The Sheriff passed through the front doors of the station, nodding at his deputies, noting the new faces that cropped up. Other counties were lending them extra bodies when need be so new faces weren’t too unusual, none of them appeared on duty that day. John was grateful for that, because he needed his second family today, and interlopers would not be welcome.
Tara was waiting by his office, a coffee cup in her hand and a question in her eyes as she spotted him. Before he opened his door, John turned around to see if a familiar tuft of grey hair was visible and it was, “Jerry,” he called out to the man who’d joined Beacon Hills PD at the same time as him and beckoned the man over to where his right-hand deputy was waiting. He set down his notes and hung up his jacket, gesturing at his deputies to take their seats, then closing the door and drawing the blinds he leaned against the front of his desk.
“What’s going on, Sheriff?” Tara asked, concern evident in her voice, “Is Stiles okay?”
“This isn’t the kind of conversation that needs honorifics or titles, Tara,” John spoke, voice tired and pained, “I need to know if I just ignored the warning signs or if we’re all just oblivious.”
“Okay, I can’t say I know what you’re talking about, John,” Jerry said, slowly.
“After Claudia died, was I still a functional Sheriff?”
Tara and Jerry shared a look, “Well,” Tara spoke first, but when John raised his head to look at her she paused, he nodded, “There was once, I thought maybe you’d been drinking, not on the job, but we’d called you in late,” she swallowed and then continued, “I asked Stiles if everything was okay the next time he was in, but he insisted so vehemently that he was fine, that everything was fine.”
“You got something to add, Jerry?”
“Not until I know why we’re talking about this now, John. Is Stiles okay? You haven’t taken time off like you did yesterday in almost eight years.”
“I know,” John scrubbed a hand over his face, “I screwed up. Stiles is,” he paused, the word okay felt dishonest but he didn’t really know what else to say either “He’s been carrying more around than I ever realized and it came to a head the other night. He needed me yesterday and I wasn’t going to screw that up, not again.”
Jerry nodded, “I’m in the same boat as Tara. There was awhile where I was concerned, getting ready to approach you, but then slowly things got better so I stayed back. Stiles always insisted things were fine, good even. He grew up the day Claudia died John,” Jerry’s tone softened at the end of his sentence.
“Since before then,” John replied, “I didn’t know though.”
“But you’re so close…” Tara trailed off at the look of pain and regret on John’s face.
“It wasn’t just you he fooled,” Jerry interjected, “He knows everything there is to know about the regulars at this station, but he’s a blur, never staying long enough for us to get a straight answer out of him,” Jerry paused, “What are you telling us, John?”
“I can’t say too much, that’s his story to tell, but I want to be better, starting today, not tomorrow and I’m going to need everyone’s help on this.”
“Count us in,” Tara replied readily, “Stiles is important to all of us; although we probably don’t tell him enough” she mused out loud.
John nodded, “From what I’ve seen and heard over the past few days he doesn’t really understand the extent that anyone cares for him, even me.” He bounced a fist off his desk, then spoke again, voice stronger and clearer, “I want a new schedule drafted by the end of my shift today. Make it more equal and cut my doubles down to once or twice a month unless necessary.” Tara nodded and then stood up, before she left she grasped the Sheriff’s shoulder, “We’re here for you, Sheriff.”
“It’s not me I’m concerned about.”
“You and Stiles are a package deal, sir.” With a small salute she left, closing the door behind her, leaving Jerry and John alone.
“Finally, decided to let the rest of the department pull their weight eh?”
“I’ve been overworking,” Jerry snorted.
“Understatement of the century. You worked on Christmas Eve, Christmas Day, and New Year’s because you said everyone else deserved some time off. You’ve been avoiding him, John and he doesn’t deserve that.”
“Well, no one else appears to have stepped in,” John replied through gritted teeth, slightly angry at his friend’s observation.
Jerry sighed, “We tried, but if what you said about him not realizing his own importance is even half as severe as you made it sound, it makes sense. I won’t deny that we failed him too, John.”
“I won’t let that happen again though,” Jerry stood up and clapped his friend on the back, “Claudia would be pissed if she saw you stewing in guilt,” he commented.
“I think she’d be a little more distracted by Stiles right now,” muttered John, “Thank you, Jerry.”
“Always, Sheriff. And if you slip again, I’ll be sure to not let anything stop me from slapping you upside the head.”
John grinned half-heartedly, “Thanks.”
As Jerry went to leave his office John asked him to wait, “Can you call in Scott McCall? He and I need to have a little chat.”
“About the murders or Stiles?”
John raised his eyebrow at his deputy, “Want me to scare him a bit before he comes in?”
The Sheriff considered it “I think the armoury could use a bit of a sweep, especially with mountain lions on the loose don’t you?”
Jerry’s grin turned wicked, “Of course, sir.”
“H’llo?” Scott had grabbed at his phone after it rang for the fourth time that morning. He had no idea who would be calling him at 7am “Stiles, I swear to god, stop calling me. It’s early” Scott’s whine echoed through the phone in the conference room where Jerry was making the call, with two of his fellow deputies, Jessica Connors and Adam Sticks. All three rolled their eyes before Jerry spoke, “You might want to update your caller ID, Mr. McCall, because this is Deputy Jerome Singleton from the Beacon Hills County Sheriff’s Department, not Stiles.”
At home, Scott jolted up in his bed, “Uh, sorry. Is there something I can do for you?”
“Yes, the Sheriff wanted you to come in to chat.”
Scott made a confused sound, “Uh, sure, I’m available after noon today, but I could just drop by his place later…”
Jerry cut off the teen, watching Adam’s ears turn red in frustration, and rattled off the secondary excuse he’d come up with, “We had some reports from a party that was held the other night and we just wanted to clarify some things with you.”
“But I never gave a statement…”
“The Sheriff just wants to chat about some stuff he heard from Stiles,” Jerry interjected before Scott could refuse.
Scott huffed loudly, forgetting he was on a call for a moment “Fine, I’ll be there.”
“As soon as possible, Mr. McCall.” Jerry hung up.
“Seriously? Did he just huff and basically complain about coming down to clarify things?” Jessica twirled a pen in her hands, annoyance in her voice.
“What’s up with this, Jer?”
“Yeah, what’s eating at the Sheriff?”
“What do you think?” Jerry asked them, flipping through some papers on the table.
“Stiles,” both deputies said at the same time.
“But the kid’s fine, right? I mean I see him every week,” commented Adam.
“Why?” Jerry asked, sharply, his attention snapping to his fellow deputy.
“He’s tutoring Callie in science and English,” Adam explained, holding his hands up, palms out, “He comes over at least once a week to help her out; he has been doing it for the past two years.”
“Does he stick around afterward?” asked Jerry.
Adam paused, then slowly shook his head, “No. We used to ask him to stay, but he always said he needed to get home so he could eat with the Sheriff… although”
“What?” asked Jessica.
“Well, one time he told me that I had to drop by the station with some paperwork and the Sheriff mentioned he hadn’t eaten dinner yet, it was late,” Adam’s face shifted through several emotions rapidly, “Damn.”
“You’re not the only one he’s been playing, Adam,” Jerry said quietly.
“So, the thing with McCall…” Jessica started.
“Is about Stiles, yeah,” Jerry replied, “And if that phone call is anything to go by, that kid’s not receiving the amount of support we thought he was.”
“Any plans to freak out McCall then?” Adam asked, genuinely interested.
“Sheriff suggested we clean out the long-range guns, you know, mountain lions and such. We need to be prepared,” Jerry explained to the two deputies who smirked at his reply.