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Raising Home

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.o0O0o. March 13th, 2009 (6:26am).

“—And then Lydia raises her and and like, swishes her hair over her shoulder and says the answer is seventy-three, and Mr. Carlito was all like, say whaaaaaat! And then the whole class applauded for her, I was the loudest of course, but I don’t think she heard me because she’s right under the air conditioning, right? But oh man, I’m gonna marry her one day, dad. Do you think she’ll come today?”

“I dunno, kiddo,” John voices around his cereal. Lydia Martin has yet to acknowledge his son with a single phrase other than, “what the heck is a Stiles?” but the amount of false hope his kid has is astounding. He doesn’t want to ruin that anytime soon, especially not on his twelfth birthday.

Stiles sighs as he slumps dreamily over the dining table. “I bet she will. I slipped six invitations into her desk this past week to make sure she didn’t miss it, like for insurance in case one blew away in the wind or dropped to the floor or got lost in her backpack, you know? Plus I was talking to Scott near her in P.E., and I made sure to mention really loudly that there would be macaroons here today, and Lydia totally loves French things. So she’s totally coming.”

“Is that why you had me buy those things?"

It’s not quite six-thirty in the morning. Stiles does this every year— wakes up at five, paces around his room excitedly which inadvertently wakes John up with the noise, which John then tries to ignore until he eventually gives up and gets out of bed. Then Stiles barrels into him with very loud “Yes, you’re up! Sure took you long enough, let’s get the show on the road because it’s your favorite son's BIRTHDAY!” and then sprints to start the coffee machine as John contemplates whether to talk to Dr. Shirley about increasing his Adderall dose again.

Granted Stiles’s birthday is actually tomorrow on the fourteenth, but they’re having the party today since it’s a school holiday.

Currently his son is scribbling out a list of activities for the day as he eats breakfast (eating breakfast: scooping out a handful of Lucky Charms from the box, shoving it dry into his mouth until his cheeks are puffed like a chipmunk, and then tipping his head back to guzzle milk straight from the damn gallon. Sometimes he chokes on it all, most times he just chews obscenely and dribbles mushy cereal down his chin).

“Son, can you please just get a bowl?” John sighs for the millionth time as he watches colorful marshmallows drop to the floor. It’s like his son has an allergy to table manners.

“Sorry pop, no time for that,” Stiles burps around his food. He flips his list around for John to see. “Okay, so we need to shower, make the sandwiches, fill the ice chest, and be out the door by nine to pick up Scott. I already have my outfit laid out so we should save some time there. Then we go to Stratford Park to set up the jumpy house, yes, and then Melissa comes at ten-ish with the cake, which is also yes, and then we make sure everything is perfect and ready for all my peeps at noon!”

“Sounds like a plan,” John finds the remote and flicks on the TV to find the news.

“Heck yeah it does! Dang, this is gonna be the best birthday ever. Especially since Lydia’s coming. Oh man, she doesn’t even need to bring a gift, her presence is the best gift in the world,” Stiles croons. “Oh, and Scott’s gonna bring his new Green Lantern comics so we can show everyone, I’m gonna make so many new friends.”

“And you, uh, made sure that Scott helped you hand out the invites, right?” John ventures. 

This is Stiles’s first year at the Beacon Hills Junior High; he’s in a class with eighteen other students and the only ones he knows are Scott (his best and only friend), and Lydia Martin (who avoids him like the plague). According to Melissa Scott has actually done well making new friends even with the hindrance of his asthma during recess, but John wishes he could say the same for his son. While Scott is growing up handsome and humble Stiles grows more odd-looking everyday with his buzz cut and Bambi-like eyes, and his motormouth has a tendency to annoy everyone in hearing distance. 

“Nah, I figured it would make more of an impact if I handed them all out myself. Like it is my birthday, right?" 

“—biggest estate in Beacon Hills caught fire last night due to a gas leak, reporters say the Hale mansion—“

John’s head snaps to the television. He fumbles with the remote and turns up the volume, jostling his spoon enough to to fall to the floor with a clatter.

“Uh… Right, dad?"

John slowly rises from the table as he stares at the smoking ruins of a large house in the woods.

“—exploded after an indoor heater turned on automatically. Four out of five family members died in the flames, including husband and wife Robert and Talia Hale, ages forty-nine and fifty-one, and daughters Laura and Cora Hale, ages eighteen and eight.”

His breath catches in his throat.

“—the only survivor is son Derek Hale, age sixteen, who is currently being treated for severe burns and smoke inhalation at Beacon Hills Memorial Hospital. Officials say that as the sole heir to the Hale fortune, he will inherit over forty-seven million dollars as well as his family’s estate. The only other living relative, said to be Hale’s new legal guardian, is—"

“Whoa, what happened?” Stiles catches sight of the TV and takes another swig of milk.

“…A fire, I guess,” John murmurs. He watches as a family photo of the Hales pops up on the screen, above a scrolling text of “FOUR DEAD IN ESTATE FIRE—"

“Dang, everyone but the son died? That sucks.”

John stares at the screen.

“—ello, earth to dad? You didn’t know them, did you?”

John stares sadly at the flames on the screen. “No,” he says. 

I never took the chance to.

“Okay then, so let’s send the funeral some flowers and continue on with the par-tay planning! We’ve got a lot to do today in the name of— dad? Hey, dad! Where are you going?”

But John is already halfway down the hall to the bathroom, where he sits heavily on the toilet and breathes great shuddering breaths into his hands after locking the door behind him.

His fingers are trembling and his chest feels strange and tight— which confuses the hell out of him because he didn’t really know them. Sure, he met Robert Hale in passing a couple times over the past decade, and sure Claudia used to be in an environmental group with Talia Hale, who might have been the same Talia who helped him that night of Loma Prieta, but it’s not like the Stilinski’s ever had them over for brunch. And their kids probably never overlapped in school— what did the television say? Ages sixteen, eighteen, and…

Eight.

The little one was only eight years old.

John remembers Stiles at that age, loud and tiny with a mop of messy brown hair. He closes his eyes and swallows down a lump of grief, particularly for the teenage boy left alone without his family. It conjures unwanted memories of losing Claudia, and worse fears about leaving Stiles all alone like that if he should die tomorrow. It’s unfair, he thinks, how life can pull the rug out from underneath you so fast.

Nice meeting you, Robert.

Nice meeting you, John.

He splashes some water on his face and goes back to the kitchen. John still has his kid, and he’s gonna make sure he gets the best damn birthday party there ever was. As his mom used to say, the world must keep spinning.

"Dad, why were you in there so long? Drink some more coffee if you’re constipated. We’ve got a party to throw!"

 

.o0O0o.

They arrive at the park at eleven-thirty sharp. Scott and Stiles run off to the jungle gym and race each other across the monkey bars and John pays the company man as the jumpy inflates. He’s unloading the snacks from the ice chest onto a table when Melissa arrives from her shift.

“Hey Mel,” he smiles.

“Hey Melissa!” “Hi mom,” his kids greet as they run over from the playground.

“Happy birthday, sweetheart,” Melissa pulls Stiles in for a quick hug as she hands him a pretty wrapped present. Stiles takes it and shakes it by his ear. 

“Wow, thanks! What is it?”

“Guess you’ll have to open it and find out.”

“Okay kids, she’s all blown up!” The PartyPop guy calls from the jumpy. Scott and Stiles cheer and race each other over, tripping as they pull off their shoes. John chuckles but then Melissa pulls him aside and whispers, 

“Did you hear?”

“Hear what?”

“Did Stiles tell you?”

“Tell me what?” John frowns. “You’re scaring me.”

Melissa sighs. “Scott said that another kid in their class is having a birthday party today— Danny Māhealani.”

John stares at her. “You’re kidding me. It’s sixth grade, there’s only nineteen kids in their class! Is this Danny cool?”

“According to Scott, he’s very cool,” Melissa purses her lips like she wants to beat the shit out of Danny for being popular. “Scott got the invitation yesterday, it got lost in the mail. Laser tag followed by dinner at Vandermil's. They’re even getting Usher to come give a private performance."

“Jesus Christ,” John buries his head in his hands. “Stiles didn’t get an invite, I wonder if he even knows.” 

Melissa bites her lip and looks around the park, which suddenly looks like a very sad getup compared to what privileged kids can afford. “Did you get RSVPs for this?”

“Of course! I heard back from ten parents last week, they all said their kids would be here."

"But if Danny sent out his invitations after Stiles did, I just worry that…” Melissa trails off, biting her lip. They stare at their boys. Scott and Stiles are roughhousing inside the jumpee, cackling and challenging each other to see who can jump the highest.

“All the kids are going to show up at Danny’s party,” John finishes for her.

“…Yeah."

The party is supposed to start at noon. It hits noon, then twelve fifteen, and then twelve thirty. Stiles keeps poking his head out hopefully from the flap in the jumpee to scan for arriving guests. But the park is empty, and his smile continues to deflate until it’s a confused frown at one o’clock.

“Where is everyone?” Stiles asks as he finally climbs out of the jumpee. Scott follows from behind, exchanging a look with his mom. “I gave out all the invitations, people said they would be here!”

“Maybe… They got lost?” Scott offers weakly.

“I don’t get it, I told everyone there was going to be a bouncy house and— and food and cake and— where is everyone?” Stiles turns to John with wide, pleading eyes, voice cracking at the end. John purses his lips and lays a hand on his son’s shoulder.

“I’m sorry, kiddo,” he says gently. “…But it looks like they’re not coming.”

He expects… Noise. An angry shout, a bitterly sarcastic comment, a panic attack even. But instead Stiles nods at the ground, lips pressed tightly together, and wordlessly walks over to the playground to lower himself into a tube slide. He doesn’t come out, but a minute later his quiet sobs float across the park and hit their ears. Their shoulders sink with pity.

John is the first to move forward, but Scott catches him by the arm. “Wait, we should give him a minute. He hates when people see him cry.”

He sighs and places an affectionate hand on Scott’s long curls. “You’re a good friend, Scott.”

“So is Stiles,” Scott shrugs. “I just wish other people could see it, too.”

When the shuddering gasps turn into sniffles Scott goes in and joins Stiles in the tube slide. John and Melissa eat cake quietly like the eavesdroppers they are and catch little pieces of Scott’s monologue, things like “Danny sent out invitations” and “sucks, dude” and “Laser tag is overrated.” After a while they hear Stiles’s tiny, “thanks, Scotty” and he and Melissa exchange sidelong smiles. He takes her hand a squeezes it, a silent “thank you” for bringing his son a best friend, and for being a constant star in his life.

Soon the boys' quiet mumblings turn into a heated discussion about which horror movie is the best, small snickers, and then loud cackling. Melissa hollers, “boys, come out and help eat this cake before I need to start looking for my fat jeans!” And their two kids come tumbling out of the slide in a dog pile of giggles wrestling in the sand.

This makes Scott start wheezing, but before he can get more than a single cough out Stiles is scrabbling for the inhaler on the table, fetching it and bringing it back to his friend with a “here, dude. Can’t have you asphyxiating at my party, that would suck."

They dine on potato chips, grapes, and cake— Funfetti with chocolate icing, his son’s favorite. The boys then engage in a competition to see who can think of the worst smell ever, which Melissa promptly stops when they get to “three-year-old sweaty underwear marinating beneath the sun.”

Stiles opens presents: Scott and Melissa get him a Spock and Captain Kirk action figure set, and John has the collector’s edition pack of all six Star Wars films wrapped at home waiting for him to open tomorrow on his actual birthday. He shelled out extra this year to make up for Stiles’s sore luck making friends in his new class, but the smile on his son’s face while examining the details of the action figures with Scott is more than worth it.

“Excuse me? Is this… The party?”

They turn around and Stiles’s mouth drops open, making mushy cake fall off his tongue and onto the table with a wet plop. A beautiful girl in a chiffon yellow top and white sandals is standing there amid a waterfall of fiery orange hair. Her glossy lips are pursed and her green eyes sweep analytically from the table to the jumpy house, looking pained. She is undoubtedly—

“Lydia!” Stiles blurts, and stands up so fast that he trips over the bench and sprawls on the grass in a pile of flailing limbs. He scrabbles up and quickly hides the action figures on the table. “Lydia! You got my invitations!”

“All six of them… Yes.” She doesn’t try to hide the creeped-out cringe on her face. “But my mom said it would be polite for me to come.”

“You’re an hour late,” Melissa frowns, but John kicks her beneath the table and she slaps on a smile. “Welcome. We’re glad to have you.”

“It’s always fashionable to be late,” Lydia expertly flips a waterfall of strawberry blonde hair over her shoulder. It’s like something from a Pantene commercial, and the girl is only eleven. “I heard there would be macaroons.”

“Yes! Macaroons! We totally have those, not just because you like them but because they are great… Cookies, right? Fancy French cookies! You look really beautiful,” Stiles blurts, grabs the plate from the table and shoves the cookies in front of her nose. Lydia’s head rears back, eyes narrowing as she sniffs them. 

“Are they from a French bakery?”

John bought them on sale at Lucky’s supermarket, but John can’t lie to a little girl so Melissa does it for him.

“Yes,” Melissa says sticky-sweetly. “The Frenchest bakery there is.”

“Le Petit Chaussure?” Lydia raises an eyebrow, pronouncing with a flawless French accent.

“That’s the one!”

The girl smiles and selects a pink macaroon with dainty fingers. Stiles watches her in awe, mouth hanging open like a panting dog. Scott claps him on the shoulder and waves hi. “Hi, Lydia.”

“Who are you?” Lydia squints at him.

“Scott. I sit next to you in class."

“You know, because we all sit alphabetically,” Stiles supplies helpfully. “Like, A-B-C-D-E-F-G-H-I-J-K-L-M, ‘M’ standing for Martin, and also McCall, so Lydia Martin sits next to Scott McCall. Heh. Too bad I’m Stilinski, I get to sit next to Bobby Snider. He doesn’t cover his mouth when he sneezes and he has an allergy to air or something so he sneezes like, all the time. I sneezed on my spaghetti once, but it was more of an accidental thing, not an allergy."

“Right…” Lydia frowns at him. “My mother will be here in an hour, so what is there to do here?”

“We have a giant jumpy house!” Stiles skips across the grass and gestures to the large inflated castle on the grass, followed by Scott’s enthusiastic nodding.

“Don’t you have to take your shoes off in those?” Lydia wrinkles her nose.

Good Lord, John’s son is in love with the biggest priss in the county.

“Well, yeah… Come on, it’ll be fun!” The boys wait by the entrance flap and Lydia lifts a pretty eyebrow. “We were playing Knights and Dragons, you— you can be the princess or something!"

Lydia sighs and daintily slips her shoes off. “I’ll be the dragon,” she declares, and steps into the jumpy house as Stiles holds the flap open for her.

He and Melissa watch amusedly as the kids bounce around in their socks and bare feet. They exchange satisfied glances and clink their root beer cans together.

“To another year of narrowly avoided catastrophes."

“To another year,” John agrees.

 

.o0O0o. September 19th, 2009.

The station door tinkles open on a quiet Sunday morning, followed by two pairs of heavy footsteps. 

John is nursing a coffee with the pale tip of early sun warm on his back, the low drone of the radio fuzzy behind him. He glances up as he hears the clink of handcuffs snapping a wrist to captivity, as Winston attaches a scowling figure to the waiting bench in front of his desk. John sighs softly.

“Again, Hale?”

The teenager glowers at him, his usual silent response. He looks both too old and too young for a near seventeen-year-old, even more haggard than the last time he was brought in, which was two weeks ago. Dark shadows ring his eyes, the same shadows John had after Claudia died, and his face glints pale beneath a small stain of stubble on his chin.

For a kid who inherited eight figures, he’s in the same plain clothes he’s always in; a dark grey henley, black denims, scuffed sneakers, and a black leather jacket that’s about three sizes too big. His eyes are the only pinpricks of color, two piercing orbs of some unidentifiable hue between a pale ocean and grass in the springtime, mouth taut in a grim line that looks permanently sketched between his cheeks. John wonders if the kid ever smiles. Used to smile?

“This is your seventh time in the past two months, you know," John tells him, not unkindly between sips of coffee. "Not that I don’t admire your effort, but Sheriff Sullivan is starting to lose his patience.” 

Derek stares at his feet, still as stone. The first time he came in he was dripping wet— he had uprooted seven rose bushes in some woman’s front yard, then broke into her backyard and took a swim in her pool. The second time he was blacked out drunk, dragged in by Sullivan himself, and had later retched up some weird purple cocktail in the jail cell. John had been on duty both times, but didn’t yet realize that the “county crime-addict” (as the department had come to nickname him), was Derek Hale of Talia and Robert Hale; the woman his wife once illegally climbed trees with, and the man John had glimpsed in friendly passing twice in the past decade.

Derek's latest crimes have only grown more obscure— popping open car hoods, somehow dismantling and lifting out the engine, and replacing the space with stolen garden gnomes from surrounding houses.

Breaking into residents’ apartments through three-story windows and eating from their fridge, napping on their couches, drawing crude illustrations on their walls with shaving cream and emptying shampoo bottles into their shoes.

It’s like the kid is determined to play out every summer camp prank on the county, and almost always does it between two and five in the morning. John’s shift, courtesy of Sullivan, is midnight to nine o’clock six days a week. John had asked Derek once what he was doing up so early. He got a sullen reply of, “couldn’t sleep.”

And that was the first and last of John’s conversations with the kid. Derek’s latest crime? Breaking into an animal shelter, somehow unlocking all the cage bolts, and setting all ninety-seven dogs free onto the streets, consequently piling up traffic on highway six when the canines stampeded across four lanes of traffic and into the next county. The kid’s level of stealth makes John wonder if Derek somehow has fingernails that double as keys.

The clock ticks quietly on the wall. Sullivan isn’t in yet so John finds his courage.

He rises wearily, huffing a small sound of annoyance as his back cracks in protest, and approaches the dark, huddled figure against the wall. He tows his chair behind him so that he doesn’t have to stand in front of the kid like some looming, superior authority figure, especially since he never really feels like a superior despite the uniform. In order to protect the people of the county, one has to be the people of the county.

“Would you like some coffee? A donut?” John asks.

Grey-green eyes flick up to regard him suspiciously. Silence.

John selects a chocolate donut from the pink box by the window anyway and places it on Derek's bench atop a napkin. It’s a napkin printed with tiny snowflakes, leftover from the department holiday party last month. Derek’s eyes follow the pastry and jump to John’s face, features making no movement aside from an unreadable twitch of bushy eyebrows. John bites into his old-fashioned glaze and eases into his chair, keeping his eyes on the icing instead of the boy across from him.

“So what did you do this time?” John asks around his donut, careful to keep his voice calm and nonthreatening like Claudia’s. Derek is like a spooked horse. A very scary, angry spooked horse.

The clock ticks on the wall. The muted sound of the television chatters from the break room. John’s chair squeaks as he rests an ankle atop his knee.

“I stole a tray of muffins from the bakery downtown.”

John almost chokes on his donut, surprised that he actually gets an answer. The kid’s voice sounds rough, low and throaty in a way that indicates either lack of use or frequent yelling. John should be serious, stern even, as he’s an official officer of the law— but instead a chuckle escapes before he can stop it, and he doubles over in his seat to keep from laughing out his half-chewed breakfast onto the carpet. Derek blinks as if slapped, looking utterly taken aback and then twice as angry.

“Sorry, it’s just—“ John manages between giddy breaths. “Gotta admit, that’s a pretty funny thing to get arrested for, son. Did you poison them and start handing them out to people?”

“I dumped them in a lake."

John raises his eyebrows. “Didn’t eat any?”

“No.”

John studies the hollow cheekbones in front of him, how the teenager’s body drowns in his leather jacket, and the pants that look old and much too big for Derek's slim legs. John wonders if the kid is eating. “So how’d you get caught?”

“Went back to throw a brick through the window. Some bitch called the cops,” Derek mumbles, still glowering at the floor.

John nods. He can’t help but think of how cordial Derek's father had been, how Claudia used to praise Talia Hale’s big heart, and how the media broadcasted interviews that showed the respectability of both parents. Surely they couldn’t have raised a son so antagonistic? But beneath the dirt and grief, the kid looks just like his father. 

“Why you doin’ this, Derek?” John asks gently, leaning in to try and catch the downcast eyes in front of him. 

Derek shrugs.

John sighs, because he’s about to confide his deepest secret with a sketchy delinquent teenager. He reaches back to the vivid memory of that day he woke up slumped over the kitchen table, with fingers wrapped around the bottle and Melissa’s voice clear in his mind, and relays the words for the kid in front of him.

“Listen… Derek,” he starts. "I know it hurts. It’s the worst feeling in the world to lose someone you love, and you’ve lost four of them. But at some point we have to pull ourselves back up and keep living.”

Derek’s eyes flick up to meet him.

“Look, I—“ John rubs his forehead, as if the motion might erase all the heartache of the past few years. “I would hate to see my son tear himself apart if I were to die tomorrow,” he dares to say, and his heart clenches painfully at just the words. “And I’d bet that your parents wouldn’t want to see you destroy yourself either."

Derek’s breath hitches. He steels his jaw, and for a second John thinks he’s going to start crying, but instead Derek’s eyes narrow hotly and he spits two words through his teeth.

“Fuck you.”

A moment of silence as John blinks, shocked by the teen’s ferocity. He nods and wheels his chair back to his desk.

In Claudia’s voice he says, “Sheriff Sullivan should be here in forty minutes. If you wanna use your phone call, you know where the phone is."

He secretly watches Derek as he works. A few officers trail in as the minute hand climbs closer to eight o’clock, exacerbating the muffled sounds in the station. Sometimes John glances up and catches Derek staring at him, which is unnerving. Other times Derek looks longingly at the donut by his side on the bench; John can’t see the hands inside the leather jacket’s massive sleeves, but imagines the fingers are curling over his stomach.

It takes twenty minutes before Derek silently starts sneaking bits of donut when he thinks John isn’t looking, to which John keeps his head down. At seven forty-five he leaves to scan an imaginary file for a few minutes to make sure Derek has a chance to finish it. When he returns the donut is gone and Derek has a bit more color in his face.

Sullivan comes in bleary-eyed and annoyed at nine o’clock. Derek jerks from where he was dozing off against the wall, face immediately setting into a deadlock glare at the Sheriff, who pinches the bridge of his nose. 

“You’ve got a thick scull, don’t you kid?”

Derek glowers. John tenses at his desk, glancing up from his papers.

“Because it seems, no matter how many times I warn you not to get your skinny ass thrown into my cells again, here you are!” Richard plows on, gesturing up and down Derek’s dark form. "For the eleventh time in the past three months? We should get a plaque for you in here, for the most impressive broken record. First you drop out of school, then you start running around breaking into every crack and corner in this town, and this morning I get a call informing me that you stole an entire basket of muffins from Miriam Hartwell's bakery?”

Richard crouches down, glaring dangerously into Derek’s face. “You wanna tell me why you’re so dead-set on sending me to an early grave?”

Derek’s answer is to spit in Richard’s face.

The effect is immediate; Sullivan jerks backwards with a hiss, Clarke and Winston jump out of their chairs to defend their Fearless Leader, the corner of Derek’s lip quirks up with the tiniest hint of satisfaction, and John swallows down a lump of pride for the kid.

“Jesus fucking— get this brat into the cell, now!” Richard yells, as he grabs one of the snowflake napkins from John’s desk and harshly wipes his face. 

“Maybe because you suck at your fucking job,” Derek snarls, as Winston and Clarke uncuff him and shove him into a cell. 

“You had your chance,” Richard jabs his finger towards him. “I treated you with nothing but kindness after that fire, offered you program after program to get you back in school and into a foster home, but I have no tolerance for little punks who think they can disobey the law in this town. I worked hard to get my position, so I take any disrespect to this town personally.”

“Eat ass,” Derek mutters.

“Stilinski, has his guardian been contacted?”

“Ah… No, sir. He hasn’t used his phone call.”

“Well dial it for him. I’m surprised you don’t have the number memorized by now.”

“I got it, Sheriff, it’s in the system right here,” Markowsi hits a few keys on his computer and adjusts his headpiece as the line rings.

The day gets warmer. Derek visibly sweats in his cell but refuses to take his jacket off. John sits at his small desk and verifies paperwork while sneaking glances, but the teen doesn’t make eye contact; instead he stares at his shoes as if lost in his own thoughts, blinking lethargically like he’s trying not to fall asleep.

Officers come and go, the emergency line rings as usual, and Derek’s guardian doesn’t arrive until one o’clock that afternoon, right as John is logging out and grabbing his jacket to head home for the day.

John always stares longer than he should because the man looks nothing like he did two decades ago— he’s thin, almost skeletal with greying hair, extra lines etching his face and a hardened expression as if constantly tasting something bitter. Thin scruff covers his chin below his sourly downturned lips, sleepless bruises stain beneath cold eyes, and shadow of darkness hangs around him, his former confidence replaced a bitter slope of his shoulders.

“Peter Hale?” Markowski turns the sign-in clipboard around and offers a pen. Peter glares at the gesture and instead produces a ballpoint from his pocket, signing swiftly.

“Where is he?”

“He’s in cell two, sir."

Peter follows the guard and drags Derek out by the arm as his nephew glares at him.

“Sure took you’re sweet time,” Derek mutters.

“You’re lucky I come to get you at all,” Peter snaps. “Just wait until you turn eighteen, when you’ll land in big-boy jail and I won’t be legally obligated to bail you out anymore."

“I can take care of myself,” Derek growls.

“Clearly you can’t. Look at you, thinner than a girl. You dropped out of school, you don’t have a job, you’ve given up on training, all you’ve done the past six months is live in hotels until that damn house of yours got patched up. You should have let it rot to the ground.”

“How can you say that, your family used to live there,” Derek seethes.

Peter whirls around, nostrils flaring. “You stopped being my family the second your father made it crystal clear that I was no longer welcome.”

“Doesn’t matter,” Derek snarls.

“I don’t have time to put up with this,” Peter hisses.

“Why? Because you’re too busy crying over how you sunk your own company and lost your fortune?”

“Shut your mouth!"

“I bet you hate that dad left me everything. He didn’t even save a single penny for you.”

“Yes, well. I wonder how proud would he be to find out that his son turned into an uneducated criminal.”

“At least I didn’t turn out like you.”

“Your whole damn family wished you did.”

“No they didn’t!” Derek barks.

“Oh? Here I was thinking that they might actually be proud of a pathetic orphan who can hardly lift a feather,” Peter dismisses.

“Yeah?” Derek snarls. "Well I’m gonna have a family and be way stronger than you!"

“You can’t have both, Robert!”

Derek blinks, taken aback, and Peter turns death white. Even some deputies turn to stare.

“Derek,” Peter corrects. His expression hardens back into a cruel glare. “You can’t have both, Derek.”

John startles as his cell phone rings. He fumbles with it in his pocket as the Hales walk out the door, and sees Stiles’s name flash across the screen. He usually doesn’t call in the morning so John picks up, even though John would pick up for his son no matter what time of day.

“Hey dad!” Stiles’s chipper voice greets. The rush of school drones in the background, as well as Scott’s chattering. “So I’m in the cafeteria with Scott, he says hi by the way, and we really really want to try these new chocolate waffle thingies the lunch ladies just put out, but I also really feel like yogurt, so I was just wondering if can I buy both with the emergency money you gave me but then pay you back when I get home? Because I left my wallet in my green hoodie pocket but today I’m wearing my blue hoodie, so… Yeah. So can I get a waffle and a yogurt?"

John nods for a long time before he realizes Stiles can’t see it.

“Yeah, kiddo. You can have both."

 

.o0O0o.

Derek is hauled into the station twenty-eight more times that year. John is on duty for five of those times, and does the same routine of offering a donut, getting “no” as an answer, and leaving a donut within reach anyway. Around February Derek starts coming in less, and by April of next year he stops getting arrested altogether. John hopes he found some peace.

 

.o0O0o. October 15th, 2009.

“And then the ship was like 'BA-BOOM' and Captain Kirk’s face was just, oh man, such a great shot. Praise that cameraman’s panning capabilities. It’s the shit!”

“What have I said about language, Stiles? You’re only in seventh grade, you don’t need to be using those words. But yes, awesome shot. J.J. Abrams is known for his cinematography.”

“You liked it, didn’t you?”

“Of course. Not as good as the original Star Trek series, but good.”

“Pssh. Well duh, Nothing beats Nimoy and Shatner. But I still say we should have snuck in afterwards to see X-Men Origins."

“Next time,” John chuckles. “The earlier in the evening we get out of this neighborhood the better.”

He and his twelve-year-old son are walking back to the car in a less-than-ideal downtown area at a less-than-ideal hour of night, but the movie theatre in this district has bargain prices. Thus, it was deemed as John’s venue of choice for his birthday celebration, even if it meant parking six blocks away in the nearest sketchy parking garage. The sidewalk and streets glitter wetly beneath the flickering streetlamp, reflecting the leftover rain from the afternoon. This October is unusually cold for California, but Beacon Hills tends to chill the air year round anyway.

“Chill dad, our car’s like, just past that flickering street light,” Stiles drawls helpfully. “Or was it by the trio of homeless people roasting rats over the garbage can?”

“Cut it out,” John voices with a glance over his shoulder. “I know we’re not exactly in Sterling Heights, but it’s not that bad.”

“Oh yeah?” Stiles veers to the side to point at the gutter, where a broken syringe lays abandoned. John mutters a “Jesus” under his breath and pulls his son away by the shoulders, tucking him close.

“Christ, Stiles, get away from that! Point taken.”

“Aw, c’mmon, pop. It’s not like it’s gonna jump up and bite me.”

“You’re too young to see that.”

“You do know I’ve seen crime photos of like, bloody corpses, right?”

John sighs. Snooping at the station has been one of his son's favorite pastimes. “Yes. But the longer I get to pretend that you’re still young and innocent the longer I get to rest at ease that you won’t be having nightmares anytime soon.”

“Nah. I think the worst nightmare I had once was showing up to school in my Batman briefs, you know the ones with the holes in them? In front of Lydia.”

“Oop, hold it right here, I need some cash to pay the parking garage,” John steps quickly over to an ATM on the side of a bank. Stiles follows and tries standing on his tippy toes to see the pin over John’s shoulder. John’s had to change it five times because his son keeps figuring it out and using it to buy ‘necessities’ like Twizzlers and slushies on the weekends with Scott.

“Common dad, let me see! At least take out an extra twenty so I can pay Scott back for the slurpee he bought me yesterday.”

“What, did you order one the size of Vermont? What do you need a twenty for?”

“$3.50 to cover the slurpee, $4.99 so I can buy the awesome new DragonAge Origins avatar and kick butt online, and then the rest I figure can be for future slurpees since that’s pretty inevitable. Then I won’t have to keep asking you for spare change all the time! See? Efficient. I’m totally capable of thinking ahead."

“You take a water bottle to school. How about you drink from that?”

“Yeah, but water isn’t sugary bright red chemical deliciousness, dad. The whole point of—"

“Hold it right there!”

John's heart drops to his stomach as he hears the click of a release behind him. Stiles freezes and John grips his shoulder as a warning not to do anything stupid. He’s not too concerned considering he’s drilled Stiles on everything from dealing with muggers to how to escape a kidnapping from the back of a trunk; more than anything he can’t help but be dismayed at his stupid move to stop at an ATM. The car lot is right there too, by the trio of homeless people huddled around the flaming garbage can.

“We don’t want any trouble,” John expresses quickly. “You can put the gun away."

“Don’t turn around! Put your hands up! I want your pin number and then gimme' your wallet and empty your pockets!” Their mugger barks at them. He sounds young— a newbie to the trade? John may be able to talk him out of this.

“Kinda hard to empty our pockets if our hands are in the air, don’cha think?” Stiles (John’s idiot son) drawls snottily.

“Stiles,” he hisses.

“Shut up! Say your pin number now or I shoot the kid,” The mugger voices and Stiles makes a high-pitched sound as the barrel is pressed to the back of his head.

“1234! It’s 1234! Don’t hurt him!” John blurts, heart pounding.

“What the fuck do you think this is?” The mugger barks. "Gimme’ your real pin!”

“It is, it’s the real one, I swear,” John presses. He’d feel a lot better if he could turn around and see the guy right now. “My son kept guessing the numbers so I got tired and changed it to something really simple. It’s 1234, cross my heart.”

“Wow, dad, that’s kind of genius,” Stiles praises. “It’s so in your face, I never would have—“

“I said shut up! Take out a hundred dollars so I know you’re not fucking with me.”

Stop swearing in front of my kid, John thinks, but mostly he just tries to think of a way to somehow get out of this safely and save his money. He winces as he punches in the numbers and watches as Benjamin Franklin’s face slides out to greet him.

“Good. Now turn around slowly and hand it over with your card! Remember I’ve got a gun!” The mugger growls. Definitely a newbie. They turn around, hands raised, and John gets a better look at him— tall and muscular, a black beanie with holes pulled down over his face, wide eyes, and trembling fingers over what is a very, very fake handgun.

“Oh my god, your gun’s not even real,” Stiles rolls his eyes. The mugger blinks, taken aback. John doesn’t blame him, it looks very real to anyone who isn’t a cop. Or the son of a cop.

“Wh— Yes it is!”

“The magazine release is in the wrong place,” Stiles argues, crossing his gangly arms. “A handgun can’t shoot if it’s blocking the hammer, you need it parallel. Firearm 101, dude."

That’s my boy, John thinks proudly. “Look, son. No one has to get hurt here,” he voices gently to their attacker, lowering his arms and gripping his credit card safely. “If you need money, there are better ways to go about it. You’ve picked the two people with empty pockets anyway.”

“Shut up! I said hand over your credit card!”

“Hey, let’s calm down, alright? I’m a police officer for this county and we’ve got a program for youths on the streets. We can help find you a job.”

“I said hand me your fucking card!” 

John halts. The gun is fake but it looks weighted; it could be a dangerous weapon if used as a blunt force. The guy, albeit not an experienced mugger, looks to be in shape and seems determined enough to chase after him and Stiles if they try to leave. John looks down at his empty wallet and credit card, regarding the engraved plastic carefully. His bank allows a max of $500 to be extracted from his checking account every twenty-four hours; the problem is that the ATM is right behind him and the guy could easily withdraw the remaining $400 (plus the Benjamin in John's hand) before John has any chance of calling the bank to cancel his account. But he budgets every penny and knows exactly how much he gets to spend for the week, so he can’t afford to lose that much income.

“Stiles, go to the car,” John says calmly.

“What? Dad, no—“

“The kid stays here! Now both of you empty your damn pockets! Last warning.”

John steps forward slowly, calculating the best position to get the fake gun out of the guy’s hand. He carefully hands over his money and credit card, but before he can knock the weapon away Stiles chucks a gnawed-on jawbreaker from his pocket into the mugger’s face.

“Fuck! You fucking—!"

In his anger Mugger charges Stiles with the pistol raised, and that’s all John needs to quickly step to the side and deliver a quick palm to the guy’s sternum. Mugger chokes with the impact so John quickly locks the man’s right arm and hits his flexor digitorum muscle to make him drop the gun. The pistol clatters heavily to the pavement and John kicks it away.

“Dad—!”

“Oomph!”

But John doubles over as the guy kicks him hard in the shin, followed immediately by a knee to the gut. It knocks the breath out of him and he wheezes, involuntarily dropping to a crouch on the pavement. From the corner of his eye Mugger brings up his elbow to strike it down on John’s head and—

“HEY! Get the hell away from my DAD!”

“Aagck! Fuck, you little shit—!”

John hears when Stiles bites down and chomps the guy’s fingers with a crunch. He looks up just in time to see Stiles riding piggyback on their attacker, skinny arms in a chokehold around the guy’s neck. Mugger scrabbles at the grip but his son holds firm like a little monkey— until Mugger slips out a thin metal rod from his sleeve and promptly swings it backwards.

It connects to Stiles’s temple with a sharp thwack and his son slips off his back, dropping to the sidewalk like a sack of potatoes. John sees red.

“Hey!” He yells, and kicks the guy in the back of the knee. He moves to twist the arm socket but Mugger uses his rod to whack John in the stomach again, knocking him to his knees with crippling pain. He can only gasp for breath and watch helplessly as the robber grabs his fallen wallet, credit card, and the extracted $100 dollar bill, and runs off with it all, shoes slapping away on the damp pavement. But it’s a problem not at the forefront of John’s mind.

He quickly shuffles beside Stiles, who’s still sprawled out on the sidewalk. “Stiles,” he demands, patting the kid’s cheek. A large goose egg decorates his son’s forehead. Dazed brown eyes blink up at him. “Stiles, say something. Can you hear me?”

“M’rumph,” his son answers, and curls to his side to clutch his head. “Ow.”

He sends a silent thank you to the sky. “That was very stupid and very brave,” John tells him. “As soon you as you’re ready to stand we’re taking you to the hospital.”

“Nooo,” Stiles immediately slurs. “M’fine, just… Ow, Jesus. You hurt?”

“I’m fine, son.”

“He kicked you in the stomach!”

“He nicked me a little on accident. I’m okay.”

“You sounded like a dying cat,” Stiles rasps. “Like, ‘meeeeahhh-gghhah.”

“I’m old,” John frowns. “You didn’t even make a sound when he hit you, which concerns me more. Gimme' your hand, I’m taking you to get checked out.”

“Dad, no!” Stiles insists.

“Son, yes.”

“Wait, did he get your money? Where’s your credit card?” Stiles demands, trying to crane his neck around.

“Yes he got it, don’t worry about it—“

“Aw, man! But that’s bad! How do we—“

“I said don’t worry about it, it’ll be okay. Now come on, hospital."

“I hate the hospital,” Stiles blinks up at him with his big brown eyes. “Please don’t make me go there. I’m fine, really!”

John falters. “How many fingers am I holding up?”

“Three plus your thumb.”

“What did you eat for breakfast this morning?”

“Leftover birthday cake.”

“Say the alphabet backwards.”

“I can’t do that sober let alone concussed, dad. Which I’m not. Concussed. Not concussed. A very un-concussed sixth grader here."

“Alright,” John sighs as he fishes out his cell phone. “But I’m still taking you to Melissa."

 

.o0O0o.

Melissa takes one look at the bleeding gash on Stiles’s forehead, crosses her arms, and says, “Really, Stiles? On your father’s birthday?”

“It wasn’t my faauuuult,” Stiles whines as she prods at it with Neosporin in her kitchen. “So like, I know I’m usually dad’s number one source of entertainment gone awry, but I was doing really great at not getting into trouble today. I mean if we’re technical here, dad is the one who provoked the guy with his good samaritan ‘bler blah, let’s get you a job, fellow criminal!’”

“John,” Melissa scolds with an exasperated glance to him. “You always gotta be the good guy, huh.”

“Exactly!” Stiles agrees, spewing spittle onto Melissa’s sweater. She frowns and he offers a “whoops, sorry.”

“Well what good is it to be in law enforcement if we don’t actively convert the troublemakers into well-behaved citizens?” John counters from the McCall’s dining table, where he’s eating more leftover birthday cake with Scott amid tall glasses of milk. “I didn’t become a cop to just throw people in cells."

“Well the important thing is that both of you are safe now,” Melissa clasps a butterfly bandage over a wincing Stiles.

John wants to believe it, but not when he knows the current balance in his bank account. His cake suddenly tastes dull as he thinks about how his wallet is currently in the hands of a young felon, including his credit card and the polaroid of Claudia holding their infant son in the hospital bed— by the time he called the bank the creep had extracted another the max $400 from his account; he works so hard to scrimp and save every penny and it’s incredibly unfair how it can be taken away so abruptly.

“Alright sweetie, you’re all patched up,” Melissa declares as she wipes her hands. “No concussion as far as I can tell, but John be sure to keep an eye on him. If your head hurts or you feel nauseous, go the hospital.”

“What about dad,” his tattletale son pipes up.

“What about your dad?” Melissa whirls on John, ready to attack with nurse skills. 

He waves her off and polishes off the last of his cake. “It’s nothing, Melissa, I’m fine.”

“The mugger kicked him in the stomach twice!” Stiles blurts, the traitor.

“John, let me see.”

“Nope, no need Mel, it’s just sore.”

“John Stilinski you will march over here and let me examine you or I’ll tell the boys about what you and your wife did in summer of ’95.” 

Scott and Stiles perk up at this, whipping heads wide-eyed to John. “Wait, what? Dad, what does she mean?”

“Yeah Mr. Stilinski, what happened?”

"Oh my god, what did you do? Did you kill someone? Wait, no, did you hijack someone’s hippie van?”

“No, and no. Thanks, Melissa,” John gives her the stink-eye. “Now they'll never let me rest until they find out.”

“Damn right! So you—“

“Language, Stiles.”

“Dang right! So you better tell us now!” Stiles hops up and does his excited hand-flailing thing he does when he’s excited, nearly toppling over with the head rush. Luckily Scott darts over in time to steady him, clapping him on the shoulder and muttering, “don’t worry, man, I’ll get my mom to tell us later.”

“Like hell I will, Scott. You boys finish up that cake on the table before I give into temptation and eat it.”

“If you insist, mama McCall! But you know you look great.”

“Shut up dude, that’s my mom.”

“Calm down Scott, Stiles is the only one who compliments me around here. And thank you Stiles, yes I do look great."

The boys take the platter and chat thickly around mouthfuls of cake into the hallway, Stiles describing in great detail how awesome it was when John attacked the mugger and how the guy's finger tasted like wet sock. 

“Alright, lets see the damage."

Reluctantly John lifts up his shirt, wishing he still had his figure from his academy days. Now there’s about eight extra pounds of pudge around his midsection and his ears flare with embarrassment as Melissa prods at it. He clears his throat awkwardly and Scott and Stiles pause around the corner to stop talking and stare. They whisper something, start sniggering, and race off into Scott’s bedroom peeking over their shoulders, Stiles winking profusely. John rolls his eyes.

“Ouch,” Melissa winces at the wound; the bruise is purple and mottled beneath his ribcage. “Yeah, that’s a good one. But I don’t see any signs of internal bleeding. Can you breathe okay?”

“Same as always,” John shrugs.

“Your mouth doesn’t taste metallic, does it?"

“No. Just tastes like chocolate cake."

“I’m glad you liked it. That was my mother’s recipe,” Melissa starts digging into her first aid kit. "I’ve got some ointment in here that will help with the swelling, it should heal up in a week or so. Geez, I still can’t believe you got jumped. What an idiot, picking an officer to mess with.”

“I feel more the idiot for letting him take a swing at me and kid,” John mutters.

“Hey, none of that,” she warns. “The important thing is that that gun was fake. Besides, the way Stiles described it you were a real hero.”

“I’m not a hero,” he sighs. “My kid was. That guy would’ve clocked me good if Stiles hadn’t tackled him. And that kid’s the skinniest seventh grader I know,” John shakes his head with a quiet laugh. “He’s Batman.”

Melissa stops dabbing to look up at him, eyes crinkling mirthfully at the corners. “So I’ve heard, since that first day back in Kindergarten. But you do know he looks up to you more than Bruce Wayne, right?”

“Debatable.”

“Really, John. You should see the way he looks at you when you’re not paying attention. If I could hand pick Scott’s father, I’d pick a father like you.”

John’s smile slips away as he stares at her, her brown eyes so earnest as they flick between his. “Thank you, Mel. That means a lot.”

They hold gazes for a few more moments before Melissa stands and scoops her hair behind her shoulders. She hands out the tube of cream. “Take this. Apply it twice a day and avoid any yoga. I’d invite you to stay for a cup of tea but I’ve got a five am shift tomorrow,” Melissa frowns at her watch as if it’s personally offending her.

John rises. “Aw shoot, I’m sorry for keeping you. Thank you for patching us up, I appreciate it.”

“Don’t worry about it,” Melissa dismisses. “Boys, come say goodbye!"

“Can’t he sleep over, mom?” Scott hollers from his room, followed by “Yeah dad! Can I sleep over?”

“You slept over last night,” John calls back. “I swear you kids are joined at the hip. C’mmon, kiddo, Melissa’s got an early shift tomorrow.”

“And it’s a school night,” Melissa adds loudly.

The boys come tumbling out, whining loudly about “whatever, it’s not like sleepovers on school nights are illegal” and “s’okay, dude, I’ll see you tomorrow” and “gross, we have that substitute again, Mrs. Wench. Lets put a worm in her coffee again” and then “sshh, dude, my mom’s right there! Besides, you did that. I just watched."

“Bye Melissa, thanks again,” John hugs her goodbye and ruffles Scott’s hair. “Sleep tight, Scott.”

“Bye Mr. Stilinski, happy birthday!”

“Peace out, McCall McMuffins! Excellent cake, Melissa. You’ve got some serious baking skizzles— that means skills.”

“Thank you, Stiles. And don’t forget to ask your dad what happened in summer of ’95.”

“Oh my god, that’s right! Dad! Dad, you gotta—“

John gives Melissa the finger on the walk back to the car, making her cackles echo into the street as she shuts the door.

 

.o0O0o.

On the way home the Volkswagen creaks and shudders with age; John’s half afraid it will explode one day, or that the duct tape holding together the window will wear out and send his windshield crashing to the ground. He ignores it and turns on the oldies but Stiles reaches forward and immediately switches to a pop station. John gives him a flat look that says, whose birthday is it?” and Stiles wilts and switches back to Stayin’ Alive with a muttered, “sorry."

"Dad, dad! You HAVE to tell me, I’m your son!”

He chuckles. “That’s not how it works."

“Yes it is! Tell meeeee.”

“No.”

“Tell me tell me tellmetellmetellmetellme—“

“Stiles.”

“—tellmetellmetellmetellmetellmetellmetellme! I can do this all day, you know. Tellmetellmetellme—“

“For Christ’s sake, we just ate a few pot brownies.”

Stiles gapes, for once rendered totally speechless. Then he screams and starts scrabbling at John’s sleeve, nearly making them swerve off the road.

“Jesus, Stiles! Don’t do that, I’m driving—“

“YOU GOT HIGH!?”

John sighs, internally cursing Melissa. “Yes. It’s not a huge deal, alright? Your mother wanted to do something new and ‘scary’ for her twenty-seventh birthday and Terry had given me some as a joke for my birthday. So we baked some pot brownies and… Well, we ate them on the couch while watching the Academy Awards.”

“Holy flippin’ mother of shit!”

“Language, Stiles.”

“Whoa, no, okay, language is totally acceptable here to express the extent of my shock in this moment in time— this is real, right? Like you know what you just said, right? I’m not having like a weird fever dream, am I? Wait a minute, weren’t you a cop in 1995?!”

“Yes, I was a cop,” John sighs at himself in the rearview mirror. This is going to be a long night.

Stiles crows, whistling in John’s ear some more. “Holy shit, this is outrageous! Oh my god, you and mom totally got high! Illegally! While you were a police officer! And you got your pot from a police officer! Oh man, this is like something out of a really controversial Seinfeld episode. My mind is literally exploding right now."

“You done?”

“Ha! No, no we are so not done here. You, John Stilinski, A.K.A dad, A.K.A the most cautious, painfully law-abiding ‘you’re grounded for nicking my car with your bicycle son’ goody two shoes EVER— did drugs. Drugs! With mom! God, that’s so cool.”

“This doesn’t mean you get to—“

“Chill, pop, I’m not gonna go out and buy a bunch of marijuana. I don’t get that kind of allowance money.”

"Stiles.”

“Nah, for real dad, I promise I won’t do drugs. With twig-limbs like mine, my brain is my most powerful weapon! Quick wit and sarcasm is my only defense, you know? I can’t jeopardize that with some mind-altering leaves. Besides, Scott is super against drugs like the total weenie that he is, so if I become a pothead he would totally abandon me to run for the hills screaming. And he’s kinda my only friend, so. Can’t afford that.”

“Good. And you’re not allowed— well, I guess you have to tell Scott now, huh.”

“Yep. Best friends automatically get a right to know everything I know.”

John sighs. “Fine. Just— I don’t want him to think less of me. Your mom and I were adults and it was a one-time thing."

“Dad, you know Scott thinks you’re like, the coolest dad ever, right? You’re basically his dad. You’d have to like, I dunno— kick puppies or something to make him think less of you. Ooh, or take all his comic books and set them on fire, you know? Hey, do you think the flames would be normal orange flames or would the ink turn it different colors? Like red, green, or rainbow flames? I saw a YouTube video the other day, like three days ago I think? Where a bunch of guys lit a log soaked with potassium salts on fire and the flames turned purple! Isn’t that awesome? I think house fires would be a lot less scary if the flames were all purple instead of orange, because then instead of suffocating to death you’d be suffocating to death while being all ‘wow, look how pretty!’ and then you’d die a happy death.”

“That’s… If you say so, kid."

 

.o0O0o. May 14th, 2010.

John’s world tips upside down on a quiet Thursday night.

The wall clock ticks closer to midnight as he pages through old police reports at the dining table. His fingertips are stained black from the ink at this point, smudging on his eyelids when he tries to rub the sleep from his vision. He’s thinking about downing a glass of warm milk and calling it a night when he hears his eighth grader stumble down the hall. 

“You still up, kiddo?” He asks, glancing over the frames of his reading glasses. Stiles says it makes him look like Dumbledore from Harry Potter.

Stiles nods. “Studying,” he mumbles, and proceeds to get a glass down from the cupboard. He seems pale beneath the sink light, almost a little shiny with sweat. It’s a warm night, but perhaps he’s coming down with something? John watches him, eyes narrowing in concern. 

“You’ve been studying since you got home… Are you feeling okay?” He asks.

“Yeah,” Stiles swallows. “Just thirsty.”

But as he fills up water from the sink John notices his hands are trembling, sloshing water against the glass. He rises, chair scraping back against the carpet. “Stiles, are—?”

The glass shatters with a loud clang as Stiles suddenly drops it against the sink. He gasps and doubles over against the counter, wheezing like an asthmatic. John teleports to his side in an instant, heartbeat pounding loud in his ears.

“Hey, hey, Stiles! What’s wrong? Are you hurt?”

“N-no,” Stiles breathes, high-pitched and scared. His chest is heaving, hands trembling violently. “I can’t— I c-can’t breathe—“

“Hey, look at me, is this a panic attack?”

“N-no,” Stiles gasps. “It’s— I dunno, I feel s-sick.”

John is already grabbing his cell to call an ambulance. “Okay, Stiles, just sit down— that’s it, against the sink. You’re okay, I’m going to call an ambulance now.”

“N-no!” Stiles grabs his arm, taking John by surprise. “Doesn’t that c-cost m-money?”

John stares at his kid. Stiles is thirteen. Stiles has never mentioned money, nor has John ever mentioned money around him. He doesn’t know how Stiles would know about their rocky financial situation, or guessed it, but Stiles is as deductive as he is smart, and probably put it together from John’s aversion to name brands at the store, the cheaper cuts of meat in their fridge, the dwindling number of presents every Christmas.

“Stiles, you— you shouldn’t worry about that, kid,” John says tightly, stomach flopping painfully as he dials 9-1-1.

“Dad—"

“9-1-1, what is your emergency?”

“My son can’t breathe, he needs help,” John blurts into the speaker. He brushes Stiles’s hair back from his forehead. It’s an automatic gesture even though there hasn’t been enough hair to get in the way since he was eight. Stiles is gripping John’s hand so tightly it hurts, a ghost of Claudia’s hand when she was in labor.

“How old is he?”

“Thirteen, he has a fever, too."

“Other symptoms?”

“Dad, ‘m g-gonna—"

“He’s sweating, shaking, Stiles, are you—?”

John’s heart drops to his stomach as Stiles suddenly lurches to the side, vomiting violently onto the kitchen floor. It splatters to the tile with a wet smack, and John feels the blood drain from his face.

“Stiles, shit, hang on, kiddo— he just threw up. He—“

“Dad,” Stiles moans pitifully.

“—Shh, I know bud."

“Is he conscious?”

“Yes!” John barks into the phone. “Yes, for fuck’s sake, I need an ambulance, now!” 

Stiles flinches, eyes stretched round in fear. John never swears. His mother drilled that habit into him as soon as he could stand on two legs, and he hates himself now for giving away his panic to his already panicking son. John is the father, John is supposed to be calm—

“An ambulance is on the way, sir."

“Okay, Stiles bud, I’m sorry. You’re gonna be fine, okay? Help is almost here,” he assures and scoots closer across the kitchen tile. Stiles whimpers through chattering teeth, fingers quaking around John’s wrist. “Just try to breathe with me kiddo, our regular routine. One, two, three, four. One, two, three…"

 

.o0O0o.

Tick. Tick. Tick. Tick.

John blinks muzzily, listening to the plastic clock on the wall to his left, the same clock that’s been there since 2005. He shifts uncomfortably in his hospital chair. Saline drips quietly next to him, mingling with the quiet breaths from the bed next to him. Stiles lies asleep, but it’s a sedated sleep so he isn’t mumbling flowery professions about Lydia Martin or licking his lips or twitching or any of the other usual sleep movements he does. It’s such a quiet room for all the loud thoughts in John's head. 

The clock reads 5:31am. Each secondhand stroke cuts into the sterile silence with a reminder that they had arrived just a couple hours ago in the ambulance. The doctor’s words are still ringing on repeat in his ears, looping around and around.

Adderall overdose. 

“Has your son been taking more than his prescribed dose? Amphetamines can be addictive, you might want to look into—”

“—symptoms include rapid heartbeat, shaking, fever, nausea, Stiles is lucky he didn’t have a seizure.”

“We’d like to keep him overnight for observation to make sure nothing else goes—”

“He’ll be okay,” Melissa says for the tenth time as she pokes her head into the room. Her eyes are dark and her scrubs are wrinkled from her red-eye shift. “I’ll be right back to check his blood again, let me know if you need anything.” She disappears with a swish of ebony ringlets.

John stares at the IV in his son’s pale wrist. His pale face is slack and peaceful, a mirror image of Claudia in her hospital bed. Although she had eighteen dark freckles on her face and their son only has twelve. There isn’t a single physical feature he got from John, aside the thick lobes of his ears. He used to tease her about her secret affair with the mailman, but Claudia always gasped and tackled him with a string of “nononono’s” like it truly baffled her that she might be with any man other than John. She was his whole world, which is why it’s so painful to see his son in the same position.

A glance down and he realizes his son is staring at him, a crack of amber between dark lashes. “Dad?” Stiles croaks. 

John breathes a sigh of relief, letting his head hang down. “You sure like to sleep, kiddo.”

“I hate hospitals,” Stiles mumbles.

“Good,” John says sharper than intended. “Then you’ll never do anything that stupid again, got it?”

Stiles swallows, suddenly fascinated with staring at the sheets. John plows ahead, trying and failing to control his calm. “The doctors found sixty milligrams of Adderall in your system, Stiles. That’s three times your daily dose, what were you thinking? You know I have nurses breathing down my neck to get you into rehab because they think you’re an addict?”

“M’sorry, I—“

"And here I am telling them no, my son is smarter than that, defending the dummy who landed himself in the hospital over taking too many pills! Do you have any idea how terrified I was?”

He’s standing and breathing harshly now. Stiles shrinks against the sheets, heart monitor kicking up. Melissa rounds the corner into the room like she teleported. 

“John, what's going on here? Stiles, honey, you’re okay, John honestly, who yells at their kid the second they wake—“

“No, it’s okay,” Stiles interrupts Melissa, squirming in his bed. “Dad’s right, I was stupid. I should have been paying more attention, I just forgot how many I had taken!”

“Stiles,” John chastises. “You’ve been on Adderall for years, you know how dangerous—"

“I know, okay?” Stiles keens. “I didn’t mean to, I lost count! I— I thought if I took more then I could study better for—“ His eyes grow wide, snapping to the clock. “The entrance exam! Oh my god dad, the exam, it’s in two hours!“ As he actually moves to get out of bed, attempting to yank the sheets off. “We gotta go home, I—"

“Whoa, what the hell are you doing? Lay back down, you’re in a hospital bed in case you haven’t noticed,” John eases his son back down.

“Your dad’s right, sweetie, you’re not going anywhere just yet,” Melissa adds. She gently straps a blood pressure cuff around his arm.

“Besides, you can take the exam in three weeks. There are two dates to do it, kiddo.”

“What?"

“Yeah, May fourteenth and June sixth. Just calm down, work on going back to sleep.”

“I know it can be scary, honey, but it’s important that we keep you here to make sure you don’t run into any other problems,” Melissa adds gently. “I can get you an extra pillow if you like?"

“But I can’t be here,” whispers Stiles, grabbing John’s sleeve. His eyes glaze with anxious moisture. “Dad, how much is this costing you? You haven’t even payed off mom’s bills yet! I feel fine enough to go now, really!"

John stares at his kid. Melissa exchanges a look with him and he purses his lips at the floor. “Melissa, think you could give us a minute?” He asks quietly. She nods and exits, pulling the curtain shut behind her.

He sighs, sits back down in his crappy hospital chair, and rubs a hand over his forehead. Stiles purses his lips nervously, watching him closely. “Okay, kid. First off, how do you know about my bills?”

Stiles licks his lips, eyes flicking to the IV in his hand. He picks with slim fingers at the scratchy hospital sheet. “I check the mail stack for my Justice League subscription and sometimes I find things with ’ second notice’ on them. I guessed your email password and figured it might be the same as your online bank account password, so I log in once in a while and see the debt."

“How did you get my email password?” John has never shared his password with anyone.

Stiles lifts an eyebrow as if to say, duh. “It’s my real name, dad. What else would it be?"

John raised an annoyingly clever kid. Keyboard smash offers the best protection. Now he’s going to have to think of something else.

“Jesus, kid.” He sighs and takes a minute to study his son. “Alright, now you listen to me,” he says gently. “I’m the dad, and you’re the son. That means that I get to handle all the stressful adult stuff like finances and taxes, and you get to handle all the fun kid stuff like going to school and hanging out with friends.”

“But—“

“No buts. You’re thirteen. You shouldn’t be worrying about anything except showing up to class on time.”

“But I worry about you,” Stiles blurts meekly.

The words tickle John’s insides. “You don’t have to. I’ve been an officer for twenty-one years, and you’re the one in the hospital bed in case you haven’t noticed. Which brings me to my next question: what’s got you so stressed out over this exam, bud? You know you only need a 1400 to pass into highschool. That’s a piece of cake even for Scott.”

“But he’s not the one with ADHD,” Stiles stares at the sheets again. “I wanted to prove that I can do better than bare minimum. Really impress you with a high score, the top score even.”

“Son, you impress me every day,” John says honestly. “You don’t need to prove yourself with a crummy standardized test.”

“Yeah, well crummy standardized tests measure your intelligence in America."

“Well I’ve known you for thirteen years, so I’m a pretty good judge to say that you’re the most intelligent kid I know.”

“You only know me and Scott.”

"TV and film characters included.”

“Doogie Howser?”

“He’s got nothing on your MacGuyver skills. You once fixed the microwave with duct tape, a lemon, and a couple alligator clamps, remember?”

He wins a small shrug, so he keeps going until he gets a smile.

“We both know you’re smart, Stiles. You’re too clever for your own good most of the time. I don’t care what grades you get so long as you try your best. You’re more important than any scantron."

Stiles licks his lips, eyes round and far too much like his wife’s. “I’m sorry for scaring you."

“Sorry for tripling your dose, yeah. But you have nothing else to apologize for. I mean it when I say you’re my favorite son.”

“I’m your only son.”

“Still my favorite,” John declares as he stands up. “Alright, I’m gonna grab Melissa again so she can check your vitals. You’re lucky she happened to be on a red-eye shift because she’s definately one of the nicer nurses around here. Can I get you anything? Another blanket?"

“Um. Water maybe?"

“Okay. I’ll be right back."

“Thank you.”

“You’re welcome.”

“No, I mean… Thank you for being… Dad.”

John ruffles his son’s hair. “Thanks for being my kid, kiddo.”

 

.o0O0o. May 15th, 2010.

The TV drones with a talkshow as John sits at the dining table looking over police reports. He calls it an early night and goes to his bedroom to find the crime book he got from the library yesterday, changing into his pajamas. His shirt is barely on when his cell phone rings on his bed— it’s a number he doesn’t recognize.

“Hello?”

“Is this John Stilinski?”

“Yes it is,” he says, heart suddenly pounding. Is Stiles okay? Is Stiles hurt? What did Stiles—?

“I’m Raymond Mellarke with the Federal Police Bureau of the Bay Area. We’ve just been informed that your county’s current Sheriff, Richard Sullivan, reportedly assaulted a minor without provocation, breaching law of conduct.”

“Jesus,” John breathes. He grips his bedsheets— he knows Sullivan can be blunt but this is absurd, even for him. “That’s terrible, is the kid okay?"

“We can’t release any details until the investigation is completed, but it happened around five-thirty this evening. Our building currently has both personnel in custody for questioning, but it looks like Sullivan acted without fair cause and will be stripped of his title. The reason I’m calling is to see if you would be willing to take over as Beacon Hills County Sheriff.”

The room stills to a stop aside from the slight flutter of his curtains. It takes a moment for it to really comprehend, even though he’s been waiting for the words for nearly two decades.

“Me?” John whispers.

“Our office oversees all officer records. According to your file and previous recommendations from Earl Sanders and deputies, there’s hardly any decision to be made. You’re our top pick.”

“I— Jesus, thank you,” he grips the receiver so tight he’s amazed it doesn’t break. “I— I would be honored. Yes, I’ll do it. Thank you.”

“I’ll be in contact with you the next couple days to go over details and the standard policies. But other than that, there’s not much to it. You’ll be instated this Friday on May first.”

“Thank you,” John says again. His voice and fingers tremble.

“Thank you, John. Have a great evening.”

“You, too.”

John hangs up and stares at his phone. He laughs hysterically and leaps up, does a little jive around his room and wipes the hot tears from his face. Panting, he goes over to his bookshelf and picks up the photo of Claudia he took on her twenty-ninth birthday— she’s in her red dress and the Audrey Hepburn hat he bought her at Haight Street, and she’s laughing at something across the street.

“I did it,” he whispers, and gently presses his lips against the glass of the frame.

 

.o0O0o. June 1st, 2010.

John is elected Sheriff of Beacon Hills County on June 1st, 2010.

He moves in to the office as soon as the minute hand hits 8:00 that morning.

“Wow dad, this is so cool! Your own office and everything! After what, like, twenty years? Ha! Wow. You’ve been stuck in this building for two decades and you never got bored? I’d get so bored sitting at the same desk everyday, but it’s cool that you get your own big new desk now. Hey! Did you bring your army flag? It’d be so cool to have your army flag in your office. Or like a gold eagle statue— no wait! An actual eagle! That would be so—"

Stiles is helping him carry in the cardboard box of stuff to decorate. He graduated eighth grade a couple days ago, so this is only the beginning of what will be three months of the usual summer vacation whining. 

Daaaad, I’m bored!” “Daaaaad, it’s so hoooot! I’m melting, why don’t we have air conditioning?” “Daaaad, can’t we go out for ice cream? Pleeeeeease? I’m gonna lick the fridge handle until you say yes.” “Daaaad, can we get a new fridge? The door handle on this one tastes gross.”

Summer is fun for about three days before Stiles realizes there’s nothing to do in a small town, which means his top two forms of entertainment are bugging John all day long and getting into extra big trouble. Last summer he set off fireworks in Mrs. Flannigan’s backyard because he “had nothing else to do.” It’s a dangerous, dangerous season.

“Okay, here it is,” John says as he sticks his new key into the lock of his new Sheriff space— he’s keeping it together on the outside, but inside he’s giddy as a kid in a candy shop.

“Open it, open it!”

John opens the door. It swings open to reveal a small, bare office space with a mahogany desk, two empty shelves, a lamp, a saggy victim couch, and a swivel-chair. There’s dust on the floor and a crack in the window, and it’s the most beautiful room he’s ever seen.

“What a dump,” Stiles wrinkles his nose as he flops on the victim couch, coughing as a cloud of dust shakes free.

“Shush, I’ve waited half my life for this moment,” John scolds as he sets his box down on the desk. His beautiful, beautiful desk. His breath catches when he sees the bronze police Chief name plaque atop the wood, and the badge— shiny gold and brand new, with “Sheriff John Stilinski” engraved into it.

"Dang, pop, look at that shine!" Stiles crows as he points to the plaque. He spits on his sweatshirt sleeve and rubs it against the bronze. "Sheriff John Stilinski" he pronounces slowly. "So official."

"It's just a title, Stiles," John brushes off modestly, even though he's been doodling ‘Sheriff john Stilinski’ in his notebook margins since he was a student at the academy.

“And your badge!” Stiles grabs the star off the desk and gasps.

"Hey, don't breathe on it," John chastises and yanks it back, cradling the badge to his chest. "You'll get your cheeto breath all over it."

"Ohh, right, because you care so much about germs, Mister eat-the-lasagna-out-of-the-trash-because-no-self-control.”

"Hey, I'm the Sheriff now. I can have you arrested for talking back to an officer."

Stiles flops back on the small couch, arms behind head and chews on a toothpick he seemingly pulled from nowhere. "You should have arrested me years ago. Provoking officers is hardly the worst thing I've done."

John sighs because it’s true.

“Well? Aren’tcha gonna try it on?” Stiles blinks up at him from the couch. John stares at the badge in his hand, eyes raking over the glossy metal. It feels heavier than he imagined in the palm of his hand, but it fits twice as perfect. The only thing missing is—

“You wanted mom to pin it on you, huh,” Stiles guesses quietly. John meets his eyes, marveling in how much his son’s big browns look like Claudia’s, and the intelligence behind them.

“Once upon a time, yeah,” he admits.

“And when you do, our son will be right there to pin it on you."

“But I’d love if you could do it for her.”

He holds out the badge and after a moment of startled blinking, Stiles grins and takes it. His skinny fingers flitter over the gold and find the clasp in the back, and he hops up close on his tip toes to pin it on.

“How about right here?”

“Looks good. Just try not to stab me, alright?”

“Chill, I’m not gonna stab you.”

“Ow!”

“Heh. Okay, that was an accident. I’m not gonna stab you mortally.”

John looks at himself in the glass reflection of book case. He smiles.

Stiles starts poking in drawers and finds Sullivan’s apparent snack drawer. “Score!” He pulls out a bag of Doritos and tears open the bag. He’s an honest kid that is turning into the biggest klepto John has ever met, and John’s worked in law enforcement for twenty-two years.

"Kid, could you not eat that on my new couch?" He frowns at the neon crumbs Stiles is spilling between the cracks.

Stiles flops backwards, opening his mouth to chew obscenely, showing John the orange mush in his mouth. “Good one, dad. Like you think I'm not gonna be in here eating all the time.”

“You’re going to be in school, kid. Now I brought you to help me unpack this stuff. Get off your butt and come help."

Stiles sighs dramatically, stuffs a handful of as many Doritos as he can into his mouth, and swings his legs off the couch. John unloads the box, which includes a mug of pencils, his folded army flag, and a folder of police records he’s supposed to file away in his drawers.

“Wow, who’s this guy?” Stiles flips open a folder and squints at the mugshot there.

“That,” John looks over. “Is the kid Richard punched last month.”

“Dude!” Stiles says. “No way! That’s what he got fired for? I thought he punched, you know, a man... But this guy looks like he's just a teenager."

"He is," John grunts. "No faster way to get yourself demoted to mail room."

“Derek Hale," Stiles pronounces. "He's..." he trails off, squinting at the picture.

"Dangerous,” slips out of John’s mouth before he can think. He feels a pang of guilt for a memory of young Derek, skinny and grief-ridden at the station, but he also wants to protect Stiles from the kid who has a criminal record.

"Dangerous?" Stiles snaps his head up, wide eyes on John. He looks to Derek again. "I was going to suggest ‘ruggedly handsome,’ but what's so dangerous about him? Did he kill someone?"

"Remember that fire that happened the night before your twelfth birthday party?"

"Yeah?"

"That was the Hale fire."

Stiles eyes bug on the picture. “Holy— Derek Hale? As in the sole survivor and teenage millionaire?"

"That's him."

"Wow," Stiles gazes at picture. "He lost his whole family?” He says meekly, frowning. It’s the first sign of sympathy he’s shown for someone other than Scott. "That sucks. But why would Richard punch him? Talk about kicking a dog when he’s down."

"Derek Hale spent the majority of last year terrorizing the town,” John explains. “He used to get arrested all the time for one thing or another. He refused all the department rehabilitation programs and dropped out of school— kid had a mouth on him too, drove Sullivan crazy. Guess Richard finally snapped and lost his temper."

“Dang. Does he still live… You know… In the house his family died in?"

"Rumor has it he just finished remodeling it. City wanted to condemn the place, but he refused."

“Wow,” Stiles murmurs. “That’s really sad. Maybe we could go… I dunno. Bake him cookies or something."

"No," John shuts him down, then immediately feels guilty. "I don't want you having anything to do with that kid, Stiles. He has a criminal record longer than my arm."

"Well so do I! Or at least I would if I got arrested for half the things I do."

"Doesn't matter," John says. "He's a high school dropout and doesn't go to college. He lives out in the woods by himself. That qualifies as sketchy in my book."

"Aw, look at you dad, looking out for me," Stiles teases, popping another Dorito in his mouth. "Let's order pizza for dinner."

 

.o0O0o. June 6th, 2010

Stiles takes the high school entrance exam a few days later. It’s held at Beacon Hills High, where half the county eighth graders file in nervously from the sidewalk, number two pencils clutched in sweaty hands. John drives him in the police cruiser, secretly giddy that there’s a big ‘ol “COUNTY SHERIFF” plastered on the side in big white block letters. He gets to park it in the driveway now, and it tastes sweeter than candy.

“Bye kiddo, you’ll do great!” He calls out the window as Stiles salutes him.

“Thanks, pop!”

He watches proudly for a moment as his gangly kid walks up to the double doors. Then he shifts gears, looks over his shoulder, and pulls out onto the—

“Hey Stiles, where you going?”

“Room 400, it’s on the other side of the school.”

“Room 400? Isn’t that the retard room?”

John hits the breaks so fast the tires squeal against the pavement.

“I— what? No, it’s just… It’s for students who need extra time.” Stiles is facing a freckled kid with matted orange curls.

“Yeah, because you’re a retard,” the kid cackles. A few other students join in the laughter as John flashes his break lights and steps out of the car.

“Hey you,” he strides up the front steps. Stiles whirls around with wide eyes and the kids abruptly stop laughing at the sight of his uniform.

“Y-yes sir—“

John sizes him up. “Did I hear you call my son a retard?”

“I—“

“Are you aware what that word means, son?”

“Yeah,” the kid sticks his chin up valiantly, squinting his already squinty eyes. “What’s it to you?"

“To me it’s a pretty nasty word to use on someone who isn’t clinically mentally retarded,” John states dangerously. “That’s my son there you’re talking to, and he’s a brilliant kid with ADHD wether he’s granted extra time or not. You’d best shut your mouth with childish remarks like that unless you want me to call up your mother and get you grounded for the whole summer."

“You can’t do that! You don’t even know who I am!” The kid sputters. 

“Ricky Santiago. You’re trying to get into Saint Francis high school, you play club soccer for The Colts, you had cheerios for breakfast, and you’re about to cheat on the exam.” John doesn’t miss a beat.

As expected, the kid’s eyes widen in shock. “W-what—?”

“Your name is written in sharpie on your backpack, probably by your mother. Your older brother David —at least I’m assuming since there isn’t another Santiago in this town— was arrested for underage drinking last week and he was wearing a Saint Francis sweatshirt, so odds are you want to go to the same school. Your shorts are The Colts uniform, which I recognize because Stiles played club soccer last year and The Gators beat you ten to none, and your breath smells like cheerios.”

John pauses to lift his eyebrow. “And there’s a black smudge on your forehead which I’m guessing isn’t soot. It looks like you wiped the nervous sweat from your forehead at some point this morning, and since it’s on the left side, that’s why I deduct—“

John grabs Ricky’s hand and shoves up his jacket sleeve, revealing a mile of scribbled sharpie notes.

“You’re about to cheat on the exam.”

The small crowd of students gasps and Ricky turns bright red, trying to squirm out of his grip.

“H-how—?” Ricky squeaks. 

“He’s the Sheriff,” Stiles grins in awe, and John swells with pride but keeps his grim expression. Because he’s the Sheriff now, which means he needs to look the part.

“Now, I’m gonna call the dean’s office while I wait here with you,” he says as he starts scrolling through his phone (Stiles decided to ride his bike on the high school roof last month so he actually has the office number in his contacts). “I’d walk you down there myself but I can’t leave the squad car running and unsupervised."

“Wait, please—! I’m sorry, I just really wanted to do good on this test!” Ricky blubbers.

“I know this test can be nerve-wracking, but I don’t have much sympathy for cheaters, son.”

“Uh, dad? This is really cool and all and I would totally love to stay and watch this guy get his just desserts, but I gotta go,” Stiles interrupts with a glance to his watch. “But that was totally sick, you were like Sherlock Holmes! Wait, are we supposed to be in the classroom at eight or five to eight?”

“Five to eight.”

“Aaeep! Okay I’m going bye I gotta go like right now—“ Stiles flails and drops his pencils then grabs them and takes off running. “Wish me luck!"

“Bye, son! You don’t need it.” John smiles. Stiles gives two thumbs up over his shoulder.

“Bye pop! Love you!"

 

.o0O0o. August 10th, 2011.

John’s been working on the same murder case for a week.

All three deaths are connected to Beacon Hills county's most popular gay club, The Jungle. The details are as follows:

 

• 23-year-old Greg Suarez, the first victim, went out drinking at The Jungle with his boyfriend on Friday night. Upon returning home to their apartment, Greg suddenly convulsed and dropped dead.

• The next day on Saturday night, 21-year-old Ryan Alvaratto collapsed dead while dancing at the club. 

• On Sunday evening, 39-year-old Wilbur Walters convulsed and died in the back of a taxi on his way home from The Jungle.

 

First time is an incident, two times is a coincidence, three times is a pattern.

The autopsies showed arsenic poisoning as the cause of death, but every open bottle of liquor from the club tested clean. The Jungle has since been closed as a crime scene and the staff members have been interrogated, with prime suspect Ashley Ngyuen, who was on shift bartending for all three nights the victims died.

Today is Wednesday. John’s favorite days are Wednesdays, because those are his days off. Which means that instead of spreading out police reports on his tiny desk at the station, he gets to spread out police reports on his tiny dining table in his kitchen. Except now John is driving the squad car out for a well-deserved Burger King break, until he spots a beat-up red bicycle with a bat logo sticker sloppily parked outside The Jungle, which has long ropes of yellow police tape wrapped around the perimeter.

"Stiles," he growls as he flips his blinker on, pulling left instead of continuing down the lane that will take him to sweet, calorie-filled mercy.

And that’s the other thing. Ever since John’s job started including investigating cold cases and murders, Stiles has taken a large interest in “helping.” John should have expected it considering how the kid has seen all eight seasons of Monk, all eleven seasons of CSI, and knows the dialogue to some Criminal Minds episodes better than he knows the Pledge of Allegiance. But by the time John parks the Crown Vic outside the club's double doors, his son has already slipped inside.

John crosses his arms as he passes the threshold and spots Stiles by the bar stools. He takes a minute to just watch him, looking forward to the well-deserved terror his son will experience as soon as he turns around. The teen paces the bar slowly but with purpose, eyes trailing analytically over the stacked glasses, bundles of mint, and the sealed bottles of liquor. He chews on his hoodie string, muttering lightly to himself as he peeks underneath the counter, peering closely at suspicious stains and peanut shells. He looks out of place in his dirty converse, ripped jeans and striped sweatshirt. Then he turns around and screams.

"Oh my God! Give me a freaking heart attack why don't you!"

"Son," John greets darkly.

Stiles has grown a mile in the past year, stretching him beanpole-skinny just in time for Freshman year. For such gangly limbs he eats like a horse (and drinks milk straight from the damn gallon) but looks like a deer with his huge, brown eyes and feathery lashes blinking amid pale, freckled skin. He has big feet and big hands but little ears that stick out from the buzz cut he’s still nursing. With his moles and girlish pink lips he looks odd, but John loves him just the same.

“Dad!” Stiles yelps, eyes darting back and forth as if to calculate the best way out. "Right, hi! Heeeey, daddy-o... Heh, what's, uh... What's the happ’s?"

"Oh, the happ’s?" John plays along amicably. "Nothing much, just taking time out of my day to catch my son committing suspicious, probably illegal activities because he thinks his father isn't watching."

"Oh," Stiles gulps. "Hey, did I mention that I got an A on my science report Friday?"

"Very nice. Now what are you doing here?"

"Mm. Define ‘here'? Like here in the county, here in California, here in—“ but Stiles flings his arm back in his squandering and knocks over a bowl of limes sitting on the bar counter. “Oh, shoot— sorry, sorry! That was an accident! Who the hell decided that was a good place to put that?”

“For Christ’s sake, Stiles, this is a crime scene,” John hisses, bending down to help pick up all the fruits as they bounce across the floor.

“Oh, wow, really?” Stiles chuckles nervously, scrabbling to throw the limes back in the bowl. “What a coinkidink, I didn’t know, I was just, uh—“

“How did you even get in here?” John sighs, because The Jungle's doors are all locked with the set of keys in John’s—

“I stole the keys from your uniform pocket when you were in the shower."

Well, at least he raised an honest kid. 

“Son, you do realize I should be arresting you for that, right?” John grabs a lime, then picks up a smaller lime and holds it adjacent, lifting each one accordingly. “See? Like these limes. I’m the dad—“ he shakes the bigger fruit. “And you’re the son—“ she shakes the small lime. “That means I’m in charge and you listen to me, not the other way around.”

“Nice metaphor, dad,” Stiles nods approvingly as they set the bowl back in place on the counter. “Although I feel like that's unfair for the small defenseless lime son, don’t you? Like this is 2011, ammi’right? Sudan just got independence, so shouldn’t well-behaved teen— no, scratch that. Shouldn’t teenagers get some independence too?"

“Sure, independence with doing your own laundry and buying your own groceries. Not freedom to be here, Stiles, inside a building that has yellow ‘crime scene: do not enter’ tape around it."

“Oh,” Stiles licks his lips, blinking around the space as if seeing it for the first time. “I was, you know, uh, just clubbin’… At the club,” he fist-bumps awkwardly, smile crooked and unconvincing. 

“Stiles, this club was shut down two days ago,” John deadpans.

“Yeah! Right. Right, I was just here looking for…” His son whirls around, spotting a button on the floor. “A button! I mean, my button. My lucky button, which I lost, but now I found! Phew, what luck, eh? Anyhoo, I’m gonna go home and sew it back on to my shirt, so—“

John grabs the back of Stiles’s hood before he can escape, making his son’s sneakers scrabble for purchase on the slick floor. “Stiles,” he growls. 

Stiles twists away and runs his large hands up and down his hoodie, a habit when he’s trying to think fast. “Fine, fine! Okay. I, uh— Dad, there’s something I need to tell you.” His son pauses for dramatic effect, splaying his long fingers out wide in front of John. His eyes are large and rabbit-like, like he might try to bolt any second.

John crosses his arms. “I’m waiting.”

“Okay, here goes,” Stiles takes a deep breath and throws his arms out. “I’m bisexual!"

“And the sky is blue. Now what are you doing here?”

His son blinks wildly, mouth dropping open with a wet pop. “Wait, what? Wow, that was… Not the reaction I was expecting. Wait, you knew?”

“Your mother and I knew when you were five. Nice diversion tactic, but it needs work. Now for the last time, answer my question."

“Damn, I was saving that one for a real pickle. Shame,” Stiles tsks, softly shaking his head. “Okay, so don’t get mad—“

“We’re past that stage, kid.”

“—But I’m really reallyreally close to figuring out this case and I needed to check something here.”

John’s hand flies up to pinch the bridge of his nose. “Stiles, no! Goddammit, what did I tell you? No more meddling with police work! I don’t care how good your attention to detail is, you simply can’t go snooping around illegally just because I’m the Sheriff— especially because I’m the Sheriff. I already got in trouble once, and I’d really like to keep my job, kiddo."

Stiles squeaks and trips over his feet at John's anger. “Aheh, great points pops, and I know and I’m superdupersorry, but look!”

“Stiles—“

“Just look!” Stiles insists, and curls his bony knuckles around John’s elbow to drag him over to the employee clock-in sheet by the wall. His son points eagerly at a line on the paper. "Here, see? Eduardo Vasquez, bartender. Clocks in every Friday from 8:00pm to 2:00am— the same time the first murder took place!”

John sighs heavily. “Yes, the department knows that. That’s the first thing we looked into. He’s clear.”

“What?” Stiles squawks.

“We brought him in for questioning a few days ago, along with all the other staff members who were on shift. He didn’t even make the victim’s drink, his co-worker Ashley did. Sweet guy, actually. He gardens for his grandmother on the weekends."

“What! No, that can’t be right. Then what was he doing when the drink was being made?” Stiles asks suspiciously.

“He was mixing another cocktail, confirmed by two witnesses. I shouldn’t even be telling you this, but if it will help put your mind at ease—“

“No, there is no mind to be eased, dad, there’s a murderer on the loose!” Stiles throws his arms up, gesturing wildly around the bar. “And I’m not buying any of that BS, like come on, gardeningfor grandma? This guy is—!“

“Innocent,” John cuts in firmly. "He’s already been asked a million questions by the board, Stiles. Let the professionals do their job."

“Well the professionals are wrong,” Stiles huffs, tapping his foot as he frowns at the sign-in sheet. “I saw Eduardo’s headshot on the dining table last night. He’s totally guilty.”

“And what makes you so sure Eduardo murdered three people based off his headshot?” John presses.

“He’s six foot one, he has a terrible haircut, and he has evil, shifty eyes of evilness!” Stiles whisper-shouts urgently, then throws his arms up when John rolls his eyes. “He’s your guy, dad, I can feel it! I’d say my Spidey Sense is tingling, but we both know I’ve always been Batman.”

“Stiles, you’re going to go home and do your homework,” John growls, hauling his son out the door of the club. “You know, like a normal fourteen-year-old. And when you’re done with that you’re going to do the dishes, and if I deem you’ve done a good job then maybe you’ll have your punishment dropped to two weeks grounded instead of three.”

“What! Dad—“

“Stiles, I’ve had it up to here,” John raises his hand up to eye-level. “This is the only way you’re gonna get it through that head of yours. No. More. Meddling. You can solve murders when you’re in uniform.”

Stiles glares at him as he swings a leg over his bike. "You were on your way to Burger King, weren't you?"

"I was not!" John lies over his shoulder.

"Was too! I swear I’m the only one who cares about your cholesterol!”

“Next time I see you on that bike I want to see you wearing a helmet, Stiles!”

“Ugh, you’re so lame, dad! Only lame people like Scott wear helmets!”

“Scott’s your best friend—”

“Exactly, which is why I’m the only one who’s allowed to call him lame!”

“Grounded, Stiles!"

John drops into the passenger seat of the cruiser and slams the door, sighing heavily against the steering wheel. He glances up just in time to see Stiles riding out onto the street, sticking his tongue out at John over his shoulder. He should really have “please return to Smartass Stilinski” stitched into the back of all his kid’s clothes. John meets his grey eyes in the rear view mirror, raising an eyebrow at himself. 

“It’s your own damn fault,” he mutters.

 

.o0O0o.

Later that night black stains dust his fingertips, result of paging through police reports and newspaper articles all day. His glass of iced tea leaves a ring of white on the dining table, an addition to the million other rings of white left faded from drinks without coasters over the years. It’s been a quiet yet counterproductive Wednesday; he's still going in countless circles with this case and Stiles has been in his room all day. They’ve hardly said a word to each other since this morning, but that’s the usual after arguments.

At seven Stiles slides slowly into a chair beside him, scooting forward an open can of Pepsi.

“Heeeey, pops,” his son greets, popping the ‘P’. A fleck of spit flies out and lands on the autopsy report. John shoots his son an unimpressed frown and wipes it away with his thumb.

“This is classified murder information, son.”

“Exactly! Why do you think I’m here?” Stiles rolls his eyes, cheeks hollowing as he sucks up sugary Mountain Dew through his straw. “Any new details worth mentioning?”

“Nope.”

“Not even for a sip of this delicious soda?”

“Considering my son is the King of Backwash, definitely no.”

Stiles whines in frustration and tries craning his neck to see around John’s hand. John moves his palm accordingly. “Come on, dad, I finished all my homework! And look, you’ve been at this case for days, just let me help! You know what they say— two heads are better than one, especially if the bigger of those heads has a receding hairline.”

John sighs and flips the binder shut. “Stiles, do you not remember this morning, when I grounded you for sticking your nose into my work?”

“Yeah, but that was for meddling! Physically going out, breaking into a crime scene and meddling with my hands!” Stiles says, wiggling his fingers two inches from John’s face. “All I’m asking is that you share a little info with me to ease my curiosity. I’m not gonna go out and meddle with anything, I just wanna know the new details. You know, for funsies. So I can have something to entertain me since you took away my internet and my phone. Pleeeease?”

He finishes with giant brown puppy eyes and a pouted lip, and John stares him down with his best fatherly-unimpressed look. Stiles sighs, and in a blink the playful jest vanishes from his irises. 

“Look, I’m sorry about going out behind your back today and snooping through The Jungle. And stealing your keys,” Stiles tells him earnestly, voice falling and cracking quiet in that way it does during those rare moments of seriousness. "I just got really excited about solving this case and acted on instinct. It was stupid of me. I just…” he licks his lips. “I think it’s kinda cool, the idea of getting to help you with cases and stuff. Like it’s something we could do together, you know?”

Since the first year after mom died you were too busy drinking to be there for me.

The last line Stiles leaves unspoken, but John hears it loud and clear. He releases a quiet breath, observing his son’s warm, hopeful-nervous eyes, which are somehow more powerful than his puppy eyes. He sighs. He is weak. 

“If I catch you interacting with anyone or anything related to this case, you’re never leaving this house again,” he warns darkly as he reopens the binder. Stiles whoops and pumps his fist in the air, jumping over to plant a sloppy kiss on John’s forehead.

“Yusssss, you’re the best dad in the history of ever,” Stiles grabs the binder and starts paging through, tongue slipping out distractedly to search for his straw. “So whatta’we got? More poisonings? Arsenic found hidden in The Jungle’s disco ball? A sudden stabbing? That would be a fun plot twist.”

“A third victim keeled over dead in a taxi on the way home from The Jungle last night,” John points to the newest headshot. “Wilbur Waters. Autopsy just came in, cause of death arsenic poisoning.”

“Aw man, again?” Stiles frowns at the picture. “Well guess we’ve definitely got a serial killer on our hands, since he’s victim number three." 

“First time’s an incident, second time’s a coincidence, third time’s a pattern,” John nods.

Stiles studies the file. “Whoa, hold on, this guy was thirty-nine? But that’s ancient!” 

“Hardly, kid.”

“Okay we get it, you’re sensitive about your age. But what I meant was that the other two victims were in their early twenties, right? So why would the killer want to off this geezer Wilbur, too?"

“That’s not the strangest part,” John sighs. “According to the cab driver, Wilbur mentioned he only ordered a coke at the bar.”

“A coke with rum?”

“Just a coke.”

Stiles chews his thumb. “Well that’s… Annoying.”

John nods. “Puzzling, sure, considering it's hard to tamper with a sealed soda can. Meanwhile the lab sent back the toxicology reports from the open liquor at the bar— all came back clean.”

Stiles chews his thumb. “What were the three drinks again?”

“On Friday Gary ordered a mojito. On Saturday Ryan reportedly downed several margueritas. Wilbur had the coke.”

“Okay, so those all sound gross. What if the arsenic is in the ice cubes?”

“That’s what I thought too, but the ice is dispensed from a large machine. There’s no way to poison a few cubes without poisoning all of them, and we only have three dead bodies. ‘Only’ as a relative term here.”

"Okay, so we know that someone’s slipping the arsenic into the drinks when no one is looking,” Stiles concludes. “Like Eduardo.”

John sighs. “Stiles, I told you, we already checked him out."

His son makes a vague sound and flutters his fingers dismissively in the air. “Right, right, sure.” He starts scribbling the details out in a chart, the same chart John drew only messier. “So there are three dead people. One died on Friday, the second died Saturday, and the third died on Sunday. And there was only one staff worker who was there working all three shifts?”

“Ashley Nguyen, a bartender. Pours all the drinks and has a degree in chemistry, too. She’s our prime suspect."

Stiles grunts and taps his pencil rapidly against his temple, pat pat pat patpatpat— “Okay, so if we buy that she is the killer, which she’s not but okay, how does she get the arsenic into the glasses without anyone noticing?"

“You’re getting ahead of yourself,” John says. “When you get stuck on a case you always go back to square one. The start of the crime, also known as the big picture."

“Alright, so that’s the killer’s motive, right? Why would someone want to kill three people, all presumably gay, since you know, a gay club, ages twenty-two, twenty-three, and thirty-nine?”

John sighs. “I don’t know, kid. That’s what I’m trying to figure out."

The beep-beep beep-beep of the microwave interrupts them, signaling the end of Stiles’s dinner. His son leaps up and returns with a steaming hot pocket flopping out of his mouth, and a plain spinach salad for his dad. John winces and returns from the fridge with low-fat ranch dressing, bacon bits, a lime, and croutons.

“Is that the low-fat dressing?” Stiles narrows his eyes.

“You only buy low-fat dressing nowadays. Although I hope you realize that the full-fat kind won’t kill me, right?”

“Not immediately,” Stiles chirps around his hot pocket. Sauce oozes out and drips on his shirt. He frowns at it and dips his head down to lick it off. “Why do you always gotta add all that extra stuff to my delicious healthy Dad Dinners?”

“Just trying to cover up the taste of leaves, kid,” John dotes as he squeezes fresh lime over his mountain of bacony-ranchy-croutons, and the rabbit food beneath that.

 

.o0O0o. August 11th, 2011.

“Did your boss give you any supplies for your shifts at The Jungle, Ashley?"

“We all have aprons to hold our tips, and a visor. But nobody really wears the visors."

“Uh-huh. Did you make good tips that night?”

“Me? No, just average. But Eduardo made good money, he had a big wad of bills in his pocket.”

"And you’re majoring in chemistry, correct?”

“I… Yes."

“Do you know how to make arsenic, Ashley?”

“Well… Yes, technically, but—“

John watches the interrogation tape closely in his shiny new Sheriff’s office beside the tall form of Detective Larson, San Francisco PD’s most celebrated investigator. San Francisco’s Chief of Police Andrew Watts and criminology team are here as well. John tugs at his collar— he’d be lying if he said he wasn’t nervous as hell about making a good impression. 

“Excellent work, Sheriff,” Larson straightens and clicks his pen. “It’s not a confession but everything does seem to fall into place around her. May I get a copy of this tape?”

“Absolutely. I’ll have them ready for you in a couple hours, detective.”

“She seems nervous from the get-go,” Chief Watts adds. “I’ll have my team investigate The Jungle for anything your department might have missed. Hopefully with any newfound evidence we’ll have enough for a warrant. You said you already had some scene evidence held here?”

“Yes, the staff’s aprons and some bottles of liquor,” John replies. 

“Excellent. I have no doubt we’ll be able to wrap this up quickly between both our cities,” Larson nods. John internally preens —he’s working with the big guns— and the big guns like him! He’s almost grateful enough to say a Hail Mary when he gets home, until—

Tap tap taptaptap.

They all turn to the window, where his son’s grinning face and skinny knuckles tap furiously on the glass. John’s heart nosedives into his stomach.

“What the—?” Detective Larson starts.

“I— Sorry, that’s my son,” he sighs, and quickly shuffles forward as Stiles points furiously to unlock the window. It comes undone with a snick and the kid tumbles through the opening, falling gracelessly to the floor. “Stiles, what in the—?“ John starts. 

“Dad! Dad, you— Oh, there’s people in here. Why are there people in here? Hi people, I’m Stiles,” Stiles salutes. He’s wearing a bright blue “stud muffin” t-shirt with a ketchup stain and his bike helmet, buckles swinging wildly around his face. "But dad! I’ve got some important info you’re totally gonna wanna hear about the arsenic case!"

“Sheriff, need I remind you that police business is strictly with the department?” Larson warns. The entire SFPD is staring disapprovingly between him and his lanky teenager.

“Yes, I understand,” John assures him hastily. “My son here tends to stick his nose into business he’s not supposed to,” while shooting a deadly look to Stiles, who sputters.

“But you—!”

“You were just leaving, weren’t you, Stiles?” John presses.

“What? No I wasn’t!” Stiles blurts angrily. “You can’t just kick me out when it’s inconvenient, I come here all the time! I’m practically here as much as you are! And you said yesterday that—"

“That’s alright Sheriff, I’ll come back later.” Larson’s tone is clipped. “Clearly you and your son have a discussion to sort out.”

“Detective, wait.”

“Call me when you’re ready to talk business.”

Larson walks out of the office, followed by Chief Watts and the rest of the chuckling SF team, glass door swinging shut behind him. John gapes and turns to his kid, just short of furious.

“Wow, that guy is a turd,” Stiles frowns.

“Stiles, you better say that you came to tell me you just won the lottery, because anything short of that and you’ll end up as victim number four in this case.”

“Uh, nope, no lottery news here. C’mmon dad, the odds of actually winning are like, lower than getting struck by lighting while being eaten by a shark, you know that right? I came to tell you that I was talking to Danny’s friend Carlos today —Carlos is a senior at our school but he has a fake ID and he’s very, very gay, like Richard Simmons gay— and he goes to The Jungle all the time! So I asked him some questions since he’s a regular and he said that—”

“Jesus Christ, Stiles,” John buries his head in his hands.

“—Eduardo works slowly and slacks off while working! But if that’s true, then why did Amy say that—“

“Stiles!”

His son stammers to a stop at John’s tone, because he’s only truly yelled like this a handful of times. 

“D-dad, I’m going somewhere with this, it’s important if you’ll just—“

“You’re not going anywhere with this, Stiles!” John slams his fist down on his desk, upsetting the papers there. “I just had some very important people from the San Francisco department here, and they’re the ones who are going to help figure this out— At least they were going to until you fell through the window and made me look like an idiot who’s out of his league!"

Stiles falters, hands hovering like he wants to fix it but doesn’t know how. “Shoot, dad, I’m sorry, okay? I didn’t know they’d be here! But I can figure out this case if you—"

“No you can’t,” John blurts angrily. “You’re fourteen, Stiles, you can hardly focus on a single math problem let alone a triple homicide murder case! Why can’t you just stay home and watch TV like a normalkid!”

It slips out before he can stop it. Stiles visibly flinches, and John nearly drops to his knees because he knows how insecure his kid is about that word— he doesn’t mean it, what he means is that Stiles is wonderfully unique and has the courage to tackle a triple homicide case, but that courage gets him into trouble and risks John’s job. But by the look on his son’s face, the flash of hurt in his brown eyes, Stiles interpreted the phrase literally.

Stiles purses his lips and stares at the carpet. “Mom would have believed in me.”

The words are a knife to John’s gut. Claudia was always the better parent. She would have believed Stiles, and she would never say what John just said to Stiles. Without another word his son turns on his heel, and John can’t bring himself to call him back as he exits through the window.

 

.o0O0o.

The guilt eats him all day, planting rewinds of Stiles flinching so that he can’t focus on sipping his coffee let alone the arsenic case. He doesn’t get off until after dark that night, and he makes a beeline for his son’s bedroom as soon as he walks in the house. 

“Stiles?” He knocks softly on the door.

He peeks through as he opens it a crack. Stiles is facedown on his bed, limbs tangled in schoolbooks and binders and blankets. A bag of Cheetos lays atop a pillow throne, spilling orange puffs down onto the chaos. The kid doesn’t bother looking up. “Mm?”

The bed dips and creaks as John sits on the edge. “Listen, kiddo. I’m—“

“I’m sorry,” Stiles cuts in, muffled behind his pillow.

“Hey, now don’t go stealing my line,” John admonishes. “I’m the sorry one here. I didn’t mean what I said in the office. About you being…”

“Normal,” Stiles provides for him, turning tired eyes up to blink at him. “Yes you did. I’m sorry for being so crazy all the time, I know I talk to much and I can’t focus on anything longer than… I shouldn’t— I won’t bother with your cases anymore.”

“You’re not crazy,” John chides, rubbing a hand in little circles over Stiles’s back. “You have ADHD. You’re extremely smart. You have ambition and you’re very stubborn, all of which make you an excellent problem solver. Just a very animated problem solver.”

“I know it’s annoying,” Stiles mumbles.

“Stop with the self-depricating BS,” John scolds gently. "I mean it when I say I wouldn’t trade you for any of the ‘normal' kids in this town. Not even the ones with the normal names.”

Stiles snorts and kicks John gently in the knee.

“As for you sticking your nose into my cases,” he continues, blowing out a long breath. “I’d be lying if I said I wanted you to pull your nose out of them.”

Stiles blinks up wide-eyed, perks head up. “You what?”

John studies him. “You really think you can piece something together to solve this case?”

“Yes! I mean, I think so, yeah,” Stiles nods eagerly, scrambling into a sitting position. Several Cheetos are crushed to death in the process. “What I was going to tell you earlier was— can I tell you?”

“Absolutely. I’m all ears.”

Stiles bounces closer to him on the mattress. “Okay, so I talked to Carlos, who’s a regular at The Jungle. He said that Eduardo usually slacks off on the job and doesn’t work very fast, maybe he does’t work well under pressure, maybe he just has a bad day everyday, but beside the point. He’s slow. But in Ashley’s interrogation tapes she said that the night of the first murder while he was on shift, he made really good tips! But if he’s not a good worker, why would people pay him so well?”

John considers this. “You’re right, that is odd. But we would have to get statements from more regulars to confirm that Eduardo really is a slack on the job to back up your suspicion.”

“Yeah, but I think… Could you do something else too, maybe?” Stiles looks at him imploringly, biting his lip.

“That depends. What do you need?” John says carefully.

“Bring Eduardo back in for an interrogation,” Stiles blurts urgently. “And let me be there to listen behind the mirror. I swear, if I could just get some more details from him I can connect the right dots."

“I’ve only been Sheriff for five months, Stiles. Do you know how unprofessional it would look for me to bring back in a cleared suspect so my teenage son can listen in on his interrogation?” John voices seriously, but not unkindly. Not when Stiles is staring at him so determinedly. The kid nods slowly, licking his lips.

“Yeah. To the SFPD maybe, but not to me."

John can’t help the small smile that grows from that. Because in the big picture, his son’s opinion is the one that matters most. 

“Alright. Then I’ll call in Eduardo for another session tomorrow. But this needs to be under detective Larson’s nose, so you’ll come with me to the office early morning before the SFPD arrives. That means seven am sharp you’re dressed and out the door.”

Stiles nods eagerly and hops out of bed. “Yes! I can do that! I’ll lay out my clothes now! Is my Star Trek shirt still in the wash? The blue one, not the yellow one. Gotta channel my inner Vulcan if I want the logical side of my brain to be in tip-top condition!”

John tries to sigh but it comes out a chuckle instead. “I think I saw it in the dryer.”

“Yiisss! I’ll go get it,” Stiles spins around and skids into the hallway in his socks, but then skates back and plows into his father. John smiles as Stiles wraps his arms around him and squeezes him tightly in a hug. “Thanks, dad. You’re the best!”

John pats his son’s back. “Alright, kiddo."

 

.o0O0o. August 12, 2011.

Eduardo is tall, dark, and handsome with tanned skin, a whisper of a goatee, and a thick Colombian accent that’s silky smooth.

“How long have you been working at The Jungle?”

“Just a couple months. Since the second of April I think.”

“And you were working there the night of the first murder, of victim Gary Suarez?”

“Yes. We used to date, but we broke it off on good terms.”

“Did anything of note happen during your shift that night?”

“Not that I can remember. It was a pretty regular night, same music, same drink orders, made good tips."

“And you mentioned you stay at your grandmother’s house during the weekends?”

“Yes.”

“What kind of things do you do there?”

“Chores, mostly. Gardening work, helping her with the groceries, things like that… I’m sorry, but ah— did I not answer these same questions last week?"

“What kind of garden is it?” Stiles prompts John. His son is leaning so far over his nose is practically smashed to the two-way mirror, chewing on his thumbs. Brandermill is grilling Eduardo on the other side in the interrogation room. "Like mom’s flower garden or like a vegetable garden? An arsenic garden?”

John rolls his eyes but relays the question to Brandermill through the earpiece, who then asks Eduardo on the other side of the glass.

“What kind of garden is it?"

“Fruits and vegetables mainly,” Eduardo shrugs. “Lemons, limes, strawberries, carrots, the usual. She can’t bend down to pull weeds like she used to, you know?”

“Do you do work around the house for her, too?”

“Yes. She has me wash the windows, eh, laundry, dishes, dusting, that kind of thing. She can’t reach the things up high."

“Tell him to ask more questions about his grandmother,” Stiles prompts.

“Why?” John asks.

“Because no twenty-year-old dude just spends his weekends doing chores at his grandma’s for free!”

“Maybe you wouldn’t,” John concurs dryly. “But other, nicer grandchildren might.”

“Please, dad? Ask! Ask quickly, gogogo!"

“Alright! Brandermill, we’d like more info on the grandmother, please.”

“Would you say you and your grandmother get along, Eduardo?"

Eduardo’s expressions softens. He places a hand over his heart. “Of course, I love my abuelita. Ever since I was little, she was always there for me. Now that she and I am older, it is my turn to be there for her since she cannot do things like she used to.”

John shoots a side-glance to Stiles, wondering if his son will stick around to help John when he’s old and creaky. He imagines Stiles spoon-feeding him mashed broccoli and shudders.

“You okay, pops?”

“Yep. Just promise to shoot me before I get decrepit."

“She likes to bake, loves to spoil me with her food,” Eduardo continues. "She always says, 'Eddie, sit down, eat chico!' Her desserts are perfection. Strawberry shortcake, jam tarts, manticados, and her key lime pie is award-winning! I always do double my workout at the gym to make up for it all."

“Yeah, yeah, you’re a saint, make it cuter. You ain’t fooling nobody,” Stiles hisses.

“Honest to God, Stiles, what are you looking for?” John sighs. 

“I don’t know yet, but something.”

He checks his watch. “Look, kid. We’ve kept him here for an hour, it’s time to let him go.”

Stiles chews his lip. He stares down at his hands as he flexes them. “But I… I don’t know how he did it yet.”

John rests his hands on the boy's shoulders to make him look up. “Hey, kiddo. I know you say you’ve got a hunch, but a hunch doesn’t always mean guilty. I’m proud of your efforts, but you should go home before the SFPD gets here. Call it a day, maybe?"

Stiles deflates, but John can see in his eyes that he knows it’s time to turn in. “Yeah… ‘Kay. Thanks for letting me come.”

John claps him on the shoulder. “We’ll order pizza later, okay?”

“‘Kay.”

Stiles grabs his hoodie and bike helmet off the back of his chair and leaves the room. John relays the stop word to Brandermill and Eduardo is supervised out of the interrogation room by Clary and Winston. He meets them in the hallways and escorts them past the desks and call stations, thanking them all again for coming in on such short notice. 

“No problem,” Eduardo replies amicably. “I understand you officers must do your job. I am happy to oblige.”

“Sheriff Stilinski!” 

John stops at the sound of Detective Larson’s voice as the man enters with the rest of the SF department. The station is packed at this point, noisy and bustling with early morning officers sipping coffee, mulling over papers, and handling phone calls. “Good morning, Detective Larson. Chief, nice to see and your gang as well.”

“What’s he doing here?” Larson gestures to Eduardo, still standing between Clary and Winston. “I thought you said you cleared him?"

“Just brought him back for some extra questions,” John brushes off. “Alright Eduardo, you’re free to—“

“WAIT! DAD, WAIT!” 

The double doors of the station burst open loudly as Stiles sprints into the office, yelling and knocking over several stacks of papers from nearby desks because for some odd reason, he flails like Claudia when he runs. Everyone in the station turns towards the commotion, some rolling eyes, some sniggering into their palms, others looking in interest to see how the Sheriff handles it.

“Stiles?” John questions. “What—?"

“Him again?” Larson turns condescendingly to John. “What is the meaning of this, Sheriff? Do you always let your son roam the station like he lives here?"

“Don’t let him go! Don’t let him leave, he’s GUILTY!” Stiles hollers as he fights his way around officers and fax machines to get to John. Eduardo stares at him like he’s crazy and whispers of speculation flutter around the room, as Larson makes another snide comment about John’s irresponsibility. 

“Someone get him outta here,” one of the SF criminology experts mutters.

“Stiles, Stiles, kiddo, I thought we just agreed on this? We’re about to let the man go, you said so yours—"

“Dad, he killed them!” Stiles blurts urgently. “I figured it out just now when I got on my bike, dad, you have to believe me, he’s lying his ass off!”

Chief Watts snaps his fingers. “Sheriff, if you won’t remove him, I will. Guys, get him out of here.” The SF officers behind him step forward and grab Stiles roughly by the elbows, dragging him towards the exit as he fails and scrabbles against the linoleum.

“Wha— friggin’ ow! Hey, hey! Let go of me! Stop, STOP!"

“Hey, get your hands off my kid! You don’t need to be so rough with—"

The station grows loud with commentary and Stiles cranes his neck above the commotion, eyes pleading as he fights against the officers. “Dad! Dad, trust me— Check the limes!”

“What?” John breathes. 

“Out you go, kid, this is an adult matter. You can come back when you’re in uniform—"

“The LIMES!” Stiles screams. “The limes at The Jungle, just do it!”

“ALRIGHT, EVERYBODY STOP!”

John bellows as he finds the air horn and blasts it. Everyone ducks and covers their ears, falling silent immediately.

“That’s better,” he glares at Chief Watts, and then at the SF officers frozen halfway through dragging Stiles out the door. “Now let go of my son. Hands off him, good. You lot may be the top investigators in SF, but I’m the Sheriff of this station and you’re in Beacon Hills now, which is my town. That means I’m the only one who gets to boss people around in this situation, are we clear?”

Larson and Chief Watts exchange a look. “Very well.”

“Good. Thank you, gentleman.” John approaches Stiles and frowns at the red splotch on his elbow where he was manhandled. He lowers his voice. “Stiles. How sure are you that Eduardo is guilty?”

Stiles pants as he meets John’s eyes. “Very sure. Like sixty percent sure.”

“That’s not very high, kid."

Deathly silence in the station as everyone waits on the Sheriff’s decision. Eduardo stands frozen in the arms of his officers, and tension mounts as everyone holds their breath. The only sound is Stiles panting, eyes wide/pleading with his dad. John sighs. 

“Winston, go to The Jungle and bring back the damn limes.”

“Sir—?”

“Now, Winston.”

“This is absurd,” Larson comments, but John doesn’t spare him a second chance.

“Stiles, start explaining."

Stiles whirls around and bounces to the white board by the investigation cork. John orders his officers to stay seated but none of them oblige, too curious to continue working. They crowd around as Stiles grabs a pen and swipes a sleeve over the board, erasing the elaborate plans already drawn there. Everybody groans.

“So at the— Oh. Oops, heh. Sorry! Guess there was some uh, fancy police stuff drawn there, huh?”

“Keep going, Stiles.” John closes his eyes. Please.

“Okay, so. According to Ashley's interrogation tape, she said that she was working the bar with Eduardo the night of the first murder.”

“How did you get that tape, it was under lockdown,” John states.

“I stole your keys when I hugged you goodbye yesterday morning. And then I slipped into your office during your lunch break and stole the file from your desk.”

John feels his key ring; the desk drawer key is gone. He closes his eyes and sighs.

“—But anyway, there are more pressing matters at hand, like dead bodies,” Stiles continues quickly, scribbling on the board. “So Eddie was indeed there at The Jungle for his shift the night of the first murder, right? And he even admitted to formerly dating the victim, Gary Suarez!”

“Which we broke off on good terms,” Eduardo cuts in. “I already told the police, I didn’t even realize he was there. I just told Ashley to make a mojito for a ‘Gary’ since I had my hands tied with anther drink.”

“Exactly!” Stiles points a finger. “But you gave her something first, didn’t you. From your apron?”

“What kind of guessing game is this?“ Larson laughs. John resists the urge to step on his foot.

“This is kind of a guess as far as the murdering goes, but why do you think I wear hoodies so much, dad? Because the pockets are great for hiding secrets!” And Stiles starts pulling stuff out from his front pocket then and there— John’s keys, a few dollar bills, John’s credit card, some gum and a bouncy ball.

“So like I said, in Ashley’s tape she said that The Jungle provides staff with aprons to hold their tips. She also mentioned that Eduardo made a lot of tips the night of the first murder because she saw the bulge of money in his apron pocket, but Eduardo said that he didn’t make good tips that night! Ashley only thought he did because she assumed the bulge in your apron pocket was bills, but it wasn’t money, it was limes.”

“Limes,” John repeats.

“Limes!” Stiles grins. “Poisoned limes, to be specific.”

A few chuckles from the back of the room, and full-belly laughter from the SFPD. John breaks out in a nervous sweat.

Stiles paces, arms gesturing wildly. “I didn’t put it together until I thought about what you said last night, dad. You squeezed all that lime juice on your salad because you said ‘kid, I’m just trying to cover up the taste’— Eddie used the limes to cover up his murder! He only wanted to kill his ex Gary, but by leaving behind a few extra citruses of death at the bar, he could create extra murders to throw off the police!"

“That’s why there was no connection between the victims,” John says slowly. “A twenty-three-year old, a twenty-one year old, and a thirty-nine year old, all on different days.”

“Right, it was just random coincidences who died next!” Stiles grins at him. "Eddie only works at The Jungle on Fridays. He knew that by leaving some extra limes behind, another bartender would make a poison drink and kill someone on Saturday or Sunday while he wasn’t even at the scene! It would make it look like serial killings, but really it’s just happenstance! Genius tactic by the way. I’d say I wish I’d thought of that myself, but I don’t typically go around killing people.”

“A mojito, margueritas… But what about the coke?” John asks, frowning. "The first two drinks have limes, but not the soda.”

“Sir—“ Rhonda voices behind him. She pulls The Jungle beverage menu from the papers on her desk. “It says here that all sodas are served in a glass with a wedge of citrus."

“This is ridiculous,” Eduardo cuts in, crossing his arms. “You have absolutely no proof of this. Some boy throwing out crazy accusations, who even are you to have the right to be here?"

Stiles turns to Eduardo, eyes glittering. “I’m the Sheriff’s son,” he announces . “And you actually convicted yourself. You said your grandmother has a fruit and vegetable garden with the ‘usual’ stuff like lemons and lime trees. Then you said that your grandma bakes a lot, and how her key lime pie is award-winning, remember? What woman has a garden full of fruit and doesn’t use them for her own freshly baked goods?”

“Aye… So?” Eduardo prompts, raising an eyebrow.

“What I’m saying is, your grandma must be growing key limes in her garden since she makes enough key lime pie to perfect an award-winning recipe! But dad—“ Stiles whirls around, eyes shining on John. “When you caught me at The Jungle and scared me so that I accidentally knocked over the bowl of limes? When we were putting them back most of them were huge, but aren’t key limes supposed to be the smaller ones? Remember how you picked up a smaller lime and said, 'like these limes, Stiles! I’m the dad, you’re the son!’”

“Son, you do realize I should be arresting you for that, right?” John grabs a lime, then picks up a smaller lime and holds it adjacent, lifting each one accordingly. “See? Like these limes. I’m the dad—“ he shakes the bigger fruit. “And you’re the son—“ she shakes the small lime. “That means I’m in charge and you listen to me, not the other way around.”

John is speechless. “There were a few smaller limes mixed in with the bigger ones,” he breathes. Eduardo pales.

“Exactly!” Stiles cries, turning to Eduardo. “And you said yourself that Gary’s signature drink was a mojito. You knew that eventually he would come in and order one! Check the limes at The Jungle, and I’ll bet you that the smaller ones— the key limes from Eddie’s grandma’s house— will be the ones laced with arsenic!” 

There’s a moment of silence where no body moves, for the whole room —Larson, Chief Watts, the SF officers, and all twelve Beacon Hills deputies— are staring stunned at the Sheriff and his kid. John points to the door. “You heard my son. Mulaney, have the labs run a sample of those limes!"

“And you guys have the staff aprons here too, right? Check Eddie’s pocket for lime residue!”

“Wait! That’s one big jump, don’t you think?” Eduardo cuts in. “I’ve already been cleared, twice!"

“Nobody does gardening for grandma for free,” Stiles snorts. “If the residue checks out, I’m guessing that’s enough for a warrant of grandma’s house. Check the backyard for a lime tree, and the arsenic probably isn’t too far.”

“Wait, but what about a motive?” Larson sputters.

Suddenly Eduardo kicks Winston in the shin and bolts for the door. Clary and the SFPD are on him in a second and tackle him to the floor, where he wriggles and snarls at Stiles, “He cheated on me, did you know that! Gary was two-timing me for months! That fucking bastard left me for another man after I gave him my heart, he deserved what came to him!”

“There’s your motive,” John breathes incredulously.

“How did you even figure it all out, you’re just a stupid kid! Jòdete! Y tu padre y sus—!"

“Arrest him.” Another officer comes up behind Eduardo and clicks a pair of handcuffs around his back. “Eduardo Vasquez, you are under arrest under syndication of law, you right to remain silent and refuse to answer questions. Anything you say may be used against against you in a court of law—“

“O'Leary, Christiansen? Contact the media and let them know we’ve caught our arsenic killer,” Chief Watts breathes into his walkie talkie. Larson swallows heavily and picks his jaw up off the floor.

And John turns to Stiles —his skinny, sarcastic, crazy smart kid with the attention span of a gnat— who’s grinning and flushed with sparkling eyes of laughter. John is laughing too as he grabs him in a bear hug and spins him around, clapping him on the back. When he sets him down they’re both red in the face and beaming, because the entire station is whooping and cheering in a standing ovation. 

“Dad, are they cheering for us?”

“They’re cheering for you, Stiles.”

“Really?” Stiles gapes at the scene, eyes wide with staggering disbelief. John vows to convince him that it certainly won’t be the last standing ovation, because the kid deserves all the recognition in the world.

“Son, that was incredible."

“Does this mean I’m un-grounded?” Stiles beams hopefully.

“You’re un-grounded for life, kiddo.”

“Alriiiiiiiight! Does this mean if I solve the next murder you’ll let me save up for a motorcycle?”

“Absolutely not. But I will be making a copy of my desk key for you. The government probably wouldn’t approve of you breaking into my office every day."

 

.o0O0o. March 7th, 2012.

If John is honest, Claudia is her jeep.

He and Stiles both refer to the car as “she” instead of “it,” a unvoiced agreement that started the day after the funeral. The car sits in solitude for years as John keeps it dry and oiled for the day Stiles has a license in his oversized hands. For the most part it’s unacknowledged, a quiet guardian in the garage. Although sometimes when John’s cleaning out his tools he opens the garage door for some light, heads back inside for lunch, and returns to find his son sitting by the front tire running his fingers among the ridges. 

As Stiles gets older he starts dropping hints about driving, then escalates to full blown ass-kissing the month before he turns fifteen.

“Good morning father,” his son chirps cheerily one early Saturday morning. He waltzes into John's room carrying a tray of breakfast as John rolls over in bed and groans as the sunlight hits his eyes. 

“S’Saturday mornin,’” He mumbles with a bleary glance to the clock— nine am sharp. “Wha’appened, who died? What did you do?” He demands suddenly, because it must be the apocalypse if his son is up this early on a weekend. Actually, his son would probably sleep through the apocalypse.

Stiles makes a raspberry noise as he fluffs John’s pillow so he can sit up. “C’mmon, pops, can’t a guy just do something nice for his old man once in a while? Although between you and me, you look more the young man every day! Like a good cheese, John Stilinski gets better with age.”

John squints suspiciously at the tray Stiles sets down on his lap. Unbuttered whole wheat toast, a lopsided veggie omelette with no cheese, and a single, half strip of bacon. “What did you poison this with? Is this your plan, to drug me unconscious so you can run off and drive that jeep without me knowing?”

Stiles gapes. “What? No! Nooooo, I would never… Although hypothetically, which sleeping pills would be the best for quick effects?”

“Stiles.”

“Daaaaaaaad,” Stiles whines, and climbs into John’s bed to poke and prod at his father’s pajamas. “Come onnnnnn, please? I’m fifteen next week! That’s so close to legal that is basically is legal! How did you even know this was about the jeep? Do you have some kind of fatherly jedi mind-reading powers? That baby has been sitting in the garage gathering dust for ages! She needs me to drive her, and you’re the only one who can teach me! I know you know how to drive stick since those were like, the only cars around back in your day.”

John nibbles on his bacon. “First of all, I’m forty, not ninety. Secondly, I grew up in New York. I didn’t even learn how to drive until I was eighteen.”

“Yes, yes, very nice. But this is California, where teenagers rule the road the second they hit that golden pubescent age of fifteen, which I’m turning next Thursday!” Stiles flails with passion. “Jackson is already driving Lydia to school in a Porsche, dad. How am I supposed to compete for her hand in marriage?”

“You think that girl is going to be impressed with the baby blue hunk a’ junk in our garage?” John scoffs around his toast. His dry, dry, toast. 

“It’s not what you drive, dad. It’s how you drive it,” Stiles tells him seriously. “Stop scowling at your toast, I made it with love.”

“You should have made it with butter.”

“Butter clogs arteries. Love lowers blood pressure and reminds fathers how incredibly smart and well-deserving their sons are,” Stiles flips over and bats his eyelashes up at him, bouncing on John’s mattress. “Wow, your bed is comfy. Is this memory foam?"

“It’s the same mattress we’ve had for fifteen years. A box-spring.”

“Huh. It’s really squishy and like, sink-y,” Stiles observes, kneading his elbows into the fabric. “Hey, do you think it’s too soft? Is this why your back hurts all the time?”

Yes. 

“No."

Posturepedic beds are expensive.

“Weeeell, maybe some good ol’ driving can alleviate that problem!” Stiles blinks hopefully at him. 

“I’m not taking you driving until you turn fifteen, Stiles,” John says calmly. 

“But you’re eating my breakfast!”

“That I am. But I never said I agreed to your proposal.”

Stiles twists so that his face is mashed into the sheets and groans in frustration. “You’re the worst dad ever” he pouts, although it sounds more like “‘eer duh wurf ‘ad effer.” John chuckles and pats his son on the back. 

“I know. Now get your butt up and so we can finish washing the squad car before the lacrosse game."

 

.o0O0o.

For the first lacrosse game of the year it’s a chilly January morning. Since it’s Stiles and Scott’s first ever lacrosse game, John made sure to schedule his deputies accordingly so he could attend the game despite Stiles’s odd protests. “No dad, you totally don’t want to come. It’s not a big deal, you can catch sports on TV like, all the time! Plus it will be cold and… Boring. Very boring. You’d have much more fun at the station!”

“Hey, brought’cha coffee,” John offers the cup. She’s bundled up in a purple coat and mittens, dark curls tied back beneath a beanie.

“Oh my god, thank you,” Melissa makes grabby-hands at the dark roast and cradles it close like she might try to bite anyone who comes close. She inhales deeply and takes a long sip. “Mmmm, yes. Have I ever told you that you’re the best? Because you’re definitely my favorite now. Hey, is there caramel in this?”

“I asked them to add a pump for you,” he says as he sits down next to her on the cold bleachers. He shivers, white plumes of breath billowing out in front of them. “Jesus, and to think the boys are out on the turf in their shorts.”

“Right? They should warm up quick though, the game should start any minute. Stiles is number twenty-four, right?”

“Yep. And I’m guessing Scott is eleven?”

“Yeah, did he tell you?”

“No, I made a deduction because number eleven is the only kid standing next to my son.”

John points to to the two gangly figures hovering at the edge of the field. What Scott lacks in height Stiles makes up for in skinniness, and apparently the rest of the team notices this too because there is clear separation between the players; like a force field separating their kids from the rest of the heightened, muscled, tan athletes sporting Cyclones uniform. He doesn’t take it as a good sign.

“Did, uh… Have you seen Scott play?” John asks hesitantly.

“No, supposedly he practices in the backyard but I’m usually at work,” Melissa frowns, apparently nearing the same conclusion. “Have you seen Stiles play?”

“Er… No,” he admits. “He actually didn’t really want me to come today, although he wouldn’t say why.”

“Huh. I guess we’ll find out,” she sips her coffee. "He still bugging you about that jeep?”

“Brought me another bribery breakfast in bed this morning,” he chuckles. “Last week he polished all my shoes and the week before that he scrubbed the kitchen floor. Gotta admit, I’ll be sad to lose all the pampering come next Thursday.”

“Ha! Not my son,” Melissa scoffs. “He just ran out and got a job at that veterinarian clinic and used his paychecks to buy a bike. Now he flies all over town on it. Said he didn’t want to drive my ‘mom’ car.”

“That’s understandable,” John hums. “Have you seen your van? It’s a total mom car.”

“Excuse me for not having a fancy police cruiser to roll around in, Sheriff."

He smiles into his café mocha. “Truth be told I wish Stiles was happy just riding a bike like Scott. I’d love to see him in Claudia’s jeep, but I… Worry." He’s nervous to let Stiles drive because his kid is reckless and scatterbrained, and John has nightmares of his gangly limbs splattered on the pavement that leave him gasping awake in a cold sweat.

“Welcome to being a parent,” Melissa raises her eyebrows. “Kids love to scare the crap out of us. Honestly I’m worried about Scott being out here today, the conditions are terrible for his asthma. Cold air, grass, exercise… Sometimes I want to just permanently wrap him in bubble wrap.” she bites her lip, little worried crinkles scrunching on her forehead. John pats her knee assuredly.

“Hey, Scott’s a tough kid. He’s made it through all the practices just fine, what’s a little extra game?”

She blows out a sigh and rests her chin on her cup. “How do you stay so calm and practical all the time? Is there something extra in your coffee, too? Because I want what you’re having.”

“Not since you helped me stop drinking in 2006, no. But I’ve found that occasionally switching to tea helps with nerves.”

Melissa’s mouth falls open in embarrassment. “Oh, shoot. I’m sorry John, I didn’t mean— I should really think before I make jokes.”

“It’s perfectly fine,” he assures her as he takes a sip. “The last thing I want is for it to be a taboo subject. It’s, ah…It’s not something I’m proud of, but I think it’s important for Stiles to see that I’m open to talking about it, if he ever needs… I dunno. If he has questions, I guess.”

“Well I’m proud of you,” Melissa states firmly. “I know you beat yourself up over it, but you managed to pull yourself out. Not everyone can say that.”

“Alright you little sticky-fingered weasels, line up! Greenburg! Spit out the gum, you disgust me. Bilinski, McCall, quit acting out Romeo and Juliet and get your scrawny butts over here!” 

The crowd rumbles excitedly as Coach Finstock blows his whistle like it’s his sole mission in life, congregating the boys in position on the field. The opposing team is the Carlridge High Bulldogs, a band of bulky kids dressed in impressive blue uniforms that outshine the dull maroon of the Cyclones. John bites his lip as he watches his son nervously adjust his helmet and clap Scott on the shoulder. The teams gather in circles, review game plans, and throw their hands up with a “Goooo, Cyclones!” and a “Bulldogs, ruff ‘em up!"

“Should we be concerned?” Melissa mutters.

“I’d say yes, but it looks like our boys are sitting on the bench,” John frowns as Coach Finstock herds their kids over to the side as the rest of the team lines up on the field. 

The Bulldogs are ruthless.

As the whistle blows it’s like the opposing team transforms into a train and barrels into the Cyclones all at once. The sound of the impact —ten blue helmets hitting ten maroon helmets— is like a crack of thunder that echoes across the field. The ball is snatched in a net and the Bulldogs start running towards the goal. Time stretches on and the score climbs against the Cyclones; Finstock shouts at his fallen players to shake it off, but eventually the battering and bruising leaves the whole team moaning like worms on the field.

“Are those kids even in high school?” John squints at a Carlridge player as he slams a Cyclone into the ground.

Melissa winces. “Either they were held back a few years or they take a shot of gym juice with every meal."

“Quit lyin’ around, Greenberg! It’s just a scratch, walk it off!”

“I think he’s unconscious, coach!”

“Well somebody get him some smelling salts! Or— you! Whittemore! Wave one of your shoes under his nose! That’s it!”

“You’ve got two kids on the bench, put them in the game already!” John shouts.

“I swear if you injure my son further you’ve got a lawsuit comin’ your way!” Another man chimes in. It’s Danny Māhealani’s father, a very rich lawyer. This gets Finstock’s attention; the coach sighs and scrubs his hands over his hair, then jabs a thumb to the field.

“Alright! Māhealani and Whittemore, get to the sidelines! Bilinski and McCall… You’re in.”

The man says it like it’s his deepest regret in life. Stiles and Scott jerk in surprise and scramble off the bench, Stiles tripping over his lacrosse stick in the process and face planting the grass. Finstock buries his face in his clipboard and stalks over to stand beside his two benched star players. The whistle is blown again.

“My son is on the field!” John crows happily.

“Common’ Scott! You can do it, honey!” Melissa hollers. It’s hard to tell from the bleachers, but it almost looks like their kids duck their heads in embarrassment.

The ball is tipped and the Cyclones grab it. Heads turn from side to side as lacrosse sticks fling it back and forth across the field, two dozen teenage legs sprinting in pursuit. Number thirteen chucks it to six, who passes it to sixteen, who dodges a Bulldog and hollers at twenty to get free.

“Pass it to twenty-four, he’s wide open!” John hollers.

“Same with eleven!” Melissa chimes in.

But the Cyclones seem highly invested on keeping the ball far away from their kids. Stiles and Scott wave their arms and run doggedly up and down the field to chase the game, but they go unnoticed— except by the Bulldogs, who elbow and tackle them as needed. John winces as one barrels into Stiles and sends him sprawling to the grass with an undignified squawk. It soon becomes clear why his son didn’t want John to show up. The kid is arguably the worst player on the team, even worse than Scott, who keeps stopping to take puffs from his inhaler.

The next quarter Stiles is wide open right next to the opposing goal. He waves his arms like a crazy man until number three, in a desperate move, chucks the ball to him. Stiles screams, raises his stick like a shield, and scrunches his eyes shut as the ball bounces to the ground and rolls to a stop at his feet. Everyone stares with baited breath as Stiles laughs, swoops his stick to pick it up, and tears up a clump of turf when he misses by five inches.

John’s side of the bleachers and the Cyclones groan— one player actually throws down his stick and walks off the field. Stiles flees to the safety of the Ref as the Bulldogs charge where he was standing and steal the ball back.

“Well, he’s certainly… Good at running,” Melissa suggests weakly. A second later Stiles trips over his own feet and belly flops on the grass.

“It’s okay, Mel. But I appreciate your effort.”

The Bulldogs continue to pummel their team the remaining twenty minutes of the game. Towards the end Stiles and Scott give up entirely on trying to score goals and focus instead on running away from the ball, a decision that has Finstock abusing his bullhorn with colorful swearing. Scott in particular wears out faster than the other players and starts panting with hands on his knees. Melissa grips John’s hand tightly as he fumbles with his inhaler again, and once he’s running again she meets John’s eyes and quickly pulls her fingers away.

The Bulldogs win 52-11. Afterwards the boys trail out from the locker room bruised and disappointed. Melissa pecks each of them on the cheek and says she’s proud of them before hurrying off to her shift at the hospital, leaving John to bring them back to his house for the day. The car ride home in the police cruiser is awkward. 

He clears his throat. "Well boys, you certainly... Showed the grass who was boss," he manages. They had missed the ball so many times that their sticks kicked up clumps of earth from the turf.

“We suck, dad.”

“Yeah… But thanks for trying, Sheriff.”

John glances in the rear view mirror. The boys are slumped in their seats chewing sadly on their nails (Stiles) and blinking forlornly out the window like an abused puppy in those Sarah McLachlan commercials (Scott). He sighs.

“You boys wanna stop for ice cream?”

“Eh. Thanks but I think I’d rather have like a hot meal, you know? Or a heating pad. IB-profen. All the IB-profen, please. Unless you want ice cream, bro?”

“No thanks. Hot food sounds good.”

“Alright, home we go then."

“—Markowski to Bellview, we’ve got a reported 13-21 at 611 Port Avenue, dispatch.”

“Breaking and entering,” Stiles whispers to Scott in the backseat. John grabs the receiver and clicks it on.

“Sheriff Stilinski speaking, Markowski don’t take highway five, I was just on it and traffic is terrible. You’re better off taking Berwald.”

The radio fuzzes back, “Sheriff? Martowski here, will do. I thought you weren’t coming in until three today?”

“I’m in the car taking my kids home,” John says. “They just had their first lacrosse game.”

“Nice! Hey, Stiles.”

“Hey Mark!” Stiles chirps.

"I thought you only had one son, Sheriff?”

“Scott’s the second son I never had,” he winks at Scott in the rear-view mirror, coaxing a shy smile out of him. “But enough chitty chat. I could get in trouble from the state if I keep this line open for gossip. Good luck, Martowski.”

“Thanks, Sheriff. Dispatch, over."

When they get to John's house the boys groan as they unfold themselves from the seats. Stiles asks “ugh, is this what it feels like to be old?” and John tells him “I wouldn’t know, I’m not old yet” which Scott chuckles at. The sophomores peel off to the garage as Stiles drags Scott over to look at the jeep for the millionth time, making sure to loudly talk about how he’s probably a great driver since he’s got such fast reflexes and how a cool dad would totally let him drive it today, to which Scott politely listens. John rolls his eyes and gets the bread out from the fridge. 

He makes them grilled cheese sandwiches and lemonade. It's the same lunch he's been making for them for a decade and they still gobble it up like the little tapeworms they are.

“So anyway,” Stiles smacks loudly once they’re eating at the counter. “Those are all the reasons why I’d be an excellent driver.”

John rests his elbow on the table as he chews his grilled cheese, raising an eyebrow at Scott. “You know, if you ever need to get a word in edgewise you can always put a rubix cube in his hands. Shuts him right up.”

“Dad! Rude.”

“Thanks, Sheriff. When we go to the movies I just offer him Red Vines so he’s busy chewing.”

“What! You said sharing is caring!”

John hides his smile as Scott grins around a string of gooey cheese clinging to his sandwich. It snaps and he coughs into his sleeve.

“You need your inhaler, Scott?” He asks. 

“Nah, I’m okay. My throat’s just dry throat from all the running."

“Stay hydrated, buddy. Let’s see who can chug our lemonade fastest! Winner gets ten bucks,” Stiles chimes in.

“Do you even have ten bucks?” Scott lifts an eyebrow.

“Nah. I might be able to scrounge around in the washing machine and see if I could find some change, though. Under the couch cushions usually works well, too.”

“Already beat you to it,” John supplies as he pulls off his crust. “Found a dollar fifty-two.”

“In monopoly money?”

“In money money.”

“Drat. Hey! We should play Clue! Dad, will you be the third player?"

"No way," Scott protests around his sandwich. "I'm not playing Clue against you and the county Sheriff. Once was enough—“ he breaks off with a cough. Stiles slaps him on the back. 

"Small bites, Scotty. I don't know how to do the Heimlich so if you choke you die."

"I wasn't choking," Scott frowns, and guzzles half his lemonade.

"Hey! We could go the comic book store and see if we can bribe Gus into selling us the new Deadpool Dead 7 first when it comes out!" Stiles chirps, then zeroes in on John. "At least we could if a certain somebody would let me drive us."

"Letting you drive before you're fifteen is illegal. Letting you drive two passengers on the freeway before you're fifteen is very illegal," John points out.

"Daaaaaaad--"

"No ifs, no buts, no coconuts."

"That doesn't even make sense."

"I thought it was witty, Sheriff."

"Thank you, Scott."

"I am surrounded by lame people," Stiles whines as he hangs his head over the back of his chair. “Too bad we’re still waiting on the next Netflix disk, we could’ve watched Casino Royale.”

“We should probably just get our homework out of the way,” Scott clears his throat.

“Aw, c’mmon. Why you gotta be such a goodie two shoes?”

“Because mom will kill me if I fail another history exam. Or worse, she’ll take away my bike.”

“How is losing your bike worse than dying?”

“By bike is my freedom, dude. Give me liberty or give me death."

“Touché. Very scholarly, Scotty. D’you know who said that?”

“Uh… Teddy… Rosevelt?”

“Er, you’re a couple centuries too late. Try again, buddy. Think ‘Stamp Act of 1765.’"

John’s been doing it for years, but he still secretly loves overhearing conversations between his boys. Stiles is a monologuer and Scott speaks in questions; it’s part of why the boys work so well together. Stiles initiates conversations with an loud tangent and when he rolls to a pause Scott jumps in with a quiet question, prompting him to talk more. 

“—and that is why they should make venting machines horizontally, because then you’d lower the risk of your candy getting stuck on the drop down. And you’d completely eliminate the risk of machines toppling over and killing people— Did you know that thirty-seven people were killed like that last year? Death by candy, not the worst way to go. But a simple change in direction could save lives, man.”

“But wouldn’t longer candy bars get stuck? Like King-size Butterfingers.”

“Oh, excellent point! Clearly there would be some sort of sensor mechanism where the machine would scan the candies when you punch in your order, and then the longer ones would go through a separate shoot with an extended slide. Badda bing badda boom, you’ve gotch’your King-size candy bar. Remind me never to use ‘badda bing badda boom’ in a conversation again. And if I do, shoot me until I die."

“Do I get your comic books?"

Common topics initiated by his chatterbox son include Lydia Martin’s pristine hair, conspiracy theories about aliens, in-depth discussions to wether or not the Harry Potter books or movies are better, his elaborate plan to invent a time machine, and how if he were president he would make s’mores mandatory at every school cafeteria. Scott’s favorite questions include “Did you hear what Mr. Harris said to Danny last class?” “Do you think my bike helmet is lame?” and “I dunno, man. How do we get girls to like us?”

Right now they debate what kind of dog is the best breed as John settles into his armchair in the living room— Stiles says German Shepherd, Scott vouches for Beagle. After ten minutes of intense debate they decide the solution is to breed a German Shepherd Beagle hybrid called the ‘German Beag-lard,’ of which they will own eight when they move into a dorm together (but a dorm that’s really big so the dogs can run around while they’re in classes). John chuckles as he peels through police reports. It isn’t long before his head back and he starts to doze, grilled cheese heavy in his belly.

“Dad!” 

He jolts awake to Stiles’s panicked yell from the kitchen. He’s out of his chair in a flash racing down the hall. “Stiles? Stiles, are you—!”

But he skids around the corner to find a different nightmare. Scott is wheezing harshly in his chair, slumped sideways into Stiles’s supporting arms. His skin is pale and his gaze is flicking around in panic, hand scrabbling at his chest.

“Asthma attack,” Stiles breathes in a rush, then bolts to their lacrosse bags on the couch once John replaces him by Scott’s side. “Hang on Scotty, I’ve got your inhaler right here, just hang on.”

John has watched Scott bring an inhaler to his lips since the kid was six years old, but he’s only ever witnessed two asthma attacks— while playing in the park with Stiles in 3rd grade, and on a particularly hot day summer before 7th grade. Both times Melissa had been there and both times Scott had been back to normal in half an hour. But there’s something extra scary about seeing it happen in his kitchen when just half an hour ago the boys had been joking about Mr. Harris’s pornstache. 

“You’re doing great, Scott, just relax,” John coaxes as he holds a steady hand on Scott’s shoulder. The teen leans into him as Stiles rips open the duffel zipper and paws through clothes until he pulls out the inhaler, shoving it into his friend’s hand. Scott fumbles to bring it to his lips, sucking in and then again when the device clicks with emptiness.

“It’s e-empty,” Scott wheezes, gasping in panic. “I u-used it too—“ gasp “—too much d-during—“

“During the game, I got it. Save your breath dude,” Stiles orders, then spins on his heel and sprints down the hall. “Hang on, I’ve got a backup in my backpack—!“

John blinks. He didn’t know this. 

“S-sorry,” Scott wheezes, because the kid apologizes for everything. Especially things Stiles does wrong.

“Hey, none of that,” John admonishes. “Just focus on breathing best you can, this isn’t your fault. If anything it’s mine, I should have had more sense when you kept coughing once we got home."

Stiles thunders back down the hall with a second inhaler, singing Batman’s “Nananananana” theme song under his breath. Scott grabs for it and sucks in a shallow breath as the medicine enters his lungs, and then another breath for good measure.

“Yes! Success!” Stiles whoops and fist-bumps the air, but his smile quickly falls as Scott continues wheezing. “Scotty? That worked, didn’t it? It— you can’t take a third puff, can you?”

Scott shakes his head. “S’not—“ gasp. “No."

“Shit, Scott?” Stiles breathes, hands fluttering worriedly over his friend. John is too on edge to scold him for the language. They wait another minute for the Budsonide to kick in as Scott clutches the counter with white knuckles. But then—

“C-can’t—“ gasp “—breathe.” Scott sucks in a desperate wheeze and tips over, but John and Stiles catch him and gently lower him to the floor. 

“Dad, we gotta get him to the hospital,” Stiles urges, eyes two brown saucers. “I’ve never seen one this bad before, he needs—"

“N-no—“ Scott wheezes. “M-mom—“

“Your mom worries about you anyway, kid,” John cuts in as he shrugs off his jacket and drapes it over the teen on his floor. “I’m gonna pick you up now and take you to the car, alright?”

“K-kay."

“Stiles, get the keys and open the backseat door of the cruiser—“

“On it!”

John tucks his arms under Scott’s knees and back and lifts. His back twinges in protest as a reminder that he isn’t as young as he was back when he was in the academy, an observation that irks him. Still, the fifteen-year-old is a feather in his arms with his short stature and knobby knees. He murmurs a distraction the best way he knows how as Scott wheezes in his arms and trembles against his chest, fingers clutching weakly at John’s jacket. 

“Did I ever tell you about the time my troop and I had a fishing contest when I was in Somalia?” John voices as he makes his way to the car. “We took a break at the side of a river and used our war hats as buckets to see who could catch the most. They were just small guppies, maybe a few freshwater tetras, but I’ll be damned if it wasn’t the most fun we’d had all day. It was Claudia’s idea to cheer us all up."

He places Scott lying down in the backseat with his head cushioned on Stiles’s lap. Stiles squeezes his hand and teases him about being carried like a princess, to which Scott slaps his arm weakly. More jokes, Stiles’s specialty, are tried until Scott’s lips twitch up despite the fear in his eyes. John flicks on the siren and hits the gas.

“Sheriff Stilinski to dispatch, I’ve got a teenager suffering from a severe asthma attack on the way to Beacon Hills Memorial hospital,” he enunciates into the car walkie talkie. “I need medical personnel ready with equipment at the front entrance ASAP for immediate medical attention. Clear the entrance gate of any vehicles that might be in the way, ETA minus three minutes."

“Copy that, Sheriff—“ someone, sounds like Tanner, crackles back over the line.

“Listen, I need Melissa McCall to be notified as well, it’s her son. She works at the hospital.”

“Gimme a minute… Got it. Extension 308?”

“That’s the one."

“Copy that. We’ve got a medical team on their way to front entrance right now."

“Thank you."

He can’t help his eyes from flicking to the rear-view mirror as Stiles babbles quiet reassurances to his best friend.

“—okay, Scott? You’re gonna be fine, you’re The Flash, remember? You made it through the beep test in sixth grade P.E. and almost lasted as far as Danny, this is a piece of cake for you. Speaking of which, I bet your mom is going to let you eat as much cake as you want after this. She’ll probably go out and buy you a bunch of pity presents like ice cream and five comic books of your choice, that’s a pretty sweet deal, no pun intended. Hey, did I tell you that Mr. Lanan sat on a thumbtack yesterday? He was wearing khakis so the bloodstain totally showed up on his butt! I know what you’re thinking based on my track record, but I unfortunately was not the mastermind behind it. Although next time— Scott? Scotty? Hey, oh no— dad, go faster.”

John risks a glance over his shoulder as he makes a left turn. The whites of Scott’s eyes are fluttering slivers as he lays prone in Stiles’s lap, seemingly passed out. His lips have a bluish tint and his breaths are quiet, known as silent chest— a dangerous sign. John presses harder on the gas and cuts in front of a Subaru.

“How’s his pulse, Stiles?”

Stiles presses two shaking fingers to Scott’s neck. “It’s— it’s s-slow, dad.”

“Okay, he’s gonna be okay,” John says in his calm policeman voice he uses for hysterical car crash victims. “Just hang on, we’re almost there."

As promised there’s a team of blue-scrubbed nurses waiting with a stretcher when John grinds to a halt outside the double doors. They hoist the now unconscious Scott out of the car and onto the gurney, replacing John’s jacket with a pair of scissors they use to cut open his shirt. They bark medical jargon and strap an oxygen mask over Scott’s face as he and Stiles follow in tow, answering questions with “asthmatic of nine years,” “inhaler didn’t work,” and “unconscious for about a minute.” Melissa runs around the corner just as they wheel Scott into an ICU room, and her hands fly to her mouth. 

“Scott! Oh my god, Scott, Scott—?“

“Melissa, you can’t follow us,” one of the nurses tell her. “I’m sorry, but family—“

“Can’t treat family, I know,” Melissa runs her hands through her hair. “Take care of him.”

She follows her son as far as she can before she turns to John, gripping him tightly in a hug.

“Hey, hey, it’ll be alright. He’s in good hands,” he tries to reassure her.

“I know, God I know I just—“ she takes shuddering breath. “I’m always so worried about this. He hasn’t had one this bad in years, he could’ve—“

“But he didn’t,” John cuts in firmly. “His heart is beating, he’s getting help, he’s gonna be just fine."

“This is my fault,” Melissa says immediately, “God, I never should have let him play lacrosse, I let him play when I knew he was going to be running a long time on the grass—“

“Hey— You let him be a kid, Mel. What are you going to do, lock him up in his room his whole life? You’re not that kind of mother, which makes you the best one I know. This isn’t your fault."

Melissa sniffles, embarrassed. “You’re right, I know. I— God, look at me. I’m the nurse here, I’m supposed to be the calm one.”

“It’s perfectly justified."

“What happened?” Her eyes dart between him and Stiles.

“After we got home he had a few signs like clearing his throat and coughing a bit, but he said he was fine. I should have paid more attention. Then maybe an hour later—“

“It was forty-five minutes,” Stiles cuts in. “He started wheezing and his inhaler was all used up from the game, but he took a couple puffs from his backup and that didn’t work either.”

“At that point he was only getting worse, so we drove him here.”

Melissa sighs at the ceiling. “Thank you. You were right to bring him in."

She’s called back to work within the next blink, so he and Stiles they take a seat in the waiting room. The Beacon Hills Memorial Hospital waiting room is like his second home. Sitting with Claudia before pregnancy checkups, gripping hands with Claudia as doctors set Stiles’s broken arm in a cast (fell out of a tree), the many later injuries his accident-prone kid has gotten into, and the countless visits to the Oncology wing. 

The clock ticks closer to two, and then two-thirty. Stiles reeks of nervous energy— he chews on his thumbnail until he whittles it down to a sore nib, scratches his nose, thumps his head against the wall, all while his leg bounces like it’s being electrocuted. Every couple minutes his hand comes up and rakes through his hair.

“Do you need an Ativan?” John asks. Dr. Clarke prescribed the anti-anxiety pills to be used as needed since Stiles started getting panic attacks.

“Nah, I’m good, just…” Stiles gnaws on his nail and blows out a breath. “A little freaked out.”

John gives a warm squeeze to his shoulder. “I didn’t know you kept a backup inhaler in your backpack.”

“Huh? Oh. Yeah. Just in case, you know— can never be too careful.”

“Did Scott give it to you?”

“Nah, I asked Melissa for one last summer. I’ve never needed to use it though, until today.”

“Inhalers are expensive. I didn’t think she’d order more than a couple."

“No, I used my birthday money. Hey, uh… Can I have a dollar to get something from the vending machine? Actually, maybe a few dollars since Scott might want something when he’s awake. Better. Better and awake. And allowed to eat Redvines."

John slips out his wallet and hands over a ten.

“Whoa, awesome! You want anything?”

“No, thanks.”

“Okay, bye—“ Stiles trips down the hall. “They should totally make vending machines horizontal, remind me to tell you my theory when I get back.”

Stiles tells him all about his theory when he gets back, while chewing noisily on sour gummy worms.

“You should be an engineer, kid.”

“Nah,” Stiles ruthlessly snaps a gummy worm in half with his teeth. “I wanna be a cop.”

John smiles wanly at him from the corner of his eye. Silence and twiddling thumbs precedes for another few minutes or so, and then his son brings up the topic John tries so hard to keep secret.

“So… Melissa, huh.”

He casually adjusts his position in his chair. “Yes, what about her?”

“You two, uh… Sure get along well.”

He’s on to me, John thinks. “Well, I have known her since you and Scott were four.”

“Yeah, but don’t you want to know her more?” Stiles prompts.

Yes.

“What are you getting at, Stiles?”

“I’m just saying, she’s an attractive woman, you know, from a third person outlook, definitely not a Scott’s-tween-best-friend outlook, and you’re pretty decent-looking, you know, if you can get around the extra five pounds on your belly and the intense frowny thing you’ve got goin’ on right now— not a good look, pops.”

“Quit while you’re ahead, kid.”

“But you two are friends, and you know what they say about friends…”

John gives him a blank look seasoned with impatience.

“Okay, I was totally hoping you’d just fill in my sentence because I just made it up, but come on, dad! You like her, I can feel it, so why don’t you ask her out?"

“Because I married your mother, kid.”

“…Oh.”

Stiles deflates in his seat and bites his lip, looking guilty. The atmosphere suddenly switches to that sad heaviness that happens whenever they talk about Claudia. If John is honest with himself, he likes Melissa. Melissa is beautiful in a completely different way from Claudia, sharp-witted and strong and the spice to Claudia’s sugar, but there’s still too little time in the way.

John sighs and wraps an arm around his kid. “Hey, it’s alright. I just loved your mother very much, that’s all.”

And I’m not ready to move on. 

Am I?

 

.o0O0o.

Melissa emerges from the ICU wing an hour later, haggard but relaxed.

“He’s alright,” she says as he and Stiles jump from their waiting room chairs. “He’s resting and on Albuterol now. His lungs are okay and he doesn’t have any brain damage from the oxygen loss, he’s just a little shaken up. We’ve determined the extensive exercise on the grass irritated his lungs. Thank you for bringing him when you did.”

“When can I see him?” Stiles pokes his head out from around John’s arm.

“I came to tell you he’s awake now, too. You can see him, just—“

“Don’t be loud, don’t break anything, and don’t use his IVs as squirt guns,” Stiles fills in quickly.

“Good boy. He’s in room 108.”

Stiles takes off at the fastest pace he can without running. Melissa turns to John with a sigh of a smile and they take a minute to let the relief weigh in. Their eyes flicker back and forth between each other— John’s greys and her dark browns, and he’s suddenly filled with a desire to hold her tight until the weary weight on her shoulders melts away.

“Thank you again,” she says instead, and pecks his cheek lightly with a small kiss of gratitude. It catches him by surprise and he blinks speechlessly for a moment too long before he can figure out how to talk again.

“It’s— it was nothing, really.”

“Would you like to see him?”

“I— yes, of course.”

He stares at the back of her curls as she leads him to room 108. His gaze may flicker down for a moment too, but he tells himself it’s nothing like that.

They watch the boys through the window for a minute. Scott is a small lump in his white hospital sheets, a puffing ventilator mask over his face. His gaze are tired and his skin is paler than normal, but his eyes crinkle with amusement at the corners as Stiles tells some tale with wild arm gestures and excited spittle. 

“Hey, honey,” Melissa greets as they enter. “Your color is looking better."

“Hi Mr. St’linski,” Scott lifts an IV’d hand in hello.

“Hey Scott, how you feeling?" John asks. 

"A lot better… Thanks for driving me here.”

“I always love an excuse to use the siren.”

“How long—?” Scott turns to his mother.

“Sorry sweetie, the doctors want to keep you overnight for observation,” Melissa answers sympathetically. Scott and Stiles groan. “But don’t worry, I’ll be here on shift until eight and then I can come stay with you. But I’ve got to get back to work as long as I’m on the clock,” she frowns sadly at her watch.

Scott looks at her with huge, worried brown eyes. “Casey?” He rasps.

“Don’t try to talk so much, honey. I already checked, Casey’s tied up so she can’t cover my shift. I’m sorry. I’ll try to sneak in when I can."

“Let me call the station,” John pulls out his cell phone. “I’ll tell them I’ll be in later so Stiles and I can stay with you until your mom gets off, if you want?”

“Oh, you don’t have to do…”

But Scott is nodding best he can at her as Stiles crouches nearby with a stream of  “pleasepleaseplease otherwisehe’llbeallalone andI’mhisbestfriend!” And for good measure he throws in “the station will be fine without me for a few more hours, I really don’t mind.” Even though he’s technically already been cited for skirting time at the station, but family always comes first. Melissa sighs, giving in with a small smile that turns into a stern gaze at Stiles. 

“Alright, but Scott needs his rest. No roughhousing, no two-sided conversations, and don’t jabber his ear off if he’s trying to sleep.”

“Aye aye, mama McCall.”

“How about I run to the house and bring back a few comic books? Stiles’s iPod?”

“That would be wonderful if you don’t mind,” she gushes hopefully.

“Gorgon,” Scott crackles behind his mask.

“What’s that?”

“The Gorgon something-something is the new comic book he just bought,” Melissa rolls her eyes. “I don’t think he’s read it yet."

“Oh, that’s actually at my house,” Stiles raises a finger, flinching when Scott mewls in outrage. “Sorry, bro! I saw it yesterday in your backpack and I figured I just read it and slip it back before you noticed! But I know where it is, I’ll bring it back and we can share it.”

“Ahem,” John, Melissa, and Scott say at the same time.

“Or you can just have it all to yourself! Scott exclusively, the exclusive Scott comic book. Yeesh, you guys are creepy when you gang up like that.”

“Alright, so you’ll come with me so you can locate all these items in our pigsty of a house,” John dotes as he fishes his keys out of his pocket. We should be back in a jiff, okay Scott?”

“Thank you so much,” Melissa says again.

“Bye bro, B-R-B."

But John spares another look at the boy he’s known for a near decade, small and littered in wires just as his wife had been, and moves forward on pure instinct— he places a small kiss atop the long mop of shaggy black hair before exiting the room.

"I'm glad you're feeling better, son.” 

Melissa watches him go with an unreadable expression, but her eyes are the softest he's ever seen them. 

When they make it back to the cruiser Stiles drops into the passenger seat and blows out a long sigh, letting his head loll to the window. “Man,” he mumbles tiredly. “That was… That was a long day.”

John looks at him quietly, a small smile slowly pushing his lips. He pulls the keys out of the ignition, fiddles with them until he finds the right one, and holds it out. Stiles rolls his head over, blinks at the key, and immediately bolts upright when he sees which one it is, mouth dropping to the seat.

“Dad?”

“You impressed me today, son,” John tells him. “You fought hard on the field and then you kept your head on straight when Scott needed you. You even used your own money to keep an extra inhaler for him. You showed a lot of responsibility.”

Stiles grabs the key with shaking fingers and cradles it in his palm. “So I can—?”

“Yep.”

“Even though I’m not fifteen until next week?"

“The key is yours. I’ll let you take the jeep out as soon as we get home if you like.”

Stiles lets out a cheer so loud that John winces at the decibel. His son launches himself over the seat and hugs him fiercely, laughing and screaming about how John is—

“—amazing, the best dad in the history of ever! Even better than pizza, even better than Star Wars— okay, maybe not Star Wars, but almost! And just— just let me say one swear word, because I need it for emphasis, okay? You are the coolest, awesomest, most amazingly generous dad in the fucking universe. Thanks, pop."

John accepts his fate as he pulls out of the hospital parking lot. “Thank you. You use that word again and the jeep is off limits for another year.”

 

.o0O0o. September 17, 2012.

On September 17th, 2012, John leaves the station early to buy a bottle of whiskey.

He feels sick as he hands over the money to the liquor dealer at a shady 7/11 downtown where no one will see him. He keeps throwing looks over his shoulder as if one of his deputies will be there to witness, but it's pushing nine o'clock at night and the store is empty aside from a couple shady men preoccupied eyeing the Playboy magazines. Stiles comes here occasionally on late night snack runs, but Stiles is spending the night at Scott’s tonight so John isn’t worried.

The bottle feels heavy in his hand as he carries it out to the squad car in a paper bag. It feels right in his hand, like an old friend. His fingers wrap perfectly around the neck. He can hear it sloshing in the backseat as he sweats during the drive home, making him startle at every pot hole and bump in the road until he pulls crookedly into his driveway. But something makes him change his mind as he stares at the windows of his small home; perhaps the thought of the shiny Sheriff’s badge pinned to his chest, Melissa’s stern gaze, Stiles’s disappointment, or how Claudia wouldn't want him to. 

It's Thursday so the trash cans on the curb are empty. He closes his eyes and sways before the bin, bottle heavy and unopened in his hands. If he concentrates hard enough he can still feel the soft brush of her lips smiling against the back of his neck, a whisper of "stay strong, John" in his ear. He drops the bottle to the trash with a resounding "thunk." The glass shatters and he releases a breath he didn't realize he was holding. 

He enters to a quiet house.

The carpet creaks beneath his shoes as he drops his keys into the bowl with a clink, switches on the light and pops a mug of leftover chamomile to re-heat in the microwave. He sinks with a quiet groan into a chair and reaches for the remote, ready for a long, difficult evening.

Until he hears a muffled noise from down the hall.

His Sheriff brain snaps into deductions— Stiles is with Scott studying for midterms. No one else has the key to his house except Melissa and she’s working a double-shift. Therefore, intruder. Thinking burglar he grabs a nearby weapon (the baseball bat Stiles so often likes to carry around for whatever reason) since the firearm is in his sock drawer, and creeps quietly down the hallway. He rounds the corner to Stiles’s room, flicks on the light, and the baseball bat slips from his fingers with a dull thud against the carpet.

His fifteen-year-old son is sprawled out on his back on the floor, shirt riding up and only one sock on, blinking at John lethargically. A half-empty bottle of Jack Daniel's whiskey lies slack between his lose fingers, dripping auburn stains onto the carpet. The room reeks of alcohol.

“Thought y’were workin’ th'overnight shift," Stiles slurs quietly, lolling his head away from his father.

It's like the whole world crumples around him. He nearly falls to his knees with the impact of the scene before him— it's like a punch to the gut, a nightmare come to life. Stupid, he was so stupid to think Stiles would be okay without him on her seventh anniversary— he should have called Melissa to make sure he was really with Scott, he never should have worked tonight in the first place— what if he hadn't come home when he did? How did stiles get the liquor? How many times did Stiles see him like this eight and seven years ago, and who else could he have gotten the idea from?

John shoves it all down.

“I came home early," he whispers, words staggered and flighty in his mouth.

Stiles opens his mouth to say something but instead retches onto the carpet, triggering John’s paternal instincts. “Jesus kid,” he whispers, and keeps muttering that over and over as he slips his hands beneath his son’s armpits and hoists him to the toilet. Stiles barely gets there in time, sloshing sick into the bowl with a moan. With a pang of horror John vaguely wonders how many times Stiles had to do this for him before he gave up the bottle, and how close John had come to drinking again tonight.

He fills a dixie cup with water from the tap, eyes flickering to his son's light saber toothbrush. He’s such a kid— even at fifteen years old the kid is so young

“S’where we goin’… ‘Eeyyyy, it’s s’bathroom. ‘Eeeyy bathroom, how ‘ya doin’… Dad, what’re you… Oh.” 

And his kid never shuts up, even drunk. “Come on, drink it.” John pushes the dixie cup.

Stiles’s head lolls the other way and purses his lips, unhappy crinkles spilling out over his forehead. "M'no, noooo, don't wan’tn… No’more."

"Just a few sips, it’s water," John prompts, putting the cup up to his son’s stubborn lips. “That’s it, slow sips, Stiles."

“Y'er not mad?"

"We'll get to that later, kid."

"M'head huuurts," Stiles whines and starts slipping down the toilet. He lists to the side. “S’all… Spinny. M’head hurts."

"I know it does. Bet you've got a great aftertaste going on too. Remember what this feels like, okay?"

“M’kay…"

Stiles babbles incoherently as John uses a washcloth to wipe away the vomit smeared on his chin. His son smells like John used to, and his son smells like John's father. It makes him wrinkle his nose and try not to be sick himself.

"We should ge'tta better bath... Thing. In here. Y'know, the bath thing... T'bath mat! Yeah... We need a new one, ours is all old 'n... Yucky."

“Come on, time for bed."

"N'yaaaahhh, m'not tired..."

"I know. Time for bed."

John leads them to his own bedroom so he can clean the sick from Stiles's carpet and air out the room. He sits him down on the bed and strips him out of his soiled, sweat-stained clothes until the kid is swaying on the mattress in his Marvel boxers. Stiles giggles and snorts, slurring, "whoaaaa, dad, pers'nal bubble! You haven't done this'since I was like... Four," and John's heart breaks a little more. He goes to the drawers, fishes out an undershirt and pulls it over his teenager's head.

"Wait, wha? This'is your shirt... Wh'res my shirt? Din'nt I have... I thought I was wearing a shirt, wh'appenn'd to it?"

"I'll call in sick for you tomorrow. Sleep it off," John instructs as he pulls the covers up over his semi-conscious son.

"S'mm..."

But just as he flicks out the lamp and makes it to the doorway—

"Thanks, daddy."

John swallows a lump and softly shuts the door behind him.

 

.o0O0o. 

In the morning Stiles pads out to the living room just after eleven, clutching John's blanket around him like a somber cape. John has been sitting quietly at the table waiting for him since nine o'clock. Stiles sways to a halt when he sees him. His hair is sticking up like he was electrocuted, complexion pale with two high dots of watermelon on his cheekbones beneath two glazed eyes, lips chapped and ajar. His son looks wrecked, sad, guilty, scared, a spitting image of John himself months after the funeral. John opens his mouth and says his son’s real name, pronouncing each syllable slowly, firmly, and with somber purpose.

“Stielwtlœmierzsław Stilinski."

Stiles’s mouth opens and closes silently. He bites his lip and averts his gaze to their crappy carpet. For once John has rendered him speechless. When Stiles looks up again, desperate tears glimmer in his amber eyes.

“I—“ his voice cracks, breaking off to a raspy whisper. "Dad, I’m— I’m s-so sorry.”

As John stands from the table his son sinks in on himself as if afraid to be struck, but it only make John wrap his arms tighter as he pulls him in for a hug. Stiles shudders with wretched sobs as he folds in on himself, spilling hot wet drool onto his father’s shoulder that smells like sick and whiskey. When John closes his eyes he feels a dampness on his lashes too. He pulls Stiles back, looks into those big brown eyes, Claudia’s eyes, and says seriously—

“You are never going to touch a bottle of Jack again.”

Stiles nods, chin trembling. “Yeah.”

And John believes him with every bone in his body.

Somehow they end up on the floor sitting against the dishwasher. John’s blanket pools around his teenager and gathers dusty crumbs from the floor, but Stiles’s hands are trembling and he’s clutching the fabric tightly like it’s the only thing anchoring him. John sits in his jeans and flannel and watches a small spider crawl beneath the fridge.

"I miss her,” Stiles voices meekly, voice raspy with his hangover. 

“I miss her too, kid.”

“I wish she was here.”

Once upon a time in room 108 of Beacon Hill Memorial Hospital, a beautiful woman replayed memories with John until he laughed and forgot his heartache a little.

“She is,” he sighs. “In our memories.” And when Stiles snorts unhappily, “I know it’s not the same as having her here physically, but it’s what we got, right? Remember when we the three of us went down to the park and we taught you how to ride a bike? And then she chased down the ice cream truck for four blocks in her roller-skates until it stopped?”

“…Yeah.”

“And we have some pretty good new memories, too. Like when you singlehandedly solved a triple homicide when you were fourteen."

This wins a small smile from Stiles, who murmurs, “Poisoned limes.”

“Right. Or for my birthday a few years ago when we went to go see the Star Trek movie?”

“We got mugged that night.”

“Yeah, but Melissa let us polish off the last of the birthday cake at her house afterwards,” John points out.

“And then you told me how you and mom got high—“

“Yes, yes, your mom and I were in our twenties and we were human, sue us.”

Stiles giggles into his fist. “No no wait, remember when I was like, seven I think? And you let me put worms into Richard’s desk and then he flipped out at the station.”

“Classic,” John chuckles. “But I think my favorite prank of yours was hacking into Mr. Harris’s chemistry presentation and filling the slides with pictures of Shrek."

“You grounded me for a week!”

“I had to, I’m your father. But that doesn’t mean I’m not amused at the stunts you pull. Just don’t take that as encouragement to do anything illegal."

“Ha! Wanna talk illegal? How ‘bout the time you punched a colleague in the face to defend mom’s honor— in the middle of the station!”

“It was in the copy room and you were three months old, kid.”

“Yeah, but I love that story!” Stiles’s eyes shine up at him. “You were willing to jeopardize your job to put a douchebag in his place! That’s so freaking cool. I think also… Um, right before the high school entrance exam, when Ricky Santiago called me a retard for having ADHD, and you got out of the squad car and told him off.” Stiles stares shyly at his knuckles. “That was… Really cool. Thanks, for that."

“Anytime. Thanks for dumping a bowl of chowder over Ricky Santiago’s head when he called me a drunk a year later.

“Yeah… Well. It wasn’t very good chowder anyway."

“I just need to know, kid,” John sighs quietly. "I know you drink at parties, beer, vodka, whatever it is you kids—“

“I don’t drink at parties.” 

John blinks, genuinely surprised. “You what?”

“I don’t drink at parties,” Stiles repeats. He looks seriously into John's eyes. “I don’t drink alcohol."

“Oh,” John says dumbly. “I just assumed…”

“Why would I?” Stiles voices quietly. “After what you went through after mom died.”

Because Stiles is just like John. When your father is an alcoholic, you vow never to drink. 

“Well I guess that answers my question. I wanted to know if last night was your—“

“The first time I got drunk on whiskey?” Stiles finishes for him. “Yeah. It was. And don’t worry, it was my last, too.”

John sighs. “Why’d you do it, kiddo?” He doesn’t need to know how Stiles got the bottle. He probably has contacts with seniors or peers with older brothers, maybe even has a fake ID himself, but that’s not the important part.

Stiles shrugs. “It was dumb. I missed mom. I thought that… Maybe there was a reason you used to drink? Like it must have helped with losing her, since it was so hard for you to get out of it. I just wanted to try it for myself. See what was so special about it, I guess.”

John swallows. “And what did you find out?”

Stiles wrinkles his nose. “It’s nasty as hell. No, I take it back. I bet you’ll find whiskey at the seventh circle of hell. How did you not need to wash it down with muffins or something? Multiple muffins, with extra chocolate chips. Warheads. Motor oil, even. Genuinely anything else would taste better."

John chuckles. “I think it permanently burned my tastebuds off somewhere after the second bottle.”

Stiles snorts next to him. “Yeah? So why do you always complain about my five-star vegan entrees?”

“Kid, anyone would be able to taste soy sauce and pickle relish in the same dish.”

“I was experimenting! You’re my culinary guinea pig.”

“Word of advice? You’ve got many career options, but cooking is not one of them.”

“—dispatch Tarson, Mulaney and Suarez with a 12-87 on Fairmont Avenue broad—"

Stiles’s expression falls as he looks to the walkie talkie vibrating on the table. “Oh. Are you working today?”

“I’m supposed to go in at two."

“Oh.”

“But I’m going to call and tell the station I’m taking the day off.”

“Wait, really?”

“Consider today a father-son day.”

Stiles cracks a small smile, eyes twinkling like they did when he was six. “Wow, um… Cool. Well do you maybe… Wanna have a Star Wars marathon later? Or something else, whatever you want.”

“Sounds great. If you’re feeling up to it tonight I’ll make some pancakes, too.”

“Pancakes for dinner?” Stiles says hopefully.

John smiles. “Pancakes for dinner, kid.”

 

.o0O0o. September 30th, 2013.

“Aaah-CHOO!”

“Jesus, son, could you try not to sneeze all over my paperwork?"

“Blugh. Sorry.”

The start of sophomore year brings new hoodies, new school books, and the common cold. John hasn’t seen his kid this sick since he rubbed poison ivy all over himself in 4th grade (he thought it was aloe, and he was trying to impress Lydia Martin with supple skin). But John will take oatmeal baths to phlegmy coughs any day.

“Wh’res the milk?” Stiles asks thickly as he sways before the fridge.

“Middle shelf behind the ham. Get a glass. I don’t want you putting your germy mouth all over— Stiles!”

John turns around to find his son already guzzling straight from the gallon. He sighs.

“Sorry,” Stiles sniffles again. “This can be my gallon. Here, I’ll write a ‘JS’ on it.”

“Those are my initials.”

“No, it stands for Just Stiles, like this milk is just for… Oh. Wait. John… Stilinski. Huh. Okay. Well I’ll just draw the Starfleet Delta and we’ll know it’s mine."

“You should be in bed, kid,” John peers at him over his reading glasses, this time with some concern. “You look awful.”

“Thanks. ‘Preciate it, pops.”

“You want me to run down and get some gatorade for you? More cough drops?”

“Nah, I’ll just pick ‘em up myself. I’m heading out to Scott’s house now anyway."

“What? Stiles, you’re sick, don’t infect him. Whatever video game he bought can wait.”

“We’re not going to play video games,” Stiles sighs as he lugs his backpack over his shoulder. “I need to help him with his shift.”

“His shift at the veterinarian’s clinic?” 

Stiles freezes halfway through zipping up his hoodie. He snaps his jaw closed, nods, and scratches his ear. “Yeah, yes, the— the veterinarian’s clinic. Where he works. And goes on shift. Like for his job, right!”

“And… Why exactly do you need to help him?” John squints.

“He, uh… Deaton got a bunch of new puppies and needs someone to help babysit them until the owners can pick them up, you know, since puppies are a big handful— peeing, yipping, chubby little waddling puppies getting into cat food and escaping, probably… Can’t be too careful, I can see why he needs all hands on deck."

John studies him. Stiles is doing that nervous fidgety thing he does when he’s lying, but it might just be because his nose is stuffed up.

“I still think you should call and cancel. Scott has asthma, it can be dangerous for him to get colds Stiles, you know that.”

“But Scott doesn’t have—! Textbooks. His textbooks! He doesn’t have his textbooks anymore. Because he left them at school! But I got them for him, since I’m an awesome friend, and I was gonna drop them off at his house and give him a ride to the vet clinic and then help him keep the puppies under control… Yeah,” Stiles blinks and sways as he adjusts his backpack. “Wow, is it spinny in here? Something is spinning, is that me? Whoa…“

John steadies him by the arm as he starts to topple over. “Lay down before you fall down, okay kid?”

“But Scott…” Stiles mumbles.

“Look, I know you’d fling yourself off a cliff for that boy, but I need you to stay home and get some rest, okay bud? I’m sure Scott can handle the puppies without you.” John feels his forehead. “And you have a fever. That settles it."

“Mrrregh.” Stiles flops down on the couch in a pile of crumpled tissues. John pats his back and throws a blanket over him.

“Sleep. I’ll be back in a bit, okay?”

“Mmfgh.”

“Love you, too."

 

.o0O0o.

Twenty minutes later he’s standing on the McCall doorstep with Scott’s books in his arms. He got them from Stiles’s backpack— he was expecting chemistry or math but instead they’re all strange titles like “Mythology Through The Ages,” “Fairy Folklore” and “Botany 101.” In the car are bags of decongestant and gatorade he picked up at Walgreen’s. 

Suddenly the door swings open. Melissa blinks at him in surprise. She’s halfway through poking a silver hoop through her ear and her wild curls fall in long ringlets around her face, let down from the usual ponytail. She’s in a dress too, something low cut and simple, a deep blue that brings out the gold in her caramel skin tone. Her lips shine with berry colored gloss.

“Melissa,” John blurts. “You— I haven’t seen you out of scrubs in a while.”

“I’ve got a date in about thirty minutes,” she says, checking her watch. “How do I look?”

She holds out the edges of her dress and smoothes down the fabric. It flutters around her knees, drawing attention to her slim calves.

“You look beautiful,” he tells her. 

“Thanks.” She blinks at him. “Not that I’m not happy to see you, but why are you standing on my doorstep with a stack of musty books?"

“Oh. Uh—“ He holds the books out. “Stiles said that Scott left some books behind at school, so I’m here to drop them off for him. Stiles has a nasty cold and I didn’t want him to give it to Scott, considering how bad it is for his asthma."

“His asthma?” Melissa parrots, cocking her head, then her eyes snap wide. “Oh! Right, his asthma… Which he still has, right. Well thank you, I’ll take them inside for him.”

“I’m also here to relay that Stiles won’t be able to help him with the puppies tonight at the Vet clinic.”

“Scott isn’t working tonight,” Melissa furrows her brow in confusion. “Did Stiles say he was?”

“Uh, yeah,” John mimics her befuddled expression. “He said he needed to help Scott with his shift.”

“His… Oh.” Again, Melissa’s eyes grow wide. Her eyes flick to the sky as she murmurs, “Right, it’s that time of the month…”

“Sorry?” John chokes a little.

“What? Oh! Oh, no, I meant— not like— god,” Melissa blushes fiercely beneath her makeup, something Melissa McCall rarely does. “I meant that… Yes, Scott does have a shift tonight. And Stiles said the Vet clinic. Right. Thank you for… Reminding me.”

“Is… Is everything okay?” He asks quizzically.

Melissa seems to right herself. She chews her lip and hides it with a chuckle. “Yes. I’m fine. Just first date nerves, that’s all. Anyhow I should really— get back to that. Getting ready. You know, for my date.”

“Right… Well, okay, have fun tonight.”

“Thank you.”

And she quickly shuts the door in his face.

He stands there confused for a moment before he shakes his heads and retreats back to his car. He slips his phone from his pocket and sends her a quick text message.

Don’t worry about the date. You really do look beautiful.

 

.o0O0o.

Stiles starts growing distant in October.

He comes home from school and goes straight to his bedroom with a quick, “hey dad” before shutting the door behind him. Most of the time he only emerges for dinner, grabbing a protein bar or cold leftovers from the fridge and scurries back to his cave. Sometimes John peeks in on him around eleven and finds him slumped over asleep on his keyboard, with some strange article about plants or mythical creatures on the screen. John asks him about it one day and Stiles freezes before blurting a dismissive, “just stuff for school, Mrs. Grady wants us to do a big report thing on folklore.”

But then Stiles starts leaving the house for long periods of time and returns pale and exhausted. He says he’s “just studying with Scott” or “meeting with my chemistry group at the library,” but the way his eyes flick to the side and his tongue darts out nervously tells John he’s lying. John doesn’t want to believe it, but one day he cracks and checks the library hours online. It closes at seven, and Stiles doesn’t come home until ten.

“How was school, son?” He tries asking on the days he’s home when Stiles walks in the door. He gets a quick “good” before his son is already down the hall. Last year John used to get a fifteen minute rant on everything from annoying teachers to Scott’s lunch, and it hurts more than he wants to admit.

He grows even more worried when he starts finding small spots of blood on Stiles’s clothes when he does the laundry.

Again he confronts Stiles about it, but he licks his lips and insists he tripped in school and scraped his elbow when he hit the floor. The next time he says Lydia brought her dog Prada to school and she bit his ankle. Then it’s he accidentally shut the jeep door on his fingers and sprained his knuckles.

“You know me, clumsy as a baby deer. It’s nothing, dad. I’ll start wearing a helmet everywhere I go, ‘kay?”

John isn’t convinced. Strangely Melissa starts avoiding him too, with shorter phone conversations and claiming she’s working more hours and doesn’t have time for lunch. That also hurts more than he expects— does his breath smell? Is there a rumor going around that he tortures puppies in his free time? He starts brushing his teeth more often and drops off a small donation at the animal shelter.

The worst is the day Stiles stumbles in the door with an ugly bruise on his cheekbone. John is out of his seat and across the room in a heartbeat.

“Stiles! Jesus, Stiles, who did this to you?” He demands as he cradles his son’s face to get a better look. Stiles squirms away and hides it beneath his palm.

“Dad, cut it out, it’s nothing!”

“That does not look like nothing!”

“Look, I just— I was fooling around with Scott after school and I accidentally brained myself on the jeep door. No big deal.”

“Do you think I’m stupid?” John fumes. “I’m the town Sheriff, I know the difference between an accident and a right-hook punch. Who hurt you, Stiles? What’s going on with you? Are you in a gang?”

“What? God, no! I’m not in a gang!” Stiles brushes past him to the hallway. “Just— don’t worry, okay? I’m fine.”

“Stiles, you’ve been acting strange for two months and I can’t just let an injury like that drop. You really think the bloodstains on your clothes don’t concern me? You’re an accident-prone kid but this is getting out of control. I just—” He shakes his head, silently pleading with the sixteen-year-old in front of him. “I just want you to talk to me, son. You know you can tell me anything, right?”

For a moment Stiles looks like he might blurt the truth. He bites his lip, eyelashes twitching guiltily, and averts his gaze to the floor. “I— I can’t tell you. Not yet. I’m sorry. But I’m not selling drugs on the street or anything like that, I promise. Can you trust me?”

John sighs. He gives up and goes back to his armchair, turning his back on his kid. “When you see Scott tomorrow could you give him the package on the table? It’s for Melissa.”

“Why don’t you give it to her yourself?”

“She says she’s busy. Just between us, I think she’s avoiding me, too.”

Stiles stays a moment longer just standing in the kitchen. John doesn’t look up, but he can sense his son staring at the back of his head. Then with a quiet, “I’m sorry, dad,” he retreats to his room.

Halloween approaches swiftly and the tension in the house grows.

Stiles starts giving him guilty looks at the dinner table and apologizing for things more often, even though he usually unleashes every defense in the book before apologizing. He forgets to clear his plate at the table— “Sorry, dad.” He accidentally bumps into John in the hallway— “Sorry, dad,” when he usually says something like, “yo, watch where you’re going, you old geezer!” Even when he realizes he’s hogging the remote— “Sorry, dad.”

Everything but the one thing John actually wants him to apologize for, and John doesn’t even know what it is. He just wishes his kid would stay safe.

On October 29th John waits in the dark in the living room for Stiles to come home. He’s been calling his cell phone for hours and it goes straight to voicemail. Scott isn’t picking up either and the library is closed. The clock creeps closer to midnight and then his kid finally comes in the door, looking exhausted and weary. He's carrying a baseball bat.

"Son." John greets darkly.

Stiles screams and jumps three feet in the air, flailing wildly. He swings his bat and knocks over a lamp, which crashes to the ground in a scatter of glass.

"Holy god, Dad!" Stiles goes pale. His lip is split and there’s a dribble of red on his shirt.

"Do you want to tell me where you were at midnight on a school night with your phone off?” John rises from his arm chair and slowly stalks forward.

"Not really, no. Preferably no, please."

"Stiles."

"I was… Out hitting around some baseballs!” Stiles offers, swinging his bat for emphasis. It cracks into the wall and leaves an indent. Stiles swears.

"Don't lie to me, kid."

"Dad," Stiles looks pained as he says it. He runs a hand through his hair and John sees a bruise there beneath the messy waves. "I... I can't tell you."

"Is it a girl?" John prompts.

"What! No, dad! God—"

"Is it... A guy?" John ventures.

"No!" Stiles hollers. “Oh my god, no!"

"Then what is it?" John demands. His blood pressure is up now, angry and desperate and terrified of losing the kid in front of him. "What is it that has my son so distant from me, huh? What has him telling lies and sneaking out and coming home with bruises I can't protect him from? Goddammit Stiles, I am your father and I want answers!"

"Well I can't give you them!" Stiles yells, growing more distressed. "I want to, okay? But you won't believe me."

“What makes you think I wouldn’t believe you after you singlehandedly solved a triple homicide using limes?” John challenges. “You’re my son, I want you to trust me! You can trust me, Stiles, I just want to know what—"

He breaks off as he spots the bulge in Stiles’s pocket, illuminated by the soft light of the streetlamp outside. Stiles pales and takes a step backwards, twisting his hips to hide it.

"Stiles," John takes a step forward. "What is that, what's in your pocket?"

"Shit, it's nothing, okay? Just some candy Danny gave me after school."

"Let me see."

“Dad—"

"Let me see."

Slowly, painfully, Stiles takes out the contents of his pocket and lays them in John’s palm with trembling fingers. Two small bottles of grey dust and a small packet of purple granules.

"You're doing drugs?” John whispers incredulously. 

"No, Jesus Christ, dad! Do I look like I'm on drugs?!"

"Honestly it's hard to tell sometimes. What is this stuff?” John demands.

Stiles sighs, dragging a hand down his face. "Mountain ash and wolfsbane powder."

"What is that, slang for amphetamines?"

"I am not on drugs!" Stiles hollers. "You, I can’t— I can't do this anymore—“ His breaths start whining fast and shallow in an impending panic attack, but John is too angry to calm down.

"Stiles, what the hell is this for then? I want the truth, the whole truth, what is going on with you?"

"You really wanna know?" Stiles whirls around and looks up, surprised tears in his eyes. “Werewolves!" he blurts. "Scott is a werewolf. He was bitten by a werewolf and now his eyes turn red because he's a true alpha and he can grow claws and fangs and has super hearing, and he doesn’t have asthma anymore because of it! And it turns out Allison's family hunts supernatural creatures with arrows and guns but they like Scott because he's so morally righteous and everything, and Derek Hale is a werewolf too and he's been helping him get a handle on his powers despite being eternally grumpy! Oh, and Scott’s boss Dr. Deaton is a vet but he's also a Druid which means he gives us really cryptic information and heals weird injuries! I'm a human so I can use mountain ash and wolfsbane powder against supernatural creatures that try to kill us, because apparently this town is a beacon for all kinds of crazy murderous beasts that none of us thought existed!"

John stares at his son. “…Is that all?"

"No. Lydia's a banshee."

John feels like crying. He closes his eyes and curls his fingers tightly over the mystery contents in his palm.

“Dad?” Stiles’s voice trembles. He steps forward cautiously. “D-dad, are you—?”

“You’re grounded. No TV, no computer games, no comic books. You’ll give me the keys to your jeep right now and you’ll get them back when you stop telling lies. I’ll take your cell phone, too. Every day I will drive you to school and pick you up immediately after lacrosse practice.”

“Dad!” Stiles rasps, and this time the tears break free from his eyes and spill down his cheek.

“Give me your phone, Stiles.”

“Dad, wait— j-just let me call Scott, I need to call S-Scott and then he can show you—“

“Now, Stiles.”

But Stiles jerks backwards and continues punching in Scott’s number with shaking fingers. “Please, it’s important, just let m-me—"

“Give me your phone, Stiles!”

“JUST TRUST ME FOR TWO MORE SECONDS!” Stiles screams, startling John with his desperation. His face is wrinkled with anger and sadness and a million other things John can’t place, but it’s enough to quell his frustration for another second.

“As soon as you call him you’re handing me your phone,” John decides shortly. Stiles sucks in a breath of relief and quickly puts his cell phone to his ear, whispering a steady stream of “come on come on come on, pick up the phone, pick up the—"

He hears Scott’s tinny “hello?” 

Stiles chokes in relief and says, "it's time. I can't do it anymore, we gotta show him.”

“Show me what?” John crosses his arms. 

Stiles licks his lips and hangs up the phone. He meets John’s eyes with a terrified yet steady gaze. “We need to go to Scott’s house. You can ground me for a decade but first I really need you to come with me to see him.”

“Stiles—“

“Please, dad,” Stiles whispers. 

John studies his son, taking in Claudia’s eyes, the insecure crease of his brow, and the bloody cut on his lip. He sighs. He nods.

“Okay."

The drive down the block is quick. The McCall house windows glow with yellow lights from inside, one of the only houses left in the neighborhood that’s still awake at midnight. Stiles barely raps his knuckles against the door before Scott answers, big brown eyes flicking cautiously between him and John. He steps aside to let them in, where Melissa is sitting calmly at the dining table with a mug of tea. 

"Hi John," she greets casually. 

“Melissa,” he returns stiffly. Scott and Stiles join her at the table, whispering to each other with serious faces.

"You might want to sit down for this,” she recommends. Cautiously he takes a seat across from her.

“So do you mind telling me why I’m here?” He asks grimly. “My son here was just feeding me a story about werewolves."

"Yeah, those exist.” Melissa sips her tea.

“…What?"

"Werewolves are a thing, apparently,” she shrugs. "My son is one now. Scott, do the face thing for him.”

 

.o0O0o. December 14th, 2013.

So… Werewolves.

Werewolves are apparently a thing, and have been since Scott was out in the woods catching fireflies with Stiles a few months ago, and was bitten by a werewolf… And then became a werewolf. Stiles tells him everything and introduces him to Chris Argent, who is Allison Argent’s father, and that girl is Scott’s girlfriend. The Argent family is actually a secret and revered family of hunters that hunt supernatural creatures that threaten the town. He learns about Banshees and Wendigos and pixies and of course, werewolves. 

Jesus Christ.

It only takes him a few weeks to get used to the idea, because frankly it makes a whole lot of sense considering the strange happenings that go on in Beacon Hills. 

A few months later a drag queen knocks on John's door.

"Hi, you must be Sheriff Stilinski,” he —(She? She.)— smiles warmly and reaches out huge red fingernails to shake his hand. "I'm Josephine, and you are just about the sweetest man in the county so I've heard."

"Uh..." John trails off, staring at her glittery top and ___ and trying not to stare at her ample cleavage.

"I'm just here to return my little Bambi's jacket—“ Josephine holds up Stiles’s worn red hoodie. “Are you making sure he’s eating enough? This thing is small enough to fit my arm and it’s baggy on him. Strange considering how much junk food that boy can pack away.”

“I— I’m sorry, how do you know my son?” John cocks his head. Should he be concerned?

“Oh right, you’re probably thinkin’ it strange that a teensy teenager like your son is friends with a big bombshell drag queen like myself,” she flips a mane of glossy brown curls over her shoulder.

“Well, I— not to— I didn’t—“

“It’s alright, Sheriff. Ever since the girls and I found out how he singlehandedly saved our favorite hangout place, we gave him free tickets to our show. That little string bean is a crackup. He hangs out with us backstage when he has nothin’ better to do.”

“He… Sorry, your favorite hangout place?”

“The Jungle,” Josephine winks. “Best gay club in the county. Well, the only gay club in the county.”

“The lime crime?” John whispers.

“Yeah! That’s what we heard, that some jackass was poisoning people with arsenic limes. Turned my taste buds off to mojitos ever since.”

“But he was fourteen when he solved that,” John murmurs. “That was two years ago, you mean to tell me that Stiles has been hanging out with drag queens and never told me?"

“Whoops, looks like Josie’s let the cat out of the bag,” Josephine hides a sly smile behind her fingers. “You talk to your son, Sheriff. If you decide not to ground him for life, you’re always welcome to come to one of our shows."

And with a final hair flip, she walks back down the porch and to the sidewalk, hips sashaying the whole way.

 

.o0O0o.

"So I met your new friend today," John voices when Stiles comes home from lacrosse. Sweaty, stinky, red cheeked and invigorated.

"Ha! Nice one, dad," Stiles swigs the milk from the fridge.

"Her name is Jospehine.”

Stiles freezes and actually spits out some milk. It dribbles down his chin. He turns around. "You met Josephine?"

"She came to return your jacket. Said you left it at the Jungle in her dressing room," John lifts an eyebrow. "Is there something you want to tell me, son?"

“What, like tell you I’m gay?” Stiles snorts. “You said yourself you and mom figured out I was bi when I was five, you creepers. So yeah, I may have been given an honorary pass to The Jungle since I helped solve their lime crime problem. As for the drag queens, it’s not like I went out of my way to make friends with them— they pounced on me like a pack of tall, sparkly, sassy lions!" Stiles flails.

“Mhm,” John hums.

"And I dunno, they were pretty cool and it turns out Josephine can stitch up a panty hose rip in under thirty seconds, and then they kinda just started inviting me over for shows and… The place is pretty cool. It’s not a big deal, I just hang out with them sometimes when Scott’s busy with Allison.”

“And you…” John squints. “You don’t want to… You like being a boy, don’t you?”

“What! Oh my god, dad, stop.” Stiles presses his fingers against the bridge of his nose, a gesture John does a lot. “Yes, I like being a dude! Being a dude is great, it’s awesome, minus the random awkward boners in public, but yes!”

John closes his eyes and prays for guidance.

“I mean, they kind of decided to do my makeup one day because they said I was all baby faced and they were begging for a model, but no! Dad, don’t be so weird.”

“Forgive me for being a little surprised,” John says. 

“Look,” Stiles rubs the back of his neck. “How about you come with me to their Christmas show? It’s next Saturday, and they’re actually pretty fun. I could introduce you to everyone! They’d love to meet you in person.”

“Stiles, I’m the county Sheriff, I’m not sure if—“

“What, that the townspeople would approve of you going to see a drag queen performance at a gay club?” Stiles rolls his eyes. “Dad, you’re better than that. This is 2013, don’t let your head get stuck in 1970.”

John regards his son. He’s finally starting to let his hair grow out.

“Okay. But you’re driving.”

 

.o0O0o. October 4th, 2014.

The last time John sees Derek Hale is in October of 2014.

He’s on break from patrol and parks the cruiser outside Hal’s Café, his favorite spot to spend his lunch break. He buys a ham and cheese croissant, thanks Greg for the complimentary coffee, and savors his meal at table by the store window.

Derek walks in not five minutes later clad in scuffed boots, grey jeans, a white shirt, and the same black leather jacket he was wearing back in 2009. It fits him much better now; the kid has grown five inches in height an width, acquired a handsome beard of groomed stubble, and has a new softness around his vivid eyes. He looks just like his father.

Yet John freezes in his seat and watches like a spooked deer, cheeks stuffed with croissant. The rest of the café quiets as well and several heads turn to stare. Hands come up to mouths and eyes stretch wide as whispers are exchanged, and John catches things like “family died in a fire” and “used to wreak havoc on the town” and "hardened criminal.” Guilt swoops in his stomach as he remembers the hollow boy who was too angry to ask for a donut.

With supernatural hearing Derek can hear the whispers, but he ignores them and politely orders a poppyseed muffin at the counter. He uses “please” and “thank you” and leaves a generous tip as he waits. John scribbles the math on his napkin and figures that Derek should be twenty-one now. Once the muffin is in his hand Derek takes a bite and brushes the crumbs from his shirt, making sure to hold them and drop them in the trash instead of letting them fall to the floor. He doesn’t see John as he walks out.

But then Derek sits on the small bench outside Hal’s Café, right on the other side of the window John is at. He watches Derek like “a total creeper” as Stiles would say, as the kid alternates between eating his snack and tossing muffin crumbs to the pavement to feed the tiny birds that congregate there. People walk down the sidewalk but slow down when they see Derek, whisper and turn the other direction.

After ten minutes of this the store manager comes out and politely tells Derek to leave because he can’t afford to lose the business. Derek’s expression is flat like he gets this all the time. But a moment later he nods and politely stands to leave, which is when he catches John’s eyes in the window. John stiffens as goosebumps pimple his arms.

Derek nods as if to say “thank you,” then turns and leaves. The birds fly away.

John doesn’t even realize he’s called his son until Stiles’s worried voice answers.

“Dad? Are you okay?”

John blinks and checks his watch. It’s a quarter to twelve, which means he caught Stiles in the middle of passing period. “Uh, yeah. Sorry, kiddo. I just…” John stares at the leftover muffin crumbs on the sidewalk.

“Just wanted to call and say I love you."

 

.o0O0o. December 12th, 2014.

The windshield wipers on the squad car swipe in sync to “Baby It’s Cold Outside" as John finishes his rounds on the highway. With the approach of Christmas the sky darkens earlier and earlier, so that he finds himself growing tired at six o’clock simply because the sun

disappears. Right now his feet ache and he’s looking forward to a hot mug of cocoa piled high with mini marshmallows from the secret bag he hides in the drawer beneath the kitchen landline. Maybe he’ll even put the heat on tonight, watch a little CSI with Stiles during dinner, finish up the day with a magazine in bed.

But his plans will have to wait when a single red tail light grows closer and closer— a car stalled on the side of the empty road.

He pulls the squad car over and flicks on the flashing lights, tires grinding to a halt behind the Volkswagen with a wet crunch. He’s grown extra weary of things like this since he found out about the supernatural, so he pats his pocket to make sure the wolfsbane spray Stiles got him is still there. It is.

He steps out into the rain and approaches the driver’s door cautiously, noting how the car’s taillight is out. The engine is running, spewing white fog into the chilly nighttime air that turns pink and then blue with the switching squad lights. With one hand on his holster he knocks on the window and peers through the glass, and blinks in surprise when he sees who's inside. 

“Melissa?”

She startles, jumping in her seat and swinging wide eyes towards him. Her dark ringlets are pulled back in a cleaner-than-usual high ponytail, gaping lips painted a rich berry with matching rose dusted on her cheekbones. A quick glance reveals she’s not in her scrubs, but rather a soft pink sweater beneath a black blazer and a simple pearl necklace; formal attire, but her gaze is wide and glassy with tracks of mascara smudged beneath her eyelashes. She’s crying— in all twelve years he’s known Melissa, he’s never seen her cry aside from Claudia’s funeral.

She fumbles to roll the window down as she hastily wipes a palm across her cheeks. “John! You scared me, I’m so sorry, I… I’m fine.”

“I was just going to let you know that you’re taillight’s out,” John says.

"Oh, right. That," Melissa chuckles weakly, still swiping at her face. "Sorry, I've been waiting on tomorrow's paycheck to get that fixed."

“Don’t worry about it," John leans down gently, eyeing her beneath the frame of the car. "But you match the weather… Are you alright?"

"Yeah, yeah I’m—" Melissa barks a laugh, but it comes out bitter. "Just a stupid date, that's all."

“Again? What happened?"

She throws her head back against the seat rest with a heavy sigh. The rain’s shadows on the windshield mingles with her blackened tear stains in the dim light of the street lamp. "I was supposed to meet this guy at Harman's Bistro for dinner. I waited for two hours. He stood me up."

John frowns. This isn’t the first time. Honestly he will never understand how men could throw away such a strong, funny, beautiful woman like she’s no different from a kleenex.

"Oh, don't look at me like that," Melissa frowns at him, waving a hand in the general vicinity of his face. "I don't like pity. I'm a painfully single woman with crap luck when it comes to dating, but I already see that face enough when I look in the mirror. It's stupid, it's stupid okay? I get it. I've got a great kid and a roof over my head, a job in a field I’ve wanted since I was ten, knock on wood we’re both in good health, and I’m thankful for that, alright? I’ve worked my ass off my whole life so I can have that, but sometimes—!"

She squeezes her eyes shut and bangs her head back against the seat. A defiant tear rolls down her trembling chin, but it looks like she's making a wish, not having a breakdown. John has never known another woman half as strong.

“—Sometimes I just wish I could be dealt a good card once and a while."

She finishes with a quiet breath, eyelashes blinking vacantly at the windshield. Then she seems to snap out of it and realize that John is still standing in the freezing rain, but before she can apologize or drive off, he cuts in.

“Harman's, you said?"

Melissa's blinks. "Yeah."

"That's just off the last exit, isn't it?"

"Yeah, why?"

"I haven't eaten yet. Let's go."

Melissa's mouth drops open and moves soundlessly. For once, John’s caught her off guard.

“I— John, I look like a mess."

"You look great."

“You’re— no, I should get home to make Scott dinner. He’s—"

"A fully functioning werewolf teenager who can make his own dinner. Or catch a rabbit."

Melissa gapes at him, eyebrows arching high. "I swear you're just like your son, John. Your son, Stiles, who is waiting for you to get home so he can make you—"

“Boiled sweet potato and salad with low-fat dressing?" John finishes wryly, arching his own eyebrow. "Come on Mel, you'd be doing me a favor by getting me out of that."

She bites her lip, half to keep from smiling and half to think it over. When she blows an angry curl off her nose John knows he almost has her, and when she nods— "Alright, you got me. But only because I'm starving and I hear Harman's has a five-star hamburger."

John grins. "That's the spirit. You lead the way, I'll be right behind you."

Melissa rolls her eyes. "Just so long as you don't write me a ticket for my tail light."

"Only if you get it fixed by Monday. Stay off highway ninety tomorrow night though, Richard’s on patrol and he’ll definitely nail you for it."

"Deal.”

 

.o0O0o.

The restaurant hits them with a gust of warm air as they step inside. Twinkling Christmas decorations and savory fried food glitter at every turn while the rain quickly dries from John’s shoulders, thawing out his toes. He leaves his belt and badge in the squad car since he’s off duty now, and Melissa hangs her jacket on the back of the booth they sit at. They chat while waiting for their orders and Melissa's sadness slowly seeps away, replaced with her usual witticism and sharp chuckles. John’s cheeks grow warm with the content of it all as he texts Stiles letting him know that he’ll be home a little later, and she texts Scott letting him know there’s a box of mac&cheese on the third shelf of the cupboard. And to be sure to add the powdered cheese after straining the pasta.

“Mm’ohmygod, I want to marry whoever made this cheeseburger,” Melissa groans as he chews over a giant mouthful of crispy bun and medium-rare heifer. “No, I take it back. I’ll just marry the burger.”

John hums his agreement as he uses another fry to mop up the tatar sauce oozing off his steak. “I stopped praying decades ago, but I’d like to take a moment now to bless the cow that died so I could eat this steak.”

“I oughta take a picture of you and send it to your son,” Melissa teases, pointing a pickle slice to John’s meal.

“You wouldn’t dare,” he warns as he curls a protective hand over his plate. “I earned these calories, I worked hard today.”

“You sure this is okay?” Melissa asks again. “I’m serious about leaving if you need to. I know finals are coming up for the boys but with both of us out of the house who knows what supernatural shenanigans they’ll get into.”

“Well let’s hope they don’t run into anything too bloodthirsty,” John comments. “I’m running out of mountain lion excuses to tell my deputies.”

“Ugh, remember those pixies? They were probably my least favorite creature they’ve run into,” Melissa rolls her eyes. "I’ll take bloodthirsty werewolves any day over a backyard covered in smelly, glittery slime.”

“I still have a grudge against that English teacher— the darach? Getting kidnapped and held hostage underneath a magic sacrificial tree is not how I like to spend my weekends.”

Melissa chuckles grimly and takes another bite. “I still worry about them being safe. Frankly I’m amazed how you’re able to let Stiles go out and fight when he has nothing…”

“But sarcasm and a baseball bat for defense?” John fills in for her. “Yeah, when I first found out about the whole… You know.” He twirls his fork in the air. “I hardly let him leave the house. But then he just ended up sneaking out anyway. When he gets it in his head that he’s going to do something, nothing stops him. And he’s pretty dead set on protecting his friends.”

“Sounds like my son,” Melissa comments. “Good thing they're best friends. Why can’t they just stay young and innocent forever?”

“Because then we’d never get a night to ourselves,” John points out, and Melissa nods vigorously and raises her root beer so they can cheer to it. Their glasses clink and they take a sip.

“So who’s this asshole that stood you up? Do I need to arrest him?"

Melissa rolls her eyes. “Don’t bother. He was some guy who came in last week with a sprained wrist,” she sighs. “And he was cute, too."

“Listen Mel. Any man who’s dumb enough to stand you up doesn’t deserve you,” John tells her, pointing his french fry for emphasis. Melissa mistakes it as him offering it to her and she takes it, popping it in her mouth.

“Looks like someone finally started watching Gilmore Girls,” she snorts.

“I mean it. You’re fantastic. You just haven’t found the right guy yet.”

“Yeah,” Melissa murmurs and looks away. “Or maybe I’m just not meant to find the right guy. I mean look what happened with the asshole I married. Hah.”

“That doesn’t mean you won’t meet someone better,” he points out seriously. “Someone who really knows and appreciates you.”

“I’d love to believe that.”

“Cheer up, Mel. For example I know you, and personally I think this place is a little cliche for your taste. I’d take you out for pulled pork sammies at Phil's Club on trivia night. You’d win us free t-shirts with your extensive knowledge on medical practices and mythology, and then we’d go people-watching at the pier so we could laugh at all the tweens flirting on the doc.”

Melissa chuckles and rolls her eyes. “Yeah, well not every man is like you. Besides, between my work schedule and our supernatural kids, where am I gonna find the time to meet someone for all that?”

“How does this Saturday sound?”

She blinks and looks up at him. He continues eating his french fries. For all the time he’s spent imagining this moment, he’s surprisingly calm.

“John?” Melissa gazes intently at him. “Are you… You mean… Us?”

He nods. “Us.”

“Us,” she breathes. “On a… Date?”

“If that’s what they’re still called, yeah.”

Melissa bites her lip, looking tentatively hopeful. “I— I mean, are you… You know, after…?

“I’ve been ready for a while, Mel. I just haven’t had the guts to ask you.”

And her expression blooms into one of the most beautiful smiles John’s seen on her. It makes him smile too, and then they burst out laughing because they’re officially a cheesy couple in a romcom and it’s finally happening.

“Well then yeah, yes. Let’s do this,” she grins once they settle down. “But… Oh. This Saturday I’m working. Let me see…” She takes out her phone to check her calendar and John grabs the little notepad and his reading glasses from his jacket pocket.

“I’m working double-shift every other weekend until December 31st,” she frowns.

“And I’m at the station every night on weekdays,” he mutters, skimming his notepad. “Oh! Except next Tuesday, the nineteenth."

"I promised I'd help Scott study for his math midterm,” Melissa shakes her head. He's one wrong answer away from failing."

"He's a hardworking kid, he'll pass. Next Saturday night?"

"Nurses' seminar and awards dinner. I'd get out of it, but I promised I’d fill in for a friend. How about Wednesday the 26th?” 

“Stiles and I always spend the day after Christmas watching a Lord of the Rings marathon.” 

"I’d suggest the 27th, but Scott and I have tickets to see Eddie Money."

“What about afternoons? We could do lunch tomorrow?” 

John shakes his head. “Stiles is seeing his psychiatrist to get his meds adjusted. I'd reschedule but that woman is impossible to book less than a month in advance."

“Okay, how about Friday January second, then? To kick off the new year?” Melissa suggests.

He grins. “Sounds like a great start to 2015. I’m looking forward to it.”

She sips her coffee, eyes crinkling mischievously at him over the rim. “Our kids called this years ago, you know.”

He chuckles. “I’d say they’ll be thrilled at the news, but I don’t think they’ll be surprised. 

“So when do we tell them?”

“Assuming they don’t figure it out first? Let’s wait just a little longer. It’ll be fun to tease them."

Melissa smiles. “January second, then. Pick me up at five and we’ll head over to trivia night."

They talk until both their plates are wiped clean, and then they talk more. She tells him about a kid who came into the ER with his mother’s wedding ring stuck in his nose, and John tells her about a woman who was arrested last week for stealing seven cats from the animal shelter. The dinner tab is pricey. John can't really afford to pay it all, but he does.

When they walk out to the parking lot Melissa turns to face him beneath the pink light of the Harman's sign. She smiles softly and slips her fingers over John’s, coaxing a grin from him in the sprinkling weather. Her hand is small like Claudia’s but without any freckles, darker and cooler. It’s a charming juxtaposition to John’s calloused warm hand underneath, as Stiles so eloquently describes as 'sausage fingers.'

“Thank you, John.”

“Thank you, Melissa."

They glance at each other, eyes twinkling, lips pulled into tiny, knowing smiles. It feels right, and it feels warm, and it feels like living.

 

.o0O0o. December 25th, 2014.

“I’mmmm dreaming… Of a white Christmasss…”

The Yule log pops and dances on their rabbit-ear TV as John sits in his armchair by the tree, trying to figure out how to use the Kindle Terry got him yesterday. So far he’s deducted that either his fingers are too big or the device was designed by morons, even though Stiles insists John is just “technologically challenged.” 

He’s wearing the same slippers and flannels he's worn every Christmas for the past decade; he probably looks like an old man and he feels like one too, but he minds less and less every year. Stiles and Scott say they can't picture him a day under forty, which Melissa agrees with even though he was thirty-two when they met. 

In elementary school Stiles used to speed into his parent’s room at five in the morning and jump on the bed hollering to wake up for presents. Nowadays John gets to sleep in.

"Merry Christmas, daddy-o!”

Stiles finally pads out into the living room in worn flannel pajama bottoms and a Yoda t-shirt that says,'the sleep is strong with this one' that he loves despite the moth holes. A lopsided grin decorates his face as he idly scratches at his belly button, revealing an absurd amount of dark curls trailing to his waistband. His hair looks like it was electrocuted, ruffled from sleep and sticking out in a million different directions around the pillow marks on his left cheek, which connect his moles with tiny pink lines.

“Morning son,” John greets, checking the clock on the wall. Half past eleven, a new record. “You start sleeping in any later and we’ll have to start greeting, ‘merry December twenty-six.’”

Stiles snorts as he plops down by the tree. “What can I say? Gotta get my beauty rest, dad. I only have a few prime years left before I loose my youthful glow.”

“You’re seventeen, kid. You’ve got at least a decade.”

“Yeah, but you’ve had wrinkles since you were like, twenty. I gotta start preserving my skin early. Thanks for the genes, pops!”

“Hey,” John warns lightly, as he tosses a mini candy cane at his kid’s inflated head. “That’s not true,” he lies. “Besides, Melissa says I don’t look a day over forty-nine.”

“You are forty-nine, dad.”

“Yeah, but life expectancy is eighty! I’ve still a good handful of decades left—“

“—to get even wrinklier. I bet if we ironed you out you’d be ten feet long.”

“Make one more jab at my handsome features and you’ll be doing all the ironing in this house for the next month,” John warns as Stiles snickers into his fist.

His son sits cross-legged on the floor by the tree, the same spot he's sat since he could walk, all long limbs and pale feet and big hands that flip the presents in the air before handing them over. John takes his usual spot in the armchair, or as Stiles calls it, "dad's Manly-Man Sheriff Chair” because John doesn’t let anyone else sit in it. He's has worn a perfect Sheriff-shaped butt imprint into the leather by now, so he has claimed it. There are only three presents under their tiny tree this year; his gift for Stiles, a large box that must be Stiles's gift for John, and a small gift bag with a Spa&Massage gift card for Melissa. Stiles gave Lydia and Scott their presents last week.

“Think fast, Sheriff."

Stiles tosses him a large box wrapped in last-minute paper that feels mysteriously light.

"This isn't another vegetarian recipe book, is it?" John asks suspiciously, raising a dubious eyebrow.

Stiles makes a raspberry noise and rocks back on his heels. “Nice try, pops. You don't get another one of those until you work through all the meals in the first book I got you."

"Oh, goodie," John deadpans. Stiles gave him the last recipe book for his birthday, and since then the dinner table became the ‘vegetarian health mush table,’ courtesy of his son’s cooking on days he doesn’t have lacrosse. Last week they had sweet potato mash with some kind of vegetable he can’t pronounce. "Sure you don't wanna go first, kiddo?"

Stiles grins and shakes his head. His hair flops over his eyes. It's getting long. His bony knees bounce excitedly over the carpet, in time with the “thumpity thump thump thumpity thump thump Santa’s on his way” in the background. "Nah, you first. I can't wait to see your face."

John obliges but can't help but be a little worried as he unwraps it. There are millions of layers of tissue. Stiles is gleefully watching him struggle, rocking back on his hips and biting on his knuckles to keep from cackling.

"Christ, kid."

"Gotta make you work for it, pops."

When John finally gets to the last layer the box is no bigger than his palm. He purses his lips, opens the cardboard, and gapes at the two shiny Mets tickets staring up at him. He stares at his kid, who’s grinning gleefully ear-to-ear.

“Mets are playing at AT&T Park next May!” Stiles whoops excitedly. "And it’s May second, which means it won’t run into finals!”

“What day of the week is May second?” John asks, because John knows better. Stiles squirms, “Wellllll, it’s a Wednesday, soimighthavetomissschoolthatday, but it’s gonna be so rad!”

John chuckles. “Mad rad?”

"Yeah, sure, mad rad! Look at you, pops, learning pop slang. Such swag. Swagger. Dope. Bangin’!”

“I don’t know what to do with you, kid.”

“You could start by giving your favorite son a big ol’ thank you hug for his beautiful act of love?” Stiles bats his eyelashes, holding his hands out and flexing his fingers hopefully.

John studies the tickets. “Where did you even find the money for these?”

“I know a guy,” Stiles shrugs casually, and John wonders how many peer math papers Stiles had to do in order to get the tickets.

He sighs but can’t help a smile from forming. “Thanks, Stiles."

“Yep, 2015 is gonna be awesome,” Stiles laces his arms behind his head. “It’s the year the Mets are gonna win the series, I can feel it. Lets start saving now so we can fly out to New York to see it, okay?”

John smiles, even though he knows they won’t have the money to afford that, even by the time next October comes around. But “sure,” he says, just to watch the grin stretch bigger on his son’s face.

“Soooo, whatd’ja get me?” Stiles teases, as he hauls John’s gift onto his lap. His long fingers skitter over the paper excitedly, eyebrows flattening as he tries to figure out what’s inside. With Stiles it’s always another crime case; he shakes the box and puts it next to his ear to listen, feels the weight and tries to get a judge for the shape. Stiles is too good at solving puzzles, becuase he always guesses and ruins the surprise.

“You evil gremlin, you filled the box with packing peanuts!” Stiles cries in outrage. John smiles victoriously; he did.

“Can’t have you guessing and ruining the fun,” John shrugs. “This year you get to open your gift and be surprised like a regular teenager.”

“Bullsh— balderdash. Evil, evil father. Darth Vader levels of evil father, is what you are,” Stiles huffs as he unsuccessfully shakes the box, hearing and feeling nothing aside from the slight shift of styrofoam peanuts. “It’s a one-fiftieth scale model of the Millennium Falcon. A transcript for the unreleased Avengers movie? That rocket ship I wanted in third grade? The full eight-disk blu-ray collection of the good John Hughes films! Do they make that? Is that a product for purchase? It should be.”

“Just open the box, kid.”

Stiles slips out the shoebox and lifts the cardboard. His mouth drops to the floor. “Dad?"

John smiles as Stiles lifts up the sneakers by the laces, scattering packing peanuts onto the carpet. The red high-tops spin like two cherry ornaments from his fingers, shiny and fresh from the mall. In truth they were triple John’s Christmas budget, but Stiles had eyed them in the store like they were made for him and didn’t ask because he knew John couldn't afford them.

"Oh my god, DAD! You got me— from the mall, you remembered!” Pure joy, immediately dampened with a frown and worried eyebrows. "These are expensive, though, are you sure you can afford—"

"Hey, that's for me to decide and you to enjoy,” John cuts in firmly. 

“I— okay, wow, whoaow,” Stiles’s fingers dance over the sneakers. They’ll replace the rattier ones he’s been using duct tape to hold the soles in. “Holy crap these are beautiful, these are awesome. Oh man, thanks dad!"

His son starts trying them on in his batman pajama bottoms, wiggling his long bare feet beneath the tongues. It’s worth it. John can’t afford the sneakers, but Stiles doesn’t need to know that. Stiles shouldn’t need to worry about finances when he’s already worrying about battling monsters and being a teenager. In truth John sacrificed his life insurance in order to pay off the last of Claudia's hospital bills, but he’s going to pay it all back before Stiles ever finds out.

“So how did Scott like his present?”

“Gave it to him last weekend. I got him a double-jumbo pack of Redvines, glow-in-the-dark shoelaces because obviously, and a dog brush so he can comb his muttonchops properly when he gets all furry. Also because his face does this little scrunchy-squinty thing when I tell dog jokes, kinda like how baby animals try to look angry but they’re just cute to take seriously, you know? It was an opportunity that couldn’t be missed, and I got a picture of it on my phone to have for the rest of eternity. At least I did, until he sat on me and stole my phone and deleted it.”

“Don’t you have a passcode?”

Stiles pauses to raise a single 'seriously?’ eyebrow that says, “Scott knows it, dad.”

“Ah."

“Yep."

At the breakfast (lunch) table Stiles immediately dives for the Bisquick box for pancakes. Neither he nor Stiles have time to spare for anything other than toast or a pop tart in the morning, but pancakes are for special occasions and crappy days. “Come on, it’s Christmas,” John bargains when Stiles starts cutting the recipe in half.

Stiles waves the spatula at him. “Alright, I’ll make you a deal. You get three pancakes if I get to say three swearwords today, minimum potency b-word and no more potent than an f-bomb.”

“I get four pancakes and no more potent than the s-word.”

“Ah, fine. Okay deal.”

The pancakes pile atop the stove and John flips through the TV channels until he finds a cheesy Hallmark movie. His childhood never had Christmases like this; his Christmases were filled with screaming and disappointed frowns and sometimes if he was lucky, his father would already be draped over the kitchen table passed out with the whiskey bottle in his hand. 

But the reason he likes cheesy Hallmark holiday movies is because he used to watch them as a child, and used to pray that one day he would get a Christmas like the happy people he saw on television. But the December twenty-fifths of years past have been just like the ones he hoped for, filled with laughter and warmth and family. Even with Claudia gone, his empty wallet, and the new wrinkles around his eyes, his son is enough to light up the room and put a smile on his face so he hardly remembers what it’s like to be sad in the first place.

"So watcha' wanna do today?" Stiles asks around a truly massive bite of flapjack. It’s a question that’s asked every year since they’re the only two Stilinski’s and the McCall’s spend all day with Melissa’s sister.

“Do you want to see the new Hobbit movie again?" John says. “The theatre has tickets half off today. My treat."

“Eh. It was good but twice was enough for me. Kinda pales in comparison to the original Lord of the Rings movies, you know?"

“I wouldn’t know since I haven’t seen it, but I’ll take your word for it. How about driving down to the bridge and feeding the ducks?”

“Eh. Let’s just stay home, maybe?” Stiles shrugs. He grabs the syrup and squirts a long stream of sugar onto his plate. “We haven’t just stayed home in a few years. I feel like sometimes that’s the most fun. Plus it’s raining outside and I don’t want to subject the jeep to that, she deserves to stay nice and toasty in the garage on Christmas, don’t you think?”

John tucks his last piece of pancake into his smile. “That sounds just fine. I like staying home, too.”

“Great. You finished there, pops? Lemme’ take your plate.” Stiles licks his fingers and sticks John’s plate in the sink. “Cheesy Hallmark movie? I call dibs on the right side of the couch.” Because the left side has a spring poking loose.

“Only if you stick those dishes in the dishwasher,” John bargains, and gets up to grab dubs on the good pillow.

Stiles plops on the couch next to him with Melissa’s chex mix, the tin of chocolate popcorn, and a candy cane sticking out of his mouth.

“Christ, kid, you just had six pancakes,” John snorts. “Where do you put it all?”

“I’m a growing teenage boy,” Stiles stuffs a giant handful of popcorn into his mouth. “I run on sugar and sarcasm. And compliments, compliments are definitely good. Feel free to stroke my ego anytime.”

“Well. You’re better at offending people than anyone I know.”

“Aw, thanks. I try my best."

On the television a litter of lab puppies yip and wag their tails inside a box for adoption. A young man and woman startle and gape at each other as they brush hands reaching to pet the same dog, and John smiles as he thinks about his date with Melissa on January second.

"Hey, thanks dad."

"For what?"

Stiles shrugs. "I dunno, just being dad.”

The rain taps softly against the window outside. A warmth more vibrant than he can describe spreads through his entire being, and he wraps an arm around his son with a protective determination to let him know he has everything to be proud of. He has the job of his dreams, a fantastic kid, a friend and something more in the nurse he’s laughed with for a decade, and Claudia’s necklace a constant presence beneath his shirt. He smiles as Stiles laughs at the television, watches the happy family on the screen, and decides he he’s the luckiest man in the world.

“I love you, kiddo."

"Love you too, pops.”

 

 

Incredible Raising Home fanart by spider999now and benaya-trash.