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A Slight Problem

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Stiles is used to getting dropped off at old Mrs. Turner’s house while his dad goes to work, and the summer before he starts second grade is no different.

He spends most of his time in the backyard, surrounded by the smell of sun-baked earth, and though the grass is just a little too long and a patchy yellow, it’s perfect for playing with the little plastic animal figures Mrs. Turner found from when her son was a boy. They’re a bit sticky and the horse only has three legs, but it’s fun rooting around in the box for animals he doesn't know yet. The tiger is his favourite, mouth open in a snarl and still a bright orange.

Occasionally, Mrs. Turner will sit on the back porch, alternating between short dozes and reading one of her books, the ones that always have a picture on the front of a woman in a dress getting on a steam train with a suitcase. Sometimes she'll bustle inside to pour him a glass of chilled lemonade (yummy) or bring out a bowl of grapes to eat (not so yummy), but right now she's in the lounge watching a game show that Stiles never knows any of the answers to, leaving him to his own devices.

With only a few minutes until his dad is due to pick him up, Stiles is lying on his belly, inching the tiger closer to the family of pigs he’s stalking through tall grass somewhere in the African wilderness as they stop for water. The tiger is just about to pounce when there’s a flash of black toppling over the garden fence and the figure falls from his grasp, forgotten, as he scrambles to his feet.

Bounding towards him is a black dog, still on the edge of being a puppy. Its long pink tongue lolls from the side of its mouth in a grin, triangle ears pointing right up. It’s as high as his knee but lifts onto its back legs to jump up at him, green eyes lit with excitement and the overhead sun as its tail swishes from side to side.

Stiles squeals as it yips and licks just under his chin — the highest it can reach — and crouches down to stroke it, ink-glossy fur soft beneath his fingers. He doesn’t recognise it as a dog from the neighbourhood and it doesn’t have a collar.

“Where’d you come from?” he asks, but his only answer is the press of a cold nose to his neck and the tickle of whiskers.

It rolls over to bare its — his — belly when Stiles starts stroking down his back and Stiles’ dad steps out onto the back porch just as he’s indulging him with tummy rubs.

“Dad, look!” Stiles shouts.

His dad stares, bewildered, and Mrs. Turner actually tells him to get away from it, shooing at the puppy with her hands.

“Why? He just wants to play!” Stiles argues, not ceasing his petting for a moment. “Can we keep him?” he asks his dad. “Pleeease? He doesn't have a collar or anything!”

“Stiles, he's not—” His dad looks pained. “He's already someone’s— He already has a family.”

“How do you know?” Stiles asks, looking the puppy over for some sort of sign.

“I met him earlier today. He belongs—” His dad winces like he just said a naughty word. “His family just moved into the house in the preserve. The Hales. Remember I told you about them?”

“Oh.” His heart sinks but it's hard for him to stay sad for long when the puppy starts licking his face again.

“Come on, son. Tidy up the toys and then we’ll get going. His family are probably worried about him.”

“Are we going into the woods?” Stiles asks, perking up immediately.

He's always heard stories about the house in the preserve, at the end of a long winding trail. It's supposed to be as big as a palace with secret underground tunnels filled with treasure, but he's never seen it before.

“Into the woods,” his dad confirms.

Stiles jumps up with a whoop and the puppy follows, tail swishing back and forth in his excitement. He scoops up the tiger and the three pigs — bacon saved until another day — as the puppy picks up the horse in its mouth and follows him to the worn cardboard box sat on the porch.

Mrs. Turner’s nose wrinkles as Stiles takes the figure from him, but Stiles beams proudly up at his dad. “He's a good boy! Aren't you?” he asks, turning to the dog who wags his tail as Stiles pats him on the head. “Sit!” he commands, pointing his finger, and the puppy obeys without hesitation.

For some reason, his dad sighs and puts a hand over his face, shaking his head.

After saying his thank yous and Mrs. Turner telling him to wash his hands before dinner, Stiles skips around the porch with the puppy at his heels to where his dad’s car waits across the driveway.

In the car, the puppy jumps straight onto his lap in his booster seat and his dad studies him in the rear-view mirror.

“Just… hold him tight, okay kiddo?”

Stiles doesn’t need telling twice and the puppy seems more than content to rest his muzzle on his shoulder. In fact, after ten minutes, when they're just turning onto the dirt trail that leads to the house, he lifts his head and his eyes are thinned out like he’d been dozing.

By the time it comes to getting out of the car outside the house — that Stiles is disappointed to find, while still huge, is nowhere near the size of a palace — he's wide awake and shrinking away when Stiles tries to coax him out.

In the end, Stiles manages to get his arms around him and carries him up to the front door hugging him under his front legs. His dad's already rung the bell and the door opens just as he's climbing up the final porch step.

A woman with long dark hair pulled back opens the door still wearing one washing up glove and a man is standing at her shoulder who must be her husband. Behind them, their moving boxes are still piled high.

The woman’s questioning expression falls when she catches sight of their puppy dangling from Stiles’ arms.

“We found this little one on the other side of town,” his dad explains and Mrs. Hale’s eyebrows shoot into her hair.

“Inside,” she orders the puppy, blunt with disapproval, and though Stiles is quick to set him down, the dog has other plans. He tries to climb back into Stiles’ arms and, failing that, pushes his muzzle against his neck again, hot, nervous breaths huffing damply over his skin. Stiles cuddles him to his chest to protect him from the scary lady.

Mrs. Hale's mouth drops open into a small ‘o’ as she stares and her husband mirrors the expression.

“I think we might have a slight problem,” Stiles’ dad says.

“So I see,” Mrs. Hale murmurs, her anger replaced by a surprising softness. It makes her infinitely less scary and he feels a hot rush of shame in his stomach for wanting to keep him even though he already has an owner.

She lowers herself slowly to one knee and holds out a hand which the puppy leans forward to nuzzle. “Do you think he’s…?”

Stiles doesn’t know if she’s talking to him or his dad, but when he glances up to see what his dad thinks of the situation, the puppy nuzzles into his neck again. Mrs. Hale lifts her eyes from her dog to stare at Stiles in wonder and with what almost looks like tears in her eyes. He has absolutely no idea what’s going on, but he flushes under her gaze, feeling like he’s suddenly naked.

“What do we do about it?” his dad asks.

“It’s rare for this to happen so young, so I’m honestly not sure the best way to handle it. Especially now he thinks we have a—” she waves a hand at the puppy and Stiles finds his arms tightening despite not understanding the meaning behind the gesture. “For now, we’ll just have to play it by ear.”

His dad nods and holds out a hand.

“Stiles, let Mrs. Hale take him now.”

“But—” Whatever protest he was planning on making dies at his dad’s raised eyebrows, and he releases the puppy slowly and climbs to his feet. He takes his dad’s hand and moves to stand alongside him as Mrs. Hale shifts closer to her dog.

“Come on, Honey. Get inside,” she coaxes.

Honey? It’s a weird name for a dog like that.

The puppy whines and looks at Stiles but Mrs. Hale leans in to whisper something Stiles can't hear. Honey’s ears wilt, eyes flashing gold in the glare from the sun as he lowers his head. When she points her finger through the door, this time he obeys, slinking inside and getting scooped into Mr. Hale’s arms.

“I'm so sorry about this, Sheriff. I'll make sure he doesn't do it again,” she promises, pinning Honey under a frown which he tries to dodge by hiding his face in Mr. Hale's chest.

“Don't worry, pup,” Mr. Hale says, pressing a kiss to the fur between Honey’s ears. “I'll protect you from your momma.”

Mrs. Hale throws her husband a dark look, but Stiles thinks it's cute that they think of Honey as their son.

“Come on, kiddo, let’s go get you some dinner,” Stiles’ dad says, resting a hand on his shoulder.

Honey immediately starts squirming and Mr. Hale is quick to put him down before he falls.

“Just to say goodbye,” Mrs. Hale warns.

Stiles crouches down as Honey trots towards him and lets the puppy lick his face and nuzzle into his neck as he pets him. “Bye, Honey.”

“Honey?” Mr. Hale asks, and Stiles looks up to find all the adults staring at him in surprise.

“That’s what you just called him. Isn’t that his name?”

“Of course it is, sweetheart,” Mrs. Hale assures him, though he doesn’t understand why her smile can’t decide if she’s going to laugh or cry.

In the end, Stiles’ dad has to steer him away with a hand on his back and Honey’s whines actually make something in his chest ache. When he looks over his shoulder, Mrs. Hale is cuddling him to her, speaking into his ear. As his dad drives them away, he waves out the window, but Honey has already gone inside. Instead, Mrs. Hale is on her feet and turning her back but Stiles still catches a glimpse of a boy in her arms, eyes red-rimmed where he peers over her shoulder.

He must have been worried Honey had run away for good.

 

*

 

Stiles sees Mrs. Hale again two days later at the Sheriff’s station.

He's sitting at the front desk with a colouring book and his dad’s sheriff badge gleaming on his chest, when she comes through the doors in the early afternoon.

“Hello again, Stiles. Or should I say Sheriff?”

Stiles immediately peers over the counter for Honey by her ankles, but he's not there.

“He's at home, I'm afraid. But I'm sure you'll see him another day.” For some reason, she doesn't sound too pleased about it.

“Oh.” He tries not to look too disappointed but Mrs. Hale still gives him a sad smile. “Did you want to see my dad?”

He leads her through the station to his dad’s office and he has the same reaction Stiles did.

“Is he…?”

“No. He loses his control as soon as he catches the scent and it's only a matter of time before someone calls in a dog without a collar. He wasn't happy about being left at home though.”

There's a crease of concern between his dad’s eyebrows. “That’s actually what I called you here for.” He reaches into his bottom drawer and pulls out a folded carrier bag which he passes over to a curious Mrs. Hale. Stiles is curious himself. “It’s for—” He throws Stiles a look. “—Honey.”

Mrs. Hale peeks inside and her eyebrows lift in surprise.

“I was thinking it might help him build up a bit of resistance,” his dad explains.

“This is wonderful, thank you,” she says, folding the bag back down and holding it to her chest.

“What is it?” Stiles asks looking between them.

“Just something for Honey,” his dad answers, lightly.

“But what?”

“I was thinking,” Mrs. Hale begins. “Why don't the both of you come over for dinner tomorrow? Perhaps you can meet my son Derek. He's about the same age as you.”

Stiles is at his dad’s side in a heartbeat, tugging on his hand and pleading with his eyes to say yes.

“I don't think we have any plans.”

Stiles beams.

“Then it's settled. Tomorrow it is.”

She leaves with the bag held tight under one arm and Stiles turns back to his dad.

“What did you give her?”

“Just… something that might keep Honey from running away again.”

It's the third time his dad has dodged the question but Stiles doesn't get what the big deal is. And later that night, he doesn’t understand why his dad gets so fidgety when he asks where his pyjamas are.

 

*

 

When Stiles realises he'll get to go inside the house in the preserve, he nearly bounces off the walls, but as his dad parks the car in the Hale’s driveway, his stomach floods with nerves.

His dad has told him about Mrs. Hale’s children, a girl the same age as him, Derek two years older, and Laura who’s already thirteen. He’s not very good at making friends and can’t help wondering what will happen if they don’t like him, but all he has to do is remember he’ll be seeing Honey again and the swirling in his stomach stops feeling so bad.

He clutches his Iron Man figure tightly in one hand and takes his dad's in the other as they walk to the door and it’s opened by Mrs. Hale before they reach it.

“Hello Sheriff, Stiles.”

“If you're cooking us dinner, I think you've earned the right to call me John.” His dad looks down when Stiles digs in his heels. “C’mon, kiddo. You'll be alright.”

Stiles isn’t so sure. But his worries are soon forgotten when Honey tears out of a doorway down the hall and Stiles drops to his knees to greet him. He's trailing a pair of pants on one of his hind legs and Mrs. Hale bends down to free him after sighing and raising her eyes to the ceiling.

“He gets into the laundry sometimes,” she explains when she catches Stiles looking, and to his dad she murmurs, “He tried.”

A girl who must be the Hale's youngest marches up to Stiles and leans down close to take a deep breath through her nose.

Cora,” Mrs. Hale warns, hooking her away.

“He doesn’t smell special to me,” she declares, squinting at him suspiciously.

“He wouldn’t, sweetheart,” Mrs. Hale says just as Stiles exclaims, “I don't smell!”

“Of course you don't,” Mrs. Hale assures him and Honey presses his nose to his neck like he has done so many times before. If he does smell, at least Honey seems to like it.

As Stiles’ dad hands Mrs. Hale a bottle of some sort of adult drink, Honey starts herding Stiles further into the house past a few moving boxes still pushed against the wall. When he reaches the lounge, the puppy keeps nudging until he hops up onto the sofa and then sprawls across his lap, belly up.

Someone in the corner scoffs and Stiles jumps.

Lounging in an armchair is another girl who must be Laura. Stiles is immediately intimidated by how old she looks. She even has her own phone.

“You’re so pathetic,” she sneers and Stiles hunches in on himself for a moment until he realises she’s talking to Honey.

“No, he isn’t!” The words are out of his mouth before he can remind himself starting an argument with her will be a sure-fire way to never get invited back.

“Yes, he is.” She climbs to her feet and towers over them. “He’s a big old cry baby. Aren’t you, Honey?” she asks, scrubbing her hand roughly over Honey’s belly.

He snaps at her fingers.

Laura.” Mrs. Hale hovers in the doorway, fixing her daughter with a warning stare.

Laura rolls her eyes.

“I’m afraid Derek’s gone to a friend’s house for dinner,” Mrs. Hale says to Stiles. “You’ll have to meet him another time.”

He must be popular if he’s made friends in town already. Stiles doesn’t mind as long as Honey isn’t going anywhere.

Laura waits for Mrs. Hale to return to the kitchen before she spins back round, her eyes sparkling with glee. “Did you know Derek always wets the bed? He still has to wear diapers and he’s older than you.”

Honey leaps up with a growl and swipes at the cell phone still in her hand, knocking it to the floor. He pounces before she can catch it, stands over it and cocks his leg.

“Don't you dare!” Laura screeches.

“That’s enough!” Mrs. Hale barks, poking her head in from the kitchen again. “Laura, no more fibs. And D— Honey… not in the house,” she finishes with a sigh.

Honey puts his leg down and springs back into Stiles' lap with a huff. Satisfied, Mrs. Hale retreats.

“I don't think he likes you much,” Stiles giggles.

Laura scoffs. “Like I care.” She snatches her phone up before flouncing out of the room and stomping up the stairs.

“Teenagers,” Mr. Hale mutters in the following silence, and all the adults in the next room chuckle.

Laura isn’t much better company when it comes to eating dinner, but Mrs. Hale at least orders her not to bring her phone to the table.

Honey settles on the floor next to Stiles’ chair and Mrs. Hale puts together a serving of the roast chicken on a plate because his food bowls are still lost in the boxes somewhere. She puts it down in front of him with what sounds like a muttered You'll be eating your vegetables later, young man, and Honey ducks his head.

After they've eaten, Honey is still content to just snuggle on the couch, even more so now he has a full belly that he urges Stiles to pet with nudges of his nose. His eyes drift shut, one cracking open whenever Stiles stops the movement of his hand, and his paws and tail twitch lazily.

It’s so cosy sitting there with Honey a fluffy hot water bottle in his lap that he’s thinking about curling up around him and having a nap of his own. In fact, he’s about to do just that when his dad notices his drooping eyes and says they should make a move.

And that’s when all hell breaks loose.

Honey starts to whine, high-pitched and desperate, but Mrs. Hale ignores it and lifts him from Stiles’ lap so he can stand. At the door, he latches onto Stiles’ pant leg with his teeth and when Mrs. Hale wrestles him off, he actually starts howling as Stiles’ dad ushers him to the car. Stiles is too busy staring wide-eyed at Honey thrashing in Mrs. Hale’s arms to watch where he’s going and even Laura’s scowl is replaced by worry.

Stiles gasps when Honey actually bites Mrs. Hale and finally frees himself from her arms, landing on his feet and bounding toward him.

Derek!” Mrs. Hale shouts.

Stiles has no time to wonder why she’s calling for her son. Honey has leapt up and bowled him over, dragging his muzzle over Stiles’ throat in frenzied rubs and licks.

Despite the situation, Stiles starts giggling but it soon turns into full laughter as the tickling doesn't stop and he tries to hold Honey at bay, squirming and squinting his eyes shut under the onslaught. But then something… changes.

The fur beneath his fingers disappears, replaced by smooth skin, and the tongue at his cheek gets shorter, heavier.

Someone gasps and when he opens his eyes, there's a round-faced, naked boy sat on his stomach. His black hair is standing up every which way and there’s a smear of dirt on his cheek, while his grubby hands clutch at Stiles’ t-shirt. And his eyes are pale green. The same green as Honey.

The boy’s chin starts to wobble, eyes filling with tears as he turns to look at Mrs. Hale.

“I didn’t mean to!” he wails, covering his eyes with the crook of his elbow and Mrs. Hale rushes forward to scoop him up.

“Derek, honey, it's okay,” she soothes, easily setting him on her hip.

All Stiles can do is stare. Derek? Derek honey?

“Stiles, why don't you come back inside?” she asks, holding out her hand to help him up. “I'll get you both some juice, then we can talk about this.”

Stiles looks to his dad, the only person still making sense. “It’s okay, kiddo,” his dad says, nodding toward the house.

Stiles is still slow to take Mrs. Hale's hand despite the assurance, and he doesn’t miss the smooth, easy strength with which she pulls him up. She doesn't let go of his hand and he trails a few steps behind as she leads him inside.

 

*

 

Thirty minutes later, Stiles is sat on the sofa next to his dad. Derek is now in Buzz Lightyear pyjamas and cuddling up to his— his mom, Stiles realises with a start. He's hiding his face in her neck and sniffling and he hasn't looked at Stiles once since they came inside.

Laura and Cora have been banished upstairs, Mr. Hale is clearing up in the kitchen, and Stiles has just been told that werewolves are a thing.

He keeps glancing at his dad, still half-sure everyone’s playing a prank, but he can't ignore the way Honey disappeared and Derek took his place or all the things Stiles had thought just made Honey a really smart dog.

“How did you know?” Stiles asks his dad, still miffed that he’d kept it a secret despite knowing all along.

“It’s part of my job. A super-secret part. So, you can’t—”

“—tell anyone. I know,” he finishes, huffing. He already had that hammered into him three times over the course of the explanation. “But were you ever going to tell me?”

“Not if Derek hadn’t come along.”

Stiles crosses his arms and frowns.

“’M sorry,” Derek mumbles.

“It’s not your fault, son. I know you couldn’t help it when you found Stiles.”

“Why not?” Stiles asks. He still hasn’t been told what makes him so special.

“Did you know that wolves have really good noses?” Mrs. Hale asks.

Stiles nods.

“Well, so do werewolves, and Derek’s nose told him that you’re someone he could be the best of friends with. That’s something very special for a werewolf to find, so when he found you, he got too excited and lost control over becoming a wolf. It can happen to young werewolves sometimes when they haven’t had enough practice.”

“Like when you wet the bed?”

Derek makes a noise not far from a squeal of misery. “I don’t wet the bed!” he cries, muffled by Mrs. Hale’s neck. “Laura’s a dirty liar!”

“Hush,” Mrs. Hale orders with a single pat to his rump.

Derek sniffs hard then turns his head to reveal one bloodshot eye and a tear-stained cheek.

Werewolves always come hand in hand with scary monsters like vampires and goblins and ghosts and witches, but sitting there with his dad and Mrs. Hale and Derek who’s crying because he’s scared Stiles won’t like him anymore, he’s finding it impossible to be afraid. All Derek ever wanted was cuddles and pets, and he's got big pretty eyes that Stiles doesn't want to see red with tears anymore.

“Don't cry,” Stiles tries to soothe.

“But you like it better when I’m a dog!” His eye shines with fresh unshed tears.

“You’re not a dog, you’re a wolf! That’s the coolest! But—” He picks up his Iron Man figure from his dad’s lap that he must have rescued when he fell over outside and holds it out to Derek. “—I thought we could play superheroes. We can’t do that when you’re Honey.”

Derek watches him silently with that single eye for a few seconds and when he speaks, he keeps his mouth pressed to his mom’s neck like he’s scared Stiles won’t like his answer. “I like Buzz,” he mumbles.

“Me too!”

Derek perks up at that and actually pulls away from his mom, but when he speaks, he still sounds nervous. “I've got a Buzz action figure upstairs. Wanna see?”

“Yeah!”

No,” Mrs. Hale argues, hooking her arms around Derek’s middle where he's trying to clamber to his feet and tugging him back into her lap. “Stiles is supposed to be leaving, remember?”

“But—!”

“Derek,” Mrs. Hale interrupts gently and Derek takes a shuddering breath, bottom lip wobbling again. Stiles doesn’t want him to cry anymore so, remembering what Honey liked, he reaches over to stroke his hair. Derek relaxes immediately.

“Maybe, if Stiles isn’t busy, he can spend the day here tomorrow and you can show him all your toys then,” Mrs. Hale suggests.

“Can I, Dad? Pleeease?” Stiles begs.

“If Mrs. Hale says it’s okay.”

Stiles whoops and even Derek manages to crack a watery smile.

Saying goodbye for the second time isn’t as difficult as the first, though Derek walks so close it’s like he’s been glued to Stiles’ back. Mrs. Hale wraps an arm around his chest to stop him following outside.

“Come on, honey. Breathe,” Mrs. Hale says as Stiles walks towards the car, and when he glances over his shoulder, he sees Derek with clenched fists, trembling. By the time he slams the car door shut behind him and looks out to wave, Derek is a wolf pup wriggling out of a pile of clothes on the porch.

Stiles cranes his neck to watch him shrink in the distance as they drive away while Derek raises his head to howl.

 

*

 

When John Stilinski wakes up the morning after Stiles has been introduced to the world of the supernatural, the house is uncharacteristically quiet. Most mornings tend to involve Stiles jumping on the bed for a rude awakening, so the peace — while not unwelcome — is jarring.

One peek into his son’s bedroom reveals why.

John tiptoes back to his own room to retrieve his phone and dials Talia Hale.

“Derek isn't here, so that means he's with you,” she answers with a weary sigh.

“You’re going to want to see this.” He gives her directions and then sneaks back to Stiles’ room to make sure they haven’t moved.

Beneath a messily-constructed blanket fort consisting of Stiles’ desk chair and duvet, lie his son and the Hale boy, sharing a pillow and fast asleep. Derek is wearing a too-small set of Stiles’ pyjamas, the leg only reaching halfway down his calves and he’s curled so his nose is pressed to Stiles’ hair.

Though warmed by the unbearably cute picture before him, John is plagued by a more pressing matter.

“How did you even get in?” he mutters, shaking his head.

When he creeps downstairs to start a pot of coffee, he finds his answer in the dog door that's been there from before they moved in, always locked but now swinging loosely on its hinges and surrounded by a scatter of broken plastic.

With a weary sigh of his own, John makes a mental note to stop off at Home Depot on the way home to buy a new one. Next time, he'll make sure to leave it unlocked.