Sheriff Stilinski wanted it stated for the record that he wasn't an idiot. He knew Stiles was up to his ears in something. There were too many nights sneaking out or in, too many coincidences, too many fumbled silences for him not to realize something was up, and it was escalating. Sneaking out turned into skipping school, being nosy turned into showing up at crime scenes, pranks turned into actual kidnapping and restraining orders and coming home with more bruises than skin and then driving his Jeep into a warehouse. Even after the end of the school year, when things seemed to settle down into the lazy relaxation of summer, Sheriff could tell that it wasn't over. Stiles had just gotten better at hiding it without school to interfere.
He'd gone through a thousand checklists trying to figure out what it was. Not a girlfriend—or a boyfriend, for that matter, not with the way Scott still teased him about the Martin girl and Stiles moaned how he'd never get a date. It wasn't alcohol or drugs (he prayed it wasn't alcohol or drugs). And it wasn't a gang; if anything, Stiles seemed to be specifically and deliberately on the outside of the latest problem group that the Department was tracking. That didn't mean it wasn't a rival gang, but it just didn't seem to add up.
It wasn't any of the usual things, but when whatever it was landed his son in the hospital with a bullet in his leg, it was the last straw.
"So you were playing with one of my guns." The Sheriff fought to keep the disbelief out of his voice. "Stiles, you know better."
Stiles blinked up at him from the hospital bed, eyes glazed over with painkillers. He was pale with bloodloss, and the sterile white of the hospital room didn't help. The Sheriff didn't miss how his hands clenched in the blankets, then relaxed. His knuckles were red and scraped, already turning blue with blooming bruises. There was guilt in his face, and exhaustion, and a stubborn sort of determination that showed up now and then in the mirror. "Yeah, I know—I'm sorry. I just wasn't thinking, and I—it just went off."
It wasn't fair to be interrogating him when he was like that, but no one had ever accused a Stilinski man of being fair. His instincts were jingling with that nagging itch that he got sometimes when there was something going down. Stiles used to call it his Spidey Sense. The Sheriff tended to think of it as his Father of a Teenage Boy sense. "And then you drove yourself here while bleeding? Why didn't you call an ambulance?"
"Yeah."Stiles blinked, slow and heavy, too out of it to even realize he was being played. "I guess I panicked."
"Okay. That's—okay, I can see that." It was maybe the only believable part of anything Stiles had said yet; people did plenty of stupid things when hurt and panicking. The Sheriff glanced down at his notepad out of habit, making a quick scribble of his thoughts. He wasn't even actually the officer on the case—Sheriff or not, there were regulations against being on a case your son was caught up in—but the uniform and the notepad were intimidating, and he knew it. "Which gun?"
"What?" A flash of panic overwrote the drugs in Stiles' expression for a good second. It was sad, how easy it was for the Sheriff to pick out what Stiles looked like when he was trying to think of a good lie. "I don't—the glock? Your service weapon? I think? I just grabbed one."
Another note, and then he flipped the pad closed and slipped it into his jacket pocket. Stiles watched it like it had his execution date written somewhere inside. "We're going to have a long talk about this once you're back at home," the Sheriff said quietly, putting his hand on Stiles' wrist, just above the ID bracelet. "For now, I want you to rest up, okay?"
"You're leaving?" Stiles grabbed for him, missed, and then tried again, landing a hand on his shoulder. "Dad, I—"
"It's okay." He leaned in to the little tug on his arm, gave in to the need to wrap Stiles up in his arms. It took everything he had to just hold on and not to think about how fragile Stiles felt against him, how short a life could be. The boy was nearly seventeen; he kept expecting their hugs to turn into awkward guy pats and grins, but if anything Stiles had just gotten more aggressive about it over the past year of trouble. He hugged like the world might end if he let go.
"I'm just going to go get changed," the Sheriff said into Stiles' shoulder. It was his turn to lie. "I'll bring you some clean clothes and we'll get you out of here. Melissa says they probably won't need to keep you overnight."
Stiles made a protesting noise, but the Sheriff kissed his cheek with a loud smack and pulled away. "I won't be long. There and back again, an hour tops."
There weren't any other arguments when he let himself out of the hospital room, but he could feel Stiles' eyes on him until the door closed. He nodded at Melissa as he passed the nurse's station, getting a nod back. She had the same expression that Stiles did: guilty as all royal hell. The Sheriff marked it with a little circled "M?" at the bottom of his notes.
The squad car was exactly where he'd left it in the mostly empty parking lot. Sheriff gave it a pat as he walked past, headed toward the back end of the lot. Beacon Hills Hospital wasn't exactly a hub of activity on most days, and he'd been able to get a good spot right up near the entrance even without taking advantage of police privilege.
Which made it interesting that Stiles' jeep was as far from the building as it could get when there were plenty of closer spaces available. Spaces that someone might have wanted to use if one were, for example, a teenage boy with a bleeding bullet wound.
It was, however, perfectly placed if someone were avoiding the security cameras on the side of the hospital building.
The bullet hadn't hit a major artery, which he could only say a prayer of thanks for. If it had, Stiles would have bled out before he could have even thought of driving himself to the hospital. But even without that sort of damage, it had still bled all over. The Sheriff did his best, peeking through the Jeep windows, but he wasn't a forensics analyst; the best he could tell was that blood was all over the place. It was smeared on both passenger and driver side doors, on the seats, on the steering wheel. There was even a gory handprint on the driver's side door, like something from a slasher movie.
It was the handprint that got him. There were no smears to it, it wasn't someone fumbling for the handle and missing out. Very simply, it looked as if someone had put their palm in a puddle of blood, and then slapped it against the side of the Jeep.
Someone other than his son. Stiles had big hands, bigger than even the Sheriff's. Whoever had left the print, their hands were smaller than his, and the blow that had left the print had also put a faint divot in the paneling. It wasn't much of a dent; a bit of work with a mallet would have straightened it out. But it was still there, with the guilty handprint like a signed confession.
"My Spidey Sense is tingling," Sheriff said to himself ruefully, then sighed. It wasn't nearly as funny when Stiles wasn't the one saying it.
When the Sheriff got home, the first thing he did was check the gun safe in his office. It was open, exactly the way Stiles said it would be. One gun out of place, dropped carelessly on the floor, and there were some bloodstains that he didn't need forensics to tell him weren't in any splatter pattern known to man. Otherwise, it looked neat, clearly the work of a dumb kid who'd just been in a hurry and grabbed whatever came to hand.
Sighing, he took his service sidearm off his hip, double-checked the safety, unloaded it and put it in its usual place. If Stiles hadn't been doped up, he would have seen it and probably claimed it was one of the other ones.
He didn't think he needed to, but he still went upstairs to his bedroom, kneeling down to find the smaller safe that was tucked under the bed where the ammunition was stored. It hadn't even been moved since he'd opened it that morning.
As predicted, Stiles was back home by late evening. The bullet had gone straight through muscle, without hitting a bone or doing any damage other than a nasty hole. For a gunshot, it was the best anyone could think to ask for; other than, of course, not being shot at all. Stiles accepted that his grounding wouldn't start for a week, specifically so it wouldn't be wasted on days spent laid up in bed playing video games anyway.
Recovery never went well. Luckily, both of them knew it would go badly, and planned for it. Stiles was a terrible patient. The ability to lie back and do nothing for a week was another one of those handy talents Stiles had never developed. To make it worse, he hated taking pain killers almost as much as the Sheriff hated having them prescribed.
With everything as it was, it was inevitable that the Sheriff and Stiles would argue. Constantly. The arguments were the icing on what was already a hellish experience, topped off with sprinkles of distrust and a drizzle of anger.
The puzzle pieces were far from forming the scenic pastoral picture that had been on the box. He wasn't sure what the picture was—unexplained handprints and bullet wounds that didn't come from his guns, time and injuries unaccounted for, a laptop more clean of history than it ever had been back when the Sheriff had been checking it regularly for porn. None of it added up. All he needed was one of the corners, but even that didn't seem to fit. Somewhere in the image was his bright, brilliant boy, the one who chided him for cheesy fries and liked terrible old black and white films, but he wasn't on any of the pieces the Sheriff held. Not anymore.
The only person who actually visited was Scott. Lydia Martin sent a card that read, "Lie down with dogs, get up with fleas." It made Stiles laugh so hard he'd ended up sprawled on the couch and quiet for a good ten minutes after. But other than that, there was no one. Even Scott didn't seem to be there half as much as the Sheriff would have expected. He'd been prepared to have a guest bed made up, and to tell Melissa that Scott was moving in. Instead, Scott dropped by for an hour in the early afternoon, and then vanished utterly.
Even weirder, Stiles didn't seem to mind the lacking.
"He's just dealing with a lot of stuff right now," Stiles had said easily, waving the Sheriff off when he'd attempted to ask if they were okay."I get where he's coming from. It's cool."
It was the third day since Stiles had been injured, and Scott had just made some excuse about homework. In the summer. With a month and a half before school started back.
"You're the one who counts," the Sheriff said doubtfully. He lowered himself to sit on the arm of the sofa, near Stiles' feet. The sofa had been turned into a makeshift hospital bed, complete with rolling meal tray and a TV angled so he could see it. That had been another argument; not about moving the TV, but about the remote control. Stiles had insisted that, as the invalid, he would get the Wand of Power. The Sheriff had argued that, as someone whose coming grounding was only pending his ability to walk, Stiles should feel lucky the TV was on at all.
The resulting Wheel of Fortune compromise had been a loss all the way around.
Slowly, Stiles sank down into the cushions. It was more the art of falling backwards and pulling his blanket up than moving, but the result was that he could eye his father from a distance without ever leaving the sofa.
"You're thinking, aren't you? I thought we talked about that."
"Yeah, we did." The Sheriff glanced thoughtfully at Stiles and considered putting it off. But he knew himself. If he did it once, he'd do it again. And again. And again. It was better to rip the bandage off fast and clean. "You know you can tell me anything, right?"
"Oh, God," Stiles groaned, pulling the blanket up to hide his face. "Are we really going to have this discussion? Because we already had this discussion like, four years ago. And I didn't like it then, either."
The Sheriff smiled in memory. Thanks to Melissa and her connections, the Sex Talk had come complete with illustrated pamphlets and worksheets. Stiles might have hated it, but making his son try unsuccessfully to hide under the couch cushions was one of the Sheriff's fonder achievements. He fully attributed Stiles' current status as a virgin to the breadth and depth of the discussion, possibly with added assistance from his haircut.
But that wasn't what this was about. "Not that discussion, no," he said, sobering. "I know something's wrong, Stiles."
"Oh, God," his boy groaned again, much less dramatically. One eye peeked out from under the blanket. "I take it back. Can we talk about sex instead? Isn't there some horrible STI slide show you can put on? What about the one with the cauliflower penis? Or—"
"—just hear me out," the Sheriff said, over the sound of Stiles' protesting whine. He dropped one hand to Stiles' shin, just letting it be a presence. "I know something's wrong, and whatever it is landed you in the hospital with a bullet wound. I think I'm justified in my concern, son."
There came a flurry of blankets, and Stiles popped up from his nest in a storm of righteous indignation. "I told you, that was an accident!" he protested, more loudly than was really warranted.
The defense wasn't unexpected. Somehow, that hurt more than the lie itself. "None of my guns had been fired," the Sheriff said flatly. "The bullet went through your leg, but there was no shell casing or bullet hole in my office. And I don't store my guns loaded. Something you would have remembered if I hadn't asked the nurse to dose you up with the good stuff before I came in. Wherever you got that wound, it wasn't in this house."
As the Sheriff talked, Stiles turned more and more pale, until he looked like he was about to die of blood loss rather than any of his actual injuries.
"Considering that you were in no condition to have done it yourself," the Sheriff continued, voice getting harder, "that means someone else did it for you. Someone who's in whatever this is deep enough to try and cover up whatever actually happened. I can't ignore that, Stiles." He took a deep breath, feeling the air rattle in his lungs. "If it were just me—if I'd failed, then I could work through this with you. But if you've got someone else in trouble, I need to know. I can't let someone else's kid weigh on my conscience."
"If the next words out of your mouth are another lie, you can keep them to yourself."
Stiles snapped his mouth shut.
Anger curled through the Sheriff. Twenty three years in the uniform, ten years elected to office, and he'd never been angry quite like it. It wasn't a sudden burst of wrath, but a slow burn that left him feeling gutted, hollowed out. His hands flexed on his knees. Then he stood, grabbing his keys and wallet from a side table. "I'm going for a walk."
Breath hissed in between Stiles' teeth. He looked stricken. "Dad, don't—it's not what you think."
The Sheriff paused just before opening the door, looking back at Stiles. "I don't know what to think anymore."
He took the long route to the convenience store down on Saphora Drive, where he bought a soda and an illicit cupcake before making his way back home. The weather, at least, was good for the walk. It was one of those hot summer days, but wasn't the broiling heat that they'd see at the start of August. Puffy clouds skidded across the sky, pushed by a breeze that was just strong enough to cool the sweat on his skin.
It was the sort of weather that begged to be soothing, but the Sheriff was still jittery. Not a storm cloud in sight and no rain expected for a week, but the breeze smelled of ozone and the birds were muted, quiet. He could feel the world battening down, and for the life of him he couldn't figure out why.
The same sense of incoming storm had his steps slowing as he approached his home, made him circle around so he came in from the back. Ironically, sneakers weren't the best thing for sneaking, but they got him through the backyard without extra squeaks. He couldn't have said why being quiet was important, but his instincts had never turned him wrong before.
Tall hedges hid him from view as he wended his way through the little maze of irrigation ditches and his neighbors' fences until the Sheriff found his own gate. Detritus of Stiles' childhood littered the yard. A jungle gym that the Sheriff had installed for Stiles' eighth birthday. A sandbox overgrown with grass no one bothered to pull. The tree house they'd been building and never finished, construction interrupted by his wife's last fight with the cancer.
The tree house was going to be Stiles' special place, in the tree right outside his bedroom. Three rooms, a door and even plans for a rope bridge that the Sheriff had privately sworn to prevent at all costs. Slats from the ladder were still nailed to the trunk of the tree, weathered and gray with age. The Sheriff rested his hand against the trunk of the tree, looking up at the skeleton of the thing.
Then he paused and shaded his eyes, squinting upward.
High up, higher than he could reach without making use of the ladder, was a set of claw marks. Bright white against the dark bark of the old mulberry tree, they were impossible to miss. And once he'd seen them, others appeared, popping out into view like a magic eye.
Testingly, the Sheriff wiggled the slat of the old ladder. It held firm. Here goes everything, he thought to himself, putting one foot up and pushing off. There were a few hairy moments caused by rot and mold, but the slats held.
Balancing on his toes and clinging with one hand, the Sheriff pressed his fingers against the scars. They fit the spread of his fingers nearly perfectly, which meant the paw that made them had been human-sized. And they were deep—whatever made them had been moving in a hurry, and hadn't cared about evidence. More tellingly, some of them were old; the wood had already started to heal on some, while they still wept sap on others.
Memory fed him an image of a mountain lion streaking across the high school parking lot. But the Sheriff had lived his whole life in Beacon Hills, and mountain lions didn't leave marks like that. Nothing he'd heard of did.
Frowning, he scraped his finger across the bark again, looking up the short distance to Stiles' window. His boy wasn't going to answer questions, but there was someone who might.
The Sheriff watched as Melissa's smile fell right off her face when she opened the door and saw who it was. It came back a second later, but the damage had already been done, and she knew it. She tried anyway, leaning against the door frame and smiling more brightly than she had when she'd first opened it. "Fancy seeing you here."
"Hi, Melissa," the Sheriff replied, not even trying to play the game. "Can I come in? There's a couple things I need to talk to you about."
Instantly, she pulled away, twisting so she was facing away from him. "Actually, I was just about to—"
"It's about the boys."
Her whole face collapsed under the weight of guilt. If they'd been in an interrogation room, he'd have had her. As it was, she just turned back around and eased the door mostly closed so he couldn't slip in past her. "Scott said Stiles is fine. Recovering fast."
Sighing, he ran his fingers through his hair and met her eyes. "Look, I know you know something. I don't know why you don't want to talk to me, but you have to see where I'm coming from, right? I just want to know what's going on with my son."
The door bounced on her hip, back and forth, as if she were thinking about inviting him in. Then she shook her head. "No," she said, voice heavy and sad, "you really don't."
"No, listen first." With slow, deliberate care, she stepped out onto the porch and closed the door softly behind her. Her bare toes wiggled on the painted wood slats, and there was a bruise forming under the bottom hem of her capris. Once he started looking, there were other details that seemed odd—broken nails, a bandage around her toe, a scrape on her elbow.
"Jesus, are you in this mess too?" he blurted out, catching himself before he tried to get a better look at her arm.
The sad look was back in her eyes. It was worse than the guilty one. Stiles had started to inure him to that, but sad— he couldn't do that, had never been able to do that.
"It's a long story," she said, "and not one I'm going to tell you. What you need to know is that the kids are safe for now. It's being dealt with."
"What's being dealt with?" The same old frustration was rising. Everyone knew something, and no one was telling him. From Stiles that was expected; not something he liked, but he knew it was coming because he knew Stiles, and he knew sixteen year old boys. Keeping secrets was practically a rite of passage at that age. Melissa was a whole new sort of betrayal. "All I know is that something's happening and it put my kid in the hospital." His eyes narrowed as a few pieces of the puzzle suddenly slid together. "And it cost some damned good men and women their lives, didn't it? At the station—that wasn't just the Daehler kid."
He hoped he was wrong, with a sinking, crawling sick feeling that felt like it might eat through his stomach. Would pray that he was wrong, if he were a praying man. What had happened at the station had been horrific. Bad enough that Stiles had been there by coincidence. If he'd been more than a bystander...
Melissa pressed her lips together and looked down, wiggling her toes again. "It's not— Stiles was trying to save lives. He's not a bad guy in this."
The fear didn't quite evaporate, because Sties being on the side of light didn't mean uninvolved, but the lack of answers was more pressing. "I just want to keep my son safe. Help me. Please?"
Calculations ran through Melissa's eyes when she looked up at him again. She shared that with Scott; neither of them could keep anything off their faces for long. Though, once he put that in context with how often Scott had been right there by Stiles in the thick of the trouble, he thought that at least one of them was learning.
"Alright..." she said slowly, drawing the syllables out through pursed lips. "If you want to keep Stiles safe, here's what you do: keep him away from Scott."
One hand came up, stopping his protest in its tracks. Something fierce and had entered her expression, reminding him so much of his wife that his heart ached with the memory. "No buts. If you want to keep Stiles safe, that's what you have to do. You keep him away from Scott, from Isaac and Derek—"
"Wait, Derek Hale?" That hadn't been a name he'd expected to have come up, but it fit. Derek at been in the middle of or at the fringes of everything strange that had been happening lately. Just like Stiles.
"Especially Derek Hale," Melissa finished with a pointed look. She shuffled backward, putting one hand on the doorknob. "I need to get going. Don't screw this up, okay?"
Before he could ask any more questions, Melissa slipped inside and closed the door. The sound of the deadbolt being turned was loud, an announcement that she wasn't going to come out again.
He sat on the porch for a few minutes, waiting in case she changed her mind, though he knew she wouldn't. Melissa wasn't a stubborn woman, usually, but she wasn't dumb. If she didn't want to answer any more questions, she wasn't going to put herself in a place where she could be talked around.
When a song whose primary lyrics were GO HOME started playing behind the door, he took the hint.
At least she'd given him a lead.
Stiles was stretched out on the couch pretending to be asleep when he got home. The Sheriff pretended not to be relieved, and then pretended not to feel guilty about that. He didn't think he could take another lie coming from his boy without packing them up and moving to Canada, where the most dangerous thing Stiles could do was badmouth hockey to a moose.
The unofficial case file he was putting together got a lot thicker after he added Derek Hale's records to it. He didn't leave anything out, not even the data on the fire, or his memories of the Hales' clannishness before it. A few details of Laura Hale's murder worked their way in; officially it had been an animal attack, but he'd never known any animal to rip their prey in half so methodically and then not eat any of it. Her brother's reaction to finding half her body had been out of place, too, cleared of suspicion or not.
Who the hell found half their sister and then buried her?
Scott's notes weren't much better than Hale's, though there were less official citation. Just a few, really: wrongfully accusing Hale of murder twice and a restraining order from the Whittemores (later dropped with no reason for why). After some thinking, he added a comment about Scott's sudden ability at sports (steroids of some sort?) and the vanishing of his severe asthma. Some more thought produced a post-it with Scott's on-again off-again girlfriend: Allison Argent.
Niece of Kate Argent, recently convicted posthumously of the fire that killed the Hales and killed in, yes, a suspicious animal attack that happened to occur inside the old Hale property.
"Now we're getting somewhere," he muttered to himself, bending down over the scattered data.
Three hours later, it was starting to come together. He had the outer edges, even if the middle was a blur of unlikely pieces that couldn't seem to fit together no matter how hard he tried.
Cracking his neck, he dropped his pen and stared at the spider-web of evidence he'd made. Nearly everything connected to Stiles' recent behavior went back to Hale or the Argents in one way or another. Even Daehler could be connected distantly to them by way of the photos of Allison found on his camera. Nothing made sense yet, but it would. All he had to do was find the one piece that would fit all the odd pieces.
And he had a pretty good idea where to find it. Kate Argent was out of reach, but there was one other link in that chain still sticking around like a bad cold.
The Sheriff reached for his phone, doing a quick check out in the hall to be sure Stiles wasn't listening in. It rang once, then a still-unfamiliar voice chirruped, "Beacon Hills County Sheriff's Department, this is Macy, how can I help you?"
He winced at the too-perky tone. Veronica hadn't been perky. But Veronica was dead, along with a lot of other people, and the learning curve was going to be brutal for their replacements. "Hi, Macy, this is Sheriff Stilinski. I need to have a watch put out for one Derek Hale. Off the books."
Miraculously, Derek Hale ended up being even shadier than Sheriff Stilinski had thought. No known address, out of state driver's license proved to be false once someone had gotten off their ass to check in with the state of New York about it, and way too much talent at evading a tail. One deputy swore that Hale had sniffed him out when he'd been hiding behind the beef jerky stand while Hale paid for his gas—all in cash, though there was a debit card registered in his name for an account that he used to share with his sister.
More to the point, he hung out with teenagers, all of whom had "troubled kid, future felon" practically tattooed on their foreheads. One of them was Isaac Lahey, whose escape from holding had been one of the few weird events lately he hadn't been able to connect to Hale. Erica Reyes was another, a girl who'd made a round in the papers recently for her miraculously cured epilepsy.
Like Scott's recently mislaid asthma.
It was ridiculous. A person couldn't just fix something like epilepsy. With Scott, certain types of steroids might have explained his lack of asthma attacks, but if street drugs could take care of epilepsy and leave a functioning person they wouldn't have been street for long. Pharmaceutical lobbyists would have been on the case to legalize it so fast Washington would have drowned in donations.
Just in case, he started keeping an eye on Stiles' Adderall bottle, counting pills as they vanished. It wasn't as regular as he could have wished—and they were going to have a talk about that once this mess was over—but Stiles was definitely taking them. The prescription pain killers got less regular use, and those actually had a pretty good resale value on the street.
He still didn't cross drugs off his list of possibilities yet. He'd done that once already; it was going to have to work for a second chance.
As was the way of all good things, Stiles' temporary relief from being grounded came to an end.
And, as was the way of teenagers, it wasn't graceful.
"Don't you think being shot was enough punishment?" Stiles whined from his sofa-nest as the Sheriff pocketed the Jeep's keys along with his own. Not that Stiles was in any condition to drive, but he wasn't going to take the chance that that wouldn't stop him. "I've suffered enough."
"You'll have suffered enough when you tell me what really happened." The Sheriff eyed his son sternly as he finished his morning routine. He'd taken a few days off to care for Stiles during the "too drugged to fend for himself" stage, but the department didn't have the manpower to allow him actual time off for anything short of an emergency. It was only fair, since the same problem was affecting the rest of his people. Still, he worried. "You know the rules, right?"
Stiles heaved a sigh. "No visitors, no ordering any take-out I wouldn't allow you to eat, no leaving the house except in the event of an emergency."
"An Emergency Services sort of emergency," the Sheriff emphasized for what was probably the eleventh time in twenty four hours. "Not a Doritos sort of emergency. And no visitors means no Scott, too. I mean it."
"I mean it."
Stiles' next protest vanished behind a snap of teeth. He slouched down into the cushions, face set in a semi-permanent sulk. "Not even Scott," he muttered, just barely loud enough to be audible.
The Sheriff eyed his son doubtfully. There was really no guaranteeing that Stiles would listen. Once, maybe, but lately it had been a crapshoot. Still, all he could do was give the order and do his best. Shaking his head, he grabbed his own keys, checked his holster, and went for the door. "I'll be home around five. Don't forget to take your meds at lunch."
There wasn't an answer. He tried to tell himself that he hadn't expected one.
In the hallowed halls of the mid-reconstruction station, it was dead quiet. Most of the deputies were out on the streets, and the few people who were left to man the place all felt the weight of the lives lost too much to raise their voices. It was only a couple of months past, and while the counselors all said time would make things easier, time apparently needed a heavier dosage.
There was the pile up of paperwork from his days absent to get through, and that kept him busy. There'd been some odd incidences of grave disturbance that had to figure out how to explain—a pair of sisters who'd died of breast cancer had been dug up by what experts were guessing was a bear, and that was just the cream on top of a wild animal year. Then there'd been a morgue robbery that was destined to make it to someone's top ten list on the internet. A few local news stations wanted his opinion on various subjects, like the wildlife groups interested in studying the rising numbers of death by animal the town had seen in the past year. He filled that time with creative new ways to say no comment. Having a teenager had taught him better than college how to fill five hundred words of paper with absolutely zero words of content; in that, Stiles was the master and he was the student. There'd been a bet in the department that Channel Seven News would give up getting information from him by July.
Jeff had run the pool on that one, before he died in the Daehler attack. The Sheriff wondered if the money could be tracked down and donated somewhere. It seemed crude to keep the pool running, and he didn't know how to give any of it back.
The Sheriff hung around as long as he could stand, making three times more trips to the coffee pot than he really needed and getting up to stretch his legs with a walk around twice. On the third round, Monica at the front desk rolled her eyes and threw a pen at him.
"You're going to drive us all crazy," she accused loudly, pointing a gold-tipped nail in his direction. Monica was one of those older women who embraced their age with bright lipstick and proudly grey hair. On weekends, she could be spotted wearing a bright red hat with a purple sundress. It never failed to make him feel like he was being talked down to by his grandmother. "Go for a drive, boy, before you burn a hole in those fancy loafers."
He looked down at his shoes. They weren't anything special, and certainly weren't fancy. Standard issue for officers, actually, and he hadn't taken time to put a shine on them in a while. "But—"
She threw another pen, high enough up that he only had to duck a little. It clattered against the wall behind him with the wet slap of wet paint ruined. "Just go! I'll radio your car if there's an irreversible breakdown of law and order, cross my heart. But I won't have a heart to cross if you give it an attack!"
Laughter probably wasn't the best answer. He did it anyway. Monica was out of pens, luckily, but she grabbed the stapler threateningly as he backed obediently toward the door. "I'm going, I'm going."
Snorting, she put the stapler down. Noticeably, she didn't take her hand off it. "Tell that boy of yours I said hi."
Rolling his eyes, the Sheriff called yes ma'am and let himself out the glass doors. Stiles was seventeen. He wasn't going to check up on him like he was fresh off of needing a babysitter.
Stiles needed a babysitter.
The Sheriff crossed his arms and leaned against his cruiser, staring at the sleek black Camaro parked in his driveway, taking his spot next to Stiles' Jeep. He'd run the license plate to be sure, but he'd known it was Hale from the second he'd seen it. Anyone could have a specific model and color of car, but the triangulation of trouble, Beacon Hills, and his son had a very specific result.
Maybe parking behind the Camaro to block it in had been too petty and toed the line on unlawful detainment. Oh, well.
Nothing stirred inside the house for a long time, though the Sheriff was certain he'd been spotted. There was nothing between him and the front windows, after all.
After far, far too long, the door opened and Hale stepped out, looking just as much like trouble as the Sheriff could have expected. He'd lost the leather jacket, probably because the summer heat meant looking bad ass had to take a backseat for once. Hale made up for it by wearing a t-shirt that was two sizes too small. The sheer amount of bulging muscles promised trouble in a fight.
The Sheriff wondered how many fights Derek got into, hanging around with kids the way he did.
He held his position as Hale stepped up, jaw clenched belligerently. "Sheriff, I—"
"Don't start." The Sheriff stared Hale down.
Surprisingly, it worked. Hale lowered his eyes, shoulders rounding. Stiles hovered in the doorway behind him, chewing on his lip but not interrupting, and actually using one of his crutches voluntarily for a change. There was something going on there that he was going to have to figure out. He'd had Hale pegged as a scrapper, one of the big boys who didn't know when to shut up and take their licks.
He was going to have a lot of reevaluating to do.
"I don't know what you are," the Sheriff started, and Hale's head whipped up, eyes wide in shock, "but I know that I don't want my son involved in it. So here's what we're going to do. I'm going to take Stiles out to get lunch. When I get back, you're going to be gone. And if I ever see you near my son or his friends again, I will do everything in my considerable power to make certain you never see this side of the bars again. Am I clear?"
Something complicated passed through Hale's expression. He nodded once, sharply. "Crystal."
"Good." The Sheriff gave Hale a once-over, then turned his attention to his son. "Get over here. We're going to get lunch, and then you and I are going to have a talk about what no visitors means."
Stiles' face was tight as he stepped out and closed the door behind him. Hale didn't move as Stiles limped down the drive, passing so close their elbows brushed. The Sheriff waited until Stiles was safe inside his cruiser before giving Hale a pleasant nod farewell and climbing in himself.
No one said anything on the drive to Evangi's Grill, the location of the best damned curly fries and philly cheesesteak in town. They'd beaten the lunch rush by about an hour, so they were able to get a whole section to themselves. Stiles allowed himself to be escorted inside, sat in a booth, and ordered for without so much as a flip comment about cholesterol.
The Sheriff was halfway through his basket of fries when Stiles finally blurted out, "You don't want to know?"
He finished chewing his mouthful slowly, watching his son with stern eyes. There was a sort of panic there that the Sheriff really didn't know what to do with. Part guilt, but also something else. Fear, yes, but he didn't think Stiles was afraid for himself.
But who else would he be afraid for?
After the fries had been chewed into mush, the Sheriff asked, "Would you tell me the truth if I asked?"
"I—" Stiles mouth worked. He fidgeted with a fry, winding it around his fingers. "Maybe. Probably not."
At last, the truth. They were getting somewhere. "Then don't put me in a position where you'll have to lie to me."
Stiles was quiet for the rest of their meal and the ride back home.
"What did you say?"
Deputy Lampre, a loan from the next county over, repeated himself. "I just saw your son's Jeep entering the Preserve. He's still grounded, isn't he?"
"Yes. He is," the Sheriff groaned, resting his head in his hand. It was a full moon, which meant he was pulling a double. The old adage about the moon bringing out the crazies had proven more than true in his career, so he had an All Hands policy for the one night a month. Stiles had, supposedly, been at home finishing up his summer reading. "Was there anyone in the vehicle with him?"
"One passenger, I think," Lampre reported. "Maybe the McCall kid. Do you want me to follow him?"
"No, I'll take care of it. What road was he on?"
Lampre read the route information like a robot, including the specific exit and speed. Of course, Stiles was in the area closest to the old Hale place. Of course.
He grabbed up his things, hooking a radio to his belt next to his gun. The Sheriff usually didn't bother; his car radio was generally good enough. But this time he had a plan, and it wasn't going to fall through because he hadn't thought of everything.
It had been four weeks since Stiles had been shot and there was another month before school started up. Stiles was talking to him again, Hale hadn't shown his face in town other than a couple of shopping trips, and there'd even been a blessed lull in animal attacks. The weirdest thing going on was whatever creature had discovered that fresh graves doubled as larders. Experts were still calling it a bear, but it had gone from definitely a bear to it might as well be a bear. He'd heard so many variations on what it could be that they were all running together. The paw structure was a wolf, but no wolf had paws that big or claws that sharp. But it wasn't killing people or pets, which made it low on the priority list. He'd thought, he'd really thought, that things had settled down.
Apparently not. It was time to get this mess cleared up once and for all.
There was no point in searching the Preserve for Stiles. It was huge; even if the Sheriff managed to find the Jeep, there was no guarantee that he'd find his boy. And if he did, all it would accomplish would be to put Stiles on alert. Any chance of finding out what was going on would be gone.
No, if he wanted to know anything, he'd have to go to the place every teenager kept their secrets.
His house was dark when he pulled in, and distinctly lacking in one powder blue Jeep. Even though he knew to expect it, the missing vehicle still tugged at his heart. It was the last little bit of evidence that his son really was out doing something monumentally stupid, that all of his parenting wasn't worth a whispered damn in a hurricane.
Stiles had locked the door and killed all the lights, which told the Sheriff two things: one, he didn't expect to be back quickly and two, that he hadn't completely lost all common sense. The Sheriff didn't bother turning on any lights as he let himself in, re-locking the door behind him. It felt strangely like he was pulling a B&E on his own home as he crept inside, using the murky yellow light from the streetlights outside to guide him.
The first thing he did was check his office. The gun safe hadn't been touched. Neither had his ammo. Some of the tightness in his chest eased after the third time counting it all. Maybe Stiles was making a stupid mistake somewhere, but it wasn't that mistake.
Worst fears put to rest, he turned to the real reason for his homecoming: Stiles' bedroom. It was a bastion of teenage boy messiness, though not as bad as it might have been. Dirty clothes were scattered around the floor, and the desk was a mess of books and papers. But nothing looked like it was growing, other than the potted purple flower Stiles had taken up sometime in the past couple of weeks. That was growing merrily in its little spot next to a box off miracle grow and a watering pot.
Quickly, the Sheriff realized that there was a method to the untidy madness. There was hardly anything interesting in the room that didn't have something set on top of it. Stiles' laptop was closed, with a copy of The Great Gatsby on the lid. Desk drawers had shirts and papers wedged in them. The closet door had a pile of laundry in front of it that would have to be moved before it could be opened. Even the space under the bed was blocked by a mixed pile of school books and shoes.
In short, there was no way to access anything without leaving evidence.
"You sneaky little bastard," he muttered, standing in the middle of the organized chaos. "Alright, have it your way." Grabbing up Gatsby from the laptop, he flung it onto the bed and set the computer aside to examine in detail later. Clothes, papers, figurines—if it was in his way, he tossed it all onto the bed. Anything that looked interesting went in a pile on the desk.
It didn't take long for the mattress to grow lumpy with the pile of miscellaneous stuff heaped on it. Comics, books, pens, toys: it was a mess compromised of all the detritus of a young life. Anyone wanting to sleep on the bed would have to deal with the pile first.
Good. Stiles could put it all away when he got home as the start of his punishment.
The gung-ho approach proved incredibly effective. It only took the Sheriff fifteen minutes to finish collecting Stiles' notebooks from the desk. A quick flip through them showed mostly plain old schoolwork, but the last few pages were in a stranger's handwriting. It was too messy to be Stiles'; his son wrote like it was a shortcut to using a secret code, but whoever had scribbled in Stiles' notebook could have been a doctor from the quality of his penmanship. The whole thing was in shorthand, something the Sheriff hadn't used since taking notes in college, but he was able to read enough of it to make out something about the new moon. He set them aside with his other evidence for later reading.
After that, he moved on to the space under the bed, which was disappointingly normal. Or as normal as a shoebox of USBs and porn magazines could be.
Under the bed? Really Stiles?
The last place he looked was the closet, where about ten badly overdue library books had been hidden underneath a pile of snowboarding equipment. The Sheriff's eyebrows rose as he sorted through them. They ranged in subject from Grimm's Fairytales to the History of Werewolves and a battered copy of Twilight marked out by a post-it note reading "not fucking funny Stiles" in a curving, delicate hand.
One book on fairytales would have been weird for most boys, normal for Stiles. Ten were pushing it well past weird into evidence. Especially for Stiles. The Sheriff sat on the floor beside the bed, paging through the pile of books. Stiles wasn't one to bookmark, but the books were ridiculously overdue, and they'd been used enough that the spines had broken in the most reread places. He used that as a guide, letting the books show him what his son was most interested in.
Which, as it turned out, was werewolves.
Each book was the same. The Little Red Riding Hood portion of Grimm's had been leafed through so many times that some of the pages had fallen loose. The History had stains on some pages, and it was one of the few Stiles had actually bookmarked. Gianathora's Bestiary had a break right at the first page of the chapter on shape-shifting. Book of Shadows seemed mostly full of hippy-dippy new age crap, right up until the page on rare plants came up with its handy chart and yellow-highlighted plants for use on werewolves.
His first thought was that it had to be a cult. Stiles seemed down to earth, but the Sheriff knew his son. He loved nothing better than a mystery, and adventure. Werewolves and witches and vampires would be exactly that, the sort of thing that couldn't be found just by showing up uninvited to crime scenes. Even Hale fit in there; there were at least three different leather-clad, unshaven brooding undead types on television these days. Hale could have been any one of them. And Stiles was young. He didn't think things through all the time.
On the other hand, werewolves? That seemed like too much, even for Beacon Hills' brand of crazy. Stiles was smart enough that he would have had to have hard proof before he bought it hook, line and sinker, because that was the kind of person Stiles was, the type of person the Sheriff had raised him to be. No one could be charismatic enough to talk his son out of that. And Hale was the antithesis of charismatic in any case; he'd have trouble talking the birds into the trees.
So, probably not that.
There wasn't much else it could be, though. Teenagers screwing around in the woods pretending to cast spells or howl at the moon didn't usually get someone shot. Drunk or high, yes, but usually those types weren't playing with guns. And Melissa's warnings weren't anything to ignore.
The Sheriff flipped the last book closed and stared at the back cover, which was a black and white image of a middle aged woman with too much of a soft filter and bright red lipstick. Her bio said that the picture had been altered to remove eye-flare, with a smaller picture in the corner of what he presumed was the unaltered photo. It reminded him of Hale's mug shots.
It was ridiculous and hokey; he couldn't imagine Stiles falling for it. But...
"Nah," he said to himself, shaking his head.
The Sheriff put the books back where he found them, doing his best to make it look like he'd discarded them during his search. The notebooks and other miscellaneous evidence he piled in the middle of the floor along with a stern note reminding Stiles that he was grounded and also that any library fines would be coming out of his allowance.
The laptop he took with him, half as evidence and half as punishment. He'd work out which it was later.
Stiles was asleep in his spotless bedroom when the Sheriff got home the next morning. There was no sign of the books, or of anything else that might have been considered vaguely in the category of "evidence". The Sheriff riffled through his son's discarded jeans and took the keys to the Jeep and his cell phone before going to his own well-deserved rest.
When they met over a late brunch, Stiles didn't object to the rest of the summer being added to his grounding. That was everything that needed to be said, really.
The next day, he slipped a tracking device into Stiles' backpack. Just in case.
Another boring week, another corpse eaten, another temptation to pretend everything was fine. Scott called a few times to beg to be allowed to come over. The Sheriff had shot him down as gently as he could, but Scott was a king of begging, and it hadn't been comfortable. He'd come out of the phone calls feeling like he'd kicked someone's puppy.
And still Stiles didn't argue. He took his lumps like a grown man, did the extra chores he was assigned, didn't complain when TV privileges were limited. Cooking, cleaning the gutters, bookwork—nothing phased him.
That was just terrifying. The last time the Sheriff remembered Stiles being so biddable had been after his mother died. It had been a bad time for them both, but Stiles had ridden it out by trying to be perfect, like he could be good enough that she'd come back. The Sheriff couldn't imagine what was happening that he thought he needed to do it again.
He never thought he'd miss the days he asked for a burger and got a salad.
Thursday night. The Sheriff had traded deskwork for sitting in his car for the night, watching over a dark and dead highway about four miles outside the town limit. It was boring as Hell, but at least it didn't leave a crick in his neck. Technically it was supposed to be quiet; usually the troublemakers saved it up for the weekend.
Which was why it took him by surprise when a familiar black Camaro buzzed by, doing at least twenty over the limit. He fumbled his radio, calling it in as he flipped on his lights and pulled out of his hidden nook behind a billboard.
For a second, he thought Hale was going to try and outdrive him—ha—when the car didn't show any signs of slowing. After about a half a mile, though, the brake lights came on and it pulled off the highway.
The Sheriff took a second to compose himself before getting out of his car, flashlight in hand. No matter his suspicions about Hale's little band, he had to treat him just like anyone else. Gravel crunched under his shoes as he strolled up to the driver's side window and crossed his arms while it was rolled down.
"Going mighty fast, weren't you so—Scott?"
Scott waved at him sheepishly from the back seat of Hale's car. "Hi, Mr. Stilinski." His face was a mess of bruises, with a cut eyebrow and a split lip looking like the worst of it. Blood was smeared across his chest, maybe from the head wound that was matting down his hair. For as bad of condition he was in, he still managed to grin. "Sorry about this."
The Sheriff looked back and forth between Scott and Hale, who had a couple bruises of his own going on, though nowhere near as bad. "Jesus Christ, what the hell happened here?"
"There was an accident," Hale said, voice stiff and sharp. Both of his hands were tight around the steering wheel, and his jaw was clenched. "I was just taking him home."
"Don't try to lie to me son. You're bad at it." The Sheriff swiped his flashlight between them, trying to get a read on their faces. Something odd happened when it passed over their eyes, a yellow-green flicker of the light being bounced back. Frowning, he did it again, but Hale and Scott had both turned their faces away. "Okay, that's it. Out of the car Scott."
Scot whipped around in the seat, almost cracking his head on the holy shit handle. "It's not as bad as it looks! Derek can take me!"
"Hale can go home—at the speed limit—and be grateful I'm not ticketing him for speeding or for the fake license that's in his wallet—yes¸ Hale, I know about that, and I expect you to get it cleared up before I officially know about it. You, Scott, are going to get in the cruiser and let me take you to the hospital."
"And then if your mom's not working, I'm going to give her a call, and you can tell us both what the hell happened here."
Hale's knuckles cracked from the strength of his grip. Or maybe that was the steering wheel. "Melissa knows Scott's with me."
"Do I look like I care? Out."
Sullenly, Scott slipped out the passenger side and slunk back to the cruiser. One of his arms stayed wrapped around his ribs in a way that made the Sheriff think they might be bruised, maybe broken. And that was just a whole pile of questions the Sheriff didn't know how to start asking. He couldn't figure out his own kid, how was he supposed to get someone else's?
The Sheriff waited until Scott was safely in the car before turning back to Hale. "You'd better pray to God that Melissa backs up your story."
Hale looked up at him, and for a second the green-yellow flash turned red. "She will. Sir."
The Sheriff nodded sharply and turned away. He tried to ignore the cold, shaky feeling that followed him back to the cruiser.
Scott didn't say anything as the Sheriff pulled out onto the road, leaving Hale behind. It wasn't Stiles' sort of silences, where there were a hundred things begging to be said and none of them would come out. No, Scott had a condemned man look on his face, like he was waiting for that last second pardon that he knew wasn't going to come.
"You're not going to tell me what happened, are you?" the Sheriff asked as they passed the oversized and ugly Welcome to Beacon Hills sign.
In the corner of his eye, he saw Scott shake his head.
"Was it Hale?" the Sheriff pressed, even knowing it was a lost cause. Nothing could make a teenager talk if he didn't want to. Stiles being a prime example. "If he's hurting you kids, you can tell me. We'll take care of it."
Again, Scott shook his head stubbornly. "Derek's fine."
Street lights started to appear, making it easier to see without taking his eyes off the road for too long. Weirdly, in the better light, Scott's bruises looked a lot less severe. Older, maybe. What the Sheriff had thought was a split lip looked more like just some dried blood, maybe from a nosebleed.
"You know," he continued when the silence got too heavy, "even if you don't tell me, you're going to have to tell your mom."
"She already knows," Scott answered, with a catch in his voice.
They didn't talk for the rest of the ride.
What the Sheriff could have sworn was at least a concussion and some bruised ribs turned out to be a literal nothing. The nurse on duty—not Melissa for once, but a new girl named Sally—couldn't find a trace of the head injury that had caused all the blood in Scott's hair, and pressure on his ribs didn't have enough of an effect to bother doing an X-ray for. Even the bruises on his face turned out to be dirt smudges. It was as if he'd somehow healed in the time between climbing out of the back of the Camaro and the Sheriff pulling into the hospital parking lot.
"I told you I was fine," Scott grumbled, hunching in on himself as they waited on a bench outside for Melissa to show up. When the Sheriff had called her, she'd been out shopping. Or so she said; she was awfully breathless for someone who'd been at the local Wally Mart picking up vegetables for a casserole.
He hadn't even known Melissa could cook.
"Excuse me for wanting to make certain you weren't going to die in your sleep," the Sheriff groused back, watching the moon. It was in some shade of waning, a little past the half-way mark but not really a crescent yet. Pretty, but nothing to write a poem about. Still, it was something to look at that wasn't Scott. Traffic had picked up a bit, headlights reaching just far enough to make the lack of bruises on Scott's face impossible to miss.
Every time a car passed by, that same weird reflection caught Scott's eyes.
It made him think of the books he knew Stiles' hadn't returned yet—books about impossible things and fairy tales. Of the too-clean computer, the son who couldn't seem to stop lying through his teeth even though it was obviously killing him and strange claw marks on the tree in his back yard. And there was Scott, mixed up with the same Derek Hale his mother had warned the Sheriff to keep Stiles away from, marked up with bruises that weren't there anymore.
The Sheriff felt like he was walking on the edge of a cliff, and as long as he didn't open his eyes the next footstep would always land on solid ground.
"You know you're practically a second son to me, don't you Scott?" he found himself asking without meaning to. "I worry about you."
Scott shifted uncomfortably on his end of the bench, shoulders hunching forward and head dropping low. "You don't have to worry, Mr. Stilinski. Everything's fine."
He pressed his lips together, a cool, hard anger gripping his chest. "None of this is fine. I just want you to know that if you need help, you call me. No matter what it is, no matter how weird or how much trouble you think you'll be in. Okay?"
It was hard to be sure, but he thought he heard Scott clear his throat. "Okay. Thanks."
They didn't say anything after that. When Melissa pulled up fifteen minutes later, there was a new dent in her passenger-side door. She didn't bother getting out of the car to say hi or thanks, just honked her horn and waved Scott into the passenger seat.
The Sheriff tried not to take it personally.
The next night that the Sheriff had free found him head-down in a pile of boxes in the garage. Things clattered noisily as he dug through twenty years of assorted odds and ends with a flashlight gripped between his chin and shoulder. Everything was covered in dust and mothballs. Combined the stench was enough that he had to take sneezing breaks every few minutes. It made the beam from the flashlight bounce back and forth across the walls of the box.
The light shining in from the kitchen was blocked out by a long, lanky shadow. "Dad?" Something clicked back and forth. "What's wrong with the light switch?"
"Busted," he answered as loudly as he could without jostling the flashlight. "I've got a new one around here somewhere from when we were fixing up the kitchen. Figured I'd dig it out, get it fixed."
"Now?" The switch flipped a few more times, as if Stiles couldn't bring himself to believe it was actually broken. "Why don't you wait until tomorrow?"
"No reason not to do it tonight." A little more jostling, and a curse as he nearly fell into the box trying to move aside a smaller box of crafting supplies. "Hey, come give you old man a hand, will you?"
Stiles grumbled, but picked his way through boxes and old baby furniture that had somehow never made it to the donation bin. He nearly tripped over a dusty teddy bear, and did stumble over a loose lamp cord before he made it to his father's side. "What do you want me to do?"
"Use your young, strong back to help me get this box out of the way. It's not the one I thought it was." The Sheriff made a show of fumbling the flashlight off his shoulder, grabbing for it in a way that shined the beam right in Stiles' face.
Never in his life had he breathed easier than when Stiles' eyes didn't shine back.
The thing dug up his wife.
The Sheriff stared at the messy, mud-smeared headstone with Stilinski etched onto it, four solid lines scratched over the name like the animal had tried to rub it out. The groundskeeper was talking in his ear; he'd been a witness, thought he saw whatever it was, and the Sheriff knew he should listen, but all he could do was stare into the hole and listen to the static in his head. The animal, whatever it was, had dug her up and cracked her coffin and eaten half of her. It had been years since he'd been ill at a crime scene but he thought he might be.
She wasn't in there anymore. The thing had eaten her body, not her. Knowing that didn't help the way it felt like it should have.
"Sheriff?" Janice—Deputy Morrison when they were on duty—put her hand on his shoulder. Someone else—Edgars?—had already led the groundskeeper away. Bad day, when a rookie was more on the ball than he was. "You okay?"
"I—" He shook his head, unable to tear his eyes away from the open grave. "If you have it here, I'm going to go get some paperwork done. Maybe we can get some wildlife experts to figure out where this thing is denning up."
Morrison smiled at him, a grim sort of thing that was all teeth and understanding. "Maybe check on Stiles, too?" she suggested. "Kids get into trouble. You know how it is."
"I know how it is," he agreed, hearing the hidden meaning behind her words. The news would be all over the place once they got wind. They hadn't cared when it was just normal people, but the Sheriff's wife would be the sort of human interest story they could sink their claws into. No need for Stiles to find out that way.
Stiles threw up when the Sheriff told him. The Sheriff waited by the bathroom door with a cool cloth and a glass of water, handing them over as soon as Stiles finished.
They didn't talk about it, but she'd always been one of the things they didn't talk about. What was one more silence, at this point?
"Can I speak to Stiles?"
The girl on his porch stared up at him from behind a tumbled mess of blond curls and heavy makeup. She couldn't have been much older than Stiles, and he was still in a little bit of denial that his son was as tall as he was. On top of the makeup, she was in clothes designed to show off every curve he instinctively felt she was too young to have. The whole ensemble might have worked indoors, or at night, but in the bright light of afternoon she just looked young.
Or maybe he was just old. "Stiles isn't allowed visitors right now. You're Erica Reyes, aren't you?"
Erica nodded stiffly, a witness silently admitting something she didn't really want to. She wasn't short, especially not in those heels, but something about her posture made her seem smaller. The Sheriff frowned at her, leaning his shoulder against the door frame. Not a girlfriend, by his estimate. He loved his son dearly, but he knew Stiles' limitations, and the girl in front of him was way past those. She wasn't even in the same stadium, never mind in Stiles' league.
"I know he's grounded. We tried to call him, but he's not picking up—" Her knuckles cracked as she flexed her hands, twisting them together. "Look, I just need to tell him something. Please."
He hesitated, thinking guiltily of the cell phone locked in his desk drawer. It had been there for two weeks, since he'd confiscated it, and he hadn't bothered turning it on. Bugging it and giving it back had occurred to him, but that felt like a step too far; he didn't want to think that whatever was broken between him and his son was that bad.
Looking at Erica, he suspected that not bugging it had been a vast mistake. Her makeup wasn't just heavy, it was smudged with sweat and maybe tears, and her clothes—for all that they were tight and what he thought might be fashionable for kids these days—looked like they'd been dragged through the dirt. Some leaf fragments were still caught in her hair.
Something was very, very wrong, and he didn't need to ask to know that no one was going to tell him what it was. That left one option.
Stepping away from the door, he turned and yelled, "Stiles! There's an Erica here to see you!"
Stiles came barreling down the stairs like he'd announced pizza. He looked back and forth between the Sheriff and Erica for a second before shuffling out the door. "Hey Erica. Thanks dad, we'll just—talk. On the porch. Where it's private."
"You've got ten minutes," the Sheriff warned, twisting so Stiles could move past him. "This doesn't mean your ass is off the hook."
"I know, I know." Stiles flashed him a half-honest grin and slammed the door behind him, like the harder he shut it the more privacy it would afford.
The Sheriff gave it to a count of ten before pressing his ear against the door.
"—listening?" Stiles asked, voice muffled but still clear enough.
There was a pause, then Stiles cursed. "We can go down the block a house or two where—"
"No, there's no time. I need to get back," Erica insisted. "Just get over here."
The Sheriff risked a quick glance out the little window set into the door. Erica had a fist locked in Stiles' shirt, and was whispering something in his ear. Stiles' face was turned away, but what the Sheriff could see had gone pale. He ducked back down before they could see him, cramming his ear against the door again.
"I—I can—I need to—" Stiles stuttered, voice low and breathless, difficult to hear through the door. "Dad's got my phone, you'll have to—"
"We've got it covered right now," Erica said. "You're under lock down, Mr. Wayne. Remember that. We'll fly the batsignal if we need you."
"That's right, talk geeky to me, baby," Stiles answered, but the Sheriff could tell his heart wasn't in it. "We've got time, at least. Tell me if you find him. You'd better get back before something else happens."
Hurriedly, the Sheriff scrambled away from the door, going to hide in the kitchen. A minute later, it opened and closed, accompanied by the sound of feet on the stairs. Then the bedroom door upstairs slammed.
For a second, the Sheriff was relieved that Stiles hadn't called him on eavesdropping. It lasted about five seconds before the questions started.
The answer came the next day: Derek Hale was missing.
No one filed a Missing Persons, but the unofficial watch he'd had on the boy paid off. His car moved around, but he was never the one driving it, always one of the kids he hung out with. None of the officers spotted him around town, and even the kids he'd been hanging out with seemed suspiciously Hale-less.
Without a report, there was nothing the Sheriff's Office could do but wait for a body to show up. They all hated it, he could tell. Hale had, in a backwards way, become something of a department pet since they'd started keeping an eye on him—a little mystery wrapped up in a pretty package, with just enough good points that he didn't slide from pet to nuisance. Monica kept a list at her desk of his usual haunts and had every officer on patrol keep an eye out for him. Lampre and Evans took a trip to the old Hale place daily.
The Sheriff added Boyd, Reyes, Lahey, and McCall to the watch list.
No one mentioned that there was no one left with the legal right to file a missing persons for Hale, but they were all thinking it.
The clock on his office wall ticked out the seconds in increasingly slow time. Ten-thirty PM was the worst time to be left to your own thoughts. It was a quiet night; they'd gotten a few calls for wild animal sightings, and some reports of wolves, but none of the deputies sent to investigate had come back with anything.
That just made it worse, really.
It had been a couple of days since Hale's disappearance. Nothing happened, but the tension was unmistakable, both in the house and at the department. Stiles had been antsy, out of sorts. That was, when he came down from his room. Most of the time, he just hung around up there with the door closed and music on. The boy didn't have enough emo rock to blast for an hour, so he mostly played the same three songs over and over. It was like everything the Sheriff had ever been warned about raising a teenager, but worse, since he was pretty sure it was a façade.
The Sheriff would have given anything for answers, but all he had was the evidence piled on his desk in front of him by way of Stiles' notebooks and cell phone, damning by their very presence.
He'd already turned on the phone and used his parental override to check the text messages, but they weren't helpful. Why aren't you answering and Lydia says it's on page 245 didn't tell him anything useful. The voice mail was more of the same, except mostly from Scott and increasingly frantic about the lack of answer until they stopped suddenly—likely he'd found out about the phone situation somehow. How was a mystery, since he never visited anymore.
Claw marks on tree bark kept coming to mind for some reason, but the Sheriff put it out as quickly as it came up. There was crazy, and then there was that.
The shorthand pages in the back of Stiles' notebook didn't help, once he had them translated. It was gibberish—something about undoing what's been done, and "of the first blood", whatever that meant. The only thing he could really make out was that whatever it was had to happen on the new moon.
Which, his calendar helpfully told him, was that night.
Stiles wouldn't be stupid enough to sneak out again. The Sheriff desperately wanted to believe that, and spent a whole half an hour failing to talk himself into it. Grounding hadn't worked other than when Stiles wanted it to work. And maybe he had the keys to the Jeep but Scott could drive, and there was a Hale-less Camaro being passed through teenage hands like a bad cold.
In the end, he had to admit that it would take actual handcuffs to keep Stiles home if he really wanted to go. Once he admitted that, the next move was obvious.
The Sheriff's knee bounced as he dialed the land line to his house. One ring, two rings, three rings, try again.
After four tries, he called Melissa.
He stared at the phone in his hand, heart pounding in his chest, head strangely light. No one was answering. Stiles could have been in the shower, or playing a video game too loudly to hear the phone. Maybe the phone was broken. Or he'd snuck out to get an illicit snack and the Sheriff would come home to crinkly bags of evidence.
The Sheriff's hand shook as he jiggled the mouse on his desktop computer. It flashed to life with a happy little jingle, opening up to the website he'd been using to refresh his memory of shorthand note taking. He needed a couple of tries before his unsteady hand managed to minimize the browser and open up the GPS tracking program he'd installed just two weeks earlier. It wasn't official grade equipment—he couldn't justify misusing state property just to keep track of his wayward son—but it was top notch for civilian gear. The program booted cleanly, with a professional-looking splash page and an unintimidating interface.
Swallowing back the lump in his throat, the Sheriff keyed in the code for the tracker he'd put in Stiles' backpack. A loading bar appeared on the screen, moving far, far too slowly as it filled up to 100%. He tapped his fingers on the wrist pad, waiting. When the bar finished, it flashed away to be replaced by a street-level map of Beacon Hills.
Stiles—or, at least, his backpack—was nowhere in the town.
Zoom out. Out. Out. A few more clicks out and he finally found the little red dot that indicated the linked tracker: fifty miles outside the town limit, off the same road he'd pulled Hale over on.
He spent a long, long minute staring at that dot and regretting that he'd taken Stiles' cell phone. It wasn't moving enough to register on the screen. That didn't mean much; the tracker only worked within a certain limited area. Stiles could move about the space of a city block without a visible change. Still, seeing it sit still bothered him. He couldn't keep from imagining the reasons why Stiles would be in such a remote location and not moving.
Or not able to move.
The Sheriff waited until his breathing was back to normal before locking down the computer and heading for the door.
Stiles' Jeep was parked right on the side of the highway, notably empty of son or hangers-on. Its emergency flashers were on, so at least it wasn't going to be totaled by someone who didn't care about highway lines, but that didn't really help much. (And, a dark part of him whispered, it meant Stiles had left it voluntarily and meant to come back.)
It was one of those junctions that occurred just outside city limits, where the gas was twenty cents cheaper and a hot dog a dollar extra. In addition to the dark gas station, there were a few unlabeled buildings that could have been anything from particularly shady motels to warehouses, and one set that was almost definitely some sort of low-rent apartments. The grass around the area was knee-high, already thick with dew. Not much to go on, but at least not too crowded with options.
The Sheriff parked behind the Jeep and crossed his arms on the steering wheel, staring at the back bumper for a minute before finally getting out of his car and approaching. Wires hung visible under the dash where it had been hotwired—probably Stiles again. He didn't bother adding it to the list of things they needed to talk about. Of everything there was, where Stiles had learned that seemed like the tiniest nibble off the iceberg. Not even worth the breath it would take to ask the question.
There was no sign of the backpack, either in the vehicle or around it, which meant Stiles probably had it with him. Not that it would do much good. They were getting into the area where the tracker was too limited to be helpful, and the location was just populated enough to leave options.
In the distance, he thought he heard wolves.
Overhead the stars were clear enough to make out the Milky Way; this spot was far enough away from town that the light pollution didn't block it. He used that and the dim glow of the closed gas station to make his way back to his car, choosing to keep his maglight holstered for the moment.
It wasn't often that the Sheriff had to discharge a weapon. Beacon Hills was quiet, with the exception of the last year or so. But it was a small town surrounded by wildlife preserve, and it paid to be cautious, if not necessarily legal.
Which was why the weapon he pulled out was a double-barrel shotgun.
He checked the load and made sure he had a few rounds to spare before slinging the strap over his shoulder. There wasn't much a shotgun couldn't take down, one way or another. The Sheriff tried hard not to think about what might fall outside that limit. If he didn't think, didn't put the pieces together, it seemed a little less real. Just then, he needed less real. There was too much evidence pointing firmly in the direction of the impossible. Later, he'd stop and put it in perspective, admit the answers that hovered just on the edge of his awareness. But right then, he had a son to find.
The maglight gave him a direction; Stiles had left his Jeep headed north, leaving a clear line in the dew. At least two other people had been with him; there were three distinct trails in the grass. The Sheriff verified the path, then flicked off his light and followed. Fifty feet out the glow from the gas station was too faded to be much use. He used a penlight to verify his path instead, hoping it was small enough that anyone watching would miss it.
Stiles' trail shuffled around a bit, wandering like he was searching for something. When he crossed onto asphalt, it vanished completely. Even though the Sheriff knew it was coming, his heart still locked in his throat every time he had to search out where it picked up again. But it did, twice. Stiles seemed focused on the empty warehouses, going first to one, then the other.
On the third, none of the paths came out again.
It looked just like the other places. More of a storage facility than a warehouse, it had been subdivided into about six sections that the Sheriff could make out, with large, cheaply installed doors on the outside to match the windows that had been part of the original design. It was closer to the road than the others, too, close enough that when a truck drove by he could make out the sound of a transmission on its way out. He circled, looking for any sign of his son. Part of him itched to check the tracking app that he'd installed on his phone on the drive over, but he didn't dare. Even at its lowest setting, the screen would have been bright enough that he might as well have used the mag.
Nothing at all seemed out of the ordinary. No lights on, no weird noises. If he hadn't followed Stiles there, he never would have thought twice about the place. Just in case, he circled three times, straining to catch any hint of an answer. On his third pass, a light rippled across the window of the largest unit, fluttering for a second before it was gone again. He froze under it for a count of a hundred, waiting to see if anything else happened. When it didn't, he risked pulling out his penlight and shining it through the window.
Shiny black material bounced the light back at him. A blackout curtain. Not standard issue for an everyday, run of the mill warehouse. Something strange was going on in there, and if the last year had taught him anything, it was that Stiles would be at the center of whatever it was.
One more circle showed no easy way in, but brought him back to the door with Manager etched onto the glass inset. Risking the maglight, he shined it inside, over a couple of visitor's chairs, a computer desk and, in the very back, another door. There was no sign of where it led; it could be a bathroom or a kitchen unit, for all he knew.
The Sheriff waited until a semi-truck drove by, engine drowning out everything, before stepping back and planting a hard kick right on the doorknob. The door cracked and swung open, splintering like the cheap plywood it was. No alarm sounded, and a quick check with his flashlight didn't spot any security systems or cameras. That didn't mean there weren't any, but the overall quality of the place didn't suggest the money for a really good hidden system.
He did his best not to handle anything, working the doorknob with a Kleenex from a box on the desk. There was indeed a bathroom back there, some sort of black, oozing mold smeared over the toilet and the sink. A piece of the drywall had been removed, leaving bare a long, narrow crawlspace between that must have cut right down the center of the subsections. It was dusty as hell, marked with more of the same mold and grime that had been smeared all over the bathroom, probably the source of a thousand health code violations. In spite of that, someone had obviously been using it regularly; the exposed beams might have been a mess, but there was a dust-free trail right down the center of the aisle.
Keeping out his penlight, the Sheriff made his way step by slow step, following the marks in the dust. They went right down to where he estimated the suspicious window was, ending at yet another door.
There were bloody claw marks on the frame, about the same size and spread of a human hand.
He'd seen those marks before, he realized, thoughts muffled and distant. On the tree outside his son's window, of course, but not only then. There'd been his Jeep, too, after that one hellish night in the school. And other places around town, at crime scenes. In the graveyard, scratched into stone.
Pieces started sliding into place. If he'd had any time, he could have sat down and rationalized it all away, but just as he started to try, a heavy thump came from beyond the door, and he was pulled back into the moment. Stiles was missing; everything else could wait.
He used the Kleenex on the knob again, cracking the door just enough to keep it from being latched. When no one noticed he eased it open a little more, peering through at a pile of unmarked boxes. A stench of rotting meat wafted out, making his stomach churn. Covering his mouth with one hand to dull the smell, the Sheriff slipped in, pressing close to the boxes.
What he could make out was dark; there was only one dim bulb, and it was hanging at an angle that left him in shadow. Something heavy was being dragged across the concrete floor, scraping in an arrhythmic lurch. Faintly, the Sheriff made out a sound of chains clinking and a dripping noise, like a faucet with a slow leak.
The shotgun at his hip was a reassuring weight as the Sheriff eased around the boxes, taking in what he could without venturing too far. There was a body piled against one wall, opened up from the chest down. Stiles and Melissa were duct taped together back to back, out cold by the look of it. At the very edge of his line of sight, there was something that looked like the corner of a large metal kennel.
And right in the center of the room, Derek Hale was strung up by his ankles, naked as the day he was born and bleeding from about a dozen deep cuts. Under him, a large metal tub was collecting the slow but steady stream. Already it was half-full of more blood than a single person could possibly produce, chunks of unidentifiable things floating in it. Derek's eyes were open, glazed with pain, and a thick length of rope was acting as a gag.
He caught the Sheriff's eye, recognition flashing over his face. The Sheriff held a finger up to his lips. Derek stared at him for a second, then closed his eyes, either unconscious or faking. The same lurching noise from before made him duck back into cover before he could be certain. It was a human, meaty sound, like someone who was relearning how to walk.
The thing—it might have been human once, but it wasn't any longer, chunks of meat rotting off it, oozing black pus—circled Derek's dangling body. One of its feet was entirely gone, and it seemed to be using the pus to draw a circle on the ground. White hair clung to what was left of its head, but its face was almost entirely rotted away. Sharp, black-stained teeth were left bared by missing lips, and a chunk of white jawbone peeked through missing flesh. Only its eyes were still alive, glowing a malevolent yellow.
"Comfortable, Derek?" it asked, voice creaking like the lid of a coffin. "Doesn't matter if you're not. It won't be long now." It finished the circle with its back to the Sheriff, standing up at an angle to compensate for the missing foot.
There wouldn't be a better shot.
Stepping out, the Sheriff lifted his shotgun to his shoulder, pausing only to take aim before squeezing the trigger. The kickback slammed into his shoulder, blast like an explosion right next to his ear. The zombie—that was the only word he had for what was so obviously a walking corpse—shrieked and jolted, a chunk of its ribs vanishing in a spray of black goop. While it was still upright, the Sheriff squeezed again, taking out the diagonal shoulder and part of its throat. It staggered, falling to the side, clawing at the wound.
Letting the shotgun swing free at his side, the Sheriff ran forward. He grabbed Derek's gag, yanking it off and tossing it away. "If I get you down, will you survive a trip to the hospital, or should I make a call?"
Derek shook, spitting out a mouthful of more black stuff. His teeth were elongated into fangs, eyes flashing red around the rim of the iris. He jerked his head at the kennel, where Scott and Isaac Lahey were crammed in tight. "Fine—I'll be fine. That won't keep him down. Get the others free while you can." Flexing his stomach muscles, Derek folded himself in half, grabbing the chain and starting to work on lifting himself free of the hook.
Leaving him to it, the Sheriff went to investigate the kennel. More rope like Derek's gag had been wrapped around the bars in thick loops, dangling purple flowers. Their eyes were the same yellow the zombie's had been and they looked dazed. Neither of them were trying to escape, even though it was a simple latch, without even a lock. Feeling clumsy, the Sheriff untied the thick, messy knot, pulling it free.
By the time he had it half unwound, Scott was already looking more aware. He reached through the bars to pull at the latch, flipping it open just as the Sheriff tossed the last of the rope aside. Lahey was a little slower to come around. He didn't fight when the Sheriff reached in and grabbed his hand, leading him through the door.
A massive, gurgling roar bounced off the rafters. The Sheriff turned just in time to see the zombie fling itself at Derek, who was still working on getting himself free. He swung on the chain, twisting to land an open-landed smack across the zombie's chest. It came back suddenly clawed and dripping black ooze. The zombie wasn't fazed; it leaped, latching onto Derek with claws and teeth. They swung back and forth as they fought, dangling from Derek's ankle.
Looking around, the Sheriff spotted what had to be the release on Derek's chain. He grabbed Lahey's shoulder, shaking him into looking up. His eyes were still glazed, but focusing. It would have to do. "Go yank on that lever," he ordered, pointing at the spot across the room. "Scott, you're with me."
Stiles and Melissa were just starting to come around. Both of them had bruises forming at their temples, but no other obvious wounds. Pulling a penknife from his pocket, the Sheriff crouched to saw at the duct tape on their ankles. Scott worked at their wrists, claws—claws!—slicing through the tape with ease. In only a couple of seconds, they were free.
The Sheriff slid Stiles' arm over his shoulder, hauling him to his feet while Scott got his mother. In the background, there came a clatter of a chain unraveling rapidly, followed by a thunk of two bodies hitting ground, then a splash as they knocked over the tub. Blood poured out over the floor in a wave, coloring the concrete red.
"Dad?" Stiles asked blearily, squinting at him. His feet dragged slowly "Are you really here?"
"Real as werewolves, looks like." The Sheriff adjusted his grip, keeping Stiles as upright as he could. Scott followed with Melissa cradled against his chest. The boxes had fallen, forcing them to take a roundabout route to get to the back door. He sure as hell wasn't going to risk cutting through Werewolf v. Zombie just then. "Which we're going to talk about after this is over, but first I'm getting you to safety."
"I'm not—" Stiles shook his head, stumbling over the ledge of the door. "I've got to do something. This isn't—we had a plan." He pulled away, wobbling on his own two feet for a second. Then he tilted his head back, giving the most warbling, pitiful excuse of a howl the Sheriff had ever heard.
Scott turned around, expression twisted judgmentally. "Really, Stiles?"
"No." Stiles held up a hand, then staggered sideways. The Sheriff caught him around the waist, propping him up. "Wait for it."
The sounds of fighting from the warehouse continued unabated. Then tires squealed somewhere outside. Metal crunched, the whole building seeming to shake under some impact.
Stiles pumped his fist. "Yes. Come on, we've got to get back in there." He tried to pull away, but the Sheriff brought him up short by the simple expedient of holding onto his belt. It folded him in two before he realized what was happening and started swiping his arms behind him.
"No way," the Sheriff said, yanking on Stiles' belt. Scott had already carted Melissa out of there, leaving the panel and the bathroom door hanging open behind him. "You're getting out of here. Right now."
"I need to be there, Dad," Stiles insisted, leaning forward against the pull like he'd done when he'd been on the toddler leash. "No one else can do it, I swear, Dad, you have to let me—"
"Okay, okay." Since the sounds of fighting had stopped, and Stiles looked like he wasn't going to give up, the Sheriff slung his son's arm back over his shoulder. Together, they hobbled back into the warehouse.
The whole exterior wall was gone, replaced by a dust-covered black Camaro. Erica Reyes was helping Derek up from the floor while Allison Argent and Vernon Boyd watched the crumbled shape of the zombie. It was still trying to move, broken bones poking through rotted skin, skull caved in.
"Took you long enough to signal, Stilinski!" Erica snapped, twisting to pop Derek's arm back into the socket. He snarled and yanked away, rubbing the shoulder joint. "I thought we were going to have to stage a rescue on our own."
"I was a little tied up!" Stiles pulled away from the Sheriff, staggering toward them. The Sheriff let him go, watching as Scott's ex-girlfriend tossed him a mason jar of some sort of glittery black powder. He started using it to draw a circle around the zombie, pausing every few steps to connect some sort of squiggly-line symbols to the whole. "Hey Boyd, get the jar out of my backpack, will you?"
Stiles' backpack had been unzipped and tossed into a corner. Rather than rifle through it, Boyd dragged it over, staying bent so it was as far from himself as possible. As soon as it was close enough for Stiles to reach, he darted out of the way, eyes flashing yellow.
"Har har," Stiles snorted, pulling out a mayonnaise jar of some chunky red liquid. Popping open the top, he dipped a finger in and started painting on the floor. "Big baby werewolves."
"It smells," Boyd shot back, wrinkling his nose.
"Did you have to drive my car through the wall this time?" Derek asked, actually sounding close to a whine. His eyes kept darting to the Sheriff, then to Stiles, then back to the Sheriff, clearly unsure of what to make of his presence.
"Mine got it last time," Stiles groused, finishing connecting the circle of powder and sketching in a few last symbols. "Your turn, buddy. Anyone got a light? Gramps took my matches." The zombie crawled to the edge of the circle, fangs bared. Stiles didn't even flinch when it lunged for him, drawing up short right at the edge of the circle. "Don't like that, do you?"
Allison's face was a study of conflicting emotion as she pulled out a lighter and tossed it to Stiles. He caught it with the exact ease he didn't have when it came to balance. A couple flicks and the powder circle caught. It hissed and sparked, flaring with a bright purple flame. Inside, the zombie writhed, trying to escape the heat, mouth open in a God-awful screech.
It was a little chilling, the way Stiles' expression didn't change as the circle of flames grew higher. Slowly, the circle started to shrink. Everywhere it touched the zombie flared bright red, the fire eating away at it as it screamed. Allison hid her face, tears on her cheeks. The others watched, eyes that same eerie gold that the Sheriff was starting to connect with werewolves. Only Derek's were different
In less than two minutes, the zombie stopped struggling. Where it had burned was nothing but a pile of gray ashes. The Sheriff stepped forward, putting his hand on Stiles' shoulder. "If there's nothing else that needs to be done, we have to go." Shots fired might not have gotten a call—this was hunting season, far enough out from the edge of town it might be ignored. The car, on the other hand, would definitely get a visit from the department if they didn't move it fast. "Someone take my son's Jeep and get it back to the house. Anyone who needs medical attention wait by my cruiser. Stiles, you're with me."
"I don't need—"
"You have a concussion. You're going to the hospital." Bodily, he leaned down to haul Stiles upright. All of his suspicions were proven right when Stiles just dangled in his grip, nearly limp. The werewolves melted away, bits of wall crumbling as the Camaro was pulled out. The Sheriff started picking through the rubble to make use of the giant, werewolf-created door. "And on the way, you're going to tell me all about werewolves."
Stiles clenched his eyes closed and groaned, head falling forward. "How grounded am I?"
Getting Stiles discreet medical attention turned out to be surprisingly easy and also presented the lowest bar for humor the Sheriff had ever needed to leap.
"You're a vet," he repeated for the sixth time, watching as Dr. Alan Deaton shined a light in Stiles' eyes.
"Humans are animals too, Sheriff," Deaton replied serenely as he reached for some gauze.
"Yeah, and so are werewolves," the Sheriff grumbled, folding his arms over his chest awkwardly. Stiles snorted back a laugh that ended with a groan when it jarred his head. Deaton didn't even have to warn him.
Melissa and Scott had already arrived and were sitting quietly in the waiting room for Stiles to finish, a pack of ice pressed to Melissa's temple. God alone knew where Derek and his pack of misfits were. Just then, the Sheriff wasn't inclined to care. They weren't going anywhere, and from what he understood they'd heal from just about anything.
Which, he had to admit, was a nice change of pace. All he had to worry about was mystical mumbo jumbo taking them out, not a drunk driver or an overdose or any if the thousand things that regularly killed teenagers around the country.
The Sheriff tried not to think too hard about how he'd already accepted that he was going to watch out for the lot of them. Down that road lay an ulcer.
"Well, Stiles," Deaton finished up taping the gauze to Stiles' temple. "It looks like your concussion is only minor. I'm more concerned about the mild case of aconite poisoning. Very mild, fortunately, but I'm going to give you some medication to help flush it from your system."
"Aconite poisoning?" The Sheriff glanced between Deaton and Stiles, who was wiggling his nose like it had a hair tickling it. There was something jittery about him, more than usual, making the Sheriff wonder when his last dose of Adderall had been and how much of it he'd taken. "What the hell is that?"
"Monkshood. Wolfsbane," Stiles answered, while Deaton started doing something esoteric and probably illegal with a prescription bottle and some unidentified pills. "But how did I get it, I'm not a werewolf? At least, I think I'm not a werewolf. Derek hasn't bitten me or anything. Not and broken the skin." He caught up with himself a second too late and groaned, hiding his hands. "Not what it sounded like, I swear. It was just fooling around—not like that, like Scott and I— oh my God, someone stop me."
The Sheriff rubbed his nose tiredly. There was something to be said about the kind of night it had been that he didn't even have the energy to try.
"Anxiety is one of the lesser known symptoms of aconite. As are nausea, dizziness, muscle weakness, abdominal pain and diarrhea, among others." Deaton found a collection of paper cups and filled one from the sink. "But no, you're not a werewolf. I suspect it's from injudicious contact with the raw flower. Monkshood is known for its toxicity." He finished filling the cup to the brim and passed it over with a little blue and white pill."Take this. One every six hours for the next twenty four, then come back to see me. Drink plenty of fluids, and if the symptoms worsen or fail to decrease by morning go directly to the hospital."
Grimacing, Stiles tossed the pill back and downed the water with that special reluctance that came naturally to all teenagers. When he hopped off the exam table, he wobbled, but held the landing. "Can we go home now? I kind of want to sleep for a week."
Deaton nodded and stripped off his gloves. "Of course. Do keep an eye on him, but rest is the best thing for now."
Stiles made his unsteady way toward the waiting room, but the Sheriff took a moment to grab Deaton's sleeve. "Excuse me, Dr. Deaton—"
The Sheriff paused, then nodded slowly. "Alan. You're not going to tell me how you're caught up in all of this, are you? The kids—well, they're kids, I'm sure there's a reason, but where do you come in?"
"I thought that was obvious." Alan smiled. "I'm a vet."
There wasn't a reason. Or there was but it really came down to teenage idiocy and being in the wrong place at the wrong time.
They'd all slept at the Sheriff's home, in interests of being able to easily prod awake the two wounded. Since he was a kind man, he waited until breakfast to start the in-depth interrogation. Since he wanted honest answers, breakfast with the boys was at six am, and he withheld coffee until he got answers.
"There's laws against this sort of thing, you know," Stiles grumbled, clutching his mug of clean, pure water. Scott was collapsed face-first on the table, possibly dead. Werewolves, as it turned out, weren't immune to early mornings. "You're a Sheriff. What happened to my rights?"
"The eighth amendment stops at the front door."Pointedly, the Sheriff leaned back against the counter right in front of the coffee pot and sipped his mug full of hot deliciousness. He'd set aside another mug for Melissa when she woke up; they needed to have a talk, too, but it wasn't one that needed to happen in front of the boys."Whenever you're ready, gentlemen."
Scott lifted his head, looking at Stiles, who shrugged and sunk down deeper in his chair. "Okay, it started with the fire at the old Hale place..."
The Sheriff nodded his way through what was possibly the stupidest explanation he'd ever heard—he'd been a father for seventeen years, so he knew stupid when he heard it—and let Scott and Stiles carry the tale. Werewolves, kanimas, and a zombie Gerard Argent feeding on cancer victims all made... not sense, but at least once he removed his reality filter it had some sort of logic. There were other things that were obviously skimmed over. He could see it every time Stiles was editing in real time. Scott was better at it, swearing blue that there wasn't that much danger when the school's principal had been going around threatening to cut children in half. Fortunately, the Sheriff knew better than to trust those eyes anymore.
"—and then you showed up, and you know everything after that," Stiles finished limply, making grabby hands at the coffee pot. The bruising at his temple had turned purple overnight, and smaller ones were making themselves known at his jaw and on his knuckles. "Okay, we're done. Reward. Dr. Deaton said plenty of fluids."
Silently, the Sheriff turned and poured two more mugs, setting them in front of the boys along with powdered creamer and sugar. His mind was churning, and he didn't trust himself to speak just yet.
What they didn't mention was almost as telling as what they did. And all of it filled him with a sick sense of dread. He remembered that night at the station, the violence of the murders last fall, Stiles' face as he watched the zombie-grandfather of one of his friends burn. Judging by their omissions, that level of bloodshed and terror wasn't completely abnormal. It was sheer luck that Stiles had only been shot once.
And there was no way to guarantee it was over.
The Sheriff was a realist; trying to wrap a teenager in cotton batting and keep them safe from the world would just result in a moody brat who put himself in even more danger. Even Stiles.
He nodded to himself, leaning against the counter again. "Alright. Here's what we're going to do."
Contrary to all their whining, neither boy had taken a drink yet. They clung to their mugs like ceramic shields against whatever was coming at them. Good. Let them be nervous, he thought, admittedly cruelly. Worry over punishment was sometimes better than a thousand admonitions.
The Sheriff pointed his index and middle finger at the little culprits, making sure to get them both. "Ground rule: if you two see anything, and I mean anything supernatural going on, you tell me. I don't care if it's a fairy taking a nap in a tulip, you got me? I want to be fully informed."
Immediately, Scott protested. "But Derek—"
"I'll deal with Derek. Rule two: no one does anything stupid." When they, predictably, looked confused, because they probably thought every to-date had been perfectly reasonable, the Sheriff glared. "I'm serious. No one goes into a dangerous situation alone. No plans, no schemes, no avoidable violence. Carry your phones, check in when you think you're in trouble or you need backup. Common sense, that's all I'm asking. Deal?"
Stiles and Scott were looking more put-upon by the second. They mumbled a petulant, "Deal," in unison, staring into their coffee cups. It was at least standard teenage behavior.
"Okay, last one." This time he looked at Stiles. "No more secrets." Stiles flinched, but the Sheriff pressed on. "I know when you're lying, and trust me, my imagination is worse than all of this. If you're hurt, or dealing with something, or thinking of asking Derek to—"
Coffee splashed as Stiles whipped his head up, eyes huge. "Dad, no—"
"Whatever is going on, I want to know," the Sheriff finished loudly, over Stiles protests. "You boys have been doing your best, but you don't have to do it alone. Okay?"
Stiles nodded, biting his lip and looking down. Scott fidgeted in his chair, clearly uncomfortable. Softly, the Sheriff put down his mug and stepped over to wrap his arms around their shoulders. "I'm proud of you both, okay? Scared shitless, but proud as hell."
It took a second, but Stiles hugged him back. Scott followed suit a second later, wrapping one arm around Stiles and another around the Sheriff.
"You're still grounded."
Three days later, the Sheriff leaned against his car and waited, sipping iced coffee as he watched traffic go by and sweated in the summer heat. Derek's address hadn't been easy to find. In fact, he hadn't found it, until the day Hale came in to apply for a California license. Since he'd asked Marv down in the DMV to keep an eye out, the information had been—unofficially—on his desk in less than an hour.
The place was one of those parts of town that were either going up or coming down. Back in the day, Beacon Hills had been a growing place, and high rise lofts had been built anticipating a surge. Then the housing market had collapsed. They were relatively cheap for someone who didn't care that they'd been allowed to sit empty for nearly a decade.
Or if you were moving up from the burned out shell of your family's deathtrap.
It took nearly a half an hour before Derek strutted his way out of the building, chin up, shoulders back. The Sheriff snorted and hid his smile behind his cup. He'd seen dogs use the same exact trick when they were trying to look intimidating. "Not going to work, son."
His theory about werewolf hearing proved true. From fifty feet away, Derek's step faltered a little and his eyes dropped. The Sheriff kept sipping his coffee patiently, waiting.
Derek finally came to a stop a safe ten feet away, far enough that he could move before the Sheriff even without werewolf powers. He shoved his hands into his pocket, losing about ten years of dignity in the process. "What do you want?"
"To talk. What else?" The Sheriff patted the side of his cruiser, then hissed when the metal burned his palm. "Come here. I'm not going to arrest you."
Warily, Derek took the offered spot without any sign of discomfort, still about three feet away toward the headlights. He didn't stop watching the Sheriff like deputies would spring out of corners with handcuffs and wrestle him to the ground at any second. He'd been less nervous when the Sheriff had actually arrested him.
It was going to be one of those talks. "So. Werewolves." Thoughtfully, the Sheriff took another sip, watching Derek over the edge of his cup. "I don't think I need to tell you how important it is to me that this town and all the people in it stay safe."
Every word seemed to make Derek tense up a little more. He nodded sharply, eyes fixed on some middle distance.
"And I need everyone on the same page. Settled. None of this lurking in abandoned subways."
Derek nodded again, jaw clenched. "I understand."
Apparently he didn't. Sighing, the Sheriff turned and reached through the window to pull a file folder off his seat. He shoved it at Derek, who leaned away like it might be poisoned. "Take it," the sheriff snapped. "Just look."
Reluctantly, Derek accepted the folder and flipped it open. He blinked, shock turning his features open. "This is..."
"An application to BHU." The coffee was gone, but the Sheriff sipped the dregs anyway before tossing the cup at a nearby trashcan. It bounced off the rim and tumbled in. "I can write you a recommendation letter, and I've got two deputies who'll do the same. There's probably a few teachers at BHHS who remember you, too."
"I don't..." Derek flipped through a few more pages. His eyebrows drew together in confusion as he stared at the full-page flyer for a workshop on scholarships, and another advertising the criminal justice courses offered by the university. "I don't understand."
The Sheriff shifted his weight back and forth awkwardly. With Stiles, these sorts of talks were easier, somehow. Maybe because he had more practice. "You're a good kid. And we could use some good people in the department, if you're inclined that way." Derek's face twisted, looking like he was holding back a scream. Hurriedly, the Sheriff added, "No pressure, though. There's plenty of fields offered, if you want to explore somewhere else."
Finally, Derek's expression cracked, a choked laugh slipping from between his lips. "I'm a registered nurse. I've already asked Melissa if the county hospital has any openings." He closed the folder and shoved it back in the Sheriff's limp hands. "But thanks."
"You're... an RN." The Sheriff blinked and took the folder back numbly. Somehow he'd had a picture of Derek in his head that maybe, maybe included a GED. He'd been fully prepared to deliver a lecture on the future and how important it would be to his pack of teenage werewolves to set an example by finishing his education. The wind had been taken from his sails. "Not what I would expect."
"I wanted to be a surgeon when I was a kid. After the fire, it didn't really work out and..." Derek shrugged, shoulders hunched defensively. "I like it." The last was said almost defiantly. It was so much like a kid that the Sheriff's heart ached.
"That's... good. That's real good." The Sheriff knew he sounded like an idiot, but he still couldn't quite wrap his head around the image of Derek Hale in scrubs. That was going to take some time. "Look, that's not the only thing I wanted to talk to you about."
"I didn't think it was." Derek's posture loosened a little, though, more comfortable. "What is it?"
The Sheriff took a chance and put his hand on Derek's shoulder. "Stiles and Scott told me about what's been going on. Now, I'm sure they held back some things, but from the sound of it, you've been in a pretty tight spot."
One of Derek's eyebrows quirked. "It's been a long year."
"I can imagine." The Sheriff patted Derek's shoulder, pleased that he hadn't ducked away yet. "But look, I wanted to make sure you know that you don't just have to rely on teenagers anymore. My door's open. All I ask is to be kept informed and try not to force me to turn my head too often and try to keep the kids out of it if you can."
He watched the calculations run through Derek's eyes. The boy had a terrible poker face. If he wasn't glaring, it was all right there for anyone to see. The Sheriff knew the very second that he decided, before he nodded. "I can agree to that."
"Good." With one last pat, the Sheriff let go and pushed off the side of his cruiser. "Dinner's at seven tonight. You're invited."
Derek took the hint and did the same, stepping onto the curb while the Sheriff slipped into the driver's seat. "Dinner?"
"May as well get used to each other, Derek." Leaning one arm out the window, the Sheriff tilted down his sunglasses. "I have a feeling we're going to be working together a lot."
Something complicated twisted Derek's face, too fast for the Sheriff to be sure of. "You've been calling me Derek. But I don't know your first name."
"You had to ask." Thankfully, the sun was at an angle that probably mostly hid his grimace, if not his groan. "Mervyn."
Like mighty exclamation points, Derek's eyebrows went up. He barely stifled a laugh. "Your name is Mervyn?"
"Yeah, yeah, yeah, everyone says it." Pointedly, he started rolling up his window. "Just... Call me the Sheriff."