Derek was only a few hours into his third night shift of his new job when he had his first run-in with one of the notorious Beacon Hills vigilantes.
His new partner, Erica Reyes, had filled him in on the pair of vigilantes earlier; pretty harmless, reliably stayed out of law enforcement's way, don’t bother pursuing them, they always get away—a policy Derek had a fair amount of trouble getting behind. They were vigilantes, by definition taking the law into their own hands. That alone was reason enough to stop them, not treat them like fun city mascots.
But whether he liked it or not, that was the lay of the land at his new job as a deputy with the Beacon County Sheriff's Department, and if Derek had learned anything as an NYPD rookie, it was to not intentionally piss off every one of his new coworkers. So he dropped the subject.
At least until he skidded to a stop on a downtown rooftop to find his perp already handcuffed to a pipe, and a hooded man in red with one foot on the edge of the roof, preparing to make a break for it.
A number of things rushed through Derek's mind in that moment, but namely how much it pissed him off that he'd just chased some cocky asshole up ten stories, only to have a different cocky asshole take him down.
It was the one called Red, according to the internet. He was the less conspicuous one who wasn’t seen as much as The Guard (originally dubbed The Guardian of Beacon Hills and shortened over time), but he looked just as ridiculous jumping across rooftops. He always wore all black, aside from a deep red hooded vest strapped across his chest, his nose and mouth covered by black fabric. He looked like he was straight out of a comic book, and not necessarily in a good way.
Maybe in a delusional kind of way.
Red just looked at Derek for a moment from under his hood, winked, and then casually stepped off of the rooftop.
Derek ran to the edge, alarmed that he’d just witnessed the stupidest death of a vigilante ever, but he didn’t find a body on the pavement below like he’d expected. Red was clearly trained in some kind of parkour because he jumped from the ledge he’d caught himself on over to a lower cornice across the alley, then ran along it around the corner and out of sight.
Damn it, that was actually pretty cool.
* * *
The next night brought with it pack dinner, special this month because Derek was back from New York, and because he was the unofficial honored guest, he was required to attend no matter how many excuses he tried. And he’d tried a lot. Laura refused to accept any of them.
He wanted to see his family, he did, but Laura was actively trying to ruin his life in that way only an older sister could, and now his buffer of the entire United States was gone. Now she could mock him, hit him, and pry into his personal life to her heart’s content, and he wouldn’t be able to fake an emergency and close his laptop or turn off his phone to stop her. Not only that, but with her powers of interrogation combined with their father’s, there was no way he would make it out of this dinner with his dignity intact. They would find every little secret he didn’t know he had and eat them all with a fresh side salad from the back garden, all while making him feel greatly missed and deeply loved.
So he braced himself, triple-checked the bag of pastries and wine he brought as a bribe for mercy, and opened the front door to the Hale house.
“He brought a bribe, you owe me ten bucks!”
He turned right back around and closed the front door to the Hale house behind him.
Or, he tried. An irritatingly strong grip stopped it from closing and yanked his arm back inside, him following after it right into the crushing arms of Laura Hale, Future Alpha. He was ninety percent certain she’d had business cards printed. She planned ahead like that.
"You already stepped into the house, you can't leave until after dessert," she sang, and it said a lot about his family that they'd had to instate a law to keep people from ducking out of dinner early.
Derek may have been half the reason for the law coming into existence.
It wasn't his fault his family was a lot to handle, even for people who enjoyed loud dinners and constant socializing. Which Derek didn’t. Derek enjoyed quiet and a good book, and generally being left alone. He wanted to see him family, but only maybe two at a time. In public, where they couldn't get rowdy.
“You’re going to draw this out as long as possible, aren’t you?”
Laura beamed. “I found this amazing new bakery that makes custom cakes, so I got two for everyone to try, and three different coffees from the co-op. It’s fair trade coffee month and I’m behind on points, so expect to be getting a lot from me.” She took the bag of bribes from his hand without needing to ask if they were for her. She knew the drill. “I smell dobosh!”
“I’ll buy you even more if you let me leave right now,” he hissed, but it was too late; tiny feet thundered towards them through the living room and a dark haired whirl of energy launched himself at Derek, knowing he would be caught.
“Der Der!” Noah yelled directly into his uncle’s face—he didn’t do well with volume control when he was excited—and threw out his arms, so of course Derek had to stay.
They all timed this, he knew they did.
With his arms full of toddler, he had no choice but to follow Laura back into the house to be greeted and enveloped by the rest of the family. He couldn’t help feeling a little bit overwhelmed, he always did, but the wolf inside practically purred, finally being back with his pack after so long. It’d been almost a year since he’d been in town for Noah’s second birthday, and there wasn’t anyone in New York he’d been close enough to to come anywhere near this feeling. He had friends, good friends, but it just didn’t compare to pack.
Sure enough, when he got to the kitchen, Patrick shamelessly gave his son a high five for luring his uncle in. His wife Diana shook her head while digging through her purse, and Derek wasn’t surprised when she dug a five out of her wallet and slapped it against Patrick’s chest.
“One hug and you’re putty.” She gave Derek a disappointed look. “I thought you were stronger than that, Derek.”
Diana Ramirez was both the perfect addition to the family and way too good for Patrick. She was literally named after Wonder Woman and Derek was starting to believe that she really was an Amazon, because no human could possibly spend five years with his brother without some kind of superpower. They were a family of werewolves, there had to be Amazon warriors somewhere.
Derek just raised an eyebrow at her; she knew resisting her child was impossible, she exploited it constantly with everyone from family to strangers on the street. He was her usual ploy to get closer parking downtown.
"No one can resist this face." Talia came in to pinch Noah's chubby cheeks and he giggled. Then she laid her palm against Derek's cheek and pulled him into a tight hug, and he couldn’t help but tuck his face into her shoulder and breathe in the scent of pack and home.
“Welcome home, Derek,” she whispered, squeezing him a little tighter, and he felt his wolf fully settle at the touch of his alpha. However weird their relationship had become, she was still his mother and alpha, and that comfort had never wavered.
“What’d he bring?”
Derek looked up from Talia’s shoulder at his father’s whisper, and sure enough, Stephen and Laura were digging through his plea for mercy, pulling out the bottles of wine and little cardboard boxes from the best bakery in town, and arranging them on the counter.
“There’s dobosh in here somewhere, ugh,” Laura wrinkled her nose, “you went to Palladio’s? Songbird is way better. There’s no way New York tainted your taste buds that much.”
“Songbird is horrible, and you know it.” Derek pulled out of the hug to readjust his squirming nephew and assume a better battle stance. His family didn’t mess around when it came to food.
“You’re both wrong,” their father interrupted, giving the box in his hands a superior look. “Knight’s is the only bakery in town worth mentioning.”
Laura rolled her eyes. “Dad, oldest doesn’t mean best. That place is like walking into the 1950s of pastries, jello molds included.”
“Actually I think you’re all forgetting that Amadeus exists,” Diana cut in, dead wrong, “because that’s the only cafe in the city that matters.”
Cora scoffed as she walked into the kitchen and tossed her keys on the counter, freshly tanned from her latest rock climbing trip to Nevada. “People who live on the east side don’t get to argue about food. Your best restaurant over there is Taco Bell.”
“Don’t forget that aggressively Italian place with the copy of David out front and the lifesize charioteer on the roof,” Patrick added, and Diana smacked his hip for his betrayal.
“You loved that place, you thought it was hilarious. And it wasn’t that bad.”
“Yeah, but you were pregnant when we went there, and your taste was questionable those last six months.” He widened his eyes significantly at his wife and mouthed something that looked like gordita crunchwrap supreme, and she narrowed her eyes.
“You swore you’d never mention that.”
“Just wait until I tell your mother.”
“Do not. She would disown me.”
Patrick just gave her a shitty smile and then dodged the punch at his arm. He’d grown up as a human in a house of werewolves, getting knocked around with the best of them, but Diana had been in the military. She knew how to throw a punch.
Scott McCall walked in right at that moment, and narrowly dodged a punch right past his face.
Scott had never officially joined the pack, but he still came to the monthly dinners to keep communication open and everyone informed. Even as an omega, or whatever he was with his ragtag “pack” that Cora darkly chuckled over occasionally, he was living in their territory and Talia learned quickly that it was in everyone’s best interest to keep Scott up on things because he had a habit of getting involved. Initially they hadn’t, they treated him as they would any other harmless omega in the area: not pack, no information—but then he and his human friend stumbled into a dispute and almost got killed because they just didn’t know about it. Three times.
And those were just the times Derek heard about.
So Scott had slowly been absorbed into the Hale family, maybe like some sort of distant cousin. He didn’t have the same cut throat sense of humor as the Hales so he wasn’t quite a sibling, and he wasn’t as ruthless when it came to arguments or roughhousing on the full moons (which Laura always pouted about him not attending), but he was like their nicer, more smiley cousin.
“Are you guys talking about restaurants?” He looked like this was the absolute last conversation he wanted to be a part of. “Because I already told you, I refuse to participate in that ever again.”
Cora snorted. “You aren’t allowed to anyway. You like BDubs.”
“There’s nothing wrong with liking an average restaurant!” Scott protested, immediately negating his stark refusal to get involved. “Stiles likes their trivia night, it’s fun!”
The entire family collectively dismissed his opinion on that one.
He sighed. “You guys are such food snobs.”
“Tell me about it,” Diana said. She took Noah back from Derek like she could save him from the same fate. It wouldn’t work. Hales didn’t mess around with food.
They all continued arguing and bickering until Deucalion arrived, and then they could finally eat. They always waited until everyone was there, lest someone starve from getting to the table late. It was a legitimate concern in their house.
“Derek, it’s wonderful to see you again,” Deucalion greeted once they were all seated and passing plates. He accepted the bowl of salad held out in front of him, taking it from Cora’s hands without trouble. They’d all adjusted years ago to him always knowing exactly where things were or where someone was standing, though it had been unnerving for the first few months; werewolf senses compensated even more than they would for any other blind person.
“Talia tells me you’ve moved back to town for good,” he continued, and Derek nodded before he remembered.
“The city was getting a little too cramped for me. It was time for a change.” It was technically true, enough to avoid any lying tells, but it wasn’t the whole truth by a long shot.
“Well, all the Hales back under one roof,” Deucalion said with a wide smile. “I think that’s cause for a toast if I’ve ever heard one.”
Everyone else agreed so Derek held up his glass with the rest of them, and Noah punched his own cup over in excitement, but Derek couldn’t help but notice that Peter’s smile looked forced. He’d never been a big fan of Deucalion, but then he wasn’t a fan of much since the fire.
“And how’s the campaign going, Deucalion?” Laura asked once everyone’s wine glasses were safely back on the table and Patrick was mopping up his son’s spilled juice. Derek frowned at her. Campaign?
“I’m running for mayor in November,” Deucalion explained, turning to Derek as if he sensed his confusion. “I’m afraid I’ve run out of hobbies to keep myself busy all on my lonesome.”
“That’s quite a hobby to pick up out of the blue.” That was the nicest way Derek could possibly say, and what makes you qualified to run a city like Beacon Hills?
Deucalion just smiled like he understood the implication completely.
“I can’t say it’s exactly out of the blue. I do have some experience in local government back in England. Politics has always been a passion of mine, I’m just grateful that Talia is understanding enough to let me indulge.”
That put to rest Derek’s second question, which was: what the fuck do you think you’re doing running for mayor within another alpha’s territory? Even with his lax and big city habits towards wolf politics, it rankled his instincts.
“Well, you’ve always been a man with vision,” Talia said with a grin, and Deucalion laughed. “If anyone can see a brighter future for this city, it’s you.”
Derek had never seen two people make so many puns about blindness, and they did it constantly (there was no question where Laura got her terrible sense of humor), but there was always an underlying threat that if anyone else did it, Talia would disembowel them in five seconds. They were an odd pair.
“Speaking of bright futures,” their dad announced cheerfully, meaning what he was about to say had nothing to do with bright futures, “I have some exciting news!” He waited for everyone else to be as excited as he thought the announcement warranted, but they’d all learned years ago that his announcements were rarely as exciting as he made them out to be, so he finally just gave in and said it. “I think it’s time we revived the human pack bonding trips, so I have a campsite booked for the weekend of the full moon after next. Patrick, Diana—plan accordingly. I found a Noah-sized sleeping bag.”
Cora perked up. “What? Pack bonding trips? When are you going? I want to go camping!”
“No,” Patrick immediately called down the table. “The whole point is that it’s humans only. You get weirdly competitive and no one wants to watch you get your tent up first and then gloat about it.”
“I’m only first because you guys don’t know anything about camping! You’ll just hurt yourselves. Do you even know how to build a fire?”
Literally caught in the middle, there was no way their dad would stay out of it for long. “Hey, I’ll have you know I’m a fine camper!” he protested indignantly. Patrick waved him away.
“Dad, stay out of this, you used like half a tree trying to get one going last time.”
“It was all damp, it had rained recently!”
“And I know how to work around that!” Cora exclaimed—she really liked camping. And anything related to the outdoors.
“So does Diana!” Patrick looped his arm around his wife and pulled her into the fray. “She was in the army, she did all that survival training!”
“Actually I was never that good at fi—”
“Shh, I believe in you, honey.” He wiped a hand down her face, an intentional mockery of one of the many werewolf habits Patrick had picked up that Diana put up with regularly. She really was way too good for him.
“Are you a camping fan, Scott?” she asked around her husband’s hand, looking for any kind of distraction, and Scott was sitting next to her and the closest.
Caught by surprise, Scott swallowed his bite of food a little harder than intended and coughed for a second. “Um, the one time Stiles and I tried to go camping before I was bitten, the tent collapsed on us, we were almost attacked by a wild animal, and I had an asthma attack so bad I had to go to the ER. We haven’t tried since,” he added with a slightly embarrassed shrug.
Everyone else stared, more than a little horrified. They were no doubt picturing a young Scott, stumbling through the woods and unable to breathe, miles away from anything, chased by coyotes, or a bear.
“His dad heard us yelling in the backyard and came out and got us.”
The tension around the table immediately broke, and Stephen swore quietly under his breath.
“You were in the backyard?” Cora had a very special skill of sounding just the right level of judgmental to make anyone want to completely undo every choice they’d ever made. “That’s not even camping.”
“We were eight!”
“And the wild animal?”
“His neighbor’s cat.”
Cora stared at him, then whirled around towards Talia. “Mom!” She pointed at Scott as evidence that she should definitely go on this human camping trip to save them all from themselves.
Talia choked a little on her salad. “Let’s leave this one to your father.”
He narrowed his eyes at his wife over Cora’s head.
“I say no werewolves.” Patrick shrugged. “Last time we all went, you guys just complained about the smell of campfire and whatever the people half a mile away were doing in their tent.”
Damn it, Derek had spent years trying to repress how he learned about that particular kink.
“Okay, but that was disgusting,” Laura reasoned. “I couldn’t not say anything.”
Diana leaned forward eagerly, looking around Patrick to her partner in crime. “What were they doing?” Laura would definitely tell her, because she loved telling that story.
But Patrick sat forward as well pointedly glanced between his wife and their son. “Let’s just say it was disgusting and leave it at that.”
“You are so telling me when we get home,” whe whispered, but the entire table could hear anyways.
“You married me.”
“Okay, you’re adorable, we get it,” Laura groaned, then asked their dad, “Why are you so suddenly so interested in this human bonding thing, anyway? Why the full moon?”
“Believe it or not,” Patrick turned back from his wife, “jogging through the woods with you guys pinging all over the place isn’t exactly the highlight of my month.” He had never been one for athletics or anything too physical. He went to art school like their father.
“I just figured,” Stephen took over diplomatically and addressing the whole table, “that with our human population rising again, and Laura and David getting serious, it might be nice to start up the camping trips again.”
“Actually,” Laura started slowly, really drawing it out to stall, and then rushing out, “David and I broke up.” There were a few disappointed sounds around the table and laments that he was such a nice guy, most notably from their father. “It wasn’t working out, this has been coming for a long time.”
Stephen kept shaking his head, turning his attention to his one grandson, the only one, he liked to emphasize to his kids, like that would get him more, quicker.
“Derek and Rachel broke up too!” Laura protested loudly, and Derek’s head snapped up to glare at his sister, utterly and completely betrayed. He’d brought her alcohol and croissants, for fuck’s sake, this was completely unfair and against their longstanding, unspoken agreement.
She didn’t look the least bit sorry now that everyone was looking at him and the focus was successfully shifted from Laura’s lacking relationship status.
Noah was almost three and their parents wanted another grandchild to dote on. The pressure was on, and with Cora constantly running off without warning and no intention of settling down anytime soon, it was down to Derek and Laura. Every man for himself. This was war.
Their dad looked genuinely upset, enough to stop poking at Noah’s salad to make it look more enticing and put down his fork. “And I thought we were actually going to be able to meet her this time.”
Derek rolled his eyes. “Like you guys didn’t look her up the second Laura found out her last name. And don’t think I didn’t see that,” he added to Cora, who was very unsubtle about passing a twenty to Peter behind the salad bowl. Already caught, Patrick just held out a fifty and another twenty from, surprisingly, Diana was handed down the table. His family.
“One more month and I could’ve bought a new laptop,” Cora mourned, shooting him a glare across the rolls.
“Don’t take your laptop rock climbing and you wouldn’t need one.”
She kicked his shin.
“Or just don’t spend your entire paycheck on rock climbing trips,” their father put in like it was a novel idea and he didn’t suggest it every time Cora left for weeks at a time.
She widened her eyes in annoyance and changed the subject with all the grace of none. “I thought we were talking about how pathetically single Derek is.”
“How about how pathetically single Laura is?” Derek raised his eyebrows at his also pathetically single sister’s glare; if he was going down, he was dragging her down with him. Patrick just sat back to enjoy the show, married for five years and nowhere near the line of fire.
Laura got that mean smirk in the corner of her mouth, the one that meant hell for Derek and her trying to apologize to him later without actually apologizing. He always saw it coming but could never do anything to stop it.
“How about Derek’s new job defending the good people of Beacon County?”
And just like that, the jovial and warm atmosphere was sucked out of the room like a breached hull on a spaceship. Their side of the table got quiet for the briefest second before Cora and Patrick started up a forced and stilted conversation with Deucalion about the local debate over the crumbling riverfront, but the damage was already done. Laura abruptly shut up, Talia took a careful bite of her dinner, and the familiar pit of dread fell out of Derek’s stomach in anticipation of the same old argument starting up again; Derek’s career as a cop.
Talia hadn’t liked it eight years ago when he joined the NYPD, and she had yet to show any sign of warming up to it, let alone approving of it. They hadn’t even brought it up recently because the argument was always the same, so it had slipped into the background to be ignored, the elephant in the room that no one liked to acknowledge. Nothing put a damper on family dinners like the same old argument about Derek’s life choices: he was interfering with humans too much, he was putting himself at unnecessary risk of exposure, he was too far from the pack...
This time, though, there wasn’t an argument, which Derek was infinitely grateful for since he just got back, even if it just made him feel like it was looming on the horizon and left an unpleasant tension in the air. His mother apparently agreed, because she gave him a tight smile and asked pleasantly,
“How was your first week, Derek?”
“It was fine. Ran into one of the vigilantes last night.” A few heads around the table perked up at the change in subject, Diana in particular.
“Sweet! Which one?” And with that, all tension slipped into the background. Diana had that effect on situations.
“Uh, Red, the one with the hood.” Scott looked over at that, also interested, but he kept quiet.
“I want to meet one of the superheroes,” Diana continued. “Have you read their comic books? So good.” At Cora’s scrunched up nose, she added, “Hey, I was named after Wonder Woman. It’s in my blood to love superheroes.”
“Except they’re not superheroes,” Derek put in, and turned in surprised when he realized his mother had spoken with him. He continued, “They’re vigilantes, and they’re technically illegal.”
“Ugh.” Diana rolled her eyes. “You cops are no fun.”
Once dessert was finished and the dishes were cleared, Laura grabbed Derek’s arm before he could make his escape to the door. He’d been so close, just another ten feet and he would’ve been free to leave.
“We could really use your help on something, come on,” she murmured quietly so the rest of the house wouldn’t hear unless they were actively listening in. Derek was pretty sure that meant their mother could use his help on something, she just didn’t want to be the one to ask. Still, he couldn’t repair the crack in their relationship if he outright refused to do anything she (through Laura) asked, so he followed his sister down the hall anyway.
“So that’s why you’ve been so nice tonight.”
Laura turned with wide eyes, looking the perfect picture of innocence. “Derek, I have no idea what you mean.” She then swung open the imposing paneled oak doors to their mother’s study and waltzed in like it was no big deal.
Derek hesitated; no one entered the study without Talia present, this was her domain. It was the room the inner circle had always gone to discuss important issues the rest of the pack wasn’t privy to—countless times their mother had disappeared in there for hours with their father and Peter, sometimes alone, sometimes with delegations from other packs. Derek had only been in there twice in his life: once before he left for college to have a stiff talk about etiquette when living within another pack’s territory, and again when he came to visit after joining the NYPD for a weirdly formal discussion about his decision and the dangers of exposure as if he hadn’t learned that the hard way at sixteen.
Laura turned and rolled her eyes at his hesitation. “Get in here before anyone hears us.” She grabbed his arm and jerked him inside, closing the door after them. Immediately the sounds of family and pack were silenced in the soundproof room. “Mom wants this kept on the downlow for now so only me and Peter know, but we could really use some police input.”
Again, he wasn’t quite buying it. Laura was a licensed private detective in California and made a point to waltz through and around police red tape with a charming smile and a flourish, shrugging off any suggestion even hinted at by a cop. Granted, that was something of a necessity given that most of her clients weren’t exactly human and needed things done off the record more often than not, but still—she had never kept her less than respectful opinions of the police and their procedures to herself.
She walked around the large desk to the file cabinet and used their mother’s keys to open the top drawer. “So how much do you know about the vigilantes running around, The Guard, Red, and The Archer?” She sifted through the contents for a second then turned around holding a very full manilla folder.
Derek briefly thought back to the night before, Red casually stepping off the roof with a wink. He really didn’t like where this was going.
“I’ve heard of them.”
“Great.” She bumped the drawer shut with her elbow. “They’re the problem.”
She shoved aside some other papers and books on the desk to make space for the folder, perfectly at home in the study. That was an interesting development, because the last time Derek had been home, she was just as uncomfortable in the room as he was, keeping as still as possible and afraid to touch anything important.
Inside the file was a stack of pictures, what looked like some official police writeups, handwritten notes—a lot of things civilians shouldn’t have, even with a private detective on their side. Laura looked worryingly proud of herself.
“These two have been running around for over three years, what’s changed?” Derek asked, a little smug at Laura’s brief stare of surprise. The vigilantes had occasionally made the national news and despite what his family seemed to believe, Derek didn’t actually live under a rock in New York. “Why are you looking into them now?”
“Someone finally got a picture of The Guard’s face.” She flipped through the photos until she found what she was looking for: the vigilante turned to look at something towards the camera flash, his eyes whiting out the image over his face. The eye glare of a werewolf.
“Wouldn’t mom know about another wolf in our territory by now?”
“That’s the thing, she thinks he can hide it somehow, and not the way we can,” Laura explained. “Whoever it is has been living completely under the radar for at least three years, and we don’t know how.”
With training, a werewolf could learn to suppress their scent, and quiet and slow their heartbeat. It was a way to hide from other wolves or anything with exemplary hearing, and it was very difficult to learn. It also wasn’t so effective that it could completely mask a wolf’s presence from an alpha trained to detect them. Even their mother couldn’t make herself completely invisible to the senses, and she had practically perfected the technique.
“So you want me to ask around the station, see if anyone has any ideas.” She didn’t want police input, she wanted an in.
“Exactly!” Laura nodded. “The Sheriff isn’t giving up anything about these guys, if they even have anything, and we haven’t been able to track them down. They can mask their scent and heartbeats, and city tracking is hard enough even with a trail to follow.”
“You haven’t been able to dig up anything either?”
“A PI license will only get you so far without a name, and I have too many other cases already going that I can’t drop for this. And even if Stilinski does have an ongoing investigation, I don’t have a good enough reason to be looking into it without bringing him in on everything, which mom absolutely refuses to do. Last time I asked, he told me to butt out and leave it to the department.”
Derek had to smirk at her disgruntled expression. Laura had a habit of demanding information and getting offended when she was told no.
“Are you sure he doesn’t know everything already? His son is best friends with a werewolf, isn’t he?”
“Until he gives us some sign he knows or it becomes unavoidable, mom won’t risk it, especially now that he's your boss. They’ve been friends for years and I don’t think she wants to rock the boat.”
Derek couldn’t help the guilt blossoming in his stomach; before Kate, they’d had a number of human allies in the territory who knew about them, even within the police. Now they were completely self-contained, almost cut off from the human population they were supposed to protect.
“So just ask around a little,” Laura continued, oblivious to his thoughts, “make yourself seem new and curious. Oh, and don’t even bother trying to get a physical description. Everything they have is completely useless.”
“You have it?”
“Yeah, and everything has come from bystanders who really aren’t trained to notice things like that. I mean, the descriptions they have are a joke. Look,” she picked up the summary of The Guard and began to read, “The Guard: Male, between the ages of twenty-two and thirty, Hispanic slash other,” she widened her eyes at him to really emphasize how unimpressed she was, “dark eyes, dark hair, between 5’7” and 6’4”, athletic build.”
“So roughly fifty percent of the male population of California,” Derek summed up.
“Red’s is about the same. White male, aged twenty-two to thirty, brown eyes, unknown hair, 5’7” to 6’4”, athletic build, some kind of parkour training. No description given to the police matches the next—one actually just says he’s a ghost ninja. And these don't even include The Archer, who exactly no one has seen ever."
Derek nodded, sending a cursory glance across everything spread out before him on the desk. “And how exactly did you get all this if the Sheriff won’t give it to you?” Hey, he was still a cop, even when faced with his sister.
“I know a guy.” She shrugged casually, but there was a self-satisfied smirk in there that Derek really didn’t want to know about.
* * *
What Derek remembered of Depot Town was his mother telling him to never go there.
It was the neighborhood around the old train depot that had at one point been a nice area in the center of town, but was now full of shabby brownstones, unsolved arson cases, and numerous break-ins. The central train station was relocated to the newer center of the city in the eighties, leaving the old depot to function as the neighborhood station that pretty much everyone avoided. It smelled like piss, stale alcohol, and trash, and Derek knew for a fact that people would walk to the next station to avoid it.
It also didn’t help that Mad Dog Mike had set up shop under the stairs and barked at people who walked past.
Mad Dog Mike was not a dog.
No matter how many times they brought him in for loitering or harassment, Erica rolled her eyes, he was always right back under those stairs, growling at passersby and wearing nothing but gym shorts and an old bra. Harmless so far, but unnerving during a late night walk home.
Now, for the first time in his life, Derek found himself in Depot Town, for—big surprise—a break-in.
“Now Derek, put on your best scowl,” Erica reminded him as she slammed the cruiser’s driver’s side door, her tone light and patronizing. “You need to make a good impression on Greta if you want to last here.”
Derek rolled his eyes but followed her up the narrow steps of one of many old brick buildings. The door to the apartment was squeezed to one side of a boarded up old deli with a realtor’s number advertised across it, and the abandoned building next door had the unmistakable soot of arson licking up around the shattered windows. The narrow alley between was probably the only reason this building hadn’t gone up as well.
“Who the hell is Greta, and why did you break three laws to get here first?” He wasn’t going to pretend he hadn’t clawed the door in fear when Erica drifted around the corner at First and Oak. Not slow, directionless drifting, but Fast and the Furious drifting. The illegal kind that could kill people.
“Greta is the unofficial ruler of the Sheriff’s Department. Her husband was sheriff like thirty years ago, and not to make you nervous or anything, but the last guy she didn’t like, Deputy Charles—he went down a month later, three blocks from here.” She said this with a gleeful smile and rang the buzzer for 2A, McGuinness printed neatly on slightly yellowed paper next to it. All of the other slots were empty. “I’m just making sure you’re here to stay before I get too attached.”
Derek was pretty sure Erica was just messing with him because she seemed just cruel enough to do that, but he still found himself standing a little straighter when Greta opened her door. He immediately regretted it when Eric smirked, and also because that made him awkwardly taller than the tiny, eighty year old woman who stood to somewhere around his sternum.
“Erica, dear!” Greta greeted happily, then nodded towards Derek conspiratorily. “I see we have another one. Come in, come in.”
She ushered them in and onto the sofa and Derek found himself in an oddly tasteful yet seventies living room, sitting on a mustard yellow afghan. Erica didn't seem to find this odd at all.
"So, tell me about yourself." Greta handed them both cups of tea that must've been ready and waiting and sat down across from them in an equally seventies arm chair. It took Derek a moment to realize she was asking him, until Erica nudged him.
"I just moved back to town from New York." It seemed like that was all he'd been telling anyone lately. Aside from the whole family of werewolves things, he honestly could say that his life wasn't exciting or particularly noteworthy. Which was a sad thing to realize sitting across from a complete stranger who, if Erica was to be believed, needed to like him or he would die in a month. Or something.
"Yes, and you're a Hale, aren't you?" He nodded; she was either plugged into the station gossip or his return had somehow spread around town. Or she'd read his nametag, he realized belatedly. "Lovely family, I knew your grandmother well. I even met you a few times when you were little.” He didn’t like the wink she sent his way one bit.
Erica perked up at that. “Do you have stories? Please tell me you have embarrassing stories.”
“Let’s just say that Derek here had an exhibitionist streak a mile wide.” She took an innocent sip of her tea, then continued with a sweet smile. “I am glad to see you grew into your eyebrows. You always looked so surly. Even as a pup you had a glare that could fry an egg.”
Derek frowned more out of surprise than offense on behalf of his eyebrows. Pup? Did she know? How would she know?
“There it is!” Erica cackled gleefully, pointing at his glaring face.
At this rate she wasn’t going to outlast Deputy Charles.
Luckily he was rescued shortly after by the Sheriff’s arrival, because evidently Greta was important enough to warrant personal visits. She let him in, waved off his concerns with a flick of her hand, and then Erica got to work taking a list of everything that was stolen. It wasn’t all that much, Greta had been the wife of a sheriff and was smart enough not to keep her valuables within easy access, but there were still a lot of keepsakes and small appliances missing.
Sheriff Stilinski wandered over to Derek, giving him a fatherly nod. “How’s your first week going so far? Erica didn’t tell you the Deputy Charles story, did she?” He looked like he already knew the answer.
“She’s very good at it.”
“Well, she’s had a few partners to perfect it on,” he said wryly. Derek couldn't help but notice he never actually said the story wasn't true. “You want to check the windows, I’ll take the door?” Derek nodded and moved across the room, grateful for the sheriff’s brevity and dislike of awkward small talk.
“John, I already told you, they came in through the living room window off the fire escape. Just like last time.”
The Sheriff sighed loudly. “Greta, I’m not going to waste my breath telling you to move again—”
“Wouldn’t do you any good anyway.”
“—but can you see why I’m worried?” he continued as if he hadn’t heard her dismissal. “It’s bad enough that Stiles lives here, and he doesn’t have anything worth stealing.”
Derek let the conversation fade to the background as he checked the broken lock on the window. It hadn’t been a neat job; whoever broke in wasn’t any kind of professional, so there would probably be some usable evidence out on the fire escape. He opened the window and climbed out, straightening one of Greta’s flowerpots before it toppled from his boot kicking it. He glanced around for anything immediately visible, checked inside to make sure no one was paying too close attention to him, then inhaled deeply, sifting through the scents of the city for anything unusual.
Someone’s scent lingered, still hanging in the air from the night before. It wasn’t the thief; the same scent was strong in the hallway, so it must have belonged to Greta’s upstairs neighbor, who spent a lot of time out on the fire escape for some reason. It didn’t smell like cigarettes or weed, or any of the usual reasons for sitting outside; just city air, faint remnants of charred wood from the burnt out building next door, and whoever lived there.
And their fear? He cocked his head and moved up the rickety stairs to the next level. The bars weren’t locked on the window, though they were closed enough that anyone passing on the escape would miss that. He pulled them open and focused on the scents around him that were stirred up; fear, stress, adrenaline, sweat—
“Problem out here, Hale?” Derek straightened abruptly. The Sheriff was leaning out of Greta’s window, eyebrows raised up at his deputy in question.
“Neighbor has loose bars.” He swung them closed with a gentle push and started down the metal stairs. “We should let them know if they’re home.” He paused when he noticed the Sheriff looked pained and tired for some reason.
“Stiles,” he sighed heavily then pulled his head back into the apartment. He shook his head, muttering to himself as he pulled out his cell phone and punched his finger around the screen.
So that was Stiles’ apartment then.
Derek had heard all about Stiles, all over town, from all kinds of people. Everyone at the station knew him as the Sheriff’s son and daytime bartender at Cliff’s, the local cop bar, Erica had known him since middle school, he was Scott’s best friend, and he was a perpetual thorn in the Hale pack’s side.
Derek had never met Stiles in person; by the time Scott had been bitten and the human came with like an unwanted infomercial buy one get one free deal, Derek was already in New York, and he’d always just managed to miss running into him the few times he’d visited. Before moving back to California, he’d only heard about Stiles through his family, and the guy wasn’t always painted in the most flattering light—though Laura thought he was the best thing since sliced bread, and that alone made him want to steer clear. Derek still remembered the pure glee on her face as she relayed the story of Stiles straight up yelling at their mother, powerful even for an alpha, for her unwillingness to get involved in the rising crime stats of the city.
Stiles did not sound bright.
When Derek climbed back into Greta’s apartment, the Sheriff was still lecturing his son on home security. If he listened he could hear Stiles’ uh-huh and yeah, dad, I know over the background noise of the bar, but it didn’t sound like the kid was planning on actually doing anything he was agreeing to. Why the son of the Sheriff lived in such a crappy part of town was beyond him, let alone why he was being so stupid about it if the fear and stress on the fire escape were his. He obviously wasn’t comfortable living there.
Erica was fighting back a grin as she patiently went over the list of things missing with Greta, and even Greta looked amused by the Sheriff’s conversation. She shook her head and sipped her tea like she was watching a daytime soap.
“Stiles, I don’t care how well you can see the stars with half the streetlights out, lock the damn bars or I will! And you won’t have the key!”
The Sheriff wiped a hand over his face with long suffering exasperation and worry as his son started lecturing about safety violations—still not actually agreeing to lock the bars, Derek noticed. He waited a couple minutes, listening as the diatribe ramped up to its finale, then rolled his eyes and cut off his son before another tangent started.
“Just lock your damn window before you get yourself robbed blind.” He hung up with an annoyed but fond love you after making his son promise to come for dinner Friday as punishment for his stupidity, though it didn’t sound like much of a chore.
The Sheriff took a calming breath that looked well practiced, and fixed Derek with a weary glare. “Don’t have kids.” He turned without waiting fro a response to say his goodbyes to Greta. “I’ll put someone on your street the next few nights to keep on eye on things.”
Greta was shaking her head before he even finished his sentence. “John, if I see a single deputy so much as pass by here, I’m withholding pecan pie this Thanksgiving.”
“Don’t think I’ll be able to keep them away.”
“If Howard could see you wasting resources on little old me...”
“Don’t give me that crap, Greta, Howard would’ve had a SWAT team camped out in your living room and you know it.” Greta just smiled coyly. “At least let me have Stiles stop by tonight to check things out. And you call him anytime something feels off, day or night.”
“I’ll do no such thing. That boy needs to sleep, not be worried about some old lady like me.”
"He'll just be up half the night on his computer anyways, might as well do something productive instead of whatever he does when he's not working or harassing me."
Derek wasn’t overly impressed with Stiles so far.
* * *
His new apartment was in Bricktown, in the historical district along the river. It was nicer than Depot Town, full of young couples and hipsters and microbreweries that weren’t actually all that good. It had old warehouses renovated into apartments, a lot of restored brownstones, a few parks for when the young couples had kids, and weekly farmers markets full of scraggly beards and man buns.
It was so vastly different from how Derek remembered the area—basically just as bad as Depot Town and another area his mother had told him not to visit—that his main reason for moving there had been the sheer novelty of it.
The novelty had worn off once his neighbors started making kombucha tea on the fire escape, right outside his kitchen window where there was always shade, and made half his apartment smell like sulfur.
(They seemed nice enough, and once invited him over for a welcome to the neighborhood dinner, but if that was how they made tea, he really didn’t want to experience their cooking, and certainly not after seeing how much tempeh they bought in one shopping trip.)
But despite the neighbors, he had a nice, cozy third floor brownstone apartment that was almost three times as big as the one he'd had in New York and half the price. It had a fireplace, hardwood floors, a breakfast nook that he still wasn't quite sure what to do with, and more space than he had furniture to fill it with. He let Laura talk him into a couple bookcases, a coffee table, and a TV unit so his small flatscreen wasn't sitting on a box, but he didn't want or need all that much. And the stuff he bought, he didn't really feel like putting together.
So there he was, back in Beacon Hills with a half empty apartment, a job, and surrounded by boxes of disassembled furniture and the faint smell of sulfur—and he was bored.
Derek was new to the Sheriff’s Department so he was pretty much scheduled through the month for crappy night shifts with Erica (he had no idea what she’d done to land herself there, and he didn’t really want to ask, because every question she answered devolved into a foreboding Deputy Charles story), which meant that during the day when he wasn’t sleeping or had a day off, he found himself sitting around. A lot.
He didn’t have a life in Beacon Hills anymore; he’d left California immediately after high school, as soon as he possibly could, and pretty much stayed away ever since. He hadn’t kept in touch with any of his high school friends (he hadn’t really felt much like hanging out and playing basketball after the fire and by graduation they hardly talked), the college friends he still talked to were all settled on the east coast with careers and budding families, and his closest friends were all on the police force back in New York City. Aside from his family, he didn’t really know anyone in town anymore, and his hobby of shifting into a wolf and prowling the forest didn’t lend itself to making new friends.
In a nutshell, it was all that, a combination of boredom and loneliness, that made him allow Cora to drag him to the city’s climbing gym on the west side of town where she worked between her many rock climbing trips. Upon This Rock was housed in an old abandoned church that had been renovated, and the climbing wall rose high up into the vaulted ceiling, with a hole to allow light from the stained glass window to stream in. It was definitely cool, and it wasn’t that he wasn’t interested in climbing, but...
He shifted his hips around, trying to subtly adjust around the harness, but it really just made it all worse. So much worse. He glanced around the practically deserted gym, made sure no one was paying attention, and started tugging and rotating everything back into place. He was still open to having kids some day, after all.
“Do I really have to wear this?” He immediately stopped adjusting and straightened up when Cora turned to glare at him again.
“Yes, you signed the waiver, you have the wear it. If you don’t, I’ll lose my job, and I still need a new laptop.”
“It’s not like anything would happen to me if I fell,” he muttered, half to himself and more than a little petulantly.
“Derek,” she lowered her voice without leaning in, “healing or no, falling from those heights still really sucks. Trust me.” She gave him one last look that clearly told him to leave the harness alone as she backed towards the climbing wall.
“Cora, have you fallen before?” She turned to grab one of the ropes hanging, ignoring him and his understandable concern as an older brother. “Is that why you came back early from New Mexico? Cora!”
He had to admit; even with werewolf strength and reflexes, climbing wasn’t as easy as he’d assumed. And he was also very thankful that it was still early enough in the morning that they were pretty much alone because he was stuck just past the halfway point, trying to navigate around the stained glass. And he absolutely refused to give in to Cora’s intentionally grating nagging from the ground, yelled up at him solely for the sake of being annoying and humiliating.
“Derek, there’s a hold to the left of your left foot! Derek! The purple hold! No, the other purple hold!”
She didn’t seem to be grasping that that specific purple hold was three feet away and his legs just didn’t spread that way. If there hadn’t been other employees working by then, he would’ve ripped the damn purple hold out of the wall and thrown it at her.
He craned his neck to glare down at her, and internally groaned when he noticed a guy clipping into one of the auto belays, which would bring him right up next to Derek. Of course. Of course he got an audience when he got stuck.
“Don’t look down here, look at the wall! Specifically at the purple hold by your left foot!”
He finally broke, gritting out through his teeth, “Cora, I’m going to kill you if you don’t shut up right now.”
It was quiet, barely more than a whisper, but she heard.
She beamed at him and tugged on his rope, jerking his pelvis up.
He’d made his decision; she would be dead by lunchtime.
He was all of two feet higher and still stuck when he smelled a familiar scent, which was odd this high up on a wall that was completely overpowered by sweat and chalk.
As a born wolf, it was automatic to catalog scents for future reference, and it was hard to forget one once it was committed to memory. So when the same combination of stress, anxiety, and adrenaline from Greta’s fire escape last week climbed up into his awareness, he knew it could only be one person.
He was honestly surprised he hadn’t run into the infamous Stiles Stilinski yet, given how everyone at work seemed to know him and see him constantly; at the bar, at the station, at the grocery store, they pulled him over for speeding on the backroads—again. The guy was everywhere, and Derek knew it was only a matter of time until they met.
From the way he was described, Derek was expecting him to be a scrawny, nerdy type, who never quite grew up or really left home (he’d gone to Berkeley and currently worked as a daytime bartender; that wasn’t exactly someone living up to their full potential). Erica constantly called him a little shit, the Sheriff called him kid, the other deputies joked about him wandering around the station and poking his nose into casefiles—he sounded like a sixteen year old pest who had to go to work with his dad to be kept out of trouble.
The well toned forearm reaching into his periphery and the large hand with long fingers flexing around a green hold suggested that Derek’s assumption had been wildly mistaken.
Stiles was not scrawny, and he was definitely not a kid, no matter what the Sheriff called him. He had strong, broad shoulders and lithe arms and pulled himself up the wall with the ease of someone who’d been doing it for years. He stopped alongside Derek, his brown eyes wide and bright with energy and probably way too much coffee and flashed him a lopsided and easy grin that did things to Derek’s stomach. He looked like nine kinds of trouble.
“First time?” he asked with a grin.
Stiles didn’t even blink at Derek’s bitter tone. “It probably wouldn’t be if you weren’t on the hard wall. This is a tricky spot.”
“The hard—Cora!” he yelled down, not caring if anyone heard.
“You’re doing great, Derek, don’t stop!” she called back with the encouragement of a helpful instructor and like she wasn’t the worst person on the planet. This was payback for losing her bet on Derek’s last relationship, it had to be.
“Derek? Derek Hale?”
He turned back to Stiles, glowering. “Unfortunately.”
“I’m Stiles, Scott’s friend.”
“Charmed.” This was the last place he wanted to be having this conversation, and Cora seemingly agreed as she yelled up at him,
“Derek, enough chit chat, move it!”
He gave Stiles a flat look, because Stiles happened to be what was in front of his face. He nodded sympathetically.
“Yeah, she literally kicked me off the wall once. She’s a terrible employee.”
Derek’s pelvis jerked up again in revenge for the comment.
“If you could not insult her until I’m back on the ground, that would be great.”
“Dude, just use an auto belay," Stiles said. "I mean, they still kind of pull your ass up into your stomach, but at least they don’t have an agenda about it.”
Another jerk, this time harder. At this rate his dad wasn’t going to be getting any grandchildren out of him, married or not.
“I’ll keep that in mind.”
Stiles tipped his head back in a brief nod and added with a smirk, “Oh, and there’s a purple hold right by your left foot.”
He winked, reached up for his next hold, and then completely left Derek in his dust.
But with a full view of his very toned ass.
* * *
The second time Derek ran into Red was, much like the first time, a surprise.
His hearing was one of his main tools while on patrol, always listening for anyone coming up behind him, mapping heartbeats, how many people were in the next room. It was probably becoming a crutch, something he relied on too much like his mother had always told him not to, and he would definitely get a long lecture if she ever found out. But his mother wasn’t a cop and didn’t know how many times his heightened hearing had saved lives, his own included, so he wasn’t going to stop anytime soon. Or tell her, but that was neither here nor there.
Given just how much he relied on it, though, it was wildly unsettling when he couldn’t hear Red coming at all. He wasn’t just quiet, it was like he wasn’t even there.
One second he was parked in the cruiser, chatting with Erica while on duty, and the next there was a light thud, and a vigilante was squatting on the hood of the car, waggling his fingers in a wave. There had been absolutely no warning, and for the first time in his life, Derek jumped in surprise.
It took him a few seconds to recover, he’d just had a life-changing experience, but Erica was already out of the car and yelling.
“Are you kidding me, fucker? You better not have dented that, I refuse to get slammed for damaging department property!”
“Don't worry, I’m light as a feather,” Red drawled as he hopped off the car. His voice was oddly pitched, a little distorted somehow. It had a strange reverb, magic woven through it that made it hard to remember exactly what he sounded like, even though he’d just stopped talking. Whoever Red really was, he knew his way around magic, because Derek could hear nothing from him, even as he got out of the car too; no heartbeat, no breathing, not even the rustle of fabric when he moved.
He turned his attention to Derek. “We meet again, Deputy Hale.”
“Oh, god,” Erica muttered under her breath, no doubt at the flirty way Red’s voice deepened, even through the disguise. He winked at her.
“Don’t worry, Reyes, you’re still my favorite.” Oh lovely, he flirted with all of the deputies.
“I can die happy," she deadpanned. “What do you want?”
“I left you a present at Washington and Fifth.”
“Aw, how sweet.” Erica placed her hand on her chest, pretending to be moved, and Red coyly shrugged a shoulder in response.
Considering the last guy Red apprehended had been a purse snatcher in a back alley, Derek wasn’t expecting to see a sour man in a nice suit crouching awkwardly next to an iron railing, his hand hanging limply from black handcuffs. There was a crossbar on the fence that wasn’t high enough for him to stand comfortably but the ground was wet and dirty and his suit was visibly expensive.
“Good evening sir,” Erica greeted cordially as she slammed the car door behind her. “Is there anything we can help you with?”
Derek followed her over, doing a quick sweep of the area with his senses for the vigilante, possibly waiting for the cops to make sure his apprehended criminal was picked up and properly arrested. There were no unaccounted for scents around; just the man, Erica, the sidewalk, and whatever was cooking in the house the railing belonged to. A woman was watching from behind the window curtain. There were no extra heartbeats, no sounds of movement, it was like the man had walked up to the fence and cuffed himself of his own free will.
“Yeah,” the man sneered. “You can uncuff me and get Boy Wonder behind bars before he does something he’ll regret.”
“That wouldn’t happen to include handcuffing you to a fence, now would it?” Erica stopped just out of his reach, resting her hands on her belt and jutting her chin out in the typical douchebag cop stance that always got assholes riled up. “Can you think of any reason he might want to do that?”
“Because he’s a psycho?” The man's tone implied that to be the obvious answer and both of them to be idiots for not thinking of it themselves. “Look, you should be out looking for him, not interrogating me like a criminal. I’m the victim here—he jumped me from behind and took my phone and wallet.” He waved his arm down the sidewalk where, indeed, a smartphone lay neatly on the stoop of an apartment building. Derek went to retrieve it while Erica continued to have a gleefully patronizing conversation with the man.
“We’ll get right on that as soon as we’re finished here, so if you could just tell me what happened here, Mr…”
“Palomino,” the man supplied in an ugly tone, his face would probably match if Derek turned to check. “And I told you, I’m walking to my car, this fucking psycho comes up behind me, taps me on the shoulder, cuffs me to the fence, and then robs me.”
Derek picked up the phone and the slim black leather wallet beneath it, both obviously not stolen and in perfect condition. Like new. He toggled on the phone to make sure it was alright—it was fine, locked with a pin—and flipped open the wallet to check for cards and cash. All there and seemingly undisturbed. He glanced at Mr. Palomino’s license out of habit as he turned back and paused, because Mr. Palomino was actually a Mr. Oscar Lamarque of New Mexico.
The very same Oscar Lamarque the station had received an APB about the day before. So the vigilantes were either tapped into a police system somewhere, or they had someone on the inside of the Sheriff’s Station.
“Reyes.” Derek walked back over and held up the license for her to read. Oscar dropped all pretense of being the victim and just sort of sagged. He knew he was caught.
“Oscar Lamarque.” Erica turned to him with a slightly predatory grin, stepping forward to uncuff him from the fence. “You have the right to remain silent.”
* * *
If Derek thought tracking down the two vigilantes would get any easier after that, he was sadly, horribly, and wildly mistaken. He’d had a few (loosely described) run-ins with them, mostly glances of them perched on fire escapes to keep an eye on the arrest or a billowing corner of the Guard’s jacket around a corner as the squad car pulled up, but every time there was absolutely nothing left in their wake that could possibly help him identify them.
They didn’t leave any scent behind, for one, just a distinct nothingness Derek had come to associate with magic interference, and with their heartbeats hidden, he couldn’t even work from that. They weren’t just masking their presence as wolves from the local alpha (at this point, Derek wasn’t willing to rule out the possibility that Red could be a wolf as well), they were masking every sign of themselves completely. And they were good at it.
It wasn’t like a wolf suppressing some of their louder tells, they were just gone. Derek had looked right up at Red, just two stories above him on the roof, and felt nothing from him. He couldn’t even feel the normal awareness creeping up his spine when someone was watching him, and the second he glanced away, Red had vanished. Just faded out like he’d never been there to begin with.
Whether they were a threat or not, those two knew what they were doing, which was more worrying than Derek cared to admit.
So having found out all of nothing, it was somewhat reluctantly that he met Laura at her PI office. More that somewhat, he just flat out didn't want to go, because she expected him to have more information than he'd started with and he didn't. She probably already knew he didn't have anything, considering she made him wait in the front office for fifteen minutes with her surly receptionist.
It was intentional, he knew it was, especially with the shitty smile she gave him when he was finally allowed past the troll guarding the bridge.
“Found anything yet?”
He paused to give her a look at her damanding tone, then finished sitting down in one of the chairs for clients. “It's been one week since you asked me to do this.”
She turned up her hands in confusion. “Yeah, and I’ve closed three cases in that time and took on about twelve more. So what have you found?”
Derek glared and reported flatly, “It appears they can hide their presence.”
“We knew that.”
“Well now you know it even more.”
She rolled her eyes at his tone. “Oh come on, Der, you must’ve gotten something beyond that!”
“Laura, I’m trying, but I do have a job to do. I can't just chase after them while I'm on duty, especially not when I've only had the job for two weeks." And despite his rough hours, it was a job he would really prefer to keep.
"What about three weeks? Can you chase them down next week?" He continued to glare in response. "You're really not being very proactive about this. You'd make a terrible PI."
"Then it's a good thing I'm not planning to be one."
“Derek, this is serious.” She said, sobering, so Derek tried to be a little less of a shitty little brother and discuss it like adults.
“Then why aren’t you doing this? This is literally your job description.” She was a werewolf private detective whose clientele was almost entirely made up of the supernatural residents of the territory who couldn’t go to the police with their problems. Finding a mystery werewolf should be right up her alley.
She gestured grandly to the large stack of manilla folders on her desk, newspaper clippings and handwritten notes hanging out haphazardly. Then carried on gesturing to the wall of file cabinets to her right, and the other loose files piled onto the low bookshelf behind her.
“Did you not hear me say I’ve just had to take on twelve new cases, on top of the ones I’m already working? And they aren’t just the wife cheating with an incubus, either, three of them are murders that really can’t be put on the backburner. I need help.” Sometimes it was easy to forget that Laura handled almost all of the groundwork within the territory and kept an eye on anyone supernatural making trouble or ending up where they didn’t belong. As alpha, Talia handled the larger political issues, but everything had to be filtered through Laura to get to her.
“Okay, then why do you suddenly need to find this guy? It’s been three years and he hasn’t done anything, has he?”
“Not until a few months ago," Laura explained. "I'll email you the file, but it started with a few people killed by animals in the woods, and then three weeks ago someone was attacked on Fifth. Luckily it was just a scratch and they weren't turned, but they said they were jumped by a very hairy man with a disfigured face.”
“So you think The Guard has recently taken up biting people? Unless he’s an alpha, that doesn’t make any sense.”
“He's been an omega for a long time now," Laura said with a shrug. "Some wolves can’t handle it, it starts to get to them.”
“But betas don’t have the instinct to create a pack like that, they find one. If he was that desperate, he would’ve just gone to mom.”
“I don’t know, Derek," Laura interrupted, clearly incredibly stressed and frustrated. "He’s trying to be a superhero, that doesn’t exactly scream rational and well thought out life choices. Just find out who he is, and get him over to mom before he hurts someone else. Please.”
“Alright, I’ll try to find him," he quickly assured her before her eyes started flaring. "But you should’ve told me about the attacks in the first place, I didn’t know this was anything more than you being nosy.”
Laura sighed. “Mom wanted to keep that part close to her chest. We figured some wolf squatting in our territory would be enough of a reason to find him." Derek stared blankly and she rolled her eyes. “You’ve been in New York way too long. Remember how mom really doesn’t have an open door policy? And how this is a direct challenge to her authority as alpha?”
The thought honestly hadn’t even crossed his mind, Derek realized with a jolt. He’d grown so used to moving freely through New York, and other wolves doing the same, that he’d almost completely forgotten it could be an issue and usually was. Werewolves were sometimes killed over a similar affront.
“I think you could use a few more werewolf friends," Laura said sympathetically, and it finally sunk in that she was implying he’d become too human.
It wasn’t meant to be an insult, he could tell when Laura was insulting him, but how was he supposed to respond to being told he’d lost touch with half of who he was?
“I’ll get right on that,” he said, for lack of any other reaction, and stood a little too quickly.
“Oh hey, hang on!” Laura called him back, rifling through something behind her desk while pointing at him to stay put. He waited impatiently for longer than he intended to, but Laura finally handed him a colorful reusable grocery bag, stuffed full and presented like an honored gift. “This is for you! You have to take it, I’m your sister.”
He eyed her warily as he accepted it, but her face wasn’t giving anything away. It smelled like the co-op.
Because it was all from the co-op. Coffee, bread, a few really random vegetables he would have to work really hard to combine, fair trade chocolate, a few organic powerbars jammed in the bottom—he wouldn’t have to go shopping for a week.
He raised an eyebrow at her. “How far behind on points are you?”
She waved away his question. “You don’t understand, Derek, if I don’t go often enough, the cashier looks at me like I’m some yoga mom from the suburbs.”
He really didn't understand. “Then quit. Being a member of the co-op isn’t mandatory.”
That didn't calm her down. “If I quit, then she wins, and I’ll be just as bad as the suburban yoga moms. I refuse to be beaten by some twenty year old hipster with white girl dreads.”
“Why do you even go there if you hate everyone?”
“Because a good alpha is involved with both their pack and the surrounding community.” She recited it, like she’d been practicing, like she’d just been waiting for someone to ask her that.
“Is there a manual somewhere that you’ve memorized?” He didn’t bother pointing out that she wasn’t actually an alpha yet.
“Shut up and get out of my office. And be proactive!” she yelled as he let the door slam behind him.
Her receptionist glared.
* * *
Derek didn’t want to admit it, but what Laura said really did get to him, and it was only amplified as he continued on with his week and realized he was almost completely surrounded by humans. He worked with humans, lived among humans, all of his New York friends had been human—aside from two werewolves he would run with on some full moons—and the few budding new friendships he was nurturing were with humans. There was nothing wrong with that, but he was starting to wonder; if he’d forgotten how serious a territory encroachment was, what other normally basic instincts he’d just forgotten to have?
He felt like a part of him had been fading away without him even realizing it was happening, like his instincts had been dulled down to nothing, and that wasn’t exactly a good feeling. He didn’t know how to go about getting them back.
“What’s with you today?”
He looked up from clipping into an auto belay to Stiles, just starting up on the climbing wall. He was practically vibrating with energy, eager to get moving as he was every morning. No matter what day Derek went climbing, Stiles was either already up the wall or arriving at the same time, and Derek had been surprised to find that he didn’t mind the idle chatter as much as he would’ve expected. It was easy and low stress, and since Stiles already knew about his big secret, it wasn’t a constant dance around certain topics like it was with Erica.
“Nothing, I’m fine.”
“Yeah, okay. I don’t need to be able to smell emotions to tell that you’re having a shitty morning.”
“It’s just something Laura said. Nothing important.”
“As someone who has interacted with Laura before, I can tell that you’re full of crap. Your sister is mean and terrifying.”
Derek started up the wall after him, debating whether he wanted to dump his feelings all over someone he barely knew. But he did want some kind of feedback, and he knew anyone in his pack would tell him that he was too distant, and the only person he knew outside of his pack who also knew about werewolves was Stiles. His options were depressingly limited.
“She said I’m too human after being in New York for so long, and that I need more friends like us.”
Stiles didn't miss a beat. “Being human is a bad thing? And unless your mom is looking to expand, I doubt there’s going to be any new furry friends around for you to play with anytime soon. She’s kind of a hardass.”
Derek rolled his eyes at Stiles’ wording but still glanced over his shoulder at the rest of the gym out of habit. Cora wasn’t working that morning, so there was no one to overhear the conversation; it was practically empty this early anyways.
“Laura doesn’t have anything against humans, she just...” He debated between two holds while he thought about how to phrase it. “...doesn’t want me to lose touch with who I am.”
“Hey, I get it. My grandma only talks to me in Polish to force me to embrace my heritage. Like I’ll ever forget it with a name like mine.”
“What, Stiles?” Derek frowned. That didn’t sound like a name at all, let alone a Polish one.
“Nope,” he said emphatically, “and you’re never going to know what my legal name is, either.” He swung around to reach a hold around the corner. “Exactly two people besides my babcia know, and I have enough dirt on both of them to keep them from talking indefinitely.”
“You know my secret, it’s only fair.”
“I can think of at least ten other secrets of mine off the top of my head that I would rather tell you than my name.”
“Such as?” Derek prompted when he didn’t actually offer any of them up.
Stiles scoffed. “I didn’t say I’d actually tell you. My mystery and intrigue is the only thing I have going for me. Why’d you move back, anyway? Beacon Hills can’t be all that great after New York.”
Derek blinked at the abrupt subject change and blatantly obvious redirect. “New York isn’t all that great. And now I have a bigger apartment.”
“Probably smells better, too.” Derek shrugged—it was a close call, Beacon Hills just smelled a different and weirdly nostalgic kind of bad. “But seriously, why just up and leave your life like that?”
“A number of witnesses saw me survive something on duty that should’ve killed a person.” Something his mother would never find out about if he could help it.
“So? It happens. Parrish was in an old burnt out house when it collapsed on him, and he walked out totally fine.”
“It happened six times.”
“They started calling me a supercop.” He regretted saying it immediately. Stiles choked on nothing and didn’t even try to hide his shit eating grin and excited eyes once he recovered. “Shut up," Derek ordered before he could start.
“Oh my god, you became WolfCop.”
“What are you talking about?”
“WolfCop! It’s a movie about a werewolf sheriff! Here comes the fuzz!”
“I will throw you off this wall.”
“I don’t even care, dude. I’m tied in and you’re WolfCop.”
“A rope is no problem for my claws, dude.”
“Nope, still not working.” Stiles hung from two holds, mouth open in a stupid smile. “You’re WolfCop. Here to defend the good people of Beacon County.”
“I thought that was the vigilantes.”
Stiles’ foot slipped off its hold and he flailed for a second to catch himself before the auto belay did. Derek just watched. Served him right.
* * *
As had become a habit before going on shift in the evening, Derek stopped at Palladio’s to get coffee and a sandwich. Beyond having the best pastries, the bakery also had the best sandwiches, as well as the widest selection of mustard he’d ever seen under one roof. Laura was clearly just being stubborn about Songbird because she knew the owner personally and didn’t want to admit that one of her friends was subpar in any way.
While he waited in line he snapped a picture of the wall of mustard and sent it to her. He would make her admit it one day.
She called him immediately.
“It’s not good food if it needs that much mustard to be edible,” she greeted.
“It’s not good food if you consider flavor a bad thing,” he countered lightly. “Your bakery is abusive, Laura, you deserve better.”
“I think mustard is the abuser here, because it’s like getting punched in the face. Be strong Derek, you can leave it. I’ll help you.”
He held the phone against his shoulder while he ordered, debated mustards with the cashier for a second, then decided to take their recommendation in the end.
“Have a good one, Deputy,” she said as they finished the transaction, and he moved to the crowd of people waiting for their orders.
“You get a discount there, don’t you?” Laura demanded once he put the phone back up to his ear. “You go in uniform and they give you free things. I’ve cracked the case, you’re just easy to buy!”
“I do not, and they don’t.” He glanced over his receipt just in case, and no, there was no discount. “It’s called knowing your customers and being polite, not that anyone going to Songbird would know what that’s like.”
A man in front of him turned at the name and sneered. Derek just nodded.
“Whatever you need to tell your—shit!”
“Laura?” He heard a car door open on the other end.
“He’s running, I’ve got to go.”
And she hung up, leaving Derek staring at this phone and wondering exactly what she’d been doing the entire conversation.
He turned as his mother’s surprised voice behind him, and there she was, still dressed in her suit, probably coming straight from her office. He couldn’t help feeling a little smug that his mother clearly agreed on his choice of bakery. They really did have the best coffee in the city.
Talia’s eyes flicked over his uniform briefly and her eyes softened almost sadly.
“Are you just getting off shift? I’m picking up dinner.” She let the invitation hang awkwardly, and he wished he was.
“I’m actually just about to go on patrol. Just picking up some coffee first.”
She smiled, smelling disappointed. “Well at least I raised one of my children right. I don’t know where I went wrong with the others.”
“You can’t be blamed for Laura. No one can help her.”
“So Patrick tells me.”
Derek’s number was called quickly—there was no discount but he suspected they bumped his sandwich up in the queue when he came in uniform—and he moved through the crowd to get the paper bag and coffee.
“Let me know when you’re free for dinner,” Talia said once he came back, moving towards the line to order. “Your father and I would like to see you. Without everyone else there,” she added with a grin. She knew he didn’t particularly like large gatherings.
“I’m working nights for the time being, but yeah, I’d like that.”
She leaned in to give him a quick kiss on the cheek and squeezed his neck reassuringly.
* * *
When Derek walked into Upon this Rock the next morning, Stiles’ top half was sprawled over the reception desk in the middle of the old church, chatting with the guy working and also watching the television mounted above. The local news was on, and it wasn’t until Derek got closer that he realized he recognized the subject of the report: a very familiar old house, one of the old battered Victorians in Avon Park.
Avon Park was the oldest neighborhood in the city, made up of the mansions built by the founders and pillars of the city in the late 1800s, including the Hales. It was just across the train tracks from the old tenement housing of Depot Town, Stiles’ neighborhood, and while it held some of the largest and most historically rich homes in the city, it was something of a ghost town and not considered entirely safe. Most of the mansions were owned by the Beacon Hills Preservation Society, just barely saving them from falling to ruin, but the Society didn’t have the money to properly maintain them, and any wealthy families crazy enough to move into the city didn’t want to risk living so close to Depot Town, or pay for the extensive renovations needed to make the houses habitable again.
The house on the news was donated to the Preservation Society as a gift in the 1960s by the Hales when the pack moved out into the woods to the then-new Hale house, the house Derek had grown up in. It was one of the first houses built in the city when the area was settled by the Hales and a few other families, and though they still made occasional donations for its upkeep, it had fallen into disrepair just like all of its neighboring houses.
According to the news anchor, Deucalion West had bought it from the city.
Stiles had his head propped up on the desk, staring at the television with a disgusted look frozen on his face.
Derek took out his membership card and slid it across desk, and Chad (according to his nametag) took it to swipe and get his rental equipment. He’d be buying his own equipment within the next week—there was nothing like smelling a stranger’s sweaty crotch at seven in the morning to motivate a bit of a spending spree.
“Derek, are you seeing this shit?” Stiles greeted, jerking his thumb towards the screen.
“Huh,” Derek answered, because he had to answer in some way even though he didn’t actually care one way or the other.
“Huh?” Stiles mimicked indignantly. “Huh? A madman just bought the birthplace of your family and all you have to say is huh?”
Derek sat down on one of the old pews by the desk to change his shoes. Stiles was already set to climb, wearing his harness and everything, he’d just been too riveted by an incredibly boring news report to actually do it.
“A madman,” Derek repeated flatly. “What exactly makes Deucalion a madman?” He tied his shoes quickly, eager to get up the wall and away from this conversation.
“Um, I don’t know,” Stiles started casually, then practically yelled, “everything about him?” He followed Derek to the desk to pick up his rented harness, then trailed along behind him to the climbing wall at the back of the old church. “I mean, have you seen him? The guy is serious skeevy. I met him once and had to scrub my hand for twenty minutes to feel clean again.”
Derek looked up from clipping into an auto belay to fix him with a look. “He’s not as evil as you make him out to be. At all, actually.” Derek stated as he started up the wall. He could practically hear Stiles’ eyes roll below him.
“Figures you would know him.”
“He’s one of my mom’s closest friends, why do you think she’s even letting him run?”
“Letting—wait, wait, you mean he’s a werewolf?” Stiles hissed, climbing quickly—impressively quick, actually—to catch up to him.
“Yeah, you didn’t know that?”
“Wha—no! Why would I have known that?”
“Because he’s at every pack dinner with Scott, I thought he told you everything.”
“Not the important things, apparently, which he will be hearing about later.” He waved that away for the future and refocused immediately. “Okay, so he’s a wolf, why is he here exactly? Is he in your pack? I've never heard of him being in your pack.”
Derek sighed. He wasn't mentally prepared for an academic lecture on werewolf customs. “His pack was killed by hunters and he and my mom are old friends. It’s not uncommon for alphas with no pack to live in other territories with permission.”
“Oh my god, he’s an alpha?” Stiles threw his head back dramatically, still holding onto the wall. “What about that sounds like a good idea?”
“It’s not exactly a risk.” Derek surveyed the wall above him, looking for his next place to go. Every hold close to him was at an awkward angle. “It’s like a grandparent living with your family. Since they have no pack they’re too weak to make any attempt at challenging the pack’s alpha.”
Stiles snorted. “Yeah, a creepy grandparent, who like, leers at you in dark rooms and makes thinly veiled threats.”
Derek gave up on his search to look back at Stiles. “Did he threaten you in a dark room?”
The fact that Stiles didn't actually answer the question said that the answer was probably no.
“I don’t know what it is, something about the guy just freaks me out.” He glanced down at exactly the wrong time and noticed that Derek hadn’t moved in a while. “That sloper is going to suck, go for the crimp to your right. The yellow one,” he added when Derek just looked at him blankly.
“Maybe it’s the accent," he continued as if there had been no interruption. “No one with an accent like that is up to anything good.”
The crimp was just as bad.
“English? I’m pretty sure there’s a lot of people with English accents who aren’t out to get you.”
Stiles huffed above him, long suffering and condescending. “Not me, your mom! Come on, he’s publicly buying one of the oldest houses in the city, that just so happens to have belonged to the pack that’s held the territory since practically before the city was even here.” He grunted as he reached for the high next hold and paused a second once he’d moved up, looking back down at Derek. “That doesn’t seem a little the king is dead, long live the king to you?”
“I don’t know, Stiles.” He paused on a jug hold—he actually knew the name of those—to rest for a second, more for show than actual necessity because he’d been climbing constantly for a while. People noticed things like unnatural endurance. “It’s a little hard to believe that someone I’ve known the majority of my life and one of my mom’s closest friends would actively be trying to kill her to steal her territory.”
“Why? People can turn on you in a second, you of all people should—” He cut himself off abruptly, but Derek already knew where he was going. “Sorry. That was shitty.”
“No, you’re right. I have terrible judgment.” He wasn’t about to deny it; his first girlfriend (if she could even be called that) had tried to burn his family alive and killed his sister, aunt, and cousin, almost killed his father and other sister. “But this isn’t my call, and I’m hoping my mother has better judgment than I do.”
“That still doesn’t mean he’s not up to something.” Stiles shrugged, turning back towards the wall.
Derek rolled his eyes, reaching to the right to move towards the other side of the stained glass from Stiles; he was hoping a little distance would discourage the conversation from continuing. It didn’t.
“I can’t even believe how much he sets off my impending doom senses—they’re very well attuned, you know, they’ve had a lot of practice.”
“What could he possibly be up to that he wouldn’t have done seven years ago when he first moved here?”
“I don’t know, I’ve never even spoken to the guy. You’re a cop, do the cop thing. Investigate, find out what’s changed in his life recently. Maybe he has to be mayor to achieve his domination.”
Derek stared across the window. “This is half about the accent, isn’t it?”
“Obviously, he sounds like a Bond villain!”
* * *
Derek honestly couldn’t say why he actually looked into Deucalion that evening. He was bored and had a few minutes at work with access to the police database, that could be a good reason if someone asked; he wanted to catch up on local politics, that was another. But whatever the reason, he hadn’t actually been expecting to find anything when he did.
It was supposed to just be a way to shut Stiles down next time he inevitably brought it up, just tell him once and for all that Deucalion was fine, he was being paranoid, and there wasn’t any reason to not vote for the guy. But then he found the article about the massacre.
It was fifteen years old, a headline about a large group of campers who were slaughtered by wild animals in the middle of the woods a few hours east of Beacon Hills. There wasn’t a whole lot to go on in the article, and no one outside of the local werewolf community would make the connection, but everyone who had been killed were in Deucalion’s pack, wolf and human alike.
Derek remembered when it happened, when Deucalion showed up at the newly rebuilt Hale house in the middle of the night. His mother and Peter had told everyone to go back to bed and no one had mentioned it again until Deucalion finally emerged from the guest room a week later, looking weak and pale and suddenly blind. At the time they’d been told it was hunters, and still reeling from Kate, Derek believed it completely and without question.
But now he had distance. He’d moved on, moved away, and he had a new perspective that wasn’t so tainted with grief and rage. Hunters didn’t imitate wild animals, nor did they usually wipe out entire packs and leave the bodies to be found later. They were precise and methodical, and to take down a pack the size of Deucalion’s, they would’ve had to be experienced and well established. That caliber of hunters didn’t leave evidence.
Derek sat back in his chair and glared at his computer screen.
The story wasn’t quite lining up anymore, but he wasn’t going to jump to any conclusions before he talked to his mom. There could be a number of reasons she changed the story, maybe to protect her kids from something worse, or even to protect Deucalion from their prying questions.
No need to tell Stiles yet and send him off on a conspiracy rant before he had all the facts.
“Hale, get your ass in the car!” Erica called across the room, and a few other deputies looked in his direction, grinning.
He gave her a look. She beamed back at him. He rolled his eyes but closed the browser and locked his computer to follow her out to the rear parking lot.
There were a few more a patrols out on the streets tonight because, as Erica explained, the NCs's were recruiting.
The NC's, Derek didn't know what that stood for if anything, was a gang down by the river who only let in members who managed to go head-to-head against one of the vigilantes and not get arrested. This led to something of a free for all in certain areas of town, where young people looking to prove themselves in a fight would patrol looking for the crimefighters, waiting for a chance to jump them. The hard part was, as they weren't actually in the gang yet and didn't have the notorious green patch on their jackets, none of these fighters were distinguishable from any other small group of young people walking down the sidewalk.
Erica grumbled the entire time she drove, complaining that this was a pointless endeavor, that any fight going on would immediately scatter the second the patrol car came into view, that all this did was cause a spike in civilian complaints about profiling--which, to be fair, was a serious issue if the sheriff's long lecture about it before they all left was anything to go by. Judging by the radio, not many other deputies were having much luck, but Erica shrugged it off as normal for recruitment night.
But Derek didn't like failure, so while he kept an ear on her ranting, he kept the other focused on the ambient noises of the city around them, trying to pick out anything out of the ordinary. Even doing that, it took a couple hours for him to actually hear anything. But when he did...
“Is that the best you got, Boy Wonder?”
“Stop the car!”
Erica pulled over and stopped without hesitation, turning to him for an explanation.
“I can hear a fight,” he explained quickly, taking off his seatbelt and already opening the door despite her protests. “Head west, it’s a couple blocks away. I’ll meet you there.”
And with that he slammed his door and took off running down the closest alley to cut through the block, following the sounds of a scuffle. He waited until he was out of sight to run inhumanly fast, darted across two mostly empty backstreets, and skidded to a stop when he saw them.
“Why does no one in the fucking city know any sidekick besides Robin?” Red was complaining as he held one guy in a solid headlock, watching the second warily for any movements. “Do you read comics? That’s not even an insult.”
The other man wiped blood from his nose and spit more onto the ground. “Whatever you fucking fag.”
“Wow, very original. Never heard that one before.”
The kid in the headlock must’ve hit him hard somewhere, because Red grunted in pain and released him suddenly. The guy ducked away quickly, moving to stand next to his friend to regroup, and no doubt coordinate an attack.
“Beacon County Sheriff’s Department!” Derek announced his presence, and the two kids startled violently. One recovered quickly and took off, but Red intercepted him while Derek focused on the kid still looking a little terrified that the police showed up. It was a good thing he would probably never make it into the gang, if this was how he reacted to one cop.
The kid made an aborted attempt at running, but turned out to be smart enough to realize that it would only make this worse for him, so he let Derek cuff him with no resistance as Erica pulled up in the car with the lights flashing. The other guy, however, was throwing punches and kicks at Red, who was blocking them, but he was slowing down. Derek wondered how many more of these little skirmishes he’d been caught up in that night.
“I got him,” Erica assured him, already taking off across the street towards the fight.
“Sheriff’s Department, both of you freeze!”
The kid flinched and gave Red an opening to get a hit in that probably would’ve knocked him out on any other night, but the vigilante was obviously tired and didn’t put enough power behind it. Instead of going down, the guy just stumbled back and then kept on going down the alley behind them. Red cursed loud enough for Derek to hear without trying, then took off after him.
Erica just waved at them dismissively. “Eh, fuck it.” She turned and saw Derek’s raised eyebrows. “We've got a description, and if Red doesn’t catch up to him, there’s no way I’m going to with their head start.”
Derek accepted the logic. He would've been able to catch him no problem if Erica wasn't right there, wouldn't have had to use that much superhuman speed to do it, but he wasn't looking for a repeat of New York in his own hometown. They would be able to describe the suspect if they decided that pursuing him was worth it.
He was more interested in pursuing Red anyway, who might still be in the area considering how beaten down he’d looked. He started to cross the street, away from the car and the kid locked in the backseat.
“Derek—” Erica started.
“Just one second,” he assured her. “I’m just going to make sure he’s okay.”
“Make it fast!” she called after him, but he still heard her muttering tiredly about handling crushes like an adult, which was so far off the mark Derek didn’t pay it any mind.
When he found Red he was leaning casually against the wall of an alley, half in the shadows and readjusting one of his gloves after the fight. At least, he was trying to look casual, but he was favoring the side where he’d gotten hit and trying to hide it. He looked up when he heard Derek's footsteps approaching and tried to straighten, but he didn't quite make it.
“Can I help you, Deputy?” Even hunched over to the side a little, breathing hard, he still forced that flirty tone into his voice.
“Are you alright?” was what Derek settled on; he really didn’t know what else to say, so he fell back on how he usually handled citizens after a call. In no situation was it appropriate for a deputy to flirt with a vigilante. “You took a few good hits back there.”
“Nothing I can’t handle.”
Once again, Derek found himself wondering if the Guard was the only wolf. Red had taken more than a few good hits, and they probably would’ve taken down most humans.
“Has that happened a lot tonight?”
“No more than usual.”
“Have you considered not coming out on recruitment night?”
Red huffed a sardonic laugh. “You know actually we did? Surprising, I know. But these guys are already amped up for a fight, and if they don’t have something to aim at, they just start making trouble for other people.”
“So you get beat up as a public service,” Derek said with a smirk. He couldn’t help it. “We’ll be sure to make a note of that in your obituary.”
Red paused, pulling one of the last straps on his glove tight, and for a second Derek worried that he’d gone a little too far, but then he drawled out, “Well, it’s about time the Sheriff’s Department hired someone with a sense of humor.” He let his hand fall down by his side and Derek instinctively followed the movement for any weapons.
Then he noticed the gun holster strapped around his right thigh. He hadn't had a chance to really look at him yet, the two were always on the move when they met, but it really was a real gun, not a taser.
“You got a license for that thing?” He nodded towards it, and Red followed his gaze down.
“Relax, boy scout, they’re rubber bullets.”
“Those still pack quite a punch.”
“Well, sometimes a fist just won’t cut it.” Derek raised an eyebrow. “Yes, I have a license, and yes, it’s registered.”
The thought briefly crossed Derek’s if he would be able to find him through his license, but that would be like finding a needle in a haystack in Beacon County. With the crime rates where they were, more people carried than didn’t.
“Never would’ve guessed you were such a stickler for the rules,” Red muttered, mostly to himself.
“I’m a cop, that’s literally the job description.”
Red’s eyes smirked.
“Oh my god, you’ve been waiting to use that line, haven’t you.” It wasn’t a question, but yes, he’d been just waiting for one of his siblings to give him grief about it like they did when he was younger. Years of being the goody two shoes of the family had finally paid off, he had the perfect comeback, and suddenly they didn’t care anymore.
“You’ve made my dreams come true,” he deadpanned, even though it was kind of true. That line had been just as satisfying as he’d always known it would be.
“Nerd,” Red shot back, with a teasing edge, but whatever he’d been about to say after was cut off by a woman’s voice crackling over his radio, tinny through the speaker in his ear, and so quiet Derek could barely hear it.
“Red, Fifth and Washington. I think they're trying to get Guard's attention.”
Not breaking eye contact, Red reached up to his right ear.
“On my way.”
He took a few steps back, eyes shining with the reflection of a streetlight, winked, and turned to run at the building behind him. He launched himself off the wall with his foot, grabbed onto the bottom of the fire escape, and hauled himself up with his arms until he could get a leg up. Then he was off, scaling each ladder until he reached the top, and disappeared over the roof, back up to his playground above everyone else.
Derek sighed and called in a disturbance at Fifth and Washington.
* * *
As had become customary after their night shifts, Derek and Erica continued their post-shift breakfasts even after they’d been moved to an early morning shift and now got off around lunchtime. Erica was thrilled because it wasn’t socially acceptable to have a beer with breakfast at seven in the morning, so seeing as the diner didn’t have beer, they moved to Cliff’s.
This move just so happened to coincide with Stiles’ daytime shift.
Derek had every intention of telling Stiles what he’d found out about Deucalion, just really quick before Erica came in, but then he noticed the odd posture, tight lines in his face. Stiles was holding himself carefully as he worked, his torso stiff and he wasn’t turning his head when he could avoid it. It was all very subtle, he was good at hiding it, but Derek had years of experience reading perps and victims.
“What’s wrong with you?”
Stiles didn’t even pause, holding a black mat from the bar over the sink to let stale runoff beer drain. It smelled awful. “We just ran out of Guinness at an Irish bar, I think I found asbestos in my closet this morning, and my rent is due in two days.”
Derek rolled his eyes He found himself doing that a lot around Stiles. “You’re hurt. What happened?”
“Fight with the treadmill at the gym yesterday. It’s fine.” The music was just too loud to listen to his heart and Stiles was too preoccupied with rinsing the mat to give any visual cues of a lie, but that was a pretty blatant fuck off and drop it answer. Fucking off and dropping it wasn’t really Derek’s forte.
“Did you get it checked out?”
“Yes, now would you let it go? Jesus, you’re worse than Scott.” He turned to fit the mat back under the line of faucets of draft beer.
“You can’t heal like we do, it’s normal to worry about human members of your pack.” No one was around to hear their conversation. The bar had just opened and was empty aside from two retired deputies having lunch over in front of the window, judging people walking past and chuckling about it.
“Well, that explains Scott, but I’m not in your pack, so you can relax,” Stiles reminded him with a look before changing the subject. “I’m assuming Erica’s coming, you want anything to drink before I start restocking for the lunch rush?”
Stiles wasn’t usually restocking the bar this early. Derek’s confusion must’ve shown on his face because Stiles explained a little bitterly, “Ben closed like an asshole last night and didn’t actually do anything he was supposed to do because he lives to make my life difficult in every tiny little way possible.”
Derek glanced down at the low fridge of bottled beers and chose the first one he saw from the meager selection available. Ben really did suck, whoever he was. He took his beer to one of the booths and slid in facing the bar, knowing Erica would want a clear view of the television behind him. Stiles slapped his cleaning rag on the counter with no shortage of frustration and disappeared into the back.
Erica came shortly after, sliding into the booth across from Derek and calling across the near-empty room for the barmaid to bring her a drink.
Stiles appeared with the most obnoxiously colorful frozen monstrosity Derek had ever seen and placed it exactly just next to the coaster with a low bow and a flourish. Erica beamed at him all the way back to the bar. Then she turned her sights on Derek’s beer.
“Are you really drinking that?
Derek frowned down at the bottle in his hand. “It’s a good porter.”
“Yeah, but I’ve heard of it. That means it’s below your standards.”
“I’m not having this argument with you again. I don’t judge your drink,” he glanced down pointedly at the rainbow umbrella and pile of fruit in her glass, “leave me alone with my beer.”
“Fine, but don’t let McKinney see you drinking that. He’d post it on Instagram as evidence.”
Derek glared. There was nothing wrong with liking good beer. When he couldn't get drunk from it, he had to drink for taste.
Even though he was paying attention to Erica and their conversation, Derek's eye kept wandering over to Stiles; the quiet grunt of pain when he hauled out a crate of beer bottles to refill the fridge, the clench in his jaw when he brought in a bucket of ice from the back, his stiff back when he carried out clean glasses. Whatever happened to him was affecting his daily life, and he was never shy about the stupid accidents he got into, so why was he being so evasive about it?
“Is Stiles seeing anyone right now?”
It was a logical place to start.
Erica froze in the middle of picking a chunk of pineapple out of her glass, then raised her head with a flat glare that rivaled Laura’s. “Hurt him and I’ll end you, and no one will find the body. I know all the best dumping grounds around here.”
Well, that was an interesting conclusion to jump to.
“What? No, I don’t want to date him—not that he’s not dateable,” he added quickly when her eyebrow twitched up into the murder zone. “I’ve just noticed that he always has a lot of injuries, and not everyday bruises.”
“Well yeah, he’s Stiles.” Erica shrugged, going back to her fruit. “He broke his arm in middle school returning a library book.”
“Has he ever bruised his ribs on a treadmill?”
“I honestly wouldn’t be surprised, have you seen him run?” she countered easily, then sobered when Derek’s face showed exactly how lighthearted he found the topic of domestic violence. “I hear what you’re saying, and I’m not dismissing it, but you don’t know Stiles like I do. He’ll pretty much do anything for the people he loves, regardless of his own safety, but he wouldn’t hide abuse. Especially if it’s from someone he doesn’t like enough to even tell his friends about.”
So if it wasn’t an abusive relationship, who else was beating up Stiles? Derek saw plenty of abusive fathers as a police officer but the sheriff just didn’t fit any of the profiles, thankfully, and he and his son seemed to have a fierce and protective love for each other. Stiles had mentioned rent, maybe he borrowed money from the wrong people? His father was the sheriff so it was perfectly understandable if he felt too ashamed to come forward after making a mistake like that. Derek didn’t know Stiles as well as Erica, but he realized early on that Stiles was the type to take care of things himself; if he was in trouble, he would probably get himself out, even if it killed him.
“I know what you’re talking about, the cuts and bruises and the scars,” Erica continued a little quieter. “But they’ve always been there, even in high school, and it’s not a longterm relationship turned abusive. Stiles doesn’t really do commitment, relationship-wise.”
Derek frowned and his surprise must’ve shown on his face because Erica nodded.
“Yeah, I don’t understand it either. I don’t think he’s gone past three dates with the same person since college.”
It really didn’t make sense, going on what he knew about Stiles. He didn’t seem like he would tolerate casual or superficial relationships with anyone; he just had a go big or go home kind of personality. Then again, maybe it did make sense. Having such a small group of people he cared about, it would be hard to let anyone else in to possibly disrupt or hurt that. Derek should know, he’d been wrestling with the same issue for almost fifteen years, when the last person he truly let in tried to murder his entire family.
“I’ll keep an eye out, but I really don’t think it’s an issue.”
“Thank you,” Derek said sincerely, and Erica narrowed her eyes at him.
“You sure you don’t want to date him? He swings both ways and I’ve heard from reliable sources that he’s great in bed. Very generous.” She winked.
Derek grimaced and definitely did not picture that. He didn’t. “Erica, I really don’t want to hear about whatever arrangement you two have, and I’m not interested in replicating it.” Not that it wasn’t appealing on some level, Stiles was definitely attractive, but Derek didn’t have the personality for a friends with benefits kind of relationship.
She shrugged, then froze, her eyes widening and her mouth dropping open in disgust.
“Wait, wait, you think I’m sleeping with him?” She threw down her fries and sat back. “I love Stiles, I really do, but the guy’s like a brother to me. Also,” she held up her left hand and wiggled her greasy fingers; a gold band with a tasteful diamond glinted back at Derek, “I’m very much engaged, which you would know, if you had actual conversations like a normal person.”
Derek rolled his eyes. “Please don’t talk to Laura anymore. This is me begging you not to.”
“But she’s, like, totally my BFF!” She dropped the Valley Girl accent and gave him a look. “But seriously, I need some women in my life. The department is a total sausage fest, which is a lot less fun when you can only look.”
“I get the feeling that it’s safer for everyone this way.”
Erica just waggled her eyebrows like a lecherous old man at the back of a theatre. She was apparently over her crippling disgust about Stiles because she continued eating her fries right where she left off.
And on that note, how had he not known she was engaged? They’d been partners for over a month now, that should’ve come up at some point, regardless of Derek’s inability to have conversations. Maybe it was a recent development?
“How long have you been engaged?”
“Almost five months.” So not that recent. “I don’t wear my ring on duty.”
Oh good, he wasn’t a complete failure of a cop after all. “Do you have a date picked out?”
“Probably sometime in the spring.” Erica shrugged, unconcerned with it. “We haven’t actually started planning yet. We’re both busy and procrastinating.”
“Isn’t wedding planning kind of a long process? My brother and sister-in-law spent something like a year on theirs.” He could vividly remember the late night calls from Patrick, practically crying because even he couldn’t tell one stationary from the other anymore, and had spent an entire day staring at flower arrangements until he couldn’t see straight and his allergies kicked in. “It was stressful.”
Erica jabbed a fry at him. “That’s exactly what we’re trying to avoid. Boyd’s grandparents have this beautiful small farm up in Oregon, and plenty of space for guests since it probably won’t be very big group at all. Neither of us are big wedding people so we’ll probably only invite family and close friends, keep it pretty casual. Don’t look so relieved, you’re coming.”
That was unexpected. He’d only known Erica a month and he was already on the close friends and family list?
“Assuming you outlast Deputy Charles, anyway.” She shrugged innocently, dragging her fry through a pool of ketchup.
* * *
After that conversation it became harder for Derek to ignore the injuries Stiles constantly seemed to be hiding, because Erica was right; they were always there.
They’d been climbing together for almost a month now, and he knew the way Stiles used his body, how he approached the wall and could easily pick out the easiest path for Derek but then completely ignore it himself for a harder challenge, getting to the very top where the holds were far apart and he practically had to jump to the next one. Or gloat while hanging from the ceiling of the bouldering wall while he face turned red at the effort of keeping himself there for longer than necessary just to show off. He relentlessly pushed himself like he had something to prove, it was a basic component of his personality.
But then there were the days he only scaled the wall once before leaving looking pale and exhausted, took an even easier route than Derek, or just didn’t come at all for a few days. It was after those missed mornings that he would come back a little slower, favoring one side, or not even making it halfway up the wall before opting to yell intentionally wrong instructions at Derek from the ground with Cora. He never acknowledged it, never mentioned that he was feeling under the weather, and blatantly lied anytime anyone asked, so Derek had just stopped asking. Whatever his injuries were from, whatever he did in his spare time, he obviously didn’t want to talk about it, and no amount of nagging would get him to break.
But it still hurt for some reason, that he didn’t trust Derek enough to tell him if something was wrong. It wasn’t a logical feeling, Derek knew that. They’d only known each other for a month or so, and most of that time was spent yelling at each other while hanging from a fake rock at seven in the morning. That didn’t exactly nurture overwhelming trust and deep, personal conversation.
Derek wanted there to be trust, he genuinely liked Stiles despite his infuriating approach towards everything and wanted to get to the point of actually calling each other real friends, but it was a slow and difficult process. He had his own hangups, and though he didn’t know all that much about Stiles’ life, the guy clearly had a number of trust issues himself.
So for the time being he kept quiet about it all, and tried not to let his surprise show on his face when Stiles offered to belay him instead of climbing himself. Whatever was going on in Stiles' life, Derek wasn't about to refuse an offer to not have a machine constantly pull up his hips because even though he'd gotten used to the feeling, Stiles was right; it did pull his ass up into his stomach.
They settled into this new arrangement easily--Derek climbing steadily higher while Stiles kept up a running commentary about his ass from the ground. Derek wasn't blushing.
“Whoa, did you get that from rock climbing?”
Derek ignored the conversation on the ground to focus on climbing. It was habit, taking in the things going on around him, filtering out what was important, and letting the rest fade from memory. The woman wasn’t talking to him, it wasn’t his business, and he would go insane trying to pay attention to everything going on around him.
But then it was Stiles’ voice that answered instead of taking on another line to his ode to climbing harnesses and asses, and then Derek couldn’t tune out the conversation even if he wanted to.
“Here, on your elbow.”
He knew the scar the woman was referring to; long and thin and standing out white against Stiles’ already light skin, cutting across the back of his elbow. He’d seen it plenty of times while climbing, idly wondering what had caused it, but never feeling comfortable about asking.
“Oh, that one. That’s from college when I fell out of my dorm window. Well, I say fell...”
Derek was too high up to hear his heartbeat or any other lying tells, but the way he seamlessly continued on into the story behind the injury made him at least want to believe he was telling the truth. But for every time Stiles laughed off a scrape or bruise, there were just as many times that he evaded answering or tried to distract. It was worrying, both that it happened and that Derek cared so much.
He was a cop, he reasoned, it was his job to make sure people were safe. No big deal.
And that was exactly what he was doing, as he continued to listen in to the horrifying story of college stupidity. He tried not to pay attention, he really did, it wasn't his conversation, but it was an instinct to tune in on the voices he knew well, and they were in an old church. It was designed for acoustics to make voices carry. It was impossible to ignore it.
“Why the hell did he throw the entire mattress down at you?” Her voice was annoying. A little nasally, piercing.
“Tequila. And trust me, I did not have these guns back then, I had no hope of catching that.”
Stiles would be the kind of person to call his arms guns.
“Well, I’m sure you’d have no trouble now, with those current guns.”
It was actually painful to listen to.
“You think?” Derek could almost hear Stiles flexing like an idiot.
“Impressive shoulders too.”
Yeah, she probably wanted to throw her legs over them.
He pulled his thoughts to a halt and blinked at the wall in front of his face. When the hell did he become so...catty?
Stiles would appreciate his word choice. He would also appreciate that woman, if his bad flirting was anything to go on. Or maybe he was intentionally trying to drive her away; that would explain the flexing.
Luckily the woman’s friend called her from across the room and she and Stiles said their goodbyes—without exchanging numbers. And if Derek let out a quiet growl when he heard her from the entrance complaining to her friend that “you’re such a fucking cockblock, Sarah,” no one was around to hear it.
Just like no one had to know that he stayed up on the wall for longer than necessary, wondering why the hell he’d reacted that way. He knew why he did, there was no mistaking the flare of territorial jealousy, but it’d been so long since he felt it, he just couldn’t figure out where it came from. Stiles was a friend, no matter what Erica thought, and whatever fritzing werewolf instincts were rearing their head would just have to get with the program.
But he also couldn’t help but notice that he had never actually told the woman that he was in a relationship, which seemed like it would be the correct response when being flirted with.
The abusive relationship was bumped down a slot on his mental list of Causes of Stiles’ Injuries, but it was definitely still on there somewhere.
Stiles resumed his long and terrible poem about Derek's ass right where he left off.
* * *
It was becoming normal for Derek to find himself picking up perps already handcuffed to various things, as it was for most patrolling deputies in the county. It didn’t happen all the time, but often enough that it was becoming a routine. He and Erica would arrive, he’d catch a glimpse of red or green nearby, and then they’d haul their arrest back down to the station—no muss, no fuss, as his dad liked to say.
It was a system, and even if he wasn’t really getting anywhere on the whole identifying the vigilantes thing, it was easy and predictable. He liked easy and predictable after the NYPD. Every once in a while a perp would get violent, bitter about being beat up by Batman and motherfucking Robin, and just as often they would have to chase down someone on their own, but for the most part, it was low stress.
Which was why he wasn’t expecting it when this time there was blood on the air that didn’t belong to the offender sulking in the backseat. It was on him, but it wasn’t from him, and since there weren’t any signs of anyone else having been involved in that certain magical void kind of way, it could only be from one of the vigilantes.
“Hale, where the hell are you going?” Erica called after him when he started to follow the scent down the street.
“Go ahead, I’ll meet you back at the station,” he threw over his shoulder, and knew he’d been heard when Erica fondly muttered, fucking weirdo, and started the car.
The trail led down a block and around the corner, into a dark alley between a pizza place and a closed down bookstore. It was a good hiding place if the intent was to hide from werewolves; the cacophony of scents from the restaurant almost completely covered that of blood, and Derek was only able to follow because he’d been so fixated on it.
There was a dim light above the backdoor of the restaurant, and that was the only reason Derek’s human eyes could make out the hooded figure across from it, steadying himself with an arm against the brick wall while he focused on what must’ve been an injury on his thigh, probably a bad cut given the bloody knife they’d found.
Whatever magic Red was using to hide his heartbeat and scent, it didn’t hide the careful and measured breaths he was sucking in through his teeth and letting out slowly through his nose, or the slight hitch everytime he tried to put weight on his left leg.
Derek didn’t hide his approach as he came closer, and could see the moment Red realized he wasn’t alone when his shoulders tensed and he tried to act like he hadn’t just been inspecting an injury that, while not bleeding out, was bad enough to keep him from leaving the area.
“Need a hand?” Derek greeted casually, carefully. Red didn’t try to leave or make any motion that Derek should, so he kept walking closer.
“It’s fine, I got it.” Derek stopped next to him and held out his hand. “I said I got it.”
“I can take the pain,” Derek said, keeping his hand right where it was.
“Yeah, so can Advil," Red snapped. “And that’s not really something you should be blurting out to random people on the street, there, genius.”
Derek was pretty proud that he managed to only roll his eyes a little. “You’re not a random person on the street and I know that you know what I am. So let me take your pain so you can get out of here before someone finds you passed out in an alley.”
“Thanks but no thanks,” Red finally answered, not unkindly, after a moment where he seemed to be really wanting to accept the offer. “Werewolf mojo always makes me lightheaded, and it’s bad for my image if I fall off a building because I can’t see straight. I don’t need that immortalized in comics forever, because Lahey totally would put it in.”
Derek pointedly looked both directions down the very deserted alley, and the empty street beyond. It was three in the morning and no one would be out in this neighborhood at this hour.
“Take a minute to let it pass. I won’t tell anyone.”
Red’s head lifted a little, like he was checking Derek’s face for sincerity, but the shadows under his hood made it too hard to see what his eyes were doing in the darkness. Derek could’ve transitioned to his beta senses, seen his face clearly and tried to commit his eyes to memory to help his family’s investigation, but his own eyes would’ve glowed blue and immediately given him away. And, he realized belatedly, he didn’t really want to see them right then. For some unknown reason Red was trusting him with this, not his identity but to see him at a moment of weakness, and Derek found himself weirdly reluctant to betray that trust.
“Tell anyone, and your healing won’t save you.” There was absolutely no sincerity in Red’s voice, more of a rote protest than an actual threat.
He undid the few velcro straps holding his glove on and tugged it off to bandages wrapped around his palm and between his fingers in preparation for throwing punches. He held out his hand somewhat hesitantly, and Derek carefully took it in his own, taking in his long, bony digits, calloused but thin and almost delicate, and the small scar traced across the pad of his middle finger.
Derek let himself absorb these tiny details for a brief moment, wondering if this time they would stick through the magic, and then focused and let his veins run black. There was the large cut on Red’s thigh, the pain sharp and new and dominating his nerves, but there were also smaller aches and old bruises, twinges in his ribs that had dulled probably weeks ago but still made themselves known. Derek pulled it all out gently, focusing on going slow and careful; the process wasn’t supposed to make either party lightheaded, so whoever was usually pulling Red’s pain had probably never learned the proper techniques and just tried to yank it all out at once.
Still, Red shifted, letting the brick wall behind him take more of his weight and sliding down a little.
“This is the worst high,” he whined pitifully and let his head droop forward, hiding more of his face under his hood. So Derek really hadn’t been successful at all, even being careful as he had. He’d never met anyone whose body reacted negatively in anyway to having their pain pulled; it had always been described as euphoric or an energy rush. It certainly hadn’t felt any different on his end.
“Need help?” he offered lamely after a moment of waffling back and forth on whether to say anything or just run. He wouldn’t actually leave, he’d told the vigilante that he would stay, but it was tempting.
“Nah, I just need a few minutes.” Red slid down the wall to sit on the ground, one hand still bare and exposed. It looked wrong and vulnerable against his dark clothing.
Derek glanced both directions again, inspected the ground for anything too disgusting, then plopped down next to him. It was only logical, he told himself; it would be irresponsible to leave him alone in that condition, when he looked barely able to defend himself should he have to. He was a cop, he protected people.
“You don’t have to stay,” Red said quietly after a moment of companionable silence.
“It looks less suspicious if you’re not just sitting in a dark alley alone.”
“Pretty sure that’s not true.”
“Pretty sure you’re with a deputy so it doesn’t matter either way.”
And so they sat there in relative silence, Red occasionally swallowing loudly like he was trying not to vomit, and Derek keeping an ear on their surroundings in case someone wandered by. So far, only one person had passed by their alley, and they hadn’t so much as glanced in their direction.
At least until a quick and excited heartbeat jogged closer from Red’s other side, coming from behind the dumpster. Red still had his eyes closed, head tipped back against the brick, he didn’t even know anyone was coming.
Derek straightened from his slouch, looking past the vigilante into the darkness, tensing for a confrontation—only to be greeted by a big dog that had once been white, but was now covered in mud, squeezing between the dumpster and the brick wall. His legs and stomach were wet and brown from running through who knew what, and he smelled like literal garbage.
That didn’t stop Red, though, who finally took notice of their company.
“Hey buddy,” he greeted, holding out his ungloved hand for the dog to sniff. Even through the magic, his voice sounded exhausted as it softened.
The dog hesitated barely a second before he trotted over, nudging at Red’s hand in an invitation for pets. When that worked, he went ahead and came even closer, walking across the vigilante’s outstretched legs and standing between them with his side right in Red’s face. Red coughed, ducking his head around to stay out of the wet and dirty fur, but the dog was already too focused on sniffing Derek to notice or care. He just looked happy to have found people.
“Melvin," Red stated suddenly, still totally eclipsed by the dog.
Derek blinked, petting the dog to keep him from jabbing his smelly muzzle in his face.
“Melvin. That’s what his collar says.”
Derek tried to look around Melvin to see the collar for himself, and failed. “Is there an address or a phone number?”
“Nope. Just Melvin.”
Melvin started panting happily, standing in a lap he was too big for and looking very pleased with his fortunes.
“I don’t suppose you want a dog, do you?” Derek half joked.
“Vigilantism doesn’t leave a whole lot of time for pets.”
“No roommates to take care of him? Significant other?”
Red let out a quick breath of a laugh through his nose. “People tend to get sick of me sneaking out of bed in the middle of the night to fight crime long before I’m anywhere near comfortable with telling them that I sneak out of bed in the middle of the night to fight crime.” He craned his neck to look over Melvin’s back. “Guess you’re going to have to take him, then. You two have really hit it off.”
“Why would I take him?” Then before Red could even start, “if you start making dog jokes, I’m—”
“Please,” he scoffed, “dog jokes are so beneath me. You’re the fuzz,” his tone had a slight inside joke quality to it, and Derek couldn’t remember why that was familiar, “you at least have to make sure he gets to an animal shelter.”
As if he could understand them, Melvin nudged Derek’s shoulder with his nose and gave him a happy, pleading look.
“Fine,” he sighed, standing up. He tucked two fingers into Melvin’s collar and held him back from Red as he got to his feet again. Without the pain in his thigh, he was moving quicker, but still holding himself carefully; the mark of someone who had their pain drained often and knew better than to confuse that with being healed.
“You’re a testament to your profession, Deputy.” Red quipped, pulling his glove back on and tightening the straps with practiced ease. “I’d say let’s do this again sometime, but I’d rather not get stabbed again for the sake of social interaction.”
“If you wanted company, you only had to ask.” It slipped out before Derek could stop it.
“Are you telling me I got stabbed for nothing? Well shit, let’s just get coffee next time, it’ll be cheaper in the long run.”
“I’m more of a beer and burgers type.” Why couldn’t he stop flirting right back? This was so inappropriate.
“Good thing I’m flexible.” Red winked, fucking winked, and pushed off of the brick wall with his foot to jump up and grab the bottom rung of the fire escape ladder above them. He easily made it up to the third story roof, moving quickly and quietly, impossibly light on his feet and almost acrobatic in his form. Then he paused at the top and looked back down over the ledge, and said in a tone that promised all kind of inappropriate thoughts in Derek’s future:
“See you ‘round, Deputy.”
And then he was gone, leaving Derek standing alone in a smelly alley, fighting off a boner and holding the collar of a very muddy dog named Melvin.
This was his life now.