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“John. Ugh, John,” Melissa mutters. She stirs sluggishly under the sheets, then snakes one arm across Chris to bat at John’s hip. “You’ve got to be kidding me.”

Chris’ eyes cracked open a half-second before she even shifted, probably at the change in her breathing, but he’s relaxed enough that his gaze just moves around a bit, clocking the phone in John’s hand and the way Melissa’s nuzzling up against his back. Then it drops to the bed. He moves his arm out of the way of Melissa’s poking. Rolls his shoulders in a lazy shrug when John glares at him.

“No way is that work,” Melissa goes on. “Goddamn it, John, I heard the chime, are you actually texting your son when you’re in the same house?”

Another text interrupts John’s first reply. He switches to typing one-handed and reaches down to shove off Melissa’s hand. “Yeah, well, I feel a little stupid yelling across the hall, and I’m not going in there when he’s got Derek and Peter over,” he says.

Melissa buries her face in Chris’ back, snorting, but she does stop batting at him. For a second it even looks like that’ll be the end of it. But then she levers herself half-over Chris’ head to peek at John’s phone; Chris starts to slide out of the way and John’s got his hand down to grab the man’s shoulder, only to find Melissa already throwing her leg across Chris, hooking her knee up under his arm.

“Seriously, let it go.” Melissa absently slips her hands over Chris’ shoulders and down his chest, leaning her head against John’s hip. “Cute baby animals always win.”

John rolls his eyes, and, since his hand is there anyway, lets it overlap with Melissa’s fingers over Chris’ collarbone. “Hey, I’m not siding against you. You want to take Stiles on, be my guest.”

Chris finally sighs. He’ll put up with a lot from them without a peep—Melissa’s turning him into a giant teddy bear a case in point—but he can never resist when he thinks they’re arguing. “I think I’m gonna hate asking, but.”

“Nah, it’s just time to vote on photos for the Service’s winter holiday cards,” Melissa says, lacing her and John’s fingers together. She frowns at John’s phone. “You liked that one? Really?”

“I know we’re in California and all, but winter seems like it should have snow,” John says. “What?”

Melissa shrugs and deliberately looks away from him and down at Chris. “What, nothing.”

John rolls his eyes again.

“Well, glad it’s not an emergency,” Chris says dryly.

He rubs his cheek into the bed like he’s planning to go back to sleep, then twists slightly, moving Melissa’s leg down his side. When she starts to lift it, he puts his hand on her shin, pauses, and then tugs it a little lower before running his palm lightly down to cup over her ankle. He tilts his head up against her breasts and then smiles as she takes the hint and pulls her and John’s linked hands up to bump against the underside of his chin, rubs their thumbs over his Adam’s apple.

“You’re distracting me on purpose,” John says. “It’s not just cards, you know, I’m trying to talk Stiles into not hacking the vote again. It’s kind of important.”

“It’s really not,” Melissa says. She shuffles down behind Chris, her leg moving slowly up and down his side. He’s still at least got the blanket over him, but her foot’s working that off. “Honestly, just make up a fake card for your father. Stiles knows how to Photoshop, doesn’t he?”

Chris is in the middle of turning over so he can nose at Melissa’s breasts, but his eyes flick over to John. Then they flick away. It’s uncertainty, not coyness, but Melissa’s already catching it, burying her own chagrin and exasperation and humping the blanket back over them as she settles on top of Chris.

“Dad’s out in Florida,” John says. “We do the card and the yearly phone call, except he’s always complaining about the damn card. He hates it when they do a nontraditional scene. Calls me up an extra time just to bitch about it, and I love him, but I really don’t need that.”

Melissa nuzzles into the side of Chris’ neck just as he turns to look at John. He’s distracted, but just for a second, and then that tiny bit of tension drains out and he’s listening, but not like he’s keeping half an ear on being caught at it.

“Nontraditional for norteamericanos,” Melissa mutters. “Village where my mom’s at, the Nativity scene’s been stocked with cacti and yucca for hundreds of years.”

“Well, it’s him,” John says.

“Conservative?” Chris ventures.

John makes a face, though really, he’s more than a little pleased Chris isn’t just lying there and biting his lip. He slouches down the headboard, half-heartedly reading Stiles’ latest diatribe on ecosystem diversity education, till his elbow runs up against the top of Chris’ head. Then he lets his arm fold out and nudges his hand under Chris till the man’s neck is resting on it.

“Yeah, and then some. For a guy as well-traveled as he was…he was Army all his life, born over in Germany on base, and he’s lived in half a dozen countries. I don’t know.” John shrugs. “We don’t get along. He doesn’t understand why I left the military, and once my mother died nobody really had a reason to keep trying. One phone call a year’s about right, and anyway, he’s got my brothers to make him happy.”

“Does he know what you actually do?” Chris asks after a moment.

“Nope. And he wouldn’t care if he did, it’s still just nature-loving bullshit to him,” John says. “You know, that kind.”

Chris doesn’t look thrilled about it, but he nods. “Yeah, I’ve run into that.”

“Well, you know, you need a set of grandparents, mine are more than happy to take up the slack,” Melissa says. She laughs when John looks at her, then reaches across Chris to push John’s side. “They don’t really know either, but they love everything about the Service. They stick every card in their scrapbook.”

“Don’t tell Stiles that, he already takes this way too seriously,” John mutters.

Melissa laughs again, gives John’s stomach a rub with her hand. “Speaking of, since you’re here this year, we should do something. At least figure out whose house we’re using.”

Chris breathes in sharply. Looks more than a little embarrassed when they both look at him. He shakes his head, tries to push himself up, but Melissa’s too heavy so he sinks back. “Sorry,” he says. “I just—it’s been Allison and me for a couple years. And neither of you have family coming in?”

“My brothers are in Guam and South Korea, so I doubt it,” John says. He finally just tosses his phone to the bedside table and turns over to face the other two. That puts him about level with Chris’ temple, which he nuzzles and then leans his forehead again.

“The moment my parents could afford it, they went back to their home village in Mexico and bought a farm. I love them, but it’s way out there, five or six hours’ drive from the nearest puddle-jumper airport. Day and a half just to get there. And it’s tiny, I mean, it’s still one of those places that has one phone for the whole town,” Melissa says. She shrugs. “I wish I could get them to come up here, but they aren’t interested, and it would take up all my vacation days for the year to see them. So nope.”

Then there’s the elephant in the room. For a second John thinks about not mentioning it, because Chris still feels a little tense to him, but then he sighs. Chris is smart, he’s probably figuring on it, and Melissa only hasn’t because she’s worried about him. “I’m pretty sure Talia is angling to get us over to hers,” he says. “I probably should give her one holiday, just for pack-Service relations.”

“She cornered me the other day,” Chris says abruptly. Then he winces. He grabs at Melissa and shoots John a warning look. “Not like that, she just—I don’t know why we had to talk about it in front of the milk at the supermarket. Anyway, she was just saying she knew we’d be crossing paths more and she would be happy to discuss if I felt like…it’d be better to have ground rules for it. If that would make it less awkward.”

Melissa subsides quicker than John, but then, she’s had good relations with Talia for a few years, and probably has never been afraid the Hale alpha was going to ask him for a hands-on demo. “Well, at least she didn’t put you on the spot with an invite,” she says.

Chris’ brows jump. He starts to reply, then stops and glances away. His legs shift under the sheets, till Melissa reluctantly sits up to give him room, but instead of getting up, he just drags one arm up so he can rub at the side of his face.

“Look. I…really appreciate that you’re thinking—” he starts in a very quiet, very tight voice.

“If she does, it’s your invite,” John says. “If she doesn’t, well, look, I have Stiles and I have the Service’s community relations to think about, but I can split my time. I don’t think anybody wants drama, but I do want to see you over the holidays, Chris. You and Allison.”

Chris shuts his mouth. He pulls it into a tense line, looking at John and then slowly over at Melissa. He’s even holding his breath for a second. Then he lets it out, slow at first and then in a harsh rush. His shoulders jump and when Melissa puts her hand on one, he snorts a little violently.

“Yeah,” he finally says. “Yeah, well, it’s not worth a boycott, this far on.”

“And honestly, I think she’s going to tell John to bring you two,” Melissa says, watching him. She bumps the backs of her curled fingers against his jaw. “Talia’s too much of a politician, come on. She knows we know what that will look like. And Stiles would get it, too, and he hates it when people put John in a tight spot.”

“Yeah,” Chris says again, making a face. He shifts uneasily again, then drops back and sighs. Then he snorts, and the corners of his mouth twitch up. “Problems I really thought I’d never have.”

“So say no,” John says. “She gets lunch, you get dinner and after.”

Chris rolls his head over and looks at John. It’s—intense, for all that the man seems relaxed again. Maybe that’s why it’s hard to meet his look, because he’s so calm about it, willing to let John see how happy he is over something most people would assume they should just get.

“Yeah, I know, but if she does say—” Chris still seems a little dubious on that “—you know, I’ll think about it. I’ll ask Allison and we’ll talk about it. If Talia’s willing to reach out, I should at least give her that much. If she asks.”

Melissa grins at him. “Wanna bet?”

“Don’t bet, she’ll sucker you in,” John says.

“I know,” Chris says. A little exasperated, both in voice and in the look he gives John. Then he looks up at Melissa. He cocks his head—she blinks, half-delighted at him, half-wary—and then his hands do—something—under the sheets that has her shivering, eyes suddenly wide.

A rare sly smile goes across Chris’ face. He slides under the blankets in a way that pulls John’s eye down, glued to the slink of the sheets, and then abruptly twists over, away from John and onto Melissa. She yelps and grabs at his shoulders, her knees humping up the sheets on either side of them, and then she gasps and arches. Her hand drops off Chris’ shoulder and goes under the blankets and John can just see the outline of it cross Chris’ thigh.

Then it disappears and Chris groans, dropping onto his forearms. He arches slowly, pulling the sheets skin-tight over his ass as that goes down between Melissa’s bent legs, sinking till he’s flush on her from about mid-chest down.

John’s phone buzzes.

“If you answer that,” Melissa says warningly, curling her hand over Chris’ nape. “We’re not waiting.”

“Do I look that stupid?” John says, crawling over.