“Okay, Mr. and, ah…” Jerry Fischer glances down at his paperwork and back up, shifting nervously in his seat. “I’m so sorry, what should I call you?”
“You can call us Melanie’s parents,” says the younger man (the one that showed up in a well-tailored gray suit, even though the invitations specifically invited the parents to dress casually). He picks up the other one’s hand (the one who looks like he just wandered off a Harlequin cover, all impossible muscles and stubbled jaw and ridiculously-tight thermal shirt) and laces their fingers together, raising his eyebrows challengingly. “Is that a problem for you, Mr. Fischer? Too confusing?”
The muscly one rolls his eyes. “For god’s sake, Stiles.”
“No,” Jerry is saying, frazzled. “No, of course not, Mr… Stiles, is it? I just wasn’t sure whether you shared a last name, or if one of you had chosen to hyphenate, and I didn’t want to assume, I just—”
“We’re both Hales, like Melanie,” Stiles says, slowly, like he’s already lost patience with him. “I took Derek’s name; I wasn’t going to, but he sulked for weeks when I told him that, so.”
“He’s a little territorial,” Stiles explains, eyes twinkling. “I find it cute, so he’s lucky that way.”
“You promised you’d try to not be embarrassing tonight,” Derek says, sighing. He pulls their joined hands toward himself and sets them down on his thigh, stroking along the side of Stiles‘ thumb with his own. “I really don’t think you’re trying at all.”
“The fact that you actually believed me when I said that indicates that you must not know me very well.” Stiles grins, wicked and sharp. “After all these years, even. Huzzah, the mystery is still alive!”
“Mr. and Mr. Hale!” Jerry isn’t accustomed to raising his voice to his students’ parents, but he senses that he’s about to lose control of this meeting and it’s making him a little frantic. “I was hoping we could use this opportunity to speak about Melanie’s… social problems.”
The Hales slowly turn their heads to look at each other, and then back at him, both of their faces terrifyingly blank. “I’m sorry,” Stiles says. “I wasn’t aware my daughter had any social problems. Derek?”
Derek’s handsome face has taken on a distinctively murderous cast, and Jerry feels himself shrinking back involuntarily. “Melanie has plenty of friends,” he says, in a tone that does not allow for disagreement of any kind.
“Plenty of friends,” Stiles repeats. “She’s a very smart, very well-adjusted nine-year-old girl, which I think you’ll agree is pretty fantastic considering the fact that she’s had a lot of chaos and tragedy in her life, and not a lot of stability, and she’s only recently been able to legally use our last name even though she’s been ours for years—”
“Losing focus, Stiles,” Derek says, and his mercurial eyes are still boring into Jerry’s soul, oh god.
“Right,” Stiles says, and suddenly his eyes are fixed intently on Jerry too, cold and calculating. “Mels is very social, thank you very much, and she reads on a high-school level, so I can’t even begin to imagine what you’re about to suggest her ‘problem’ is, Mr. Fischer, but oh, feel free to share it with us.”
“Well.” Jerry knows there are security cameras in the classroom, but he still feels like he might be in actual danger here. “She’s been having some… difficulty in dealing with the boys in the class,” he says, bravely. “Specifically, one young man in particular.”
Stiles throws his hands up. “AHA. It’s that fucking Morris kid, isn’t it. Isn’t it? Well,” he says, standing up and leaning in with his hands on Jerry’s desk, “what is that little shit saying about my little girl? This should be entertaining.”
“Mr. Hale, language,” Jerry says, shocked, and he could swear he hears an actual growl come out of Derek’s mouth. “I mean, that is, please. Let’s keep everything respectful.”
“Oh, like Bobby Morris kept it respectful when he pulled Mel’s hair and took her stuffed wolf away and called her ugly?” Stiles crosses his arms, drawing his shoulders back, while Derek hunches down further in his chair and continues to make that weird, low-frequency growling sound. “Derek gave her that toy for her birthday, and that Morris kid threw it in the mud.”
“It took us hours to convince her that he was wrong about her being ugly,” Derek adds, still glaring from under the world’s most menacing eyebrows.
“Mels is freaking beautiful,” says Stiles, “so if anyone has social problems, it’s Morris. And maybe you, because my kid came home crying last week saying you didn’t do anything to stop some hyperactive little creep from harassing her. This all cleared up yet? Can we go get dinner?”
“Please, there’s no need for,” Jerry starts, gulping when he swears he sees a flash of red in Derek’s eyes. “Please. The Morris boy just has a crush on Melanie, that’s all. He’s just doing what boys do, that kind of teasing is—”
“Oh, really, really, you hear that Derek, it’s okay to make a girl cry if you like her.”
“I’m pretty sure I made you cry a few times because I liked you,” Derek says. “You know, back when we were younger. And dumber.”
“And was that in any way acceptable behavior?”
“Fuck no,” Derek says, standing up to loom beside Stiles. “Especially not in a classroom, where kids are supposed to be safe.”
“It was harmless pigtail-pulling!” Jerry protests, terrified. “I heard her make this horrible sound, and—” He holds up a plastic firetruck, twisted and mangled almost beyond recognition. “Bobby says she did this to his truck!”
“Well, that’s just ridiculous,” Stiles says, his mouth twitching. “She’s nine. Look at that thing, it’s totaled.”
“Looks like it was run over by a car, to me.” Derek runs his fingers over the crushed plastic and smiles with all his teeth. “I think this Bobby kid is a liar.”
“Well…” Jerrry has to admit that he didn’t see the toy break, and now that he looks at it, the wreckage is far too complete to be the work of a skinny third-grade girl. “I suppose I didn’t think—”
“That’s right, you didn’t,” Stiles says, tilting his chin up victoriously. “Come on babe, let’s go home; Scott’s probably about to feed Mels the Spongebob-shaped macaroni again and I’m afraid she’ll get scurvy if we’re not there to force some broccoli down with it.”
“I’m still not sure why we leave him alone with her,” Derek says, putting on his jacket. “He’s going to turn Melanie soft.”
“Don’t worry,” Stiles says, fixing his cuffs in an unnecessarily-showy way. “She’s still got Allison to teach her how to be a man.”
“Gentleman, I think there are still some things we need to address,” Jerry is saying, desperately, but the Hales are already heading out the door.
“I have a feeling Mels is going to be sick for the rest of the week,” Stiles calls over his shoulder. “Yup, definitely a stomach bug coming on. Very contagious. She’ll be back on Monday. I assume you’ll have your Morris problem under control by then.”
“For your sake,” Derek adds, just barely loud enough for Jerry to hear, and the overt threat in his tone slides chillingly down Jerry’s spine.
Jerry just sits at his desk for a few long moments after they leave, staring down at the wrecked remains of Bobby’s firetruck and wondering absently how it came to be so shredded—not really at all like it was run over or dropped, but more like it was savaged by a creature with long, sharp, impossibly strong claws. He puzzles over this for a while, hoping against hope that neither of the Hales are going to be showing up for PTA meetings this year.