There was nothing more tiring, Valerie decided, than coming off a long week of working Dispatch on nights. Even though Beacon Hills -- and, by extension, Beacon County -- was far from the hot bed of crime that surrounding areas might've been, it didn't make it any easier to man the phones for twelve hours at a time, taking in calls and directing the deputies out to investigate the citizens' concerns. After doing her three days on, two days off, and then another two days on and an extra half-shift of overtime, Valerie was more than ready for her long weekend; there was just one stop she wanted to make before she headed home to sleep for the next twenty hours.
It was a little hole-in-the-wall on Vine, wedged between a badly maintained comic book store and a lingerie-for-the-stripper-set boutique and its clientele tended more toward budding teenage Satanists and potheads than it did members of the Beacon County Sheriff's Office. However, this particular hole-in-the-wall was the only New Age shop in Beacon Hills that sold the exact brand of white sage incense that Valerie liked, so it was worth the occasional side trip to pick it up. She had been out for a week now and she really didn't want to put it off any longer.
Being the middle of the morning on a Saturday, when most of its usual customers were still asleep or hung-over, Valerie didn't have much trouble pulling into the small strip-mall parking lot and she didn't exactly have to fight a crowd to step into the shop, struck, as always, by a faint hint of marijuana overlaid by the pungent smell of sandalwood and patchouli when she did. The woman manning the ancient cash register nodded at her as she passed the counter and she didn't even flinch at the embossed logo on Valerie's civilian uniform, which Valerie took as a heartening sign.
For all the suspicion she had about the little store, there was always something interesting displayed to get sidetracked by when she came on these trips, strange twisted candles, or colorful glass knickknacks or even a showcase of delicate, hand-made jewelry. That morning, there were carved wooden boxes of all shapes and sizes and decorations that Valerie moved past with only a passing glance. It was late (for her) and that bone-weary tiredness of an 18-hour shift was starting to catch up with her. She needed to get her incense and get out because she could hear her bed calling her name from miles away.
The store kept the incense along the back wall with all the strange dried herbs they offered, things that had names that Valerie only knew from fantasy novels and supernatural thriller movies. She rounded the last set of shelves and headed for the niche where they kept the sticks of incense and stopped right in her tracks at what she saw.
Her initial reaction was to stop short because she was interrupting what looked to be the start of a round of PDA that she didn't need to see. The first glance she got a glimpse of a broad back encased in leather, the jacket worn with jeans by a man who made a very fine figure from behind -- and who had that very nice body pressed up against that of the person he had backed up against the line of shelves that held the shop's collection of old and used books. Valerie had been young and crazy once and she knew that there were worst places to try and cop a feel than the darkened corner of an occult shop on the wrong side of the tracks. But then the man shifted -- perhaps because of some small sound Valerie made -- and Valerie froze in shock for an entirely different reason when her gaze met a pair of wide, familiar, brown eyes.
"Stiles?" she had asked before she even realized the words were coming out of her mouth. "Stiles Stilinski?"
The body -- the boy -- trapped between the shelves and the rock-hard body that Valerie would've have needed to be dead not to appreciate was indeed the Sheriff's mischievous son who had called her on more than one occasion during her time on Dispatch to ask her ever more inane and outrageous things whenever the mood struck him. She had known Stiles since before the growth spurt that had him finally towering over her and this -- this was really awkward.
"Val!" Stiles squeaked in reply. He pushed at the man leaning against him, although it didn't seem to have much effect. Stiles paused in giving Valerie his best horrified expression to glare at his companion for a second, who did at least have the decency to drop the hand that had been clutching at Stiles's shirt. "Uh, fancy meeting you here?"
"We can go with that," she said, beginning to see some of the humor of the situation as she watched a red blush crawl up Stiles's face.
Finally, Stiles's eyebrows and facial twitches must've gotten through to Tall, Dark and Silent because he stepped away enough that Valerie could see Stiles straight on, instead of having to peek at his embarrassed face from over a broad shoulder. Stiles seemed to relax now that he wasn't quite so close to committing public indecency in front of one of his father's employees. "So," he said. "You come here often or is this a special event?"
Valerie snorted. "I just came to pick up some incense," she said, waving a hand toward the display that Stiles's...friend?...was blocking.
"And we wouldn't want to get in your way at all, would we?" Stiles said, either speaking in the royal "we" or including his companion who had remained monosyllabic up to this point. "So, we'll just, um, browse somewhere else for a few minutes and let you make those selections. Nice seeing you, Val!" As he spoke, Stiles reached out to tug on the arm of his -- Valerie was going to go with "friend," she decided -- friend, and it was the first time that she had paid the front side of him much attention. There wasn't much surprise in the fact that he wore his jeans, tight t-shirt and leather jacket just as well from the front as he had from the back but as her eyes settled on his face, she was shocked once again, for an entirely different reason.
She knew his face almost as well as she did Stiles's because Stiles's "friend" was Derek Hale.
Valerie no longer saw any humor in the situation. Suddenly, the encounter had went from an amusing anecdote to tell the other ladies working Dispatch when she picked up her next shift to something where she felt the uneasy roil of responsibility rise up. Because it was one thing to catch the Sheriff's son in a compromising position with a guy with a few rough edges but it was something else entirely to find out that that guy was Derek Hale, ex murder suspect, ex wanted fugitive, current person of interest, and a man way too old to be pressing up against the son's underage son in a seedy occult shop on the wrong side of town.
"Stiles..." she began, that warning note in her voice she usually saved for when he was trying her nerves over the phone at 2AM and wanted to know whether someone, er, Lon Chaney-esque had been seen near the Beacon Hills Preserve. She shot a look between him and Hale, unsure of what to say next. When she focused on Stiles again, she could see the entreaty in his eyes, practically begging her not to say anything else. She just sighed. "Good to see you, too."
For the second time during their brief meeting, she watched the tension leak out of Stiles's body. "Thanks, Val."
Valerie gave Derek Hale a hard look before she reached around him and grabbed a handful of the white sage incense that had brought her there in the first place. She took a step away and turned back toward Stiles, unable to resist the urge to touch his arm. "You stay out of trouble, okay?" she told him, half-warning, half-plea of her own.
"I'll try," he said, in a way that meant he knew that he'd failed but he wished he wouldn't. "Okay?"
She nodded, then cut her eyes toward Derek Hale. "You, too, Mr. Hale," she said, before she turned on her heel and hurried away.
As she rounded the corner, back toward the safety of the bored woman at the ancient cashier, Valerie could hear Stiles groan. "Oh my god," he was saying as she moved away. "When she talks to my dad..."
Valerie didn't pause as she made her purchases but in her head, she offered Stiles comfort because he didn't have to worry. She was never going to be the one who had break this particular news to Sheriff Stilinski.
When Adam Meehan had decided to take a promotion to administrative sergeant five years earlier, one of the biggest reasons he had done so was because of his children. As much as he'd loved being a deputy, it had meant a lot of long days and a lot of long nights, times when he would've rather been home watching his sons' first steps or hearing their first words. And even though he sometimes missed the excitement of the chase that came from actual police work and even though he occasionally worked a long shift even in Admin, Meehan never regretted the choice he'd made for his family.
If he had ever thought he might've regretted it, Meehan needed only to look toward the Sheriff for a reminder of the path he didn't choose. Sheriff John Stilinski was a good man and an outstanding sheriff -- despite the naysayers -- but it was easy for those who had been on the force to see that his position of responsibility had meant sacrifices when it came to him and his son.
It wasn't that the Sheriff wasn't a good father because Meehan, more than most, saw it with his own eyes. And it wasn't that Stiles was a bad kid, for his all ill-focused curiosity. But there had been a breakdown in the last year that those closest to the Sheriff had watched worsen with painful anticipation and they had watched with sadness as the lines that furrowed their superior's face became less about the rash of murders and the mysterious animal attacks, and more about the number of times his son's name became tied to some petty grievance or crime.
Meehan, like many others, had been glad to see that Stiles had kept a low profile of late and that the Sheriff had been spending more time at home whenever his scheduled allowed. He didn't know if the two were related but he was willing to bet they were. It was one of the reasons that Meehan didn't mind if he had to pick up a few more evening shifts at the station to hold the fort down in the Sheriff's absence and he didn't mind going a little above and beyond the call when he could to give Stilinski a little extra breathing room. The later situation was where Meehan found himself that night as he took the last turn into the neighborhood that would lead him to the Sheriff's house. It had been a long day for him and it had promised to be a longer night while they waited for some test results to get faxed in from an outside lab and Sheriff hadn't batted an eye at the idea of waiting for hours for them to come in so he could get the warrant for their suspect's arrest in order. But Meehan knew that the Sheriff had been running on fumes for forty-eight hours and had promised to bring the results over -- and all other paperwork -- no matter when they came in. With his promise, the admin staff had finally convinced the Sheriff to head home and get some rest.
Meehan almost didn't notice the sleek, black Camaro parked at the end of the Sheriff's street but it was a nice car that they'd been spent a lot of man hours looking for. It was definitely Derek Hale's, he noted absently as he pulled past it, wondering who in the quiet neighborhood would be getting a visit from a former murder suspect at something nearing eleven-thirty. He knew, of course, that Hale had had the charges dropped against him and that the rule was "innocent until proven guilty," but there was something unsettling about the guy that Meehan didn't like. He just couldn't put his finger on what.
He pulled his car up to the curb outside of the Stilinski house, noticing that the brightest light he could see was coming from the living room, where he bet Sheriff had kicked back and fell asleep once he'd gotten home. Meehan had done it enough himself to know that it was a standard procedure after days like the one they'd just had. A softer light burned at the edge of a second story window, which he assumed was Stiles's room, who should've been in the bed but wasn't, like most teenagers in the world.
He wasn't paying much attention after that, as he leaned over to tidy the pile of papers he had brought for the Sheriff that the drive had strewn about the passenger seat of his car and he probably would've missed it if he had not been sidetracked by the memory that his wife had called to warn him that the weather forecast was calling for rain before midnight. But he had been reminded of it when he'd noticed his umbrella under the papers and Meehan had cast his eyes heavenward for a quick check of the skies, only to catch a glimpse of something out of the corner of his eye that banished all thoughts of the weather. He was so startled when he saw the black shadow of an unmistakable shape on the Stilinski roof that he almost reached for his gun before he realized it wasn't on his hip. Then he realized that the shape wasn't moving into the open window, it was moving out.
For a moment, Meehan assumed it was Stiles, doing something else all teenagers in the world did -- sneaking out -- until he noticed another form in the faint glow of the open window, one that moved with the long, clumsy grace of the Sheriff's son. That left the identity of the person exiting the room a mystery for a few seconds longer, until Stiles shifted and the light from behind him fell across the face of that second person. Like his sleek, black Camaro, Derek Hale's face had been too much of a focus at the station for it not to be one Meehan instantly recognized.
Given the fact that Stiles was now leaning against the window sill and talking to Hale meant that he clearly wasn't an intruder, whether he was coming or going from the house. He was at least a guest in Stiles's opinion, it seemed. Meehan watched for another minute or two, as the pair of them remained poised on either side of the open window, faces serious as they talked, caught in some kind of weird Romeo and Juliet tableau that Meehan had never expected to see played out in real life. As he watched, their faces drifted closer and he couldn't tell if it was because they couldn't hear or for some other reason entirely.
The voice and the hard tap of a knuckle against the glass of his car window jolted Meehan out of his observation and he jumped guiltily when his eyes snapped over to see that the Sheriff was standing outside of his car, arms folded over his chest.
"Sheriff," Meehan said, before he realized he needed to roll his window down before Stilinski could hear him properly. After he did so, he tried again. "Sorry, Sheriff, you startled me."
"I thought something was wrong," he explained. "I saw you out here but you didn't ring the bell. Is everything all right?"
Meehan's eyes immediately jumped back to Stiles's second-story window but there was nothing to see now, except for the curtains fluttering in the breeze and the same, soft glow from before. It was, Meehan noticed, left half-open. "Sorry, sir, I just got distracted."
The sheriff's face softened a little in sympathy. "It's been a long day for all of us," he said. "Unless you're in a hurry to get home to Dolores and the boys, you're more than welcome to come in and have a cup of coffee while I slog through this."
Meehan did want to get home but he looked into the Sheriff's tired, kind eyes and thought about how many nights Stilinski had spent away from his own son, how much he might've lost knowing about him, in order to keep the peace in Beacon County. Weighed against that, Meehan spending a few hours helping him out wasn't much at all. He nodded, gathering the last of his papers. "I'd appreciate it, sir," he said, as he pulled the keys out of the ignition. "Lead the way."
When he left an hour later, Meehan thought he saw a shadowy figure moving just beyond the curtains from his view into Stiles's room; he wasn't surprised to see that Hale's Camaro was still parked at the end of the street when he took the opposite turn toward his own home.
Phil Baker loved everything about working for the Sheriff's Office in Beacon County -- except, perhaps, the pay. It wasn't that it wasn't competitive, especially in the current economic times, or that it didn't have major perks in the form of comprehensive benefits. But Phil had only been on the force a few years and he wasn't making the money he'd hoped at this point in his life. He was getting to that age where words like "retirement" had actually become a thing he thought about instead of a far-off idea that he scoffed at when older coworkers talked about 401k and hording their sick leave. It was why Phil had become so familiar with another perk of the job -- off-duty security work.
Phil had picked up a range of part-time security jobs over the past year or so, drifting in and out of it as his schedule would allow. Before now, he had mostly worked in corporate offices like law firms where he'd been paid to escort late-working, high-paying attorneys to their cars in parking decks known for muggings and car thefts. But that night Phil had taken over a shift from a buddy who needed the night off and, instead, he found himself walking around the perimeter of an old warehouse that had seen much better days.
He didn't actually think it was any more or less dangerous than his other jobs, but it was certainly less glamorous and way more boring. There was nothing to do but follow Eli's check-list every hour, walking the perimeter and checking various locks and alarm panels. The warehouse itself was quiet and still, piled up with crates and wooden pallets. He didn't even have any idea what they stored there, let alone how long the boxes might've been sitting, gathering dust, or why they warranted an armed guard at night. As long as everything remained as quiet as it had for the first two hours of his shift, Phil would probably never find out.
Phil had just started his third walkabout when he finally heard something -- a noise, like banging, coming from along the northern wall of the warehouse. Phil clutched his flashlight and touched a steadying hand to his holstered weapon before he quickly headed in the noise's direction, ready to investigate. He couldn't find any signs of disturbance or break-in from the interior of the warehouse but he couldn't be too careful, so he decided to check along the outside perimeter for his own peace of mind. He used the door on the northwest corner and slowly crept along the northern exterior wall to see if he could find any sign of the source of the noise.
The moon was bright in the night sky, heavy with a roundness that said the full moon wasn't too far away. Between it and the streetlights, Phil didn't bother to turn on his flashlight, although he kept a tight grip on it. He took one step, then another, easing himself down the narrow alley that ran between the warehouse he had been hired to guard and the abandoned one on the other side. He still didn't see any signs of what could've made that noise and he was about to admit defeat when he heard it again -- this time, clearly coming from inside the abandoned warehouse next door.
Phil barely had time to react to the noise aside from a sharp jerk in its direction when he felt the hairs on the back of his neck stand up, a creepy feeling that made goose bumps ripple up his arms. Before he could fully question the sudden chill up his spine, Phil heard another, closer noise; he didn't have a chance to turn around before he felt a hard, painful something connect with his head and everything went black.
When he started to come around, Phil had no idea how long he'd been out or even where he was. But as the fog began to lift, he slowly became aware of his surroundings.
"Officer Baker," a voice was saying, in sync with the warm hand on his shoulder. "Officer Baker? Can you hear me?"
The voice was male, young, familiar. Phil fought back against the nauseous fog until he could blink his eyes open and focus them on the face floating above his own. After a minute of concentration, he placed it -- Stiles, the Sheriff's son. Phil had seen him dragged away from more than one crime scene in his years of service.
"Stiles," he said in greeting, wincing when the slight movement of his head sent pain shooting through him.
"Don't do that," Stiles said, pressing more firmly against Phil's shoulders where his hands rested on him. "Don't try to move yet."
"Any idea what happened?" he asked, not that he expected Stiles to know. There was a pause after his slurred question but only the kind that came with someone grasping for the safest answer. He opened his eyes again and tried to focus on the teenager hovering anxiously at his side. "Stiles?"
"I think you interrupted a burglary?" Stiles finally said, more question than statement. "And then you got hit on the head."
Phil was intimately aware of the poor state of his health. He groaned when he tried to shift and the pain in his head flared. "Any reason you're clear across town at midnight on a Friday?"
"Oh, you know me, Officer," he said. "Always going where the action is."
Phil squinted a look around at the quiet, looming warehouse. "This is not exactly a happening place, kid."
He shrugged. "You'd be surprised." Phil felt Stiles's awkward but heartfelt pats go down his arms. "You probably have a concussion so we should probably call someone, okay?"
Phil was almost able to nod in agreement, so he let his half-open eyes slide completely open and was glad to see that Stiles finally came into perfect focus. He could see the anxiousness on the kid's face, the concern in the dark eyes; he let his eyes travel down the light gray hoodie Stiles was wearing, but stopped when he noticed a red stain spreading across the fabric. He tried to reach out to it. "What happened to you?"
"Nothing," came Stiles's immediate reply, one that trailed off when he let his gaze follow Phil's to his abdomen. "Oh," he said as he pressed a hand to the stain. His palm came back bright red with blood. "Ow."
"Ow?" The sound of another voice coming from farther down the alley made Phil jump and his head throb with pain. "What do you mean ow?"
Stiles craned his head to look back over his shoulder at the person speaking, careful to keep a hand pressed against the bleeding on his side. "What do you mean, what do I mean? "Ow" is the universally accepted and aptly descriptive word for an expression of pain. Ow."
"That's not what I meant," the voice -- older than Stiles, also male, and tight with some dark emotion -- growled back and, suddenly, a figure melted out of the shadows. Phil watched as the newcomer descended upon them, expression thunderous behind the heavy growth of stubble. "Are you hurt?"
"Apparently," Stiles snapped. The other man reached down like he planned to snatch Stiles from his crouching position but his hand froze when he saw the wince of pain Stiles tried to cover as he attempted to turn around.
"You are," the second man said. The words sounded like an accusation, frustrated and angry. "I could smell the blood but I thought it was from the graze on your arm. Damn it, Stiles, come on."
"Just give me it a minute, Officer Baker here..."
Stiles didn't get a chance to finish before the man joined Stiles and Phil where they huddled on the ground, but somehow he managed to look way more natural hunkered down like that than Phil ever felt. The man used a surprisingly gentle grip to move Stiles's hand away from his side and peel back the blood-heavy cloth until he could see the wound. Because of the shadows made by their bodies, Phil couldn't see the actual damage to Stiles's flesh but the darkening of the other man's features made him guess that it wasn't good. "We need to get you to -- you know," the man told him, urgent and commanding. "Come on."
"I need to make sure Officer Baker is going to be all right first," Stiles said, frowning. Even Phil could tell now, though, that the kid was looking a little peaked under the red splotches of color on his face. "We need to call him an ambulance at least."
The man glared at Phil, like he was ready to murder him on the spot if it meant that Stiles would hurry up. "Fine," he said as he straightened. "One minute and then we're going, whether you want to or not."
"Yeah, yeah," Stiles said, rolling his eyes as he moved to follow the man's lead and tried to rise to his feet. The rest of his no doubt sarcastic reply was lost as he wobbled in place with the attempt, only saved from hitting the ground next to Phil by the other man's arms suddenly coming around him. "Oh," Stiles said instead, breathy and gut-punched. He let his head fall against the leather-clad shoulder of his companion. "Maybe that ow wasn't descriptive enough."
"You idiot," the other man said, but he actually hauled Stiles closer, tucking him against his body under one arm. "How do you even survive on your own?"
Stiles muttered something back, his face still pressed against the man's shoulder. Phil didn't catch it but it made something strange pass across the man's face. His gaze suddenly snapped to Phil and the deputy felt pinned by it. "Do you have a phone on you?" he asked Phil.
Phil nodded and winced.
"I need to get him out of here," the man said, like it wasn't obvious. "Can you call 911 for yourself?"
Again, Phil nodded, too -- shocked, scared, worried? -- to speak.
The man nodded back as if they had settled the matter. "You won't tell anyone you saw him here, will you?"
It should've been a question but it was obviously a statement, or maybe even a veiled threat. "No," Phil said. "He's a good kid. Make sure he's okay."
The man's gaze drifted back to the top of Stiles's head. "I will."
Then without another word, the man began to walk away, only to realize that he was dragging dead weight because Stiles didn't seem to be conscious anymore. "You moron," he muttered under his breath but Phil could tell there was something behind the annoyance -- fondness, maybe, present with the concern. "Sometimes, you are worse than Scott."
Phil watched as the man picked Stiles up like he didn't weigh at least a buck-fifty, disappearing into the night with the Sheriff's son held close in his arms. He gave them a few minutes to put some distance between them and the warehouse before he reached his own shaky hands to his belt and pulled off the cell he had clipped there.
It wasn't until he was being loaded onto the ambulance by the EMTs that Phil realized that the second man had been Derek Hale.
Christy knew that someone on the planning committee either found it deeply ironic or just spectacularly hilarious to assign the Sheriff's Office fingerprint analyst to man the palm reading booth at the annual Beacon Hills fall festival but she had to admit that she didn't mind it too much. It was her third year volunteering to run booths when the County asked for help and this year the money she raised was going to a very good cause -- the BCSO's Widows and Orphans fund. They had lost a lot of good men and women in the past year and Christy knew the money would be very much appreciated.
That appreciation was why she was done up in her best "palm reader" costume, which mostly consisted of pieces her sister usually wore to the local Renfest, and why she had been sitting there for almost three hours already, making up ridiculous fortunes for people when they thrust their hands under her nose.
The crowds were really starting to swell throughout the local park that had been rigged up for the fall festival, especially now as the sun was setting and everyone was leaving work, school, and other afternoon activities to wander over to the fair. Christy's little booth was tucked away in a random little corner near one of the trails that lead to the park from the Preserve, sandwiched between someone selling handmade soaps and a booth raising money for the local Women's Shelter. None of them were exactly hopping with business, so it gave Christy a chance to people-watch, eyes following the various people who drifted by. There was laughter and more than a few couples, and small clusters of families all enjoying the bright, early evening air; Christy took a deep breath herself, taking in the scent of hot dogs and frying dough that wafted from the concession area.
She was checking her phone for messages from the Volunteer Organizer -- who was apparently looking for an emergency fill-in for the dunking booth, good luck with that -- when a single conversation seemed to rise above the hum of the crowds and reach her ears. When she focused on the voices more closely, Christy realized it was because they were coming from behind her booth instead of in front of it, like the speakers were melting out of the woods to join the festivities. She cast a suspicious look over her shoulder as if she'd be able to see them through the billowing walls of her tent and let herself hone in on what they were saying.
"...it's a tradition," the first voice was saying. "It'll be fun!"
The second voice sighed. "I did actually grow up here, you know," it said. He said. "I've been to several of these before."
"But never with me," the first voice -- also a he -- argued. "I know it's against what brooding alpha code you live by but it won't kill you to at least pretend to be a normal human being, at least for a little while?"
"It might," the second one sniped back but it was followed by a terse, "Fine. Whatever."
There was an amused snort in reply. "Not exactly the ringing endorsement I was hoping for but it'll work, I guess. Come on."
Christy relaxed as the voices floated away since whoever she had heard didn't sound as if they were planning anything nefarious, despite their odd choice of an entrance. In fact, they sounded comfortable and perhaps a little awkward together, and she idly wondered what their background was. What had convinced the one to bring the other out tonight? And why had the second one agreed when he sounded like he'd rather do anything but?
She read two palms -- two giggling tween girls who were overly concerned with their heart lines -- before she heard the familiar cadence of the conversation she'd overheard earlier, still going strong as their voices again reached her ears.
"Stiles, are you sure this is a good idea?" It was the voice of the second guy, still sounding very reluctant.
"What, the fair?" the first one asked. "It's the best idea ever."
"No, I mean..." He trailed off. "Us. Here."
There was another amused snort as the voices drew closer. Christy craned her neck around, trying to decide who they belonged to. "It has become readily apparent to me of late that you are smugly aware of the effect that your hotness has on three-fourths of the population but, seriously, Derek, no one is paying us any attention. And they'll continue to do that unless you decide to howl at the moon or strip your shirt off and I am not a fan of either of those ideas either. At least not under the current circumstances anyway."
Christy wasn't sure if it was the context clues in the conversation or just a subconscious calculation of the trajectory of their voices but Christy jerked her gaze toward corner of her booth and there, she finally spied the mysterious conversationalists she'd been listening in on that evening. They still hadn't made it much past the trail from the Preserve, mostly loitering around the edges of her booth, which was why she could hear them so clearly even when she couldn't see them well. But now they were -- slowly -- coming around to the proper side of the festival and she could see them fine -- fine enough that she immediately recognized Derek Hale, as anyone who had worked for the Sheriff in the last year would've been able to do. There had been enough fliers with his sketch plastered throughout the town that it would probably be a while before anyone forgot who he was.
But Christy wasn't really thinking about Hale's past arrests at the moment because she was too busy being amused by how completely awkward he looked, trying to follow his friend's lead and melt into the crowds. The tall, gangly teenager at his side had little trouble on that front, his face immediately lighting up as he took in the glowing booths and milling crowds and he tugged on Hale's leather-jacket-clad arm when Hale's feet seemed to falter a little.
"Fun," the kid told him. "We could be having it. I know it's a foreign concept but trust me, I'm an expert."
Hale just shot him a glare, one that didn't seem to faze the teenager much. Still, Hale let his arm be tugged further into the crowd which Christy thought spoke volumes about the power the teenager had over him.
She lost the thread of Hale and his companion's little adventure when she had a group of college kids descend upon her table to have their futures told, the worst combination of sneering cynicism and stingy pockets she had encountered that evening. She was glad enough when they moved on, taking the chance to escape into the recesses of the booth for a quick sip of her soda and a chance to stretch her legs. When she swirled back toward her table, she was surprised to see that Hale and his friend had wandered their way over to stand in front of her booth.
"Oh, we're totally doing this," the teenager was saying, making quite a production as he dug down into the pocket of his jeans as Christy peaked from behind the filmy curtain that separated the front and back halves of the tent. "I know I have a five somewhere..."
"It doesn't cost anything," Hale said, pointing to the sign. "It's free."
"It's for charity!" the friend objected. "Like, an important one, too. The Sheriff's Office Widows and Orphans Fund. They're the ones who'll take care of my dad when I die horribly in the line of duty before my eighteenth birthday."
Christy expected an eye-roll or even a snort from Hale in response to the teenager's ridiculous declaration but she watched in surprise when it looked like actual alarm crossed Hale's face. He suddenly had a hold of the kid's arm, just above the elbow and it looked painful where his fingers tightened around the pale skin. "Don't even joke like that," he told him, Hale's voice low and rumbly and really quite menacing.
She watched as the teenager looked up until his big brown eyes met Hale's intense stare for a long beat. "Sure, fine," he said, everything sharp and witty gone from his voice. It was strangely soothing. "I won't, okay?"
Now Christy was the one who felt awkward. "I'm pretty sure it doesn't work that way," she told them as she finally made her appearance from behind the curtain. They both jumped at the sound of her voice as if they were completely oblivious of the outside world. "Unless you're the youngest member of the force that I've never met."
Hale finally loosened his grip and the teenager pulled away, but only enough to release his arm. He turned a wide, bright smile in Christy's direction. "Ms. Kim, good to see you," he said, and Christy focused on his face, trying to place it. He wriggled the fingers of one hand at her. "I see you just can't escape the digits, huh?" He must've noticed her confusion because he added, "I'm, uh, Stiles? Stilinski?"
Finally, the face clicked into place. She didn't see much of the Sheriff's son working in the lab or even at Intake doing fingerprints, but the Sheriff had a few photos of him and his son in his office. "Right! Nice to see you again," she said. She turned her appraisal toward Hale because the little drama she had unwittingly been following all evening had just gotten even more interesting. Christy took her seat with a flourish. "So, gentlemen, going to get your futures told this evening?"
"Absolutely, yes," Stiles said, sticking his hand back into his pocket. "As soon as I..."
Hale did roll his eyes at that, even as he produced a ten-dollar bill from the pocket of his jacket and dropped it into the slot in Christy's donation box. "There. Done."
"I had a five," Stiles said, although he seemed delighted by the turn of events.
"You spent it on hot dogs," Hale told him. "Just get your reading."
Christy looked expectantly for Stiles's hand to appear before her but the teenager shook his head. "You first," he told Hale, nudging him with his elbow. "You paid and everything."
There was some kind of battle of wills carried out between their eyes alone but Hale finally caved and stuck his hand out to her. He looked like it caused him pain to have her take it between her own so she could study his palm in earnest.
It was probably weird but not wholly unexpected, but Christy tended to remember people's hands -- and not just those that she examined in the line of duty. As she stared down at Hale's hand, she took in the whorls of his fingerprints -- the same ones she had pressed onto the scanner when he'd been arrested -- before her eyes trailed down to his palm. She deliberated for a moment before she spoke. "This break in your life line here." She traced it with a finger. "It means you had a traumatic experience in your youth." She didn't have to look up to know he was glaring at her. She continued to trace the deep furrow of his life line. "You had another one here, probably more recently."
"You don't say?" Derek muttered, tense from his shoulders down to the tips of his fingers, even the ones Christy cradled in hers.
She risked a glance up at him and instead caught the look on Stiles's face, caught the way Stiles had wrapped his fingers around the fist Hale had made of his free hand. Their bodies blocked it from casual view but she didn't miss it or the way Stiles's dark eyes watched Hale's face with such focus. "I'm sure she's getting to the good future stuff," Stiles told Derek. "Right, Ms. Kim?"
"Right," she said, following Stiles's lead. She looked down at Hale's heart line next. Like his life line, there was a strong break early in its path but then it deepened, creating one strong line without flutters or islands. "You suffered a romantic heartbreak early on," she said, hurrying past the background, "but your heart line is strong. So is your life line, actually." She knew there was probably sympathy in her voice as she said, "What I see is that, despite those early upheavals, you'll thrive. You'll be happy and live a long life with one great love." She looked up and couldn't help but smirk as she let go of Hale's hand. He wasn't exactly looking at her until he felt his hand drop. "How's that for the good future stuff, Stiles?"
"Well, I liked it," he grinned, still glancing at Hale.
Hale didn't say anything but Christy noticed he had unclenched his hand so that his fingers were brushing against Stiles's and she figured that was answer enough.
Having grown up in Beacon Hills, Taylor Chavez had had a few run-ins with the Sheriff's Office as a teenager, which had made his decision to join up after college even more hilarious in hindsight. Even though he knew he was pretty far from the stupid kid he'd been at 16, doing stupid shit he knew was going to get him busted by his parents or, worse, the law, he sometimes couldn't stop himself from reflecting on the strange juxtaposition when he found himself in situations that were so completely reversed.
The strangeness caught up with him on Friday nights, especially, when he stopped high schoolers out partying after having a few beers or when he obviously interrupted what was a pot deal between a local sports hero and the stoner he'd never be caught speaking with at school. Those times came with a kind of sadness, too, because those kids were running the risk of ruining their entire lives with one bad decision; he'd already seen it in the two years since he'd become a deputy, how easy one stupid decision could end someone's promising hopes and dreams.
Taylor hadn't been making quite those kinds of mistakes as a kid, although he couldn't say he hadn't drank a few beers before he should've or had never taken a hit off a bong; still, he had been more into the loitering kind of mistakes, hanging in public places with his friends and their skateboards and their (still illegal) cigarettes long after public policy said they needed to be cleared. But he'd had his most memorable run-ins with deputies after he'd turned sixteen and had had a car at his disposal -- the point at which he'd been able to drive him and the lady of his choice up to the Lookout.
He'd never asked his dad, but Taylor was pretty sure the parking area at the Beacon Hills Preserve had been a prime make-out spot for several generations, at least since it had been built in the late 1940s and teenage boys had started driving cars. It was definitely one of Taylor's favorite places to inspect because there was an amusing symmetry in busting up other kids’ good times just like his had been. It kept the cosmic balance in order or something, he supposed.
But kids had gotten more inventive, Taylor had noted, and it wasn't just the parking area that saw its share of action. He and his partner had started to check some of the off-road paths that spidered out from the lot because some of the kids had enough sense not to have their sweaty car sex in plain view of everyone. And, yeah, it was probably mean, but Taylor did kind of love flashing his Maglite at the steamy windows before he politely asked for the driver to roll down the window so he could embarrass the young couple with a lot of warnings and legal talk about public indecency.
Tonight, he and Elliot had almost given up on one of the paths they'd checked until Taylor caught a glint of metal in the beam of his headlights before he killed them and coasted a little farther down the trail. They approached on foot, silent and wary, because as much as Taylor suspected it was two teenagers getting their freak on, there was always the chance it was something far more nefarious. It had been BCSO's luck lately, in fact.
There was only one vehicle, a beat-up Jeep, and the windows definitely looked a bit steamed, so Taylor relaxed a fraction. Elliot raised her eyebrows at him and he motioned that she circle around to the passenger side while he made his way to the driver's side window. Neither of them got that far before they heard a sound that Taylor could only describe as a snarl before they were both racing to the Jeep, Taylor ready with his Maglite. When he flashed into the back seat of the Jeep, he was both relieved and surprised by what he saw.
He was relieved because it definitely wasn't something more nefarious than adventurous roadside sex because that's exactly what it was -- two mostly unclothed bodies that gleamed white against the dark background and the bright beam of his flashlight, sweaty and entangled as the beam bounced off of them. But he was surprised because when he lifted his hand to let his flashlight linger on the faces of the culprits, he realized he knew them both.
Taylor heard a quiet oh, shit from somewhere but he couldn't quite tell if it was inside the Jeep or from Elliot because both would've made sense. Taylor, in fact, had bit back a similar response in deference to the uniform he wore and instead stepped back, clearing this throat. "I think I need you two to step out of the vehicle," he said in his best no-nonsense voice. "Driver's side."
There was a few seconds of noisy movement before the door a few feet in front of Taylor and a long, uncoordinated boy spilled out. Stiles, he knew, Stiles Stilinski, the sheriff's son. Taylor's boss's son. Stiles was shirtless, flushed, and sporting a spectacular number of hickies along his collarbone and chest, smartly where a T-shirt would hide them. He was also breathing a little heavily and tugging at his jeans like it was going to help hide the tent in his pants. "Deputy," Stiles said with faked nonchalance. He ran a nervous hand over his short hair. "How're you doing?"
And Stiles wasn't even the worst part of his night. Taylor motioned with his flashlight for Stiles to move over. "Let's let your friend get out here first," Taylor said. A little louder, he ordered, "Come on, Derek, you next."
By the time Derek Hale emerged from the Jeep, Elliot had circled around to stand beside Taylor, her eyes wide -- either in her own surprise or in appreciation of Derek Hale's body, which Taylor had heard about more than once, thank you, when the guy had been wanted for murder. People always talked about men and their locker room talk but the Women's locker room at the station had nothing on the Men's, in Taylor's humble opinion.
Derek did look like something out of a Calvin Klein ad as he stood in front of the deputies, also shirtless, but with a stony, blank expression that left him as unreadable as Stiles's expression of panic was easy to see. He didn't have the same kind of hickies or flush to his skin that Stiles did but there was a faint spot on one of his pecs that might've been the beginnings of one.
"Well," Elliot said when no one else spoke. "This is awkward."
Stiles let out a reedy little laugh, just on the edge of hysterical. Derek barely blinked but he nodded slightly in Elliot's direction, then Taylor's. "Jennifer," he said. "Taylor. It's been a...long time."
It had been -- about seven years, if Taylor was right, since the Hale house burned down and the quiet but sometimes funny kid in his and Jen's English class had never come back to school. Because they had all three grown up in Beacon Hills, had went to the same elementary, middle and high schools, up until Laura and Derek Hale had disappeared after the deaths of their family.
"You know them?" Stiles jerked a thumb in their direction, eyes on Derek. He said it like it was the most incredulous thing he had ever heard.
"I keep reminding you I grew up here," Derek said. "I went to school with them."
"He was even my date to the Sadie Hawkins Dance in 8th grade," Elliot -- Jen, as Taylor had called her then -- said with a smirk. "So, yes, he knows us."
Taylor wished he was the one who could see the humor in the situation like usual because he just wasn't. This wasn't busting a couple of groping teenagers like he'd expected; this was finding a grown man -- his peer -- obviously doing very naughty and very illegal things to the Sheriff's underage son and there was just no way for this to end well. If Taylor reported it, he was going to have to deal with Derek and the Sheriff and the gossip and -- it would be bad. But if he didn't, he'd be ignoring the law and maybe letting a minor continue in a situation out of his depth and that wasn't exactly a good thing, either.
"And because of that," Taylor said slowly, locking his eyes on Derek, "I'm going to ask questions first here, so -- what the hell, Derek? Do you know how much trouble you could get in for this?"
Stiles flinched and Derek glanced toward him. They shared a long look before Derek answered. "Are you going to turn me in?"
"I don't want to," he admitted. "But, Christ...he's the Sheriff's son! And he's only sixteen!"
"Seventeen!" Stiles objected. "I had a birthday."
"You're still underage," Taylor reminded him. "This isn't about public indecency, this is what -- damn it, this is statutory rape. This is serious."
This time it was Derek who flinched and something horrified crossed over his face. But before Taylor could decipher it, he had an angry Stiles taking a step toward him. "Hey, no," Stiles said. "Don't go throwing around the law and trying to -- just no, okay? You didn't actually see jack shit that can be proven and I'll swear on a stack of bibles that Derek has never even breathed on me wrong so don't you dare start throwing around words like that."
"They're the right words, Stiles," Elliot said gently, kindly. She looked from Stiles to Derek. "Even if that's not what you want to hear."
"No, they're not," Stiles ground out in response but his eyes were locked on Derek's. "They're not."
Something about what passed between them made Derek's spine snap straighter as he crossed his arms over his chest. "Are you arresting me or not?" he asked, voice steely and firm. "If you are, let's just get it over with."
Stiles made a broken noise in the back of his throat, a squawk of protest. "No one is arresting anyone!" he said. "Because no crimes have been committed and because no one wants to explain this to the dozen or so people this will have to be explained to just to get Derek processed."
Elliot had been watching Stiles, Taylor noticed, and she had softened, like she had seen something that eased her concern. "He has a point," she said. "I don't want to explain this to the Sheriff. Do you?"
Taylor looked back at Derek who was still waiting with that same blank, unreadable expression and it reminded Taylor of how Derek had looked in the news photos of his parents' funeral, like he had been turned to stone from the grief. Taylor had ached when he'd seen them and so had Jen, both of them struck by the years they had spent together, years that had turned them into friends without them even noticing. The realization had left Taylor wanting to do something to ease Derek's suffering even when he'd been so ill-equipped as a teenager to do so. Maybe this was the chance he hadn't had then.
He gave them both one more hard look. "Just get the hell out of here, okay?" Taylor said with a sigh. "Not together, though. Derek, get your shirt and your shoes and Stiles -- Elliot's going to accompany you home. I'll pick her up after I drop off Derek."
"Is that really necessary?" Stiles frowned.
"Unless you want to see me cart him off to jail? Yes," Taylor said.
"Stiles, it's fine," Derek said, once he had emerged from the Jeep with his shirt in one hand and his boots in the other.
Stiles was still frowning but he looked resigned as he leaned around Derek to grab his own shirt. Taylor was watching so he noticed the way they leaned into each other as he did so, and the way Stiles ran quick fingers over Derek's arm, a gentling touch. It loosened something in Taylor's chest, made him think he wasn't making a horrible mistake by letting this go down the way it was.
Elliot gave Taylor a jaunty wave out of the passenger window of the Jeep as Stiles gunned it down the path, heading back to toward the parking lot. Taylor sighed and turned to Derek, not sure what to expect but he looked -- not happy but not angry either.
"Thanks," Derek said, after he'd pulled on his shirt and stuffed his feet into his boots.
Taylor was surprised again because he thought Derek meant it.
"What are friends for?" Taylor asked. "Plus, I think Jen would've kicked my ass otherwise and who needs that humiliation?"
Derek's mouth almost lifted into a smile.
Taylor returned it.
Deep down, Stiles knew that he was living on borrowed time when it came to all the secrets he was keeping from his dad, especially since he had recently added yet another to the pile. Keeping his mouth shut about werewolves and pack wars was one thing; keeping his mouth shut about the fact that he was sorta-kinda-maybe-ok-actually-really dating Derek Hale was definitely going to come back and bite him in the ass (in a completely non-sexy way) but he still couldn't make the words come to him, no matter how hard he tried.
He had had his first thoughts about how he needed to tell his dad the truth after he and Derek had had their completely awkward first date at the fall festival and Ms. Kim had seen them together. Sure they hadn't been much beside awkward when they'd talked to her but Stiles had taken it as a sign that he needed to tell his dad sooner rather than later. Nothing would be worse than his dad finding out through some work grapevine because Stiles was pretty sure his dad would take the embarrassment of such an occasion out on someone -- either his employees or Stiles or Derek. Stiles wanted to avoid that, too.
After he got caught almost losing his virginity to Derek in the backseat of his Jeep -- thanks, Deputies Chavez and Elliot for the almost, Stiles thought with no small amount of bitterness -- Stiles figured he had pretty much run out of time on the chance to tell his dad himself. He had been on eggshells for days waiting for his dad to confront him but his dad never had. Once Stiles had realized that they'd dodged the bullet again, he hadn't been able to force himself to stare that particular demon in the face again so soon, especially when he was back to dealing with Derek's guilt over Stiles's age.
Seriously, he wanted to punch Deputy Chavez in the face.
In the end, Stiles knew that his dad not finding out from him in a controlled setting in which he could've broken it to him in a mature, polite matter was, probably, ultimately his fault.
But given the actual circumstances, Stiles decided to blame Mrs. McCall.
It had been another rough skirmish between the Hale pack -- okay, between Derek, Scott, Peter, and Isaac, with Stiles on semi-magical back-up -- and the invading alpha pack, one that had left both Derek and Scott a lot worse for the wear. Isaac and Stiles had just managed to drag their bleeding, delirious asses to Deaton's for some magical healing before things had gotten really dire. In fact, Stiles's broken nerves, shaking hands and tearing eyes hadn't been convinced that they hadn't passed dire three miles back.
Scott was actually worse off than Derek, who still had his alpha-powered healing charge-up on his side, even against other alphas. But Scott, for all his insistence on his own alphaness in their pack of two, was still a beta in the werewolf world and the injuries he had taken weren't healing as fast as Stiles thought they needed to. Deaton had seemed to agree because he'd glanced over the horrifying, bloody gashes that Derek sported on his chest and had ordered him to rest while the vet worked on Scott. And since Derek couldn't be trusted to follow anyone else's orders, it had been left up to Stiles to make sure the stubborn alpha asshole actually did just that.
Stiles wasn't sure how long it was between him finally dragging Derek down onto the small sofa in the back of the vet's and the soft scraping sound of the door opening that jolted him awake, but he knew that Derek was still laying quietly against him on the sofa, head in Stiles's lap while the werewolf slept through the worse of the slowed healing process. When he felt the spiky mess of Derek's hair under his absently moving fingers, Stiles immediately relaxed -- until he heard the familiar sound of a disapproving clearing throat from some place above him. When his eyes shot open, there, in all his Sheriff-y glory, was his very grumpy-looking father.
"Dad!" he squeaked out before he clamped his free hand over his mouth, remembering a second too late that he absolutely did not want Derek waking up in the middle of this, for reasons various and sundry. His high-pitched squeal barely made Derek shift in his sleep, though, a testament to how injured he must've been. Stiles was almost glad he had his dad to deal with because more thinking about how close Derek probably came to dying that night was the last thing he wanted to be doing. "Dad," he whispered after he dropped his hand from his mouth. "What are you doing here?"
His dad was shooting very pointed looks at where Stiles's hand was still carding through Derek's hair. Stiles made his hand still. "I don't think that's the most important question here, Stiles."
"I asked first."
His dad sighed. "Melissa McCall called me when I was getting off work," he said. "She said there had been some kind of accident and she needed to get here ASAP because Scott was hurt but she didn't have her car." His dad's gaze turned shrewd. "I'm still not clear on why Scott wasn't at the hospital but I couldn't leave her stranded."
Of course he couldn't because his dad was just that kind of person, Stiles knew. But he was totally blaming Mrs. McCall forever.
"And then," the Sheriff continued. "I saw that your Jeep was outside and I was worried because when Scott falls in a ditch, you're usually right behind him." He let out a low whistle, eyes trailing down to Derek once again. "This wasn't what I was expecting."
Stiles didn't know what to say, exactly, because Derek wasn't easy to explain. In some ways, Stiles thought werewolves might've been the easier sell. "Yeah," was all he said.
The Sheriff crossed his arms, obviously waiting for an explanation. "Any time now," he told Stiles. "You can start filling in the details, kid. Clear up some of these lies you've been telling."
"I never lied," Stiles protested, even as he added about this in his head. "I never told you I hadn't kinda sorta started dating Derek Hale recently. Or that maybe I saw him a little more than you assumed."
His dad ran a hand through his hair, a sign of agitation that Stiles had inherited. "And you didn't think that that might've been pertinent information? Or that I might not have something to say about it?"
Stiles opened his mouth and shut it again. There were a lot of things he could say but he decided to go with something that was as close to the truth as he could get. "I figured you'd be pissed," he finally said. "And that you might even tell me I couldn't see him which, okay, I see your point there but I couldn't not see him." His fingers brushed over the dark head under his hand again, almost by accident. "I help, okay? I needed to do that."
His dad's face did something complicated, something that was part sadness and part guilt and part disappointment, and Stiles hated that look. "You'd have been right," his dad told him. "I'm pissed."
"Okay," Stiles said. "I understand."
Then his dad's face softened and it was mostly sadness and affection and Stiles hated that look for completely different reasons. "This isn't about me trying to control you or tell you how to live your life or..." he trailed off. "I just want to protect you, son. You know that."
Stiles swallowed against the sudden lump in his throat. "I know, Dad," he said. "I get that and I love that, that I have you to do that." He looked down at Derek, still resting, at how much younger he managed to look when he was still and exhausted. "Some people aren't so lucky."
His dad was sharp, so he didn't miss the pointed implication. "I am aware of that," he said, with his own look down at Derek. "But you don't -- you don't have to be the one who does that for everyone."
"Not everyone," Stiles said. "You and -- him. And Scott, a little. But him, a lot."
The Sheriff sighed. "Don't think I've forgotten about Scott, either," he said. "You owe me -- Stiles, you've been keeping a lot to yourself. It's time that stopped. You hear me? It stops now."
Stiles nodded and then pressed his luck. "And if I promise and I come clean about everything tomorrow?"
His dad sighed again. "We'll -- talk about it," he said. "I still don't like it."
"It won't stop me from doing it," Stiles said. "Not worrying about him or caring or -- everything. I'll still..."
"I know." The Sheriff's voice was quiet. Sad and resigned, but maybe also a little proud. It was hard to tell with his heart hammering in his ears. "Just -- tomorrow. First thing, we're talking all this out."
"Absolutely," he agreed. "Tomorrow."
"I'll go check on Melissa and head out," his dad said because, in the end, he was awesome. It was why Stiles loved him. "See you at home."
"You bet," Stiles said.
The Sheriff turned to leave but he looked back at Stiles, still on the sofa with Derek. "Stiles..."
"I know, Dad," Stiles promised. "Me, too."
The Sheriff nodded his understanding and then quietly left the room. Stiles breathed a sigh of relief, letting his fingers trail down from Derek's head to his shoulder, along the dusty sleeve of his T-shirt where he continued his absent petting. Derek stirred.
Derek blinked up at him, voice slurred as he tried to speak. "Everything...?"
"Everything's fine," Stiles assured him. "Go back to sleep. You still look like you lost a fight with a chainsaw. Or, you know, a pair of alphas."
Derek managed to snort before he followed Stiles's suggestion, a warm heavy weight against Stiles's body, in Stiles's heart.
"Everything will be fine," Stiles said again, into the dark, and he made himself believe it.
That was the trick, after all.