“Oh, hey, Mel, John called for you,” Ana says. “Something about—” she shuffles papers, fishes the little pink slip out from a drift of patient files. The hospital has been trying to digitize but hasn’t managed it yet, and paper accumulates on every flat surface. “The kids? And school?”
Uh huh, Melissa thinks, because she’s told John a thousand times he should just leave messages on her cell, for god’s sake, but for a man who’s comfortable with computers in his working life he’s surprisingly technology-phobic when left to his own devices. At least he’s pretty discreet and doesn’t leave the kind of messages that cause her colleagues to gossip. Much.
She knows for a fact that he’s got a handle on caller ID, at least, so she blames either busyness or exhaustion for the way he answers the phone, “Beacon Hills Sheriff's Department,” voice brusque and distracted.
“John,” she says, “it’s Melissa. Is it a bad time?”
“Mel,” he says, and damn it, she shouldn’t be gratified by the way his voice warms as he says her name, but she is. “No, it’s fine. Hold on just a sec,” he says, and covers the phone. Two minutes of muffled conversation later, he comes back. “Sorry,” he says, and it’s that easy warmth in his voice that does her in, the way he actually means it. “Listen, Mel, I wanted to talk to you about taking the boys to school. What are you doing in August?”
What she’s planning on doing in August, in no particular order, is a) having a nervous breakdown because her only son is old enough to be going to college, b) working all the hours God gives so she can pretend not to notice when her son sneaks out of the house to spend as much time with his girlfriend as possible before going off to college, and c) maybe treating herself to a spa day in a futile effort to pretend she isn’t old enough to have a son going off to college. She’s not going to say any of that to John, though, so she leans a hip against a file cabinet, slaps a hand on the teetering pile of patient charts that wobbles threateningly, and says, “Nothing. What's up?”
“Well,” John says, “I was hoping I could convince you to take some time off.”
“Possibly,” she says. “Why?” Easy odds are it’s werewolf-related; now that Stiles has finally let John in on the secret, all their lives are calmer in terms of supernatural chaos and mayhem. On the other hand, now that John knows what his son has been up to for most of his high school career, he’s taken what Melissa considers a frankly scary level of interest. John seems to have decided that the fact that he didn’t put together the werewolf puzzle on his own means he's a bad father, or a bad detective, or some combination of the two, and now seems to be operating on the principle that if his son is going to be involved in supernatural shenanigans, at least he'll do it while well supervised.
Practically speaking, of course, this mostly means that John presides over weekly dinners that hit levels of awkwardness she hasn't seen since she stopped going to holidays with her in-laws a decade ago. He has to stock his fridge with enough food to satisfy teenage werewolves, and has apparently walked in on said teenage werewolves in various states of undress on more than one occasion, which he then relates to her in far-too-lurid detail later. As far as she's concerned, Melissa would rather not know, mostly.
But before John can explain, there's a sudden uptick in the level of noise behind him (González and—Fisher, if Melissa's any judge, shouting something unintelligible, and she really shouldn't be as familiar with the Sheriff's deputies as she is) and John sighs and mutters, "Crap, Mel, I gotta go, call you later," and hangs up.
Okaaay, she thinks. At least she hadn't heard Derek Hale's voice; that at least implies it's the standard garden-variety criminal rather than anything…weirder.
* * *
Scott darts a glance at her through his bangs, which are, she notices, getting ragged, though she's long ago given up trying to get him to get regular haircuts. "I don't know why you assume I did something," he says, a little grumpily, and she can't help leaning in to give him a one-armed hug and ruffle his hair. "Can't I just want to do something nice for my mother?"
"One, I know you, kiddo," Melissa says, "and two, you might have sold me on it if it weren't for the wine. Which I will drink, but getting a phone call from the Sheriff's office isn't going to help your case any, I'm just saying, so you better have obtained that in ways that John's not going to be forced to know about."
Scott gives her an abashed grin. It's one of the strangest parts of parenthood, she thinks, that she can look at her beautiful son at eighteen and see at the same time the eight-year-old who broke his arm by trying to be Superman off the edge of the porch and the two-year-old curled up happily asleep with his grandmother's three cats.
It turns out that Derek bought the wine, which she's going to have to remember to have words with him about. Scott doesn't let that slip until they're halfway through his attempt at stew, though, and it turns out that what he wants is to convince her to let him take what functionally amounts to a road trip with Stiles instead of putting him on a plane to Chicago for college. Melissa's not going to even attempt to address the fact that he apparently thinks cooking her dinner will convince her that this is a good idea, because—god, this is a terrible idea. "Are you serious?" she says. "Scott, after the amount of trouble you've gotten into in the past few years, you honestly think I'm going to let the two of you loose with my car and a credit card and no supervision?"
"No, Mom, that's not what I mean," Scott says. "We thought you'd come with, you and the Sheriff. It'd be, like, recompense."
Melissa raises her eyebrows. "This better not be some Parent Trap thing," she says, and Scott rolls his eyes.
"Mom," he says, and time was that would have been a whine, heavy on the drawn-out 'm', but now he's just smiling at her, patient. "We just thought—like, you've put up with so much of our shit, the past couple of years, we thought it'd be nice. A family trip. One last vacation before college!"
"Language," she says absently, but her heart's not in it. This is the other thing they never tell you about parenthood: how your kid can go from eye-rolling teenager to earnest almost-adult in the blink of an eye, and the way it makes your heart feel, blown open and tender. And then her brain catches up with her, and she says, "Wait, what do you mean, 'we'?"
* * *
John snorts. "Yeah, well, I'm pretty much assured the boat's sailed on that one," he says, and Melissa giggles, she can't help it; the horror in John's voice when he'd called her up to rant about seeing the Mahealani kid jump pantsless out of Stiles' window is something she's not going to forget in a hurry. He doesn't mind Stiles dating a boy, she doesn't think; it's just the idea of Stiles being old enough to date at all; god, does she empathize.
"So he mentioned this grand plan of theirs?" John asks, and Melissa sighs.
"Yeah, that's what I'm worried about," she says. "The two of them, coming up with plans? You know how that ends up."
"Stiles was actually serious, though," John says. "I mean, the kid said straight out he missed me and wanted to spend time together while we could; what was I supposed to say, Mel?"
Melissa sighs and takes a sip of her wine. "Right, okay. So, you, me, our kids, and a road trip to Chicago?"
"Yeah," John says, "But, Mel, only if you're willing," and the thing is, she's never been able to resist her kid when he wants something real like this, and when John and Stiles want it too? Sister, she thinks, quoting something, though she can't remember what just at the moment, you haven't a chance, and sighs into the phone.
"All right," she says, "but I'll have you know, you and I are getting one room and letting the boys sleep together in another. I'll play chaperone, but I'm forty; there's no way I'm sharing a double bed with my teenage son."
"All right," John says, and she can hear the smile in his voice. "I'll bring the bourbon, you bring the brownies. We're gonna need it."
"Deal," she says, and in the background, Scott gives a fist pump and shouts an enthusiastic "Yes!" Melissa sighs. Her son: listening in on conversations since age twelve.
* * *
What she didn't expect, though, was that Lydia Martin would decide that if she and Danny Mahealani and Isaac Lahey were all going to school in Boston then it'd be cheaper for them to drive than fly, and that if they were driving they should drive via Chicago. "Obviously," Scott says, voice rich with sarcasm, when she expresses disbelief, and Stiles adds, "It's Lydia," as if that explains anything. It kind of does, she admits, having come face-to-face with the Martin girl's particular brand of stubbornness a time or two, but—for god's sake. A cross-country werewolf road trip wasn't quite what she signed up for.
"You've already taken the time off, though," Scott pleads, when she points this out. "And, anyway, plane tickets are, like, five hundred bucks now."
Which is true, damn him. And—he's her kid. She may not be looking forward to spending a week in the car with her son's motley band of teenage werewolves, but—he's going to be across the country for the next four years. She's allowed to want to spend a little more time with him.
"Okay, okay, fine," she says, and lets Scott pummel his fists into her shoulder in glee.
* * *
It's eight in the morning. Melissa is clutching a cup of coffee the size of her head, staring at a pile of her son's last-minute luggage, and trying to ignore the fact that said son is currently whispering sweet nothings into Allison Argent's ear, looking decidedly more lovelorn than she'd like. Stiles is bouncing excitedly from his dad to Lydia Martin and back, until Danny Mahealani shows up, and then Stiles clings, limpet-like, to Danny's hand. She's surrounded by six teenagers: two of whom turn into bloodthirsty monsters on the full moon; one deceptively delicate girl who Melissa's seen put an arrow through a target at an improbable distance; one kid who she's known since he was five and had to be brought to the hospital for stitches for self-administered injuries but who now, terrifyingly, is an "emissary," whatever that means; one girl who seems perfectly well-adjusted except for the fact that her bizarre amnesia caused the biggest scandal Beacon Hills General had seen in years; and one kid who is—as far as she knows—human, but who seems to hang out with the rest of them voluntarily, which really calls his sanity into question, as far as she's concerned. Oh, and the man who she's had a terrifyingly intimate and occasionally domestic relationship with for more than a decade, who is, she sometimes thinks, either her best friend or the man she wants to marry, or both. And they're going to spend the next week or so in a car together.
Oh god, Melissa thinks, and tries not to freak out.
"Mel," John says, and nudges her in the side with his elbow. "Breathe. It's going to be fine."
Melissa raises her eyebrows at him. Scott and Allison (going to school down in San Francisco, she understands) are saying a tearful goodbye. Sometime when she wasn't paying attention, Derek Hale showed up and is now lurking at the end of her driveway in his deputy's uniform, hands stuffed in his pockets, glaring watchfully like he thinks something's going to jump out of Mrs. Murphy's rosebushes. "Right," Melissa says, because nobody else is going to do it. "Let's get this show on the road, shall we?"
* * *
They're in the forest for the first couple of hours, fragrant and lush even though it's August, redwoods deep green and looming overhead, the 101 twisting in and out of tiny state parks. Scott's got the window rolled down as he drives, and the air smells sweet, fresh and cool on her face. Lydia Martin's drawn up some complex schedule to rotate drivers, so for the first leg it's her and Scott and Stiles and Danny in her Subaru, and John and Lydia and Isaac in Lydia's SUV. Stiles and Danny conk out in the back seat almost immediately, sprawled against each other, feet tangled; Stiles has his head tilted back and his mouth wide open, and she feels an unexpected surge of affection for this kid who she's watched grow up.
"You guys are lucky to have each other," she says, and Scott raises an enquiring eyebrow. Melissa jerks her head at the back seat.
"Me and Stiles? Yeah, we are," Scott says, and grins. "I totally wouldn't have survived—well, the last few years, without him."
From any other high schooler, Melissa would call this natural hyperbole; from Scott, she figures he probably means it more literally, which is pretty terrifying. She's not like John, able to be sanguine about her son's involvement with the supernatural; she's lived with an undercurrent of panic ever since she found out. The last thing she want to do is shut Scott out, make him feel like he can't talk to her. But it makes her uncomfortable, all the same, thinking of her son becoming something else, becoming not a person but a thing—it bothers her.
"I hope you mean that figuratively," Melissa says. It's the wrong thing to say, she realizes as soon as she says it; Scott's shoulders go tense and his mouth turns down.
"Sorry," Scott says, voice tight. "No, that was pretty much literally true. He's saved my ass, Mom, so many times."
"Scott—" she begins. She doesn't want to have this fight again. She's got seven days left before she has to say goodbye to her kid; she doesn't want to rehash the discussion about whether or not Scott's too dependent on Stiles.
"Glad you admit it, buddy," Stiles interrupts from the back seat, voice drowsy. "I mean, I'm pretty amazing. Have you told your mom about the time I single-handedly came up with a solution for preventing you from turning into a hairy, slavering beast in the middle of chemistry class?"
"What," Scott says, and grins, "the time you decided to throw balls at my head and get me beaten up?"
"You healed," Stiles says, blithely unconcerned. It's such a Stiles thing to do; Scott's the child of divorce but it's Stiles who hates conflict, who's always hated seeing the two of them fight.
"Okay," Melissa says, mustering a smile. If she's going to be in the car with Scott, she doesn't want things to get too tense. "This is a story I haven't heard."
"Hah," Stiles says, "okay, well, it was like this—" and proceeds to tell Melissa a story that, she's got to admit, is pretty damn funny.
* * *
The thing is, Melissa had thought a road trip would be a good idea: visit national parks, see the country. It's the kind of thing she always wished her parents had done; Rafael had never wanted to, though, and then once he was out of the picture she mostly couldn't swing enough time off. Now that she and John have paid their $40 at the little gate and navigated the sea of cars inching around the ring road for a view of El Capitán, she realizes, yet again, that this is not quite what she pictured.
"Since when do you hike?" Stiles says, skeptically, to his father. "Hiking is exercise, you don't exercise, much to my chagrin."
"Since now," John says, firmly, "since we're in one of the most beautiful places in the country. My gas money, my rules."
"Mrs. McCall and Lydia and Danny's parents—" Stiles starts, and John slices a finger across his throat: enough. "Can it, kid," he says, voice full of mixed affection and exasperation. "It's a short one, and then you can do whatever the hell you want."
They pass a couple other people on the trail; this late in the evening, mid-week, it's pretty quiet, everyone off at the park restaurants or setting up tents. It's one of those sweet, cool summer evenings full of slowly-fading light, and the sun's honey-sweet and warm on her back. "What do you think they think of us?" she says to John, slowing a little to let him catch up. "People who see us, I mean?"
John eyes the kids: Lydia in a borrowed pair of Melissa's sneakers, picking her way over the rocks; Scott and Isaac, roughhousing and shoving each other off the path; Danny and Stiles having an intense conversation about something, orbiting each other like magnets. "Hate to say it, Mel, but we could pass for a family."
"God, I hope I don't look old enough to have five teenagers," Melissa says, and then bites her lip; she tries not to let herself think things like that, much less say them. But then again, she's driving her son off to college; it's kind of on her mind.
"You don't," John says. Despite Stiles' dire predictions, he's barely breathing hard, she notices: good. "Though," he adds, and lets her give him a hand up to the viewing platform, "it wouldn't matter. You're one of those women who's just going to get more beautiful the older you are, anyway."
"Oh," Melissa manages, startled. "Um. Thanks."
She and John are close, they're good friends; they've supported each other through years of single parenthood, and there's a kind of "we're in it together" feeling to their relationship that she values all the more because she never had it with Rafe or any of the (few) men after him. But they don't really—compliment each other.
It feels good, though. Good enough that she realizes it's been a while since a man has said anything like that to her. Melissa, honey, she thinks to herself, you really need to get out there.
She's not quite sure what to say, but luckily, John doesn't seem like he needs an answer; he tucks his hands in his pockets and leans against the railing next to her. "Pretty nice, huh?" he says.
"Yeah," Melissa says, watching the sun make rainbows in the mist of the falls. Even the kids are enjoying it, pointing out particularly nice parts of the view. "Yeah, it is."
They get down to the campsite and find their spots in the last of the light; they're staying in these weird canvas-walled tent/house hybrids, which is convenient, given the lack of space in the back of the car for tents or sleeping bags.
"Here's the plan," John says, once they've settled the kids in—a six-person tent for the kids, a two-person for the two of them. "I want your cell phones on, and on you at all times; I want you in your bunks by midnight. Melissa and I are going to have a beer and dinner at the restaurant, and we'll see you in the morning. Okay?"
Privately, Melissa thinks it's about even odds that they'll get woken up by a park ranger; it's not that the kids are bad kids, they're just rowdy, and that's on a day when they haven't been cooped up in the car for hours on end. Still, though, the last thing she really wants to do is let the kids drag her to a crappy fast-food joint, so she hands them some cash for dinner and crosses her fingers.
* * *
The next thing she knows she's blinking, disoriented, in a sudden flash of light, and she has a moment of panic before she realizes where she is: right, road trip, with John and the boys and their friends. "John, is that you?" she says, because there's a weird sort of flickering light coming through the tent wall and some kind of buzzing, so deep it's more like something she's feeling than a sound.
"Just the kids coming back, Mel," John says, sleepily, and Melissa thinks oh, right, Yosemite: flashlights, and probably a generator, still half-asleep.
"It's midnight, Mom, we're back when we promised," Scott says, whispering, and she smiles. Her sweet son. She's going to miss him. "Night. I love you."
"Love you, kiddo," Melissa says, and falls back asleep.
* * *
"I'll take first shift," Isaac offers, eyeing her, and she smiles at him.
"You're officially my favorite son right now," she says, clutching her cup, and Isaac grins at Scott's outraged squawk. Melissa lets herself collapse into the passenger seat of Lydia's SUV.
She makes it as far as the base of the mountains before she starts nodding off. "Oh, god, I'm turning into my mother," she moans, when her head jerks hard enough to wake her up, because her mother used to do exactly this, get into a car and fall fast asleep for the duration of any ride, even just the ride to church.
"Tilt your chair back and sleep," Isaac suggests. "We'll be okay."
"You know where you're going?" Melissa says, tempted. "You don't need me to navigate?"
"We're following Stiles," Isaac points out. "And if we get lost, Lydia's phone has GPS."
Melissa twists around to look. Lydia's absorbed in some game on her phone, tapping away, but she nods when Melissa looks at her. "Okay," Melissa says. "If you're sure."
The car seat doesn't tip back much, thanks to the luggage—Lydia's practically blocked in—but she manages.
The rest of the day passes in a blurred haze: desert out the window, empty and unchanging, a long flat horizon and the road stretching out ahead of them, empty; the sky above them heat-washed and hazy. She drifts, lulled by whatever mellow music Isaac has on his iPod, by Isaac and Lydia's murmured conversation, and the next thing she knows they're stopping somewhere at a rest stop in Nevada, two little lonely cars pulled off in an empty expanse of worn-down concrete.
"Why am I so tired?" Melissa asks, collapsing onto the bench of the picnic table. "Somebody else get the cooler; I don't think I can manage."
John groans and knuckles his lower back. "We're getting old, Mel, that's the only answer."
"Up late, huh, Dad," Stiles says, not really a question, plonking a bottle of juice and a sandwich down in front of his father.
There's a moment of silence. "Uh, Stiles," Scott says, and it's only then that Melissa gets what the implication is.
"Noooo," she says, burying her head in her hands. "Not that I'm not flattered, Stiles, but we did just go to sleep early."
She dares a glance at John. He's looking at Stiles, though, half exasperated and half fond, rolling his eyes.
There's a pause. Isaac lets out a sound that's suspiciously like a giggle disguised as a cough.
"Uh," Stiles says, voice hearty. "Well. Getting your beauty sleep, that's good."
"Right," Melissa says, brightly. "Exactly. So who wants carrot sticks and who wants apple slices?"
* * *
"You okay, Melissa?" Stiles, says, only she can't answer because the glittering lights of Las Vegas and Stiles' bass-heavy music are combining into something almost touchable and it's very distracting. She reaches out her hand. It's like ripples of light.
"I can feel it," she says, and then some tiny part of her takes a step back and says, "This isn't right," before getting swept up in the feeling of it again.
* * *
This doesn't seem to help, so she strokes his hand. Touch helps; she learned that in nursing school.
"Yeah, Mom," Scott is saying, "I know. I know that," so she must have said that aloud.
"Yeah, Mom," Scott says, again, which is funny. "You did. Listen, just lie down here, okay? Lie down, can you do that?" She can, so she does. Bed is nice. Oh god, bed is so nice. Somehow they must have gotten to a hotel, though she doesn't remember that happening. She feels pretty tired.
Stiles is saying something, and his voice has the kind of urgency to it that she associates with really dire situations, so she focuses. "It's affected Dad, too," he's saying, and Melissa has a momentary flash of her own father before realizing that, no, Stiles means his own dad. John. Stiles' dad is John. "—totally out of it," Stiles says, and Scott says, "we just left them for a couple of hours, what could have happened?" and Stiles says "I don't know, okay, I don't know, I'm an emissary, I'm not a miracle worker." And Melissa isn't an emissary, whatever that is, but she does know what happened, so she says so.
"I'm stoned," she says, and really it's kind of strange that Scott hasn't recognized it; much as she'd like to imagine that her son has never used pot before, just like she'd like to imagine that he's still a virgin, she's pretty sure the boat has sailed on both those counts. She's sure he's at least seen pot, so surely he knows what it looks like to be stoned? Why didn't he recognize it? He looks so worried. "It's like the time I got stoned and tried to cut down the tree because it was right in front of the window and in the way of my view, only then the tree talked to me and told me not to cut it down," she explains.
"Mom," Scott says, sounding horrified, "god," and then Stiles says, "he'll be here in the morning," which doesn't make any sense, but Stiles doesn't always make sense, so it's probably okay, Melissa thinks.
* * *
"Oh god," she croaks, and practically falls out of bed, and then almost shrieks because Isaac, who she hadn't even seen, lurches up out of the pre-dawn dimness, and says, "Mrs. McCall, are you okay? Melissa?" and she has only blurred memories of the past twelve or so hours, but they're just enough to know that no, she's not okay, she's not okay at all.
* * *
"Mom!" Scott shouts, and knocks over his chair leaping towards her. "Mom, are you okay?"
"Ugh, god," she says, because oh god, her head. "Quiet, please." It feels like the world's worst hangover. "What happened?"
It's Derek who answers. "As best we can tell," he says, and his voice is careful, like he's picking his words, "you and John were hit by some kind of magic spell."
"Some kind of—wait, what?" Melissa says. She doesn't know what day it is, and she's in a hotel room with five teenagers, and it sounded like Derek Hale just said—magic spell, like that was a normal thing to say, like that even made sense.
Then there's a whole stream of discussion where Derek says things like "Yosemite" and "sacred site" and "solar festivals," and her son says things like "we're not sure" and "we don't know what it does" and "but it probably won't last long" and Stiles says a bunch of words she doesn't understand, and Lydia rolls her eyes a lot. And then Melissa's brain rewinds to the important part, and she says:
"Wait, is John okay?" and then, "what do you mean you don't know what it does?"
* * *
"As far as we know, you and John got hit by some kind of earth magic," Lydia says, voice matter-of-fact. "Yosemite has been known sacred site for centuries, and the lore suggests that Bridal Veil Falls used to be seen as a particularly special place. That was the first clue."
"Uh huh," Melissa says, and sinks back into the pillows. "What were the other clues?"
"Well," Lydia says, and ticks it off on her fingers. "Today's the morning of August 3. That means you were in Yosemite on August 1, and that's Lammas."
Melissa's face must be making clear just how unhelpful that particular explanation is, because Stiles jumps in. "It's the old Celtic harvest festival."
"Harvest festival," Melissa says faintly. "Right. And a Celtic festival matters because—?"
"It's not that it's Celtic that matters," Lydia says, and her tone is brusque, almost impatient, but the weight of her gaze is—reassuring. Where, Melissa thinks distantly, did a teenager learn that kind of compassion? "It's the idea of holy days, times of the year when seasonal cycles align. Every culture has them. And you were there at sunset, which is when harvest festivals were traditionally celebrated."
Melissa can't decide if this is utterly crazy or—what. On the one hand, her son's friends are talking about magic spells and harvest festivals. On the other—
—well, two years ago she discovered her son was a werewolf. So. "Scott?" she says, and looks at him.
"We don't know, Mom," he says, "but it makes sense."
"Mr. Stilinksi said," Lydia adds, "that he felt something like electricity in the middle of the night. That was what clinched it, really."
And then Melissa remembers the flash of light that had woken her up, the vibrating, and her face must give her away, because Lydia looks at her and says "You, too?" and Melissa has to nod.
"All right," Melissa says. "All right." Suddenly she can't bear to have them all sitting here, Stiles and Scott and, god, Derek, watching her and looking worried. "Just—give me a minute, okay? I need to think. Can you go—check on John, or something?"
Scott glances at Derek, whose face doesn't change. "Okay," Scott says, and distantly Melissa thinks there are sure as hell some weird politics here. Maybe she should have been going to the werewolf dinners at John's. "We'll come back in five minutes. Just say my name if you need me, okay, Mom? I'll hear you."
"Right," Melissa says. "Okay." She's holding it together, just barely, because she doesn't want to freak out in front of her son. Her son who will apparently hear her from the next room if she says his name. "Just give me five minutes to freak out, okay?"
"Okay," Scott says, again, and herds everyone else out.
* * *
And it's been easy to let that sameness lull her into complacency, to pretend nothing's different. Sure, her son's a werewolf now—but he's her son, and he's strong and fast and healthy and beautiful, and she loves him. She hasn't wanted to think about it, not really, so it's been easy to pretend that he's safer now, to trust that because she doesn't have to worry about car crashes or alcohol poisoning or, or, lacrosse concussions anymore that everything's fine.
But all along there's been a layer of fear simmering under the surface, and she knows she should have acknowledged it sooner, but she hadn't wanted to: because this was what was lurking, this knowledge that instead of Scott being safer, she's just exchanged one set of parental fears for another. She may not have to worry about Scott having an asthma attack anymore, but now there are hunters, and lizard-monsters, and—magic, apparently, and she's—
—god help her, she's not sure it was a worthwhile trade. She can't change it, but god, she hates this.
* * *
That done, she has to get back in the bed, because she's still shaky, but it helped; she feels more human, more able to think clearly. Okay, Melissa, she says to herself, get it together. What do you know, here?
She lines it up in her head: a) She sure as hell felt something. b) Magic probably, much as hates to admit it, exists; she's seen werewolves and lizard-monsters, she kind of can't deny it any more.
So. QED. Crazy as it sounds, she might have to admit she is currently under the influence of some kind of earth magic.
And, if that's the case, well, Melissa thinks, c) She sure as hell doesn't want to leave this up to a bunch of teenagers.
And d) she's still got to drop her son off at college.
All right, she says to herself, and goes to see how John is doing.
* * *
* * *
This is, honestly, the longest single string of words she's ever heard him speak at one time, though if he's willing to explain this crazy situation to her she's not going to question it. It's actually fairly politic of him, and she senses her son's hand in it; Derek, for all his taciturn, grumpy habits, is an adult in a way that Scott and Stiles and the other kids aren't, and—well, frankly, if she's going to hear it from someone, she'd rather it be him.
"Okay," she says. "That's good. So. Derek. Hit me."
He sighs. "John's fine. You're fine, so far as we can tell, and we can hear your heart and your breath, so." There's a particular tone they use, all of them, when they're using 'we' to mean 'werewolves.'
"Oh," Melissa says, momentarily distracted. "Really?" The part of her brain that's interested in the human body finds this fascinating.
Derek shrugs. "Ask Scott later; that's not important. Just, as far as we can tell, you're both in no imminent danger."
"That's good," Melissa says faintly. Weirdly, the possibility hadn't really occurred to her; now that she's thinking about it, she's feeling faintly panicked. But: 'no imminent danger,' she thinks, and forces herself to suppress the panic; she entirely too familiar with just how easily that kind of reassurance can turn inside out, but she also knows how dangerous panic can be. So. "And?" she says. Small words are easier. "Why are you here?"
"Scott called me, I came," Derek says, like it's the simplest thing in the world. Which—she doesn't know much, but she knows things are definitely not that easy between them.
"Really?" she says, and lets him hear her skepticism. "Just like that?"
Derek looks at her. "You're family," he says.
Well, yes, Melissa thinks. That'd do it. "Right," she says, hurriedly; Derek Hale's eternal family issues are not what she cares about right now, to be honest. "So you and Cora came out here—"
"And as far as I can tell, you've got two options," Derek says. He makes a 'weighing the options' gesture. "On the one hand, you can stay here for a few days, let Stiles and Lydia do some research, see if we can figure out for sure what this thing does and how to make it go away."
"Okay," Melissa says. "And the other option?"
Derek tilts his other palm. "It might be geographically limited. You could keep driving, see whether it goes away on its own."
Right. Melissa marshals her thoughts. "Two questions," she says, and is surprised to see Derek smile. Faintly, but it's there. "What?"
"You're taking this well," he says, which is surprising, to say the least; in her experience, he's not one to offer commentary. Melissa laughs, and, oh, god, there's a faint tinge of hysteria in her voice, though she supposes she can't really blame herself.
"Believe me, I'm not," she says. He may be able to hear her heartbeat and breath, but she's keenly, vividly aware of the panic lurking just beneath her ribs; she's nowhere near calm. "Though I suppose I do have some experience with this kind of thing. The supernatural, I mean. Given Scott."
"Right," Derek says, awkwardly, and then appears to not know what to say next. Scott moaned constantly about Derek, the first year or so he was involved with the pack; he seems more accepting these days, but even so Melissa's pretty clear that Derek doesn't really know how to deal with interpersonal situations. Melissa sighs.
"So," she says. "One, I want to know what you think the likelihood is of this going away on its own, and yes," she adds, when he opens his mouth, "I know you don't know what it is, but you know more than I do about the supernatural and I've apparently just been hit by a spell, so I think I'm due a little consideration, here. And two, what the hell just happened back there?
"Uh," Derek says, and shoves to his feet, "I have some ideas about that," and then clamps his mouth shut and refuses to say anything more until he's talked to Stiles and Lydia.
* * *
And two, it's a sex spell. Or, okay, fine, a "fertility spell," as Stiles had insisted, with a long discussion of harvest rituals she hadn't particularly cared about, but it amounts to much the same thing, apparently. And she hadn't really needed Stiles to tell her that, to be honest. As soon as she'd laid eyes on John upright and out of bed she'd known what it was with every inch of her bones.
And—yeah, okay, she's wished more than once recently that she wasn't single, but—this is not the way she wanted to have this particular energy reappear in her life.
"You could just fuck him and get it over with," Cora Hale says, and Melissa slaps her hand down on the table and says,
"That's it, I want to talk to John," and lets Derek Hale slide her his cell phone.
* * *
If she can get through this, she can add "getting caught with her best friend a.k.a. the man who she's been half in love with for years in a magic spell that makes them want to fuck like rabbits" to that list.
So she's gotten through worse, in other words, but it's hard to remember that when she's sitting in the passenger seat of her own car in the clear early-morning light of Nevada, clutching a borrowed cell phone because hers is still upstairs in her hotel room, having a conversation with a man who's leaning against the hood of a car twenty feet away because they can't come closer to each other without wanting to touch, apparently. Her body's like a radio tuned to a station playing nothing but desire; her mind's like a bell that's just ringing, ringing, ringing. John's twenty feet away across the parking lot, and she can feel every inch as if it were something she could touch with her hands.
She's gotten through worse and she'll get through this, but right now she's not sure how, sitting here listening to John say, "Mel, I don't want you to have to—Jesus, Mel, what a situation," voice scratchy and rough in her ear.
* * *
In the sagebrush-scented scrubland of western Nevada, Melissa holds her body entirely still, sits in the passenger seat next to Lydia Martin and carefully thinks of nothing but the dry air, the open range and its far-off cattle, the smudge of green from the cottonwoods appearing just over the edge of the horizon.
Somewhere in the sere, barren canyons of eastern Nevada, Melissa sits next to her son's best friend's boyfriend and watches his hands at 10 and 2 on the steering wheel and thinks as hard as she can about the endless mesas, the rocks' bulbous shapes, the million-year-old layers of earth, reddish-brown and vivid, like iron oxide, like blood, and then she thinks of her body, its soft curves, its hard angles, its yearnings. The things it wants.
In eastern Colorado, Melissa drifts along the ribbon of the open road, lets the pine trees sing her their lonesome song, floats gently into the wide blue sky. In the secret spaces of her body, her blood is singing; every atom of her flesh is pounding with desire.
As they drive into the Rockies, Melissa turns to Derek Hale and says "It's not getting better," and "We're going to have to come up with another solution."
* * *
All right, Melissa thinks, flopping back onto her hotel bed. All right. So distance doesn't make it better. That means—
—well, Melissa thinks. It's sex magic. Really, the implication is pretty clear.
There's a knock on the door.
"Who is it?" Melissa says. Her money's on Stiles, maybe, perpetually interfering; or Derek, who seems to be willing to serve as go-between.
It isn't. "Can I come in?" Lydia says, and Melissa steps back to let her through. Her son and his best friends and John have already seen her functionally stoned and practically out of her mind with desire; it's pretty clear she's already lost any semblance of privacy in this situation.
"So, magic actually follows rules," Lydia says briskly, and settles herself on the edge of the bed Melissa isn't using. "That's the thing Derek won't tell you, because he grew up as a werewolf and never had to sit down and think about it, so he thinks it's totally instinctual. But it's not."
"Okay," Melissa says. "Great. So this sex magic follows rules."
"Not just this sex magic, any magic," Lydia says, impatiently. "It's like science. Just because people in the Middle Ages hadn't discovered the scientific method didn't meant the rules didn't work."
"Right, okay," Melissa says. This is her life: being lectured about magic by a intimidatingly-brilliant teenager.
"Which means," Lydia says, "that the rules are discoverable, if you're willing to try to understand them. Derek isn't. Luckily, I am."
"Okay, Melissa says again. "Good."
"So," Lydia says, "I thought at first someone had done this to you, because you and John were the only ones affected. I mean, the boys were out running around in the woods, but nothing happened to them. But controlled magic and earth magic feel entirely different. And the kind of energy rush you felt? All the lore indicates that that's a manifestation of earth magic, just like Stiles said."
"Right," Melissa says. "Sacred sites, harvest festivals, sunset, I remember."
"But the thing about earth magic is that it's unfocused," Lydia says. "That's where Stiles is wrong. The bad news is, it means you were just in the wrong place at the wrong time. The good news is, it can't make you do anything. So it's not going to make you have sex, or make you have sex with John, or get you pregnant, or anything like that."
Melissa collapses back onto the bed. "That's what I was working myself up to," she confesses. "Having sex with him in the hopes that this would go away."
Lydia nods. "I figured."
"Which would be fine," Melissa says. "Good, even. I want to. But I don't want to do it because we're being forced to do it by some kind of supernatural energy. But I've got to tell you, Lydia, even if it isn't forcing me, it still feels a hell of a lot like desire."
Lydia shrugs. "You're feeling the energy, and your body manifests it as desire, but it's just energy. It's been building up, but if the energy has an outlet, it should dissipate."
It takes her a moment to get it, then Melissa turns her head and looks at her. "What, really?"
Lydia arches one eyebrow, and smiles. It's her usual smile, sharp-edged, but then again Lydia Martin's not a particularly gentle person, Melissa thinks. "Yeah, really," she says, "so get it, girl." Then she laughs. "Derek's giving John the same advice right now, actually."
Melissa laughs too, the first time since all this began. "Oh god," she says. "I'd give a lot to be a fly on the wall for that conversation."
Lydia giggles, and suddenly Melissa gets a glimpse of the girl she was, some time before the supernatural took over her life. "Right?" she says. "Me too."
She stands, straightens her skirt, looks down at Melissa where she's still collapsed on the bed. "I'll just let myself out, then," she says. "See you at breakfast."
* * *
The first orgasm winds her up; the second leaves her gasping into her pillow. Even things that normally aren't erotic feel almost unbearably good: the slide of her tongue against her teeth, the feeling of her sweat-damp hair curling against her neck. By the time she's done it's been four, or five, full-body pleasure.
In the aftermath, Melissa lies in the dark hotel room and watches the light of passing cars paint shadows on her wall. John's probably doing this right now, she thinks, and can't decide if she just preserved her relationship with him by doing this by herself, or whether she denied them both something big and important.
* * *
John's in room 204, upstairs and on the other end of the hallway from Melissa; Derek had told her so, casually blank-faced, when he checked them in.
At midnight, Melissa leaves her room into a high-mountain night, thick black and spangled with stars beyond the glare of the halogen security lights. It worked, she thinks; her body feels like hers again, comfortable and familiar, no longer pulled by the weird tides of magic-induced desire.
It takes her a few minutes to work up the courage to knock; if Lydia was wrong, there's a better-than-even chance that she and John will spend the next several hours having sex, and she wasn't lying to Lydia, she's attracted to John, but this isn't how she wants it to happen. She's got to be sure, though.
John opens the door and she knows: instead of the helpless longing of the past few days, the almost-irresistible urge to touch, she feels what she always feels when she looks at John: a warm rush of affection, a sharp appreciation of how good he looks. He's got deep shadows under his eyes and a heavy growth of stubble, and he looks exhausted, but even so, she thinks. Even so.
"Mel," he says, and lets out a gust of breath, and sags against the doorframe. "You're okay?"
"Yeah," she says. "I felt it leave, but I had to come make sure."
"Yeah," he says, and shakes his head. "Jesus. What would we have done without our kids to figure this out?"
Melissa raises her eyebrow. "To be honest?" she says. "Probably slept together." She takes a deep breath. "It's kind of been the elephant in the room for a while now, at least on my end." Things are already awkward between them; it's not when she'd have chosen to say it, but it's true, and has been for longer than she's prepared to admit. "I'm just saying," she says. "If we hadn't been able to, um, take care of it by ourselves, I wouldn't have minded if we'd had to handle it together."
John's got a detective's ability to keep his face from revealing what he thinks, but she's known him long enough to read the subtle clues of his body language, the sudden tension in his shoulders, the slight widening of the eyes. He's surprised, she thinks, and sighs. "And now I've gone and made things awkward by opening my big mouth, I'm sorry," she says, and turns to go. "I'll just go be embarrassed in private, then."
"Mel, no," he says, and reaches out for her, catches her elbow. His hands are warm, but she can't look at him, god. "Whatever you're thinking right now, it's not—it's fine, Mel, it's more than fine; please don't go. It's just—" he sighs. "I'm saying this wrong. Mel, look at me," he says, quietly, and tilts her head up to look at him. "Melissa. I want that too. I just—you're my best friend. We practically raised our kids together. I don't want you to just 'not mind.' I want more than that."
Oh, she thinks. Oh. "Yeah?" she asks.
"Yeah, Mel, you, uh, you really have no idea how long I've wanted that, actually," he says, and laughs. "The only reason I'm not inviting you in right now is that the state I'm in I wouldn't be able to keep my hands off you, and I don't want the first time I have sex with you to be in a hotel room with our sons on the other side of the wall."
"Well," Melissa says. "Yes, good point." She takes a deep breath. He smells like soap and hotel shampoo. She feels breathless. "Okay, well, luckily there's an easy solution for that," she says. "Since we're taking them to college in a couple of days, and everything. So. I'm going to back to my room now, and we're both going to sleep, and in the morning we're going to head towards Chicago. And then," she says, squeezing his hands for emphasis before dropping them, because if she doesn't now she won't want to let go, "then, John, we'll go on a date, the two of us, and there will be dinner and a movie, and no kids, and no magic. Okay?"
"Mel," John says, seriously, and leans down and kisses her, gently. Her whole body flushes, an echo of the effects of the magic. It feels like a promise. "It's a date."
* * *
"In my defense, Mom," Scott says, "this isn't really how I thought it would go, either."
"However," she says, and steals a sip of his coffee. "I've recently had a fairly vivid lesson in the consequences of ignoring the supernatural, and I've decided it's time to remedy that. I want to hear everything I've been missing."
"Everything?" Scott says. He looks, she notices, fairly alarmed. She doesn't want to know everything, not really—especially when it has to do with Allison Argent—but she doesn't want to be in the dark again, either.
"You bet, kiddo," Melissa says. "You bet. I'm done with avoidance. So." She looks around the table, brightly. "We've got three days until Chicago. Who wants to go in my car?"