Sheriff John Stilinski looked over his shoulder, fingers twitching nervously as he advanced. He was nearing the target much faster than he would have expected, as there hadn’t been any hindrances. There should have been hindrances, obstacles, or something out of the ordinary to let him know that he’d been made. Even the fact that he’d managed to pick a somewhat remote place wasn’t able to calm his nerves. Knowing that Stiles wouldn’t condone his actions, and that the deputies had all refused to help, only made him enhance the speed of his movement. He wouldn’t get another chance like this again.
He pushed open the surprisingly heavy door, a bell tinkled from it’s place above and wave of fast-food stench immediately assaulted all of his senses. Never had anything smelled as good before. The menu was quickly scanned trough, and the most greasy-sounding item on the menu was ordered. Sheriff Stilinski could spot someone guilty from a mile away, and he was perfectly aware of how he appeared with his shoulders hunched and his frantic movements. He was feeling guilty, going being his son’s back like that, but again, it really was a one in a million chance to get some actual food. The diet that Stiles had started him on was absolute torture. Of course, he was able to see the reasonable in eating healthily, but having a burger once in a while couldn’t hurt.
Once the order was placed, he couldn’t help but to look around and take in his surroundings. Almost immediately, his eyes zeroed in on a familiar figure with shoulders almost as hunched as his own had been just moments ago.
Derek Hale was sitting in the corner booth, head bent down, seemingly staring at nothing in particular. The tabletop didn’t seem worthy of such scrutiny, and as the Sheriff looked around he actually actively avoided looking at any of the surfaces for too long. There weren’t any other people in the restaurant, so John once again turned towards Derek only to notice how tired and haggard he looked. His clothes were dirty and rumpled and his hair was clearly unwashed. Hale’s beard was so substantial that John hadn’t even recognized him straight away as he walked in. And they had been in an interrogation room together for a couple of hours, only starring at each other, so that really said something. However all that faded in comparison to Derek’s actual self. He was pale, his cheeks were gaunt and he very clearly wasn’t sleeping or eating enough, eyes bloodshot and body thinner.
John was seriously contemplating walking over there, to offer to buy the kid a burger, when his order was called. Derek didn’t even look up as the name John Stilinski echoed throughout the room. Come to think of it, John was probably the last person that Derek Hale wanted to talk to. Therefore, he thanked the waitress, who handed him his food, and beat a hasty retreat, to eat the spoils in the car.
The next time Sheriff Stilinski sets eyes on Derek Hale is in Beacon Hills’ only coffee shop. Somehow, all of the deputies had managed to get him to go grab coffee for the entire department. He was supposed to be their boss, and yet he was the one getting them coffee. To make matters worse, he couldn’t even get himself something to eat while he waited for the coffee to be made. The owner of the shop had a soft spot when it came to Stiles, and she always refused to sell him anything other than coffee and Herbal tea, as per Stiles’ instructions.
As he waited by the counter, taking some time to enjoy stretching his legs after an entire day of sitting, he spotted Derek sitting in the corner booth. Even though he still looked somewhat malnourished, and enormously tired, it was easy to tell that the kid had at least showered recently. His hair looked clean and he was clean shaved, looking much more like the Derek Hale who had just returned to town.
There was an empty wrapper, from what looked like a protein bar, lying next to Derek, and there seemed to be quite an extensive mustard stain on the kid’s grey t-shirt. As he took a second look, he couldn’t quite determine whether it was actually mustard or just dirt. He partially hoped that it was a mustard stain, as that would mean that Derek had probably eaten something a bit more substantial than a single protein bar.
The image of it all sparked something inside John, and a long forgotten memory pressed itself to the forefront of his mind. He saw himself sitting in the same slumped way Derek did, protein bar traded out for whiskey. It had been right after Claudia had passed, and John knew that he had been as lost as Derek seemed. He’d probably been worse. At least Derek didn’t appear to be drinking.
When John was well and truly lost at the bottom of a bottle that was when Stiles stepped in. Stiles had made sure that he showered and shaved, trying to make sure that he didn’t give up on himself completely. In some weird way it had helped, that when he looked into the mirror he saw who he used to be. It made him realize that he could still be that person and that not all was lost. When he thought back on it a couple of years later he realized that showering and shaving had probably been the only thing he would have been able to do. It had been a steppingstone to getting better.
The coffee order for the station was called, and John was forced to turn away. Soon his mind was only occupied with thoughts on how to make the trip back to the car in one go without spilling any hot coffee on himself.
The third time the sheriff bumped into Derek Hale was in the park of all places. He had just bought himself a hot dog from the vendor, paying twice as much money as necessary in order for him to be sure that news of this wouldn’t reach Stiles’ ears. He hated going behind the kid’s back, but he was starving. The night before Stiles had announced that he would make risotto for dinner, and the sheriff had been ecstatic thinking of the rice with rich creamy sauce and mushrooms. Instead, he had come home to Stiles making a risotto where the rice had been replaced with cauliflower. It had been horrible. So the hotdog was a necessity.
It was when he found a bench at the edge of the forest that he was shocked to see Derek Hale sitting on the bench just next to his own. This time he was sure that Hale had noticed him, but the man kept his eyes fastened on the tree line. It was only a couple of days since the Sheriff had seen Derek in the coffee shop, but he was seemingly wearing the same clothes as back then. The one big noticeable difference however, was the absence of the mustard stain. It might not seem like such a big difference, but it was clear that Derek’s clothes were entirely clean, and he kept rubbing his fingers over the spot where the stain had been with a slightly baffled look on his face.
A hole in Derek’s t-shirt that the sheriff hadn’t even noticed last time in the coffee shop had also been mended with small and precise stiches. At first, John couldn’t understand why Hale would take the time to mend such an old t-shirt, but then he took a closer look and spotted the old faded logo on the shirt. He remembered now that that shirt had belonged to Derek’s father, and understood the reluctance to get rid of it. After all, he still had all of Claudia’s clothes stored in the attic.
Once again, the thought of Claudia brought on a memory of a much younger Stiles struggling to work the washing machine and the dryer after Claudia’s death. He remembered how the ironing slowly progressed from being not much better that the actual rumpled clothes to looking like something that came from a drycleaner.
When the hot dog was halfway eaten, John spotted Mrs. Borowski walking her kids to the playground, and knew that he had to hightail it out of there before she spotted him. Ever since Stiles had helped her daughter Natalia, find her after Natalia got lost in the mall she had absolutely adored Stiles. It didn’t help that they had a common background as they both have families in Poland, and they had instantly traded old Polish recipes. John was ninety percent sure that Stiles had asked her to stop him from eating unhealthily if she ever saw him.
As he slowly inched towards the park exit, he saw Hale looking in his direction, or more accurately in the direction of the hot dog. He send Hale a look that he hoped translated into ‘don’t you dare say anything’ and made his getaway.
The next time Sheriff Stilinski ran into Derek Hale was just a week after the ‘park-incident’. Mrs. Borowski had seen him, and she had told Stiles about the hot dog. As punishment, John was sent to the grocery store, where the cashier would only sell him healthy food, and that way Stiles could work on whatever project he seemed to have taken on. Stiles might think that he was being sneaky with whatever he was doing recently, but John had noticed that he was up to something. It didn’t appear to be dangerous or illegal and he knew for sure that it wasn’t drugs so he let Stiles do his thing. Besides, the last project that Stiles had started was to compare how long it took before different types of ice cream melted in order to determine any potential correlation between all natural ingredients, artificial supplements, and the ability to melt. Apparently, only ice cream made from all natural ingredients melts the way it should. In comparison to that, how bad could this new project be? Nothing could beat walking into the kitchen and finding your son surrounded by ice cream in various stages of melting. He had been sitting cross-legged on the floor staring intently at a mostly intact Carte d’Or while mumbling incoherently, until he had noticed John standing in the doorway, and immediately stood up and planted a foot in the Häagen-Dazs.
John slowly walked down the different isles, aware that he had a small fond smile on his face as he looked at the freezer filled with an assortment of ice cream. Unfortunately, ice cream wasn’t on the list. Ever since John had once misread one of the items on the grocery list and bought Reese’s instead of beets, Stiles had been certain to write intelligibly in order to prevent any more mishaps.
As he turned a corner, moving towards the vegetable section, he noticed Derek Hale standing in the next isle. Hale was staring at the display of protein bars as if they had personally offended him. John noticed that the bags under Hale’s eyes were gone and that once again, he was clean-shaven and his hair looked newly washed. He winced a bit as Hale dropped a couple of protein-bars in his basket and made his way to the register. Protein bars were all well and good, but not if they were the only kind of nourishment that he was getting.
Derek moved out of his line of sight, and the sheriff shook his head, trying to stop worrying about the kid. Derek was after all in his twenties, and couldn’t rightly be called a kid. As an adult, Derek could make whatever dietary choices he wanted, but the sheriff couldn’t help but remember the tearstained face of a sixteen year old Derek, which made it all the more difficult to convince himself that he needn’t worry. Derek did seem to be getting better, so he was most likely already receiving help from either a friend or a professional. As he moved to get the turkey bacon, he saw Hale once more seemingly frozen in indecision as he stared at some brightly colored display of candy.
When the sheriff had gotten everything of the list, and moved to the checkout, he noticed that Hale still hadn’t left the store. Another look as Hale’s basket had the sheriff’s eyes widening, as he took in the numerous vegetables and fruits that had replaced the protein bars. He might even have spotted some prime quality steak in there. Hale was quick to buy all of his stuff, and out of the door before the cashier could ask whether or not he wanted the receipt.
John quickly scanned over the grocery list, making sure that he had everything he needed before heading towards the exit. He quietly wondered, what had made Hale put back the protein bars and instead fill up his basket with such an array of vegetables, when he passed by the same display of candy where Derek had stopped for several minutes. The display was promoting Reese’s peanut butter cups.
When the sheriff runs into Derek Hale again a couple of weeks later it is at the same coffee shop as before. Not that there are any other coffee shops in town. After having placed his order, he once again takes to studying Hale. He doesn’t know exactly why he focuses on Hale so much, but he has a nagging feeling in the back of his mind that he’s missing something important.
He looks away from Hale briefly in order to try to muffle a yawn, but if the look the barista gives him is any indication, he isn’t fooling anyone. He’s been on more and more nightshifts for a while now, and other than being tired the only downside is that he hasn’t really been able to spend any time with Stiles. Stiles still insists that it’s okay, and that he’s been hanging out with Scott, but John has seen Scott as the veterinary clinic on several of the occasions where Stiles had said that they would be hanging out. It pains him to think that Stiles had been at home alone all that time, feeling the need to lie about being with Scott so that he wouldn’t feel bad for taking on a couple of extra nightshifts. John had even offered to take Stiles to his favorite restaurant as an apology and promised that he would order the salad. Stiles had simply shook his head and said that there was nothing to apologize for, before telling him that he actually had plans that day with Scott already. It was something of a relief that Stiles wasn’t angry about the lack of family bonding time, but he still wanted to spend some more time with Stiles, even if Stiles said that it wasn’t needed.
The barista told him that the coffee was done, and John paid with a smile and tipped generously as the barista stealthily placed another muffin in the bag with a wink. Clearly, Stiles’ bribery didn’t have an effect on everyone. As he turned to leave, he couldn’t help but cast another glance at Derek, and almost dropped his coffee. Derek Hale was smiling stupidly at his phone clearly texting someone. It was a rather fond smile, and the sheriff could tell that it had been a long time since Derek had smiled like that. It wasn’t even clear if Derek himself knew that he was smiling down at his phone. Somehow, the smile just highlighted how much better Derek had gotten since John first saw him in the diner. It was such a big difference, that he was now absolutely positive that Derek was being cared for and was receiving help from someone. From the looks of the texting, the help was coming from a friend rather than from a professional.
John turned to leave the coffee shop a small smile on his own face as well, unexplainably glad that Derek had found someone worth smiling over. Seeing someone in the state that Derek had been in was never fun, especially not for John who somewhat knew exactly what that kind of pain felt like.
He only forgot about Derek Hale smiling and texting when the new deputy ate his hard-won muffin right in front of him.
The next time the sheriff saw Derek Hale was in Stiles’ favorite diner. John knew that Stiles was supposed to be with Scott, and took the chance to try to convince the owners of the diner that Stiles had allowed him a burger. As he planned how to convince the waiter to take his order he became aware of how it even sounded that the son wouldn’t allow the parent to eat unhealthily. John knew, however, that when Stiles cared for someone and loved someone he did it with everything he had. Once Stiles had decided that, he loved someone that someone would never have to be alone again. After been cared for by Stiles after Claudia’s death, John couldn’t really imagine someone who would just take everything Stiles was offering and hold on just as tightly as Stiles himself did. Even if the healthy diet was annoying.
John took a seat a couple of tables behind Derek, and looked over the menu. It seemed like the menu had been completely redone in his absence, and all of the new choices were slightly overwhelming. He still had his head buried in the menu when the bell over the entrance sounded to let a waiter know that a new customer had arrived. John was still unsure if he wanted the pulled-pork burger or the bacon cheeseburger, when he heard Hale greet the newcomer with open affection in his voice. As if that wasn’t enough to make the sheriff look up from the menu, his own son’s voice answering with equal affection definitely was.
Luckily, Stiles was seated on the same side of the booth as Derek, and therefore couldn’t see John. It was a miracle that Stiles hadn’t even noticed him when he entered the diner, as Hale had picked the side of the booth from where the entrance could be seen.
In hindsight John had no idea how he could have missed something so obvious. Stiles’ method of taking care of people hadn’t even changed a bit. The comfortable movements and hushed voices spoke of them having spent a lot of time together, and clearly, there was more than simple affection between them.
He was too far away to hear what they were saying, but he had a feeling that he didn’t really want to. There was the obvious issue with the age difference, but the way Derek had just completely relaxed when Stiles sat down just confirmed what the sheriff already knew. Derek was in love, or at least very close to being it, and from the looks of it so where Stiles. Even though he couldn’t hear what they were saying over all the other noise in the diner, their laughter carried through the air. John didn’t think that he had ever heard Derek laugh before, but more painfully he couldn’t remember the last time he had heard Stiles laugh so earnestly. It seemed that the comforting and caretaking had been a two-way street, and John was suddenly overcome with the need to thank Derek Hale for taking care of Stiles and making him laugh when both he and Scott couldn’t be there for him.
As quietly as he could manage, he stood from his booth and moved to the counter in order to ask the waiter to make his order to go. The waiter simply nodded and disappeared back into the kitchen. John tapped his fingers against the counter as he contemplated how to get out of the front door without being seen by Stiles. A heavenly smell reached him, and he turned just in time to see the waiter brining him his food, and another server walking with two plates and placing them in front of Derek and Stiles. After having thanked the waiter for the food, he slowly walked towards the door trying to time his exit so that Stiles wouldn’t see. Instead, he felt a pair of eyes on him, and looked towards the boys where his eyes met those of Derek Hale. They both froze at exactly the same time. John’s eyes moving from Derek to Stiles to the burger in his hands, and Derek much the same looked to Stiles, the sheriff and then the burger. Stiles was too busy stuffing his face with curly fries to notice.
Then Derek did the unthinkable. He gave John a small nod, and slowly reached past his own plate and took one of Stiles’ curly fries. Stiles was still staring at Derek with his mouth hanging open when John soundlessly slipped out the door, the sound of the door’s bell drowning in the diner noises. As John took the first bite of his burger, he decided that Derek Hale was an okay guy.