Stiles carried the precariously stacked pile of boardgames with unsteady hands, his sneakers crunching against the wet paveway beneath him. The house before him was suburban, with white siding and a warm red roof. The porch had potted plants hanging from it, and a bush in front of it that would mostly likely bloom with bright flowers come spring, but was now slowly wilting in the autumn cold.
Glancing down at the directions on his phone and then another look at the mailbox confirmed that Stiles had the right house number. It was just a little strange that there were no toys on the porch or the lawn, just a neat pile of crispy, brown leaves. But some families, Stiles supposed, didn’t like the clutter of toys outside.
He went up to the door, painted the same red as the roof, and knocked quickly before grabbing the top of his game pile to steady it. It only took a few moments for a man to open the door, tall with wide shoulders and a stubbled jaw. Which was surprising, because Stiles had took Laura Hale to be the single mother type, even if he was going on nothing but the exasperation in her voice as she talked about her son. The man, despite being obviously attractive, was frowning at Stiles as if he had done a personal grievance by coming up to the household.
“Hello,” said Stiles, cracking a smile. “I’m Stiles Stilinski. Is Mrs. Hale home?”
The man didn’t say a word, simply continued to glower.
Stiles wrinkled his brow, definitely put off but trying to remain professional. “I’m sorry, did I get the wrong house? Maybe my directions were wrong…”
“Your directions were fine, Mr. Stilinski.” A tall woman with long brown hair and a bright red smile shoved past the man, giving him an irritated look before turning back to Stiles. “Laura Hale, we spoke over the phone?”
“Ah, yes, Mrs. Hale!” Stiles gave his most professional smile. He was wearing a button up shirt and khaki pants, which he had hoped would seem just nice enough to impress the parents, but not formal enough to put off the child. “I would shake your hand, but as you can see…”
“Oh! Yes, of course, come in!” Mrs. Hale yanked the silent man in the doorway backwards, clearing up the doorway. “And feel free to call me Laura. Please don’t mind my brother, he can be a bit stand offish at times.” Her words were strained with annoyance, and obviously directed towards the brother in question.
The man’s response was to roll his eyes and sulk into the house.
Stiles just raised a brow, as it wouldn’t do to speak rudely of a client, no matter how much he had the urge to. “It’s all right. Where do you want me to put these down?” he asked, shifting the pile of games as he walked into the living room, Laura closing the door behind him.
“Just on the dining room table will be fine.” Laura gestured to the adjoining dining room.
Stiles gladly put his games on the table, swiping a folder off the top and turning back to Laura, glancing down at the pages. “Is Derek home? I would like to meet him as soon as possible. It’s best if we get acquainted right away.” He looked up and noticed Laura’s confused expression. “Of course, if you would like to discuss your son first, I have no problem with that. But usually I like the child present before I detail the lesson plans.”
“Oh, I mean- Well, I think you have a mistake,” Laura answered, looking troubled. “You see, you’ve just met Derek. He’s my brother, not my son.”
Stiles eyes widened at the news. “Oh… Well. Uh, I’m sorry for the confusion.”
Derek knew that refusing to come out of the kitchen was childish, but he found that he didn’t care. He was 32 and still lived with his sister. Cora had moved out two years ago, going back to New York and into her own life. Derek wished that he could do the same, but there was something that was tying him here, tying him to Laura. An ugly, pulsating thing that he didn’t like to stare at directly, lest it climb into his lungs and choke his breath.
Laura didn’t look pleased when she walked into the kitchen, her hands settled squarely on her hips before she began to sign. You are not doing this to me right now. I want you in the dining room and talking to this teacher, and I don’t want to hear your sass on the matter.
He brought boardgames, Derek signed angrily. He thought I was a child.
Laura gave an exaggerated shrug, to make up for the fact that Derek couldn’t hear her sigh. Who cares? You know, the way you act, I don’t think he’s all that wrong.
I’m a grown man, I can decide if I need a teacher or not, Derek answered petulantly. And I never asked for you to hire some kid straight out of college to play go fish with!
If you’re such a grown man, how about you show me that? At least take a lesson or two and decide if he’s such a bad teacher, Laura reasoned, because even angry she was the logical one. And then, I swear, I won’t even bring it up anymore.
Derek crossed his arms and leaned his hips against the counter, thinking on the proposal. He knew he was being unreasonable. The court session was going to be in a month, and the judge had a testimony from Derek’s doctor that he could speak aloud. And, according to California’s law, that was clearest means of communication for the jury, and thus the way he must present himself, because apparently Derek couldn’t catch a god damn break.
Fine, Derek conceded, his gestures still blunt. But if he makes me play one of those games? He sliced a line across his throat, his eyes hard.
“Okay,” Stiles began, shifting uncomfortably in front of the family before him. He signed as well as spoke, making sure that Derek had a clear view of his hands. “First I have to get to know your situation first. Your accident, how long you have been deaf, what schooling you’ve had. Things like that.”
Head trauma, 16 years, I know sign language and how to read lips, Derek answered, his movements sharp and to the point.
Laura simply leaned back in her seat, her arms sullenly crossed. She obviously wasn’t going to play peacemaker.
Stiles began to write in his notebook between sentences. “And how old are you now?”
“Wow, so half of your life you’ve been without speech,” Stiles muttered to himself, before remembering to sign. “How would you describe your oral abilities?”
Derek simply shook his head. I don’t like to speak.
Well, that much Stiles had gathered. “But you want to learn?” he ventured, his voice and movements hesitant. It didn’t look like Derek even wanted to be in the same room as him, much less receiving lessons.
I’m forced to, Derek hesitantly admitted.I have a court hearing and they’re making me speak aloud for clarity.
“Nothing too serious, I hope?” Stiles asked with a teasing smile, guessing that if Derek was still at home that it was probably nothing more than a speeding ticket or a late fine.
Not my case, Derek responded, his eyes narrowing. I’m testifying.
“Ah,” Stiles responded verbally, and even he could get the hint that Derek didn’t really want to talk about it. He scratched the back of his head with his pencil before placing it down to sign, “How long do we have till the hearing?”
“Well, that’s not very long then.” Stiles bit the bottom of his lip, jotting down notes. “I’m going to need multiple lessons, but I think if you have a speech written up before hand you’ll be able to memorize it. Naturally questions will be asked afterwards, so we’ll have to prepare you for anything, but generally you should be able to get around with yes or no answers.” He looked up to Derek glaring at him before remembering that he hadn’t been signing. “Sorry!” he said and signed, throwing up his hands before repeating himself.
“Do you work with many deaf students?” Laura asked, both verbally and signing.
“No,” Stiles responded, kicking himself for forgetting to sign. He had been taught that not signing in front of a deaf patient, no matter how well they claimed to be at lip reading, was very frustrating and rude. God, like Derek needed another reason to apparently hate him. “In fact, Derek here is my first. I have a few other students who I work with in the school district, but they have speech impediments, with one having slight hearing difficulties.”
“Are you confident that you can teach my brother?” asked Laura, looking again hesitant as she glanced towards Derek, who had crossed his arms and was eyeing them both warily. “He-” Her hands faltered, looking once more to Derek, but continued, “He has refused other offers for speech improvement over the years.”
Derek grunted at that.
“I know I may not have experience with older students, but I have just come out of a program that taught me the newest improvements in speech pathology,” Stiles explained, trying to make his words, gestures, and expression was sincere. “My methods are the latests, and my teaching theory is backed by current research. I won’t blame you and your brother for going with another teacher, but I would at least like you to give me a try.”
Laura looked towards her brother, who was gazing at Stiles like he was a puzzle to be figured out. After a few moments Derek nodded gruffly, and Stiles was strangely relieved. It wasn’t like he was particularly excited to teach someone so obviously unwilling to learn, but there was a great mystery in the Hale house that Stiles was curious about, and even more mystery in a man who would go half his life without trying to utter a word.
Derek quickly found that Stiles (“Don’t call me Mr. Stilinski, that’s just weird since you’re older than me.”) was out of his element when it came to lessons with adults. He had, at first, attempted to pull out some boardgames, but one withering look from Derek had him meekly placing them back on the pile.
“Fine,” Stiles had muttered and signed. “We’ll just do it the boring way then.”
The boring way involved wordlists and repetition exercises, which made up most of their lessons. Stiles lack of practice with sign language was evident in his halting hands, and sometimes he would skip words or phrases entirely, forcing Derek to watch the man’s mouth. Which Derek was usually okay with, most people he dealt with day to day couldn’t sign, but Stiles spoke so damn fast. His pink lips seemed to drill on a mile a minute. Derek had to rely on the chunks of conversation that Stiles signed and what Derek could catch of the man speaking. It was a frustrating experience, in more ways than one.
No. Scratch that. In only one way was is frustrating, and that was that a novice was trying to teach him how to talk. Someone barely graduated, who kept telling stories of how cute his kids were, Isaac with a stutter and Scott who was due for ear surgery soon to have tubes placed.
“He keeps getting ear aches, poor buddy,” Stiles had explained with a wincing frown. “One time it hurt so bad he started crying in class. But it wasn’t all bad, because his crush volunteered to take him to the nurses office. He wouldn’t stop talking about her all week. Allison this, Allison that! That kid’s gonna grow up to be a hopeless romantic, I tell ya.”
Stories about Isaac were a little more tense.
“He keeps flinching when I make sudden movements. He’s so nervous all the time, I don’t know what to make of it. I think his sutter is psychosemantic, but do the counselors even listen to me? I know I’ve only been his speech tutor for a month, but I’m really considering looking into his home life…”
Derek had just grunted from above his worksheet. He was prone to let Stiles rumble on, hoping to delay the actual instruction parts of his lesson for as long as possible. He had found that, with just a little prompting, Stiles was more than happy to go off on wild tangents. It was a wonder he was able to teach grade schoolers at all.
“But less about me, how about you go over that vocabulary list?” Stiles asked with a smile.
Derek didn’t hide his groan as he glared down at the words before him.
“Roar-ing,” Scott pronounced, a seven of spades clutched in his hand.
Stiles shook his head gently. “No, that’s the sound that lions make. It’s spelled W-A-R-R-I-N-G. War-ing. Can you say it slower for me?”
“War,” Scott began, enunciating the word carefully, “ring.”
Stiles drummed the table with a proud smile. “Very good, buddy! Go ahead and put down your pair of sevens.” He didn’t care what Derek had to say (or not say) about using games with speech pathology, it wasn’t just the kids who enjoyed the lessons more that way.
“Wha-wha-whaaaat does w-w-warring mean?” asked Isaac, who always had difficulties with his W’s.
“It’s when a country or group of people are in a war,” Stiles explained. “Like right now America is a warring nation, though don’t ask me who with nowadays. I can never keep track.”
Both boys giggled at that.
“‘tiles!” Scott exclaimed, yanking the young man’s sleeve. “‘tiles, Mama tol’ me to athk you to come to dwinner tonight, and I just wemembered!”
Melissa Mccall had been friends with Stiles’ family since his parents and her were in highschool, and after his mother’s death she had been the strongest maternal figure in his life. Stiles had no doubt that if he and Scott were closer in age that they would have been best friends rather than teacher and student. He was often asked to go to dinner, especially now that he had moved out of his father’s house.
“Tonight? I would love to buddy, but I have to work with another student tonight,” Stiles explained, disappointed in missing Mrs. McCall’s delicious cooking. He glanced over at Isaac, who was suddenly looking sullenly down at his hands. “Hey, why don’t you ask if Isaac can come over! He’s a lot more fun than me anyway.”
Most kids would have turned their nose at such an offer, rejecting Isaac as a quiet and strange kid who no one wanted to talk to. But not Scott. Even if they weren’t in the same class, Scott had been nothing but friendly towards the boy since their first speech lesson.
Scott, true to Stiles’ guess, lit up at the idea. “Yeth! Ithaac, you totally should come over! You can take the buth to my house an’ everythwing!”
Isaac’s smile at the suggestion quickly flickered into a frown. “I w-would, but Daddy mi-mi-miiight get m-mad. He doesn’t like to p-pick me up.”
Now both boys looked downright miserable, and Stiles wasn’t about to have that. He suddenly came up with an idea, perhaps a way to help all three of his students tonight. And perhaps a way to see what Isaac’s home life was like.
You can’t just bring children to our lessons! Yes, it was very possible to exclaim in sign language, it just took a lot of body motion, and Derek had a lot of practice over the years.
“I called Laura and she gave me permission,” Stiles admitted with a guilty smile that was far too easy going.
I’m your student, not Laura! This is my house too! Derek was glad he didn’t have to actually say the words, because he was sure the two children (currently seated at the dining room table and getting out a board game) would have overhead him.
“Yes, but I knew you would say no,” Stiles explained, slapping the stunned Derek on the back. “Relax man, they won’t interfere at all.”
They did interfere. A lot.
First off, Scott was just as much of a blabbermouth as Stiles, which was a feat all on its own. He knew kids were generally talkative, but damn did this one have a case of motormouth. And Stiles was right, he did talk a lot about Allison. About her pretty brown hair, and her dimples, and how she was one of the smartest girls in class. How she had moved to Beacon Hills this year and how Scott had promised to show her around school and how they just started talking and how great she was.
Stiles started setting up Candyland, nodding at the right moments and putting in commentary at random intervals. Derek could barely keep up with them both.
Isaac was a lot more quiet, seated next to Stiles and clutching the young man’s shirt, barely making eye contact with anything but the table. In a way Derek was glad the kid was shy, because it meant one less mouth to keep track of, but it was awkward seeing him so strung tight. It was the only reason Derek offered to get them something to drink, perhaps to show a bit of hospitality in the face of such an unsure little frown.
Of course that all went to hell as soon as Isaac spilled his drink all of his shirt and started crying.
“Whoa, whoa, whoa!” Stiles shouted, standing up to avoid being drenched as well. “Whoa there, buddy!”
Derek sighed as Isaac’s face started to turn blotchy and red, and without thinking he picked the kid up, sticky shirt and all. “It’s okay,” he muttered, and Isaac seemed so shocked that Derek had spoken that he momentarily forgot his distress. “Let’s get you cleaned up,” he continued, though the words were halting and fumbling. “I think we still have some of Cora’s old shirts.”
He walked up the stairs without another glance at Stiles, who was still standing, eyes wide and mouth opened.
“Why did Dewek thound tho funny?” asked Scott as Stiles re-entered the dining room, paper towels in hand.
“Scott, that’s pretty much the pot calling the kettle black, buddy,” Stiles answered as he went to wipe up the bit of juice that hadn’t landed on Isaac’s shirt. “He has hearing problems, just like you do, and so he sounds different than other people, just like you.”
“But he can’t ‘ear any thtuff, right?” Scott asked, his legs kicking back and forth. “I can’t only ‘ear quwiet thtuff.”
“Yeah, he can’t hear anything,” Stiles answered, wondering if perhaps he should go up after Derek and Isaac. He had been so surprised that the man had spoken on his own that he hadn’t even considered how many school regulations he was ignoring right now. But Stiles knew from Laura that she and Derek had raised their younger sister Cora since she was little, and Derek seemed comfortable in the face of a bawling little kid. Perhaps it was best to leave these things to the experts.
“Dat mutht be thcawy,” Scott said quietly, looking down. “I would be weally thad if I couldn’t hear anything. Like T.V. or muthic or Allithon or Mama. Ithn’t there any way he can get better?”
Stiles hesitated at that answer. “I don’t know. I don’t think so, because if there had been I’m sure he would have gotten better by now.” That was the logical answer, right? No one would choose to live their life in silence. It wasn’t as if Stiles had seen Derek’s medical record, but that wasn’t a hard conclusion to come up with.
That was when Derek came back down with Isaac still in his arms, the little boy in a faded purple shirt and looking as if his face had been washed clean. He was leaning sleepily into Derek’s shoulder, as if all he wanted to do was take a nap. It was actually a very domestic image, and Stiles felt his heart stir at the thought of Derek as a dad.
Derek put Isaac on the couch and grabbed a blanket from the chair, draping it over Isaac who snuggled down into one of the throw pillows. He turned on the television and flipped to a random cartoon, and then pat Isaac’s head before coming up to Stiles. It was only then that Stiles noticed that Derek looked more stony than usual, his lips pulled in tight.
“Scott, why don’t you watch T.V. with Isaac for awhile?” Stiles asked, going on instinct. “Me and Derek are going to go talk in the kitchen.”
He had bruises under his shirt, Derek explained, leaning heavily against the wall as he gritted his teeth. He felt sick to his stomach. They were obviously placed to remain hidden. Some looked fresher than others.
You’re sure it’s abuse? asked Stiles, making sure to sign so that there was no way the children could hear.
Derek nodded. There was no doubt in his mind. I don’t know what Isaac would have done to get himself that badly injured. And he asked me not to tell anyone, or let his dad find out.
Stiles rubbed his face. “Fuck,” he muttered, and then signed it for good measure. I have to go call my dad. Sorry you had to be a part of this.
I’d rather it was me that found out then no one at all, Derek admitted, and it was the truth. Did Stiles really think him so heartless? I’ll stay with them while you make the call.
Derek prepared some quick snacks of apple slices while Stiles went out into the backyard to make the call. He walked into the living room to the sight of Scott holding Isaac’s hand as the blonde boy stifled his tears.
“It’s okay,” Scott was murmuring, rubbing Isaac’s hand. “You can ask to sleep over my house tonight and Mama can wash your shirt. That way he won’t have to know.”
Derek didn’t have the view to see Isaac’s response, but it caused Scott to bite his lip and say, “‘tiles will make him say yes, it’s okay. ‘tiles will know what to do.”
Derek walked loudly up to them, startling the boys to look up. He placed the apple slices on the coffee table gently, and then went to sit on the chair. The boys didn’t speak much after that, simply ate quietly and watched whatever channel Derek had flipped to. They barely moved at all until the Sheriff knocked on the door.
“I’m going to have to cancel tonight.” Stiles held the phone between his shoulder and ear so he had both hands to sort through files. “I have to go to another testification meeting.”
“And Derek doesn’t have to go to this one, correct?” Laura asked from the other end of the line. There was chatter around her, so she was probably still at work.
“No, he just had to go to the initial investigation,” Stiles explained. “And we were able to sort through that in the first night. As the instructor who made the call, I’m obligated to go through pretty much the entire process. Of course they have already recommended a psychiatrist for the poor kid and everything, but I also think that I’m the closest thing he has to a guardian right now. Both Isaac’s mother and brother recently died.”
To be honest, that was what Stiles had been guessing the stutter had come from, the traumatic loss of two family members. When he had lost his mother he had gotten severe panic attacks, and he hadn’t even been as young as Isaac was. He had no idea that Mr. Lahey, who had always come across as a strict parent, was actually an abuser.
“Poor lamb,” Laura muttered. “Does he have anyone to take him in? I count myself lucky that I was old enough to gain custody of Derek and Cora when… well, when that situation was forced upon us.”
Stiles let the question sit on his tongue before swallowing it down. He knew that something tragic had happened to the Hale family, but never felt it appropriate to ask. Now was not the time for such thoughts. “No, he doesn’t. It’s looking more and more like he’s going to end up in foster care.”
“That’s horrible. Oh, Derek will be so disappointed to hear that.”
Stiles blinked hard. “I didnt know that Derek was so emotionally invested in Isaac.” Or in anything, for that matter. The man seemed more stubborn silence than human most times.
“It’s sometimes hard to read my brother, but I’ve had quite a bit of practice,” Laura explained, her words sharp. “Of course he feels what Isaac’s going through, a little orphan boy who just lost a large chunk of his family. And now his last remaining relative is too dangerous to live with? I shudder to think what would have happened if my brother lost either me or Cora after the fire.”
Stiles hung his head and rubbed the back of his neck. “I’m sorry, I didn’t mean… I lost my mother when I was young, so I also feel for him. Isaac, that is. And I would personally love to take the kid in, but there’s no way I can afford to raise a kid on my current salary. But I definitely took that into consideration.” He twirled a pen between his fingers, wondering how to word what he wanted to say. “But look, I meant no disrespect to your brother. You’re right in that he’s a hard man to read. I barely know if he tolerates me half the time.”
Laura was quiet for a few moments before answering, “I’m sorry, I shouldn’t have gotten short with you. You’re Derek’s teacher, not his friend. I shouldn’t expect you to know everything about him.”
Stiles wasn’t about to admit that he wish he knew more about Derek. That sounded a bit too unprofessional, no matter how true it was.
“Are you ready to start practicing your speech?” Stiles asked, and though Derek couldn’t hear the young man’s tone, he still felt that Stiles’ movements had been far more subdued than usual. But then again, what was Derek suppose to do about that? Ask him what’s wrong, ask about his feelings?
Is something wrong? Derek was surprised to find himself signing.
“What?” Stiles said, caught off guard enough to momentarily forget to sign. “Of course not, it’s just… Would you rather not let me hear your speech?”
Derek shrugged, trying to pass for nonchalant. The truth was that he didn’t want anyone to hear his speech, much less Stiles. He hated having to speak. The words never seemed to come out right, and he knew by people’s looks that he sounded strange. They’ll probably put a report of the trial in the newspaper anyway. You might as well hear it now.
Stiles nodded, but bit his bottom lip. “If you’re sure… then go on ahead.”
Derek coughed to clear his throat before starting, trying to keep his nervousness at bay, though it sat in his stomach like a heavy stone. “When I was sixteen, I entered a relationship with Kate Argent,” he began, refusing to look up from his paper. “My family did not know of this. I told her about the structure of my house, the secret passageways my family had built. I believe….” He paused here, struggling to get the words out. It was hard to admit to himself, even all these years later, much less say it allowed. “I believe that she used this knowledge to commit arson against my family. After the fire she refused contact and left town. I have not had contact with her since.”
When Derek did look up, unsure, he was met with wide brown eyes and a gaping mouth, which were quickly schooled into neutrality.
“Derek, I…” Stiles put his hand on top of Derek’s for a moment, before letting go to sign, “I had no idea that’s what happened.”
Derek shrugged, because that was the only thing he could do right now to stop from shaking. How did it sound?
“Besides heart breaking?” Stiles joked, though his smile was sad. “Clear as a bell. They’ll have no problem understanding you, I guarantee it.”
Derek nodded, something akin to relief entering him, but not quite. He still had yet to show up to the court date. He still had to face the woman he had never wanted to see again. He still had to dredge up memories of that time long ago, where he lost everything on a stupid mistake.
The thing about Derek’s voice was that it wasn’t particularly sultry or smoky or anything like that. Like most deaf, Derek had issues with slurring and pronunciations. He had to speak slowly, working around larger words that were harder to pronounce. And it was quite obvious that he was embarrassed to talk, showing in more ways than just his sullen demeanor.
Stiles should feel a bit guilty for it, but he loved it when Derek talked. Though he couldn’t really call Derek adorable on even a good day, there was something very cute about the way the man’s face would flush pink and he would stoop his head in embarrassment everytime he talked. It was that teasing side of Stiles that wanted to pull that blush out brighter, and he constantly had to remind himself that he was being employed not to harass Derek but to teach him. There was just something so vulnerable, so genuine about Derek when he talked, as if all these mighty defenses he had built around himself over the past years just came crumbling down with a few spoken words. As if it was a chance to see the vulnerable underbelly of beast.
Stiles wouldn’t say he was starting to be charmed by Derek, but that didn’t mean it was any less the truth. Perhaps it had started that day when Derek had picked up a crying Isaac and took him to get cleaned up. Or perhaps everytime he asked about Isaac afterwards, each question chipping away at Stiles’ initial dislike. Or perhaps how strong Derek was everytime he repeated his speech, forcing himself to speak of the most tragic event in his life. All for the sake of arresting this Kate Argent woman, so that she could never hurt anyone again.
It had been Laura who told Stiles about the case, but in truth he felt that Derek would have explained if Stiles had asked. Apparently a man, privacy laws keeping him unnamed, had recently confessed about a woman fitting Kate’s age and description asking him about combustible chemicals a few nights before the fire. Laura and Derek had been brought in for questioning after those facts came to light, and Derek was the one to identify Kate as a possible suspect.
“Why didn’t he tell the police about her sooner?” Stiles asked. He was in the kitchen on the pretense of filling his water glass, and had caught Laura on her way home from grocery shopping.
“He didn’t have any evidence against her back then,” Laura explained. “Just a suspicion. And really, who would believe him? He had just been dumped, they would have just called him paranoid and resentful.”
“My dad would have believed him,” Stiles argued back.
“Perhaps. After all, your dad is the reason this case is still open.”
“Now you know I can’t discuss official business with you, son,” the Sheriff mumbled between his burger- turkey burger, naturally, because Stiles had been buying that day.
“I know, I know.” Stiles waved an impatient hand. “I mean, I know the nitty gritty of it already. I just wanted to ask if there was anything you could tell me, that’s all.”
“If you were still living at home I would be worried about you looking through my files, let’s be honest here.” The Sheriff took a slurp of his milkshake- nonfat, of course, because once again Stiles had been buying.
Stiles scowled, nonplussed by the lack of faith shown to him. He had never done such a thing. Well, he had never been caught in any case. “I find your slanders offensive, oh father of mine. All I wanted was your thoughts on the subjects I already know about, that’s all. Your opinion.”
“On what, exactly?”
“On the outcome, of course.”
The Sheriff rubbed the back of his neck, a family trait if ever there was one. “Look kid, I can’t tell you all the background work, but I can tell you that we definitely have a case. But Derek Hale’s testimony could be the thing to make or break it. Especially since he’s the only one who can give us the most crucial bit of information.”
“And what is that?” Stiles wondered, taking a bite of his BLT because he was young and healthy and, once again, had been buying.
“Intent.” The Sheriff pointed a fry at him, because, he had argued, what was the reason for living if you couldn’t have fries every once in awhile? “If Derek Hale can give us intent that’s stronger than a bad break up, well, we would have ourselves a hell of a lot easier time locking this woman away.”
“And does he have it?” Stiles asked, though he felt a knot in his stomach that he already knew the truth. “Does he know why she did it?”
“From what I got from our interviews? No. And he’s going to have a hell of a time testifying without it.”
Laura clutched the phone in her hand, the number already on the screen. “Are you sure about this, Derek?” She looked up, her eyes uncertain. “It’s a big responsibility. And you know that my time at the firm wouldn’t let me be home enough…”
I do my job at home anyway, Derek signed, his hands steady and sure. I can take care of him.
“Der, you know I hate to bring it up, but with your disability-,” she cut herself off here, biting the inside of her cheek. “What if he got hurt and you couldn’t hear him?”
That could happen to any parent, Derek argued, closing his eyes and taking a deep breath to calm his rising temper. They fall asleep, or they leave for just a minute, or they’re too far away. I’ll check on him enough.
Laura stared at the screen again. “I just feel that if you’re wanting to take on such a huge responsibility, it might be best to go back and ask about your options.” She looked back up. “Surgery, hearing implants, you remember what the doctor told us. There’s a good chance you could get at least part of your hearing back.”
Derek was quiet, his face closed off in a way that Laura was so used to, ever since the fire years ago. There had been one time when he had done nothing but smile, to the point where Laura was sure her brother was going to grow up to be one of the happiest, cockiest shitheads in Beacon Hills. But that brother had seemed lost to her in the blaze, just as Derek’s hearing was lost from him. He now walked the world in shadows, closed off.
I don’t want to get into this argument again, Derek responded, resignation settling heavily upon his shoulders. If you’re this against it, I won’t ask about adoption.
“Derek!” Laura cried out, but he had already turned his back and stormed out. She doubted he would have stopped though, even if he could hear her.
Stiles was sitting in the court dead center, Scott next to him. He knew then it had to be a dream because there was no way he would bring a little kid to a murder trial. Derek was testifying, and though Stiles wasn’t able to hear him, or hear anything in this dream space really, he saw all of the people snickering around him.
Scott tugged on his sleeve and asked, “Why ith evweyone laughing at Dewek?” and Stiles couldn’t answer, because it was a dream and he could never talk in his dreams, could never control his vocal cords in the face of his nightmares.
The defense lawyer stood up with a smug smile and started to taunt Derek, jeering him with cruel eyes that blurred out of focus when Stiles tried to concentrate on them. Derek didn’t react though, just kept on talking, his mouth never ceasing its movements. The assembly kept on snickering, shaking their heads in wonderment. All the while Stiles could only hear Scott’s childish questions. “Why are they laughing? Why are they thaking their heads? What ith Dewek thaying? I can’t underthtand him.”
Stiles had stood up angrily, his mouth open with silent shouts to stop it, to stop picking on Derek, that it wasn’t fair, that the man was trying his hardest. But like the rest of the scene he was on mute, and suddenly not even Scott was talking, until it all faded away.
Stiles had woken up in a dead sweat the day of the trial, the nightmare setting his nerves on edge. That had definitely not been a good omen.
The court date was on a Saturday, which was good because it meant that Stiles didn’t have to call off of work. Laura had insisted that he come, and if Stiles had learned anything over the past month it was that you did not piss off Laura. The woman was hell in heels. So here he was, sitting in the back on an uncomfortable court bench and making his way steadily through a level of candy crush as the assembly mumbled around him.
The opening was pretty standard, all rising for the judge, all sitting back down again, all listening as they were told what they were about to witness. Kate was brought in handcuffs, a vivacious looking woman even as she neared middle age, blonde hair curled and makeup natural. There was a hint of wildness about her, a pride that was not daunted by her prison uniform. She looked assured of her victory. The defense attorney at her side was a short brunet man with fashionable facial hair and cruel eyes, who the judge announced to be Matthew Daehler.
The prosecutor was someone from Laura’s firm, a trusted friend who had apparently forced lesser being to tears, a Mrs. Erica Reyes-Boyd. Her blonde tresses were of a brighter shade than Kate’s dirty blonde ones, and her eyes held all the confidence of a lioness about go out for a hunt. Her pencil skirt was cut sharply across her knees, and her fine figure was no less impeded by the small bump that showed she was early in pregnancy, proudly displayed in a cream colored sweater and framed by a pinstripe jacket. Laura had said that if she was too close to the case to fight Kate, Erica would always be her first choice.
“The prosecution would like to call Sheriff Stilinski to the stand,” Erica announced, a manilla folder clutched in nails so sharp they should rightly be called claws.
Stiles father was allowed into the room and made to swear to the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth, so help him God.
The round of questioning about the investigation prompted the Sheriff into sharing the entire investigation. 16 years ago, even as a deputy, Sheriff Stilinski had believed the Hale fire to be a case of arson, but had no leads to go on. More than a decade later he had decided to go over some old evidence, and had found mentions that trace amount of various chemicals had been found. Asking around had led him to a specialist in the field of chemicals (Stiles suspected this was a high school teacher, as that was probably the highest form of specialist to be found in sleepy Beacon Hills), and from there a rare coincidence of fate happened. This specialist, who for protective reasons would remain nameless, became agitated at the questions, and increasingly more distressed when the Sheriff revealed that the chemicals were found in the Hale fire. Going on intuition alone, the Sheriff slowly was able to have this specialist confess to an occurrence that had happened just a few nights prior to the fire.
In a bar just outside of town, a woman fitting Kate Argent’s description, though roughly 15 years younger, began to flirt with the specialist. She then specifically asked about flammable chemicals, ones that burned quickly and thoroughly. The specialist “apparently did not think that, in light a large fire occurring only a few days after, this was particularly strange or important for the police to know” and even from the back Stiles could feel his father’s angry sarcasm. With just one threat of arrest and one promise of protection, the specialist had given the Sheriff a description, the most significant of which was a crude drawing of a sigil; a wolf with a star.
This, by itself, would have led to nothing. There were plenty of women who matched the specialist’s description, and no amount of research turned up any leads with the drawing (and that was saying something, because the Stilinski men were nefarious for their research skills), which was described as a pendant of a necklace. No leads at all, that is, until he was shown his godson’s class picture, which was news to Stiles who happened to know that the godson was Scott. What did an elementary school class have to do with anything?
The Sheriff then noticed that a similar necklace, under closer inspection, was being worn by a girl within the class. Taking this lead and running with it, the Sheriff acquired the name of the girl and then preceded to give the Argent family a housecall. He was met with Chris and Victoria Argent, and after a few inquiries of the necklace was told that it had been a present from the girl’s aunt, who happened to be Kate Argent. When requesting a photo of this Aunt, the Sheriff was presented with a photo album. Searching for one which would have been taken around 16 years ago, the time of the arson, he came across the photo of Kate Argent with a class of high schoolers, and was informed that she had been a substitute teacher in Beacon Hills at the time. Her arm was slung around a young Derek Hale’s shoulders. Around her neck she was wearing the same necklace she had given her niece.
With reasonable suspicion, the Sheriff then confiscated the picture and called in for her arrest. Both the chemical specialist and Derek Hale were brought in for questioning. The specialist confirmed that she was the woman he had spoken to in the bar. Derek Hale confirmed that she had been his substitute teacher, and when told of the Sheriff’s suspicions was quick to confess that they had been in a sexual relationship. When asked why he hadn’t thought to tell authorities of this, Derek cited that he had not believed at the time that Kate was capable of murder, but over the years his suspicions grew stronger, given that she had cut off all contact with him and moved out of town quickly afterwards.
Kate Argent didn’t flinch once, not fucking once.
Derek entered the stand without looking at her. He stared straight ahead at Erica, just like Laura had told him to, because even if she was an insufferable know-it-all sometimes his sister was right. There was no way he could do this if he saw her now.
There was a state mandated translator there, an elderly woman with greying hair and too much lipstick. Her signing was professional and clipped. Do you swear to tell the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth, so help you God?
“I do,” Derek said, and it was the first words he had spoken in public in years.
He was asked for his opening statement, and he gave it without delay, having long since memorized the contents. He kept his eyes focused on the translator, and then on Erica, his gaze never straying. Laura had told him to pretend like they were the only people in the room, and even as a full grown man he could see the sense in her words. And then, of course, the questions started.
“Yes,” he had been in a consensual, sexual relationship with Kate Argent. “Yes,” he had been underage as it had happened. “No,” he had no notions that she wanted to harm his family. Erica provided the questions and all Derek did was give one worded answers, clarifying the information. And then it was the defense attorney’s turn.
“How would you describe your alleged relationship with the defendant?” he asked, voice drowning in swarm.
“Deceitful,” Derek carefully ground out.
“Would you care to expand on that?” Daehler prodded, his smile belaying any innocence.
“Objection your honor, defendant is badgering the witness,” Erica called out, power stance at the ready.
“Mr. Daehler, do you have a reasoning for needing clarification?” asked the judge, her eyes sharp.
“I just want to hear the details of this alleged affair to show how truthful these statements are,” Daehler was quick to defend. “For example, could you give us the details of your last sexual encounter? Perhaps even a time?”
Derek knew the lawyer was trying to trip him up, catch him in a forgetful moment and claim it all a lie. But every encounter, every little fact was engraved into his mind with regret. Still, even saying it allowed filled him with dread. He felt his tongue turn to lead, and looked away from Erica in disgust, ashamed he couldn’t even do this, this one easy thing. It was then that he noticed a young man in the back of the court, signing towards him.
Go slow. Just go slow.
Stiles had shown up, and Derek couldn’t hide his surprise. It was like all of Stiles confidence and support filled those hand gestures, and Derek could feel them bud within him. When, in the course of a month, had he grown to rely so much on his motor mouth teacher? When had the feelings of annoyance turned to fondness? When had Stiles become one of his sources of strength?
And so Derek answered, slowly but surely, “Wednesday, 5pm. Three days before the fire.”
Daehler’s eyes widened, and he had to catch himself from falling forward. “Wow, that’s pretty specific. Not just throwing random dates out there, are you?”
Derek shook his head. “Family went to grandparents for dinner. They always left at 4. Makes sense she would come at 5.”
“Did your family ever suspect your alleged relationship?”
Derek hesitated for a moment. “Not sure. Mom acted strange before the fire. In hindsight, she may have found out.”
“Strange in what ways?” This was Erica, and if she was out of line for butting in on questioning no one called her on it.
“Was quiet at dinners,” Derek answered, though it was hard to explain the intuition roiling in his guilty teenage stomach. “Looked at me with concern. Like she was worried.”
“Giving what you remember about your mother, how do you think she would react to finding out about your relationship?” Erica continued, not unkindly.
“She wouldn’t approve.” With good reason, Derek now understood. Kate had seemed sweet and kind, but she had left without a second glance. Perhaps that didn’t prove her a murderer, but Derek had always had his suspicions.
“I would like to present a new piece of evidence to the court.” Erica opened a manila envelope that contained a bagged piece of scrap paper, crinkled and yellowed with age. “This note was clutched in the hands of Peter Hale when he was recovered from the fire, 16 years ago. The man is currently in a comatose state, but it was decided that this note may have sentimental value. The hospital has records that it was on his person, which have been confirmed by the Sheriff’s office.”
Erica held up another piece of paper, an English test. “This is a test which Kate Argent graded 16 years ago within her times at Beacon Hills high school. Though a specialist was asked to examine both, it is clear that both of these statements were written by the same person. The note which was found with Peter Hale reads, ‘See you at 5!’ with a heart attached to it. I have only been given this piece of evidence directly before the trial, at the request of the Sheriff’s office. I had absolutely no idea why it may be important, but with Derek Hale’s testimony I now understand that this was a note to confirm a rendezvous between Kate Argent and Derek Hale, 16 years ago.”
Stiles didn’t know if it was appropriate to smile as a woman was sentenced to life in prison, but he couldn’t help the grin that spread across his mouth. It had been pretty cut and dry once Erica had produced the note, and the theory she concluded wasn’t hard for anyone to think of. Talia Hale had found out about Derek and Kate, and Kate had somehow discovered this. Whether Talia directly threatened her or not, Kate still assured the woman’s silence by killing her, and consequently the rest of her family. The evidence, the probable cause, the key witnesses, everything lined up too perfectly for Kate to wiggle out of.
Stiles had wanted to run to Derek and Laura, to pat them on the back and say congratulations, but when he found the siblings he saw them huddled close together, somber faced, no victory in them. He had stopped himself short and decided not to intrude. They had just relived the most horrible day in their lives, and he understood it may take them awhile to come back from that.
Now that the trial was over, Stiles had no lessons with Derek, and with no reason to call the Hales he simply stopped all together. It wasn’t his place to push himself in their lives, was it? Far better to simply back off where he wasn’t wanted. Derek had never invited him to do anything past their lessons. It would be odd to think of them as friends, even as Stiles figured out that that was exactly what he wanted to be.
And then Isaac came back to school.
“Buddy!” Stiles had shouted, throwing out his arms for a hug. “I thought I’d never see you again!”
Isaac had run giggling into his arms, looking far happier than Stiles had ever seen him. “Derek didn’t w-want me out too long.”
“Derek?” Stiles picked Isaac up and plopped him on a chair. “Are you talking about Derek Hale?”
“Yeah! He adopted me,” Isaac explained, dimpled smile too sunny for words.
“That’s… wow, that’s wow,” Stiles muttered, too stunned for proper sentences. He had never thought that Derek would do something so drastic as try to raise a child.
“Yup! Oh, and Stiles,” and here Isaac yanked on his shirt until Stiles offered an ear to be whispered into, “Laura says to a-ask you to dinner because Derek’s been mopey w-without you.”
“Derek! Derek!” shouted Isaac as he burst through the kitchen door. The kid hadn’t really gotten the whole grasp of his new foster father being deaf. Still, Derek bent down on his knees and caught the boy in his arms. It hadn’t been easy to get Isaac to get out of his shell, but they were getting close. Though the boy was enthusiastic and cheerful around those he knew, he still hesitated and shied away from strangers. But they would get there, slowly. The both of them. Derek had to come out of his shell sometime.
“Derek, Laura told not to tell you b-because it’s a surprise, but he’s here so I c-c-can’t not tell you!” Isaac explained, giving Stiles a run for his money at how much skill it took for Derek to read the boy’s lips.
“Who’s here?” Derek asked, turning to Laura and raising his brow.. They were starting to teach Isaac to sign, but they were only a few days into it. Derek had found himself speaking more in the past couple of months than what seemed the last 16 years combined.
Derek felt a tap on his shoulder, and look behind him to catch sight of Stiles, his smile hesitant as he pointed to himself.
Derek didn’t know what overcame him. Perhaps it was the fact that he had missed the man so much, had somehow went to dreading their lessons to enjoying them. Or perhaps it was just to wipe that shy grin off Stiles’ face, which really didn’t suit him. And even with his arms full of Isaac, he leaned down and kissed the pink lips he couldn’t help but stare at, whether he was trying to read them or not.
Isaac gasped, over dramatic. Laura cackled from her viewpoint by the stove. Stiles had simply kissed back.
They went to the hospital together, a few days after that, to ask about Derek’s options. Laura was busy watching Isaac, but Stiles had offered to come as somewhat of an expert in the field. Derek never admitted what a relief that had been, to not have to face that alone. They held hands in the waiting room.
It would be several more months into their relationship when Derek would confess to Stiles, wrapped in each others arms as the moon rose, why he never considered it before. Guilt had kept him from ever recovering his hearing, believing his infliction, caused during the fire, was a way for him to repent. He always knew it had been Kate, deep in his gut had always knew he was the one who had brought destruction on his family.
But now that Kate had been brought to justice, he saw his life for what it was, a shell of an existence. He knew his family wouldn’t want this for him. He knew that his mom would have cursed him out for being so pathetic. He had survived, and he had to start acting like it. Acting like he had a life worth living.
Stiles had just kissed him, softly and sweetly, and told him, “I’m so glad you’re letting me live it with you.” The young man’s voice had been one of the first things he had heard in half a lifetime, and it was still one of the most beautiful.