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John shows up at her door on a Friday night in September with a bottle of whiskey and two shot glasses. “Hey,” he rasps, standing just outside of the swing of the screen door. He’s still in his uniform and there’s blood speckled up the khaki stretched across his shoulders. Melissa is hardly the only woman in town who has inappropriate feelings about John Stilinski’s shoulders, but she is the only woman who had been best friends with his wife, so she generally tries not to be embarrassingly obvious.

When she gets a good look at John’s face, thoughts about his shoulders dissipate abruptly. “John,” she says, and he grimly hefts the bottle.

“Mel,” he replies. He sounds the kind of calm that a person gets before they’re wrecked. She hasn’t heard him sound like this in years, not since right after Sasha died, when Melissa had picked up Stiles from where he’d been sleeping in a snotty pile of flannel on John’s couch and driven him back to her house, so Stiles could play emotionally-repressing video games with Scott and John could get drunk without having to worry about his kid.

John and Sasha had done it for her after Steve had left; John had taken Scott and Stiles to see the new Pokémon movie, which had, according to Sasha, earned him six months of unquestioned sexual favors, and Sasha had come over to help Melissa drink an entire bottle of Bacardi margarita mix and light on fire whatever Steve hadn’t taken with him in his ignominious flight from Beacon Hills.

“He told you,” Melissa says, and she sighs and leans against the doorframe. “How did he tell you?”

“Well,” John says, “I was fairly certain my son was a serial killer until 5 PM today. From five to 7:30 I knew he was a serial killer, and then at 7:30 we had a serious discussion about werewolves.”

As far as Melissa knows, Stiles hasn’t been bitten by anything more severe than a mosquito so his problems are at most werewolf-adjacent, but she knows that real friends don’t downplay parenting issues. “Come on in,” she says, elbowing the door back and stepping inside. “Scott’s currently out, probably sitting on Allison Argent’s roof waiting to be shot.”

“That girl,” John begins, and then he sighs. “I can’t really care about Scott’s romantic problems, Mel.”

“Trust me,” Melissa assures him, kicking the door shut behind him, “I don’t want to talk to my seventeen-year-old or anyone else about his sex life, although I am moderately relieved now that it involves aggressive pining instead of actual sex.”

“The pining,” John agrees gloomily. The glasses clink in his hand; Melissa notices in a way that is meant to be friendly but ends up being too interested that he can fit both of the shot glasses so easily into the curve of one palm that they disappear almost entirely. “God, Melissa, what the hell is going on.”

“If I knew, I’d’ve moved Scott the hell out of here six months ago,” Melissa tells him. “Come on, I just finished nuking some frozen lasagna, I can eke out a piece for you.” John looks like he’s considering refusing her offer, so she adds, “I know it’s been a while since college, old man, but you need something in your stomach before you do this kind of drinking.”

There’s a certain amount of self-knowledge in his tone as John says wryly, “But if I don’t eat I’ll be unconscious faster.”

An indeterminable amount of time later, when there are sticky rings on Melissa’s kitchen table and the plates of lasagna have been left unwashed in the sink, John asks, “Do you regret it?”

Deliberately obtuse, Melissa says, “That seventh shot? A little bit.” Whiskey has never been her poison of choice, so she’s working her way through a moderately nice bottle of tequila and a pile of lime slices that she’d been smart enough to slice before inebriation had really set in. She’d probably chop off one of her fingers if she attempted to cut a wedge of it now.

John shakes his head and leans back, balancing on the back two legs of his chair. It’s something Melissa has seen Stiles do countless times. “Following Alex here.” He closes his eyes and sighs. “You guys were happy in Austin, weren’t you? Happier and not dead.”

Melissa can’t even begin to parse all of the self-hatred in that sentence; she carefully lines the curve of her hand with salt and says, “I’ve never regretted coming to Beacon Hills when you and Sasha decided to get married.” She has to concentrate to speak English, which she usually takes as a sign to stop drinking. She’s not twenty anymore—back then, she and Sasha would drink vodka like water and talk for hours, and it hadn’t been an issue when Melissa had stopped being able to speak in English because Sasha had been fluent in Spanish. Sasha had been fluent in a lot of languages.

John, eyes still closed, laughs. It makes warm things clench and unclench in the pit of Melissa’s stomach; she licks the salt from her hand, knocks back a shot of tequila, and bites into a wedge of lime. The heat burns away whatever inappropriate sensations had been building and leaves Melissa empty and horribly, horribly drunk. “Are you sure?” Johns asks. “You looked pretty ready to pack Scott up and leave when Steve started sleeping with whatsherface—Patrice.”

Without any conscious input from her brain, Melissa’s face twists sourly. “Oh God, Patrice.” That deserves a shot in and of itself, which Melissa doesn’t bother dosing with salt or lime. “There was no way I was going to leave you and Sasha just because Steve couldn’t keep it in his pants.”

John says, “Alex said that you were thinking about it,” in a way that might’ve sounded casual fifteen years ago but is fairly obviously deliberate considering (a) their level of inebriation and (b) the length of their friendship.

“What, going back to Austin? My brother would’ve eaten me alive.” Melissa drops her voice a register and says, in an approximation of her brother’s gravely baritone, “La verguenza, ayyy. Leaving your husband for something as silly as a mujer on the side? Tsk tsk tsk.” She waves her hand, limp at the wrist, dismissively. “What will Padre Raoul say? What will abuelita say? You’ll break her heart.” Melissa drops her wrist and the voice. “It wouldn’t have been worth the trouble.”

His chair lands back on all four legs with a crash and John rests his head against his folded arms on the table, laughing so hard his whole body shakes.

“I’m glad my family’s machismo is amusing to you, Sheriff,” Melissa says, but she’s too drunk to fake anything, even disapprobation. “John, I’m not going anywhere. I wasn’t going to and I’m certainly not now that Scott has his—whatever that bullshit werewolf thing was.” She stares at the bottle of tequila for a second like it’s going to tell her. “Right, pack.”

John blearily raises his head enough to watch as he snags the whiskey bottle and pours himself a shot. “Oh God, pack.”

“You think it’s bad now,” Melissa tells him, “wait until Derek Hale shows up on your porch. He looked like a kicked puppy, hand to God.”

Melissa would normally spare a moment to feel bad about how blasphemous she gets when drunk, but John barks, “Puppy!” and he and Melissa break down into laughter, Melissa giggling so hard she almost snorts some of her hair up her nose.

“Christ, Mel, they’re just teenagers,” John finally says, when they’ve calmed down and Melissa is pouring them both glasses of water from the Britta in the fridge. “What the hell is going on in this town? I’ve thought my seventeen-year-old kid was a serial killer for the past six months.” He sounds destroyed by this; Melissa understands. She’d hated herself for weeks for the way she’d shrunk back from Scott after she’d first found out.

Melissa pushes the first glass towards him and leaves the second by her chair as she goes to refill the Britta in the sink. She’s not exactly steady on her feet, but she’s still not in Worst Bender Ever territory. “There wasn’t exactly a chapter for this in the parenting manual they handed out at the hospital,” she says. “I guess we have to make it up. But it’s not—look, John, we raised good kids. They’re smart, when they’re not being dumb, and this was going to happen soon.”

“What?” John asks. “The plot of The Lost Boys?”

There’s a second that Melissa spares to be worried about vampires before she decides that she frankly just doesn’t want to fucking know. “Growing up,” she says. “Growing away. We did it to our parents. They’re going to college in two years. Their lives were always going to shift away from us.”

“I appreciate that, Mel,” John says, “but when I envisioned Stiles growing up, it usually involved him finally telling me that he’s gay or whatever that thing is, not that his best friends are all werewolves now and apparently that’s why he’s running around with bruises all the damn time.”

“It’s bisexual,” Melissa tells him, because she’s been through that headache and she sympathizes with Stiles. She’s standing in front of the open fridge and she can’t remember why until she feels the liquid inside of the Britta in her left hand slosh around. “We just—John, we can help keep them as safe as much as we can, but there’s not a lot we can do.” Since she’s had a lot longer than John to process this, she can afford to sound rational about the situation.

John leans back in his chair, his big shoulders curled slightly inwards, and asks, “Are you telling me you’re okay with that?” His eyes are pale green and narrowed on Melissa. Even blurred from all of that whiskey, they’ve got a lot of power. Melissa wants to tell him everything, but that’s not an uncommon state of affairs; Melissa usually wants to throw herself in front of John and explain that she misses Sasha every goddamn day but she’s been in love with John for two years now and it’s not getting better.

“No,” Melissa says. “But I’d like to direct your attention to all of those options we don’t have.”

John mutters, “Thanks, Stiles,” and grunts as he shifts in his chair. Melissa finally succeeds in putting the Britta away and rejoins him at the table, delicately sipping from her glass of water and trying not to spill any of it all over herself. “Fuck, Mel,” he finally rasps, “what the hell are we doing?”

“I have no idea,” Melissa readily admits. “But John?” She’s drunk enough that putting her hand over his where it’s half-curled on the table between them seems like a good idea. “I’m glad that you know. It’s nice—not to be alone.” She leaves her hand there for a second while John blinks at her, and when she figures out that he’s not going to do anything, she tries to yank her hand back.

He grips her wrist quickly in response. “Me too, Mel,” he says, and smiles at her. It’s his loopy, charmingly drunk smile, and Melissa can feel her heart flop around uselessly in her chest in response. If she was sober, she might think no no no, this is bad, but instead she smiles back at him.

“C’mon,” she says. “Let me put some sheets on the couch for you. No way you’re driving home like this.”

“You don’t need to do that,” John says quickly, but Melissa squeezes his hand lightly, in deference to almost twenty years of friendship, and she stands slowly so that her head doesn’t get any ideas about rolling off. “I know you haven’t slept on my couch in fifteen years, but trust me, you’ll appreciate the sheets.”

~

Scott is in the kitchen when Melissa wakes up, scrambling half a dozen eggs and frying bacon like it’s going out of style. “I saw the bottles in the recycling bin,” he says to Melissa’s incredulous look. “Um. Toast?”

Since Melissa has honestly never seen her son wield a spatula before in her entire life, she sort of stares at him and finally says, “Did you make coffee? Do I smell coffee right now?”

“The sheriff made some before he left,” Scott says. “That was like twenty minutes ago.” One of the strips of bacon spits aggressively and Scott jumps and turns back to the pan. More than nauseated, Melissa mostly feels dehydrated; she pours herself coffee and a glass of orange juice and chugs the latter, occasionally interspersing it with her morning multivitamins.

“Did you—have a, um.” Scott pauses to clear his throat. “Sheriff Stilinski. Night with.”

Melissa loves her son and has absolutely zero interest in continuing this conversation. “Stiles told his dad about the werewolf thing last night.”

Scott nods and says, “Yeah, he texted me.”

“I presume that’s where you were last night?” Melissa asks. She hates to do this, especially now that she knows Scott’s sneaking out of his room at night to battle the forces of evil, not shoot heroin into his eyeballs in Beacon Hills Elementary School’s parking lot, but she forces herself to say as evenly as possible, “We have a deal, hon. If you’re going out for supernatural stuff, you need to text me if you’re going to be out past curfew.”

Melissa is mostly relying on Scott’s innate goodness of heart to ensure that he respects his curfew on nights when he isn’t tracking down anthropomorphic lizards, but she doesn’t have illusions about him—he’s seventeen, kind of stupid when it comes to Allison Argent, and doesn’t have the skill set he needs to properly balance saving the world with lacrosse practice and homework.

The back of Scott’s neck turns red. “Um,” he says. “Right. I’m really sorry.” He dumps a pile of eggs and some half-burned pieces of bacon onto a plate with two slices of toast and promptly brandishes the entire thing in Melissa’s direction like it’s going to distract her from her son’s disturbing new habit of stalking his ex-girlfriend and less disturbing, less new habit of staying out past curfew without telling her.

Melissa sighs. “Margarine?” she asks.

“On the table,” Scott assures her. He puts his hands on her shoulders and physically steers her to the kitchen table, which has the salt and pepper shakers, as well as a yellow tub of I Can’t Believe It’s Not Butter, arranged in front of Melissa’s usual seat.

“Just in case you were wondering,” Melissa says as she spears a slice of bacon, “I’m not actually dumb enough to fall for all of this. What do you want, Scott?”

Rather than answer, Scott hems and haws over the remaining four eggs and seven slices of bacon in the frying pan, which he slides onto a second plate with approximately half of a loaf of bread. When Melissa and Steve had been arranging their divorce and the messy legalities of putting the house under Melissa’s name and arranging child support, Sasha had talked Melissa out of turning down alimony out of sheer fury. Now that Scott eats twice his weight in protein a day, Melissa’s glad for the monthly check from Steve, if only because it means she doesn’t have to feel guilty about filling Scott up on food that’s bad for him.

Melissa lets him hem; it’s unattractive and Stiles-esque, but if she was going to object to Stiles having undue influence over Scott the time for that has long since passed. “Well?” she finally prods, when she’s on her second piece of toast and no longer feels like a college freshman recovering from an orientation week blowout.

“There’s something happening,” Scott says. It’s his way of saying something that means gross and supernatural. “I don’t really know if it’s bad yet? But can you try not be alone? The sheriff knows now.” Scott has never been a fidgeter, even when he was little, and he’s very still across the kitchen table, holding his fork in his right hand and his knife in his left. It’s not that Melissa has been suffering under the impression for the last seventeen years that her son is a moron, but she’s surprised by how mature and sensible he looks, trying to keep her safe and also totally out of the loop.

In his defense, Melissa doesn’t really want to be in the loop. What she wants doesn’t matter, though; it’s her kid, and if she can’t physically be there to protect him, she still wants to know where he is and what he’s facing. “You need to give me something more than that, Scott,” she says. “I understand that what you’re telling me is important, but if you think I’m going to let you get away with that really vague set of not-answers, you’ve got another thing coming.”

Scott slumps slightly. “Yeah,” he says, wistfully. “But I thought I’d try. I don’t really get what the problem is, but Derek says a lot of omegas have been coming through lately, more than usual. He’s being paranoid and a dick, which means he’s worried.” Scott pauses. “Sorry. He’s being paranoid and mean.”

“Thanks,” Melissa says dryly. “Has anyone been hurt, yet?” Alan Deaton has been calling Melissa in for help with emergency medical care since the beginning of June, so Melissa is in a position to know if anything serious has happened; nonetheless, she’s learned since being introduced to an awkward and gruff Derek Hale that his definition of ‘serious’ doesn’t really mesh with her own.

“No,” Scott says. He drops his knife so he can pick up two slices of bacon and wrap them inside of a piece of toast that’s dripping with melted margarine. Just looking at it makes Melissa’s insides hurt. He takes a bite and then speaks out of the side of his mouth. “They haven’t attacked anybody, but Derek says that it’s better to be prepared.”

Since Derek Hale seems like the kind of guy who buries insulated boxes of canned peaches and green beans in his backyard in case of nuclear fallout, Melissa isn’t surprised. “I appreciate you telling me,” she says as positive reinforcement. “I’ll call the women’s shelter and tell them I’m not going to be able to come in this week—but I can’t keep bailing out on them, Scott. You need to figure out what’s going on so I can plan around it.”

Scott nods twice and stuffs the rest of his breakfast roll monstrosity into his mouth. “Thanks, Mom,” he says cheerfully. “I’ll ask him.”

“Great.” Melissa takes a moment to bask in the fact that she and her son have at least some of their relationship back to where it was before Scott was bitten by a werewolf and became a creature of the night incapable of sending her a text about where he’s going to be after midnight; then she stands up with her plate and loads it into the dishwasher. “Put the pan in the sink to soak before you do anything. I need to mow the lawn because somebody forgot last weekend.”

“Training, Mom!” Scott cries. “Derek made us climb trees. For hours. And smell birds.”

Melissa crinkles her nose. “Gross,” she says, heavy with mock sympathy. “Wash the dishes. I don’t care if Derek wants you to climb to the top of every telephone pole between here and Chico to commune with your inner wolf spirit—you live in this house, you help take care of it.”

Scott’s mumbled “Sorry, Mom” follows her out into the yard, along with the creaky sound of the tap being turned on and water filling the sink.

~

It’s not even the fact that Melissa’s in love with John that’s kept her from dating for so long. In the early years she went out a few times with a handful of nice guys, casually talked about work and movies and local California politics with them over Italian or sushi or Thai, but she never liked them enough to seriously consider bringing them into Scott’s life. Her son isn’t particularly fragile, but Steve had done serious work on the both of them when he booked it with Patrice, and Melissa is selfish enough to want to keep what little of Scott’s time that she gets now to herself.

If John isn’t a reason for her not to date—and he’s not, Melissa’s not foolish enough to think that he’s in a place to think about women other than Sasha—then there’s not really an excuse for why Melissa totally fails to follow up with Peter again after their aborted not-date. Maybe it’s that Peter is the first guy she’s gone out with that Scott has actively disliked; Scott doesn’t actually have say in who she dates, but he’s an okay judge of character and as far as Melissa knows he’s never even seriously despised someone.

Melissa looks at her phone sometimes with the serious intention of calling Peter and checking up on him, but she always finds an excuse not to do it. Mostly she reminds herself of how stupid she’d felt, crying in her car like she was sixteen again and didn’t have a date to junior prom—which isn’t even applicable, because Melissa had had a date to junior prom—and Peter had never returned her call. Clearly he’s moved on.

That’s the page that Melissa is on in September—dateless, just like the last four years of her life, and unwilling to push herself to move out of that state—when she’s on her lunch break at work and Lupe leans into the staffroom far enough to say, “There’s a guy here for you and, Melita, he is the kind of guape I would categorize as super.”

Melissa has no idea why Derek Hale’s showing up at her place of work, since as far as she knows he’s allergic to Beacon Hills Memorial, but she dutifully puts down her sandwich, wipes off her hands, and goes to see him. She doesn’t know anyone other than Derek that Lupe might call super guape—she and the rest of the nursing staff excepting Melissa have nicknamed John “Sheriff Caliente,” because that’s not incredibly embarrassing—which is why she’s caught off-guard when it’s Peter leaning against the nurse’s station, saying something with a half-smirk that’s making Pauline laugh like a deranged hyena.

“Oh,” Melissa says intelligently.

Peter straightens and his smirk becomes a smile, although there’s still plenty about it that’s predatory. “Hello, Melissa,” he says. “Do you have a minute?”

He never returned your phone call! Melissa’s sense of self-worth shrieks.

“Sure,” she says. “Um—the staffroom’s open.”

Lupe drawls, “Sure is,” as she passes by Melissa to join Pauline at the nurse’s station. She and Pauline wink in unison, which is more terrifying than the thought of being alone in a room with a guy that Melissa hasn’t seen in months; Melissa feels a little bit better about this entire mess.

“How have you been?” Melissa asks politely. She gestures Peter into the room ahead of her, but he stops and holds the door open, still smiling at her. Although she gets that Peter is making an effort, chivalry isn’t a thing Melissa has wanted out of a relationship since she was fifteen and in love with Carlos Rothmeyer.

“In and out of things,” Peter says blandly. “I had to rush out of town suddenly in the spring; something came up.” Melissa doesn’t mean to jump when he lets the staffroom door fall shut behind him, as she’s invested in appearing her age, but she still starts. The tension in the room feels thick and not particularly sexy.

Lamely, Melissa says, “Oh. So you—did you get my message?” Her stab at ‘casual’ ends up hitting somewhere around ‘casually pathetic.’ She can feel herself openly wince; just like every other aspect of this train wreck of a conversation, she’s helpless to stop it.

“No,” Peter says, “but I’m sure it was charming.” He moves around the outside edge of the round table that takes up most of the space in the staffroom, pausing by where Melissa’s sandwich is sitting half-eaten in a Tupperware container next to her Kindle. “I was worried when I didn’t hear from you—I thought maybe your son’s distrust had colored your perception of me. There turned out to be a problem with my phone.” He reaches out and turns on her Kindle with one finger. “Gone Girl? I’ve heard it’s very good.”

“I like mysteries,” Melissa says. She repeats the sentence twice in her head and then adds hastily, “In books. I like mysteries in books. They can—stay in books.” You, she thinks, are a useless, unsubtle husk of a person.

“I find the intellectual thrill very stimulating,” Peter agrees. He basically purrs the last word like an overlarge cat. He’s coming around the table to Melissa’s back, so she turns and attempts to casually back up into the refrigerator. That ends up not being very difficult, because Peter keeps moving, past the point of politeness, directly into her personal bubble. “You’re not going to hold Scott’s dislike against me?”

“If I were going to hold anything against you,” Melissa says breathlessly, “it would probably be that I haven’t seen you in five months and you never called me.” Up close, Peter’s face, while still attractive, has something off about it. There’s plenty of adrenaline going through Melissa’s veins, but it’s not the kind that she gets when she runs into John outside Raley’s and he leans against her car with his arms folded against his chest and laughs so that she can see his throat behind the parted collar of his sweater. This is the sort of surge that Melissa had experienced in June when she walked into her son’s bedroom and ended up being suspended from the ceiling by Beacon Hills’ answer to Swamp Thing.

“I mean,” Melissa remembers to continue, “not that you owed me or anything, it was just one date. One—not really a date.” Melissa knows that she is capable of conducting a conversation where she doesn’t sound like a fourteen-year-old inviting her crush to her quinceañera, but for the life of her she can’t figure out how to make it happen at this moment.

“I would say you had reasonable expectations of me,” Peter says. “Which, sadly, I didn’t live up to.” His smile becomes less scary and more charming, but Melissa can’t exactly tell her heart rate to slow down. “I’d be willing to make it up to you, though. A friend told me a new Nepalese restaurant just opened downtown—would you like to join me for dinner?”

Melissa knows better than to expect whatever’s being cooked inside of that restaurant to be actual Nepalese food, as this is Beacon Hills, but that’s only a small portion of why she wants to say no. Mostly, Peter scares the shit out of her and Melissa has learned in the past few months to pay attention when her hindbrain tells her not to do something.

“Um,” she hedges for the millionth time in the last ten minutes. “That’s really great of you to offer—”

“But,” Peter coaxes with his awful smile.

Melissa echoes, “But,” and Peter is still refusing to cross out of her personal space and things have ceased to be okay. “But,” she repeats, putting hard emphasis on the word and crossing her arms across her chest so her elbows are between her and Peter’s body like pointy warning signs, “I’m going to have to decline.”

Unlike Steve, who had continued to be unfairly attractive even as he had thrown his weekend suitcase into the trunk of his car and explained to Melissa that it was fine that she was kicking him out because he was leaving her and Scott to be with Patrice, the handsomeness of Peter’s face begins to fade the longer he stays pressed so closely to her. The slick shape of his goatee and the way it makes his chin look harshly angular and his eyes like chips of glass isn’t enticing; Melissa wants that face out of hers, now.

“That’s too bad,” Peter finally says, which is when the door to the staffroom is ripped open and John says, “Mel?” like he’s scared of something.

“John,” Melissa says, taking advantage of the interruption to elbow her way past Peter. “What’s up, is something wrong? Are Scott and Stiles okay?” She kind of hopes that one of them needs a splinter taken out or some antiseptic applied to a scrape—and by one of them she means Stiles, since Scott doesn’t get minor injuries anymore—which makes her feel a little bit guilty but mostly just hideously, hugely relieved.

“The boys are fine,” John says, and he grabs her forearm quickly and tightly and that’s when Melissa realizes that his hands are shaking, too lightly to be visible to Melissa’s human eyes but enough that she can feel it. “Are you okay?”

“Yeah, I’m fine,” Melissa says, which is technically true now that she’s no longer pinned against a refrigerator. “Do you mean the hangover? Please tell me you don’t think I’m enough of a lightweight to still be feeling a few shots of tequila a week later.”

Her joke falls a little flat in the face of the way John’s face hardens as he says, “Good to see you, Hale.” His tone clearly says that nothing about this situation is good.

Melissa looks back at Peter, who drops the insincere smile and nods at John. “Sheriff. You and your son share a gift for impeccable timing.”

Saying “Peter Hale” three or four times aloud is the kind of thing Melissa might’ve done a few years ago; she lets herself do it in her head, and then when she’s adjusted to the thought and no longer wants to punch Peter in the face quite so hard, she says, “Are you Derek’s—brother? Uncle?”

“Uncle,” Peter says. “Well done. I like to think I look young for my age.”

“For a guy who was dead a few months ago, you look great,” John says. Melissa no longer has any idea what this conversation is about; on the surface they’re talking about the fact that Peter has apparently come back from the dead and is related to Derek Hale, she thinks, but hovering below that is something that’s made John’s mouth thin and tight and like he wants to shoot Peter in the kneecap.

“That’s kind of you,” Peter purrs. “I was having trouble seeing how Stiles came from such strong and silent loins, but I think I’m beginning to see the resemblance.”

Melissa wrinkles her nose and thinks, Who says loins nowadays? There’s the possibility that she’s not thinking clearly right now.

Insincerely, John says, “Thanks.” He slips the hand on her forearm down to her wrist, and from there to her hand. John has warm hands with wide palms; Melissa’s fingers are entirely engulfed in his and she feels like liquid strength has been poured into her backbone. For many years, the only person Melissa had at her back had been Sasha, and losing both her and Steve in such a short period of time had done a lot to Melissa that she hadn’t been recovered from enough to make real headway against this werewolf mess.

She’s not alone, though—she has John now.

“I suppose I’m being unambiguously rushed out,” Peter says on an obviously faked sigh. The corner of his mouth twitches. “I’d hate to step in the middle of something so adorably new and delicate.”

“Have a nice afternoon,” John says firmly, meaning fuck you.

“Thanks for stopping by,” Melissa adds. “I’m sorry that dinner didn’t work out.” It’s not 100% a lie, as Melissa will always been a little mad at herself for not being able to be an adult and successfully navigate adult relationships.

Peter gives both her and John a little jaunty wave as he leaves the staffroom. “Oh, me too, Melissa.” The second his leather-clad back disappears out into the hall, John’s fingers spasm around Melissa’s and his grip tightens to a hair too tight—not the bad kind of tight; it’s firmness that makes Melissa think of the way that John’s weekend sweaters stretch across his chest and the thickness of his biceps, how easily his hands could pin her hips to something stable and his thumbs dig into the flesh of her waist.

“Is he really Derek’s uncle?” Melissa demands. “Is he—you know. A werewolf?”

“Yes,” John says shortly. “He’s—Mel, he’s the one who bit Scott.”

At that point, it seems perfectly reasonable for Melissa to tilt her upper body until her forehead is resting against John’s chest. One of his hands comes up to rest against the back of her head; he’s so warm, and the non-patient rooms in Beacon Hills Memorial are always so drafty. “I thought Derek bit Scott,” Melissa says, and she can barely recognize her own voice.

“So did I,” John admits. “I realized that there were a lot of things I was assuming, so I sat Stiles down and had him go through some stuff. That’s why I—came by.”

Her breathing is still a shade too fast. Melissa drags in a long breath and then consciously tries to match John for each inhale and exhale. John, after a long pause, continues, “You’re not really keeping up with this werewolf stuff, are you?”

“I should be,” Melissa tells him, because that much has just become clear. “I know. It’s just—”

John waits for a few seconds before finishing for her, “Scary.”

“Terrifying,” Melissa agrees. “If I get too involved, I’m going to be a risk for them.” Melissa doesn’t know how to shoot a gun, doesn’t know anything about werewolves beyond what she learned in Mystery Science Theater 3000 marathons with Sasha in college, and she was a liability for Scott, during the mess with Gerard Argent.

She’s still his mother. She just doesn’t know where the lines are.

There’s something rough and hard to interpret in John’s voice as he says, “Yeah. I understand. Stiles told me you’ve been helping Alan Deaton with some of their scrapes. That’s good, Mel.”

“Thanks,” Melissa says automatically; John’s not the type to be needlessly placating. “It’s not going to be enough, though, is it? If Peter was the one who bit Scott, he must have asked me out because of this mess. I need to know what’s going on so I don’t become more of a problem.”

John says testily, “You’re not a problem.” They’re awkwardly twisted, with their clasped hands between them, and John lets go of her hand so he can wrap his arm around her shoulders. Melissa generally tries not to think about what she’s missed since Steve left, but the physical comfort of having someone larger than you give you a hug is almost overwhelmingly wonderful. She locks her arms around his waist. “I don’t think we can afford to be hands-off about this, Mel.”

“I wish I hadn’t finished all of Angel’s tequila,” Melissa murmurs. “I could do with some of that, right now.”

“You’re in the middle of a shift,” John reminds her drily. “When do you get out? Why don’t you come by the house and we can figure out what we’re going to do?”

It’s selfish and unfair, but Melissa has spent as little time as possible in John’s house since Sasha died. She has pictures and memories of Sasha all over her own house, of course, because Sasha had been her best friend for over a decade and Sasha was the kind of woman who left big, bright marks on the people she loved; but John’s house is a tomb and no amount of Stiles’ socks draped over furniture will change that.

“Okay,” she forces herself to say. “Does nine work?”

“I’ll have Stiles put a casserole in.” She can feel it when John presses his nose to the top of her head. “We’ve gotten through everything before this, Mel. We’ve got smart kids and we’re not too bad.”

Right, Melissa thinks, but instead of answering she twists her hand in the back of John’s shirt and takes a series of deep breathes that rattle in her chest.

~

Whatever Stiles thinks is a casserole is really more of a bunch of vegetables mixed in with two jars of Prego marinara sauce and an oversized box of ziti, but Melissa scoops herself a bowl of it nonetheless and props a hip against the doorframe between the kitchen and the dining room, where John is sitting at the table with a half-finished mug of something that smells like Earl Grey and a box of Ritz crackers.

“What’s the point of having Stiles make a casserole if you’re going to have crackers for dinner?” Melissa asks him.

“They were a snack,” John counters defensively. “I haven’t filled up on crackers before dinner since I was a kid.”

Melissa grins. “And that was how many centuries ago, again?”

As he stands and passes her, John reaches out and swats her shoulder. “Who’s turning forty next month, again?”

“And who’s already left forty way behind?” Melissa points out. “I’m not sure I have complete faith in a sheriff that’s geriatric.”

John loudly snorts as he pulls a bowl from the cabinet above the sink and spoons himself out some of Stiles’ “casserole.” “Cute,” he says. “Have you and Stiles been practicing that one?”

The part of Melissa’s stomach that had been settled by levity and pasta churns unhappily at the reminder. “Has he asked you not to run again?” He’d done it when John had first been put forth as a candidate for sheriff, eight months after Sasha’s funeral, and John had waited two years for his incompetent predecessor to leave so he could run again, this time with Stiles’ permission.

“No,” John says. He turns and leans against the counter, holding the bowl of casserole to his chest. “I think he appreciates what I do and how I can help. I think about how long he’s been using my office to help Derek Hale—fight evil or whatever they’ve been doing, and it makes my blood run cold.”

Scott and Stiles with full and unsupervised access to county records is the kind of thing that would’ve kept Melissa awake at night, before she learned about shapeshifting lizard lacrosse captains. “Yeah,” she says. “At least you can put a leash on him now.” She grins at John because they both know that no one can restrain Stiles. Scott at least occasionally lets good sense rule his head, which is more than either of them can say about Stiles and his insatiable curiosity.

“Ha!” John says. “Right.” He swallows a huge mouthful of casserole before adding, “Have you—” He pauses and turns a little pink. The first and one of the only times Melissa had seen John blush, it’d been three hours after Melissa had given her maid of honor speech at his and Sasha’s wedding and Sasha had been leaning against his shoulder, whispering something in his ear that had her grinning filthily.

“Have I what?” Melissa asks, delighted because it’s been eighteen years since she saw him this awkward and also because any delay of their werewolf-centric discussion is one she wants to embrace.

John coughs and stares into his bowl. “Derek Hale and—Stiles.”

“Madre de dios,” Melissa says reflexively, and then she’s laughing so hard she’s choking on a piece of broccoli. “Are you serious, John? With all that’s going on in Beacon Hills, you’re really worried about the fact that your son has a crush on a twenty-four-year-old delinquent werewolf with a trust fund?”

The blush in John’s cheeks travels in splotches to his ears. Melissa can see where Stiles got the tendency, and also why John had presumably worked to suppress it. He looks approximately sixteen and so bashful that Melissa actually feels a little bad about how attracted to him she is. “I can’t responsibly enforce a curfew when he’s battling God knows what out in the woods at night—”

“I know, I know,” Melissa interrupts. “I get it, okay? It’s just funny. We always used to talk about how terrifying it would be when Scott and Stiles started dating, remember? You were so happy when Stiles came home talking about Lydia Martin in the third grade. Sasha came over and told me about it. You said something like, ‘Thank God, we’re safe until at least sixteen.’”

Grumbling, John digs his fork into his bowl and says, pointing a speared mushroom at her, “You were the one who panicked when they got on the lacrosse team. You thought there were going to be parties.”

“It’s so mean,” Melissa says, “but I was so happy that they weren’t popular. You pump enough stomachs of the first line of the lacrosse team and you end up dreaming about it being your kid on the table. It didn’t even occur to me to be worried about werewolves.”

“Alex and I—we talked about paying for college, and being open if Stiles was gay or wanted to be an ornithologist or whatever, and how we’d handle talking about drinking and sex. She left me those letters, you know. Ones to give him if he came out, when he decided where he wanted to go to school. I have one for when he gets married. But—” John laughs and then stuffs a piece of ziti into his mouth. “Werewolves. Magic. Fuck.”

Melissa knows about the letters; the chemo had done a number on Sasha, and it was unfair to put the burden of writing them on John’s shoulders along with the responsibility of caring for Stiles full-time. Sasha had wanted to write them all herself, but she had tired easily and needed help remembering all of what she wanted to say in them. Melissa had spent two months’ worth of lunch breaks licking and stuffing envelopes, cracking jokes about how much it felt like a rehash of the fall of 1992 that they’d spent volunteering for the Clinton campaign.

Some of Sasha’s letters Melissa knows by heart because she’d helped Sasha write and rewrite them, trying to decide what to include and what was better to let fade from memory. Others—the ones for when Stiles falls in love, if he tries to pick up smoking, the birth of his first child—Sasha had made when she was alone and they’d already been sealed and left on her bedside table when Melissa came by for her daily visit. There had been ones written on Sasha’s favorite periwinkle stationary, too, that were amongst the ones always sealed; those had been for John.

“Are you going to give it to him?” she asks John.

“What?” he says. “First love? No.” Melissa doesn’t say anything, and after watching her deliberately and judgmentally pick through her cooling ziti, John says, “It’s still just a crush, for now. If it looks like he’s going to make it past where he was waiting on Lydia Martin—yeah. I’ll give it to him. Of course I will.”

He doesn't sound upset about Melissa doubting him, but she still feels a little bad. It’s never been her place to judge how John raises Stiles, and she’s never needed to; he’s a wonderful father. Melissa knows herself well enough to be aware that that’s part of his attraction.

“You’re doing a great job, John,” she tells him. She hasn’t verbalized the thought to his face before because it’d been so obvious. Since the rest of Melissa’s worldview has been taking a beating, this seems like something she should remedy. “I’m not sure anyone else could do what you do, for Stiles and for Beacon Hills. Just because you couldn’t predict that the forces of darkness would choose Scott doesn’t mean you aren’t a good father.”

John’s mouth twitches. “The forces of darkness?”

Defensively, Melissa says, “That’s perfectly relevant to what we’re talking about.”

This time, John’s laugh is full-bodied and he throws his head back so that the thin yellow light from the overhead lamp casts long, enthralling shadows down his throat. Melissa’s fingers dig into her ceramic bowl and she bites her lower lip to keep herself from saying something stupid just to fill the air between them. She’s happy that John is laughing; he doesn’t do it enough.

“Let’s go talk about those forces of darkness in the living room,” John suggests, his voice still throaty with laughter. “Are Girl Scout cookies an acceptable substitute for tequila? I hid three boxes of Thin Mints in the garage in March and Stiles hasn’t found them yet.”

“Yes,” Melissa says. “John, the answer to Girl Scout cookies is always yes.”

She’s rewarded by his laughter again, trailing behind him as he goes out into the garage to rustle up his hidden supplies—and then his muffled, “Motherfucker, I am going to murder him,” when he stomps back into the house with a yellow Post-It note that says COOKIES KILL, DAD with a smiley-face.

~

Melissa is on the last phase of her weekly phone call to her mother and grandmother when Scott and Stiles burst in through the back door, wild-eyed and panting, with a severely disheveled Derek Hale covered in blood in their wake. Melissa rolls her eyes heavenward and cuts off her mother in the middle of a sentence. “Mama? Sí sí sí, I’ll call you back mañana, I’ve got to go.”

Her mother, who is eternally suspicious of being interrupted during the why haven’t you settled down with a new man yet, you’re not getting any younger or prettier and who’s going to protect you section of their weekly talks, probably because Melissa’s faked two gas leaks and a cat being stuck in a tree in the past to get out of them, says, “Sí, mañana,” in a threatening way.

Melissa returns the landline to its cradle and goes for the first aid kit in the downstairs bathroom. It’s now stocked with some scary stuff from Alan Deaton that Melissa only half-understands the metaphysics of; as long as it works on werewolf problems, she doesn’t really care. “What happened?” she asks the boys. “One at a time,” she adds as Scott and Stiles begin yelling over each other.

“The omegas attacked,” Derek croaks. He looks like he was pushed through a meat grinder on his way here, but at least all of his limbs are attached. Melissa wants to watch him regrow his pinkie finger again like she wants to give birth to another child without an epidural. “Three of them.”

“Wait, like a pack?” Melissa says. “Isn’t the whole point of omegas that they don’t play nicely with others?”

“Exactly,” Stiles crows. He punches Derek in the shoulder and then immediately apologizes under the force of Derek’s glower. “Sorry, man. Anyway, yeah, Mrs. McCall, which is why I don’t think they’re omegas at all.”

“Peter?” Melissa suggests. She apologizes to Derek with her eyes as she pulls a pair of sharp scissors out of first aid kit and begins to cut his shirt away from the worst of the giant holes in his chest.

Stiles, not doing a very good job of hiding his gigantic crush on Derek, is hovering to Melissa’s left in a way that’s incredibly annoying. “That’s the horse I’m betting on. I mean, the guy’s proven to be totally psycho and I don’t know why else he’d show up to harass you at the hospital, Mrs. McCall, unless he was trying to send some kind of message.”

“Even Peter can’t turned a bunch of omegas into a pack,” Derek says through his teeth. He glares at Stiles over Melissa’s shoulder.

“Doesn’t the existence of an alpha pack prove that packs can be made out of anything?” Scott points out. He knows Melissa well enough to be sitting on the kitchen counter, nowhere near the table that’s become their emergency surgery and out of the reach of Melissa’s scissors.

“Omegas aren’t like alphas,” Derek bites out. Melissa has to dig a bit to get a long thread of his t-shirt out of the flesh of his shoulder and he stops talking to swallow and wince. “Why the hell are you reading all of those books if you don’t know this, Stiles?”

“Shut up,” Stiles says. “You’re the one who’s not healing after being taken down like an antelope by a bunch of dirty hippie omegas.”

When Melissa chances a glance at Scott, he’s grinning at her and rolling his eyes. She bites back her responding smile and pulls a roll of gauze from the kit open on the table by Derek’s thigh. Scott has her brother’s dirty smile, and it’s enough to make her miss Angel, even though she’s often of the opinion that the two thousand miles between them isn’t enough.

“Okay, kids,” she interrupts, “let’s play nice.”

Stiles glares daggers at Derek. “I’m not the one who failed kindergarten.”

“Because you’re definitely an expert at interpersonal behavior,” Derek snipes back, and Melissa presses a piece of gauze against a big hole in his right pectoral firmly enough to make him cringe and stop talking.

“Whoops,” Melissa says breezily. “Have you talked with Chris about the omegas?”

Everyone in the kitchen goes very quiet at this. Melissa understands Scott’s hesitation, as Chris had been one of the biggest and loudest proponents of Scott and Allison taking a break from their relationship to figure out their new lives post-Gerard Argent, and intellectually she gets that Derek, as a werewolf, probably has an aversion to hunters, but that’s not enough to explain how cold and thin the air in her kitchen becomes.

“No,” Derek finally says, like the words have to be torn out of his throat.

“Wouldn’t it make sense to have him involved with this?” Melissa prods. “He might know something about these omegas. Is there a hunter grapevine? Through the hunter grapevine.”

Scott looks deeply unhappy when Melissa looks to him, sad lines etched into his face around his mouth. “I know, Mom,” he says quietly. “I don’t want—it doesn’t—yeah. I’ll talk to Mr. Argent.” Derek relaxes minutely under Melissa’s hands; now that she’s cleaned all of the holes in him, she can see that they’re becoming superficial, the muscle knitting back together more slowly than normal but still working.

“Do you know why Peter would want a pack of omegas?” she asks Derek. It’s partially a distraction so he doesn’t bitch at Melissa about stitching together his shoulder—that gouge is too deep and not healing fast enough; Derek can complain all he wants, but Melissa doesn’t want him accidentally sealing dust or gravel or something equally disgusting into his body—and partially out of real interest.

It’s Stiles, unsurprisingly, who answers first. “Because he’s on a power trip of massive proportions?” he suggests. “Once you go alpha you never go back.”

Derek says, “It’s more complicated than that,” and Melissa suspects that he’s saying that so that he doesn’t have to admit to Stiles being right. “He could be forming his own pack so he can make a try for unclaimed territory, or he might want Beacon Hills for himself and the omegas are so that he has the power of a pack behind him.”

“Either way, we ain’t trusting Uncle Peter as far as we can throw him,” Stiles summarizes, satisfaction thick in his voice. According to John, Peter has been a source of major contention between the three boys all summer. Derek is understandably attached to the thought of having a living member of his family back with him; Stiles despises Peter and wants to kill him again. John hadn’t seemed very distressed by his son’s bloodthirsty tendencies, and neither had Melissa once John had gotten to the part about Peter attacking Lydia Martin in a football field and then settling into her mind for the long haul.

Scott, when Melissa tries to determine how he feels about the Peter issue by intently scanning his face, is looking down at his cell phone where it’s cupped in his hand. “I’m going to call Mr. Argent,” he announces abruptly. “Mom, are you okay?” He passes behind her and stops to squeeze her shoulder. Steve had done that, when he’d been on the phone or talking to someone and hadn’t had the time to actually stop and ask Melissa how she was feeling. At first, like most of Steve’s habit, Melissa had found it charming and touching; by the time Patrice had been in the picture, Melissa had actively shrugged off Steve’s hand any time it came near her shoulder.

It’s not Scott’s fault that he looks like Steve, that he has the need to nurture and it comes out the same way his father had shown it. “Yeah, hon,” Melissa says. “Can you take out the recycling on your way?”

Scott groans and says, “Forces of evil, Mom!” as he steps out onto the back porch, dragging the blue recycling bin behind him.

“Multitasking, Scott McCall!” Melissa yells after him. She pulls a needle and surgical thread out of the first aid kit and brandishes them in Derek’s face; his attention has drifted back to Stiles, where it always goes without anything more pressing to draw him. “Are you going to make trouble about this, or can I stitch up your shoulder?”

“Fine,” Derek says after a moment’s pause, sourly and graceless.

“Thank you,” Melissa replies primly. “Stiles, come over here, you’re going to need to hand me things. Wash up first.”

Stiles says, “Sure, Mrs. McCall,” in a way that’s borderline bloodthirsty. Scott has grown out of their shared fascination with all things gory; Stiles still likes to poke his open cuts to see if they do anything cool. Melissa is thankful every day that Scott, not Stiles, is her son.

~

The inside of a jail cell hadn't been a totally unfamiliar sight to Melissa even before the incident with the kanima and Gerard Argent last spring. She knows that John knows the story, because Sasha had been fond of retelling it when she got drunk. She’d even told it at Steve and Melissa’s wedding, which had scandalized a number of Steve’s family members who’d already been scandalized by a pregnant matron of honor with a large number of piercings in each ear.

Melissa thus feels comfortable saying to John, “Isn’t this familiar,” when she wakes up with a throbbing head to the ceiling of the Beacon Country sheriff department’s lockup. He’s sitting next to her where she’s inelegantly sprawled on the floor. His jacket has been bunched up under her head, and when she carefully sits up, it’s to see that her now-clotted head wound has bled all over it.

“You’re a menace, Mel,” John says wryly. “Are you going on a tour of all of the jail cells of California?”

“From Los Angeles to Beacon Hills in twenty years,” Melissa replies, her throat dry and aching. She winces and presses careful fingers along the part of her skull that feels soft and hot. There’s a little bit of swelling but she’s not experiencing other symptoms of concussion. “Maybe I’m getting old, though, because I remember why I ended up being arrested by the LAPD but I have no idea why I’m here.”

John doesn’t bother chuckling at Melissa’s incredibly bad joke, which is a sign that things are serious. Melissa had been arrested because she’d been walking from a Pakistani grocery to her apartment, twenty and stupidly convinced of her own invincibility, and she’d ended up in the middle of the Rodney King riots and being dragged out of the path of a burning car by a woman enthusiastically chanting in Russian. John thinks the story of how Sasha and Melissa met is hilarious; he’d called Sasha my troublemaker the same way Melissa sometimes called her Sashka, fond and wry and with his heart delicately exposed.

“Peter Hale,” John tells her. “I don’t know where he grabbed you, but one of the omegas dropped you off here a few hours ago.” John is slumped against the wall, his arms resting across his drawn-up knees, and he looks rumpled and exhausted and still astonishingly, amazingly wonderful to Melissa’s eyes. “Why the hell does my station keep ending up the scene of these idiotic take-overs?”

“It looks authoritative and has cells built into it?” Melissa suggests. She touches a part of her head matted with blood and too tender; she hisses in response and curls into herself to bite back the wave of pain that crashes down her neck. “Jesus.”

John extends his left hand towards her and draws Melissa into his side, gripping her chin and forcing her head down so he can look at her injury. “Have you suddenly become a medical professional?” Melissa teases. “It almost definitely looks way worse than it is. I don’t have a concussion, at least. Is it still bleeding?”

“No,” John says quietly. “I think you hit your head on the corner of something. You don’t—remember anything?”

“I wouldn’t if they knocked me out hard enough,” Melissa reminds him. “Stiles picked Scott up for school. I was taking advantage of not having a morning shift to read the paper. Then it—fuzzes out. Whoever it was probably came up behind me and knocked me out. Scott keeps reminding me not to stay by myself; I hate it when he’s right.”

“If it makes you feel better, Peter’s goons just gassed my office,” John offers. “I went out like a light. Some sheriff. They took my badge the last time something like this happened.”

“Yeah, and then they gave it back almost immediately because no one else was good enough to do this job right,” Melissa says. Her head is one big throbbing, exposed nerve, but she can still appreciate how gently his hands are resting against her temples. “Stop whining, old man.”

“Thank God I have you and Stiles around to keep me from getting a big head,” John says. He lets go of her head and Melissa slowly raises it so that she can see something other than her knees, still in pink cotton pajama bottoms that are now liberally sprinkled with dust and blood, and hopefully avoid vertigo. “Cute pants,” John adds, just when Melissa is hopeful that he won’t mention them.

“Shut up,” Melissa says. “I like polka dots.”

“Don’t we all,” John replies. His grin, when Melissa gives him her best impression of her mother’s withering glare, is of the shit-eating variety. “Stiles told me that Peter has a speechifying problem. I’m hoping the fact that he hasn’t come to gloat means that our kids are making trouble for him.”

Melissa has a fundamental distaste for waiting around for her seventeen-year-old son to come rescue her from an ex-boyfriend, even if her son is a werewolf and the ex-boyfriend is really more of an ex-guy-she-half-dated, but there’s not really a lot of other options she can see. “I hate—waiting,” she says, using ‘waiting’ as a catch-all for everything that she and John are currently doing and knowing that John will understand.

“Being a spectator in your kid’s life in hard,” John agrees. “You were right, Mel. About them growing away. We’re helping them but we’re not—I’ve seen Derek Hale punch through a wall and be fine. Scott can actually leap a tall building in a single bound.”

As a result of her head wound, Melissa’s hair is in a messy, blood-matted clump resting against the nape of her neck where once it was a lazy bun on top of her head. She reaches into it, trying to ignore how gross she feels, and pulls out two bobby pins. “But,” she says.

“Oh thank God,” John says, springing into a crouch. “I was trying to be reasonable but my fucking son is out there somewhere.”

Melissa hasn’t picked a lock in five years and she was recently bashed in the head by a countertop, but it turns out to be sort of like riding a bike or taking someone’s blood pressure; the lock opens under her fingers distressingly easy. “I'm actually insulted,” she tells John. “You should really press the mayor about getting some money and updating these cells.”

“Will you sign an affidavit? Because he doesn’t believe me.” By use of some kind of law enforcement witchcraft, John reaches forward and slips out of the cell ahead of Melissa. “Chris Argent sent me some wolfsbane ammo; the clips are in my office with my other gun. Stick close, okay?”

“Because I was going somewhere,” Melissa hisses. Immediately afterwards, she apologizes, “I’m on edge, sorry.”

“I didn’t mean to be condescending,” John says. He reaches blindly behind him and squeezes her hip quickly. “Are your bare feet okay on this floor?”

“Shut up, John,” Melissa whispers. “I will tell you if I’m not okay.” Being with John and under her own power makes this trip through the sheriff’s department building much less terrifying than the last time she was here at the mercy of a supernatural evil. At this point, she’s fairly certain that she knows all of Scott’s secrets that aren’t related to where he stores his porn—although she’s known where Scott keeps his porn for years, since he’s so terrible at subterfuge—so at least she know she’s not going to turn a corner and find her vampire son sucking the life force out of someone.

That’s amazingly comforting. Melissa barely notices how cold her toes are on the rough concrete floor; she has one hand resting against John’s back and it grounds her enough to reality that she isn’t tempted to throw some kind of shit-fit in the middle of a hallway.

John takes a circuitous route to his office—Melissa can’t believe she’s familiar enough with the floor plan of the sheriff’s department building to know that; she’s going to kill Scott when she gets her hands on him again—and the hallways are quiet and unnervingly still. Every time they turn a corner, Melissa flashes on a different scene from “The Shining.”

John’s office is empty and he immediately goes for the safe on the floor behind his desk. “The clips are in the bottom left drawer. You have to hit it to open. Mel—” Melissa is already hitting her fist against the bottom left drawer and pulling it open. Under two unopened bags of Craisins and a file folder with STILES OFFICE DRAWINGS written on the tab, Melissa finds three clips. The bullets look perfectly normal to her, but she’s not the expert here.

“Is my cell still on my desk?” John asks her, taking the clips from her and slipping two of them into the pockets of his uniform. He checks the remaining one and slides it into his gun. “Having Chris at our back would be nice.”

Melissa rifles through the piles of file folders and paperwork and a half-eaten Tupperware container of what looks like Stiles’ leftover casserole with a fork sticking out of it, the pasta sauce gone cold and congealed. “I can’t find it.” She reaches for the landline; it’s cut, like she’d suspected. “Landline’s out.”

“Right,” John agrees, not sounding surprised. “Mel, we’re going to get you out of here and you’re going to try to get Chris—just call everyone, once you get to a phone, and get as much back-up as you can. Figure out if we were the only ones snatched or not.”

“John,” Melissa says, “You’re the professional and know better than me in this situation, but if you think I’m going to leave you alone here with Peter Hale and his fake omega pack, you are delusional. We’re both leaving.”

“We don’t know if Stiles and Scott are here,” John says. Melissa is a hair away from panicking, but John looks like he knows exactly what he’s doing and what he wants. He’s holding the gun against his side, pointing towards the floor, the safety on and his finger away from the trigger. “I’m going to do a few sweeps, see if I can find what happened to my deputies. And you are going to get me help.” He looks down at her bare feet and frowns. “Efe should have running shoes in her desk, let’s get you those first.”

“John,” Melissa hisses, “John,” but he’s already out of the door and down the hall to where the deputies have desks in a bullpen. Melissa hovers between the hallway and the room, watching for any sign of werewolves, as John crouches down by Efe Ajirotutu’s desk and digs through a handful of drawers. He finally raises a pair of electric blue Pumas triumphantly and gestures Melissa over to him. She sits down in Efe’s desk chair and pulls on the left shoe; John tugs her right foot into his lap and puts on the other one, his hand circling around her ankle to push her foot into the shoe.

“Don’t turn around,” John tells her, his head bowed as he ties the shoelaces with the expertise of a father who’d done this for his child for years. “Just run. I’ve seen you run, you’re fast. You don’t have to be fancy—go straight for the Qius’ down the road. They should be home, it’s almost ten. Use their phone. Don’t come back. Stay with Bobby and Chi.”

Melissa and Bobby Qiu hate each other, the byproduct of years of Bobby aggressively campaigning for Melissa to join the PTA and Melissa brandishing her work schedule in his face in lieu of a civil refusal, but he and Chi aren’t going to turn her out if she shows up on their front porch in her pajamas and covered in blood.

She also has no intention of sticking around after she makes her phone calls, so that should help. “Right,” she says, her whisper turned into a half-silenced rasp by the dryness of her throat. “John, if you take any stupid risks, I am going to kill you, do you understand? I know that you hide your recklessness well, but I fucking know you and if you even think about doing something—”

John drops her foot to the floor and surges up so fast Melissa probably wouldn’t be able to track it even if she weren’t woozy from blood loss, his free hand gripping her neck and the tangled mess of her hair so he can press his mouth against hers. It’s sour and open and wet and Melissa’s surprised into licking his front teeth before she gets with the program and kisses him back. “Melly,” he whispers, “I’m not going to be stupid, okay? Just fucking run.”

The front doors are locked and alarmed, but there’s a small door in the kitchenette that opens into the kennel where Madison, Beacon Hills’ only K9 unit, spends approximately zero percent of her time. The kennel has a garage door that’s unlocked; John draws it halfway up and Melissa rolls under it, trying to ignore how light her head feels on her shoulders and the swollen, slick feel of her mouth and what the fuck is going on.

She doesn’t look back when she hears the door rattle closed again. She just runs.

~

Sasha had spent her last day alone with John and Stiles, her arms around Stiles as he sat gingerly beside her in her hospital bed, John alternately perched on the edge of a nearby chair and pacing furiously in front of the foot of her bed. Melissa knows because she’d stopped by three times; each time she’d poked her head in the door and Sasha had minutely shaken her head and Melissa had gone and left them.

She hadn’t been able to make it back until late that night, close to nine. Sasha had sent John off to pick up dinner for Stiles from the canteen and Stiles was dead asleep, his mouth open and his eyes tracking wildly behind his eyelids, his small body pressed against Sasha’s. Melissa had known, looking at Sasha, that she didn’t have time left; Melissa had never resented her nurse’s education before that moment.

“If you cry I will hurt you,” Sasha had said in a dry whisper. “Fucking hell, Melita, I’ve already got enough saline here to drown a polar bear.”

“You’re not my mom,” Melissa had said back. “I thought—the last letter? You wanted to write it today.”

Sasha’s “John doesn’t know how to take a hint,” had been said with a thin smile. “Every time I suggested he and Stiles go stretch their legs, he just stood up and paced a couple of times before sitting down again.”

He loves you, Melissa had thought. I love you. “I’ve got the stuff,” she had said instead. “Do you want to write it?”

Sasha had carefully pushed Stiles until his head was resting against her belly instead of her shoulder and her arm was free. “Yeah,” she had said. “I don’t have a lot of time, John’ll be back soon.”

It’d been too hard to watch, so Melissa had sat in John’s vacated chair and carefully labeled the last envelope FUNERAL and waited for Sasha to hand her the trifolded sheet of paper. She’d ended up resting her hand against the top of Stiles’ head, feeling in the way it shifted under her palm that Sasha’s breathing was slow and stuttering.

“Here,” Sasha had finally said. “Wait a few days to give John the box; he won’t know what to do with it until then.”

“I know,” Melissa had said gently. Her mouth had been too dry for her to lick the flap of the envelope on the first try; it took three times before she could seal the envelope with her trembling fingers. When she’d tried to put the letter in her pocket, she hadn’t been able to see through the watercolor blur of her tears. “Sashka, mi amor—”

Sasha had stopped her then. “I know, Mel.” Forcing herself to look at Sasha’s face had been the hardest thing Melissa had ever done—worse than giving birth to Scott, than telling Steve that she wanted a divorce, than informing her family that she was moving to a town in northern California because Sasha had gotten knocked up by a deputy there and for some reason fallen in love with him enough to agree to marry him. Until John, Sasha had insisted that she wasn’t ever going to get married; she and Melissa were going to be roommates and get arrested once a year on the anniversary of the riots where they’d met.

Sasha’s face had been waxy and drawn, her Russian ice queen cheekbones a parody of themselves in her thin face. “I’m not sorry that I dragged you to Beacon Hills with me,” she had said. “I’m not sorry I introduced you to Steve, either, because you got Scott. But—I’m sorry that I never listened to you.”

It’d been the first and only time Sasha had apologized about the smoking, and Melissa had never been less happy to hear an apology in her entire life. “Shut up,” she had said. “I don’t fucking care, Sasha. You’re my best friend, I just—”

“Yeah,” Sasha had said. “I know, dorogaya. Me too.”

Melissa had left before John had gotten back, and she hadn’t even needed to check the next morning once her shift was done, although she did it anyway—she’d already known that Sasha’s bed would be empty. She’d gone to Sasha and John’s house straight from the hospital, to pick up Stiles and make sure that John had enough whiskey in the house.

Generally, Melissa tries not to think about Sasha’s last night, because it ends with Melissa crying hysterically and too hard to breathe properly, her ribs too small for her lungs. She thinks of it without conscious intention, though, when she and Chris Argent pull into the parking lot of the sheriff’s department and go inside in a blaze of floodlights and wolfsbane bullets and screaming and somehow, within that mess, they locate everyone—which includes Isaac Lahey, Lydia Martin, and Danny Mahealani, only one of whom Melissa had honestly expected to see—inside.

Stiles has Derek Hale pinned to Efe Ajirotutu’s desk and when Melissa looks at him she can remember how hard it had been to hand John the shoebox full of letters—it’d been the one her Timberland winter boots had come in, because the rest of them had been too small—the day before Sasha’s funeral.

Melissa knows, from the way that Stiles’ hands are white at the knuckles and buried in Derek’s hair, that John is going to need to unearth the Stiles’ First Love letter. She doesn't envy him the act of rifling through the letters to find the right one; Melissa hadn’t even been able to sort them properly, beyond separating the dozen blue ones for John from the hundred or so white ones for Stiles and putting a rubber band around the former.

Abandoning Chris and Stiles and Derek to their whatever, Melissa half-runs for John’s office. “Scott?” she calls, trying to pitch her voice above the low-level humming activity of Chris’ highly efficient cohort of hunters. “John?”

Scott pokes his head out of the door when Melissa is ten feet away from John’s office. “Mom?” he calls. “Hey, Mom’s here,” he adds, in the direction of whoever is in the office, and Melissa hopes to God that it’s John and that he’s unharmed.

“Come here,” Melissa says furiously, tugging Scott into a hug. “Are you okay? What happened?” She pulls back enough to ascertain that Scott isn’t covered in blood before hugging him again.

“Derek and I tracked you and Stiles’ dad here, once we figured out what happened. I, um, skipped French and American History?”

“I’ll call the school,” Melissa promises, closing her eyes and running her fingers through Scott’s hair. “Oh, baby, don’t worry about it. Are you sure you’re fine? Is everybody okay?”

“I think Isaac got bitten by one of the omegas, but he’s healing okay.” Scott’s arms are briefly, crushingly strong against Melissa’s midsection and then he lets go of her. “Peter’s—he’s dead, Mom.”

“Hallelujah,” Melissa says. She opens her eyes and sees John over Scott’s shoulder, propped against his desk. Peter Hale’s body is on the floor on the other side of the desk. There’s a lot of blood, most of it black and smoking slightly, in a puddle around Peter’s legs where they are sticking out into the open room. “John?” she asks. “Are you okay?”

“I’m fine, Mel,” he says. His eyes are so green, God, what the hell is he doing with those eyes all day. “As promised.”

Scott takes one look at Melissa’s face and says something stumbling about checking up on Isaac and disappearing into thin air. Part of Melissa wants to keep him close to her, until she can stop freaking out about her son constantly being in danger, but she reaches out to John instead and even though Peter Hale’s dead body smells disgusting and is covered in black goo, she finally relaxes when he closes his arms around her in a solid embrace.

“Oh my God, John,” Melissa says once, and then she doesn’t say anything else, not even when Chris comes by and makes a face and gestures for a few of his cronies to drag Peter Hale’s body out into the back lot so they can light it on fire. John doesn’t say anything either; they just hold each other, for a long time, and then they hold hands until Derek offers to drive the boys to John’s house and Melissa has to leave John to figure out with Chris how the hell to spin the sheriff’s department being locked down for sixteen hours and the blood over a lot of the walls, as well as the drugged deputies handcuffed to metal shelves in the evidence locker in the basement.

“Come by,” she tells John. “We need—”

“Yeah,” he says. “Go by the hospital and get yourself looked at, for Christ’s sake.”

She does, which is why when she gets home four hours later, holding three snack-size bags of Cheetos that Lupe had pressed on her with the insistence that they would soothe the indignity of falling and cracking her head open on a counter and then being unconscious for a couple of hours, John has beaten her home and is sitting on her front steps in jeans and a dark blue henley, his hair still damp.

Melissa leaves the Cheetos in her car and gets out, slamming the door behind her. John watches as she crosses her lawn and comes to sit beside him, tucking the ends of Pauline’s spare sweater around her in deference to the chill of an early September morning. “Everything sorted?” Melissa asks him. “Townspeople sufficiently obfuscated?”

“Gas leak,” John says. “The deputies got a heavier dose than me; they were still mostly out of it when Chris’ people got them out. Having the building cleared out for a few days should be enough time for the smell of bleach to fade.”

Of course, Melissa has to laugh at that, and then she has to explain to John why gas leaks are funny, and the entire explanation ends with her and John cackling on her porch at six in the morning like a pair of hyenas. Thinking of her mother, though, as well as her mother’s persistence in insisting that Melissa should try to get remarried, reminds Melissa why she feels so nervous.

John’s laughter dies into a few last chuckles and then he leans—slow, deliberately—into Melissa’s side and he says, “We should talk. About—the station.”

“Oh God,” Melissa murmurs. Her head begins to ache. “Right.”

“Alex was your best friend,” John says. “I understand if this is—awkward, for you, too awkward and maybe you don’t think it’s worth it. But Alex—Alex has been gone for a while even if she’s still here, with us, and she loved you so much. I don’t think—I know she’d—fuck.”

Before Melissa can assure him that after years of babysitting his son, she’s capable of understanding his broken sentences, he reaches into the pocket of his jeans and pulls out a blue envelope, folded in half, with Melissa’s neat MEET SOMEONE written in black ballpoint pen on the front.

“Open it,” John says, and when Melissa does, she finds that there’s another envelope inside with IT’S MELISSA on it.

“Oh,” she says, not needing to open the second envelope to get the point. “How the—fuck.”

John says, “Yeah,” the same way he used to tell off Sasha and Stiles when they got into ridiculous trouble for pulling some kind of stupid stunt. “I want you to know that I didn’t open it until I got home from the station this morning, but, she still—yeah. Do you think—you might like to have dinner with me?”

“Jesus Christ,” Melissa says. “Yes, God, of course, yes.” She sort of throws herself at John then, and if the Walbergs get up to walk their standard poodle and are offended by Melissa and John necking like teenagers on Melissa’s porch at six-thirty in the morning, they don’t say anything about it.

Or maybe they do, and Melissa is too occupied to care.