It was early afternoon when the Sheriff came home, running his hand over his face and sitting in the driver's seat of his parked car for a few minutes while he collected himself. He'd come to the rather uncomfortable discovery in the past few days that werewolves could use their enhanced senses to pick out emotional states. It wasn't much different than what the Sheriff did when he was questioning suspects and witnesses, using body language and word choice to determine if they were lying or to see when they were frightened or angry. With the werewolves, as it had been explained to him by Stiles and Derek, it more involved scent and listening for changes in a heart rate - for Derek it happened automatically, but the younger werewolves were still learning and thus were hit and miss when they were drawing their conclusions. If Scott hadn't asked him why he was so worried recently, and the Sheriff asking in turn how Scott knew that, he might not have known about their abilities until it was too late to do anything about it. Knowing that now, he'd been trying to clear his thoughts of any cases he was working on before he went home if he knew the kids were there. It didn't take care of everything he was worried about, not by a long shot, but it helped.
The bank robbery on Christmas night had become yet another one of those unsolvable cases that had been plaguing the town for the past year. Of course, once he'd known about werewolves those cases had become far more solvable. If he hadn't already been suspicious about this case being supernaturally involved in some way or another, arriving at the crime scene would have set off all of his internal alerts. The scene itself was clean - they hadn't found any forensic evidence that didn't belong to a bank employee, the security cameras had been turned off, the bank vault had been opened without setting off any alarms and without any evidence of being forced, and the money that had been taken was exactly five million dollars - leaving stacks of bills still on the shelves and the deposit boxes untouched.
The only reason the Sheriff's Department had been alerted to the robbery was because a door alarm had been set off as the robber had left, and the Sheriff was almost positive that had been intentional. Why exactly, he could only guess. No one would have noticed the missing money until the following morning, which would have given the robber eight hours to make a clean getaway. He was considering the possibility that it was a way of communicating with them - either the robber wanted them to see the pristine crime scene before it could be tampered with, or wanted to show them how easy it was to get away even when the Sheriff had called in all of his deputies to search the county. The state police had already come and gone, sending their expert on bank robberies, but other than being irritatingly impressed, the expert had been just as stumped as everyone else.
The Sheriff had sat down with the pack last night and asked them for their thoughts on how their abilities might assist them if they were to rob a bank - after he'd firmly insisted that none of them were to ever rob a bank unless extenuating circumstances made it absolutely necessary - and he'd gotten a crash course in werewolf abilities beyond their basic strength and speed. While they had a lot of ideas about how a werewolf pack might be able to rob a bank with similar results to the current robbery, and many plans that would likely work, there were always details that didn't match the crime scene. In the end it had been Boyd who had pointed out that even if it was a pack or other supernatural creature robbing the bank, they would have to have very specialized knowledge as well as specific knowledge about the codes and layout of that bank. Derek had added that it wasn't likely a werewolf pack, a pair of omegas possibly, but that the robbery itself didn't fall into the skill sets that came naturally to werewolves.
The fact that it was a precise amount of money that had been taken worried the Sheriff more than a little. A supernatural creature or group with a plan that required five million dollars, well, he couldn't come up with many scenarios that didn't end in death or destruction of some kind. With the LA Pack still lurking in the woods, two violent skirmishes taking place in the past week, he was concerned that it was somehow connected. He didn't have anything to indicate that they were related, he still hadn't discovered where the LA Pack was staying if they were remaining near Beacon Hills in between the times the pack had encountered them, but their presence was one he couldn't ignore. Particularly since the Alpha of the LA Pack had almost killed Boyd and Boyd had been unconscious for nearly twelve hours while Dr. Deaton and Melissa worked to keep him alive. That had been the day after Christmas and the Sheriff still hadn't quite forgiven himself for not being there. The Sheriff sighed and got out of his car; he hadn't exactly succeeded in worrying less, but he could hear a pickup game of lacrosse in the backyard and figured he had a little while before any of the werewolves would think to use their senses on him.
After changing from his uniform into the worn jeans he lounged in on his days off, he went downstairs into the kitchen and was pleasantly surprised to discover a turkey, bacon, and avocado sandwich wrapped up in the refrigerator with his name on it. Amazingly there had been some left-overs from Christmas - it seemed even a pack of werewolves had limits in what they could consume all at once - and someone had been thoughtful enough to use the very last of the turkey to make him a sandwich. He opened the sandwich while he was standing at the counter and started to eat while waiting for the coffee to finish. From his vantage point he could see most of the lacrosse game happening in his back yard.
Danny was guarding the sole goal, a piece of string tied up between two trees delineating the area, though he mostly seemed to be calling encouragement to the scramble of players in the yard. Scott had the ball in his net and was racing away from the goal, Isaac and Boyd hot on his heels, while Stiles moved into position to receive if Scott could get a clear shot. It was a good strategy; Stiles was close enough to the goal that he would be able to beat the werewolves there and over the summer, before he'd known about werewolves, he'd seen plenty of Scott and Stiles practicing this exact play. Derek was standing near the back of the yard, not wearing lacrosse gear, and his attention seemed divided between the tree line and the lacrosse game. The Sheriff was strongly reminded of a parent letting his children out to play in the park and then keeping careful watch over them. The LA Pack hadn't yet attacked near the Sheriff's house, but the latest skirmish - the one that had knocked Lydia unconscious and left Jackson and Erica bleeding for hours - had happened on the edge of the woods near Lydia's house and the ruins of the Hale house. The LA Pack was getting bolder and while so far there hadn't been any murders, the Sheriff thought it was only a matter of time before civilians got caught in the crossfire.
Derek looked up and directly at the window, and the Sheriff realized that his hand was clenched and he'd forgotten his sandwich halfway through. A whoop from Stiles caught their attention and the Sheriff watched as Stiles received the ball that had finally been sent across the yard and raced towards the goal. Isaac and Boyd had already abandoned their pursuit of Scott and ran with speed that was very obviously superhuman. Stiles had clearly been anticipating this because he sent the ball hurtling into the goal from further away than he should have been, and seconds later Isaac and Boyd were on him. The Sheriff winced at the tackle, but he also saw how Isaac wrapped his arms around Stiles to prevent him from going down hard and how Boyd braced himself to receive the brunt of the collision.
"Did I make the shot?" Stiles called from where he and Isaac were sprawled on the ground.
"You know this goal is almost twice as big as the one on the field," Danny called, coming back from retrieving the ball from the edge of the fence.
"That means yes!" Stiles shouted and punched his gloved first in the air. "That means we're even!"
"Boyd and Isaac are still ahead by two," Jackson's voice called.
The Sheriff collected his cup of coffee and moved to the back door so he could see the full yard. Erica was curled up in one of the rickety chairs on the porch, watching the pack as she absently ran her fingers through her hair. Lydia was sitting on the edge of the porch with a blanket wrapped around her shoulders and a book in her lap. The book was closed, as were her eyes, and she was leaning against Jackson's chest. She'd been tired ever since the latest attack and while Melissa had said the concussion had been extremely mild, that this wasn't an unusual side effect. Erica and Jackson had both been lagging behind the others a little and while he was glad the gapping wounds had healed without a trace and that they were both recovering, he had still spent the first twenty minutes of his shift last night sitting in his office shaking while he thought of how those wounds could have easily been worse. How easily it could have been something they couldn't have healed from, or how it could have been one of the humans torn open with claws and teeth.
The Sheriff had just taken the first sip of his coffee, carefully avoiding burning his mouth, when all of the werewolves looked up in unison and stared out at the woods. The humans looked a half second later and then they all began to move with the speed and efficiency of firefighters responding to an alarm. Stepping outside, watching as the kids on the field quickly shed their lacrosse gear, the Sheriff felt something in his chest jolt as he heard Derek order, "Isaac, Scott; with me."
Isaac finished pulling his lacrosse pads off his shoulders and abandoned them along with his helmet as he hurried across the yard to Derek's side, Scott only a few steps behind. Both looked grim and tense, all the playfulness and joy he'd seen during the game stripped away.
"Derek," Stiles called, dropping the last of his pads in a scattered mess as he hurried across the yard. "At least take me and Boyd."
"No," Derek said, giving Stiles only a fleeting glance. "We should return shortly. Be prepared." Derek turned and leapt over the fence without waiting for a response, Isaac following without hesitation and Scott only giving Stiles a regretful look before he shifted and vaulted over the fence as well.
Stiles stood stock still, facing the woods for a long moment before he shook his head and turned around to face the rest of the pack. The Sheriff recognized the expression on his son's face as one of tightly controlled frustration and anger, an expression that only a few years ago would have heralded an emotional blowout in a few days time when Stiles couldn't keep the emotions at bay any longer. He realized for the first time that he hadn't seen Stiles have that sort of outburst since before the summer break.
"Gear up," Stiles called as he marched back down the yard. "Two groups, one in the field, one stays here. Boyd and Danny, you're with me. Erica, Jackson, and Lydia, you're staying here with my dad. Boyd, what did we just hear?"
The rest of the pack hurried in from the yard and the Sheriff stepped aside to let them pass unimpeded through the doorway, feeling a chill that wasn't at all related to the mild winter air.
"It wasn't a call from the Alpha. I didn't recognize the wolf making the call, but it doesn't mean it wasn't one of the LA Pack," Boyd said as he set his helmet down on the porch.
"I didn't recognize it either," Erica said from where she was sitting on the arm of the chair she'd previously been curled up in. She had her claws out and was examining them idly. "What's the plan? If they're making a move and we're split up like this, they're just going to kill us one by one."
"The call was a request, it wasn't a battle cry," Boyd said, but the grimace on his face said he knew exactly what the others were thinking. It would be easy enough to call for a meeting and then attack without provocation, but then again, Derek would have to have known that when he went.
"We do what we can. Derek should bring the others back here if he needs backup; we'll feel them coming. Boyd, Danny, and I will provide the first line of defense. I'm not sending you and Jackson out there unless there's no other choice," Stiles said, nodding at Erica's claws. "Erica, stay with my dad, work as a team. Dad, try not to shoot any of us, sometimes the wolves move too quickly to see who you're going to hit, but just do your best."
The Sheriff wanted to protest that he wasn't going to shoot any of the kids, and that his marksmanship was among the best in the Department, but instead he just nodded his agreement. He really wanted to protest the fact that they were preparing for war, but if the fight was coming to them it seemed like they were out of options for the moment.
"Erica, You've been training with Allison, do you want a crossbow or a gun?" Boyd asked as he went with Erica into the house.
"Both, but I'll start with the gun," Erica said as they walked through the kitchen and out of earshot.
Stiles looked at his dad and the Sheriff stared back, the moment passing between them without words. The Sheriff could see that his son was waiting for his condemnation, for him to say that it was just too much, and that Stiles couldn't do this. That he wouldn't let Stiles do this. There was a not insignificant portion of the Sheriff that wanted to say exactly that, and a more than fair portion that wanted to take Stiles as far away from Beacon Hills and from werewolves as possible. But it sounded like werewolves were pretty much anywhere they could go, and the Sheriff knew just as well that he couldn't walk away and leave Isaac alone and homeless. He couldn't leave Erica and Boyd without an adult that would notice where they were from night to night, or leave Lydia, Jackson, and Danny without a guiding figure that was actually aware of the events that had altered their lives. He couldn't leave Derek to be solely responsible for the pack's welfare, not when Derek was only a few years out of his teens as it was, and he couldn't leave Allison alone in the double-life she was so carefully navigating. He couldn't walk away from Scott, who had been like a second son for so long, and he couldn't leave Melissa as the only sane and responsible adult in this whole mess.
"Wolfsbane bullets and my dagger for backup?" the Sheriff asked, meeting Stiles' gaze.
Stiles nodded, relief coloring his expression. "Perfect. Try not to let Erica and Jackson leap into the fray before they're necessary. Erica is still weakened from the attack and Jackson is favoring his left side. The fight shouldn't reach you," he said, though he didn't look as certain as he sounded.
"Good," the Sheriff said. He clapped his hand on Stiles' shoulder and left it there for longer than he might otherwise have. Stiles rested his hand on his dad's arm, letting his fear show through for a brief moment before he regathered himself and broke away to step inside. The Sheriff followed, pulling the back door closed behind him, and he went in his office to get his holster and his dagger. He checked over his weapons, making sure he had two extra clips of wolfsbane bullets waiting to be loaded, and then strapped the dagger at his side. He sincerely hoped he didn't have to use it - he was trained in knife fighting techniques, but it had been a long time since he'd done more than deflect a sharp object while breaking up a bar brawl. At the sound of raised voices he stepped into the hallway and wasn't entirely surprised to find Stiles and Lydia facing off.
"You're not leaving me behind," Lydia was saying, her chin held high and her arms folded. Beneath her open jacket the Sheriff could see a holster strapped to her thigh and there was a quiver of arrows resting at her feet.
Stiles had his own weapons, a short sword in his hands and the lump of a gun holster at his back. "I'm not leaving you behind. You're staying with Jackson in case the fight comes here."
"You're leaving me here because you think I can't fight," Lydia snapped. "Don't think I didn't notice that Derek left both you and Boyd behind. He took the bare minimum of the pack because he wanted to leave the power structure intact so if they get killed out there, we won't fall apart."
"I know," Stiles said, a flash of frustration crossing his features. "But I need you to stay here. You and my dad can cover Erica and Jackson-"
"We both know the only way the fight will reach us here is if everyone else is already dead," Lydia interrupted.
Stiles glanced away and the Sheriff felt like he'd been kicked in the chest when Stiles made no move to assure her that wasn't true. "You are still recovering from a concussion. If you get hit like that again so soon you could have permanent brain damage. Brain damage, Lydia. I'm not going to let that happen."
"You really think I'm going to care about brain damage if the rest of you are dead?" Lydia asked, her voice dropping to a near whisper. "Derek thinks it's okay to run off and get himself killed. It's some stupid self-blame and survivors guilt thing, and don't think for a minute that I haven't talked to him about it. But that doesn't mean you get to follow his example and throw yourself in front of the pack to protect us. Both of you are insane if you think the pack will survive the loss of any of us, and I've done enough worrying and waiting and not knowing what's happening to last for a long time."
"Low blow," Stiles said with a wince. "But you're not coming for the same reason Jackson and Erica aren't coming. Right now you're a liability. I've seen how easily you get tired and I know that you've been getting blinding migraines - which, by the way, is a really stupid thing to try and hide from us. It's not just about keeping you alive. I have to do what has the highest chance of keeping everyone alive."
Lydia stared at Stiles and then looked away. "Fine. But don't think for a minute that we're not going to come running if Jackson or Erica say you're in danger."
Stiles nodded. "Derek might think that we'll turn tail and leave him to die, but I'm not that deluded."
"We've got to do something about that," Lydia muttered.
"I know," Stiles said quietly as he checked over the sword in his hands and slipped the sheath into the specialized belt that rode low on his hips.
The front door opened and the Sheriff had his gun out and aimed before he even processed that he was making the movement. As soon as he saw who it was he pulled his aim away and moved his finger away from the trigger, feeling shaken by the fact that he's just drawn a weapon on a teenager and that he'd done it without hesitation. Lydia and Stiles had both drawn their weapons as well, though they quickly re-holstered their guns as soon as they saw who was in the doorway.
"What happened?" Allison asked as she stepped inside, seeming mostly unfazed by having three guns pointed at her in greeting. She set her bags down by the closet and knelt to pull her bow out of its case.
"I couldn't be more glad to see you right now," Stiles said, reaching to touch her arm. "Derek went to meet and greet with a pack in the woods."
"With the LA Pack?" Allison asked, her concern and irritation matching Stiles' almost exactly.
"We don't know," Lydia said, passing over a quiver of arrows to Allison.
Stiles shook his head. "You're on the backup team with me, Boyd, and Danny. We're going out as soon as we get a signal that the meeting has moved beyond talking."
"Scott's already out there?" Allison asked, her voice catching on Scott's name.
"Derek took Scott and Isaac with him," Stiles said, studiously looking away from Allison and his dad. "It was the best choice. I would have done the same. Of course, I would have taken myself as well."
Allison nodded, though she didn't look any happier about the situation. "Do we have an approximate location or are we flying blind?"
"I have Isaac's cellphone pulled up on the map," Danny said as he came downstairs, laptop balanced in one hand, a short sword strapped to his back, and a gun holster hanging loose from his belt. "They're three miles into the preserve and they haven't made any significant movements since their arrival."
Lydia reached for the laptop and Danny handed it over and began to adjust the straps of the holster around his thigh. "Take the main road to the preserve, but branch off at Dale Drive so you can cut around the gulf. That will keep you out of the crossfire," she said as she examined the map, a barely noticeable wince crossing her expression as she focused her eyes on the computer screen.
Stiles leaned in and nodded. "Good plan. Around the west side of the ridge for maximum cover?"
"We should go up the north side of the embankment. They won't be able to see us until we open fire, and we'll have the high ground," Allison said as she finished checking her bow.
Boyd and Erica came down the stairs, hand in hand, with Jackson a few steps behind them. "Nothing on the wolf-dar. Either they're actually just talking, or they haven't shown their hand yet," Erica announced as she went directly to Allison and gave her a quick hug. "I'm so glad you're back."
"Me too," Allison said quietly, leaning into the hug and reaching out to brush her hand against Boyd's and then Jackson's.
"Wolf-dar?" the Sheriff asked. It was the first thing that had come into his mind that wasn't an objection to what was happening around him. He didn't want to admit how much the kids were scaring him at the moment.
Stiles' mouth twisted. "Like radar but with werewolves. Believe me, I championed for Wolf Signal, but I was outvoted."
"We'd know if someone was seriously hurt or was in distress," Boyd explained.
"Yeah, at first it was just a generalized feeling of discomfort, but now we can usually figure out who it is," Erica explained. "We'd know right away if Derek was hurt though, the Alpha connection is the strongest."
"Incoming," Boyd said suddenly, his expression distant and focused as he looked towards the back of the house. "No one is injured as far as I can tell, but they're coming in fast."
Stiles looked around. "Change of plans. Everyone circle up in the back. Once Derek, Isaac, and Scott are safely back, anything that comes over the fence is fair game."
The Sheriff followed the kids into the backyard, weighing his gun in his hand as he wondered if he was going to be able to explain away the sounds of gunfire as teenagers setting off early fireworks for the new year. He looked over the backyard and found a space where he could cover Erica and Jackson. The werewolves were spread evenly across the space of the yard, all of them in battle-ready poses with their fangs and claws displayed. There was a faint growling noise coming from Jackson and Boyd had dug his claws into the grass. Boyd was the closest to the fence line, and the Sheriff could see that he meant to throw himself at the first member of the enemy pack that made it into the yard. Allison and Lydia were standing near each other, each holding bows with arrows already nocked. Danny and Stiles both had their handguns aimed at the fence line, their stances certain and well practiced.
Sighting down the barrel of his gun, the Sheriff pushed aside the part of his mind that was trying to process what was happening, and instead he fell into the near-zen state he was familiar with from his work duties. Make it through this moment, keep everyone safe, move onto the next moment; the mantra repeated in his mind and the knowledge that they were expecting Derek and the others kept his finger away from the trigger. They waited in silence, all sharply attuned to the faint noises of the world continuing on around them.
Derek came over the fence first and he didn't seem bothered by the way that no one lowered their aim. Isaac and Scott leapt into the yard a moment later, and the Sheriff let himself take a few seconds to be grateful they were alive and seemingly unharmed.
"We're not being followed," Derek called.
Stiles was the first to lower his weapon, Boyd standing and letting his werewolf features retract a moment later. The others followed their example and when no one was displaying an obvious threat, Derek led Isaac and Scott back into the fold. "What happened?" Stiles asked.
"The actual LA Pack sent envoys with a warning regarding a pack that splintered away from them a few months ago," Derek said, glancing back at the woods.
"The actual LA Pack?" Erica asked. Now that the threat was over she had edged back over to the porch and was sitting on the edge, resting her elbows on her knees. It was clear that she wouldn't have lasted long if the fight they'd been preparing for had happened, and when the Sheriff glanced over the rest of the pack he saw that Jackson looked drawn and unsteady, and Lydia was discretely rubbing her left temple.
"Let's talk about this inside," the Sheriff said, and his suggestion was only partially out of fear that someone might appear and see all of them armed to the teeth. Derek nodded his agreement and everyone trooped back inside and gathered in the kitchen. The kitchen table became crowded with weapons, though the Sheriff noted that Stiles kept his sword in his hands and Allison was cradling her bow. Scott and Allison had pushed their chairs together and their hands were intertwined.
"Well," Stiles prompted when Derek didn't say anything right away.
Derek sighed. "It appears the pack who has been attacking us isn't the LA Pack. A few months ago their Alpha was killed in a power struggle, and one of the betas became their new Alpha. Alpha Annaliese was almost immediately challenged by a group of betas, one of whom believed that she should have been the rightful Alpha."
"The Alpha of the pack that's been attacking us," Danny guessed.
"Exactly," Derek said.
"Though, apparently she didn't become Alpha until after the Alpha of the LA Pack beat them all in a fight and exiled the group from their territory. Ever since then the off-shoot pack has been attacking smaller packs around the state, trying to gain the power and the territory to challenge the LA Pack," Scott chimed in.
Isaac looked unhappy as he leaned in to the table so he could see everyone better. "The people from the LA Pack who spoke to us were worried because if this pack were to actually succeed, they think it's likely they would continue either forcibly absorbing packs or wiping them out until their territory covers most of California."
"They never gave us the option to join them," Jackson said. "Not that we would have, but they never even offered."
"They thought we'd be easy enough to kill off. They'd get another Alpha when they killed me and the Hale territory is expansive enough that it would have given them a solid foothold," Derek said.
"So what do we do?" Boyd asked. "At this point we don't stand a good chance of killing them or of driving them away."
Derek looked grim as he spoke. "The LA Pack wants to stop the off-shoot pack from destabilizing the entire area, but at this point the only way to do that would be to give them their own territory. Alpha Annaliese evidently has a plan, one that her envoys declined to share with us, but they'll contact us again when they're ready. In the meantime, we're on our own."
"I hate to be the bearer of bad news," Allison said, looking up from where she'd been tracing her fingers along the sleek line of her bow. "But that pack isn't our only problem. Last night my entire extended family held council. The matriarch of the Durand clan - which is my mother's maiden name and the clan where she was raised - decided that my father needed reinforcements to regain the Hunter foothold in Beacon Hills. My aunt and uncle, my mother's brother and sister, are to come to Beacon Hills when they are finished with their work in France. They're going to bring their own contingents of Hunters with them."
"They didn't give you any ideas on when that might be?" Derek asked. He sounded and looked remarkably calm but it was the more the way his expression shut down completely that gave away how concerned he was.
Allison shook her head. "Just whenever they're finished 'putting down the mass of beasts that have dared to walk among the communities of man in the once sacred lands of Hunters'. So, I guess that could take a while. I don't know."
"Alright," Derek said. "We'll deal with the Hunters when they get here. In the meantime we need to figure out how to survive for at least that long."
"What are the chances that this pack was behind the bank robbery, now that we know they're a new pack and would possibly need funds?" the Sheriff asked, turning over the idea in his mind as he searched for solutions that didn't involve convincing the pack to flee the area.
The kids exchanged glances but it was Lydia who spoke. "Possible, but from what we've seen of their pack, I wouldn't count on it. All of their attacks have been direct and overpowering. They don't bother with advanced tactics or stealth - they just count on their brute force to overwhelm any obstacles. That's probably one of the only reasons we've lasted this long. Whoever did the bank job was showing off, and unless someone is hiding their abilities, I don't see that any of them would have the patience or the skills to carry out a stealthy robbery."
"That seems reasonable," the Sheriff conceded. The conversation moved into what they could do in the meantime and whether or not they even wanted to wait for the assistance of the LA Pack. The Sheriff considered the weapons and the frank talk of battle plans, his objections to pretty much everything he'd just seen happen weighing heavily on his tongue. He'd seen the kids hurt before, he'd seen them gear up in case they encountered a fight, and it had bothered him even then. Running his fingertips over the runes on his dagger, his thoughts kept circling back to the way they had been prepared for the possibility that some of them might die; how Derek had left the hierarchy of his pack intact when he took only Isaac and Scott, how Stiles had tried to leave anyone who was already injured out of the fight. What the Sheriff couldn't decide was if he had been left behind to help protect the remaining pack, or if he had been left behind because Stiles considered him a liability in combat. He wasn't entirely certain he wanted to know the answer.
"What happened?" Melissa asked as soon as the Sheriff pulled the front door closed.
He really didn't want to tell her that her son could have died today and that he couldn't have done anything to stop it. "They're all okay," he started, finding himself searching for the words that would explain what had happened without expressing his horror.
"Just tell me," she said when he didn't say anything for a moment.
The Sheriff inhaled the cool night air and exhaled the basic facts of what Derek and the others had explained about the relationship between the pack that had been attacking them and the LA Pack. With another breath he told her how the kids had armed themselves and had prepared for the worst case scenario. After a long pause, trying to choose his words carefully, he simply said, "I don't want to lose any of them, but I can't protect them either. I can't keep them safe."
Melissa considered all of this and shook her head. "Could we ever?" she asked, speaking over his immediate objection. "We've done everything we reasonably could to keep them safe, from safety plugs in the wall outlets when they were babies to teaching them how to drive responsibly. But there were things we couldn't protect them from, long before werewolves ever entered the picture. All of these kids have experienced loss and pain in some form or another, and it seems to me like they've learned how to protect themselves. That doesn't mean we stop trying to keep them safe, or stop guiding them, but we can't expect to protect them from life itself. Even as much as we may want to."
"I know," the Sheriff said. There had been a lingering feeling ever since his wife had died that he would never be able to live up to what she would have wanted for Stiles, and that he was failing his son. That feeling had grown worse when he hadn't understood why Stiles was getting into so much trouble in the year before he'd learned about werewolves, and had abated some when he finally understood what had been happening, but had never fully dissipated. He thought about Stiles talking about how much his mom would have liked the pack, and a little bit of that tension eased. The pack felt right in his house, it felt right to have everyone crowded around his kitchen table, and he couldn't separate that from the dangers that seemed to come hand in hand with a werewolf pack.
Even standing outside on the front porch they could hear the sound of the kids racing down the stairs and shouting about it being almost midnight. "We should go inside?" Melissa asked, smiling with her eyes. "I mean, unless you'd rather welcome in the new year out here."
He paused, looking out at the night sky, the moon just barely starting to wane, and the forest that loomed beyond the suburbs. "I'm thinking," he joked when he realized he'd let the moment drag on too long. They went inside and found everyone else already gathered in the living room. The tv was already on Times Square though almost no one was paying attention. There was two minutes left until midnight and the Sheriff stood in the doorway as he looked around at the pack. Scott and Allison were squished into one of the armchairs; Stiles, Isaac, Erica, and Lydia were all on the couch and talking over each other; Boyd was standing behind the couch listening with a thoughtful expression while Jackson was leaning next to Lydia, his hand on her shoulder while he talked to Danny. Derek stood near the window, most of his attention lost to the world outside.
"One minute left," Erica called. She stood up on the couch, twisting around and wrapping her arms around Boyd's shoulders.
The Sheriff watch the pack, Melissa at his side, and despite the dangers waiting for them in the near future he felt almost hopeful. The forewarning of more Hunters coming to Beacon Hills was concerning, the fact that the new Pack was strong, violent, and had an agenda was very troubling, and the unsolved bank robbery weighed on his mind. But even with the threats they were facing, he had seen firsthand how strong the pack was and how their bonds with each other helped them through experiences that would have left many people dead or nonfunctional. They had survived the past year, and the Sheriff thought maybe now that he and Melissa were being allowed to help - even if it was just giving the pack a safe place to be themselves - the new year would be better.
"Here we go," Scott said as the countdown began on the tv screen. Most everyone in the room counted down with the last few numbers and cheered loudly as the ball dropped in Time Square.
Amidst the cheering, the kids bounding around in celebration, Stiles turned back and looked at where his dad and Melissa were standing. "Dad," he said, raising his gaze purposefully, "Mistletoe."
The Sheriff looked up and sure enough the mistletoe was hanging just inside the entryway of the living room, right in between where he and Melissa were standing. When he looked back down he found Melissa watching him, the corner of her mouth quirked up in uncertain amusement. He splayed his hands, silently asking what she wanted to do.
"Rules are rules," Melissa said as she arched her eyebrows, though she was also clearly waiting to see if he had any objections.
"That's true," he said, nodding his assent, and while he wasn't sure which of them leaned in first - maybe it was at the same moment - a few seconds later their lips met in a chaste and careful kiss. It didn't last for long, it hardly could when they were hyperaware of their audience, and the Sheriff found himself smiling uncontrollably when he pulled back.
"Happy New Year," Melissa said, and there was a slight flush to her cheeks as she smiled at him.
"Happy New Year," he repeated, and he was certain that out of the corner of his eye he saw Stiles grinning as he darted across the room to where Scott and Isaac were now gathered.
It was well after nine in the morning when the Sheriff woke the next day, later than he'd slept in years, and while he was strongly considering rolling back over and shutting his eyes, he could smell that someone had made coffee. He weighed getting up and getting coffee with the fact that he would also have to get dressed and be prepared for whatever insanity had invaded his house that day. Coffee won out, but only just barely, and he made an executive decision to shower later when he might actually be awake.
In sweatpants and a t-shirt he shuffled downstairs, only glancing at the mess of boxes in the living room. It seemed that Stiles had already started with decoration removal but had gotten distracted halfway through. The Sheriff continued on into the kitchen, heading past the mess on the counters and straight to the coffee pot without even checking to see who was gathered around the kitchen table. The creamer was still sitting out from whoever had used it last and he sweetened his coffee ever so slightly before bringing it to his mouth and inhaling deeply before taking his first sip. His eyes had fallen closed and he stood still for a moment and ignored the quiet shuffling and murmurs coming from behind him. Three sips later, his hands still firmly around his mug, he felt awake enough to at least glance over to see which members of the pack he had and what they were up to.
Lydia and Danny were sitting at the head of the table, each with their own cups of coffee, and they along with Stiles were gathered around some odd materials that looked like they had once been plants. Isaac and Jackson were at the other end of the table, several diagrams spread out between them as they studied them and occasionally made marks or changes. When the Sheriff wandered a little closer he noticed that the diagrams were of lacrosse plays and they both had plates of seemingly random leftovers from the night before; Isaac had a still cold piece of pizza, with some fried potato chunks and a banana, while Jackson had a piece of lasagna, a slice of apple pie, and a handful of meatballs. The Sheriff checked the time again and decided that it was possible that this was an early lunch for them instead of a late breakfast. On the other hand, he'd never known Stiles or Scott to be picky about matching the food in their meals to the time of the day either.
He moved on to Stiles, Lydia, and Danny, and frowned at the set-up. They had a mortar and pestle, a chopping board, and plenty of jars and little plastic baggies. In between all of them were the plants they were working with, some dried and others fresh and tied in bundles. "Not drugs, right?" he asked, holding his coffee carefully so he wouldn't spill or drop it if the answer turned out to be affirmative.
Lydia looked up from where she'd been grinding down a bowl of dried herbs. "Well, technically if you're looking at it in terms of plant byproduct to be used for a specific purpose that alters bodily functions-"
"Not drugs. We're not buying or dealing or using drugs. They're used for offensive and defensive weapons only, I promise," Stiles said, quickly interrupting Lydia. "We're going over to Scott's later."
The Sheriff nodded; good enough. "Fine. Just finish cleaning up the living room before school starts next week. And no humans are allowed on the roof when you're taking down the lights; that includes the ones on Mrs. McCall's house," he said. He looked down at his mug, decided that everything he'd seen and heard made about as much sense as he could possibly expect, and then refilled his coffee on his way out of the kitchen.