The Sheriff had known this day was coming, had realized even before Stiles had hit puberty that eventually there’d come a time when they’d have to have that awkward conversation. He’d read up on the ways to broach the subject, especially after Stiles’ mom had passed. It was a mortifying experience, even sitting alone, staring down at the pamphlets across his desk. He’d shoved them deep in his top drawer and pulled out the bottle of whiskey.
But the Sheriff’s plan had always sort of been contingent upon the assumption that the most he’d need to worry about is a phone call from the concerned father of some teenage girl.
He figured he’d give the kid some condoms, grunt something about staying safe, and that’d be that.
So, it’s not as if he hadn’t been prepared for the moment when he walks into the upstairs hall bathroom, and hears Stiles’ sharp intake of breath when he shouts out, “just looking for my razor charger.”
His first thought is that he’s interrupted his son’s “personal time”, and he grimaces apologetically and pulls open the linen closet.
But then his eyes fall to the shadows made by the mostly opaque shower curtain and frowns...
“Uh…yeah dad?” Stiles answers after a short pause, his voice is, as the Sheriff likes to call it, in Octave Dishonest.
“Stiles, son,” the Sheriff sighs, “is there someone in there with you?” There ‘s another short pause and what sounds like the soap falling to the floor. Then another grunt and Stiles chokes out a spluttering,
“No? Pssh…why would you even?” Another choked off sound and the Sheriff leans forward, fingering at the edge of the shower curtain uncertainly. He sighs heavily and hopes to all hell that he’ll find a petite strawberry blonde staring back bashfully.
The Sheriff is a smart man, he knows very well that he is deluding himself, it is a Stilinski family tradition, passed down from generation to generation. But he knows he can’t explain away the tall outline, the broad shoulders and the strong build as anything other than what it is.
But he’s still pretty shocked when he pulls back the edge of the curtain and sees the profile of Derek Hale, pressed front to front with his teenage son. He’s clutching a sopping washcloth in one hand, and there’s soap running down the expanse of Stiles’ naked shoulder. The Sheriff tries not to notice his fingertips against Stiles’ hip, the shower curtain blocking any truly unwanted images from the Sheriff’s mind.
Derek is staring at him though, there’s an edge of a challenge in the way he’s leveling his gaze at the Sheriff, his body going tense. The Sheriff imagines his fight or flight is always brewing just beneath the surface. Stiles’ eyes dart towards his before he’s looking away, sheepish and embarrassed.
“Hey, dad,” Stiles waves, water dripping from the tip of his nose like it used to when Stiles was just a kid and still taking baths, when John would spread his hand like a visor across Stiles’ forehead while he washed the shampoo out of his hair.
The Sheriff sighs again and lets curtain drop back into place.
“Why don’t you both finish up—“ the Sheriff hates himself for that choice phrasing, wincing as it leaves his mouth “—and meet me downstairs,” he tells them, voice clipped.
“Pronto.” He adds, for good measure.
“Uh…sure, yeah,” Stile’s uncertain voice wafts over the sound of rushing water.
The Sheriff shuts the door quietly behind him, razor charger long forgotten as he makes his way downstairs. He decides he’ll give them ten minutes before he goes back upstairs to collect them. At the eight minute mark, though, the boys traipse into the living room…men, if the Sheriff is being honest with himself, which he tends to forget when he sees those same wide round eyes on his son’s face. They’re set against hard cheek bones now, and only slightly overshadowed by the fact that he has to look up into them.
“How long?” The Sheriff starts. The pamphlets never covered ‘so your son is sharing showers with a criminal.’ Stiles seems to sense some of this confliction because he huffs out a sigh as he collapses onto the couch.
“First, can I remind you that he was exonerated of all charges?” Stiles asks. The Sheriff quirks a brow and Stiles grimaces widely and doesn’t say anything.
“Two months.” It’s Derek who answers, from where he’s sat beside Stiles, a healthy distance away, on the Sheriff’s couch.
“Are you having sex?” Stiles’ eyes widen and his mouth gapes.
“No. Seriously…and I feel it should be stated that that shower was actually probably more innocent than most of mine…I mean the things I’ve done to myself in there…if walls could talk…” Stiles snaps his mouth shut.
“Very helpful Stiles,” Derek nods, rolling his eyes in an expression of disbelief that has something in the Sheriff softening.
“We’re not having sex. Like, any kind of sex.” His son’s voice is heavy with disappointment, and for the first time in what feels like weeks John doesn’t sense a lie.
Derek is wearing one of Stiles’ shirts, the Sheriff thinks, but then he notices the way it fits even him a little loose in the shoulders and realizes that it must belong to Derek, that Stiles has been wearing Derek Hale’s shirt religiously for the past few weeks and he wonders with fleeting regret, what else has he missed?
“I’m sorry,” the Sheriff sighs, and he means it. Stiles’ head snaps up so hard all three wince and his son looks at him with wide, shocked eyes.
“For what?” He asks, and his voice sounds tentative and nervous.
“That night, at Jungle,” the Sheriff tries. An expression that the Sheriff can’t quite place flits across his son’s face, he’d think it guilt, but he doesn’t know what Stiles has to feel guilty for, he doesn’t want to know, truth be told. “You were trying to tell me something, and I dismissed you, and if…it was wrong, and I apologize.”
“Dad, I—“ Stiles glances towards Derek with uncertainty but Derek is looking at his hands clasped in his lap. “Thanks, but…you don’t have to—just, I mean…thanks,” Stiles sighs and he bites at his thumb nail like he hasn’t done since middle school. “I’m sorry, too. I should have told you about,” he glances over at Derek again and flushes.
There’s a terribly long and awkward pause where no one says anything and the sound of the clock on the mantle actually seems to echo in the small living room. Stiles looks at his father expectantly.
“Why don’t you go upstairs, we’ll talk more tomorrow,” John says, finally, because he doesn’t know what else to say. He thinks he wants to ask if this is what Stiles has been so shifty about lately, the late nights and the half-truths, and the way he’s begun to perfect the sort of evasion law enforcement dreads.
He doesn’t really want to know, because sometimes the Sheriff looks at his kid and doesn’t recognize the person he’s become. He pulls Stiles into a hug as he passes though, and Stiles tenses slightly before he relaxes into the embrace, his arms coming up to wrap around him.
“You know I love you, kid?” John asks, and means it, wants Stiles to know it and feel it in the way his joints crack at the force of his hold.
“Yeah, dad,” Stiles says then, and his voice is earnest and a little sad, like he’s worried the Sheriff thinks otherwise. “I love you, too. And…” Stiles’ voice falters slightly. When Stiles pulls back, he looks away, towards the stairs, like he’s thinking of fleeing up them.
“I…him, too,” is what he manages, and though the Sheriff doesn’t need it for clarification Stiles’ wet head jerks behind him, towards Derek, sitting on the couch like a child awaiting punishment. Derek tenses visibly, and his eyes widen, his mouth parts slightly and the Sheriff doesn’t need the years of interrogation training to know that this is the first time either of them has openly acknowledged this. It clenches something inside the Sheriff to witness it.
He remembers the first time he told his wife that he loved her, and Stiles is so much like him sometimes, feeling too much too soon and incapable of holding it back. The Sheriff nods, doesn’t have any placating words or gestures in response. He just nods in affirmation.
“So don’t shoot him or anything,” Stiles says, mouth twitching up now that the words are out and the world is still turning.
The Sheriff knows the relief of an avoided apocalypse.
Stiles glances at Derek one last time, and they share a look between them, hours of conversation and a thousand words boiled down to a single shift of eyebrows and the twitch of a lip.
“You stay,” the Sheriff says to Derek as Stiles heads up the stairs where the Sheriff has no doubt he will be waiting for Derek later. Derek stops where he’s stood up from the couch and the Sheriff doesn’t blame him, this isn’t an interrogation room.
“This is the ‘what are your intentions with my son’ speech,” the Sheriff tells him. Derek quirks a brow.
“I got that, yeah,” he says with a nod. He looks awkward and out of place in John’s messy living room, and he’s reminded suddenly of the first time he saw Derek since the fire, when he slapped him in handcuffs regretfully and dug up the mutilated body of his older sister. He waits for Derek to continue but he doesn’t.
“I am woefully out of my element, here,” the Sheriff says and he suddenly wants to sit, to rub his face with his hands, to pour himself a generous glass of whiskey.
So he does.
He pours two and Derek looks at it like it’s a test, but the Sheriff shakes his head and motions him toward it. Derek accepts it, and drinks it, the Sheriff thinks, to be polite.
“Me too,” Derek says then, like he’s continuing a conversation, but John can’t think of what, for the life of him. This must show on his face because Derek continues, rolling the glass in his hand. “Woefully out of my element, I mean.”
“Stiles is seventeen,” the Sheriff says, like it needs to be pointed out, to be stated, to be carved into stone and carried around tethered to Derek. The way Derek flinches convinces the Sheriff they share in this anxiety.
“I know.” Derek tells him, laconic. “But he’s not a child.”
It’s not an excuse; that much is obvious, because Derek doesn’t sound pleading, there’s no trace of contrition, no willing for John to understand, there’s just…an overwhelming sense of sadness and it stings like loss and tastes like bitter truth.
“No,” the Sheriff agrees. “But you’ll always be older, always be more experienced,” he says, “and for a kid like Stiles that can be…attractive.” The look Derek gives him is stricken and he looks all of sixteen again and being told his entire family is dead. The Sheriff regrets the words immediately but there’s no taking them back.
“My experience?” Derek says, and his words are careful and controlled, breathy and stricken. He avoids the Sheriff’s gaze. “I don’t particularly want my experience,” he continues. It looks like it takes all of his effort not to shatter the glass with his grip, to make himself speak these words. The Sheriff’s stomach writhes with guilt. He wants suddenly to embrace Derek, but he doesn’t think the gesture would be welcome.
“Stiles is…” Derek tries with almost imperceptible shakes of his head like he has no words and he glances quickly to the Sheriff, so different now than the man that stared with challenge in his eyes, naked in his shower.
“Starting over,” the Sheriff finishes for him. Derek catches his gaze and nods softly. There’s a pause while that washes over them, settles into every corner of the room. He wonders, idly, if Stiles is sitting on the edge of the stairs like he used to when the Sheriff and his mother watched scary movies he couldn’t, in good conscious, allow him to watch. After a moment the Sheriff sighs, and rubs a hand over his chin.
“I don’t know what you and my son, and Scott, and the Lahey kid and the rest of his friends are up to. I’m not stupid enough to think that it’s normal teenage hormonal experimenting. And I’m not going to ask. But I am going to ask one question and I need the truth from you,” the Sheriff says, leveling Derek with a look perfected after years on the job. It’s a look that hovers on the line between good cop and bad cop. ‘I want to be on your side cop’, ‘but I will not hesitate to lock you up for life cop’.
“Is my son safe with you?” It’s all the confirmation that the Sheriff needs when Derek’s gaze goes steely and he looks down at the whiskey glass in his hands.
“I would die before I let anything happen to Stiles,” Derek says, finally. He holds the Sheriff’s gaze as he says it, and there’s an overwhelming amount of conviction in the steadiness of his voice, but it’s the way Derek says Stiles’ name more than anything that loosens the tight knots forming in his stomach and his chest. The Sheriff knows there’s more to this story but he’s suddenly so overwhelmingly tired. He pours himself another and raises it to Derek’s.
“I’ll drink to that.” He tips the glass back, and downs the alcohol.
“And Derek?” The Sheriff says. Derek catches his gaze again. “I’ll hold you to it.”