”

Of course she'd know all about that. It is part of her job, after all, to be the eyes and ears of the city, to track everyone who could fuck them over and remove them if she suspects them of doing just that. “It's – he's not my friend,” he insists, and she smiles at him thinly. “He's – you know.”

Lydia does know. Not only just because she likely followed him around to make sure he wasn't anything to worry about (probably, she saw him selling, getting into cars, going to motels, and then crashing wherever he can to get up and do it all over again – not exactly the most fascinating two days she could've had, Derek's sure), but because she knows his type. “I never pegged you as the type to take in strays.”

“I haven't taken him in,” he shakes his head emphatically. Taking him in would be taking him back to his place, and Derek – isn't doing that. Not anytime soon.

“You're watching out for him,” she gets this smug look on her face, like Derek is finally fulfilling some sneaking suspicion she's had about him all this time.

“I'm just – he's in trouble.”

“He is,” she agrees. She and Derek aren't that much older than him, it's true, but there's a gigantic gap between seventeen and on the streets and twenty-three and standing in a posh office building with hundred dollar bills in their pockets. She smiles at him one last time, like he's a little kid who's gotten a math problem right, and then flits down the hall to go pester someone else or squat behind a potted plant to snap pictures of an unsuspecting stranger.

Derek convinces himself that he's just doing what any half decent human being would do. He just keeps running into Stiles, and he can't leave him by himself to go out and do something he can't take back, so he just steps in sometimes. It's not that huge of a deal. It's not as though he actively seeks Stiles out, or goes searching for his name on shelter check-in sheets to make sure he's still prowling around and getting himself in some semblance of order. It's just...Derek thinks about him.

Thinks about him as in, he starts seriously considering calling the police department to ask if he's been brought in recently, or if they've found a body that matches his specifications. Just to make sure.

That, to him, feels extreme. Plus, Derek Hale walking into the police station looking for a lost teenage hooker? It wouldn't look good. And, it wouldn't end well. And Peter would probably chop his head off and put it on a spike as a display in his office.

So, he takes an alternative route. He walks back into the bar where Stiles' friend works, and scans the room looking for Scott himself. It takes him a second, but he spots him spraying windex on a window and furiously wiping grime off of it with a paper towel. He doesn't even look up, as the bell chimes, just yells over his shoulder that they're closed until four o'clock.

Derek starts walking closer anyway, and that's when Scott finally turns around. He's got this look on his face like he's about to start yelling at him, or pulling the baseball bat out from behind the bar to beat whoever it is out of here. When he sees that it's Derek, he shrinks back a bit, dropping the bottle of windex with a hard thud on the floor.

“Oh, my God,” he says, and Derek sighs.

“I'm not here to cause a scene,” he says, but Scott keeps his defensive stance even as he presses his back against the wall as far from Derek as he can possibly get. “I just need to talk to you about something -”

“No way,” Scott snaps, shaking his head. “I know what happens to people who just – just talk to a Hale. They don't come back.”

Derek has to force himself to not laugh out loud. “Stories like that are really just exaggerations. They might be true about my uncle,” even just the title of uncle has Scott shaking his head fervently in fear, “but I'm not my uncle.”

“Like I'm going to believe that,” his eyes start skirting over to the open closet, where the handle for a mop is sitting there waiting for him to grab and use as a weapon. Derek rolls his eyes.

He gives up on trying to convince Scott that he's not a serial killer, and instead goes straight to the jugular. “I want to ask you about Stiles.”

At that, Scott actually pushes himself up and away from the wall, bridges the gap between he and Derek by a safe margin, and then points a finger in Derek's face. “You stay away from him.”

Derek holds his hands up. It's a reverse situation from the one they were in when the two of them first met, and Scott knows it. He blinks in surprise, but still doesn't look entirely convinced that Derek means no harm. “I just want to ask you a few questions.”

“He doesn't need more people like you,” he sneers the word, disgust coloring his tone. Derek can only imagine what other kinds of people associated with Stiles that Scott has come to know. “...sniffing around and using him.”

“I've done nothing to him,” he swears, and Scott doesn't believe it.

“What exactly is it that you want from him?” He demands, stepping closer again as though this particular subject suddenly makes him not that afraid of Derek anymore. “You want him to be one of your little workers?”

Derek looks away, down the rows of empty bar stools, to the jukebox playing on quiet in the corner, and then looks back to meet Scott's eyes. “I want him to get his life together.”

There's a long pause, where Scott stares at Derek's face and calculates every thing there. The set of his jaw, his eyes, his hair, the clothes he's wearing, everything. Derek wonders what he finds or sees, because after a second, a tiny inch of the tension in his shoulders recedes, leaving him looking a lot less angry. “Join the fucking club.” He turns and scoops the windex bottle up again, goes back to squirting it a little vindictively.

Derek walks further into the bar and hovers behind him, watching as the mound of dirty paper towels piles up, higher and higher as he works. “What happened?”

“What do you mean?”

“I mean...clearly, he wasn't always doing this.”

Scott pauses, something bare and vulnerable crossing his face as he remembers whatever it is that's got them both here, and then starts scrubbing with renewed vigor a second later. “Stiles' father died two years ago,” he begins, voice low. “We were in high school. His mother had gone a few years before that, so they stuck him into the foster system.”

Ah. That's about as much information as Derek needs to know. Kids who get forced into the foster system wind up on one of two paths – either you get sent out of Beacon Hills and miraculously find yourself someplace better, or you stay here, get into trouble, evade the system, and wind up...well. Like Stiles. Still, Scott keeps talking.

“My mom tried to adopt him, when things went bad, but he...” he clenches his jaw, shakes his head. “He ran away. I didn't know where he was for about a year, and by the time I did...” it was too late. Even if Scott's mother picked him up and gave him a whooping for being such a fucking idiot, he would've just climbed out the window and run off to start all over again. Kids like Stiles, they get that way. It's anyone's guess as to why they'd choose living on the streets over a warm bed and an adoptive mother who'd love and care for them, but they get into a mindset, and they stick to it.

“Now, I work here,” he gestures to the bar, in all its dingy, ugly glory. “It's the only thing I can do to make sure he's not lying dead in a ditch somewhere, and it's barely enough. The owners only let me give so much free food away, sympathetic as they are.”

Derek rubs the back of his head, and doesn't know what to say. Stiles' back story is the same as dozens of other kids just like him – only, maybe Stiles is even luckier than they are. They didn't all have friends like Scott willing to work in the shittiest, scariest part of town just to watch over them as best they could. “Does he use?”

“No,” Scott says quickly, shaking his head. “Absolutely not. He wouldn't.” He collects the paper towels into a wad and dumps them into a near by trash can. And then he laughs, humorlessly. “Honestly, I don't know. I haven't noticed anything, but I...”

Neither has Derek. No track marks, no red rimmed eyes, no fidgeting, no nothing he would expect to see from any other kid who samples the shit he's meant to be slinging. But in all honesty, that doesn't mean anything.

“I know it seems like I'm not doing anything,” Scott says, eyes glued to the floor with intensity. “But I'm trying my hardest to keep him from absolutely vanishing off the face of the planet, and he's not making it easy. And I'm only eighteen, I don't know what to do, I'm just – trying.”

The only option Scott might have is getting him flat out arrested for selling drugs. At his age, he could be tried as an adult and shipped off to a federal prison somewhere for months at a time. Scott just might not know which is worse, the streets, or prison, and keeps his mouth shut because he's too scared to act. Derek can't in good conscience send Stiles off, either, so he doubts he'll be doing anything like that himself.

Scott is doing his best; food and someplace warm to sit every now and again. Someone to come to if something goes bad. It's as much as he can do, and it's probably saved Stiles' life more times than he can count. He thinks about telling Scott this, to make him feel better – but he's not that great of a person, so he just nods and turns to walk out.

“You really care that much, you should do something yourself,” Scott calls at his retreating back, even as the door is slamming shut behind him.