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“So the only thing we’re really sure about is that it’s completely unrelated to the lunar cycle,” Stiles says.

Derek and Peter look dubious, and Stiles can’t blame them. He’s just spent the better part of an hour discussing daylight duration times, warm/cold cycles, nitrogen levels and photosynthetic synchronization with ley line fluctuations, and every other sentence has been, but that’s the old theory. It’s confused the best scientists the USDA’s got for decades, and they at least have had old-growth Nemetons to study since they were founded. In Europe, the spread of Christianity had nearly wiped out the species, what with missionaries blindly hacking away, and Asian and African ‘Nemetons’ are a completely different clade.

“Yeah, I know.” Stiles sweeps up all his charts and nutrient level diagrams, and piles them on top of his laptop. “There’s a common set of triggers, we all know it, but there’s too much data to wade through with current funding levels. All the Nemetons in America are under too many different environmental conditions—I mean, this is only one of three in California.”

“Bottom line, you can’t eat meat except in the wintertime, or if the Nemeton is feeling particularly peckish. You can eat, and do need, blood regularly—” Peter starts.

“Except honestly, it’s better if it goes straight to the tree. I know you guys get off on it, but if I take it in, it’s like popcorn. You know, tasty, salty goodness, but five minutes later you’re empty again,” Stiles says.

Peter nods. He’s usually very good at this sort of thing, and hell, well, he’s at least managed to extract the basics from Stiles’ rambling, but Stiles can see the effort it’s taking. “Right. Okay. But if you’re craving blood or meat, and the tree’s not in a growth phase, then that’s a danger sign.”

Stiles makes a little not-quite noise and Peter and Derek both snap to attention, which just makes Stiles grimace again. On the one hand, he’s glad they’re taking this seriously, and it’s nice to be able to rattle on about this stuff with somebody not his dad or in a lab coat (Scott tries, but anything science is not going to keep him awake). On the other, they’re kind of overachieving, super-protective werewolves, and while that’s sweet, he’s been handling himself for years.

“It’s not a danger sign. It’s more like…the little warning light on your dashboard. You know, hey, heads-up, you might want to turn into the garage within the next hundred miles,” Stiles says. He picks up a pen and fiddles with it and tries to figure out how to say this next part without getting himself a werewolf killing spree. “A full-growth Nemeton, which is what we have now, okay, keep up, stores up between feedings. It’ll send out hunger signals when it wants another one, but it doesn’t actually need it most of the time. There’s a reason why the thing looks like we pumped it full of steroids.”

Derek looks like he has a headache, and is mad werewolf healing doesn’t cure that, but he takes a deep breath and tries. “But if it wants a meal, does it hurt for us to feed it?”

“Well, um, sometimes. You can overfeed it, and that’s usually when the things go punch-drunk and start wanting elaborately symbolic sacrificial rituals.” Which is why darachs are tops of the Forest Service’s most-wanted list. Idiots just won’t listen to reason, always think more is better. “Look, you don’t have to worry about that. I helped my mom with the family tree soon as I could walk up to it, I know the difference between bitching and meaning it. They can be whiny little shits but generally they prefer being pillars of the local biome over crazy bloodsucking fiends. We’re going to have more of a problem keeping other people from trying to feed it.”

Peter smiles with all his teeth. “No, we’re not. Now that we’ve been allowed to help on your patrols.”

Stiles rolls his eyes. Sometimes he thinks he shouldn’t be so laidback about the Hale murderous streak; they’ve had to fast-track paperwork to get Peter and Talia designated as local consultants because the unauthorized kills are getting ridiculous. But hey, keeps his dad in when the weather is poor, and the Hale crematory is really handy. He just wishes Peter would let him in on the Hales’ information network already, because central intel is getting a little pissy at all those kills checking out post-mortem.

“What happens if it doesn’t get fed when it needs to?” Derek asks.

Which is where Stiles was hoping they wouldn’t have to go. At least, not when both werewolves are mobile and not distracted by sex. “It can skip a couple feedings. It doesn’t like it, I’m not going to look too good, but as long as I catch it up, it’ll be fine.”

“And if you can’t?” Peter says, picking up on Stiles’ discomfort.

“Um, well…that hasn’t happened since the Second World War,” Stiles says.

Peter eyes him, but doesn’t do anything else. He does lift a hand when Derek shifts like he’s going to swing over to sit by Stiles. “Would you rather we read about it?”

“Ah…no, I think I’d better just…” Those reports still give Stiles nightmares. His mom and his dad had fought for a week on when to tell him, so he’d looked it up himself, and had embarrassed himself by insisting on sleeping with his parents for two days afterward. His mom had just told him he’d earned that right, reading all of it by himself.

His mom.

Stiles rubs the side of his face and fights down the familiar pang. He’s…okay now, him and his dad. In a good place with their grieving process and all, and mostly happy otherwise. But sometimes it still hits him. “So when the Russians were retreating from the German army…there aren’t a lot of Nemetons left in Europe—the ones that are, they’re usually in remote places and seriously old. One of them was in the way, and the guardian was taken prisoner by the Germans, who didn’t believe in Nemetons. It went unfed through summer into winter, when it was German-occupied territory, and then it—ate fifty acres. Just ate it, everything in it, in a week. In the photos it looks like a giant fucking mouth in the ground. They had to bomb it out from the air.”

He rubs his face again, then flaps his hand when he notices it’s shaking. The cushion beside him suddenly sinks down. Derek hooks his chin over Stiles’ shoulder and leans into him, making a gut-level, rasp-rolling sound that’s oddly soothing. Stiles gives up and wraps his arm around Derek’s waist.

“The guardian went insane long before that,” he adds. He looks up and Peter is watching him too steadily, face calm but his fists are pressed tightly to his knees. “He started attacking guards and other prisoners, biting pieces off them, so they put him in solitary. So he started eating himself. He ate like, twenty percent before he accidentally hit a major vein and bled out. And I—I really do think it was an accident. I think if he hadn’t, he would’ve kept on trying to feed it.”

Stiles takes a deep breath, then gags a little letting it out. He scrubs his hand over his mouth, then over the rest of his face.

Something catches his wrist, draws it gently down. He didn’t hear it, but Peter is squatting in front of him now, looking fiercely up into his eyes. “It won’t happen,” Peter says softly. He rubs his thumb over the underside of Stiles’ wrist. “We’ll find you. We’ll always find you.”

“It hasn’t happened since then,” Stiles says, with a jagged little laugh. He winces, then reaches out and touches Peter’s cheek. “People kind of realized after that, you know, bad idea. These days, the guardian dies or goes missing and there’s no successor, they cut it down and trigger hibernation immediately.”

“Still,” Derek says, and pushes his face into Stiles’ throat. He and Stiles breathe together, and then he pulls his head back. “We’ll get you first.”

And hey, Stiles is eighteen and has been getting himself into and out of shit since he was about eighteen days old (his dad still mocks him for an uncanny ability to throw up on senior agents), and on top of that, he’s seen enough cock-ups to know that not everybody gets saved. Good people get fucked over, bad people get more than they deserve, and the world can be bitterly indifferent. But he looks at the two werewolves, and he thinks, you know, maybe they could.

Chapter Text

Stiles grumbles at the cold draft and pulls at the blanket, only to get a chilly face shoved into his chest. He yelps, hits at it, and then burrows into his pillow when Derek gives him a complain-grunt. “What the hell, I thought shifters were supposed to run hot.”

“It’s freezing and I was out there for three hours,” Derek mutters. He’s still pawing at the blankets, worming his way steadily closer to Stiles. His toes graze Stiles’ shins, little bony ice cubes, and then he slides his hands around Stiles’ waist. Those at least are warmed up, but then he sticks his head under Stiles’ jaw and his hair is half-melted, a little damp and a little cold and a lot prickly. “Can only do so much—ow.”

“Borrow Peter’s hair dryer or something before you get in here, Jesus,” Stiles says, but once he’s gotten Derek’s hair far enough away that it’s not stabbing his chin, he stops shoving and lets Derek octopus him. “Ugh. Tell me there wasn’t anything.”

Derek grunts.

The fact that Derek’s in here, stripped to what feels like yoga pants (werewolf yoga is alternately hilarious and boner-inducing to watch, thanks to accidental wolfing-out faces and claws as cheat-cleats), and not yelling from the bathroom while washing off blood or passing out in the kitchen, is probably enough of an answer. But Stiles is awake now, and probably not falling asleep before Derek fully warms up, so damn it, Derek is going to talk to him. “Do I need to get up?”

“No.” Derek tightens his grip on Stiles’ waist.

Stiles noses at the pillow, debating, and then pokes the side of Derek’s neck. “No like, there wasn’t anything, or no like, you left it on the back porch and tomorrow morning Dad will wake up, look out the window, and—”

“No like I didn’t kill anything and I want you to shut up,” Derek says, finally dragging his head up. Half his hair is flattened over, the other half is in spiky tufts, and he’s got little grump-crinkles around his eyes. He’s really, very, seriously unfairly pretty all the goddamn time. “What, do you need something? If the tree’s hungry, can we call Peter? It’s on his way anyway.”

“Peter’s driving in at four in the morning,” Stiles says. “And he said it was a shitty trip, he’s never working with that pack again. He’s gonna be tired.”

Derek pushes his face back into Stiles’ chest. “Werewolves are nocturnal.”

Stiles looks down at the top of Derek’s head, then at the clock, which says, sadly, that it’s already half-past midnight. Stupid early-morning extra lacrosse drills. “You’re such an asshole.”

“I look good, it’s worth it,” Derek mumbles, and okay, now he’s just faking it. He rubs his cheek against Stiles’ shoulder, then sighs and peels his head off again. “Is it the tree?”

“Well, it was you, but…” Stiles concentrates, then groans “…ugh, biggest asshole out of all of you, I swear. What, no, it’s not hungry.” He grabs Derek by the arm and pulls him back down. “It’s just—it’s bitching, it’s cold, the sap is congealing, ugh, you’d think we were in Siberia.”

Derek snorts, but he stays propped up on his arm. “So…”

“Lie down and try and help me ignore it,” Stiles mutters. He throws his arm over his face. “It’s just pissy I haven’t been out to see it in a week, like it’s my fault we’re in the semifinals. Stupid Scott.”

“Walk you out tomorrow,” Derek says, snuggling in. Then he jerks and glowers up at Stiles. “What?”

Stiles waves his hand like he’s going to smack Derek’s head again. “I said help me ignore it. Or else I’m not going to fall asleep, and tomorrow I’ll be cranky, and end up with detention, and you’ll have to go patrol with Scott.”

Derek keeps glowering at him. Stiles raises his brows, because it’s not like Derek invented that move, even if Stiles isn’t as generously endowed in that area, and Derek sighs and lets his forehead softly bonk Stiles in the shoulder. “Fine, what am I supposed to do?”

“Oh, my God, do I have to give you talking points or something? Just…tell me something,” Stiles says. “Anything. I don’t know, tell me why Peter and Talia and Francis all work in ADR. I mean, I know they make a shitload of money doing it, but…c’mon, Peter and ‘peaceful resolution’ aren’t natural companions. And Francis seems chill, but your mom shit-stirs like nothing Chris Argent’s ever seen.”

“They can kick people’s asses,” Derek says. He looks longingly at the blankets rumpled over Stiles’ side, then sighs under Stiles’ continued staring. “Were ADR’s different. You have to establish dominance over both sides first, so they’ll respect your ruling.”

Stiles…actually finds that very interesting. The Forest Service works a lot with werewolves, given that they’re one of the wealthiest, most well-organized and frequent users of national lands, but that’s almost always a were/non-were interaction. Not that the Service won’t take weres; on the contrary, they practically die with joy when one joins up, but werewolves employed by the feds tend to be lifer omegas, and usually end up in the military where they don’t have to face-time with regular civilians. But anyway. It’s not a community where Stiles gets to see a lot of inner workings, at least till recently.

“So basically, you show up, beat the crap out of both sides, and then lecture them?” Stiles says. “Okay. I guess I can see the attraction for Peter and your mom. But Francis.”

“Is Zen at home so he can save it for when he needs to, or so he says,” Derek says, shrugging. He’s starting to look a little amused at Stiles’ interest. “He and Mom met in a sea monster ribcage, because he got stuck ripping out the heart. It’s a long story, ask Laura.”

Then he ducks his head, and actually has the gall to whine when Stiles yanks him back up by the hair. “Oh, you are the worst,” Stiles says. “Derek, c’mon. Tell me his secret badassery means I don’t have to worry about your mom and my dad. Because she’s still pulling that shit on him, and it’s…I don’t mind you and Peter, that’s fucking hot whatever the genetics, but those two dating? That just feels wrong.”

Derek’s making faces at him now, and still looking gorgeous. Sometimes Stiles thinks that that’s its own superpower. “Ugh, no.” He pauses. “I hope not. I like Francis.”

“Yeah, but does your mom,” Stiles says.

He wishes he hadn’t when Derek grimaces again, but this time, it’s like he’s drifting back into something old and nasty. That’s the thing with Derek and Peter—and all the Hales, really—they’re sharp and sleek on the surface, but dive under and you start seeing the jagged rocks.

“He makes her happy,” Derek says after a second. “I think she loves him. He’s not ever going to be her—her big love, that’s what Laura calls it, because that was—that was my dad. But he’s cool with that and he’s what she wants now, I think.”

Stiles nods, then leans over and gently bites the side of Derek’s neck. He doesn’t do this much outside of sex; he gets off, like has nearly creamed himself a couple times, seeing their reaction to it, but it’s their reaction, not him. Nemeton bloodlust isn’t like vamp bloodlust, he doesn’t have the urge to go around biting shit for it. He just wants blood when he sees it.

This isn’t sexual anyway, even if, yeah, teenage boy, he shifts uncomfortably at the little shiver that goes through Derek. Then Derek makes this quiet almost-purr sound. He stretches his throat so it rubs against Stiles’ face, then ducks under Stiles’ jaw and whuffs gently.

“You okay with your dad?” he says after a second.

“What?” Stiles says.

“Your dad,” Derek says. “You know, him dating.”

“What, oh, yeah. I mean, it’s a little weird seeing him and Melissa since I practically grew up with her. I mean, I know you’d think that makes it easier, her already momming me and my dad, but it’s just…they’re making out now.” Stiles pushes his head into the pillow, then pulls it out. “Hey, this isn’t about Chris, is it? You guys haven’t said anything.”

It’s Derek’s turn to look puzzled. Then his face clears. He looks uncomfortable. “Chris is…I don’t think Mom fucks with him because of his sister and his father. Not now, anyway. She would’ve run him out of town if she really—we don’t mix with him, but we don’t have a problem with him. He tried to turn in Kate when she went to him, and he helped hunt down Gerard. His wife ended up dying from an injury she got on that, too, and he didn’t hold it against us. That means a lot to Mom and Peter.”

And Derek, obviously, but Stiles wasn’t going to push on that. He kind of wishes he hadn’t brought it up in the first place.

“If your dad’s happy, we don’t want to get in the way,” Derek adds slowly.

“It’s not,” Stiles starts, and then works himself back down. He absently pets Derek’s shoulder so Derek will cool it with the worried nuzzling. “It’s not that. If you idiots are having fits and not telling me, my dad and I will both be pissed off. Sure, yeah, Dad likes Chris, and…yeah, it’s been a while since I’ve seen him try to date. But nobody has to be a fucking martyr, okay? Not again.”

That last part slipped out. Derek isn’t asking asking, but he’s pulled back and he’s watching Stiles so closely he might as well be.

“My mom,” Stiles mutters. “She was out of town and this fucking rogue hunter, didn’t understand what we are, he went and drilled poison into it. Didn’t kill it, but it was too badly damaged, wasn’t ever going to heal right. Messed her up too, did things to her memory…she had a lucid period and wrote a note and went out and killed the tree and herself. We can do that. Or we can—disconnect, get a new tree, but she didn’t want to, or didn’t remember she could, or, I don’t know. I don’t really want to talk about it.”

Derek stops looking at Stiles, thank God. He pushes in, stops like he’s waiting for something, and then, when Stiles does nothing, sets his head against Stiles’ neck. He does that pointedly slow breathing thing, where he’s somehow willing Stiles to breathe along with him, and some day, seriously, Stiles is going to figure out how it works. Because it does. Every single time.

“It was the only piece left of the original tree, too,” Stiles finds himself saying, very quietly. “From Poland. They took cuttings and killed the tree when the Nazis came—everyone did that, didn’t let the Nazis get one if they could help it. But this was the only one that survived in America, and then that happened. Fucking waste.”

“Stiles,” Derek says, just as quietly. He runs his cheek up and down Stiles’ throat, then goes back to his breathing exercise. He’s all warm now, warm and comfortable, and he hums when Stiles sighs, curls into him. “Alpha. Go to sleep.”

So Stiles does.

Chapter Text

“Why do I have to be the one to meet up with her?” Derek says.

“Because you’re the one who got his shirt torn off in front of her, Derek,” Peter says. He hands Talia another incident report. “Look, Agent Stilinski bitchslapped Alpha Grady over the fencing issue. I think I like this man.”

“Wait, I thought I was going on a blind date with Blake. Why am I meeting up with Agent Stilinski now?” Derek says.

“Because we just found out he’s bringing his son along. Poor child, moving in the middle of the semester. You should make friends,” Talia says, handing over a mug shot. “Invite them over for dinner. Find out what their stance is on the necessity doctrine in criminal law.”

“Why is that a problem? Blake’s dead and I think we can trust his disposal skills, given the runework on that car,” Peter says. He seems slightly distracted. “Really, it was very impressive, Talia. It wasn’t even his car and he couldn’t have had more than three or four minutes to realign all the runes.”

“Because…the eighteen-year-old apprentice mage we were told about is now a competent killer and body-masking expert?” Talia says slowly. “Do you not see the potential concern?”

Peter’s gazing distantly at the file Alan sent over about the Stilinskis. “Oh, yes, of course. Obviously, keep an eye on him, find out whether it’s just for fun or it’s serious business. But Talia, he was so good at it. Not a drop spilled.”

Talia raises the family eyebrows. “Keep an eye on him?”

“I invited him to dinner,” Derek suddenly says. His head is shoved into the fridge, but the back of his neck is slowly going red and it’s not from the cold. “Him and his dad, I mean. He seems nice.”

“Nice,” Talia says slowly.

“Yeah, uh.” Derek waves his free hand. “He does sports. Lacrosse. Except they lost his gear, so I also said I’d drive him to the mall to buy more before dinner. And I think he got rid of the body before he came home.”

“Sensible,” Peter says. He’s smiling at the file now.

Derek emerges with a glass of milk that is deeply intriguing to him. His cheeks are flushed. “Oh, and Mom, I think they’re vegetarians. Is that okay?”

Talia looks at her brother, then at her son. She considers calling Alan, if only to needle him about his inner yenta, and then reluctantly declines in favor of pulling over a cooking book and her phone. This is going to take some work. “No, dear, that should be fine. Just figure out what kind of vegetarian he is before he gets here. I’ll make you up a list of questions. And Peter. Stop drooling over his headshot.”

Peter shuts the file and affects a wounded posture, which is not at all convincing given that she spotted him slipping out that photo. “For reference purposes, Talia. He smells a little odd even for a mage. Perhaps he’s one of the rarer shifters.”

Derek is nose-deep in his milk, but the sides of the glass refract a light blue glow for a moment. Talia heaves a deep mental sigh and writes off any idea of having the two of them take the last patrol. They’re more likely than not going to walk straight off a cliff.

She’d better like this boy, she thinks as she revises her side dishes. It’ll be an awful lot of trouble otherwise, and she does hate clashing with the federal government. So many plump, ignorant bureaucrats, such greasy ashes.

Well, at least she can get rid of all the zucchini piling up in the garden.

Chapter Text

“Stiles. Stiles. Alpha, damn it, wake up!”

“What! What, what, what the—shit, ow.” Stiles flings, or tries to fling, himself out of bed. Except there’s a werewolf in the way. Also, they’re not in bed.

They’re under the Nemeton, on a bed of roots that shifts so at first Stiles thinks he’s lying on something nasty, like snakes or tentacles or hydra necks. He’s not totally awake either so yeah, okay, sorry, Derek. Didn’t mean to flail through the tree like—wait a second.

Stiles raises his head and narrows his eyes. Derek stares back, eyes already narrowed. He’s…sort of dressed, in that he still has what looks like scraps of grey fabric wrapped around his torso, and one leg has denim on it to the knee, while the other has it to mid-calf, even if Derek’s ass is bare. And Derek’s sort of pissed off, now that Stiles is awake.

“Was I sleep-walking again?” Stiles says.

The Nemeton slinks around the back of his head as he speaks, exactly like a pet who’s just stolen dinner. Stiles squirms out from under Derek enough to prop up on one arm, rubs shit out of his eyes, and irritably grabs hold of the tree. Nemetons aren’t exactly anthropomorphic—sure, they’re intelligent, they can communicate, they have basic sensations like pain and hunger, but when it comes to more complex concepts like humor, they don’t quite get them. And yet, Stiles feels like this particular tree is making a pretty damn good attempt at laughing its ass off.

“Do you remember falling asleep out here?” Derek snaps.

Stiles is still half with the tree, but he manages to roll his eyes. “I’m pretty sure we’d just screwed on the porch.”

Derek tenses weirdly. His voice gets kind of rough, and not just because he’s annoyed. “Was that what you were dreaming about?”

Why would he…oh, shit. Then Stiles yelps as Derek slams his head down onto Stiles’ stomach, barely turning it before the fangs come out. “Shit! Shit, sorry, sorry, just—give me a minute.”

“Not so fast,” Derek rasps. He’s peeling off strips of the roots under them, they’re tickling Stiles in the ribs, and his ass is canted high enough for Stiles to see his shaking thighs.

Because well, there are root…things…tangled up under there. With Derek. Stiles picks more carefully into the Nemeton and feels out, and then grimaces. At least nothing’s penetrated yet. It’s just really knotted around Derek’s legs, high up and sort of threatening a couple body parts Stiles wants intact just as much as Derek. “Oh, fuck, I’m sorry. Are you okay? Shit, did I—”

“No. Not…not before you woke up, but it got a little close…” Derek shakes out his right hand, then folds it back under him, feeling for something beneath them both. He peers around Stiles, frowns, and then gets his hand on whatever it needs to be, carefully pushing himself up. “Yeah, you sleep-walked. I woke up and followed you out, and then when you laid down again, I was going to take you back home, but it…grabbed me.”

“Oh, man.” Stiles is trying to apologize and figure out how the hell the roots are twisted up around Derek. He’s the tree, sure, but the tree wasn’t really paying attention to what it was doing and ugh, if he’s the root and following the root’s loops and double-backs, he’s…not got the spatial imagination for this. His head’s already starting to hurt. “Sorry, I swear, I don’t dream of tentacle sex, really.”

Derek places his left hand the same way as his right, and then he can lift enough to give Stiles room to sit up and try and look at whatever’s going on below Derek’s waist. He looks a little calmer. “Does this happen a lot?”

“I just said—oh, you mean in general?” Stiles mutters. He backs off the tree for a second, wonders if maybe he’s going the wrong way about this. So instead trying to picture roots, he thinks about Derek’s legs without anything around them, and hey! The roots start moving in the right directions. “No. I think it’s because we just restored it, it’s kind of like a kid all over again. Has a bad night, wants cuddles.”

“Cuddles,” Derek repeats slowly. Then he jerks at his leg and the roots tighten again.

He and Stiles both freeze. Derek doesn’t look like he’s in pain, but he’s a stoic fucking werewolf. Stiles thinks very hard at the damn tree about how much he likes Derek’s body in a very specific configuration, thank you very much, and the roots loosen again.

“I sleepwalked to my mom’s tree when I was little, whenever she was out of town for work. Her tree was on the young side and sometimes we’d both freak out,” Stiles says. He keeps thinking about Derek’s legs and the roots inch down towards the knees.

“Huh.” Derek drops his head and tries to look between his arms. “Okay, I get that, but it was playing with my balls.”

Stiles jerks, then grabs Derek’s shoulders and grips them like he’s gripping the tree. “Oh, my God, do you actually want me to rip off something? You know what, I don’t care, I don’t want to rip off something.”

“Thanks,” Derek says dryly. He brings his head back up and sets it on Stiles’ shoulder, still craning his neck so he can watch the roots. “So, that was actually you, right? Playing with them?”

“I…guess technically, yeah, but my dream had you and some leather straps and candle wax, okay, no roots or other tentacular appendages,” Stiles says. He resists the urge to slap Derek upside the head. God, now he understands why Peter and Laura are always doing it. “You’re taking this suspiciously well. Should I be asking whether you dream of sweet, sweet cephalopod lovin’?”

Derek raises his head and looks Stiles in the eye. “Sometimes,” he says slowly, “I don’t understand every other word that comes out of your mouth.”

Asshole. “And yet,” Stiles says, just as slowly, because Derek just plain looks hot sometimes. Like he’s a living piece of condensed heat, and then you add in the intense eyes and the ridiculous, effortlessly graceful way he moves, and Jesus Christ, Stiles is half-hard just from the warmth of the belly arched over his groin. “And yet…so, I’m awake now.”

“Yeah.” Derek leans in, closes his eyes a little. The roots are slack enough so he can slide his knees up under him, straddle Stiles’ lap. “Still dreaming about me?”

“Nah,” Stiles says, and grabs the back of his head and drags him in for a melting, frantic kiss. “Nah, fuck, looking at you, why would I—”

Derek kisses him again, hands rising to Stiles’ hips. The roots jerk his legs apart and he lets out a surprised moan into Stiles’ mouth. Grinds his ass down. The tip of his cock drags at Stiles’ stomach, bobbing a little higher every time Stiles squeezes the back of his neck, and fuck, he’s totally kinking on this. Stiles would feel so amazingly vindicated if he wasn’t in the middle of scrawling roots up Derek’s thighs.

He’s getting impressions from the tree, mostly pressure, roots don’t have a nervous system, but they can tell him about how much resistance they’re getting, how that changes when Derek flexes his legs, pushing up so he can lick at Stiles’ neck. They don’t have eyes but they can shape-sense, give him the feeling of crawling over long smooth limbs, bumping into something that swings till they’ve curled over it, trapped it in a thick nest of tendrils.

“Oh, shit,” Derek breathes, and runs his hands up and down Stiles’ hips in short jerks. He stops mouthing at Stiles’ throat so he can push his head over Stiles’ shoulder, support himself while he’s panting, twisting uselessly against the roots. “Shit, I could smell you. Smell you when you were dreaming, every time they moved, smell it spiking on you.”

“What,” Stiles says. But he’s biting behind Derek’s ear, nipping and then sucking, and his hands are pressing over Derek’s chest like they think they’re roots, circling and stroking and wandering down till hell, they’re touching actual roots.

He pushes his fingers in and out of the grasping, surprisingly velvety-soft tips, chasing them around and under Derek’s cock. Wonders if this counts as playing with himself. But then Derek’s got a hand around Stiles’ cock and it’s kind of a moot point. Stiles hisses and Derek pauses to lave up his palm, then wraps it around Stiles’ cock again, starts pulling it smooth and steady.

“Smell you, smell it, it smells like you,” Derek’s saying, like it’s some kind of prayer. He scrubs his cheek against Stiles’ neck and it kind of burns, he’s got stubble, but then he pulls back and sucks on Stiles’ lower lip and shit, okay, Stiles can live with it. “Smells like you, all over, all over me, fuck, alpha, Stiles, alpha—”

“Derek, fuck,” Stiles groans. He’s all tangled up now, tree and him, roots and hands. Phantom shapes of cock and scrotum in his head, plumping buttocks flashing against his empty hands, and then the very real, very hot mouth kissing him, the tight grip on his cock, he can’t keep it straight. They are so fucking tangled.

He thinks of Derek arching, mouth open, white come spurting over dark roots, and then Derek is shaking and crying out by his ear. The roots whisper over fresh moisture, dip their tips into it, scrape it off and down something that’s trembling badly. Stiles feels something in his mouth, something wet and warm, and then he doesn’t think as Derek sucks his shout straight out of his mouth.

The tree recedes, leaving Stiles to shake on his own. He shivers on what’s really a kind of lumpy, damp, filthy bed, then drags himself closer to the warm, soft body with him. Derek noses at his throat, making a little contented crooning noise, and then uses newly root-free legs to roll them away from the tree and into a slightly more comfortable pile of leaves. Then he sprawls down over Stiles, like he’s just going to fall asleep like that.

“Tree feel better?” Derek asks.

“Um.” Stiles doesn’t really want to move, okay, but they’re outdoors. Naked. Well, Derek still has a few scraps of clothes on him, but that’s just accessorizing at this point. “Yeah, we can probably go back home now.”

Derek looks at him. “You can move?”

“Maybe?” Stiles says. Then he lets his head fall back. They’re going to need two or three showers, and Jesus, maybe some antibiotics. Not everybody’s got werewolf healing; Stiles has broader immunity than the average person, but there’s shit like fungus and mold, which is gross as fuck anyway. “So. Tentacle sex.”

“Don’t get tentacles,” Derek says. He lazily whiffs at Stiles’ throat. “I don’t want tentacles.”

Stiles pokes him. “Even if they smell like me?”

Derek lifts his head long enough to give him an exasperated look. Then drops it like a rock, probably bruising Stiles’ shoulder. Him lipping at it afterward doesn’t make up for it. Well, it shouldn’t. “You’re gonna give Peter ideas. I know he’s got that Japanese print somewhere.”

“What.” Stiles stares up at the sky. “Oh, my God. You so know what I’m saying, all the time.”

“…don’t really want to, but.” Derek sighs. “I’m getting used to it.”

“Aw, you like it,” Stiles says. He flops his arm around, gets his hand on Derek’s head. Starts scratching lightly over the nape.

Derek grunts, feels like he’s rolling his eyes against Stiles’ shoulder, but he leans into Stiles’ hand. He’s so heavy, Stiles thinks, and then doesn’t move, or make him move.

Chapter Text

“…and you’ll be hearing from Talia as well, Mr. Whittemore,” Peter says, like he’s disemboweling somebody with silk. “As the pack leader in the area, of course she’ll have to look into any misbehavior.”

After we’re sure there’s no federal offense,” Stiles’ dad growls. “Damaging a Nemeton can get you anywhere from one year to life. But I guess you’d know that, being a lawyer.”

Then the door opens and a much whiter-faced assistant principal beckons for Stiles to come out. Stiles sighs, stuffs his book back in his bag and swings the strap onto his shoulder. Then he ambles out of the nurse’s office. “Peter, Dad, really? I’m—”

“—having Peter take you home,” his dad says, throwing a last glower at a very shellshocked-looking guy Stiles assumes is Jackson’s dad. Jackson himself is nowhere to be seen, thank God. “Sorry, I’ve got to get back to meet with the inspector. But he’ll keep you company till we can check the tree.”

“There’s a double chocolate mint shake in the car and Talia gave me a pan of ratatouille to heat up for dinner,” Peter says smoothly.

“This is bribery,” Stiles mutters, but okay, fine, he doesn’t want to go back to gym class that badly.

Not really. They’d just been doing dodgeball again, and it gets old watching Scott and the other weres leap into the rafters while Finstock screams at them to stick to the rules, handicaps apply. And he’s got no good reason to want to go to his afternoon classes either; the one period he has even marginal interest in is his English class, since the school’s finally settled on a temp for the year and she’s pretty good, has them analyzing reality TV for dramatic structure. But that’s in the morning.

“You’re sulking,” Peter observes. He pulls out of the parking lot and then jiggles the shake in front of Stiles again.

Stiles sighs and takes it, and moodily sucks at the straw. He knows Peter is watching that but can’t find the energy to work it. “Yeah, well, Erica Reyes nailed me with a foam ball because I was throwing up acorns. Forgive me if I’m not fluffy unicorns and butterflies.”

“You were throwing up acorns because that—”

“The tree is fine. I’m fine, the tree is fine, it’s all good. You and Dad and Derek can go wander in the woods if you want to see, but I’m not bothering to go out there,” Stiles mumbles. Then the suction gets blocked. He pulls up the straw and stirs it around to get the chunk of chocolate out of there, then sits up and twists around. “Hey, wait, where are we—Peter, if you’re driving out there right now, I swear to God—”

“I’m not, I’m just stopping by the post box.” Just as he says that, Peter pulls up to the box and rolls down the window. He takes a couple envelopes from the dash and drops them in, and then pulls back into the road. “You’re fine, you would know, so I’m just driving you home, Stiles.”

They go through a couple intersections. Peter nods his head to a passing couple while stopped at one, then turns the radio on long enough to get a traffic report. He turns it off and resumes driving calmly, quietly, without bothering Stiles.

Reverse psychology, thy name is smug werewolf. “It’s embarrassing,” Stiles says. “I haven’t done that since I was twelve.”

“At risk of your temper, Stiles, you did that because a couple jocks with more injured pride than sense slipped you some beef broth in your lunch,” Peter sighs. He turns into the driveway, parks, and then turns. “Now, your lacrosse nemesis is running scared and you have an unexpected half-day vacation. Are you going to be like this the whole time, or should I not give you the expansion pack that came in the mail this morning?”

“You are a devious, no-good wolf who’s spending a sucker fortune on me,” Stiles snorts. But yeah, he’s smiling a little. “Also, Jackson is Scott’s lacrosse nemesis. He’s not my anything nemesis, Jesus. I have more class than that.”

“Yes, you do,” Peter says, and then, while Stiles is distracted, ducks in for a quick kiss. He leans back just enough to scent Stiles, like he doesn’t spend two minutes every morning, post-shave, pre-cologne, doing that.

Still, it’s tempting to just sit and make out. But just then that irritating platinum blonde bored trophy wife from down the street jogs by, like Stiles’ dad is really going to be home now, and Stiles sighs and pushes Peter back. They get out of the car, Peter sneaking Stiles’ bag while he’s at it, and go inside, where Stiles promptly sets up in the back den.

The house is big enough for that, a front living room where they let whoever comes over go, and then the back one where only family gets to go. Partly because certain family tends to sorely test the anti-stain runework. Like Peter right now, taking Stiles’ open-legged slouch as an excuse to crawl into Stiles’ lap, run his hands up Stiles’ hips, and then dip his head to steal some of the chocolate mint shake.

Stiles jerks the straw away and stuffs it into his mouth, glaring at Peter. Who shrugs and sucks Stiles’ mouth, like that’s any way to use a straw. They’re in serious danger of leaking shake out between their mouths and that’s…actually kind of gross, so Stiles crowbars Peter back with his forearm, then stretches to stick the shake on the side table.

He is good with going back to making out after that, but for some reason Peter’s sitting back on his heels and giving Stiles that look, like he’s the one being made to suffer. “I’ll try to understand,” Peter says. “But high school stupidity is a good few years off for me, and anyway, I never particularly cared about the opinions of people who’ve clearly already peaked.”

“Yeah, well, you were state champion and almost valedictorian and blah blah blah, bet you never got an embarrassing recess song about puking seed fluff,” Stiles mutters. Since they’re not gonna make out, he flops back and rolls his eyes when Peter looks displeased at the decrease in body contact. “Stupid perfect werewolves, we can’t all be super-confident psychos, okay? I mean, Derek got banned from gym class, but even that was for being too strong.”

Peter doesn’t…twitch, exactly, but his face almost shifts into an expression Stiles hasn’t seen on him before. He studies Stiles for another moment, then climbs off. Just to curl up around Stiles’ side, but even though it’s a good thirty percent more in contact, the feel is way less sexing up, way more…intimate’s kind of the wrong word, and kind of not.

“Derek was using rage to anchor himself through most of high school,” Peter says. Weirdly, he sounds dead sober, not a trace of mockery there. “He had a hard time with his father’s death, well into college. It might have been easier if he’d had more friends, or something to do with himself, but you’ve probably read our file on that.”

The Hales don’t talk about Richard, even though he’s still in family photos scattered around the house. They also all seem pretty good as they are now, but well, Stiles knows that one. “Well, yeah, I read it, but the Forest Service doesn’t cover werewolves specifically, you know, and once the Argents’ hunting licenses were revoked, it went over to the FBI. We didn’t dig that deep into you guys before we came. We were here for the Nemeton, remember?”

“Mmm, yes,” Peter says. He nuzzles into Stiles’ shoulder, and for a second Stiles thinks they might be dropping it. But nope, Peter’s just rearranging his human pillow. “All right, then. You know how Richard died, at least?”

“Thought Kate Argent was up to no good, went to accuse her, got shut up in her hotel room and burned alive,” Stiles says. He tries not to sound too glib about it, but he doesn’t want to linger either. He’s got a feeling Peter is not nearly as detached as he sounds.

“He thought she was up to something because she was far too interested in Derek. Now, I realize that seems hypocritical from me—” Peter snakes his hand around Stiles’ butt, then just hums pleasantly when Stiles grinds it till he has to retreat to Stiles’ back “—but Derek was three or so years younger than you are now, and from what Talia tells me, Kate behaved so badly that a teacher noticed and called child services.”

“You didn’t see it?” Stiles says, frowning. Peter had been studying away from home at the time, but not that far and the file had said he’d frequently traveled back.

Peter goes still. “Kate was quick,” he finally says, flat and thin. “It was over in a month. I was…I was guesting with a different pack at the time.”

Which had not been in the file. Stiles almost asks a follow-up, but just in time he sees Peter kneading the couch cushion, claws slipping in and out. It’s just shy of overwhelming the anti-rip runework; Stiles shuts his mouth and kicks his bookbag, which is against his leg, so the top is tilted towards him, in case he has to grab his wolfsbane spray. Not that he thinks Peter is going to hurt him, but it’s ingrained reflex.

“And then there was the investigation, and all the damn hearings, because even child-abusing genocidal rogues must have due process before we take away their license, and gearing up for a trial that never happened, since they escaped,” Peter says. His tone is lighter, almost dismissive, but he’s still gripping the cushion like he’s slowly crushing a windpipe. “I asked Talia at one point why we didn’t just home-school Derek, he was being pulled out so much, but she had some nonsense about holding our head up in town and he didn’t want to leave school either, God knows why.”

“Well, I hated all the kids who sang that fucking song, but I wasn’t going to give them the satisfaction,” Stiles says slowly. “You could kind of see it get to them, too, you know. That I wasn’t fucking off. It ate at them. Which makes me what kind of twelve-year-old, I don’t know, but fuck it, I still grew up.”

“Which I do appreciate.” Peter glances at Stiles, warm and affectionate. Then he sighs and finally lets go of the cushion. He pokes at the grooves his fingers have left, which are not looking like they’re going to disappear all the way. “I don’t think that Derek is like that, or was like that. But anyway, he’s grown out of it too, and perhaps that’s all you can wish for.”

“His mom doesn’t blame him or anything, does she?” Stiles asks. “Or any of the rest of you? I mean…no offense, you seem…like you like each other most of the time, but…”

Peter’s quiet for a while. On a whim, Stiles reaches around and sifts his fingers into Peter’s hair, gently tugging and twisting, and a little ripple of tension goes out of him.

“Richard called us,” Peter says abruptly. “Called Talia. When he realized he couldn’t get out of the ash circle. He warned her, and she got the children and Jane and Thomas—cousins—and got down to the police station. Otherwise I think they all would have died. They found more fuel in Kate’s room than she needed for one werewolf, and we’re convinced she meant to torch the house.”

That hadn’t been in the file either. Well, yeah, the bottles and bottles of chemicals had, but since it was the Forest Service, the report had been more interested in whether any of that had been meant for the preserve. Gerard had had a prior strike for setting a field on fire to smoke out a rabid omega without taking precautions for nearby homes.

“Talia was very angry, for a very long time. She’s very forgiving, more so than I am, but when you hurt her blood, she bleeds ice. Whether she blamed Derek…I don’t think so, at least not that I heard or saw. But she had little time for kindness.” Peter closes his eyes. His hand strays to Stiles’ knee, not a tease or anything like that, but more like he needs something to ground him. “And I wasn’t there, not right away.”

“When’d you get back?” Stiles asks. He kind of doesn’t want to, kind of just wants to let Peter sit and breathe, but he knows that whip-tight vibration going through Peter’s voice. It’ll be worse if it sits.

Peter grimaces. “For the funeral, two weeks later, because they had to autopsy the poor man to a second death. I…Talia and I had been drifting apart for a while. It’s natural, betas grow up and leave packs, but we were close when we were younger. Less so once she had Laura…she didn’t want me to trial a new pack and we’d fought. Richard actually talked her into it.”

“Was she mad at you?” Stiles says.

“No. No, she wasn’t.” Then Peter lifts his head. He puts his hand back and rubs at his neck, like he’s got a crick there, and then drops his hand and stares at it. “She wasn’t, she was so busy Laura had to call me, but once I was there she…let me in like I hadn’t left. She told me she was sorry she’d dragged me back. Like I wouldn’t have—like I wouldn’t want to be there for every single one of them to die. Richard was pack too, I liked him, he was good for her, he spoke up for me, and—perhaps there’s a world where it turned out differently, where we fell apart because of the Argents. If your father knew everything I did, between the Argents escaping and being shot dead in Washington, he’d—”

“—think about it, and realize you didn’t lose your mind and you didn’t keep on going afterwards, joy-killing just for the hell of it—at least not when I’m not telling you to—and he’ll have a long talk with me and get some wolfsbane bullets, but he’ll leave it to me,” Stiles says. He wraps his hand around Peter’s nape and pulls till Peter’s slumped against him again. “We work for the government, yeah, but family comes first and he’s my dad, he gets it. Not to mention, the crematory? At our first dinner with you guys? You’re not subtle.”

Peter laughs, but he doesn’t sound nearly as amused as Stiles was hoping. “Yes, well. We’re happy now, but we’re not who we were before, and we all know it.”

“I get it,” Stiles says. He strokes the back of Peter’s neck.

Once or twice Peter starts, like he’s going to talk again, but when Stiles stops moving his hand, Peter just resettles himself and Stiles resumes petting him. When Peter finally just pulls his legs up and stretches them over the rest of the couch, Stiles figures they’re done with the family history moment. He’s still got questions, like who did Peter kill exactly and do they have anyone coming after them for that and is this what guilt looks like on Peter, but he’s not that shitty of a person. He’s alpha, Peter needs him, they’ll leave it at that.

Chapter Text

Stiles falls back against the seat, seeing stars and comets and hell, maybe some blobby alien life. It’s ten yards to the door and he wonders if his knees are going to make it.

“Better?” Peter murmurs.

He mouths at Stiles’ groin while he’s at it, away from Stiles’ still twitching cock but not so far that it doesn’t make Stiles hiss and grab at him. Then again, Peter’s smug face, while very attractive, does a great job of reminding Stiles just who’s actually invited here. “Bringing you is such a bad idea,” Stiles says, and tightens his grip on Peter’s hair when Peter plays at sulking. Then he yanks up. “Jesus. You get us thrown out, Peter, and I’m gonna tell my dad you want to go train baby rangers in Idaho.”

Peter sits up, a trace of pout still lingering, and rolls his eyes like Derek hadn’t once spent a hilarious evening detailing all the fine establishments on the West Coast they were no longer allowed to go to. “Yes, alpha,” he says snidely.

Stiles just ignores him and tries to get his clothes back into order. After Gabriel got fed to the Nemeton (jackass), his club was sold to new, thoroughly vetted management, which is sensible enough to see the value in not pissing off the local powers-that-be. So they send a very nice, hand-engraved invite to Stiles to see the revamped club (now called Sade, management’s smart but not creative), Peter happens to be the one getting the mail that day, and Peter thinks that they should go. Peter is apparently under the impression that this is an anniversary or something.

Peter’s actually really ridiculously gooey about stuff like that, once you get past the pleasantly homicidal tendencies and the witty repartee, but still, he’s a jerk for RSVPing before telling Stiles. And for getting Laura to slip tighter jeans into Stiles’ closet. And for making an annoyingly cogent, convincing argument that they need to keep the kink club in town, as a local business and community outlet and convenient intel-gathering location, which won over Stiles’ father.

Okay, so Stiles sees the point too. But it’s the fucking principle, namely, that first it’s Sade and next Peter is gleefully tossing Stiles into some Pacific Northwest werewolf convention on inter-pack waste management Peter doesn’t feel like handling. “Come on,” Stiles mutters. He checks his shirt for come, then opens the car door. “Now.”

They go up to the club and check in. The attendant’s the same and she gets an extra gleam in her eye when she sees them. “Welcome back, Mr. Stilinski,” she says, and Stiles fights down the urge to look for his dad. “Are you going to need a—”

“No,” Stiles says, and turns to Peter.

Who has been awfully quiet since getting out of the car. Sure, that was less than a minute ago, but it’s Peter.

He has his eyes lowered, his head slightly canted so his throat’s angled towards Stiles. He takes off his tie, deftly rolls it up in one hand and puts it into his pocket. With his other hand, he unbuttons his shirt-collar, pushes up the black leather band beneath it. Then he reaches back and tightens the strap to stay put. He leans forward slightly and Stiles clips on the leash to the ring glittering between the wings of his collarbone.

It’s all very smooth, especially since somehow, despite blowing Stiles in the car, his expensive suit is wrinkle-free and perfectly set, while Stiles still looks like a giant hand’s rumpled him all over. The attendant sighs in admiration, and Stiles has to admit he’s kind of wishing he’d gone for a second blowjob.

But he catches Peter sneaking a peek under those artfully lowered lashes, and oh, hell, no. They’re making it to the goddamn booth, at least.

Stiles leads them into the club. A co-owner immediately steps up to greet them and walk them to their booth, a willowy succubus with what looks like some kind of knotting code worked out with brightly-colored beads on a mass of long, thin braids. It’s legitimately fascinating, and between that and the effort of making small talk—why do they always want to bitch about supply chains?—Stiles manages to not really notice Peter promptly, gracefully, almost completely silently drop to his knees next to Stiles’ legs.

Okay, yeah, Stiles is lying his ass off. He orders a soda, lots and lots of ice, please, and when it arrives he grips it in one hand and imagines it against his crotch. With the other, since yes, Peter is annoying but the rest of the club doesn’t get to know that, Stiles reaches down and begins running his fingers through Peter’s hair.

Peter makes a very low, very soft rumble in his throat. His head presses back into Stiles’ hand, encouraging but not pushy. The succubus says something about trading favors that Stiles doesn’t quite catch, and Stiles rolls out some bullshit about bribery laws till he gets enough colorful, slightly panicky denials to figure out what the hell they ‘d been talking about.

He also sort of loses track of his hand, till suddenly something wet and warm is flicking over his fingertips. Stiles does not look down, damn it, and Peter closes his mouth over Stiles’ middle finger so he can feel the grin against his palm. His less roomy than usual pants promptly become a problem.

Stiles pulls his finger out, then feels along Peter’s jaw till he can get all his fingers under it. He presses his thumb in behind the point of the jawbone, digging a warning into soft flesh, then jerks Peter’s chin up for good measure. Peter, being Peter, gives him an apologetic hum and then noses at the underside of Stiles’ wrist.

“Oh, and here’s Fabian,” the succubus—shit, what the hell was her name?—says, waving to an oncoming shaman.

The shaman has a were-cougar on a leash. The were-cougar is very hot, bare-chested with thick leather mittens covered in sigils over each hand, and is slitting bright gold eyes at Peter. They sit down on the opposite side of the table, sandwiching the succubus next to Stiles, and then the were-cougar sprawls out so his tail can start coiling up and down the shaman’s leg, tip flicking suggestions about where to look. Stiles drags his eyes up, hides his grimace in his soda, and rubs his thumb over Peter’s mouth.

Peter takes a second to suck it in. Shit, he noticed.

“Pleased to meet you,” Fabian says. He and Stiles shake free hands, and then they start talking about importation quotas.

Fabian is actually a pretty smart guy, with some good points on the Forest Service’s classification of various pollens. And Amy—the succubus, thank you, Fabian, for dropping that—jumps in and it turns out that she briefly dated one of Stiles’ tracking instructors from when he and his dad were posted to Wisconsin, and she’s cool, too. Stiles is beginning to think the night isn’t going to be a total loss when there’s a below-the-knees growl.

The were-cougar’s started lolling around on the floor, arms tucked into his sides, tail languidly flipping wherever, exactly like the fat tabby Stiles’ Polish grandmother had had. Thing is, his tail’s just slithered across Stiles’ shins, and thanks to the glass table-top, they all have a great view of it. Peter hasn’t moved except to pop his claws, but his eyes are glowing like nightlights.

“I’m so sorry,” Fabian says. He tugs on his leash, then expertly flips his hand around to slap the handle end against the were-cougar’s ass.

So that’s all well and good, but as the were-cougar’s cringing and mewing apologies, Peter decides it would be a great idea to drop forward onto his hands, slice the floor a bare second after the cougar’s tail brushes over the spot, and then snarl again. Stiles feels a deep-seated need to bang his head against the table.

Instead he hauls back hard on the leash. Peter’s heels bang into the underside of the bench and he looks up, startled, but without losing the claws or the fangs. Stiles bites down a curse and jerks again, and this time Peter gets it. He’s got a mulish set to his jaw but he climbs up to kneel next to Stiles. Still all clawed and fanged.

“He’s a possessive asshole, sorry,” Stiles says. “Can I get a battery pack and a tray of sounds?”

Peter snorts. Both Fabian and Amy raise their brows, but they politely wave their hands and start talking about Wisconsin again. They keep going even when a waiter’s whisked a shiny steel tray onto the table; Stiles has to say, the service here is really, really good.

He catches Peter staring at the tray’s contents and reaches up to scratch his nails over the back of Peter’s neck, following the collar. So Peter drops his head onto Stiles’ shoulder, whuffs into Stiles’ neck. Totally overplays it with the whimper, though Amy’s looking like she’s buying it and would like another, please. Stiles rolls his eyes, but he just squeezes Peter’s neck and leans into the slow, tenderly persuasive kisses Peter is now dotting under his jaw.

When he reaches for Peter’s fly, Peter stiffens. Then inhales slowly. And again, as Stiles pulls his cock out of his pants. Through the open zip, the button at the top and belt still holding Peter’s pants up.

“Hands, table,” Stiles says. “Yeah, I know, the Dells are great for that, but I still think the quality out of Ontario’s better.”

Peter puts his hands out palm-first, fingers curved slightly up to allow for the claws. Then he closes them slowly around the table’s edge, claw-tips making tiny tinkling noises against the glass. He’s looking intently down between his arms. Has a great view of Stiles’ fingers rubbing in between the steel rings banding the length of his cock, tight enough to sink partway into the flesh. Hell, Stiles can’t look over, he’s trying to be polite here, but even with peripheral vision he can see enough to know how fucking pretty it is.

He teases Peter for a couple minutes. It’s too dark for him to make out any color changes, but he can feel the skin under his fingers flushing with heat, trying to swell out, and then trembling back down. Peter doesn’t scratch the table but his hips start shifting a little, and there’s sweat beading along his jaw and temple.

The were-cougar makes a noise that’s part yowl, part moan, and rubs his face into Fabian’s leg. Fabian blinks hard, then laughs it off and asks if Stiles wants another soda.

“Yeah, sure,” Stiles says. When the waiter comes by, Stiles takes his hand off Peter’s cock and uses the back of it to nudge the glass towards the waiter, because he’s got some manners, thanks.

Then he grabs the tray on the way back. He fingers the sounds, listening to Peter’s breath hitch, and then picks one up and peels it out of its sterile wrapping, swapping snowstorm stories with Amy. They have a nice selection of lube too; he finally settles on one and slicks up the sound, then slouches back so he can get both hands into Peter’s lap.

Peter twists his head around as soon as Stiles bumps his shoulder. He’s scenting like he’s a toddler, long, obvious whiffs. His eyes are closed except for a glimmer of blue, and blood pearls out from the fangs in his lip when Stiles sets the sound to the tip of his cock.

It’s a skinny starter one, but the way Peter hisses, tucks his head down, neck swelling like his cock isn’t, you’d think Stiles was making him take a flagpole. The sound actually slides in so easily that Stiles has to hold it back, eyeing the table rocking under Peter’s claws. Fabian and Amy (so nice, really) pick up their drinks and hold them in the air.

Amy’s eyes dip while she’s at it, but yeah, well, Peter has a really nice cock, so Stiles can’t blame her. Stiles also can’t help sliding his thumb around the end of the sound once it’s fully seated, locked into the cock cage. Precome tips up over his nail, starts dripping down his palm. Peter’s shoulders jerk up high and stay there.

Stiles lifts his hand to Peter’s mouth. This time, the delay is because Peter’s glazed eyes need a moment to focus on what’s in front of them. He makes up for it by licking at Stiles’ palm like it’s made of venison candy. Moans quietly when Stiles takes it away.

One-handed, yeah, waiter handing over the new soda, Stiles might do this a lot at home, Stiles pulls over the battery pack and checks it over. He tests the stripped ends of the wires hanging off the pack, then straightens them so they fall over the edge of the table.

There are two wires. One gets hooked to the sound, while the other, Stiles works back behind Peter, then down his pants and into the plug stretching Peter out. Not that that made him any less intractable, but Stiles flips the switch and Peter stops breathing trying to fight the arch of his back. His claws vanish immediately.

Stiles turns off the power and sips some soda. “Interesting technique,” Amy says, giving up on Wisconsin. “But I thought you need a constant current, not just a pulse.”

“Oh, you do, but pulses are just plain fun,” Fabian says, and gives the were-cougar a look that makes him simultaneously wince and purr. “The pain is finding a decent controller. We build our own, as you can tell, but it’s hard finding one that doesn’t burn out after three hours. It’s a huge chunk of the repair budget.”

“I found this Japanese import that’s pretty good,” Stiles says. He hears Peter’s breathing start to steady and gives Peter a poke with his elbow. “Right, Peter?”

Peter looks at him with blurred eyes, partly-open mouth. “Stiles?”

Stiles sighs and picks up the battery pack. He fiddles with the current, then turns it off and slaps Peter’s hand just before it cracks the table. Peter’s nails might be blunt but he’s still got more than enough strength to do some damage. “Hang on a second,” he says to Fabian, who’s asking for more on this Japanese import.

He pulls out a pair of manacles from his pocket. Special alloy, a bit of a challenge when Peter’s at full-strength, will hold just fine when he’s in this state. Peter whines a little when Stiles maneuvers him around, getting his head down on the table, his ass back against the bench, and then semi-starts when he feels the cuffs pulling his hands behind his back. He quiets down at Stiles’ hand cupping the back of his neck, then shudders prettily as Stiles turns the power back on.

“Yeah, it’s out of Osaka,” Stiles tells Fabian. “I did this summer exchange program, made some buddies. You should really get over there if you haven’t already, they’re light-years ahead of the U.S. when it comes to were physiology.”

Fabian’s intrigued. He and Amy are, in fact, thinking about a buying trip to Asia once Sade is running smoothly, what with the recent uptick in Asian immigrants moving inland from the coastal cities. And Amy’s been to India but not to East Asia, and succubus and tree guardian both have analogous problems getting a full diet when traveling, so they compare notes.

Stiles really does like them. He stays longer than he planned, and feels a little sad when they finally get up, apologizing that they’ve got to see to the other clients. He has totally not forgotten about Peter next to him, choking down whimpers whenever Stiles plays with the dial. Shivering uncontrollably, suit matted to him with sweat, twisted out of shape where his fingers are knotted into the jacket.

“Hey, you wanted to see the backrooms, remember?” Stiles says. He flicks off the power and disconnects the wires, then bends over the table so he’s almost lying next to Peter. He slides his hand under Peter’s head and lifts it, waiting till Peter pries open his eyes and looks at him. “Peter?”

Peter blinks wetly, his upper and lower lashes sticking together. He works his mouth like he’s forgotten how to use it, then shudders so his head knocks into the table. “Stiles,” he says thickly, and then shudders again. “Alpha. Alpha.”

It’s a plea, and Stiles isn’t that sociopathic. He’s also, shit, really goddamn hard himself, and how the hell he’d managed to push that out of his mind before, he has no idea. He’s better than he thought.

Well, he was. Right now Peter’s voice is like a hand palming Stiles’ jeans in all the right ways, and Stiles is feeling just about as fucked as Peter looks.

He gets Peter up and out of the booth, half-carrying him. They maybe don’t look so slick as Stiles would like, stumbling into the nearest empty room, but whatever, Stiles will figure out how to kick everyone’s asses later. Or get Derek and Peter to do it. Or Jesus, whatever, Peter is flopping against the wall, back-first, chin up, throat bared and eyes wide open and so melted Stiles feels Peter’s gaze running down him like a waterfall of heat. The leash sways across Peter’s body and Peter catches Stiles’ look, bends his head impossibly further back, offers up his collar.

Stiles stuffs his arms under Peter’s, goes in for Peter’s lower lip. Peter moans and cants his hips up, then whines as his knees slip out from under him and his mouth drifts off of Stiles’. Cursing, Stiles tries to pull him up, but Peter’s got too many pounds on him.

He goes for a controlled fall to the floor, then crawls over Peter, ripping at the man’s belt and trousers. Peter twists weakly, getting in the way more than he’s helping, his head lolling back as Stiles mouths up his throat. He does get his knees apart for Stiles, then lets them fall clumsily as Stiles draws the sound out of his cock.

Enough slippery precome follows the sound that Stiles’ fingers lose his grip on it, drop it somewhere. He promptly forgets about it and fumbles till he gets the cock cage off, and then he jerks Peter’s trousers off. They rip somewhere, another suit destroyed, oh well. Peter shops like they’re disposable anyway.

Peter jerks when Stiles tries to wrap a hand around his cock, so instead it slaps free against his belly, splattering sticky spots across Stiles’ shirt. “No, fuck, fuck me, alpha,” Peter groans. He pulls at his bound hands, drags a shaking foot along Stiles’ hip. “Fuck me. Please.”

Fuck,” Stiles says intelligently, and yanks the plug out of Peter. Loses that too, then scrabbles at Peter’s hips, trying to lift and line them up, because Peter has suddenly decided that now he’s going to come alive.

He claws Peter, then slaps Peter’s thigh. Peter gasps and arches, and Stiles somehow gets the man’s legs up enough to get his cock halfway in. They both snarl. Then Peter bows himself backwards. Bangs his head into the wall, gets his shoulders braced and Stiles slides all the way in. Stiles’ knees go out, but that’s okay, because his face ends up smushed into Peter’s neck. He bites down and Peter lets out a torn, desperate sound, bearing down onto Stiles’ cock.

Stiles fucks into him once, twice, and on the third thrust he doesn’t bite Peter, doesn’t have the coordination for that. Just opens his mouth and lets his body weight sink his teeth in. He comes hard, his vision wavering like a broken camera for a couple seconds, Peter still writhing under him. Like it’s a dream, like his head is filled with haze, he not-quite-feels Peter’s cock hardening between them, Peter’s throat flexing under his mouth in another broken alpha.

He shakes his head, and then it’s clear. Nemeton sucking off the distraction, without asking, and normally that annoys him but Stiles is okay with it this time. He gets his hand down and even with a clear head he’s still pretty strung out, not his best handjob ever, but Peter doesn’t need finesse at this point. Just a good, tight grip, and then Peter is spilling out, going slack and sprawled against the wall, his cry muffled in Stiles’ shoulder.

They’re a limp, going-sticky heap on the floor for however long. Peter recovers first, stupid werewolf stamina, and laves at Stiles’ jaw and chin like the come is up there and not all over their stomachs. “Mmm,” he says, catching Stiles’ mouth for a messy kiss. “Stiles.”

“You did that on purpose,” Stiles says. He nips Peter’s lip, then backs off when Peter chases him. “Seriously. Cat and dog fight?”

“Served its purpose,” Peter says. He lets his head fall back on the floor, looking fucked-out and smug about it. “Not just the cat, Stiles. Everyone else in there. If we’re going to be regular patrons, then they need to know exactly what they’re not allowed to touch.”

Stiles rolls his eyes, but he’s grinning, yeah. “I should put the cage back on you, and drag you out there just like this. Make you drive home looking like I screwed the jackass out of you, like you’re just a nice, obedient little puppy coming to heel.”

Peter’s breath catches. Then he stretches out under Stiles, a long shiver going through him that he’s flat-out luxuriating in, letting the over-stimulation burn up his eyes. “I wouldn’t mind, alpha,” he says, tongue licking out on each word. “Like I said, they should see what they’ll never get to be.”

“Oh, shit,” Stiles mutters. Because his cock is twitching now, and shit, yes, too soon even for teenage boys with magical trees backing them up. “Shit. You are so—shit, c’mere.”

He grabs Peter by the collar ring and pulls him in for another kiss. Peter is smirking into it, asshole, but Stiles can’t bring himself to stop him.

Well. Gotta leave something for next time.

Chapter Text

In retrospect, Chris has had better ideas.

He turned in his hunting license the day he stopped feeling like he knew why he had one, but he’s never stopped feeling like he could make the world safer for others. Never stopped understanding that those who can, should, and that evil prevails when good men stay silent. So yeah, he keeps an eye on what’s going on in town.

The Hale pack is enough to scare off most things, but a couple months before the Stilinskis roll into town, a lot of shifty out-of-towners start turning off the highway. Chris keeps spotting them along the strip of cheap motels at the edge of town, out in the woods, at the home improvement store—oddly, at the local gardening shop. He’s not on the kind of speaking terms that’ll let him ask Alpha Hale whether she’s already handling it, so he kisses Allison goodnight and slips out of the house and does a little poking around.

He first runs into Agent Stilinski on one of those patrols. It’s not exactly a meet-cute: Chris is belly-down under a very prickly bush, watching a bunch of armed yokels mess around with dowsing rods, when he spots an extra shadow lying in the wake of another bush. He’s easing his hand over his gun when the shadow shifts, shows an oblong patch on its shoulder, and he pauses because that’s some kind of law enforcement.

The yokels move on, and by the time Chris gets across the clearing, whoever it was is gone. But the next morning, his inbox has an email from the Forest Service setting a timeline for his license reactivation, so he’s got an idea.

He formally meets John Stilinski in the Forest Service’s local office, buried in paperwork and bitching to somebody over the phone about lost furniture. Chris offers his hand, John gives it a brisk, firm shake, and then they get down to the business of John flipping through Chris’ application while not-so-subtly implying that certain flags in Chris’ record—family record—are going to invite closer scrutiny.

Chris is used to that. Shrugs off the sting, politely agrees with whatever John says, and even manages to slip in a plug for his arms business. He gets out of there with a couple warnings and a date for his first practical exam.

When he gets home, he uses what’s left of the family contacts to pull up John Stilinski. Widower pops up right away and Chris grimaces reflexively. Victoria’s a slow, dull ache that he’s used to now, but it’s been a long road to get there. He flips to the next page and then shuffles up the paper for a closer look. Either Stilinski is the most boring Forest Service employee to ever be posted in sixteen of the top trouble-making hotspots in the U.S., or he’s one of those covert task force agents.

Chris is guessing the latter, just based on their third meeting—second if you’re just counting unofficial ones—where John sneaks up on him while he’s watching some wannabe black magic users debate shovels in the garden store. “Don’t make me arrest you,” John says.

“Do you have something against hellebores?” Chris says, blinking.

John smiles, gives Chris a hard squeeze on the shoulder, and wanders on to peruse the fertilizer aisle. He’s out of uniform, either the standard ranger wear or the slick leather-sharp-suit outfits that most covert agents Chris has encountered go for. His jeans have faded patches over the knees and on the ass-pockets, and his shirt looks like he ironed it in the dark. Chris realizes he’s staring and blinks again, and then tosses the seed packets into his cart.

The fourth time they run into each other in the field, Chris has cramps from crouching around his rifle in rickety warehouse rafters for the better part of an hour, but he doesn’t mind them so much, considering the show. John’s just finished beating the shit out of a bunch of rogue hunters—something Chris can and will intercept before a word of it gets to Alpha Hale—and Chris is. Impressed. Granted, these hunters aren’t exactly top of the grade, but the tire iron and the backhand into the wall. And Chris is just feeling ready to start smiling back at people again, but even back when Victoria was alive, he had a bit of a weakness for competency. She got it. That’s a big factor in why they had had such a happy marriage.

And then John pulls out his phone, checks it, and glowers at whatever he sees. “I don’t have time for this,” he mutters. “You leave anything, anything, a drop of snot, I’ll bring you in first thing tomorrow. And just to be clear, this doesn’t qualify as your stealth practical.”

He walks out so he can call someone and Chris needs a good minute to unwrap his hands from his rifle. And breathe. And not feel like he’s in junior high all over again. For God’s sake, he’s a grown man with a nearly-grown daughter, Lord help him, and officially John Stilinski is the most hardass, exasperated government evaluator Chris has had in nearly twenty years of hunting. For all he knows, he’s torpedoing his chances of getting his license back with every silly little look.

The fifth time, Chris gets a feeling that maybe it’s not so one-sided.

Chris slipped up. He’ll hold his hands up and admit it, he should’ve checked his six one more time. Anyway, he’s contorting around in a car trunk, cursing his aging joints and trying to get at the lockpick in his shoe when the trunk lid cracks open. He’s barely got time to scoot backwards before a body slithers through the lid, shoves up against him and the lid shuts again.

“Argent?” John says. “Argent, what the hell, aren’t there parent-teacher conferences tonight?”

Chris grunts because he’s gagged, and while the cloth tastes like it was soaked in oil, he was prioritizing getting off the handcuffs over his taste buds. John sighs and then—squirms—over Chris. His gun rubs over Chris’ hip, then arm, and it’s still warm from being fired recently. His fucking knee jams into Chris’ stomach, driving out the air, and then he’s mostly behind Chris, with their legs rammed up against the lid together so there’s no way Chris is moving any time soon.

They both go still as footsteps come near. The gun edges up Chris’ arm, over his shoulder, and then he can smell it hovering next to his head. John curses very softly into the back of Chris’s neck, making the skin there prickle. Chris is too fucking old for this, too goddamn experienced, but embarrassingly, he feels the crotch of his jeans start to tighten.

“Fuck,” John mutters. His fingers screw between Chris’ head and the floor, then poke hard into Chris’ ear. They leave something small and squishy behind. Chris nearly forgets himself and only just bites down the yelp. Then John reaches around. His arm presses over the front of Chris’ throat and Chris stiffens. “Earplugs,” John hisses, and stuffs in the other one.

Then he fires at something through the trunk. There’s a distant scream, running feet like they’re running right on the car; the earplugs are going to save Chris’ hearing but his head is still ringing madly. He’s dizzy and can’t do much but groan as John yanks him flat back against the other man, elbow pivoting on Chris’ ribs while John fires two more shots. Then John goes still, just pants into the back of Chris’ neck. His gun drops so Chris can feel the heat coming off it and it’s right in line with Chris’ groin. Jesus.

Ten seconds. John heaves up the trunk lid, then gets out. Chris is slower to follow, what with the cuffs and the headache. He finally gets his head up in time to catch John turning back from the perimeter check. John’s shaking his head, pouring powder into one ear from a vial—he probably has protective runes or an amulet somewhere, but tinnitus is a bitch—and he and Chris catch each other looking. He blinks, his eyes drop below Chris’ waist, then come back up a little too slowly for just amusement.

John comes over and takes out the gag and the earplugs. “I’m, we’re due at eight-thirty,” Chris mutters. “If you could just pass me the keys, my car’s outside.”

“Yeah, by the west wing,” John says, mouth moving slowly. So Chris can lip-read, not any other reason, Christ—Chris hasn’t felt so humiliated since his first hunt. He reaches around and fiddles with the cuffs till one clicks open. “We’re up for eight-fifteen, but next time, I will bring you in. You seem a better man than your file lets on, Argent. Don’t make this hard for me.”

“Absolutely, sir,” Chris says. Because if he’s going to be reviving his teenage side, why not the sarcasm, too?

John pauses, and for a second Chris thinks—but John just hauls Chris out of the trunk. He lets Chris drop roughly against the bumper, then stalks off. Chris rubs at his wrist, then at his forehead. Then he swears, pulling at his clothes, and hurries off to find his car. If he breaks a couple speeding laws, he probably has time to change into the spare set of clothes he always keeps in his trunk.

Run-in number six, Chris gets John’s gun nearly in his mouth.

He’s got his hands up, but John’s in some kind of temper and shoves him back into the tree. Then spins him around and shoves him again. Chris jerks his head to the side just in time to save himself from a broken nose. The gun muzzle jabs into his neck, just to the side of the carotid.

“Look, I’m not here to get in the way, I’m trying to help,” Chris hisses. “I tracked them all the way from the store, they’re setting up a snare.”

“Really, I wouldn’t have guessed. I thought they were macramé artists, that’s why all the rope,” John drawls. He’s pulling Chris’ wrists together at the small of the back. Something sticky and slightly stretchy wraps around them, and then Chris hears the distinctive skrrrch of tape being peeled off a roll. The gun slides down Chris’s neck, following the spine, then lifts completely as John, fucking professional that he is, mummifies Chris’ fingers, too. “You don’t have a license, and even if you did, a darach is Type IV, Argent. You see one, you have a duty to report it immediately to the nearest federal agent for us to handle it.”

Chris exhales in frustration, then tries to turn his head and get eye contact. “It’s not a darach yet, those are just groupies—”

“—conspirators committing a felony on Forest Service land,” John says. He pushes Chris’ head back against the tree. Holds it in place, and…he is taping Chris at neck height to the tree, the son of a bitch. Tight, too, so there’s no way Chris can even get his head turned the other way. “Sit tight, I’ll come back for you. Don’t sit tight, I’ll phone up Alpha Hale and ask if she minds helping out the bloodhounds.”

“John,” Chris hisses. He senses the other man go still. “John, John, damn it, there are three of them—”

“Yeah, I can count.” John grabs Chris by the jaw, pushes up. Tapes over Chris’ mouth.

He draws two circles around Chris and the tree, one with mountain ash, the other with some greenish powder Chris doesn’t recognize, and then lopes off. And Chris is standing there, taped tight, pissed off and helpless to do anything about it.

Chris tests his bonds even though he’s sure John is using some fancy polymer that’ll hold, but his pride is satisfied well before he hears a muffled gunshot. He goes stiff against the tree, straining his ears to hear something, anything. The seconds tick by and Chris starts to feel a little cold. It’s quiet in the woods tonight, no bird noises, no small rodents scurrying around. He jerks his head again, then groans as the tape cuts into his neck.

“Oh, good, you can listen to instructions.” John stops at Chris’ flinch and subsequent exhale of relief. Then he walks around to where Chris can see him. He looks uninjured. “If you’re so worried, Argent, you could actually trust me to do my job. I know you freelancers think you’ve got one over us government stiffs, but we’re not all pencil-pushers any more than you’re all bloodthirsty hicks.”

He reaches out and pulls the tape off of Chris’ mouth. It hasn’t been so long that the spit has softened up the glue, and Chris can’t help the pained hiss, or the inadvertent back-arch. But okay, when he sees the way John looks at him right then, Chris could help whether he walks out of this with just dented pride. He could. He’s just feeling kind of goddamn out of control at the moment, being tied up notwithstanding.

“Maybe I just wanted to invite you out for coffee,” Chris says, and watches John’s eyes go dark and dangerous. “Thank you for doing your job, as a taxpaying citizen.”

John doesn’t say anything. Just stares, stares and touches the side of Chris’ mouth where the tape’s made the skin raw. His fingertips feel like a brand.

Chris hisses again, and then suddenly John is wrapped around his back, driving him hard into the tree trunk. Hands are grinding into his jeans pockets, teasing at his cock, too far off, too soft with the pocket cloth in the way, fuck, and then a hot mouth bites him behind the left ear. He humps the tree like a dog, halves of his coat squeezed out of the way so the bark is scratching right through his shirt. He can feel the sting across his nipples and down his breastbone, across his belly. His blood’s burning right through his skin.

“Invite me to fuck off,” John says, angry, urgent. He rolls his hips into Chris’ ass, sucking wetly over the back of Chris’ neck. One of his hands pulls out of the pocket, rubs up to the waistband, folds over Chris’ erection. “Now, Argent. Or—”

John,” Chris says, groaning. He inches his knees apart. The tape’s holding him up but his body drops just enough to snug the hard line of John’s cock against his ass. They both moan, and then John sticks his hand into Chris’ pants, traps Chris’ cock between a firm palm, slicked up with something, Jesus, he carries that with him, and stiff denim. “Fuck, fuck, please, please. Stay—”

There’s a strangled, harsh, desperate sound when he hears the sound of a zipper behind him, and then he realizes he made it. He arches against the tree, tape jerking hairs off his neck. John’s mouth leaves and he lets out a sharp, panicky breath.

But then there’s the unmistakable push of a cock at his back. Right over his taped hands so the joined wrists cradle it; he flexes his fingers but the tape’s not giving, he can’t feel it and he wishes, he wishes so badly he could. He can feel the warmth of it sliding up under his coat, can feel his shirt starting to stick with precome to his back. And John’s back tight against him, working his cock against his thigh, sucking hickeys that Chris is distantly cringing at down under the collar of his coat. Chris writhes and John pulls sharply on his cock.

He stills, wincing. John keeps moving, rubbing himself off on Chris. Teeth glance off the line of Chris’ jaw and he makes a noise disturbingly close to a whimper. His knees are shaking.

A warm, clinging line stripes up his shirt. John shudders, mouths along Chris’ jaw till they’re nearly kissing. His hand starts up in Chris’ jeans again, setting a vicious pace. When Chris comes he keeps working Chris’ cock till Chris is sagging against the tree, needing the tape and the press of John’s body to stay on his feet.

They lean against each other. John fidgets his hand in Chris’ pants, maybe not on purpose, and then definitely on purpose dabbles at the come slicking down Chris’ leg when Chris twitches. Then his phone goes off.

He doesn’t even take his hand out of Chris’ jeans. Just pulls his cock out from under Chris’ coat, changes how he’s leaning against Chris. “Yeah?” John says gruffly. “No, found ‘em, bagged ‘em. Also, found Argent.” He pauses while Chris bites down a hiss. “You feel like coffee? His invite.”

Chris finds his voice. “Who?”

“Melissa McCall,” John says. Which adds up to a certain extent; Melissa’s the nurse designated to take Forest Service calls, and her son and John’s son seem to have known each other since before the move. Still, Chris hadn’t picked up on anything that’d make John sound like that, low and speculative and fuck, making Chris’ cock think he’s fifteen again. “She likes you. Talked me out of just kneecapping you right off.”

“What,” Chris says. His head’s clearing, but somehow it feels like the world is still spinning on him. He’s not even sure what the hell he’s just done here. He’s got a daughter. He loved his wife.

John shifts against him, presses a kiss to the back of Chris’ neck where the tape’s finally starting to twist off. It hurts on the raw skin, even more because it’s tender. “Say fuck off,” John says. “Or tell me how you take your coffee.”

Chris breathes in, then out. Moans when John brushes another kiss over his cheek. “Fuck, you’re not fair,” he mutters. He closes his eyes. Definitely have had better ideas. But hell, it might kill him, but he can’t help wanting to see how this one ends. “Black, two sugars.”

Chapter Text

“He’s my best friend,” Stiles says. “My oldest friend. My…well, only friend, for most of my childhood. Only friend that I didn’t make for cover reasons or because I needed an in to restricted-access whatever, anyway.”

Derek looks pained. “Okay, so Scott’s pack.”

“Whoa, whoa, hold on right there. Let’s not just go throwing the p-word around now,” Stiles says. “Scott and I are tight, right, but we still have boundaries that people need to respect.”

Peter is holding up better than Derek, but only just. The fact that they’re having this conversation while Stiles is trying to scrub blood off his ear probably has something to do with that. “So he’s not pack.”

“In the sense that he’s a strong, independent werewolf who don’t need no stinkin’ alpha, yeah, and no disrespect to any of us intended, that had better be straight up front. He’s cool with alphas. He’s cool with me being an alpha. He and his mom just don’t feel like going that route,” Stiles says. He picks at a particularly persistent flake behind his ear, then grimaces as a couple strands of hair come off with it. “But we’ve got each other’s backs. We fight each other’s fights, it’s just we do it side by side. Anybody wants to give him shit about being omegas is going to hope I get them first.”

Derek opens his mouth, then closes it. He looks at Peter, who briefly seems like he’s going to snot his way out of this one, elder or not. But then Peter sighs and pinches the bridge of his nose. “So he’s…allied?” Peter says.

“Um.” Stiles does his best to remember the nontraditional pack structure research he’s been doing, in between midterms and finally getting their furniture and fucking like a pair of sex-crazed betas can’t keep their hands off him. He does his best, but even he gets tired sometimes. “I guess?”

Peter rubs at his eye, then sighs again. He steps up to Stiles and pries the wad of wet towel out of Stiles’ hand, and starts to dab at the side of Stiles’ face. “All right, well, I suppose that’s not too different from the agreement his mother and Talia hashed out when they first arrived.”

“Yeah, except when he comes over for homework help and Playstation, you can’t stand on the porch and pull that territorial shit,” Stiles says. He rolls his eyes at Derek’s grumble. “What’s your problem with him, anyway?”

“He’s an asshole.” Derek slides in beside the sink and turns so he’s leaning his back to the wall, his hands in his pockets. His eyes idly track the movement of Peter’s hand against Stiles’ face. “I just don’t get him, all right? He runs out on the full moon like everybody else, but sometimes he acts like he hates what he is.”

Peter hums in agreement. “Though his mother’s lovely. Even before we found out she works with you and your father, Melissa always struck me as an intelligent, resourceful woman. And quite attractive, too, even with her son running her ragged.”

Derek rolls his eyes at the last part, while Stiles just snorts and curls his hand over Peter’s wrist. He grips it for a second, then pulls back and grins at Peter’s fleeting look of disappointment. “Like being jealous of Melissa’s anything new,” Stiles says. He checks his ear in the mirror, then gets his arm up in time to grab the back of Peter’s neck, stopping the man just short of licking him. “I love her to death, seriously. She’s awesome. And Scott’s pretty good too, once you get to know him. It’s not either of their faults that Scott’s dad was such an asshole he put them off packs for good.”

Peter tilts his head. His eyes are half-closed, fixed on Stiles’ ear, and his mouth is a little open and his tongue-tip is still peeking out, pink and inviting, and he’s totally playing to the mirror because Stiles is staring at their reflections and it is working. He hums again as Stiles gives his neck a warning squeeze, bending into it, then regretfully withdraws.

“My car’s a lot cleaner than this,” Derek says, though he’s looking like he wishes Peter had kept pushing. He glances around the dingy gas station restroom. “And that’s something I never got, either. Even if his dad was an asshole, his pack should’ve—”

“His pack probably still hasn’t found out,” Stiles says. Kind of sharply; Derek goes stiff and his eyes snap over, while Peter breathes out slowly and dips his head toward Stiles’ shoulder, and not because he’s flirting.

Stiles bites his lip, then knocks the tap off with his wrist. He looks at his face in the mirror again and can’t help glimpsing Peter’s watchful gaze. It’s still…weird how they just drop everything and listen to him. Sure, yeah, they snark and sneak around, and they’ve got no problem questioning him if they don’t get it, but every time he opens his mouth, they perk up. They’re both older than him and they had their own lives going on (still do, even if Derek’s largely consists of stalking and intimidating), and then he shows up and they just—rearrange everything.

It’s flattering, yeah. It also makes Stiles freak out a little, late at night when he wakes up and they’re there and fuck, he wants them to stay there so much. It’s weird and flattering and nerve-wracking and he just really hopes he doesn’t screw it up too badly.

“I can’t really talk that much about it, it’s Scott’s and Melissa’s deal,” Stiles says after a moment. He stares at the sink. “Also, classified up the shit, too. But his dad was—still is, as far as I know, a federal agent. Not Forest Service. He was undercover, met Melissa, got for-real married and got her pregnant, and then they divorced and he fucked off without mentioning to her that hey, he’s a werewolf.”

Derek sucks in his breath, but it’s Peter who finally says something. “Most packs wouldn’t hold that against you. On the contrary—”

“Yeah, well, Scott was a late bloomer, so Melissa didn’t figure it out till that faithless son of a bitch was long gone,” Stiles mutters. “She went looking for him and got shunted around a lot—hey, most of us try but there are some jackass feds out there. Anyway, eventually she ran across my mom, who felt really bad about it and offered to help out. Which is how we got to know each other, but that’s a long side-story. What you want to know is yeah, they did figure out which pack, and Melissa looked up a couple members, but she decided she didn’t want to go there. I know Scott and her have talked about it, and he doesn’t want to either, and it’s really their decision.”

That isn’t exactly true. A pretty significant portion of the werewolf community would disagree, even if New World packs are less strict about when pack members can leave. And even with the more progressive packs, which the Hales appear to belong to, they look at it as kind of a tragedy, as a failure to reach a good resolution. Single-parent families aren’t easy, neither Scott nor Stiles would say that, but they damn well aren’t failures.

“I suppose if his father is still allowed to be a pack member, that’s not a sterling recommendation,” Peter says. He leans over and brushes his nose against Stiles’ cheek, then starts to step back. When Stiles grabs his wrist, he stills. Then he lets out a long, low breath as Stiles turns and presses their cheeks more firmly together. “If he ever wants a more formal position, your word is good enough,” he murmurs. He nuzzles towards Stiles’ mouth, then smiles when Stiles pushes him off. “Otherwise, very well, he’s your friend.”

“Even if he doesn’t seem to like us either,” Derek adds. He lifts his brows when Stiles looks at him. “He doesn’t.”

“Scott’s just protective,” Stiles says, moving back from the sink. “He’s not used to me dating when it’s not cover.”

Peter’s already at the door, but he turns sharply at that. Then stays put while Derek swings up way close to Stiles, hips and arms brushing, and Derek’s throat might be properly bared but he’s totally hustling Stiles into Peter. They’re a sandwich for a beat too long before Peter opens the door.

“Not that you’d know anything about overprotective,” Stile mutters. He yanks the tail of his shirt over his crotch, then raises his arm and hooks it over Derek’s shoulders when his beta sidles up again. If they’re going to play that game, then yeah, Derek can hide Stiles’ situation till they get to the car. “For the record, I didn’t do it that much. I don’t like leading on people. And my dad had a ton of guidelines for it and kept eyes on me all the time and we’re a shady covert task force, not a bunch of abusive pedophilic pimps, and—”

“Alpha,” Peter says. He sneaks up while Derek’s opening the car door and gets his hands on Stiles’ waist, and then somehow squirrels them into the backseat so Stiles is the one with fingers half-in Peter’s pants. Someday Stiles is going to figure out how the hell Peter does that. “Alpha, if you don’t want us to think about it, please change the subject.”

Which he says while settling Stiles between his knees, sounding like sex and looking like butter is melting in his mouth and wouldn’t Stiles come and lick it out, please? Shit, is Stiles going to figure out how he does that. Someday. Later.

Chapter Text

The first time Melissa and John have sex, it’s well after her divorce but only a year or so past Claudia’s death. They’re dead-tired after a successful but extremely strenuous mission breaking up a smuggling ring, which had somehow ended in desperate sprints up and down a small canyon. Melissa’s legs feel like they’re about to fall off, her eyelids ache, and her brain just won’t stop jumping long enough for sleep to catch it. And she’s got a redeye flight home in two hours, so that she’ll hopefully be able to wake Scott up in the morning for school.

“How’s Stiles,” she says, mostly on auto-pilot.

John sits next to her and then puts his head in his hands. “Tree didn’t work out,” he says. He sounds beaten as an old rug. “Jesus. Go on, get some sleep.”

Melissa inexplicably wants to slap him for that, like it’s that easy. “You go and get some sleep.”

He looks at her, and she looks at him, and they both crawl sideways into the crappy nook with its one crappy cot. He’s too tired to give her any bullshit about gentlemen and ladies and she’s too wired to not notice he’s more comfortable to lie on than the canvas. They fidget around for a couple minutes, and then she sticks her hand down his pants and after that he buries his face between her legs, and that’s what finally gets her to fall asleep.

When they wake her for her flight, a whole fifty minutes later, she’s still too exhausted to really care. She wipes herself off in the plane toilet, tries to doze a little more during the flight, and then gets off and does her damnedest to remember whether Scott’s got any tests or after-school practice or anything like that that she needs to remind him about. She doesn’t think about John, other than oh, yeah, need to call him and make sure he got back okay. Which she does right before wiping out on the living room couch.

She’s got a voicemail waiting for her when she wakes up. John sounds like he usually does after a hard mission, raspy and fretting about whatever fresh mess Stiles welcomed him back with. She gives him a call back, they chat a bit, and then she goes about her day.

The second and the third times are pretty similar, except that it’s the back of an ambulance and a small-town clinic’s examining table, respectively. They’re months apart, and while occasionally they cross Melissa’s mind, they go with all the other stray thoughts that missions drag in with them: in the back, out of the way. They’re not dating—Melissa is dating, unsuccessfully, a string of bland, nice, unsatisfying men who are timid around Scott and who never seem to know what to do with her. She and John, they’re just seeing each other once in a while.

Then John and Stiles head across the country to trial a tree in Maine. It pretty quickly doesn’t work out, but there’s not another immediate candidate and John wants to stay put for at least the rest of the school year, try and give Stiles some stability. Scott is a little sulky at being separated from Stiles, but he’s a good kid, makes do with emails and phone calls. Melissa sympathizes and settles down to her own regular calls and emails, and it works fine for her so she doesn’t think much on it. Trades sons with John for the holidays, runs into him at work conferences, commiserates about mutually-known incompetent colleagues.

It’s a long stretch of years before the Stilinskis and she are posted in the same area again. Scott’s thrilled and she’s happy to see them, too. Beacon Hills has grown on her, in the couple years she’s been here, and she’s really starting to think this might be the place for her and Scott. And she’s hoping it might work out for John and Stiles; she knows better than that, maybe, but the world can’t be so cruel as to jerk the Stilinskis around forever and something has to work out. Stiles is such a bright, genuinely good kid, despite his tendency to drag chaos in his wake, and John has put in more than enough of his time. It has to work out.

But in the meantime, they’re being run ragged with all these ridiculous darachs wanting a piece of the Nemeton. She and John end up in the Forest Service office’s utility closet during John’s last pre-move visit, groping like teenagers in the dark. John rips her scrubs.

“Shit,” he mutters. “Shit, sorry.”

“Don’t worry about it,” she says. She tries to catch her breath. “So what time are you coming again?”

He straightens up and looks at her, and for some reason that’s when it hits. He’s—they’re not just going their separate ways after this. In three days he and Stiles will be living in town, and Melissa needs to know what time they’ll be in so she and Scott can come over for the welcome dinner. They’re going to see each other practically every day.

“Five, six, I’m hoping,” John says slowly, like everything Melissa is feeling is written all over her face. “But Blake is…the latest intel’s not great, we might have to find her quicker than we thought. It might be better if we just text you. If that’s okay.”

“Yeah. Yeah, probably for the best.” Melissa brushes some hair out of her face. “Listen, John…”

“If you want to stop,” John starts hesitantly. “If you’re seeing somebody—”

He’s offering first. Of course he’s offering first; he’s a good man, one of the few truly good ones Melissa’s met. Melissa looks at him in the dark, at the half-hidden lines of him, and she realizes she doesn’t even need to think to know how the rest is.

“I’m not,” she says. She pauses. “I…let’s just get you here first, and then see, all right?”

And yeah, that’s all right with John. But he’s a little quieter than usual and she’s not sure how to read—well, no, she knows how to read that. She’s not sure whether she wants to.

She’s got three days to think it over. Scott is not in any trouble at school that she knows of, aside from the usual distraction over his girlfriend, and the hospital is, thankfully, slow. Her work with the Forest Service isn’t, but at this point she can only wait and watch, so she’s got a lot of time sitting by herself.

And what she thinks is, it’s really been a while since she was in a relationship. It’s been a while since she’s even tried. She’d been kind of frantic about it, desperate to give Scott a whole home and herself some kind of confidence that not all men thought she wasn’t worth staying for. She’d tried and tried and tried, and then…it’d just gotten pushed back. Emergencies with her patients. Forest Service calling her in. A couple moves—she and Scott hadn’t had to shunt around like the Stilinskis, thank God, but they’ve been uprooted a few times, mostly from hospital layoffs. The Service always took care of them but they needed the cover, and anyway, Melissa wasn’t interested in being a full-blown agent. And then Scott, hitting puberty without a pack to support him, and Melissa doing her damnedest (with a giant lift from the Stilinskis) to make sure he didn’t notice the difference.

It’d all just eaten up her dating time and she hadn’t noticed. Even when her life had settled down again, when they’d carved out a decent living in Beacon Hills and an understanding with a pack leader who respected their decision to stand apart, she hadn’t noticed and she’d gone right on without it. And she likes her life now. She doesn’t feel lonely, doesn’t feel like she’s less than a woman without a Relationship.

Though she would like more sex, she thinks idly, and then laughs to herself and flushes. And then she laughs again, looking at the email that’s just popped up from John. He writes like he always writes, businesslike with a dry, personal twist at the end, and she thinks that she really likes him. Loves him. She’s not lonely because she has people like him and Stiles in her life, and she loves him because he’s been there all along, helping her get to a life that she likes.

Yeah, she loves John. She loves Stiles, too. And she’s pretty fond of sex with John. But she’s not, she realizes, in any tearing hurry to change things. And anyway, is there really much to change? A ring and a piece of paper, or even just having one house instead of two, that’s just putting icing on a cake that’s been baked for a long, long time.

Melissa just hopes John feels the same way. She knows him—thinks she does, and she’s not feeling too nervous about it. But still. She owes it to him to make sure. They’re friends, after all.

The night John and Stiles move to Beacon Hills, it seems like everything kicks into another gear. Melissa and Scott can barely breathe for all the new plans and incoming darachs and good God, now the Hales are involved? She can’t keep track.

She and John run around desperately trying to keep things under control, and wishing to hell that they could strangle the numbskulls at central command who won’t staff up the office till a decision on the Nemeton’s been made. They get a lot of time together, but it’s not really time they can spend on personal business. Just snatches here and there, tired mutters over coffee.

“I think Chris Argent’s following me around,” John says. He heaves a sigh, rubs his temple. “He know about the Nemeton?”

“Can’t imagine he wouldn’t. These people have not been subtle,” Melissa says. She looks at him, then reaches out and touches his shoulder. “I think we can leave him alone.”

John raises an eyebrow. “You sure? His family’s pretty notorious, and it wouldn’t be the first time a hunter decided to stop things by taking on the tree.”

Melissa has known John way too long—and knew Claudia, too—to be scared off by the thread of iron in his voice. “Chris is not his family. I’m surprised, John. You usually don’t judge men by their cover.”

“Yeah, well…yeah.” John grimaces. “I’m just worried about Stiles. This is the ninth one, Mel. He takes it even harder each time, and—and the damn local pack isn’t helping. But—never mind. I thought you and Chris had some run-ins over Scott dating his daughter?”

It’s Melissa’s turn to grimace. “A few. He’s very protective of Allison. Suppose I can understand, considering Gerard tried to kidnap her. Allison had a curfew because of that, and she and Scott broke it. A lot.”

“I seem to remember you calling him a gun-happy son of a bitch who was going to be sorry when his precious baby girl gave up his name,” John says dryly. “And didn’t I promise you I’d kneecap him if he hurt Scott?”

“I did, you did, and I’m not saying I might still need to call in that favor,” Melissa says, just as dryly. “I still think he overreacted. But he backed down when he saw—he really does love his daughter, and I think he gets that Scott cares about her, too. They almost get along these days. And…well, he apologized to me, and we’ve gotten to know each other a little better. I think I feel sorry for him.”

John turns and looks at her. “Sorry? You?”

She hits his arm. “I am a nurse for a reason, Stilinski. I have a compassionate nature.” Then she sobers. She drinks some coffee. “Yeah, I feel sorry for him. He’s from an Old World hunter family, you know. Truer to that than his father or his sister, but from what I hear, the family still in France practically disowned him. I get the impression he had to fight hard just to keep them from contesting his custody of Allison.”

“I knew they’re matriarchal, but I didn’t think it meant that,” John says. He frowns, but then his phone goes off, and then they go off again.

Despite what she says, Melissa’s not so compassionate that she doesn’t check up on Chris. He’s definitely tracking some of the rogue hunters that’d been piling in. He’s also definitely interested in John, and if John hasn’t noticed the wistful looks, then Melissa has a were-rabbit for a son. Argent isn’t even trying to hide it. A man his age—had been happily married too, by all accounts, and it’s been a couple weeks. Either John’s shown himself by now, or Chris has figured it out, but Chris has to know that the Stilinskis aren’t normal Forest Service employees.

“So, Chris Argent still following you?” Melissa says, next chance she gets.

John spills his shovelful of dirt. Then he kicks the dirt in and sticks the shovel in the ground, and sits down on the back bumper of his SUV. “Mel.”

“Oh, come on, you heard all about my dating mistakes for years,” Melissa says. She finishes up the coroner’s report and slides her pen into the clipboard clip. “He’s attractive. Even when he was being an asshole to Scott and me, I couldn’t help noticing that.”

“Melissa?” John says uncertainly. He rakes his hair off his face. Leaves a streak of dirt across his forehead and she’s tempted to get up and rub it away.

It’s just what would she do after that, she thinks. Kiss him, push him back. Crack a joke. None of them sit right with her, and after a second, she just stays where she is and lets him look. “Listen, John. You know you’re family to me, you and Stiles, right?”

John inhales slowly, nods just as slowly, and Melissa curses herself.

“Goddamn it. I mean—I love you, you know,” she says. She smiles and it feels a little twisted, but she means it. “I love you, and no, I’m not seeing anyone, and I think I’m finally fine with that. But I don’t…I don’t want another husband. Scott and I, we’re so lucky. We have so many good things, and—and I’m not saying I’m afraid, if that makes sense. I’m not afraid because I don’t want to screw up what I’ve got. I just…I just think I’ve already got everything that I want, and I’ve only just noticed, and…God, I’m not making any sense.”

“Nah.” Then John shakes his head. He rubs his hand over his face again, erasing half the streak from his forehead and starting a new one on his cheek, and then chuckles. “No, I think you are. And I love you too, Mel. Have for years.”

They grin at each other, and yes, thank God, he does know her. And she knows him, and they are both so completely relieved. So relieved; Melissa laughs and hops off the bumper, and then she and John are making out next to the grave, and wow, she’s missed his kisses.

Some shred of decency keeps them from actually fucking till the body’s buried and John’s at least driven them back to the road. Scott gives them a call barely three seconds into the afterglow, something about Stiles and the Hales, and for once Melissa does see the funny side.

“He’s a teenager,” she says. “He should be dating. Granted, Derek and Peter Hale are not what I was imagining, but they’re more reliable than they look. Talia’s not so bad either, once you get on her good side.”

“I am on Talia’s good side, that’s the whole problem,” John mutters. He turns onto the exit road. “Look, Mel, about Chris…you said he’s old-fashioned.”

Melissa glances at him. She watches the tic of the muscle in his jaw. “You are too, in your own way.”

John rolls his eyes at her.

“He is,” she says. “He’s not like the Hales, he’s not going to make the first move. And if you don’t want him, you’re not going to either. I know you, John. You don’t hurt people just for fun.”

“Well, I try not to,” John mutters. He drums his fingers against the wheel, then looks at her.

“If you’re not ready, you’re not ready,” Melissa says after a while. She stretches her legs out, then stifles a yawn. God, they need more bodies in the field. “If you’re not somebody who wants something serious, then you’re not that kind of person.”

John laughs, and when she looks over, he brushes his hand over hers for a second. Then he turns back to the road. “We’re all serious types, and you know it,” he says. “If you don’t feel like getting up in heels and a dress for a date that doesn’t involve dead bodies, that doesn’t change anything.”

“Yeah. Yeah, all right,” Melissa says. She shifts in her seat, then lets out a slow, steady breath. “But maybe you do, John. Well, not the heels and the dress part, not unless I’ve completely got both of you wrong. And that’s all right too. I might start wanting nice dates again. Just not right now. And you don’t need to wait on me any more than I’m going to hurry up for you, if that’s what you want.”

They drive on out of the preserve. Melissa yawns again, then digs her fingers into the corners of her eyes to try and keep them open.

“Though I don’t think he’d mind the dead bodies either,” she says.

“Probably not,” John says quietly. He’s thinking. “Thanks, Mel.”

“Any time,” Melissa says. “Now take me home. I’ve got a full shift tomorrow.”

Chapter Text

“Oh,” Derek says. His hair’s mussed every which way, he has a pillow seam grooved into one cheek, and Stiles’ shirt is barely stretching over his arms and chest. “Uh. Mr. Stilinski.”

“Good morning, Derek,” John says, sipping his coffee. He turns back to the porch doors. “Don’t suppose you know—”

“Oh, yeah.” Derek comes the rest of the way into the kitchen, stance loosening up. His eyes flick around the room and then settle on the fridge. “Stiles said you eat meat once or twice a week. It’s good flavor, low-fat and low cholesterol.”

John nods along. “No kidding. So this is you.”

“Yeah,” Derek says. He opens the fridge and takes out the milk, and then glances back at John. “Just showing we can help out. We take pack seriously, betas aren’t freeloaders.”

“Good to know,” John says slowly. He takes another sip of coffee. “Because that is an awful lot of crow shit.”

“Wait—wait, what?” Derek’s next to John in an instant, with barely a puff of displaced air. He’s lost the swagger and looks completely gobsmacked, and to be honest, John likes him a little better for it. “What the hell—I left three rabbits out there!”

“Well, they’re scavengers,” John observes, swirling his cup. Then he squints at the porch. “I think those might be buzzard feathers, too.”

Derek runs his hand through his hair, then makes a frustrated noise, his shoulders hunching. “But they just…came up and grabbed them? They don’t do that at home.”

“Because we have wards on the porch against that,” Peter says. At some point he’s shown up, gotten himself a cup of coffee and also brought over the coffee pot. He offers John the pot.

“Thanks,” John says, holding out his cup. “Yeah, so we don’t. Seeing as normally, if there’s something dead on the porch, it only stays there as long as it takes one of us to either call disposal or get out the body bag.”

“I’m so, so sorry. We’ll get it cleaned up immediately, John,” Peter says. Once he’s poured John a refill, he sets the pot down and then smacks Derek, who’s still making pie eyes at the porch, on the back of the head. “I know we taught you better. If you’re gifting, you gut and skin and disjoint, and you at least wrap in butcher paper.”

John opens his mouth, reconsiders, and turns around. “Stiles!” he yells. “I’m leaving for the office. Make sure the back porch is re-warded before you go, all right?”

There’s a thump and a clatter upstairs, and a louder, longer, distinctly outraged clatter from the stairs. Both Derek and Peter wince. “What?” Stiles yells back. “Who did what to my runes? Goddamn it, those took three hours!”

Yeah, John’ll just go in early today.

Chapter Text

“I feel used,” Derek says.

Stiles pushes down on Derek’s shoulder with his chin and thinks at the Nemeton to move the branches a little to the left. The Nemeton grumps at him, sleepy with the oncoming winter, and then does what he says, with a sharp rattle that makes him wince. “That’s because you are being used. Now quiet, I did camouflaging runes, not soundproofing ones. They’re gonna hear us.”

“They aren’t going to hear us. They’re too busy arguing about whether they should’ve gone with the green rop—hey, careful.” Derek puts his arm up just in time to keep Stiles from sliding off him. He pushes Stiles back to the center of his chest, then leaves his arm looped around Stiles’ waist. “Also, tell it to get off my left foot.”

What is…oh, Derek’s gone and jammed his shoe into a fork again. Stiles sighs and wills the branches to bend a little, and then squints through the woods around the Nemeton. Most of the deciduous trees are well on their way to losing all their leaves, but there are enough evergreens around to still mask all the sightlines. Normally Stiles would just have the Nemeton sway them out of the way, but that’d make it pretty obvious that the guardian was around, and thereby defeat the whole purpose of a sting operation.

“They’re arguing more than they’re walking,” Derek adds. He shifts against the branches cradling them, then hikes up his knees so they box Stiles in, like he’s making a human kiddie pen. “Why are they such a big deal again?”

Stiles shoves at one of Derek’s knees, which is like shoving at a concrete pillar. Stupid werewolf strength; if Stiles wanted to bring the Nemeton into it, he’d have no problem moving Derek, but one, the Nemeton is already cranky and two, Derek kind of gets off on being manhandled and Stiles is not getting into that with a bunch of deputies within hearing distance. He settles for just sliding down Derek a couple inches so he can see the distance marker his dad set up earlier.

“Because they’re trying to feed vampire blood to my baby,” Stiles says. “And whatever your stupid super-hearing is telling you, they’re good enough to get hold of vampire blood. God, Derek, do you ever listen to the briefing?”

“I listen just fine. I just don’t get it,” Derek mutters. “They checked in yesterday, Peter and I could’ve gone over after dinner and taken care of it.”

Stiles resists the urge to squish Derek into the tree. Satisfying as it’d be for that two seconds, he would miss the guy. He would. “Derek, just because we sometimes unofficially kill people and also are chill about your family doing the same thing, doesn’t mean that’s what we do all the time. We’re an enforcement agency. Sometimes we arrest them, okay?”

Derek mumbles a completely insincere ‘okay,’ but he stops getting in Stiles’ way. Actually, he goes still with his head cocked, and at the same time Stiles’ phone buzzes with a text from one of the deputies. The black magic doofuses are almost within range.

Stiles automatically reaches out to the tree, just to make sure it’s not going to act up. The Nemeton’s almost ready to enter hibernation, but it’ll wake up if it thinks Stiles is in danger. Or if it’s feeling a bit peckish, and thinks it senses a tasty treat. Or if it just has the urge to be all nasty and territorial and rawr, like certain werewolfy pillows.

“Three yards,” Derek suddenly whispers. He’s got one hand fisted in the back of Stiles’ shirt, the other out to grip a branch like he’s going to swing out like Tarzan. When Stiles looks at him, Derek rolls his eyes and just grips the branch harder.

Ugh, whatever, Stiles doesn’t have time to argue. He makes sure he’s got a good hold on his tree, gets his feet braced in case Derek does something heroic, and then checks that all the rangers and cops are in position. He’s pretty damn precise with tree roots, but tree roots aren’t surgical instruments.

Boots crunch over the leaf-littered ground. Somebody gasps and says to look at how gorgeous the tree is—Stiles can’t help a grin, yeah, it’s only been a few months but his tree’s come along nicely—and then strobe lights blare and his dad shouts that they’re surrounded, it’s law enforcement, put down the buckets and put your hands up. Stiles slits his eyes against the bright light. He flexes his hands and like phantom kisses on his fingertips, he can feel the root network underfoot flexing with him.

There’s a long pause, not silent but filled with the buzz of the strobes and harsh breathing from all over. Derek’s legs shift down and his back comes up off the branch, and for all that it’s not needed, Stiles scoots out of the way because Derek’s going to go if Derek thinks he needs to.

“All right, move in,” Stiles’ dad says. “Stiles?”

“Turn down the lights, Jesus.” Stiles relaxes his hold on the tree. He stays back so Derek can jump off first, then lets Derek give him a hand down. “It’s naptime, guys, and I just put my baby to bed.”

The lights dim, then go off. After the glare clears from Stiles’ eyes, he glances at the man and woman being cuffed and read their rights, then walks over to his dad. Derek’s a little slower to follow, mostly because he’s staring at the perps like they don’t have photos from multiple angles, plus files going back to the birth certificates, back at home. But it makes him feel better, and also, it’s clearly unnerving the wannabes, which you can’t do enough of in Stiles’ book. They might be doing this one by the book, but those assholes still wanted to take his tree away.

“That went well,” Stiles says.

“For once,” his dad mutters. He’s glowering at the junior rangers and local cops like he subscribes to Derek’s school of intimidation. Then he turns and glowers at Derek, who is still freaking out the wannabes. “And now we’ll book and process them, and ship them out, and that will all go just fine too.”

“This is kind of boring,” Derek says. Then he jerks his foot away. “Ow! Why did you—”

Because Stiles is trying to save his hot, loyal, stupidly oblivious boyfriend from his father’s hugely unimpressed look, which has flattened bigger and nastier things than a werewolf. Derek blinks once, then rearranges his posture to be less posturing and more about edging behind Stiles.

“He means, wow, look at the time, we’d better go…work on useful things, like collecting moss samples!” Stiles says, hooking Derek’s arm. “And hey, why don’t I get started on that arrest report for you, too?”

“Just don’t make any unlicensed kills,” his father says. He starts to turn to an incoming junior ranger, then pauses. “And tell Peter not to call up the arraigning magistrate again. I don’t care if they’re old poker buddies, I don’t want—”

“Don’t worry, we’ll keep him busy!” Stiles hollers back, while hustling Derek off as quick as he can. “Oh, my God, what the hell, this is ‘boring’? Do you want Dad to ban you from these? Jesus, now I see why Peter gets to handle all the in-town kills. At least he knows how to lie.”

Derek looks at him. “Peter has five different tells besides his heartbeat.”

“At least he’s polite enough to make the effort,” Stiles says, rolling his eyes. “I swear to God, I’m gonna ban you if you don’t step up your game. Scott tries harder than you, and he couldn’t lie to get Allison a free ice cream on National Ice Cream Day. Now come on, we gotta go suck up to Dad with paperwork before he decides it’s my fault for not training you right.”

Chapter Text

“Your dad’s an asshole,” Allison says.

“Yeah, well, your dad has more issues than a library’s magazine section,” Stiles says.

Scott waves his hands in the air, a pained look on his face. “Guy, guys, come on, I’m sure it’s—”

Allison stares at Stiles for a couple seconds, eyes narrowed, arms crossed over her chest. Her head tilts a little, and then she shrugs and grabs one of Scott’s arms as it flails near her thermos. “It’s okay, Scott,” she says sunnily. “I think we just needed to get that out of the way first. Also, Stiles, are you okay? You seem kind of wiped.”

Scott blinks, open-mouthed, and then hurriedly takes the gift horse and cuddles up to it. He plops back behind his lunch tray and is reaching for his pudding cup before he looks up. He frowns. “Yeah, you do. And, um, library’s magazine section is not your best, man.”

Stiles is, in fact, wiped, because catch-up sex after a couple weeks of being blue-balled is only fun until…well, okay, it’s fun forever but maybe doing it on a school night was not the best idea. And his dad was too busy with whatever ‘dinner’ means at the Argent house to get him a doctor’s note.

He’s pretty sure his dad is still pissed about the whole Butterfinger confiscation thing.

“Clean-up paperwork,” Stiles mutters. He rubs at his eyes, then hides a yawn in his sleeve. Even a pack lunch of eggplant caponata and walnut risotto, courtesy of the Hale kitchen, isn’t perking him up. “Shut up, Scott, your mom always does that for you so you have no idea. Anyway. Allison. I know we had a whole unspoken agreement going but—”

Allison’s already pulling out a leatherclad, vellum-over-paper-looking book from her bag. “No, no, totally agree, it was fine when I thought they were just dating but Dad’s really, really serious about this. We need to know before he gets as bad as after Mom died and tries to agree to lifetime service just so I can pick a college in the U.S.”

“Wait, what?” Stiles says. He also mentally curses his life where he’s blessed with speed-reading and crazy-fox lateral thinking (upside of ADD), only to always get critical goddamn briefings when he’s distracted by a bunch of hot werewolves. Even when he’s getting sex, he’s getting nothing.

“Huh?” Scott also says, while shooting Stiles a scolding look like Stiles should’ve seen this coming.

He slips his arm around Allison’s shoulders and the side of her mouth closest to him quirks up. She reaches up and pats his hand without looking away from whatever she’s looking for in the book. “Um, well, it’s…complicated. But basically, we had a couple run-ins with my relatives in France,” Allison mutters. Her eyes flick up at Stiles, then away. She sets her shoulders a couple times before it sticks on determined. “It’s okay now, I think. But Dad just…I wish he’d gone to the grief counselor. He made me go.”

“Was he all, honey, you’re young, you need to get over this and live a happy life and there’s no shame in asking for help, and then totally ignored the fact that there’s a difference between being a single-parent kid and being functionally orphaned?” Stiles says.

Scott hisses at him, but then Allison laughs and Scott hilariously has to try and hide his hissing in his milk. Good friend that he is, Stiles does his best to limit his grin at Allison.

“Yeah,” she says. A little dry, a little bitter under the sunshine princess routine she normally has, and okay, when the two of them get married Stiles may actually try to edit the embarrassing Scott anecdotes in his toast to a minimum. “Yeah, exactly. And then he…oh, here it is. Okay. So, the other day, he was asking me about getting out of the arms business? You gotta get rid of anything that might support your intended’s enemies. I’m guessing he’s thinking about other hunters? That’s most of our current buyers.”

“What about dressing fancy?” Stiles asks. “I mean, really fancy.”

Allison snorts while Scott just looks more and more confused. “Oh, you saw the silk shirt too? So…” she flips a few pages “…if you’re marrying out, you’re supposed to dress to their customs, not yours. I guess that means he thinks your dad likes fancy restaurants?”

“Hah, no. I bet that was Melissa.” Then Stiles sighs. “Scott, bro, I feel you, but…she’s dating them. Get with it.”

“I’m trying,” Scott moans, face in his lunch tray, arm over his head. He unknots a little when Allison rubs the back of his head.

On second thought, Stiles is totally keeping the embarrassing photo slideshow for the reception. He can literally tell the color of the sparkles making up the hearts in their eyes. “What about snack food?”

Allison looks at him quizzically.

“Okay, um, what about sneaking your significant other foods that are rare and forbidden delights in their culture?” Stiles tries.

Allison pages back and forth for a couple minutes, then shrugs. “I got nothing,” she says. “Maybe it’s something on your side? Hey, do you have a book? We should pool our resources on this.”

“I’m…yeah, yeah, no, of course. I just…gotta go download it,” Stiles says. And yawns. God, maybe he should ask for a dedicated research intern instead of his own car.

Well, no, he’s still going to have to find the time to actually read the results. Damn it.

Chapter Text

Chris is helping John try and find which box he keeps the pixie-repelling pellets in when they turn up the toys. John doesn’t notice for a couple minutes, since Chris is on the quiet side anyway, but eventually he picks up that the boxes on Chris’ side are no longer disappearing. He looks up and Chris is holding one box, staring into it with a weird look on his face.

“Are those the fertility idols?” John says.

“What?” Then Chris’ look gets even weirder. He shakes his head. “I…doubt it.”

John goes over. He winces, takes the box from Chris, and then thinks the better of putting it down and checks the label on the side first. In Stiles’ handwriting, it says: Recreational equipment, Dad, fragile. “Damn it, Stiles,” John mutters. “Okay, so…”

“You serious with this, or are they just talking props?” Chris asks, looking up. He still looks…something John can’t peg, but the rest looks like amused. He absently scrubs his wrist against his jeans. “It’s not like we don’t come across it, John. I think it’s everyone’s go-to excuse for what’s in their trunk when the cops pop it, and you never know what the cop knows. I’ve gotten ones who wanted me to recite all the safety warnings before they’d believe me.”

“They’d believe you have a reason for off-label use of crossbow bolts?” John says.

Chris rolls his eyes. “Nobody who knows what they’re doing keeps those in the trunk. Too much temperature variation, you know that.”

John rolls his eyes right back and sets the box on top of the looked-at pile. “Well, just checking, because I never got that hardcore.” He hears Chris shuffle his feet and pauses, then reaches down for the lid. “There’s a lot of crossover with ritual sacrifices, with the ropes and knots and well, the effect, sometimes. Nemeton’s not just about blood. And a lot of sex trafficking relies on illegally harvested wild plants, so you do stings and…anyway, it was mostly on the job. Mel’s watched a few times, and Claudia and I experimented a little but we never really had that kind of vibe between us.”

“So it’s just me you like giving tape rash to,” Chris says. He’s definitely mocking John now, that and this sidling heat that has him coming up sideways to John, rubbing at his neck.

“I really need those pellets,” John says. He puts the lid on the box. Can’t help looking back; Chris is still way too serious but when he chooses to cut loose, his sense of humor is sly and sharp. And looks good on him, all dry tone and raised brows and faintly wicked light in his eyes. “It’s not like tape rash seems that new to you.”

Chris snorts. He pulls at the back of his neck for a second, then pushes his shirt-collar out of the way so John can see him scratching at a faded hickey on his collarbone. “It’s duct tape, John, it’s something I use on the job. I never looked at it as a recreational danger till you showed up.”

“Okay, so my kid is a smartass,” John says, shoving Chris back into the wall.

They eventually find the pellets. Eventually. Also, when John thinks back on it later, he figures Chris was trying to determine whether this was something that would make John happy, and he’s happy to leave it at that.

Well, honestly, he’s not happy. He’s still got problems with Chris just…adopting whatever will satisfy his urge to measure up to whatever the hell he thinks John deserves, as if they’re back in feudal times. But he’s already told Chris that, and it’s also not fair for Chris to do all the adapting, and anyway. There is such a thing as too much talking, and John wants the man to know he trusts him to handle it. So the box gets shoved back into the basement and doesn’t get mentioned again.

A couple weeks later, he and Chris are catching their breath in the back of John’s SUV, out in the preserve. It’s migration season and Chris was giving him a hand collecting some disoriented Arctic pixies, since the little bastards have a tendency to hole up in hollow, half-rotted, hard to safely climb trees and then die. Sometimes conservation is just a bunch of swearing and jerry-rigging and ignoring OSHA guidelines.

Anyway, the pixies are all hibernating in their transport case, ready to ship south, and John tore his shirt pretty badly getting back down the tree so he took it off, and one thing led to another and he and Chris have just finished a very enjoyable round of sex when something falls out of Chris’ coat pocket. Chris is still so dazed that he just shakes his arm out of the coat sleeve and finally gets it completely off. Then he realizes all of what’s happened and he curses and grabs for the thing, only to get hung up on, well, still having John’s fingers knuckle-deep in him.

He drops back and the thing is rolling around by John’s head, so John reaches over with his free hand and it’s a butt plug. Specifically, one of John’s butt plugs.

It’s dark but Chris is blushing. He’s blushing. He’s naked from the waist down and straddling John and has a dark line of bruises going from where his neck and shoulder join down into his half-buttoned shirt, and he’s blushing. Shit, every time John thinks he’s used to how good the man looks, and then something else shows up.

“Don’t—look like that,” Chris grits out. “We’re going to be late and Mel is going to stick us with chaperoning that damn farm trip.”

“I don’t know why they need to go to a farm to learn ecology when there’s the preserve right here,” John says. Then he shakes his head and holds up the butt plug to his face. Yep, definitely one from his box. “That is not a suggestion, Argent.”

“You’re an asshole, Stilinski.” Chris loosens up his grip on the floor. He’s still blushing but he’s settling into it. He sits back, hisses slowly as his body tightens around John’s fingers, and then smirks for a second as John’s breath hitches. Then he tenses up around the shoulders. “I stuck my hand in the wrong box when I was looking for the copper knife.”

John twists the plug. “And you had a wad of duct tape stuck to it?”

Chris presses his lips together. For a moment he looks like he’s going to mutter it away and try and change the subject, and then he straightens up over John and looks John dead in the eye. “So I never…got into it, aside from knowing how to talk about it, but I kind of thought about it. After we found that box. I don’t know, you mess up my head like…I don’t know.”

“Don’t blame me,” John says. He’s half-kidding at first, and then he sees how Chris’ eyes change and he pushes himself up on his arm. His fingers move, not on purpose, but Chris sucks in a breath and just—rocks on them, like they haven’t just fucked on a hard car floor using middle-aged bodies. “Shit—hey. Wait, okay, Chris, if you’re going to—”

Chris bites his lip this time. He chews at it, staring down at John. He’s shivering a little, and then he rolls his shoulders back and deliberately pushes down on John’s hand. They both groan, and then Chris pulls his hands back to John’s shoulders and starts kneading them.

“Yeah, that’s not fair, I guess,” Chris mutters. He sounds kind of like he’s talking to himself, kind of like he’s thinking of begging John. “But Jesus Chris, John, we should not be having sex like this. I shouldn’t be—fuck, you just fucking blew my mind, and I want to go again already.”

“You’re objecting to that?” John says.

Chris snorts. Digs his nails hard into John’s shoulders, like he’s been paying attention to Melissa’s tricks. His gaze drifts to the butt plug and then hangs there for a couple seconds. Then it snaps back to John’s face like Chris thinks John’s going to scold him, for some reason.

“I know your kid heads down to Sade sometimes,” Chris says. He’s quieter, a little halting, but his gaze is steady enough. “I’ve been in a couple places like that, for—you know, information, stake-outs. It just never clicked—I still don’t think that’s it. But I grabbed that stupid thing by accident, and I didn’t put it back, and I just…”

He shrugs, looks down. Absently, maybe, drags his hands up and down over John’s shoulders, wipes at some of the come he left on John’s stomach. He bites his lip again and John gives up and rolls them over, pinning Chris under him so he can lick and suck at Chris’ lip and fuck Chris with his fingers at the same time.

“This is really not how we’re supposed to talk about it,” John mumbles. He tries to pull back and Chris arches, half-hard against his stomach. Hell, he’s half-hard again, swelling against Chris’ thigh, and Chris keeps rolling his leg against John’s erection like they are getting in that second round.

“Yeah, I know, I—fuck. Fuck.” Chris pulls at John’s shoulder, hauling him further up till their cocks are lined up against each other. “How the hell are you supposed to start that, though? Let’s get out the box again?”

“There are checklists. You know, online,” John says, and then laughs when Chris snarls at him.

Chris grabs the back of his head and forces him down into a kiss, then jerks free just as it’s getting to the part where Chris melts and lets him take over. “Goddamn it,” Chris says. “Diner. Melissa.”

John bites his lip. He looks away when Chris shudders, looking at him, and then takes a couple deep, slow breaths. He starts to get up and then feels the butt plug in his hand, which he’s half-forgotten about. “Right,” he says. He rolls the plug between his fingers for a second, then stretches over to get at the first aid kit. “Push up your knees.”

Chris blinks a couple times. He does curl up his legs, but he’s slow about it. “What are you doing?”

When John starts swabbing off the plug with an antiseptic wipe, Chris inhales like he gets the picture, but he’s still looking uncertain once John turns back to him. John drops the wipe and sets the plug on Chris’ chest while he feels around for the tube of lubricant. “You can take it out if you want,” John says. He finds the tube and loses the first dollop because he’s busy trying to gauge Chris’ face. “This late, you know it’s us and Leanne, and Leanne’s not gonna look up from her tearjerkers for us. But I’d like to see you keep it in till we get home. You’re still coming over, right?”

It looks like Chris stops breathing for a couple seconds. When he starts again, it’s unsteady and shallow. His eyes flick all over John’s face; he’s nervous, but he also looks like molten metal’s a deep freeze bath in comparison. “Shit,” he finally mutters. He hitches against the floor, then reaches up and slings his arm around John’s neck. His knees go up as high as he can pull them. “Shit. Okay.”

“Okay,” John says. He leans down and nuzzles along Chris’ neck and then up under the jaw, working the lube over the plug. Slips up to lay soft kisses just under Chris’ mouth, tipping away when Chris chases him, and then, when he’s got the plug lined up just behind the fingers he has in Chris, kisses the man as deeply as he can.

He swaps fingers for the plug and Chris’ arm over his neck goes stiff, then shaky. Chris jerks his hips a few times; John pins them as soon as his hands are free for it, and Chris whimpers and struggles and then subsides, mouth soft and open under John’s.

John has to get off him after that, if they’ve got a hope in hell of getting to the diner. And he’s pretty damn glad he wore one of his older pairs of jeans, though even with that, he’s not exactly comfortable getting dressed. He tries not to look at Chris but he can’t not hear the man: slow, ragged breathing, clumsy bumps and thuds, muffled cursing over the uneven slide of a zipper. When he gets the engine started, it’s almost a blessing for covering that up.

So they get to the diner, where Melissa is waiting with a half-eaten piece of pie in front of her. She’s all ready to tell them off for making her wait when she looks at Chris again. Her eyes widen. Then she sits back with her coffee mug against her chest and watches them edge into the booth.

Leanne already has their orders up, and slides the plates onto the table and then immediately retreats to her TV without looking back. She justifies every obscene tip they leave her.

Melissa basically has a direct line into John’s mind at this point, and she’s close to having the same with Chris. “What the hell is it with you two and the woods?” she finally says. “Is this some camping thing? Because I am not a fan. I’ll support, but I am happy to not have dead leaves in my panties.”

“We were in the SUV,” John says.

Chris just grunts and sucks up coffee like it’s his first cup in years. When he’s finished, he puts down the mug and releases it a little early, and jumps when it rattles against the table. Then winces. John gave him the outside seat but he doesn’t even look towards the bathroom. “Give me your pie,” he says to Melissa.

Melissa raises her brow but pushes the plate across. She watches Chris inhale that too. Her eyes drop to his shaking hand, and then she looks at John. “Well, cars, I guess that’s different,” she says after a moment. She moves like she’s stretching her legs under the table;

Chris starts up, looks at her, and then, after a moment’s stiffness, suddenly relaxes enough to roll his shoulders, tip up his head with it and then let it drop naturally. He settles back and wipes his mouth with the back of his hand. The two of them figure out something, staring at each other, and then Melissa grins and gets up. She grabs Chris’ arm and pulls him out of the booth, and then reaches past him to push John back down.

“Finish your coffee and pay up,” she says. “We’ll be in the car.”

John opens his mouth. Closes it. By then they’re at the door, so he just swallows down the sense that he’s lost control and looks at his cup. And the goddamn half-full pot they’ve been stupid enough to order.

When he gets back to the SUV, he can’t see anything because someone’s switched on the ultra-dark tinting on the windows. He stops for a second and he can’t hear anything either. John wonders if maybe they should’ve grabbed Melissa and gotten their order to go, and then sighs and opens the door. Too late for that.

Too…Jesus, he thinks inanely. Melissa’s on top, grabbing Chris by the side of the head while they mutually eat out each other’s mouths. Her scrubs are off and her breasts are plumping up under his chin, while her pants are pushed down to her knees. She’s riding him slow and shallow, one hand down between them and when she lifts the next time, she lifts high enough for John to glimpse the cock she’s gripping. Chris moans and jerks his arms, which are pushed back behind the seat, and John hears the rattle of handcuffs.

“You gonna drive or what?” Melissa says. She uses Chris’ jaw to nudge aside her bra, then pops one nipple into his mouth.

“Jesus fucking Christ,” John says, and then somehow doesn’t injure himself getting into the car.

He’s never been so glad for overnight away games he ends up missing. They get to the house without getting into an accident, which is because absolutely no one else is driving at this hour, and then there’s how to get inside. John turns to ask, gets stuck watching, and finally gets snapped out of it when Chris groans something about wanting to come and Melissa just swallows it in a kiss.

They don’t look like they’re moving so John pries himself out of the car. He’s just gotten around and gotten their door open when an uncuffed Chris tumbles out in a clinging, groping, sucking rush. They back through the garage into the laundry room, and somewhere between that and the kitchen, John bends Chris over long enough to get the plug out and his cock in.

After all that, it’s pretty much a miracle that John even lasts two thrusts. Chris is already gone, limp under him, and John is contemplating sleeping on the kitchen floor when Melissa sits down next to them. She’s fingering herself with both hands, though she moves one aside as Chris weakly nuzzles in. John’s got enough of himself to sling his arm around Chris’ waist and push them up for a better angle, and then Melissa sticks her fingers in his mouth and well, yeah, he might as well suck them off.

Somehow, after she’s come, Melissa’s got enough energy to wriggle down and cuddle up to Chris’ front and lick off his face. Chris shudders, still pushed back on John’s cock, then sighs and lazily tilts his head up to kiss her. He shudders again when John nips at his nape, wraps hands over the thin red lines around his wrists.

“Fuck, I can’t,” he mutters. “Seriously. I’m going to fall apart.”

“Yeah, I’m going to need some pillows and a mattress in a sec,” Melissa seconds. She pushes up on one arm, combing the hair out of her face. Looks at something on the floor in the kitchen. “So…somebody found the box?”

Chris blushes again. Melissa loves that just as much as John, and has less shame about showing it, so she grins and slips her fingers into John’s hands, rubbing at Chris’ wrists. “Yeah, well, it’s a big goddamn box,” Chris mutters. He looks at her. “You all have one or what?”

“Well, you get along pretty well with just the hardware store. Duct tape, that’s all I’m saying,” Melissa says. She pulls back for a moment, then pushes back onto her arm. “Or…not?”

“I just…was wondering,” Chris says. He hesitates. “It’s a big box. Did you ever—”

“Well, I ran play-by-play on a couple stings.” Melissa rumples her hair. She looks at John and she’s hesitant, though whatever she sees seems to reassure her. She shrugs at Chris. “It’s different when it’s work. And John doesn’t bring his box with him if he’s just visiting. I don’t actually think I’ve seen it for what, five or six years? There anything new in it?”

John clears his throat. “This really isn’t how you’re supposed to do it.”

“Yeah,” Melissa and Chris say, distracted.

“No, really,” John sighs.

“Well, anybody getting up to get it right now?” Melissa says. She looks at both of them, then pushes over onto her arms. She snickers at them as she wanders out of the room. “I’m going for a shower, idiots. You make me wait, I get the hot water.”

Snorting, John rests his face against the back of Chris’ neck till Chris starts shifting around, tugging without actually moving away. Chris will do that, wait for him, and John should be a better person than to like it as much as he does.

He should be comatose at this point, honestly. He musters up the energy to ease out of Chris, then rolls onto his knees and grimaces as all his muscles wake up. Then pushes that away and gives Chris a hand up.

“We’re not actually looking in there tonight, are we?” Chris says. He’s joking, mostly. He leans against John like he can’t help it either. “Goddamn it, John.”

“Sorry.” John stops petting Chris’ hip. “And hell, no. Be surprised if I make it past the bed to the shower. And—”

“We’ll talk about it right. Whatever the hell that means,” Chris mumbles. He limps through the hall and up the stairs after John. “Checklists? Are we shopping or something?”

John rolls his eyes. “It was just a suggestion, Jesus. Look, we can just pull things out of the damn box and vote on it, if that’s what will work for you. I don’t really care so long as you’re all in.”

He stops to lean against the bedroom doorway and catch his breath, and then Chris settles up against his back. Head between John’s shoulders, one hand just touching John’s hip.

“You are an idiot,” Chris says after a moment.

John grins, then ducks his head as he twists around. He hooks his hand around the back of Chris’ neck, kisses the man’s temple, and then pulls him into the bedroom. The shower is going—they really should try and get there too, if only to spare John the laundry in the morning. “Shut up,” he says. “You like it.”

“Damn it, yeah,” Chris says, following him.

Chapter Text

Stiles scowls at the werewolf in front of him and tears off another piece of surgical tape. “You’re being a huge whiny baby,” he mutters, flicking Peter’s bare chest. He waits for Peter to stop twitching and then slaps on the electrode, and then waits for Peter to stop twitching again. “Besides, this was your idea.”

“It wasn’t my idea to do it in what appears to be one of the hospital’s spare freezers,” Peter says. He shifts in the chair so his nipples play hide-and-seek with his half-buttoned shirt.

They are pretty peaked. Kind of small for a guy his size, tight and brown and Stiles is staring. He fumbles with the last electrode, then looks up to catch Peter being smug. “Okay, one, I have a vested interest in avoiding Melissa giving me hell for pranking around in her workplace again. Two, we were never getting that thing out the door, because I don’t care how strong werewolves are, they don’t come with invisibility cloaks.”

Derek, fiddling with the bulky, extremely squeaky, electrocardiogram cart, mutters that he still thinks they could’ve tried the freight elevator. When Stiles glowers at him, he pretends to be reading the manual.

“Three, you’re trying to derail your own demo,” Stiles says, turning back to Peter. He sets his shoulders and reminds himself that he gets to see Peter’s naked, sculpted chest every single day, for fuck’s sake, and tapes down the last electrode. “Why would you do that?”

“Because I did think you’d be interested in how to override physiological signals for lying, but now I’m interested in exploring the possibilities of a locked room after-hours?” Peter says. He shifts in the chair again, kind of an arching humping motion that bows his throat up and makes him look like he’s spreading his legs without actually spreading them.

Stiles hits the inside of his knee to keep from getting distracted. “I am so tempted to just tie you down and smear radiology gel all over you and leave you for the janitor to find.”

“I don’t think that’s going to work how you want it to,” Derek says. And he looks smug, too, though he’s at least pushing buttons on the electrocardiogram machine. “Okay, it’s on. I think this is his baseline?”

He points at the screen and Stiles scoots his stool around Peter and the cart till he’s sitting next to Derek, watching the wavy green lines. Stiles can’t quite make out the little legends on the axes and he leans closer, only to have to grab at Derek when their stools collide.

The waves change a little. Derek grunts, moves forward on his stool and grabs the cart for balance, and settles into it when Stiles just co-opts him for a pillow and presses up against his back. The waves change a little more, and then do a crazy dance when Stiles snakes his hand down over Derek’s crotch, finds his cock and firmly cups it.

“Interesting,” Stiles says, letting his mouth move against the side of Derek’s throat. He nips hard as Derek lets a long, low rumbling sound, then hikes his hand up into the vee of Derek’s legs. “I’m pretty sure I didn’t hook you up to it.”

“Stiles,” Peter says. He sounds a lot milder than he looks, his eyes going very dark very fast. “That’s not the response we’re looking for.”

“Yeah, yeah, now you’re engaged again,” Stiles snorts.

He keeps on plastering himself to Derek, who seems to have figured out how to lean over the cart without tipping it, but he twists around so he can get out the deck of playing cards. There’s no room for tricks, and anyway, he always was more for functional play, so he shakes out the cards onto a corner of the cart and then grabs a random handful. Stiles looks at them, then turns them around so Peter can see them.

“Okay, how many queens am I holding up?”

He’s got none. “Two,” Peter says. The lines on the screen are tranquilly regular. Peter smirks and stretches in the chair again, then idly scratches at his chest. His shirt flips completely off one pec. “I knew you were going to ask me how many of something, so I was thinking of how many times I’d like to come before we leave and answered that question.”

Stiles starts, then has to slap his feet flat against the floor to keep the stool from sliding out from under his and Derek’s asses. Derek makes a vaguely startled noise, but otherwise seems totally unconcerned with their near-miss. Maybe because Stiles is squeezing his crotch. Stiles stops and Derek lifts his head, looking annoyed. “Yes or no, I’ve got a five.”

He does have a five. “Yes,” Peter says, and the waves spike like a drunken fratboy playing volleyball. Peter moves his shirt out of the way to scratch at his belly, but it rides up in the middle of it. He shrugs and unbuttons it the rest of the way. “I pricked myself with a claw to get a stress response. Those are the two simplest methods, but they’re fairly limiting since you still have to individually deal with each question. It’s better to just develop a generally calm state of mind, whatever is coming out of your—”

Stiles ignores Derek’s complaining growl and gets more comfortable on Peter. The chair’s one of those dentist-type things, with broad arms and leg support, but once you get past that, it’s kind of narrow in the body. Straddling Peter either squishes Stiles’ knees into hard metal struts or leaves them hanging out into the space under the arms, which makes him feel like he’s going to slide out. He tries both ways, then settles for the first one. Looks up to find Peter tight-lipped, gripping the arms like he’s going to—Stiles smacks one hand, then does it again when Peter growls.

“Hey, no claws,” Stiles says. “I promised Scott we were going to clean up after so he wouldn’t get in trouble. And giving them a donation for a new chair doesn’t count.”

Peter makes a big show of splaying his fingers away from the chair. More of one than he probably intends to: he’s pushing himself down into the chair enough for the faux-leather to creak, and when Stiles sits up to get at the cards again, Peter’s hands snap right back down.

Stiles has barely said ‘hey’ when there’s a squeaky wheel noise and a pair of short, sharp snarls. Then Derek huffs and cuddles his head down on the chair by Peter’s head, like he isn’t holding Peter’s wrists under his chin. “Alpha said,” he says, just a little insufferable.

“You’re enjoying this far too much, nephew,” Peter mutters. He twists a couple times but he’s not trying that hard, and he’s totally looking up at Stiles the whole time. Then he sighs and relaxes back, his head tilting as Derek lips his ear. “Very well, what was I saying?”

“Something about keeping a calm state of mind?” Stiles says. He holds up a fresh set of cards. “How many red?”

Just as Peter’s opening his mouth, Stiles pulls open his belt. The machine beeps loudly. Peter’s eyes narrow, then go back to normal and the machine shuts up. “Three,” he says.

There are two. Stiles undoes Peter’s fly and then reaches in, only to have his fingers run into more fabric. Peter makes a pleased humming noise and the screen says his heartbeat speeds up, but gradually, without a tell-tale spike. “I don’t know why I keep thinking you go without,” Stiles snorts, pushing aside Peter’s boxers. “Must be the way you always sound like it.”

“Ruins the line of my trousers, and when you spend what I do on my tailor, that’s a criminal waste,” Peter purrs. He half-closes his eyes, then turns his head to lick at Derek’s jaw. “I can see you’ve got a royal flush.”

Stiles isn’t even holding cards anymore. He rolls his eyes and gives Peter’s cock a few strokes, just till it’s standing on its own, and then shifts so he can brace one hand on the chair by Peter’s shoulder. “Why are you so smarmy, and why do I find it so attractive?” Stiles wonders. “I mean, objectively, like if you wrote it down on paper, it’d just come off so—shit, shit.”

Peter blinks, then looks up at Stiles, frowning. Then he pushes up like he’s trying to see over Stiles’ shoulder. His legs push up and get in the way of Stiles getting his own pants down. “Why do you smell like—”

“What are you doing?” Derek had clamped down on Peter’s hands, but he loosens up now as he sniffs the air. He blinks hard, and then pushes himself up by pushing down on Peter’s arms, hard enough for Peter to complain. “Wait. Wait, are you—”

“Sit down,” Stiles says, and Derek sits down. He takes a couple deep breaths, then works his fingers into himself a little farther. It hasn’t been that long—it’s his preferred way of getting off if he’s alone—but the position he’s in isn’t really optimal for loose hips, and also, maybe now was not the time to mix up the one, two, three finger routine. At least he has actual lube and didn’t have to spring for the gel in the corner.

Oh, well, he’s a bit too far in now to stop, and it’s getting better. Especially since Peter suddenly hitches under him, eyes completely blown, making these…these mewling, want-want-want noises that are new. Stiles is right there anyway, so he grabs himself a kiss and Peter just melts into it, sloppy and eager and hot. Then Stiles bites him, because there’s some fang pricking out and Stiles does not want his tongue accidentally pierced, and Peter stops trying with this little, strangled, trembling sound, and he just lies there and lets Stiles do whatever with his mouth.

Stiles gets up and he has to take a couple more deep breaths, not because of his fingers in his ass, but because his head is a bit spinny. He drops his free hand to Peter’s shoulder, pulling at it while he tests his ass’ give (Peter and Derek are both way gifted by nature in terms of cock, and while Stiles isn’t expecting physical flaws, some things are just ridiculous. And ridiculously awesome), and then scrunches up against Peter as he finally pulls out his fingers.

“Hey, what’s his heart rate look like?” Stiles says, still a little breathless.

Derek is staring down between Stiles and Peter, though what he can see, with Stiles’ flannel shirt flapping in the way, is beyond Stiles. Maybe werewolves have x-ray eyes and aren’t telling him. “What? Oh.” Derek jerks his head up and looks blearily at the screen. “Uh.”

Okay, so Stiles doesn’t really need Derek to tell him, because he can hear that stupid beeping. “Can you turn the sound off?” Stiles says, wrapping his hand around Peter’s cock.

Peter inhales sharply and instead of letting go of him, Derek jerks back and looks down and then very, very slowly up, as Stiles sinks onto Peter’s cock. Derek bites his lip till it’s bleeding, then absently licks at the blood, twisting Peter’s wrists against the chair.

“Damn,” Stiles grunts. He rocks experimentally, then hisses and goes for Peter’s belly nails-first when Peter tries to buck up into him. “No, no, no, hold the fuck still, you’re huge.”

It’s a testament to Peter’s preoccupation that he doesn’t even preen. He just flattens out, panting, the wires crisscrossing his chest quivering like Jell-O.

“Okay,” Stiles says a couple seconds later. He humps up and Peter throws his head back against the seat, half a cry dribbling raggedly out of him. Stiles grins, then flaps his hand around to the side till he feels flat slippery things. He slowly shifts so he can rest his arm on Peter’s chest, then taps the playing card against Peter’s nose. “Is it an ace?”

It’s a five. “No,” Peter says, right as Stiles bears down on him. His heartbeat spikes off the damn y-axis. He groans and rolls his hips, trying to get enough leverage to keep balls-deep as Stiles lifts off him. “Damn it, Stiles, can—”

“Oops, machine says you’re lying,” Stiles sing-songs. He flicks away the card and grabs another one. “Black or red?”

Peter gets a little bit of a crazed look in his eyes. And then Stiles reaches over and wipes some of the blood off Derek’s chin, and then licks it off his finger, and Peter just collapses. “Alpha, whichever one you want,” he says, gasping. “Just please move.”

Well, Peter’s basically proved his point, and Stiles has definitely gotten his across—Derek is practically hanging from Peter’s pinned wrists, which he’s holding one-handed, and Stiles can guess where the other one is—so Stiles doesn’t see why not. And it is awkward and cramped and frenzied sex they’re having, and it is still so fucking good. They definitely have to try this again in an actual bed.

“You should go,” Stiles says to Derek, once he’s climbed off of Peter. He grimaces and hops a little, eyeing the stool. Then he goes back to the chair. Peter’s still there but he’s more than happy to let Stiles curl on top of him, even when Stiles starts pulling off the electrodes. “You know, bigger sample size and all that.”

“Why would I need to? He’s the one who taught me, so it’s going to be exactly the same,” Derek says. He finally drags himself back to the cart and turns off the beeping. “Anyway, if you really want to know if Peter’s lying, you already figured it out.”

“I attempted to teach you,” Peter mutters. His brows twitch when the tape pulls at him, but he just resettles his chin on Stiles’ head.

Derek takes the handful of wires and hangs them over the side of the cart, then scoots his stool around so he can snort at Peter. “You made me play strip poker till I lost thirty-two times.”

“Wha?” Stiles says.

“We were stuck in a motel room in Idaho,” Derek says. “There was a snowstorm and the cable and Internet were out. He made me get dressed over and over, till I shoved him on the bed.”

Stiles lifts his head. “It took you thirty-two games to get there?”

Derek grimaces, while Peter mostly rubs his smirk into Stiles’ head instead of hiding it. “I was a lot younger,” he says. “I think I respected him back then, for some reason.”

“Hey, is this your first time together story?” Stiles says. He grins when Derek rolls his eyes. “Oh, my God, it is! It is, and…you know, that makes total sense for both of you.”

“It’s also when I figured out when he’s lying,” Derek says. Now he’s smirking, and when Peter tries to bat at him, Derek ducks the hand and folds himself over them so his head is tucked up to the corner their chests are forming, and Peter can’t hit him without getting Stiles in it. “If he’s fucking you, he can’t.”

“I can, it’s just…effort that I’d rather devote to other things,” Peter says, not quite sulking. He snorts when Derek starts up a raspy purr, but softens when Derek shifts so his ear’s right over Peter’s heart. Softens a little more when Stiles cranes up and nips at his throat. “Well, that was one.”

Stiles pauses. Then leans over and bites his neck hard. And okay, that is just playing into Peter, but he just can’t help it. The guy is so impossible and yeah, he loves it.

Derek’s purr ratchets up a notch when Peter starts rumbling, which reminds Stiles. He pokes Derek in the side of the head. “Yeah, that is one. You said he had five tells.”

Peter stops purring. “Stiles.”

“But it’s for science!” Stiles says. “Come on, Peter, don’t you wanna teach me?”

“God,” Peter mutters. He already sounds resigned. “You’re impossible.”

“Right back at you,” Stiles says. “But fine, whiny wolf, we’ll hook up Derek first. And don’t puppy-eye me, Hale. You get to take off your shirt, isn’t that always a plus for you?”

“I hate you,” Derek says, stripping off.

Chapter Text

Melissa’s pretty given up on trying to play off Chris’ visits with the other nurses. For one, they actually do have something going on. For two, she’s not a smoker, never has seen the attraction, and the smoker’s corner is pretty much the only spot that the other nurses can’t see into and that she can get back from without overstaying her break.

The balcony of the break lounge is a lot nicer, even if it’s getting chilly out. She shivers, then tucks one hand into her scrubs and drinks more coffee. “I don’t understand how Harris is still teaching,” she says. “He’s terrible. He’s downright abusive.”

“He’s dating the twenty-three-old daughter of the assistant superintendent,” Chris says. He looks at her, then shrugs. “Or so I hear.”

“You hear an awful lot for a guy with no social life,” Melissa teases. She bumps him with her shoulder; he’s smiling, but she sees him tense up, too.

He pauses, then eases his shoulders back and ducks his head into his coffee. Since they got the whole courting versus treaty-making thing straightened out, Chris has been a lot more relaxed, but he still has a tendency to put too much weight on every little thing she and John say and do. It makes her tense up, reminding her of what she and Rafael had been like at the end, but she just tries to push it down and keep getting Chris used to them. Chris at least isn’t doing it because he’s trying to hide anything; he just isn’t sure how to play yet, and he’s flat out terrified of fucking up.

She wishes she could tell him he can’t fuck up more than both she and John have before. Well, she could, but he wouldn’t really believe it. He’s got to see it himself. And knowing them, he’s going to, sooner or later.

Wow, she’s depressed today. Maybe it’s the weather—they had a nice Indian summer spell but fall’s in earnest now, and it’s been cloudy a lot this week.

“Something wrong?” Chris asks.

Melissa almost smiles at him, like she would if anyone else here asked, and then stops herself. She shrugs instead. “Not really. Not more than usual, I guess. Scott’s studying up for the SATs so he’s been cranky. Honestly, I’m not expecting any miracles but sometimes I wonder if I should just give up and let him go to the community college.”

“I’ve seen Harris around the campus. Not sure if he’s just stalking the girls, or actually teaching, but maybe you could mention that to Scott,” Chris says.

“God, that might actually work,” Melissa says. She laughs. Then she picks up on the careful way Chris is holding himself and thinks back over his words. She hadn’t been listening at first because she’d been embarrassed Scott was still retaking the SATs. “What were you doing there? Something up?”

Chris purses his lips. He looks into his coffee, then away, and then back at her, setting his shoulders. “No, just…like you, I guess. Checking out the safety school.”

“I thought Allison was doing well.” How she managed that and Scott, Melissa didn’t know, but she had to admit to wishing that would transfer to her son.

“She is, but tuition will be a stretch, even for in-state.” Chris grimaces. “And she doesn’t want to go out of California. She could get an archery scholarship if she felt like it, but there aren’t any through schools here, so far as I know.”

“Please tell me it’s not because of Scott,” Melissa mutters. “Please.”

Surprisingly, Chris chuckles. He glances at her, then drains his coffee. Then he turns around and tosses it into the trashcan. “No,” he says, shaking his head. “No, actually, I think I overheard him the other day telling her she should at least apply out of state. He’s…he’s a good guy, your kid. I know I didn’t really act like it before, but none of the problems in my family have to do with him.”

“Well, thank you,” Melissa says. She watches him watch the parking lot for a moment, then nudges him with her shoulder again. “Though you’re being a little generous there. He’s my son, I’m always going to have his back first, but I know him and he’s not an angel.”

Chris smiles at her. It’s a little tired and a lot knowing, and wry at the edges. And God, Melissa is maudlin today, but she suddenly thinks it’s a little sad, too, that they have the kind of history with their kids where they can smile at each other like that, because they just goddamn get it, and they’re only now having the kind of moment where they feel okay enough to smile with each other.

“You ever think about joining a pack?” Chris suddenly asks her. She stares at him and he blinks, then opens his mouth a little like he’s only just realizing he’d been the one to speak up. Then he winces and looks away. “Shit. Sorry. I didn’t—”

“Well, yeah, of course.” Melissa hadn’t seen that coming, but…it’s not exactly rude. Not how he’s asking it, like it’s springing out of something on his mind and not out of something he isn’t seeing in her, thinks she’s missing. “I don’t know if you know…I found out Scott was a werewolf after his father and I divorced. Found out his father was a werewolf after that, that son of a bitch. And I just was so…so terrified. Of everything. Of what was going to happen, of what I was going to have to do, of—of Scott, I’m ashamed to say. Just for a little bit, but…yeah. I was. I was so desperate to find his father’s pack just so I could have someone who’d tell me what to do, so nothing would go wrong.”

“But…then you didn’t find them?” Chris says slowly.

Melissa shakes her head. “No, I did, but it took a while and first I met the Stilinskis and—I wish you could have met Claudia. She was amazing. She knew all these weres, and not just werewolves. You know, their old tree, it was on this territorial intersection, I forget the word—”

“A march?”

“Yeah, that. So they had relations with a few different packs, and then she would protect omegas temporarily, sometimes. I think. It was kind of hard to tell them apart from the lifer omegas John knew from the military.” Melissa waves her hand and Chris nods along, and it doesn’t look like he’s just being polite. He’s probably met his share of spec ops. “Anyway, the more I hung out with them, the more I just…got used to the whole idea. It’s day by day, you know, you learn how to take care of your kid, and I guess it shouldn’t have been that big a surprise but that doesn’t change when your kid’s a were. So when I finally caught up with Rafael’s pack, I took a look and they were…well, they were well-off. I know Scott would’ve been good financially, if we’d joined.”

“But you didn’t like them,” Chris guesses immediately.

Melissa can’t help a laugh. It’s not exactly appropriate but she’s thinking of how she felt back then. So shocked at herself, so confused that it wasn’t simple, after all. God, she’d been young. “No. No, I really didn’t. They were so conservative. I didn’t even really meet them, not formally, but I could tell—they were one of those, if you’re a human, you should get bitten eventually. And I’m proud of Scott but I like how I am, thank you. Maybe that sounds weird.”

“You remember what I do for a living, right?” Chris says dryly. He watches her for a moment, then starts to slip off his coat. Then he stops. He lifts his hands and curls them around his collar like he’s going to pull it back up, only to stop again. “I asked because—well, my family’s heard about the Nemeton, I guess. I don’t know why else they’d reach out to me now. I haven’t…I don’t know what to say. Don’t say—I know the first step is talk to John and Stiles if there’s something, but I don’t even know if I want to respond. And if I don’t, there’s nothing to bother anybody here about.”

Then he looks away and down. A breeze chills them both and he tucks his head into his collar so he’s almost hidden. Anybody looking at them from inside probably wouldn’t think they even know each other, let alone are talking.

They don’t talk about John that much. If it’s not work, or related to their kids. Melissa feels…a mix of things about it, but some of it is that she’s kind of relieved. She’s not looking to move in with either of them, overnighting aside, but neither is she big on being the third wheel. So it’s actually been nice that Chris seems to want to spend time with her outside of the whole thing they both have with John.

And this isn’t about John either, Melissa thinks. She’s managed to avoid the in-laws entirely, thankfully, but she’s heard enough horror stories from other people to guess. “Did they offer money for Allison?”

Chris nods tightly. Then he pulls his head out of his collar and turns to her. “I hated my father.” He laughs hollowly. “You have no idea. I hated the guy. I even thought about asking whether I could get taken into another branch of the family. My dad was a black sheep way before Richard Hale died—when my mom died, he just stopped listening to anything anyone else had to say. Mireille—she’s head of the main line in France—she would’ve thrown him out if that hadn’t meant Kate would inherit.”

Kate Argent had moved out of town before Melissa and Scott had moved in, thankfully, but Melissa has heard stories over the years, and they had made it sound like she’d been a psycho since birth. She’s not sure what she can say to Chris, so she just nods.

“It ended up not working out, but I always thought…I don’t know, I thought at least I had the rest of the family behind me,” Chris says, sighing. “Then they cut us off, and now they want us back, and it’d be better for Allison. It’d be better for both of us. But I don’t want to just…it feels like I’m crawling back, even though it’s them asking.”

“So is that really better for either of you?” Melissa says. She swirls her cup absently; she doesn’t have a lot of coffee left. And she’s only got a few minutes left of her break. “We got asked a couple times to join other packs. Talia, and this alpha when we were living in Fresno. I mean, the guy actually—he sort of courted us. And it was a great pack, you know, very tolerant, a couple mixed families in it, and they were wealthy too. But I just don’t see a pack in my or Scott’s life.”

“I don’t know if it’s that easy,” Chris mutters.

Melissa rolls her eyes. “Well, of course it isn’t. It’s not like I just got there—I spent a lot of money on phone bills calling up John and crying and ranting at him over it. But you either want it or you don’t, and if you don’t, it can really suck but you still don’t. And you know, if it’s just about the money, I don’t think we’d be talking right now.”

“I didn’t mean,” Chris starts. He grimaces and rubs his hand over his face, and then presses it over his eyes. “Damn it. I mean…I mean, thank you. I don’t…I’ve got to think about me and Allison, but that doesn’t mean—you don’t have to waste your time listening to me, and I appreciate you talking about what you did. It’s—it’s been a really long time since I could talk to anybody about this kind of thing.”

“Well, you bring me great coffee,” Melissa says. Another chilly breeze goes over them and she shivers, then gives in and leans into Chris. She watches him duck his head and not really hide the disbelieving smile, but he stays still for her. “I’m kidding—you know you don’t have to bring it to chat, right? I don’t have a lot of people I can talk to either who will actually get it. John’s great when you can get hold of him, but he’s busy.”

“Yeah. Yeah. I don’t get your staffing policy sometimes.” Chris shrugs. He looks at her, then pushes at his coat again. This time he takes it off, and then he sort of limply swings it at her. “If you…I heard them making fun of you.”

Melissa had thought they’d knocked it off when he actually came in, but of course Chris is sneaky as hell. Sometimes she thinks he’s got werewolf hearing. Anyway, she rolls her eyes and grabs his coat and slides it on. She’s only getting it for about two minutes at this point, but wow, it’s warm. “Screw them. They just want to know what I’m doing that they aren’t.”

Chris raises his brows.

“Seriously?” Melissa says. “You’re hot, Chris, and not just when John’s fucking you.”

A faint twitch goes across Chris’ left eyelid. “I don’t know why people think you’re the respectable one,” Chris says. “Even John doesn’t say that kind of thing in front of a glass door.”

“Oh, he has, you just haven’t seen him drunk yet.” Then Melissa glances over her shoulder at the clock. She sighs and finishes the rest of her coffee, and then lifts his coat off her shoulders. “Break’s over. If you want to talk some more, come by after my shift, okay? Fridge is empty at home, I forgot to hit the grocery, so I’m just going to head for the diner anyway.”

“Yeah. Okay, thanks.” Chris takes the coat and pulls it off her arms. He leans in a little more than he needs to, then pauses again. Looks at her. Dips a little lower, and then brushes his mouth over hers.

She reaches up and puts her hand on his cheek, just stalling him for a second. It’s still a perfectly acceptable kiss, nothing pornographic, just a casual farewell, but she can feel him relax. She grins at him when he straightens up. “See you later,” she says, watching him smile back.

Chapter Text

“Here, give me that,” Laura says.

She takes the pumpkin and rotates it so the bottom’s balanced on her palm, then cups her other hand over the stem. Her claws sink in with a meaty crunch and she wiggles them around for a second, then twists the pumpkin with the hand on the bottom. Lifts out the top, drops it off to the side, and then jams her hand inside up to mid-forearm. A couple more twists and she’s dumping out the guts. She hands Stiles back a perfectly-gutted pumpkin, with just the right rind-to-empty space ratio to support carving.

“Thanks,” Stiles says. He taps his knife against the front of the pumpkin, then looks up. “So—”

So Laura’s already through another two pumpkins. She stops and silently counts the army of disemboweled gourds she’s already got scattered over the back porch, then nudges three more over towards her. “Hmmm?”

“So, we going for a theme here? Jack ‘o lantern apocalypse? Pumpkin Stormtrooper clones? I just don’t want mine to stick out or anything,” Stiles says.

“You can do whatever you’d like, Stiles,” Peter says, coming out onto the porch. He sets down a tray of steaming mulled cider-filled mugs and then picks up one of the gutted pumpkins. After a moment’s thought, he pops his claws and starts scraping away at the skin. “There’s no theme, unless indecisiveness can be considered one, despite its dictionary meaning.”

Laura hollows out her last pumpkin with a particularly vicious twist of her wrist, then sniffs as she flicks a couple seeds in Peter’s direction. “Oh, my God, uncle, don’t you start. I got enough of it from Mom and Derek.”

“I’m not starting anything, dear, I’m just observing.” Peter doesn’t even look up as the seeds bounce off the porch wards. “You know I’m all for test-driving before commitment.”

“So…we’re talking about sex here?” Stiles climbs the steps and gets himself a mug of cider. It’s just the right degree below burning, faintly spicy in the back of his mouth, and goes well with the slightly nippy breeze. “If so, just for the record, analogizing me to a car does not turn me on.”

Laura snickers. Peter looks equal parts offended and apologetic, and as soon as Stiles is seated, plops himself over the rest of the bench with his head on Stiles’ shoulder. He seems to be doing one of those silhouette pumpkins, where the skin gets scraped really thin so the light can come through, but isn’t actually cut through.

“Anyway, your test drive got rained out,” Laura says, grinning. She looks over her pumpkins, then grabs the nearest one and starts punching out cut-outs with her claws.

“Well, different circumstances, we’re betas, we’re easily misused so we have to be protected, there was a formal negotiation, all that,” Peter says. He shrugs without looking remotely embarrassed, then flicks pumpkin skin peelings off his claws. “Someone had to uphold the family honor, and it might as well be the prospective alpha.”

“Ugh, leave me out of your weird little…whatever this is,” Stiles says. He elbows Peter, except yeah, he keeps forgetting how that leaves a hole for Peter to slip under his arm and cuddle even closer. And look up from Stiles’ lap with big blue eyes till Stiles does not smash a pumpkin in his smug, smug face, damn it. “Besides, did you really want to seal the deal in some club backroom? Talk about cheap packmates.”

“Don’t answer that, Peter, there are some things I don’t want to know about my family,” Laura mutters. She sets down her pumpkin, which seems to have a fairly normal face, and then picks up another one. “And don’t give me that fragile beta crap either. If that were true, I wouldn’t have to wait two weeks before I can hit that again.”

Stiles opens his mouth, then closes it. Then opens it again, because he figures it’s Laura and if she can pick up guys in the Service office, she can take it. “Two weeks? Is that a real rule, or…”

“Sort of, in that outside of cities, you’re generally supposed to talk to the other alpha if you come across their packmate more than once in two weeks,” Peter says. “I think it’s from the frontier days, when territory boundaries were more fluid.”

“These days it’s more like how long it takes people to stop asking whether I’m recruiting,” Laura mutters. She’s gotten through two more pumpkins, each of which still look normal and non-scary, though they’re all a little different. “Seriously. I string together three dates in a row with the same person, everyone starts thinking I’m mating up. Betas have it a lot easier, nobody expects them to settle down right away.”

Peter’s pumpkin is starting to look vaguely familiar, with a ghoulish horse head in one corner and a crouching goblin in the middle. “You realize that telling your mother you’re still looking for the right one isn’t going to make her stop, don’t you?” he says. He’s sympathetic but absentminded, which means this is a running argument. “And what if the last one is someone you don’t want?”

“Come on, she’s not going to take this seriously,” Laura says, looking at the pumpkins.

And just about there, Stiles gets it. “Wait, so…these are all your guys, and you’re gonna see which one takes the longest to rot? That’s—one, that’s kind of a gross way to pick, and two, I gotta go with Peter, this is a lot of effort if it’s just a joke. And three…dude, I thought we were all postmodern wolves here, you know, the man-wolf dichotomy is a false struggle and we are more than the sum of our parts and fuck it, let’s just make a better world.”

“You sound like my community studies professor,” Laura says, grinning. Then she looks at the pumpkins again and she sighs. “Okay, yeah, in retrospect, maybe I was thinking more with my—deep frustration that even if I felt like mating up, I’m kind of bored with the local prospects. Just…goddamn it, I’m not ready to lead a pack yet, let alone deal with a mate, and you know, I even say that to some of them and they just nod and agree and flash throat. It’s so frustrating.”

Peter holds up his pumpkin so the sunlight filters into it. He tilts it, frowning, and then takes it down and works at a detail on the goblin. “Well, Laura dear, you’re an alpha. That’s what happens when you growl at them.”

“You know, I blame you,” Laura says. “If I hadn’t grown up watching you backtalk Mom all the time, I wouldn’t think all betas are supposed to be like that.”

“Well, you don’t have to date betas,” Stiles says, over Peter’s silent preening. “Actually, I thought you were going for other alphas?”

Laura rolls her eyes. “Yeah, well, if they’re not family, they all beta out when it comes to me. The only one who hasn’t was that Givens guy, but he’s kind of an asshole. I don’t want that either, I just want somebody who isn’t relying on me to tell them what to like and not like and do. I mean, is that really a pack? A bunch of puppets?”

“No,” Peter says. He cleans off his claws again, then twists to look at her. “Laura, your pack comes together when it comes together. Talia knows that.”

“And hey, if you want to go the lifer omega route, it’s not that frowned-upon these days,” Stiles says. “I could introduce you to a couple who aren’t nearly as dickish as Givens.”

“Nah, no, I do want a pack. Just…down the line, when I actually feel like I’m not just, I don’t know, growling and posturing all the time. That just makes me feel like I’m faking it,” Laura says, sighing. She sprawls down by them and picks up a mug of cider, then looks at all the hollowed pumpkins sitting around them. “Damn, that’s a lot.”

“Well, at least you know where the bad sex is, right?” Stiles says. He glances at his abandoned carving knife, then shrugs and grabs himself another mug of cider. Then happens to see Peter’s pumpkin. “Oh, my God, did you do that one painting? That one that’s in all the Freud textbooks?”

“He does that one every year,” Laura snorts.

Peter sets the pumpkin carefully down on the porch floor and then snuggles up to Stiles under the guise of getting his own mug. “It’s a classic,” he says, semi-reproachfully. Then he surveys the gourd landscape, too. “Well, I have to say, that’s very impressive, Laura. I think you might have covered a whole generation.”

“This isn’t going to get awkward when Cora starts looking, right?” Stiles says. When Peter and Laura look at him, he refuses to be embarrassed. Refuses. It’s a legitimate question, and anyway, they’re the ones who opened the door.

“I think she likes hers a little closer to her age,” Laura finally says, arching her brow. Then she rocks back on her bench and grins. “Well, if not, yeah, I do know where the bad sex is. But seriously, what are we going to do with all of these?”

“Put them up. You started them, you might as well finish,” Peter says. He pauses, then curls his belly into Stiles’ side, playing all demure while his eyes glint with pure mischief. “It’s not good manners to howl about it anymore, so you should take your trophies where you can find them.”

Laura coughs, then snorts, and then finally laughs. She gets up, shaking her head. “You are the worst, Peter,” she says, studying the pumpkins at her feet. She cocks her head, then picks up one and begins carving again. “Yeah, this one’s just about right for Darryl.”

Chapter Text

Laura and Derek drop the last baskets in place around the tree, then step back at Stiles’ gesture. Both of them look a little dubious. “You sure you want to do it like this?” Derek asks. “Mom can be really picky about her apples.”

“Dude, trust me, your werewolf noses have nothing on my tree-talking skills,” Stiles says. He flexes his hands (Derek rolls his eyes but Laura does Stiles’ job of elbowing him), then raises his arms and flutters his fingers. Which is all just for fun, since he and the Nemeton had already finished chatting up the trees while the werewolves had been busy padding out the baskets with bubble wrap.

The trees shiver a little in the breeze. An apple drops, then another, and then a whole shower of them come down, falling neatly into the baskets. Laura grimaces and puts her hand over her ears, while Derek grunts and jumps a little and then glowers at Scott, who would never be so nasty as to look smug about bringing firing-range ear muffs, but who does look pretty chill in them.

“Ta-da!” Stiles says, just as the last apple plops down.

Derek and Laura glance at each other. Then Laura shrugs and goes up to one basket. She picks up an apple, sniffs it, nods, and then picks up another. Then she squats down and starts digging through the basket, sniffing and humming as she goes.

“Huh. They’re good,” she says.

“See? You just ask the tree nicely, it’ll give you the good stuff,” Stiles says.

“Well, it does save us a lot of time,” Laura mutters. “Though personally, I thought the point of apple-picking is to see who gets freaked out when you jump out of the tree at them.”

Derek spares a second from checking another basket to glower at her. “That only works on little kids. Mom says we need pumpkins, too, does that—”

“Uh, no, squash vines don’t really have enough awareness,” Stiles says. “Doesn’t work on all fruit trees either, for some reason. But it’s pretty useful for what it is. I totally took down a rogue Huldrekall once with an orange grove. It was awesome.”

“Yeah, right up till the farmer charged the Service thirty grand for a ruined crop,” Scott mutters, taking off his muffs.

Stiles glares at him. “You are ruining my heroic anecdotes, bro.”

“I’m just saying, fruit missiles are expensive.” Scott stoops and scoops up one of the few apples that missed the baskets. He gives it a rub on his shirt, then fangs out and cores the apple on his teeth. Then he bites in. “Mmm. Thanks, Stiles.”

“You’re welcome,” Stiles sighs. It’s hard to stay mad at Scott when he’s making little happy noises. “Well, so far, no sign I gotta do a fruit explosion, so these should all make it into pies and cobblers. This should be plenty, right?”

Derek hefts his basket, then pulls out his phone and checks something. “I guess it’ll get us through Halloween,” he says.

“What?” Laura says to Stiles. “Don’t stare like that, you know werewolves eat a lot.”

“But—but meat!” Stiles says. “What is your mom doing back there, making a life-size bison apple pie? Aren’t your teeth going to rot out?”

“Werewolf healing,” Derek, Laura and Scott chorus.

Stiles stares at them, then throws up his hands. “Oh, my God, I don’t want to know. Just, my dad gets diabetes, I know who to blame.”

Chapter Text

“Yeah, I have a question,” Jackson says. “Why are Scott and I the ones sitting in front of the Powerpoint? It’s not like we’re doing this alone.”

Stiles opens his mouth, but Allison, of all people, beats him to it. “Because Lydia and I already know all of this,” she says. She’s faintly pink but she also looks pretty proud of herself. “I, um, talked to your mom when I realized we were getting serious.”

Scott looks simultaneously awed by Allison and that shade of pale he gets whenever sex talk gets within hailing distance of Melissa. “Oh! Oh, okay…that was probably a good idea. And that does make sense why she wasn’t surprised when she caught me buying condoms.”

“And I wasn’t about to get knocked up because some idiot male doesn’t know reproductive basics,” Lydia says. She does that thing where she plumps up her rack with her crossed arms, which is, Stiles admits, really working with her hot-teacher cardigan and pencil skirt. “But we’re both tired of having it all on us, so shut up and listen. First of all, let’s get rid of a couple common myths.”

Laura, who is way, way too into this, advances the Powerpoint one slide. Then she grins at Stiles and holds up the clicker she’s somehow swiped from him. “No knotting. Dicks are just like human ones.”

Jackson rolls his eyes. “I think we’ve all managed to figure out that one,” he mutters.

“You’d be surprised how many morons think a knot only pops up once you’ve got it in a vagina,” Lydia says. She examines her nails while Allison checks that Scott isn’t going to choke himself to death on embarrassment. “Although strangely enough, they can think that and still fail to understand why you should have lube for anal sex.”

“I…hate to be the voice of reason here, but I thought we all agreed we weren’t going to get personal,” Stiles says, watching Jackson’s eyes narrow. The guy isn’t embarrassed so much as…jealous? And God, does Stiles not want to know who Lydia’s hooked up with besides Jackson. “Also not true—werewolves are only fertile during heat.”

Both Jackson and Scott frown. Scott actually raises his hand.

“Wait, but that is true if you’re female,” Scott says.

“If you’re a female werewolf,” Laura corrects. “Male werewolves are shooting real bullets all year round, guys, and if you’re a pack-born human, or something like that, you don’t have heats, you’re just as fertile as normal people. For that matter, it’s not that easy to tell when you’re in heat and when you’re just having a shitty week.”

“Now, historically speaking, this wasn’t always true, so I’ll give you that,” Lydia says. “There’s definitely evidence that early werewolves had heat cycles similar to true wolves, but starting around the time that people discovered metalworking, that changed.”

Allison looks at her. “I didn’t know that,” she says. “Why metalworking?”

Lydia starts to answer her and both Laura and Stiles start up. She stops, looks at them, and Stiles can actually see when things click in her head and Lydia realizes she’s capable of feeling guilt.

“Ah,” Allison says. She looks a little queasy but give her credit, she’s keeping her head up. “Hunter thing?”

“Well, probably. When you add in the spread of domestic wolfsbane cultivation…yeah, pretty much,” Stiles says. No point in hiding the ball, and Allison doesn’t look like she’s going to throw a fit. “Normal people got better at hunting werewolves, so having a period where you’re crazed with sex and doing it all over the place and not paying attention to anything else is not that great for survival.”

“So heat symptoms got less and less obvious, and nowadays you do run into female werewolves who don’t have any,” Laura says. She’s gone back to lounging in her chair and clicking the Powerpoint slides along, which seems to make Allison relax more than even the quick hand-grab Scott does. “It’s still rare, but you do. And also, heats aren’t just in the winter. A lot of people do still get it then, but you can find female werewolves who get their heat any time of the year. And you can go into heat up to four times a year.”

Scott looks thoughtful. “I guess it depends on what the local population levels are like?”

“Well, that was probably one of the main evolutionary drivers,” Lydia says slowly. She looks impressed with him; Jackson shifts irritably beside Scott and Lydia’s eyes tick like she’s trying not to roll them. “But these days, studies show it depends on a lot of different factors. Pack size, number of existing children—both for the parent and for the parent’s alpha, if neither parent is one—personal nutrition and health, stress elements, climate…”

“Okay, fine, but why do we need to know this? Neither of us are dating female werewolves,” Jackson says.

“Because that’s myth three.” Laura clicks to a slide showing nothing but a photo of somebody’s cock and an arrow pointing from it to a photo of a completely filled infant ward. “If you’re a non-were woman, and you’re dating a male werewolf, the male werewolf does not have the ability to magically give you a were-uterus and a heat cycle, for God’s sake. The non-were reproductive cycle dominates, which, bottom line, means you use birth control and protection or else.”

She’s got a little growl in her voice, and it’s making Jackson slide down in his seat. He still has the (stupid) balls to talk back. “Okay, got it, we’re not dumb. Who thinks that, anyway?”

“You’d be surprised,” Scott mutters. When Jackson raises an eyebrow, Scott just stares right back at him and Stiles feels a weird, proud-father pang at the sight of it. “Or how many people are just downright jackasses who run off.”

“Yeah, well, not on our territory,” Laura says. She leans forward and smiles at Jackson with all her teeth. “Anybody who pulls that shit here, the alpha’s going to have a word with them.”

Jackson presses his lips together because he’s obviously trying not to whimper. Lydia doesn’t look unhappy about him being lectured, but she also doesn’t look that thrilled at how Laura’s doing it. So, when Laura doesn’t immediately lean back, Stiles sighs and grabs her arm and pulls her away. And gets the clicker while he’s at it.

“And that’s a great intro for our next section,” Stiles says. “Werewolf birth control! Let’s keep that wolfy super-sperm under wraps, ladies and gents. First method…”

Chapter Text

“Oh, there they are. I was beginning to think we might as well just order pizza—” Stiles stops halfway to his feet, watching the hunting party return. “Uh. So, correct me if I’m wrong, but is it still supposed to be leaking stomach contents?”

Scott is breathing through his mouth, while Derek looks like he wishes his cool image would allow for hiding his nose in his shirt. “No,” Derek says.

“I ruined my shirt. It’s limited-edition Armani, and I get the hunting but I don’t know why I need to learn how to stick my arm up a pig’s asshole. It’s the modern age, we have on-staff butchers,” Jackson grumbles, coming up to them. He heaves at his two legs, then snarls at the other guy holding the deer. “Watch your side, Lahey.”

“Your father has an on-staff butcher,” Peter drawls. “You, on the other hand, are welcome to accidentally rip open a full intestinal tract over the lovely Miss Martin’s shoes if you wish, but it’s not going to be on any hunt I’m running.”

Lydia smiles at Peter—those two have buddied up with a speed that would be disturbing if it didn’t piss off Jackson so much—and then goes over to try and soothe her boyfriend’s ego without actually touching him. Lahey, who Stiles now sort of remembers from lacrosse, drops his side of the pig on the tarp Stiles and the others have been waiting by, then doesn’t really hide his grin as Jackson yelps and falls over. He nods to Stiles and then gives Scott a warmer smile. “Hey, Peter didn’t say you’d be here.”

“You guys hunt together?” Scott says, blinking. Then he looks over at Stiles, because he is a great best friend who goes to all the team-bonding events that Stiles skips, and sometimes he even remembers to be tactful about Stiles not really bothering with first names (if last names are good enough for Finstock, they’re…whatever, Stiles has better facts to use his brain space on). “Did you know Isaac hunted with them?”

Stiles shakes his head and looks at Derek. “He’s sort of Laura’s,” Derek says, shrugging. “If he wants, and if she ever figures out when she’s going to be done with her master’s.”

“I wasn’t sure whether I should say anything,” Isaac offers apologetically. “She doesn’t want anybody not blood family to choose till after graduation, and I don’t really come over when she’s not around.”

“You’re welcome to, of course. You should keep your hand in. The only way you’re going to perfect your dressing skills is with practice,” Peter says.

He’s looking a lot more forgiving about whatever Isaac did, and now that the deer is down, Stiles can tell that one side is way less mangled than the other. “Oh, well, hey,” Stiles says. “I don’t really stand much on ceremony, so you didn’t have to wait for me. Though I’m not sure what your and Laura’s deal is and I don’t want to step over lines or anything.”

“I don’t think she cares about anything except her thesis right now,” Derek snorts. He gives Isaac a clap on the shoulder, which for him passes for pretty serious sympathy.

“Stiles?” Peter says. He comes over to stand by Stiles so Stiles looks at him. He’s frowning, and amazingly, doesn’t have a single body part touching Stiles, even though they’ve been standing around for a couple minutes now. “I’m sorry, I suppose we should have said, even if falls under Laura.”

“Huh? Oh, no, it’s cool, we were still on blood family, no biggie that you didn’t get there yet,” Stiles says. Now Derek is looking concerned and Stiles is not going to go nuts over Laura doing her own thing as a fellow alpha, for God’s sake. And okay, high school students didn’t appear to be Laura’s speed, but Stiles has absolutely no intention of standing on his nonexistent moral high ground on that one. “Is it the kind of deal where you’re coming to Thanksgiving dinner?”

Isaac had been looking kind of nervous, too, but he relaxes at that, grinning enthusiastically. “Oh, no, but I’m coming to pick up leftovers the day after. Foster family is nice, but there’s no way I’m not getting any of Alpha Hale’s roast pig.”

“Cool, I’m going so I’ll try and grab you the good cuts,” Scott says. He and Isaac do some fist-bump that has Jackson muttering about losers, at least till Lydia discreetly stomps his foot. “How’d you and Laura even meet?”

Isaac blanks, then looks at Peter. “Um.”

“His dad was an abusive asshole so Laura wolfed him and Mom ate his dad,” Derek says.

Peter sighs. “Mr. Lahey was behaving inappropriately at a school event,” he says, glaring at Derek. Then he looks at Isaac, who shrugs, looking less like he’s mad at Derek and more like he’s just not sure how much spin to put out here. “We were there for Cora. Laura noticed what was going on and told him that she was going to report him to Child Services. She invited Isaac to come home with us for the time being. After that, what is generally agreed is that Mr. Lahey then got drunk at a bar, decided he should show up at our house with a shotgun, and Talia was unable to persuade him to peacefully surrender.”

Isaac nods vigorously. “Yeah, pretty much. He didn’t want to surrender.”

“That’s what I said,” Derek mutters.

“You did sort of forget all the plausible deniability,” Stiles says. He steps over and slings his arm over Scott’s shoulders, since his friend is looking a bit upset at pulling all of this up. Not that Scott’s disgusted with Isaac or anything; on the contrary, if Stiles lets go, he’s pretty sure that Scott will totally misread Isaac’s content expression for an immediate need for counseling. “Well, okay, so deer one was a…yeah. At least we’ve got another two weeks to practice.”

“Yes,” Peter says, staring at the deer. Then he shakes himself. He rubs at his temple and then raises his arm and points at the house. “All right, go rinse off with the hose and meet me back here in fifteen minutes. We picked up at least three deer trails and before you leave today, you’re at least going to learn how to clean out the internal organs.”

“It’s not that bad,” Scott says to Jackson. “Here, I’ll come on this round. I know it’s kind of gross at the beginning but once you get the hang of it, it’s not that different from underhand sweeps. Just more resistance, you know, since you’re, um, going through flesh.”

He mimes a gut-clearing swipe as he talks. Jackson looks less than interested, but Lydia stomps his foot again and he winces, then jerks away from her and stomps up the yard. “God, whatever, McCall,” he mutters, going for the hose. “If some guy with a cleaver can do it, can’t be that hard.”

“Don’t kill him and I’ll blow you against the tree,” Stiles mutters to Peter.

“I actually had to think about it,” Peter says after a moment, faintly shocked. He shakes his head again, then looks at the deer again. “Thank God we got him his own permit. I don’t want that disaster credited to any of us.”

“It’s his first time,” Lydia says sharply. Then she looks at the deer. She tilts her head. “Well, at least we don’t need to get me a test corpse this week. This should do nicely.”

“Recycling,” Stiles says, shrugging at Derek’s and Scott’s stares. “Hey, it’s good for the environment.”

Chapter Text

Chris slides his hand into the mitt, then pulls it back out. Then slides it in again. It’s soft leather, but hasn’t been used much; only a couple creases and the leather has resistance when he bends his fingers. It looks a little weird on him, but not childish like he was expecting. He’s used to his beat-up hands, long-busted knuckles and callused skin, and these are sleek and slim and simple.

“Okay,” he says, and takes a deep breath.

John reaches around him to do up the buckles, close the mitts tight around Chris’ wrists. His mouth is warm and slow and easy, working up and down over the tingling hairs on the back of Chris’ neck, and after he’s snapped the rings on the mitts together, linking them, he stays squatting behind Chris, one hand hooked over the rings, the other sitting just on Chris’ waistband. Chris lost his shirt a while ago, but John still is fully dressed, even if his shirt-tails are out and rumpling against Chris’ back.

“Huh,” Melissa says. She’s still dressed too, in jeans and a loose blouse that gapes open at the front when she bends over. She digs into the box on the floor, then rolls over with something small and metal between her fingers. “How’s it feel?”

“Kind of weird,” Chris says. He rubs his hands against himself. He can feel the butter softness of the leather on his belly, but he can’t really feel what he’s touching with his hands. There’s pressure, some roughness from the inside of the mitts, but it’s oddly muffling. “I don’t really know.”

“Want them off?” John nuzzles at the back of Chris’ neck. He hits a half-healed bite of his, hiding in the hairline, and then pulls Chris back as Chris arches and exhales sharply. His hand presses the mitt rings into Chris’ stomach; they’re warmed up but still have a few cold spots, which vanish as John rubs his fingers over them, around Chris’ bellybutton, down just under the waistband.

Melissa laughs, crawls up and straightens Chris’ sinking head between her hands. “You’re distracting him,” she says.

“No.” Chris cranes his head back till it rolls along John’s shoulder, then lets John tip it forward. He tugs at his leg so it’s not barring Melissa from him, then shivers as the gauze of her blouse tickles his chest. “No, leave them on. I’ll just…I want to think about it. What are those?”

“Nipple clamps, I think?” Melissa gives Chris’ cheek a last pat, then half-turns and settles so she’s curled up sideways to Chris’ front, using his raised knee to brace her back. She reaches down and puts her hand on his thigh, thumb digging lightly down the inside. “Snap snap.”

She holds one up. It’s not that different from office clips, just a little prettier in how the metal curves down from the spring. The ends have little teeth that click when they close.

Chris sucks in a breath. John slides his hand around and pushes his palm flat against Chris’ belly, between that and the mitts. “No?” he says.

“Give me a second,” Chris mutters. He’s just—never thought about it. He doesn’t have the slightest idea how to think about it.

Melissa cocks her head at him. She runs her thumb up and down his inside thigh, then reaches over and just touches the clamp to his chest, just above his left nipple. It’s—not cold, she’s been holding it long enough, it just feels like really smooth, really hard skin. He breathes out, slowly, and one of the little teeth scratches him lightly. He feels like he’s getting scratched all over, his skin prickling, and he doesn’t know whether the itch was always there or whether the scratch started it, but it’s not going away.

“I—okay,” Chris says. He watches the clip open and be pushed around his nipple, and finds himself pushing back hard into John.

“Okay, hey,” John says, low and soothing. He grabs Chris’ knee, then thigh, his chin hooked over Chris’ shoulder to steady him. “Hey…”

It actually hurts. Why Chris is surprised, he doesn’t know. He’s never done this but he’s done his share of interrogations, and he should be able to guess. But he didn’t and it hurts and he’s gasping, his eyes stinging, and then the clamp is off and it’s worse than when it was on for a second. It’s like someone has stuck a wick in his nipple and then set it on fire.

“…hey, hey, sorry,” Melissa is saying. She kisses the side of his neck, humming softly, while John keeps him wrapped up tight against the other man, arms locked around Chris’.

Her thumb touches down near Chris’ nipple and he starts. She stops and peers into his face, and it’s not till he breathes that she moves her hand. She works her thumb in circles, going halfway around the areola, and then easing towards the tip of his nipple. It feels like pushing on any kind of bruise: hot spark, sharp ache going duller but deeper, and then a strange sense of relief. Chris inadvertently presses into it, losing control of his breathing, and then he does it on purpose. He sighs and turns his head and catches Melissa’s mouth for a short, soft kiss.

“Mmm.” She kisses his nose before pulling back. “Well, okay, that’s—”

“Wait,” Chris says. His nipple’s still throbbing, but she’s also still rubbing it and he…he leans into her hand again, then exhales carefully.

“It’s not an endurance run, Chris,” John says. He’s working Chris’ fly open, fingertips just teasing at the start of the hair down there, but he stops when Chris lifts his head.

“I know. I know, just…not the teeth?” Chris says. He stares at Melissa. She’s watching him closely. Doesn’t want him to hurt himself either, and for a second he wants to laugh at her for being just a little late there, and to ask her what the hell she sees in him. And then he tries to put that away—John’s already picking up on it, putting wet kisses on the back of Chris’ neck, damn him, damn his insight, and bless it, too—and just not make this bad for any of them. “The pressure, that was okay. But the teeth hurt.”

John pauses in his work on Chris’ nape, then raises his head. “There’s this little black box,” he says. He slips his hand into Chris’ jeans, using his knuckles to lever apart the rest of the zipper, and then works out Chris’ cock so he can just hold it, just firm enough to make Chris’ hips rock. “Hinged on the side, has these little rings inside.”

Melissa goes and pokes around in the box again, and then comes up with what looks like wedding rings, except the bands are maybe on the thick side. Then she yelps. She fumbles at one, catches it in her palm, and then fiddles with it. “Oh. Oh.”

“Telescoping,” John says. He snorts when Chris tries to rest his bound wrists on his belly and accidentally brushes his own cock, and then discovers what slippery leather mitts feel like when they’re slipping off your own body. Then he hooks back the mitt chain and hikes Chris’ hands up so his cock is out of reach. “They’re supposed to stay at whatever size you put it at, but they tend to slip. Both ways.”

“Left loosy, righty tighty, I see,” Melissa says. She holds up the rings so Chris can see. “Okay?”

“Yeah.” Chris shifts against John, then tries to relax when he feels John starting to tighten up. “Okay.”

Melissa comes over again. She checks Chris’ face, then bends down. Then stops and starts puffing on the rings. John snorts again and she peers up at them, looking annoyed. “They’re cold,” she says. “Trying to be nice…”

“I appreciate it,” Chris says, and smiles at her. It’s not as hard as it can be. Has been. He shakes his head and then leans back as John pushes his head over Chris’ shoulder, rubbing their cheeks together.

Melissa grins back. She gives the rings a last blow, looking up at him, and then straightens up to slip one ring over Chris’ right nipple. She looks at him again and starts to screw it shut.

The thing makes clicking noises and that’s what makes Chris start at first. He settles when it just keeps on being noise and nothing else, and then wonders when he’s going to feel it right up to a strange pinching sensation. He looks down and the ring is actually pretty tight by this point. Same temperature as him so that’s why it sneaked up on him, but now that he’s aware of it he can’t—stop feeling it. He knows Melissa is watching him so he tries to hold still.

He manages for a few more clicks before the pain makes him hiss. Melissa looks about to say something to him, and then she sighs and rotates the ring back one setting. She holds it between her fingers, then lets go and sits back.

It hurts, but it’s the dull ache, the low twinge that makes Chris think relief is just around the corner. “Okay,” he says slowly. “Okay.”

“It looks good,” John says. He rubs the heel of his hand over Chris’ balls, still trapped in the jeans, and then drops and sucks at Chris’ shoulder so Chris moans and pushes into him.

“Yeah,” Melissa says. She bends down again and Chris isn’t sure—she licks at him, flicks his nipple till it’s stiff with her tongue, and then slides on the other ring and rotates it with her mouth.

He can’t do it, Chris thinks for a wild, drowning second. He shakes between them, his fingers uselessly scratching at the inside of the mitts, and then, somehow, he gets used to it. Sort of. He gets pushed back and up, like he’s inside of a wave, and then someone’s hands are working his jeans off his legs, while someone else is kissing him, swallowing any air that he gets, making him loll light-headed and limp against John. He manages to arch once and a thumb rolls across his pinched nipple, and it doesn’t hurt so much as explode, a jag of lightning outward from his chest and down into his jerking hips.

“Okay, okay, okay, I know,” Melissa is saying. She’s kissing his jaw, whispering to him, her hand on his cock because John’s hands are back cupping his ass, pushing open the buttocks, and—she’s answering him. She grips the base of his cock and slides on something that isn’t warmed up by her hands, something chilly and abruptly tight, and then she kisses him in the middle of his moan. “Okay, I got you. Chris. Chris?”

“Yeah.” Chris pants and stares at her. His head is swimming and there are four of her, then three, then one. He wonders why they skipped a number and then, ridiculously, manages to laugh at himself. His nipples hurt and his hands are sweaty and sticking in the mitts, and his cock is aching, swollen like the skin has to split, it can’t stretch any further, and he can’t come and yes, that is what he wants. “Fuck. Fuck, you’re beautiful.”

She is. She’s nothing like Victoria, all curls and generous curves where Victoria was unmissable angles, but she’s just beautiful. He wishes he had a better word.

“Thanks,” she says, grinning, like he actually did. She slides up beside him—they’re lying down now—and wraps her hands around the mitts, so he can almost feel the different indentations of each finger, and kisses him slowly, lazily.

He kisses back. He’s rougher, starting and hissing as John works him open on blunt, long fingers. Sometimes he forgets about the mitts and paws at her clothes; Melissa just snickers, sucks at the edge of his jaw and piece by piece, when she feels like it, wiggles and tugs till she’s out of her clothing, bare breasts plumping up against his chest. They nudge and tease at the rings and make him whine in her mouth.

“Watch those, I told you, they slip.” John doesn’t sound as concerned as his words are, his mouth occasionally rising to nip at Chris’ nape, shoulders, shoulderblades. He pushes his hips up so his cock rides along his fingers, just under where they’re seated in Chris. “You all right?”

“Please,” Chris breathes. He curls his knees up so he can slide that fraction further onto John’s fingers. “Please.”

“Okay,” Melissa says. To which of them, who knows, but her hair drags across Chris’ chest and then her mouth is sucking at him, nursing his nipple, pulling at the ring and he twists, gasping, and suddenly the ring is off.

Her mouth is still on his nipple, soothing it, but it’s barely a drop on a wildfire. He bucks sharply, barely feels the hands riding his hips, and so gets shocked into a cry when he’s slid back onto John’s cock on the downswing. His whole body stutters, too much firing at him at once.

“Shit, John, could’ve warned me.” Melissa’s hands join John’s on Chris’ hips and they run from there down his thighs and back again, over and over, drawing him into a shaky lull. She raises her head and looks up at Chris, then grins. “Okay, then.”

And then she does the whole thing over again with his other nipple, except this time, when the ring comes off, she straightens up and lifts her knees, and squirms down onto his cock, with enough time left to nip at the end of his hoarse shout. John grumbles at her and she ignores him, her feet rubbing at the backs of Chris’ calves, making little hitches with her hips till she’s on the way she wants to be.

“Christ,” Chris says. He pushes his mouth into the bed, nuzzles blindly at the sheets. “Oh, Christ, please. One of you.”

John snakes his arms around Chris again, following Chris’ arms down till he can wrap his hands over the end of the mitts. He rocks slowly into Chris, then subsides, and it’s an eternity before Melissa pushes Chris back, seating him fully on John’s cock, but dragging an aching inch or so of Chris’ own cock out of her.

Then John rocks forward again, and they keep passing Chris between them, petting him when he shakes too much, mouths on his mouth and throat and back. He genuinely thinks he’s going to die, and then one of them moves, and he keeps going.

Melissa gets impatient first. She grips Chris’ hips tighter, starts to move them with her hands as well, and then John groans into Chris’ shoulder and shifts up, bracing himself against the bed. He pushes roughly forward, with enough force to nearly roll Chris onto Melissa, and then does it again before they can roll back.

“Damn it,” Melissa pants, pushing her arm up against Chris’ chest. Her knee slides off Chris’ leg and she shoves back, then grinds fiercely up against Chris, her breath coming shorter and shorter against his shoulder.

John pulls him back by the arms. For Melissa’s sake, Chris thinks, but then he feels John’s knees beat up into the backs of his thighs, and John goes tight against him and comes, teeth rasping across the top of Chris’ shoulder. Chris shudders and Melissa reaches up, hauls his head down, kisses over his moaning and works herself up and down his cock till she clenches down bruisingly around him, a little hiccupping gasp caught between their mouths.

Chris whimpers back, pushing into her. He feels John shift slowly behind him, grunting, and then John slips his hands around and pushes them between Chris and Melissa. It’s pushing Melissa off Chris’ cock and Chris protests wordlessly, rolling his hips after her, but John keeps at it till he gets his hand at the bottom of Chris’ cock. He—the pressure there, that Chris had got so deep into he’d half-forgotten it was what was holding him, it vanishes and Chris seizes up, then goes so hard into his climax that he thinks he breaks his neck, snapping backwards.

He doesn’t, but it’s a long, long time before he can manage to lift his head, and even then, his neck aches. His back and his ass and his cock and his nipples ache. His wrists ache, though they’re free of the mitts, and his mouth aches, of all things. When Melissa kisses him, it’s barely a press but it feels like hot coals. He still kisses her back.

“Okay.” Melissa stretches and both Chris and John hiss at her. They’re still all connected, though Melissa’s lifted herself partway off, and there’s a finger’s worth of space between John’s groin and Chris’ ass—it’s still more than enough to trigger fresh aches. She snorts but she stops moving. “We’re going to get glued together. Scrubs’ll chafe.”

“I’m gonna be limping on a two-mile walk with my trainees,” John mutters.

Chris just about has enough breath for a laugh at both of them. “I’m staying home, and catching up on my invoices.”

“Yeah, yeah, mister work-from-home,” Melissa snorts. She touches one of Chris’ nipples, then cranes her head and looks more closely at him. Then she runs a hand down his belly to his groin; it’s affectionate but it’s not trying to start anything, which is a damn good thing because it leaves a trail of prickles in its wake anyway. “You really do have a lot less scarring…I thought I read you got an iron fence shoved into you here.”

“Oh, yeah. I did.” Chris should be alarmed. He usually is, when this comes up—he’s at least wary, and with someone connected to werewolves, doubly so. But she’s just curious, and they’ve just had some insanely good sex, and she just…he knows she doesn’t want to hurt him. He still doesn’t get it, but he thinks he does know it. “Thought I could jump it, didn’t quite make it. One of my first hunts, stupid teenager thing.”

Melissa looks up sharply, but relaxes when she sees his face. Her hand curves over his hip, just as John settles his hand on Chris’ waist, and she moves her head so her hair is tickling Chris’ forehead. “You have werewolf healing powers and you’re still complaining?”

“It’s really not like a werewolf,” Chris says. He thought he was relaxed, but at that a little tension goes out of his shoulders. He can feel John go slack, too. “If the human was one of those who just can’t shift—those people will heal like a were, but that’s probably the rarest mutation, and the packs were usually willing to compromise to keep them. I just don’t scar much. Still get hurt and heal like any other person.”

John makes a thoughtful noise. “Huh,” he says. “So there’s a pack-born spectrum. I had heard that, but you don’t seem to see it these days. Seems like it’s just human or were now.”

“Witch-hunts,” Melissa says, when Chris hesitates. Then she grimaces.

“It’s fine,” Chris says. He even snorts. “Yeah, medieval witch-hunts. It’s funny, those caught up about as many hunters as they did humans born into packs, and pretty much no actual witches. Since no self-respecting witch wouldn’t learn an unlocking rune, and…my branch of the family came over here to get away from that kind of thing, believe it or not.”

“Anyway, it encouraged a lot of people to just take the bite, and even though it’s different now, that’s still what people are used to.” Melissa smooths her hand down Chris’ belly again, then smiles when he kisses her forehead. “But it’s starting to change. Maybe Scott’s generation, we’ll see more like you.”

“I hope not,” Chris can’t help saying. “It’s pretty useless. Doesn’t kick in till weeks later.”

Melissa winces, then cups his face in her hands. But it’s John who curls over him, kisses his nape. “Oh, shut up, Chris,” he says. He leans his forehead against Chris’ neck for a second, solid steady weight. “Least I don’t have to feel bad about your neck anymore.”

Chris watches Melissa watching him. She wants to say something right back to John but she’s biting down on it and watching Chris instead. “I said weeks,” Chris says. He’s a little slow for sarcasm, but Melissa smiles like he’s the sharpest knife in the drawer. “He’s an asshole, isn’t he.”

“Yeah,” Melissa says. She moves her hands to Chris’ neck, just making the newest layer of John’s marks sting, and then presses her lips together as she eases all the way off Chris’ cock. She exhales slowly, almost the same time that he does, and then lazes back just as he’s reaching to pull her down.

Her right hand starts petting his throat, long light strokes down to his shoulder and back up; he surprises himself with a churring noise he hasn’t made in…since childhood, probably, back when his mother was still alive. She’d been less strident about training out all the frivolous traits.

“You’re getting heavy again,” John murmurs. His lips tangle with Melissa’s fingertips, shivering Chris out of the memory, and then work back into Chris’ hair. “I think we suck at pillow talk.”

“Well, we should get cleaned up anyway,” Melissa says, making no effort to move. She grips Chris’ shoulder, steadying him as John pulls out of him, and then goes slack again. “Seriously. We’re gross.”

“Been grosser,” Chris says. He feels another churr coming up as the two of them curl up around him, and after a second, lets it dribble out. He should be feeling all kinds of things about it, feeling and actually thinking about, but he just…doesn’t want to. “’m gonna sleep, you can clean if you want.”

“You’re both assholes,” Melissa is saying, though she’s laughing. She’s kissing his neck when he drifts off, kissing it and John at the same time and for that one moment there’s really nothing else.

Chapter Text

John’s waiting by the cemetery gates with coffee for Chris and hot chocolate for Allison. “I was over to work out a couple things with the caretaker, saw your car,” he says. “Figured I’d say hi.”

He’s unusually hesitant and when Allison thanks him for the hot chocolate, his shoulders relax so visibly Chris has to bite back a snort. Not that he finds John funny, really, but it’s just…odd, him not being the one feeling things out. He takes the coffee and, when Allison ducks into their car to drop off the empty bakery box, he leans into John and presses his cheek to the other man’s throat. Pushes the hand that’s wrapped around the coffee up against the middle of John’s chest, over the heart.

“Thanks,” Chris says quietly, drawing back.

“I really was just dropping by, and then I saw your car and it hit me.” John sounds rueful. “I mean, I know it’s All Souls’ Day, but Claudia—”

“Her family does the solstice?” Chris can’t help but linger near the man, even though he backs off for decency’s sake. It’s a chilly day and his usual work coat just doesn’t seem right with the suit, so he left it at home and now the wind’s cutting straight through his clothes. “You’re not barging in. We usually just go straight home, and I know Allison’s got something with Scott later.”

His tie flaps up and slaps near his mouth. He reaches for it but John gets it first, smooths it back down, and if Chris maybe leans into it, just to see the corners of John’s mouth twitch up, well, it’s not too bad, and he’s quick about it.

“Okay, well, I just figured you could use something warm to drink,” John says. He rubs the back of his fingers over Chris’ shirt, then pulls his hand away. “Got real cold overnight.”

Chris hums absently, sipping the coffee. Then he puts his hand out as John’s stepping back. “You in a hurry?” he says.

“Well…no,” John says slowly.

He’s about to add something and then he stops himself, watching Chris’ face. Then Allison calls that she’s going to sit in the car and John settles himself against his SUV as Chris calls back that that’s fine; Allison’s already got her nose buried in her phone. He grimaces as another breeze ices them over, then raises his arm to rest it against the top of his car. It makes a little windbreak and Chris can’t say he minds taking advantage of it, scooting closer as he drinks his coffee.

So John doesn’t say anything, just keeps him company, till the cold of standing over Victoria’s grave eases out of Chris’ bones.

***

“I, um, know they’re sort of lumpy,” Stiles says, handing Derek a cake. “We used to have some molds Mom brought over from Poland, but I think they got lost in one of our moves.”

Derek shrugs and stuffs the cake in his mouth, and then sticks his head back on Stiles’ shoulder. “Tastes fine,” he says.

Stiles pulls his knees up so he can trap the Tupperware box between his thighs and his chest, and use it to catch his crumbs. He eats one and while it’s not as fluffy as Talia’s (which are like eating angelic clouds of sugar), it’s a lot better than he remembers. “You’re not just saying that ‘cause I’m your alpha, right?”

“No,” Derek says. He reaches for another soul cake and eats this one at a slower speed than gobble, even pausing to look at the inside of the uneaten part. “You guys use different spices. Tastes kind of like the ones you get at Christmas.”

“That’s because we usually do this on the winter solstice,” Stiles says. When Derek glances at him, Stiles slouches back against the tree and puts his arm over Derek’s shoulder so he can flick the back of Derek’s head. “We gotta do something about your lack of multiculturalism, you know, not everybody goes by the Gregorian calendar. Mom’s family doesn’t.”

Derek grunts at the flick but he just burrows further into Stiles’ shoulder, unlike the hissy fits he has when Peter smacks him. “So winter solstice comes, you’re gonna be out of town?”

“Ah. No.” Stiles can feel Derek glancing at him but he sticks with eating his cake. “Well, we don’t hang with Mom’s side too much, and Mom, um, her tree collapsing on her didn’t leave anything we could bury as nonhazardous waste. So there’s no grave to tidy up. Dad and I don’t even really do the cakes anymore—we usually just light a candle and leave out a little of whatever food’s around.”

There’s a big clump of raisins in Stiles’ cake, and he bites into it right as he finishes. The raisins gum up against his teeth and he actually has to put his cake down and scrape around with a fingernail to get them loose. He sucks his finger clean and picks up the cake and Derek doesn’t interrupt in the middle, just is a big warm lump against his side.

“It’s not a big deal for us,” Stiles says, shrugging. “It’s not like we’re being hardasses or anything, it just—isn’t. I don’t know. Maybe ‘cause we had to move around so much afterward, didn’t have time and got out of the habit. It’s kind of nice that you guys actually do the whole thing with the grave-cleaning and the meal afterwards.”

“You don’t mind that you’re not going?” Derek says abruptly.

Stiles turns and frowns at him. “Um, am I supposed to? I just thought it was your family’s thing.”

“It is, it’s just, you are pack now. You’d have a right to go, and…well, we thought about asking you.” Derek shifts uncomfortably around, and his voice drops to a mutter that’d be unintelligible if his mouth wasn’t mashed into Stiles’ shoulder, and Stiles hadn’t considerably improved his skills in that sort of lip-reading over the past couple months. “It’s not that we were trying to keep you out.”

“It’s your family graveyard. I mean, I know, pack, but pack breaks down into subgroups and ugh, okay, totally not the time to get into social psychology.” Stiles rubs the heel of his hand into his temple, willing himself to sound like less of a nerdy dick. “Anyway. I get it. I don’t wanna crash in if it’s weird.”

Derek doesn’t say anything, but he slowly relaxes against Stiles. They’re probably clear when he starts eating his cake again, but Stiles gives it a couple extra seconds, just in case.

“If you want me to come by, I can do that too,” Stiles says. “Just, I’m gonna bring the wrong cakes, but these are all I know how to make.”

“They’re not the wrong cakes,” Derek says, snorting. He pauses, then wipes his mouth off with his hand. “I…maybe next year. I don’t think this year’s right.”

“Okay,” Stiles says. He slides his fingers into Derek’s hair, then slides them out and curls his hand up against the crook of Derek’s neck. “Well, Dad and I are going to be out at the tree, if you’re looking for me after.”

Derek nods. His head sinks a little lower, more on Stiles’ chest than his shoulder, and Stiles thinks he’s falling asleep right up till Derek just—sticks his head in the now-empty box, so he can lick at some icing smeared on the side. Stiles yelps and jerks the box away, so Derek gives him offended eyes, so Stiles sighs and hands him the stupid box and Derek snuggles in and starts swiping up all the icing. At least he uses his finger this time.

“Dad and I might need an hour by ourselves on solstice,” Stiles says.

Derek looks up. “Did you want us to just not come ov—”

“No, it’s not like that. Like I said, we don’t really do it.” Stiles leans his head against the Nemeton’s trunk. “Just an hour. You and Peter can stay in bed, we usually use the living room.”

“Okay,” Derek says. He keeps looking at Stiles but Stiles doesn’t look at him, so finally he pushes away the box and puts his head in Stiles’ lap. When Stiles drapes an arm over him, his eyes close and he actually does go to sleep.

***

After the weeds are pulled, the grass is cut, the ground is leveled. After the candles are lit and put out, and the cakes are shared around. Francis has scheduled himself enough conference calls to keep his study door shut into the evening, while Laura has Derek and Cora in the living room, huddled together like they’re young children again with piles of junk food and a marathon of superhero movies on in the background.

It varies from year to year whether it’s Talia or Peter who climbs up to the roof to find the other curled up by the rail. But after that, it’s always the same. They sit side by side in silence as evening turns into night, and night drags on and on.

“If I’d died,” Talia eventually will say. “If we’d all died.”

“Except me,” Peter will reply. “I wasn’t home.”

“If you had been home,” Talia will say, her voice shaking a little.

Then they’ll fall silent again. When the sky just begins to turn before dawn, one of them will rise and go to the rail, and the other will follow. They’ll howl for the dead, one long, rending cry from two throats, and then they will turn and go down the steps, and for another year the dead will sleep.

Chapter Text

“I don’t know, we had an awful lot of leftover beans last year,” Talia says, chewing on her pen. “Besides, the morels are looking very good, I think I want to feature those.”

“Then you’ll have to change up the stuffing.” Peter frowns at the three cookbooks, two iPads and one TV playing a Thanksgiving special cooking show in front of them. “You can’t hit them with mushrooms twice. One, the children will scream, and two, you’ll look like one of those people who believe vegetarianism starts and ends with the porcini.”

“I know, I know, damn it.” Talia takes the pen out of her mouth, shoves aside a cookbook to reveal a much-annotated shopping list and scribbles a new note. “Well. I did read a delicious recipe for green apple and pancetta stuffing, oh, wait—”

Derek sighs. “Mom, Stiles can eat meat now.”

“Of course, dear, but we still want to show him and his guests that we can accommodate a wide range of tastes,” Talia says. “Thanksgiving is about the whole harvest’s bounty and we live in California. Just focusing on proteins would be horribly ignorant and wasteful of us.”

“It would also send a message to certain members of the extended family that we’re expecting Stiles to be the one to make changes, so don’t whine and eat the squash blossoms your mother serves you,” Peter says, buried in a bad fats vs. good fats calculator. “Shame we can’t figure out what John’s actual cardiogram results are…”

“Right, I nearly forgot. Need to do something Polish. Eastern European, at least,” Talia mutters. She drags over one of the cookbooks and starts flipping through it. “I wish we knew what region they hail from. I’ve got four possible sausage vendors but I just don’t know which spice profile to go with.”

“Why don’t you just ask?” Cora calls from the other room.

“Do your homework,” Derek calls back.

Cora’s head and one arm pop into the kitchen. The arm brandishes a three-ring binder. “Done, mini-Mom, now why can’t you just ask the guy? I mean, he probably has a Powerpoint for that, too, and—”

“Shut up,” Derek says.

“Don’t tell your sister to shut up,” Talia and Peter chorus.

Cora smirks. Derek rolls his eyes and runs his hand over his hair, and then limply flips at his assigned stack of Polish cultural literature. “Well, whatever, Cora, if you bug my alpha—”

“Do I look like Laura? Just because he’s in my grade doesn’t mean I’m obsessed with him like you all are,” Cora snorts. She tosses the binder behind her, then slouches against the doorway and watches them research. “Okay, if you don’t want to ask him, because it’s against the Nemeton way of life or whatever, why don’t you just, I don’t know, ask Deaton or something? It can’t be that hard to figure out where his family’s from.”

“It is when it’s classified,” Derek mutters. “Go away.”

“Derek, don’t be antisocial to your siblings,” Peter says. He makes a face at the pierogi recipe he’s been working up, then zeroes out the fat calculator and starts on a rib roast recipe. “And Cora, it’s rude to violate the privacy of your loved ones.”

Both Derek and Cora stare at Peter. Then Derek shakes his head. He sighs and drags over a couple leaflets on traditional Polish winter foods. “We don’t want to ask because Stiles is kind of sensitive about his mom’s side, okay? His dad’s side was easy since they’re all military, and they’re all over the place and none of them are going to show up.”

“Well, neither is his mom’s side, right? So what’s the big deal?” Cora says, edging into the kitchen. “I mean, if he doesn’t want to talk about them, okay, can’t we still…do it by process of elimination or something? There aren’t that many Polish tree guardian families, are there? I thought they were endangered.”

“They are, which is why for several decades tree guardian identities and exact locations were not available to the general public,” Peter says, finally looking up from his iPad. “Stiles’ generation is the first that’s being encouraged to publicize their work. As for previous ones, pre-World War II records list a couple dozen families, but it’s unclear how many of them actually survived the war.”

Cora winces. “Oh, ow. Is that why he doesn’t want to talk about it?”

“No. Well, we don’t think so,” Derek mutters. Then he picks up a leaflet and jabs it at her. “But anyway, that’s none of your business. He doesn’t want to tell us yet, there’s no reason we need to know now, so you shouldn’t bother him.”

“Okay, okay, God, don’t snap my claws off,” Cora says, holding up her hands. She waves them a little bit, then backs out of the kitchen.

Derek rolls his eyes again and drops the leaflet. He fingers a glossy tourism magazine, flips it open and then closed.

“It is okay, right?” he says, a little softer, a lot less combative.

Peter looks up first, but just briefly; he seems to return to his number-crunching but Talia abruptly stifles a hiss and jerks her head up to shoot him a narrow-eyed look. He gives her a blank, confused face, at which point Talia sighs and just reaches down to rub at her foot. Then she happens to see Derek and she hesitates, then sighs again.

“He’s in charge of his own tree, so as I understand guardian ways, he’s the same as a lead alpha. John also assured me that federal laws actually bar them from obeying the Old World communities, although of course they would respect each other as colleagues,” Talia says, slowly and carefully. “And, of course, you both think it wouldn’t endanger the pack to let it lie.”

“He’ll tell us when he’s comfortable,” Peter says. He flicks his eyes over the iPad to his sister, then drops them. “If it’s a purely personal issue, that’s his right.”

Talia smiles at her brother. It’s fond, but there’s more than a little touch of exasperation to it, and a heavy lacing of irony, too. “If you’re willing to accept it.”

“It’s fine,” Derek says, shrugging one shoulder. He looks at Peter. “It’s fine.”

“Well, then, that’s settled,” Talia says, when Peter doesn’t so much as twitch. Then she looks at her son again. “Though honestly, Derek, I think Peter and I have the menu brainstorming covered. Why don’t you go find Francis and see whether he’s got the meat freezer cleared out? He’s been promising me that all week.”

Derek attempts to not look completely grateful for the out, and succeeds about as much with that as he had with helping them review recipes. Once he’s gone, Peter absorbs the Polish cuisine literature Derek had had into his stack, then looks at Talia.

“It is fine,” he says.

“He knows we’d stand with him, doesn’t he?” she says.

Peter rolls his eyes. “Not everything comes down to a frontal assault, Talia. I don’t think—I do really think it’s an emotional issue, not a legal or a territorial one. John wouldn’t be so reluctant to explain if it wasn’t.”

“Very well,” she says. She looks at him, then reaches over and rubs the side of his head. Then laughs when he bats her off after a few seconds. “All right, just don’t worry so much. It makes me worry when you do that. He will get around to it, he’s that sort.”

Peter glances at her, then leans back in his chair to rest the bottom of his iPad on his stomach, and the back against the edge of the table. He swirls a fingertip over the screen while rummaging through the cookbooks with his other hand.

“What if we did a pierogi platter?” he says.

Talia blinks, tilts her head, and then hums deep in her throat. “Oh, that does sound delicious…would help use up the scraps too…”

Chapter Text

“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.

Chapter Text

“If you’re mad at John, I get it, I really do. He didn’t really handle this well,” Melissa says, dropping her bags off on the bed. “But I think you should—”

“I’m not mad at him.” Chris shoulders off his bag strap and lets the duffel down onto the bed, then twists around and looks at the room. His posture’s pretty tight, elbows in against his body, stiff shoulders, but the look he gives her is more puzzled than anything else. “His in-laws, his business. He doesn’t have to share that with me.”

Melissa purses her lips, then takes a deep breath and resists the urge to plaster her hand over her face. It won’t do a damn thing but get Chris even more wound up, and he’s already looking ready to split, his little moment of leniency with their kids notwithstanding. “You okay?”

“What? Yeah, yeah…just…” Chris turns slowly around. He’s checking off the exits, the heaviest pieces of furniture, and then he lets out an irritated sigh. He sits down on the bed, presses his hand against the side of his face for a second, and then looks up at her. “Should we have gone with him?”

And there isn’t a hint of anger in him, voice or face. He just looks concerned, which is reasonable—even if Melissa herself’s going back and forth between that and wanting to stomp John really hard on the foot—and under that, nervy as hell. It’s like he thinks the worst part is he might have made the wrong call—well, that’s probably exactly what he’s thinking.

Probably what Stiles is thinking too, if Melissa was reading his face right, and somebody better get after that boy before he runs off to tackle his grandmother. But, Melissa thinks, looking at Chris, that’s just going to have to be Peter for now. “No. Much as I hate it, John’s better off on his own when it comes to the Brzezickis. He’s got…you know, standing. We’d just—”

“—lower that, right,” Chris mutters, with a wince at himself. He glances around the room again, fidgeting, and then starts as she sits down next to him. His mouth twists, then loosens enough for a tight smile.

He loosens up a little more when she puts an arm over his shoulders. His head tips towards her, and then he sighs again, less irritated and more resigned, and scoots over so she can cup the side of his neck, rub her thumb along his hairline.

“And if we’re going to be honest, personally, I know I can’t be as patient with that woman as John is, and God knows we don’t need a diplomatic incident out of this,” Melissa mutters. “She singlehandedly killed any desire I’ve got to ever be a member of an Old World family.”

“She’s that bad?” Chris says. Then he shrugs, and it’s still a little stiff. “She’s highly respected, what I’ve heard, but that can mean a lot of different things.”

“She’s where she is for a reason.” Melissa makes a face at herself, because this is exactly why she wants to stomp John’s foot, but…well, beggars can’t be choosers, and John’s rightly got bigger priorities at the moment. “I can’t get into it much without getting into things John really should be talking about. But she’s been trying to weasel John off for years, get him to join that cult she’s running. He swears she’s got good intentions but I don’t see it. It’s just been…tricky, what with Stiles, and John doesn’t want him to feel like he’s choosing between John and his mother’s family.”

Chris grimaces sympathetically. “Yeah. I got lucky with Victoria that way. Her family disowned her before we got married, so we never had that issue.”

“Because of your father?” Melissa says after a second.

“Yeah. Yeah, well, can’t blame them, really,” Chris mutters. He glances at Melissa, then snorts and looks down. “You don’t have to get up in arms over that, it’s water under the bridge. I…I don’t think she was that unhappy about parting ways with them, anyway. They were pretty rigid about what women should and shouldn’t do.”

Melissa’s got more than a few relatives who are the same, even if her parents have never been anything but supportive, so she nods in sympathy. Rubs Chris’ neck some more, looks at the artwork on the walls. It’s a nice room, very large for a non-master, she thinks idly, and then she wonders whether the Hales planned that. And then she wonders what her son’s room looks like, seeing as she’s staring at it, and that gets her thinking about Peter’s comment on the soundproofing wards, and God, she does not need to go there.

“You really can’t hear anything,” Chris says, catching onto her train of thought. When she looks at him, he grins and then leans over to peck her on the mouth.

It’s quick but still hesitant, with a barely-there pause before their lips meet, and then a longer one just after, till she moves her hand around to grip the back of his neck and hold him for a firm follow-up.

“You’re being good about it,” she says, and then ducks in, lightly traps his lower lip between her teeth for a second. “I’m not making fun, I know I put you on the spot a little—”

“Have to be deaf, dumb, blind and a complete idiot to not know they’d sneak off if I didn’t.” He kisses her on the corner of the mouth, sweet and short, and then on the center, lingering and more than a little heated. “Honestly, think I’d rather have Scott know we’re onto him.”

Melissa gets her other hand up and cradles his face, then shifts further onto the bed as he twists towards her. “So what you’re saying, you like terrifying my son.”

The tension’s there, shrinking his smile, putting lines on his brow her fingers itch to smooth, but he at least doesn’t jerk away. “Well, I don’t scare Allison these days.”

She sighs, shaking her head at him, and then pulls him in. Just means to have another one of those kisses, but somehow they end up half-sprawled over the bed, necking like teenagers next to their luggage. He’s got his hands half-under her shirt, and she’s hooked her fingers over his shirt-collar, dragging it down so she can trace around the knobs of his spine, feeling his mouth shiver against hers.

“Don’t mind the room, then?” she says.

Chris draws back, props himself up on his arms. He’s flushed and a little short of breath, eyes all dark and hungry. “Honestly? Not as much as I thought,” he says. He runs soft fingertips along the sweat beading at her hairline, from brow to ear. “Don’t know about when we go down, it’s—not used to handling so many of them at once. But I guess…I don’t know, it’s a little funny that I ended up here. In their house, with an amazing woman in my arms.”

And God, then he goes and says something like that, with this matter-of-fact tone, like any man would say it. Melissa squirms a little and if she wasn’t already worked up from the kisses, she’d bet she’d be blushing like mad, since deep down she’s still that girl who can’t help thinking she couldn’t keep her husband.

“Still, I’m glad we caught you,” Chris adds. The lust softens, turns into something deeper. And when he touches her cheek, it’s like he’s touching a holy relic. “I can handle it. Not going to embarrass anybody. But I’m glad it wasn’t just me and Allison driving up with Talia.”

“Chris,” Melissa says. She cups his neck in her hands for a couple seconds, just warming him. His eyes close, his head droops, and she catches him, sliding one hand to tip his chin into the kiss. “It’s all right. It’s all right.”

“Yeah.” He slips off her mouth. Rests against her cheek for a second, then pulls himself back. “We should go down.”

“We’ll go sit on the porch, that’ll at least get you away from all of them staring,” Melissa says. “Don’t feel guilty about it. Just because you agreed to come doesn’t mean you have to put up with everything they throw at you. And anyway, I’ll bet you Stiles ran right to the tree, and since John’s too busy to do it, I guess that puts me in charge of grabbing him when he’s back and making sure he eats something.”

She can say it, but she can’t make him not look doubtful. At the first part, at least; he maybe is taking the second part as an order, which isn’t ideal either, but whatever gets him to relax. Melissa will take her victories in any size.

“Yeah,” he finally says. He moves slightly back from her, only to stop when her hands—still around his neck—stop him. Then cocks an eyebrow when she’s a little tardy about letting go of him. “We’re not really having sex in the Hale house.”

And he sounds a little doubtful about that, too, but it’s the kind of shifty, almost challenging doubtful that she loves seeing on him. Much as he complains, he’s got a taste for them pushing him. “Well, if John doesn’t get his head on straight by the time he comes back,” Melissa says, shrugging at him. “But then, he doesn’t, I might need something to keep me from yelling at him.”

Chris laughs, even as his eyes are going wide. “Mel, seriously.”

“Seriously. You grab him when he’s back. He wants to talk to you about this, it’s just one of those things he never knows how to start, so you have to ask.” Melissa pairs that with a slow rub of her hand over his arm, firm and reassuring. She watches till that spike of tension eases out of him, and then she moves her hand to slide over his chest, which is…not nearly as innocent, but then, she’s not a saint. “Also, I’ll admit, I get along better with Talia than John but even I have times where she just drives me up the wall. Sticking her with the laundry isn’t too bad.”

This time, Chris sucks in his breath hard. “Melissa.”

“What, I’m sure they’ve got descenting runes around too,” Melissa says. Then she looks a little closer at him, and laughs. Rubs her hand up his breastbone and then flicks playfully at the underside of his chin. “You like that. You want them to smell it? That a werewolf gene thing?”

“You are an awful woman,” Chris mutters. He kneads the bed, then heaves himself up and off her. “Come on, before you talk me into it.”

“John got to do it, shouldn’t I get a turn?” Melissa says, but she gets up.

If anything, Chris is more flushed now than when they were making out. He ducks his head and grabs at the back of his neck, clearly feeling it, and then gives her a half-hearted glare as he gets off the bed. “You just did. Went a hell of a lot farther than him, for that matter.”

“Oh…all right, fine. We’ll wait till he comes back,” Melissa says. She takes him by the shoulder and kisses his temple; for all his protests, he’s leaning towards her way more than he needs to. “It’ll be all right, Chris. Now let’s go make sure that son of his doesn’t make me a liar.”

Chapter Text

“I had a couple suspicions, but nothing concrete enough to bring up,” Chris says cautiously. He and John are sitting up in bed, Melissa sleeping soundly between them. He’s pretty worn out himself, but he wants to get this done first, before they get any distractions. “Not a lot of the Polish families survived World War II, and…well, we were told about your wife’s death. Not who she was—I didn’t realize till after you moved here—but we got the manhunt alert.”

John looks blank. He doesn’t show much signs of grieving; even when he talks about Claudia, it’s with a fond wistfulness that’s more like somebody talking about a long-lost friend. But every now and then he’ll stop, and then you can see how hard he works at that.

“Right,” he says. “I forgot about that.”

“Even my father didn’t think it was right. Though that was probably more about that jackass going about it in such a stupid—shit.” Chris pulls his knees up, then looks over. The other man’s got his mouth twisted but he’s not blank anymore, and he’s not looking disgusted with Chris. “Sorry.”

“It was stupid,” John mutters after a second. A thread of real anger comes through, but then he just puts his head back against the headboard. “Yeah. Okay. I guess there must’ve been rumors in the hunter community, too.”

“Yeah. Yeah, some.” Chris shifts again, then freezes as Melissa murmurs.

But she just turns over, tucking her head down with a frown. John looks at her, face as chagrined as Chris feels. He smooths a hand over her hair and she settles, and he breathes out a silent sigh of relief. She hadn’t been all that mad, at least from Chris’ view, when John had come back, but she’d definitely leveled a couple disappointed looks John’s way.

It’s a longstanding sore point with them, Chris gathers. He’ll admit he’s curious. But it’s unusual for Melissa to be so reluctant to push, even before the fact that it seems to have something to do with Claudia’s death, and so he’s not about to go stirring up that hornets’ nest anytime soon. Melissa told him to ask John, so he did, but he won’t force the man’s hand.

But he can provide what little he knows, since John does seem interested. “Your wife…her identity didn’t completely leak, I don’t think, but there were some hunters who knew her personally and they were angry, made it known. That rogue’s family got run out of the state, maybe even up to Canada,” Chris says after a moment. “There were three or four names thrown around at the time. Brzezicki was one of them. I did think it might be one of the more likely ones, after I met you and Stiles.”

“Really?” John says. “But we’re not—Chris, you know I don’t buy any of her horsesh—philosophy. She’s got good practical knowledge, I’ll give her that, but all her ideas about how hunters and packs and how they need to be structured, I don’t follow it. We don’t.”

“I think I got that when you pushed me off to Sacramento for my psych evaluation, instead of holding it over my head,” Chris says. He holds his breath till John relaxes, then can’t help but slide down so that he can rest his hand on Melissa’s shoulder. She manages to steady him even when she’s not awake, he thinks, and then has to resist the urge to lie down and curl up tight against her, back to back so he can keep an eye out. “No, I meant…they still keep it quiet, but these days you usually do know where you can find an Old World family’s heir. Brzezicki’s one of the few who won’t say a damn thing.”

John snorts and slouches down the headboard. “Well, because they don’t have one.” He pauses and shoots Chris a look, then shakes his head. “Don’t get worried over that. It’s not like your family—one of the few times Wanda’s damn system works in our favor, the tree makes you the boss, end of story. Claudia got it, and she decided to split from them, and they had to just take it.”

“But after she died, they didn’t go after Stiles?” Chris asks, because he’s a hunter. Seeing where the threat is, that’s been his whole life.

Still, the way that John’s face doesn’t just blank out, but goes completely still, it makes Chris regret his question. Then John puts his hand up and rubs it over his face. He lets out a muffled groan, then pulls his hand down and slides till he’s almost completely lying down.

“It was tricky,” he finally says. He seems like he’s going to stop there, but then lets out an abrupt grunt. “I’m just glad we got Claudia back to the states before Stiles was born. Service helped out a lot, too. Anyway, that’s over. Wanda wouldn’t be showing up now if it wasn’t—she knew the moment he got a tree, she’d lose any chance to get him over to Poland. Now she can’t do anything but talk to him, and he’s got a good head and a good heart, he can figure out what he wants to take from her.”

“So she’s not after you?” Chris says.

“No. No, she is, it’s just…God, it’s convoluted.” John pulls his head down to the pillow and stares irritably at the ceiling. “She thinks if she just shows Stiles how well her way works—and that means moving me to a different role. Which is bullshit, people aren’t robots, they have opinions on what they’re doing. And anyway, I’m not leaving.”

He looks over at Chris. It’s not showy at all, but it’s unshakeable, how he looks at Chris, and Chris just—it makes him happy, he’s not going to lie. It does, it makes him feel like he can’t ever do anything to justify it, and then it hurts too.

“Stiles wasn’t the only one fed up with moving around all the time,” John adds after a moment. He keeps looking for another second, then shifts over onto his side. Works himself under the blankets and then puts his arm back out, across Melissa, so that his hand just touches Chris’ hip. “I’m sorry I was such a jackass earlier. I panicked, I guess. Wasn’t anything on you, wasn’t like I didn’t think you’d not listen or anything like that. I’m just used to hitting lockdown when my mother-in-law shows up.”

“Yeah, well, I get it,” Chris finally says. He flips over the blanket, then crawls under himself. Melissa makes a soft, pleased noise as he presses up against her, and he can’t not bury his face in her hair; John laughs a little, and Chris feels the man’s hand rubbing up over his back. But Chris makes himself look back over her at John. “Glad you’re staying, too.”

“Good,” John says, grinning. Then he looks at Melissa, and then he plants his face into the pillow. “Jesus, I feel like shit. Think she’ll forgive me when we wake up?”

Chris nestles his head back against Melissa, trying not to laugh so hard he wakes her. “Well, I guess you’ll just have to try and see.”

“Smartass,” John mutters. His hand slips up to Chris’ nape, rests there for a minute or so, and then moves to rest on Chris’ arm. “Thanks, Chris.”

“Anything I can do,” Chris says softly. “Anything I can do.”

Chapter Text

“My first Thanksgiving here, I ended up whipping Talia’s great-uncle’s ass before the desserts,” Francis says, shrugging. “I think it was something about music.”

He looks at Peter, who prods thoughtfully at his seventh slice of cherry pie, then raises his fork. “Right. Stones versus Led Zeppelin.”

Stiles’ dad pauses halfway through his piece of apple cobbler—supposedly his second, but both Chris and Melissa have been sneaking him bits off their plates, and Stiles only isn’t calling them on it because a Babcia visit burns off a good thousand calories (though Melissa is pushing it with that pecan pie). “That’s what you guys fight over?”

“Honestly, I didn’t really care,” Francis says. “I was trying to be on my best behavior, but the guy threw his ice cream at me.”

“Great-uncle Jeremiah worked security for rock tours during the seventies, and believes it gives him some privileged insight into the period,” Peter sighs. “He’s a little difficult. He also no longer has an invite here, so no need to worry.”

“The first time I went to Thanksgiving at somebody else’s house, it was my boyfriend’s, and he was from this really stuffy New England pack, came over with the pilgrims and all that.” Laura passes around the cookie platter, and when the non-weres only grab a couple, she grins and just sweeps a whole third’s worth of cookies off onto her plate. “It was so weird. They even had a seating chart so nobody squabbled over who got the seats by the roast, or nearest the door.”

Jane—Los Angeles, architect, specializes in structured-group housing, engaged to Tyra, ex-military were who’s currently on toddler wrangling duty with Cora—snorts into her wine. “It was hilarious, was what it was. She called up Talia in this hysterical fit, could barely get a word out—”

“I wasn’t hysterical,” Laura says, tucking her shoulders back in a very offended-Derek way.

“You were too,” Derek says, smirking in a very Peter way. And then he hides behind Stiles when Laura tries to swat him, to complete the impersonation.

“—poor Talia thought they were murdering the girl, was halfway to buying plane tickets out there before Laura finally managed to explain that she’d thought she was being asked to contribute to the table. So she went out and got a couple rabbits,” Jane goes on, grinning more and more broadly. “Only, these rabbits, turns out the alpha’s a champion rabbit breeder.”

Melissa puts her hand over her mouth and giggles. “Oh, no.”

“They were just wandering around!” Laura says. “They weren’t caged or anything, how was I supposed to know?”

“Well, at least she didn’t do it on purpose,” Talia says, finally coming back. She nuzzles Francis as she slots into the armchair with him, then hands the fresh bottle of wine to Peter, along with a sharp look. “Alpha Laurent still refuses to meet with me in person.”

Both Derek and Laura perk up, which means this must be a pre-them story. Peter just rolls his eyes and uncorks the bottle with his claw, then tops up Chris’ and Melissa’s glasses. “That wasn’t his pet, that was the splintercat he accidentally let loose so he could impress you by saving you from it. And you’re just annoyed because I got to it first.”

“Because I wanted to make it clear to him that I was not in the market for a male alpha who could take over for me,” Talia says. “It does undercut the message a bit if my little brother skips math class to do it.”

“Which you made up for by throwing him through his own windshield when he crashed Thanksgiving dinner,” Peter points out, tone ever so mild.

“I had to do that once,” Melissa says. She drinks some wine, then blinks when she realizes everybody’s looking at her, even Stiles’ dad. Her eyes widen and she hastily shakes her hand. “Oh, no, no, not the part about throwing somebody through a windshield. I meant slapping down a macho asshole.”

Stiles’ dad frowns, then makes an ‘ah’ shape with his mouth and goes back to his cobbler. “Oh, yeah. Jesus, that was so much paperwork. Worth it, though, I’ve never seen the director laugh so hard in my life.”

So Stiles does not remember this at all, so he looks at Scott and Allison, who’ve been listening with intrigued (Allison) to faintly freaked (Scott) eyes. But Scott looks just as puzzled. “Mom? When did—”

“It wasn’t really that dramatic,” Melissa says, flapping her hand. “It was back in Fresno, remember, that year I missed Thanksgiving—”

“You didn’t miss it, we just had it a little late,” Scott says, endearingly loyal kid that he is.

Melissa smiles at him, but her brows tick up. “We ate turkey sandwiches at two in the morning, baby, that’s not—anyway. John and I were out on a sting, got invited to the target’s house party and had to go with it. One of the guests got a little drunk and a little pushy in the bathroom, that’s all.”

“She left out the part where he was a lieutenant colonel and a packborn,” Stiles’ dad says dryly. “He tried to pull something on her about what such a nice girl was doing, getting mixed up with such a dangerous crowd. ‘course, getting his head slammed into a gold-plated toilet was the least of his problems, after sixteen counts of illegal plant smuggling and one count of attempted murder.”

“I didn’t really slam it,” Melissa protests. “He slipped too.”

“Three times,” Stiles’ dad adds, and then leans over to clink their glasses together, grinning.

“Ugh, jerks, they never tell me about the fun missions,” Stiles mutters, curling back into Derek, while Melissa gives up on trying to not look smug.

Chris starts to say something, kind of under his breath, then stops. But he chooses to do that in a lull so it’s really obvious, so then everybody’s looking at him. He grimaces and then sighs, shifting slightly into the hand Melissa’s got on his knee. “Nothing, just…reminded me of that one year, when Deaton called in on those monster turkeys.”

“Teenagers, fairy dust, science fair project gone terribly wrong,” Peter explains. Then he looks over at Chris. “Whatever happened to those, do you know? Talia was upset when he said we couldn’t just eat them—”

“Well, they would’ve made a beautiful roast,” Talia says. “And there would have been no fighting over the dark meat at that size.”

“I don’t know,” Chris says slowly, glancing at Stiles’ father. “I had to turn them all over to the Service. We got a couple alive, actually, I did wonder if they were going to kill them or ship them off somewhere.”

Stiles’ dad blinks a few times. “Huh. Well, it wasn’t in the welcome dossier we got, Dr. Deaton must not have thought it was that important…and Stiles, I can hear you hacking.”

“Dad, I’m not hacking. See?” Stiles puts up both hands.

“Where’s your phone?” his father says, unimpressed. “Derek?”

“I don’t hack,” Derek says.

His dad continues to eye Derek, who starts fidgeting under their blanket. “Hiding it still makes you an accessory.”

“Oh, my God, Dad, we said no threatening over the food. Neutral zone.” But Stiles gives and he pulls his phone from Derek’s pocket, and tosses it onto the table by the cookie platter.

“You can look it up when the office opens on Monday,” his dad says sternly. Then he sighs. He looks at the remains of his cobbler, absently rubbing at his stomach, and then smiles wryly. “Well, all right, I guess I feel a little bit better.”

“Of course you do, there’s nothing that some good old-fashioned baked goods can’t help with,” Talia says, voice serene, eyes glinting a little wickedly. “And anyway, John, it wouldn’t be Thanksgiving without a pinch of mayhem. You’re just living up to tradition.”

Chapter Text

“Hey, knife,” Stiles says, as Derek tries to drop his hand under the hem of Stiles’ suit-coat.

“Uh, garrote,” Stiles says, when Derek’s nuzzle starts loosening his tie.

“Explosives trigger,” Stiles says, pulling Derek’s hand out of his pocket.

“Explosives trigger,” Derek says flatly. Then he blows out a frustrated breath and half-twists away, stuffing his hands into his trouser pockets.

The back of his suit-jacket—which, Peter-approved, fits him like very expensive Saran wrap—flips up a little to show the top curve of his ass, and Stiles can’t help admiring a little. Of course, then Stiles’ eyes track up to the tight, if equally attractive, slopes of Derek’s shoulders, and Stiles sighs.

“It’s just the trigger. Doesn’t do anything unless you stick it in some C4, I just don’t want to lose it ‘cause they won’t let me expense any more this year.” Stiles comes up behind the other man and wraps his arms around Derek’s waist, then drags his chin along the side of Derek’s spine. He lets his mouth float over Derek’s collar when Derek tilts his head back. “Come on, I said hi to everybody, let’s go find a closet.”

Derek turns his head just enough for Stiles to see the corner of his smirk, and the slightly skeptical eye above it. “We’ve been here ten minutes.”

“And as anybody who’s seen a teen movie knows, if it doesn’t happen during the walk-in, the speech or the exit, it ain’t gonna happen,” Stiles says, rolling his eyes. He edges up a little closer to Derek, so that he can see the dance floor just past the bleachers they’re semi-slinking under. “Unless you wanna dance?”

That gets him a heartfelt snort of disgust. Derek turns back to him, starts to loop an arm around Stiles and then theatrically pauses. “Well, what am I supposed to touch?”

“Oh, my God,” Stiles says, and backwalks him into the nearest closet at double speed to show him.

The answer, obviously, is that Derek works on trying to not wreck all the supply shelves while Stiles sucks him off. Keeps their clothes clean and relatively unwrinkled, thanks to a couple folders Stiles tosses under his knees, and gets them in and out before Lydia notices that Stiles sneaked off from the photoshoot booth.

Well, it would, anyway, if Derek wasn’t grabbing him for a heavy make-out session right as he’s getting up. Not really the right order, Stiles wants to say, but…okay, so Derek hefting him up by the ass and sitting him on a bunch of fileboxes for extra lip-sucking leverage is a pretty convincing argument for not giving a shit.

Though, for the record, Stiles tries. “We, um, we—” he pries Derek’s hand away from his shirt-buttons, then groans into Derek’s mouth as Derek fiddles with his fly “—okay, no, bad beta, we need to—”

“Fuck the photos, Mom took plenty,” Derek mutters. He tries to slip his hand into Stiles’ pants, and when Stiles barely intercepts him, twists his head around to suck along Stiles’ jaw. Also, so he can stretch himself over the boxes and somehow get his hip rubbing up over Stiles’ groin. “You really want the cheesy background, we can ‘shop it in later.”

“Lydia,” Stiles says. Sighs over Derek’s growl and grabs the back of Derek’s neck, just as the man makes a move to drop.

So Derek doesn’t drop. Derek lets himself be pulled up, chin lifted, eyes half-shut, lower lip first. And that lower lip’s all plush and quivering, soft-looking amid all that badboy stubble and the razor cheekbones, and goddamn him, but he is learning.

They make out some more. Sure, Derek’s being a conniving asshole, but most of the time that’s useful so Stiles doesn’t want to totally discourage it. And then Stiles digs up what’s left of his willpower and tugs Derek back by the neck. “So, you know, if this is some thing about my turn, I can wait. You don’t always gotta hit me back right away.”

“Yeah, I know.” Then Derek puts his hands down on the box Stiles is sitting on, on either side of Stiles’ knees, and leans forward, grinning. “I just want to.”

He goes in and Stiles knocks his head against the wall keeping from getting sucked back in. Derek’s mouth twitches a little, watching Stiles swear and rub at his rattled skull. Then he straightens up and lifts his hands, and cups the back of Stiles’ head, skimming off the pain.

“Do you want to go back out?” Derek says, sighing.

“Um, sure,” Stiles says. Then groans and drops his head against Derek’s shoulder, not that that really gets him away from the judgmental eyebrows. “Okay, actually, I…so I don’t like dancing, or pretending I care who’s coming with who, and if I wanna get drunk there are definitely more prime places to do it than under the eyes of all my teachers and half the parents in town. But I’ve never made it through a whole dance, Derek. This is important to my coming-of-age.”

Derek’s still judging him. Stiles isn’t looking up but those eyebrows don’t need visual acknowledgement for their weight to be felt.

“It kind of is,” Stiles protests. He reaches up and tries to push Derek’s cheek; Derek silently resists like the absurdly handsome piece of concrete he is. And then smirks at Stiles when Stiles finally drags up his head, running light fingers along Stiles’ jaw. “Well, Scott’s done it. Multiple times, even.”

“You really have to do everything he does?” Derek says.

“Oh, don’t be a jackass.” Then Stiles lifts his hand. “But yes. Yes, I do. Look, I embrace my alternative upbringing, okay, my dad and I were never gonna be an Americana poster family and I am thrilled about it. But…I don’t know, don’t you ever feel like there are some things you just should do, once at least? Otherwise you’re just…you might as well just hole up in the hills or something, if you’re gonna be that detached from modern society?”

Derek abruptly loses the vaguely mocking jerkass air. He’s still watching Stiles, hasn’t moved at all, but the look in his eyes and even how he’s holding himself is completely different. He’s really quiet and really thoughtful, and under that, there’s this kind of depressing trace of regret.

“Yeah, I get that,” he finally says. He glances off to the side, then ducks his head and runs his hand through his hair. Shrugs one shoulder. “Well, what do you want to do? Hit the drinks table?”

“Ugh, no,” Stiles says. He still has his hands on Derek’s arms and he tugs at them, then pecks a kiss on Derek’s mouth when the other man perks to attention. “You want to do anything?”

Derek rolls his eyes, though he’s still a little too sober for Stiles’ tastes. “Not really. This…pretty much same as what I remember, think I did anything I felt like doing before.”

“You did?” Stiles says. “I mean, I thought, um, Cora said—”

“I went to a couple dances before all that happened,” Derek says, just a little tense. He shrugs again. “I didn’t have a date for them, but the basketball team…you know how it goes, team goes together, whatever, and the ones who don’t have dates go stand in the corner. I did that.”

“Oh,” Stiles says. Because the only thing worse right now would be an awkward silence (but it’s a close call).

“It’s better with a date,” Derek adds, kind of abruptly. He tilts in, pauses, and then kisses Stiles very slowly. Then pulls back just so that their foreheads are resting together. “Though honestly, not by much. I’m still not really seeing it.”

Stiles laughs, then pulls his arms up to loop them around Derek’s neck. Which moves Derek closer, so that he can just about hook his legs around the other man, too. “Yeah. Yeah, I know. I just thought I should try it.”

Derek snorts, amused again. His hands rub up and down Stiles’ hips a few times, then settle low on them, so that Stiles is almost sitting on his fingertips. “So seriously, what do you want to do?”

“I guess…well, I guess I gotta go find Scott and Lydia, they both were really looking forward to this,” Stiles says. “And we gotta stick around for Dad’s speech. And then I guess we should find Peter, make sure he’s actually lecturing people on responsible partying and not recruiting for evil.”

“His shift’s over in half an hour,” Derek says. “I’m pretty sure he’s going to find us. He was looking forward to this for some reason. Something about revisiting the scene of his early triumphs, whatever that means.”

“He totally was Lydia in high school, wasn’t he?” Stiles says. He kisses the side of Derek’s mouth while the other man’s rolling his eyes, then eases off the boxes and starts nudging them towards the door. “Well, okay, fine. Dad’s speech, and then what say we go make Peter work for it? I figured out how to pick the basement lock last week.”

Derek shakes his head, but he’s starting to grin. “Too easy. Roof? I think I remember how to get up there.”

“Roof it is,” Stiles says happily. “If this dance isn’t gonna live up to its billing, well, we’ll just have to make some fun.”

Chapter Text

John rolls over and looks at the door. He blinks, then reaches for the bedside table where he’s left his phone. Switches the phone to scan mode and flashes the doorway.

His son, who is carrying a breakfast tray that they sure as hell don’t actually have, covered with delicious-smelling food that Stiles sure as hell didn’t make, rolls his eyes. “Dad, I’m not a ghost. I’m not possessed, either.”

“Shit,” Chris mutters from behind John. Because, even beaten-up and exhausted and drugged, he’s still such a light sleeper that he’s already trying to snake away towards the other side of the bed.

“Hey, Chris,” Stiles says. “Um, could you not move? I mean, good morning! Good job last night, and…since you’re still here, in Dad’s bed—”

Melissa groans. “Oh, God, John, is that Stiles?”

“—with Melissa, hey! Anyway, so, right now, I can’t really see you guys past Dad and not to be oversensitive but I think we’re all pretty good with that, right?” Stiles goes on, edging over the threshold. He stretches his arms out and then leans over on top of that, so that he’s bouncing to keep from falling flat on his face. “So, Talia sent over breakfast. Peter says sorry.”

John props his arm up so that he can cover half his face with his hand. Also so he can block Stiles’ view of whatever the hell Melissa and Chris are doing; it doesn’t sound like Chris is trying to sneak out anymore, but there’s an awful lot of rustling and Melissa muttering stern-nurse threats. “Breakfast?”

Stiles does his little tippy-toe scoot till he can reach the bedside dresser. He sets the tray down on the edge of that, so that John has to put his other arm out and grab it, and then quickly backpeddles to the door. “Yeah. So…Derek and I are waylaying Laura in the kitchen, we think we can get her out but it might be a while.”

“Get Peter,” Melissa grumbles.

“Well, I would, but he was up all night dealing with pack stuff and Alpha St. Marie, who is a total jerkwad about taking responsibility,” Stiles says irritably. “I just told him to go back to sleep.”

“No, it’s okay, Stiles.” The tray isn’t going to fit on the dresser, and John can’t keep hanging over the side of the bed, so he drags himself back, thinking he’ll just pull the tray onto the mattress after him. But he hits somebody, and then Melissa hits him, so it had to be Chris. Wincing, John backs off, and then just gives in and sits up and rests the tray on his knees. “Just tell her I’ll be down. Same if Talia shows up.”

“Really?” Stiles says, frowning. “I could just lie.”

John rubs the side of his face again, looking at the food. “Did I say to tell them when I’d be down?”

“Oh. Oh! Right, got it, omissions are our friends,” Stiles says. He starts to move towards the door, then stops. “Hey, so, Dad…”

“Let’s not get cocky, son, I haven’t had my coffee yet,” John mutters. Speaking of, he reaches for that, and then his hand somehow lands on those ridiculously buttery rolls Talia makes. “We get everything sorted out and then we can talk about what I owe you.”

“Oh, my God, Dad, you don’t owe me,” Stiles says, outraged. And then he gets that glint in his eye, that means this is absolutely coming up the next time he ‘accidentally’ trespasses somewhere his security clearance doesn’t cover. “I’m just trying to be nice. You know, seeing as it’s totally not my fault I didn’t make it through the whole dance this time.”

John wishes he’d waited on eating that roll, because he knows he doesn’t sound half as threatening with his mouth full. “Stiles.”

“Just saying. I’m usually the one running shouting through the halls, blackmailing local officials, and landing in the hospital,” Stiles says.

Stiles,” Melissa says, and then a pillow goes soaring over the food.

John watches his wide-eyed, snickering kid beat a hasty retreat—Stiles does shut the door behind him—and then…sighs. Eats the rest of his roll. Looks over.

Chris is possibly more wide-eyed than Stiles, though he’s a lot more anxious about it. He’s got Melissa curled up behind him, supporting that bad shoulder, and she shoots John a pointed look as she reaches over and grabs herself a roll and some grapes.

“Don’t start feeling guilty about ruining his dance,” John says. He picks up another roll, tears it open, and starts spreading it with honey and jam. “Trust me, he and Derek and Peter were halfway out the door already. Surprised they made it in, honestly. I was betting on finding them in the back of Derek’s car in the parking lot.”

“Huh,” Chris finally says. He moves awkwardly, like he’s trying to think of something else, and then winces. Then winces again, as both John and Melissa move to help him up. “I’m fine, I’m okay, I just—”

Melissa crawls away, then comes back with his pain pills. “Pass over the…did she send over fresh orange juice?”

John picks up the pitcher and sniffs it, then nods. He pours out a glass and then hands it to a dubious-looking Chris. “Also, I’m pretty sure that we don’t own anything on this tray except for the silverware. And I wouldn’t swear to those either.”

Chris does use the juice to wash down the pills, but he just takes the minimum, and then he goes back to eyeing the tray like it’s full of rattlesnakes. He shifts again, then gratefully leans against John when John moves his arm out of the way. “I feel like I just did something very wrong,” he mutters. “She’s bad enough when she doesn’t like you.”

“You want me to tell Talia to back off?” John says.

“You know she’d listen if he did it,” Melissa adds. She rubs her hand over Chris’ back, letting it slide up onto his neck before moving over so she’s facing him and next to the tray. She’s already downed her roll and now appears to be going for the homemade granola and yogurt. “I don’t know about you, but I’m okay with pretending to be beta this one time.”

“I need my coffee,” John says after a moment’s worth of staring at her straight face. When she hands over the mug, he drains it and then stares into the bottom.

“You don’t have to do that. Really,” Chris says. He rocks his head against John’s shoulder, almost a nuzzle, and then reaches out and pokes tentatively at one of the fruit skewers. Then slides off a piece of melon and drags it through the honey pot, and then pops it into his mouth. “That said, you mind if I’m not in a hurry to get out of your bedroom?”

John glances at him, then laughs, half out of amusement, half out of relief at seeing the teasing light in Chris’ eyes. “You honestly have to ask that?”

Chris flushes and ducks into John’s shoulder. Still sneaks the rest of that fruit skewer. “I didn’t mean—okay. So, last night, I said…”

“I think we can hold off if you’re all sore and locked up now,” Melissa says. She’s watching the way Chris is moving, which isn’t as rigid as John was expecting, but which is on the slow, careful side. And then she grins and licks at the white smear of yogurt on the back of her spoon. “Though if you’re not, well, John’s going to be busy but I am definitely taking a sick day today. And he does have a nice bedroom, doesn’t he?”

“I hate you two,” John says.

“Could put us on speaker,” Chris suggests. Very quietly, looking at the tray, with his flush creeping down the nape of his neck.

Melissa beams at him, and John has to remind himself he’s got a heavy breakfast tray on his lap. Also, sadly, a lot to do.

Though he’s eating a good breakfast first. He rolls his eyes and then cranes around to kiss Chris on the temple. Then again a little further back, so that he can just graze that blush on the man’s neck. “Yeah, well, save the call, just give me something to look forward to whenever I dig out. Mel, pass me the butter?”

She does, and they eat in a comfortable quiet for a few minutes. For all their big talk, John gets the impression all three of them would rather fill up and then go back to sleep. He didn’t have nearly the bad night the other two did, but he’s been pulling late nights all week and these days he feels it and then some.

“So, think we could get lunch delivered too?” Chris says. He’s working through one of the rolls.

“From Talia or me?” John says.

Chris keeps working on the roll, and doesn’t look up, and generally acts way too shifty for a guy effectively down one arm. That he’s also got scruffed bedhead and fading crease imprints on one cheek pushes it beyond ridiculous and into a place where John just gives in and admits he’s thinking of Chris and ‘adorable’ in the same sentence.

“Would give you an excuse to cut out,” Chris says.

“Good point,” Melissa says. “Get sandwiches and cookies. The black and white ones if they’ve got them, otherwise, I’ll take chocolate chip.”

“Am I taking requests now?” John looks between them—Melissa’s not bothering to hide her glee, while Chris is still studiously dissecting the roll—and then sighs. “Jesus. Fine. Potato chips?”

“Yeah, salt and vinegar?” Chris says, looking up hopefully.

John sighs again, and Chris leans in and kisses the side of his mouth. Lingers when John gets his hand up, curves it around the man’s throat, letting his smile ghost over John’s cheek. Melissa laughs, low, affectionate, and rubs her hand over John’s shin.

“Okay. Okay, I’ll see what I can do,” John says.

Chapter Text

“John, what is this? This thing’s like a lightsaber,” Chris says. “You know we don’t cut people in half anymore, right?”

The look on John’s face is two parts amusement, one part shifty, because no, Chris does not know all of what the man’s gotten up to. He reaches over and takes the electric saber from Chris, then flips it in his hand. Chris can’t help tightening up, even though he knows its batteries aren’t in, and John glances over. Then tugs Chris over by the arm he’s got circling Chris’ waist.

“Well, if you don’t want it, I can take it back,” John says, and then kisses the side of Chris’ face. He chuckles, breath warm on Chris’ cheek, and lets his mouth linger on Chris’ temple. “Can put it in storage for you, just in case. You never know, you might want to up your firepower in the future.”

Chris sighs and leans into the other man. Fights down the urge to apologize profusely for being an ungrateful asshole, till he’s just sliding his hand over John’s arm and down it, so that his fingers are overlapping John’s around the saber hilt.

“Thank you,” he mumbles. He shifts, feeling a little wave of…not quite dizziness, but disorientation…and then lays his head on John’s shoulder. Spares a second to curse the muscle relaxants, even if they’re still the only way he’s managing to unlock his whole side in the mornings. “It’s—”

“It’s standard procedure. You were helping out, you lost resources in the name of the Service, you can apply for compensation in kind,” John says.

“I wasn’t officially helping out,” Chris can’t help saying.

John sighs, leaning his cheek against the top of Chris’ head. “Well, it wasn’t an official hunt. Because those goddamn idiot excuses for local law—” he takes a deep, steadying breath; huffs a little in amusement when Chris rubs a thumb over the back of his hand “—whatever. Semantics. I had to get everything authorized after the fact anyway, might as well tidy that up too.”

Chris smiles into the man’s shoulder. A small part of him still doesn’t feel like he deserves it, but he’s not so focused on himself that he’s going to cut John out just to satisfy what’s left of his pride.

Well, he’s going to try, anyway. He could be better at that, can at least do that much. “It’s pretty cool,” he says, very softly. He taps the saber hilt, then breathes out slowly as John’s hand slides up under his shirt, cupping along the bare skin of his waist. Warm and firm and just a little rough, just enough to convince him he isn’t just making this all up. “So you all get this model?”

“God, I hope not,” Melissa says. She comes in with a jar of salsa and a bag of salt-and-vinegar chips—it is a good thing they all have jobs that keep them running, otherwise they’d be the size of hippos—and snuggles up on John’s other side. Uses his lap as a table for the food, before leaning over to peck Chris on the forehead. “I can just see the emergency briefings the medical support’s going to get. How to deal with accidental electrocutions. What to do when your dumb field people burn off their fingers.”

John rolls his eyes. “It’s not a lightsaber,” he says. Pauses. “And I’m trying real hard to not let the techs get wind of what Stiles and Lydia are up to, just so you know.”

“So none of them are going to the new movie, if they haven’t already?” Melissa says. She laughs and digs up the remote, and starts setting up Chris’ TV to stream the Viking-era series they’re all not-so-secretly obsessed with. “Losing battles, John. Losing battles.”

“It’s not a battle, it’s plausible goddamn deniability,” John mutters. Sounding a lot like his kid, just for a second. Then he sighs and just tucks Chris a little closer as he reaches for the chips. “Can we just try?”

“I kind of promised Allison one of these if she keeps her grades up through senior year,” Chris confesses. “Not this one, but…I think she’s seen it, right? Stiles and her brought it over.”

John sighs. “Fine. It’s me trying not to get a medical discharge for cardiac arrest before I qualify for the full pension, damn it. I got one more year, can we keep a lid on the kids for that long? Please?”

“We’ll try,” Melissa says dubiously, though she’s patting John’s hand. She also sneaks away the saber, setting it on the bedside dresser. “No promises.”

“But we’ll try,” Chris says. He leans up and presses a kiss to John’s jaw. Then filches John’s chip while the man’s angling for a kiss on the mouth. “Yeah. We’ll give it a run.”

Chapter Text

“So how come you never went alpha?” Stiles blurts out.

Then he stares down into his glass of eggnog. He’s pretty sure he poured from the virgin pitcher. And anyway, even if he didn’t, he only had a couple glasses. No way is that enough to make him an idiot.

“Um,” he says. “I just—you don’t have to answer that. I don’t know why that—it’s not like I was, like I’ve been, um, thinking about that a lot.”

Thankfully, Peter just looks amused. “Not since that crowd out there started talking about the new Sacramento alpha, I’d guess. It’s fine, Stiles. I don’t mind.”

They’re hiding from the usual horde of visiting Hale relatives under the guise of mixing up a fresh batch of eggnog. A couple more cousins and one great-aunt’s made it into Talia’s good graces since Thanksgiving, and the number of hyperactive werewolf children running around exceeded Stiles’ threshold for such nonsense about three seconds after he walked in. So obviously, carefully calculating the correct alcohol-to-eggy base ratio is a good twenty-, thirty-minute task.

“I’ll admit I had plans to,” Peter says. He picks up a bottle of whiskey and sniffs it, then pushes it aside. A second bottle passes muster and he starts to pour it into the decanter. “When you’re young and angry—and I suppose plain anger does it as well—and you start looking around for ways to be stronger, going alpha’s the most obvious solution.”

“But not the best, I take it?” Stiles says. If Peter’s not going to be upset about it, well, Stiles sure as hell is interested. He’s gotten the Derek and Laura take on it, but Peter is a werewolf of many, many layers. Best to get it from the source. Multiple times, in multiple situations, preferably when he’s too distracted to come up with a lie (sadly, the sex toys are upstairs).

Peter considers the amount of whiskey in the decanter, then adds some more. “Well, what you don’t realize at the time is that even these days, the alpha is still the…the lightning rod. They’re the most powerful, they get gifts that the rest of us don’t, but they also take all the fault for everything that happens. Any wrong, any injury, any death in the pack, it’s on them.”

“But they’re also the ones who get to decide what to do about it,” Stiles says, passing over the eggnog base. “Or hey, if you wanted to be an asshole, you could just give orders and say to hell with the rest.”

“You’ve been bingeing on true crime again, haven’t you?” Peter says dryly. “Yes, true. If that alpha would like to become an omega very quickly, and then be hunted down by anybody else who’s solely interested in power.”

“Hey, I’m not a sociopath. I just do a good imitation.” Stiles grins at the other man, who gives him an appreciative nod. And then a quick make-out, as Peter leans over him to get at the nutmeg grater.

Once the eggnog’s mixed and properly frothy, Peter holds the nutmeg and grater over the decanter. “I don’t think I really understood till I was living with another pack, actually,” he says a little more soberly. “Alphas may or may not have all the power, that depends on the pack. But what doesn’t change is that they certainly take all the grief. And often they have to stand their ground even though that’s not the smart option, or the one that get them what they want. And you know I do like to be flexible.”

He grates a little nutmeg, sniffs, and then gives the nut another raking with the grater. Then he puts those down and looks up at Stiles.

“I think what I really wanted was to have the ability to direct my own life, and go after what I want, and to be able to keep it,” Peter says. “And surprisingly enough, making alpha turns out to not be the best way to do that—at least for me. My style may not suit everyone, of course.”

“Well, you work it pretty good, from where I’m standing,” Stiles says. He takes the decanter and picks it up, slipping off his stool at the same time. “So how much longer till we can go upstairs?”

Peter pretends to consider the question, as if he hasn’t had half a dozen plans in mind since Stiles and his dad showed up at the Hale house. “I suppose it depends on how much social offense you’d like to cause, alpha,” he says, ever so faintly smug. “It’s up to you, I merely live to serve.”

“Jerk,” Stiles says. He slings his free hand around Peter’s waist and lets Peter do that little hip-shimmy to get his hand from there down onto a buttock. “You’re so lucky I like that in a werewolf.”

“Oh, I know,” Peter says, nuzzling his cheek. “Believe me, I know.”

Chapter Text

“So, not that I’m ungrateful or anything,” John says, catching his breath. He hangs onto the edge of his desk with both hands and stares at the man kneeling in front of him and nonchalantly wiping off his mouth. “But what brought that on?”

Chris looks up over his finger, with raised brows, and a glint in his eyes that’s showing way too much of Melissa’s influence. Then he finishes sucking that off and sits back on his heels. He glances around, frowns, and then starts picking up the napkins and little baggies of plastic utensils that’d scattered out of the diner bag. Which is sitting neatly on the chair next to him, despite at least a couple flails from John.

“So that’s not why you were texting us that you needed a snack break?” he says.

John gets together enough air for a snort, and then shifts up against the desk so he can start putting his clothes in order. “Smartass. I don’t know what Mel’s been telling you, but sometimes I just want food.”

“I don’t think it was her so much as the last ten times I’ve swung by this late,” Chris says blandly. He shuffles the last napkin into the bag, then uses the chair to heave himself up onto his feet. “Yeah, I guess you do eat too. Afterwards.”

Grunts a little, that shoulder of his still bothering him. He’s got his head tucked way into his chest, but that’s not enough to hide it. It’s certainly handy for letting John grab him before he can dodge it; Chris’ head whips up too late, and then he’s all wide-eyed and catching his breath as he flops into John, his hands grabbing at the desk and in John’s shirt.

“Mouthy,” John says, watching Chris’ eyes darken.

He lets his hands drift off Chris’ waist, so Chris shifts a little. Lets John know that yeah, he’s not so much of a saint that he wasn’t getting worked up too, while he was down on his knees. John curls his fingers around that ass, wondering again how the hell the man keeps it so tight, and then…hears paper rustling behind them, and moves his hands back to safety.

“You brought something besides pie, right?” John says. “Because we didn’t offer dinner, and I don’t think I’m getting out of here any time soon.”

Chris snorts, but he’s already changing gears, looking both sympathetic and concerned. There’s not even a trace of irritation at being put on hold, unconscious martyr that he is. “Roast beef sandwich,” he says. “You all right? Because I wasn’t trying to take up your night. I just—I don’t know, you really looked like you could use a blowjob.”

But yeah, it’s kind of cute too, with how he’ll nail John before the door’s even finished settling in its frame, but now he’s ducking his head and blushing. John can’t help but smirk, and Chris ducks his head even more, shooting him an annoyed look.

“I think I did need one, come to think of it,” John says. He holds Chris back when Chris starts to move away, and then, when Chris looks irritably up, takes the man gently by the chin and keeps his head there. Has him watch as John has a nice, long look at him, even though that makes him squirm and blush more. Maybe that makes John a bad man, but he loves Chris like that. “You brought something for you too, right?”

“Yeah…but I can grab it and go, and…you don’t have something to file, or people to yell at?” Chris says. He’s serious about the offer, would back off the instant John let him, but he’s also letting his voice get rough, leaning his head into John’s hand. Showing he wouldn’t mind staying.

It’s good to see some things are coming along, John thinks. For all that it’s another mess on his plate, with prominent alphas in it to boot, it could’ve been a lot worse, and the fact that it wasn’t is down to his son finally showing a little finesse. And then here’s Chris, just a step short of asking what he can do, and then John grins again and pulls Chris in for a kiss. Which, like usual with them, ends up a little heavier and hotter than planned.

“Nah, stay,” John mutters, sucking down Chris’ jaw. He starts undoing Chris’ belt as the other man slides his palms up John’s chest to hook over John’s shoulders. “I could use somebody to bounce official stories off of. Besides, pretty sure my kid’s gonna be out the rest of the night.”

“Okay,” Chris says, panting into his mouth. “I can do that, sure.”

Chapter Text

The nice thing about his dad being gone, Stiles thinks, is that he can get things just the way he wants them.

Sure, picnics and movies are great, and Derek and Peter were very thoughtful about what to do for their first Valentine’s Day together, but Stiles isn’t really a big cheesy holiday blow-out type anyway. All he really needs is a quiet, uninterrupted night at home, with his two favorite betas.

And no reason to worry about overloading the privacy wards. And hey, a little home engineering never hurt either. “Stop being such a baby, Derek,” he mutters, checking the fit. “It’s not like there’s a guillotine in there.”

“Which is what I wanted to think about. And what I’m going to be thinking about now,” Derek mutters, sounding disturbingly like Scott. Well, if Scott’s nagging was about a thousand times pissier, and came with a side of flexing abs and biceps.

“Haha, nice try, I totally see your attempt to side-track me and I am building up immunity, don’t think your petty stomach hypnosis is going to get me this time,” Stiles says. He then crawls over Derek, feeling up said stomach because he doesn’t have to ignore it, he just has to not let it side-track him.

Also, well, feeling Derek up has the helpful side-effect of triggering his instincts so he’s too busy flashing throat and trying to nuzzle Stiles down for a kiss to keep bitching. He tugs at his arms again, making the brand-new alloy manacles Stiles pried out of R&D creak alarmingly—Stiles thought about slapping on some electrodes, but he didn’t want to go through the half-hour it’d take to make sure they don’t also short out his prototypes—and Stiles has to stop and bite Derek on the side of the neck to make him stop.

Derek’s bitchy about that too (whoever thinks betas default flip to textbook sub is asking to lose a few fingers), but he limits it to a couple disgruntled noises, and then a successful kiss-snatching that eats up a few seconds. Okay, maybe like a minute. He’s good at that stuff. Anybody would get a little distracted.

But then Peter gets in on it, making loud whiny noises around the dildo stuffed in his mouth. He twists on the chains holding him to the headboard, managing to contort so that he can knee Derek in the head, and Derek breaks off the make-out session to snarl at him. Stiles pants a few times, catching his breath, and then reaches up and down at the same time, before the pair of them can ruin it with squabbling.

Peter shoots him a dirty look over the gag, then tries to say something snarky, and kind of ends up accidentally slurp-sucking the dildo Stiles is wiggling. Derek, who was in the middle of something snarky, abruptly switches to a startled moan. He sinks down, eyes wide, as Peter frowns and stares at him.

Stiles grins and also wiggles the black plastic cylinder that’s currently enveloping Derek’s cock. “Nice, huh? He does something to the dildo, you feel it down here.”

Derek blinks heavily, still moaning, and then his eyes widen again, except this time it’s in alarm. He wrenches his head around just as Stiles rolls his eyes and grabs Peter by the throat, lightly shaking him.

“It’s not just copying whatever his mouth does, okay, because it’s more fun to figure out what leads to what and also, these are one of a kind prototypes made of very expensive polymer and I’d be really mad if somebody ruined them with teeth marks. Peter.” Stiles holds Peter’s gaze till the man stops looking so innocent and just looks amused, and then he shifts to look back at Derek. “Also, it’s—”

“Hmm?” Derek says, while rolling over so he can pin the fleshlight to the bed with his thigh. He fucks into it and Peter jerks forward, his own eyes widening as the dildo buzzes in his mouth, pulling against the gag straps. “Huh. So forward’s that, backward is…”

“Two-way feedback, and I am so proud,” Stiles says, pretending to wipe a tear from his eye. Grinning madly as Derek keeps rocking his cock in and out of the fleshlight, which alternately makes Peter suck loudly at the dildo, or groan sloppily around its vibrating. “It’s so wonderful when they figure out how to pervert it all by themselves.”

Derek snorts into the mattress. He starts to say something, then cuts himself off with a ragged grunt—obviously, Peter’s going to retaliate and escalate—as his hips stutter against the bed. His head works up and down, and then he tries again. “Stiles, it’s a fucking sex flashlight, it’s—fuck, Peter, would you—it pretty much—Peter, goddamn it, you—oh, fuck, you asshole—”

Peter makes sucking a dildo into a supreme statement of superiority in the way only he can.

“Well, okay, I’m gonna chalk this one down as a success,” Stiles says, reaching for his notebook.

The notebook ends up on the floor, because somehow, with his hands bound and Peter fucking with him via synced sex toys, Derek still manages to fold himself up and then over, trapping Stiles’ legs under him and then shimmying up like a…like something a lot sexier than a snake, so he can swallow Stiles’ cock. Which is a really, really impressive use of those abs, and also, a good argument for Stiles writing up the results later, and ugh, whatever, it’s a holiday. Science can wait.

Chapter Text

Melissa groans into her pillow. “Did we…”

Get drunk in her house and then pull out her box of toys, which is a lot smaller than John’s, but which still has way too many bad ideas in it? Including the one where she slicks up a vibrator and then pushes it into Chris, talking dirty in his ear the whole time about how she’s used it for years whenever she needed a quickie? And how maybe he can feel how worn it is, how it’s gotten all pressed so it fits her perfectly, and it looks like it’s doing him just fine, like he feels it just like she felt it, and Jesus, but he’s biting back a whimper just thinking about that.

“Yeah,” he says, crawling back onto the bed. He tries to move as slowly and smoothly as he can, so the mattress doesn’t move or make sounds more than it has to. “Water’s on the dresser, and the ibuprofen’s on the right of that.”

She turns her head out of the pillow so he can just see the corner of her tired, but affectionate smile. “You already took some, right?”

“I’m not that bad,” Chris mutters. He slides back under the blankets, pausing when he feels her working her arm across his waist, and then carefully sets his head down. “Goddamn never works fast enough.”

Melissa mumbles something that mixes in a little Spanish, basically agreeing with him. He can hear her hand fumbling around on the dresser and he grimaces, then raises his head, meaning to go help her.

“No, got it, got it,” she says. She turns her head that way and he hears her gulping, then washing it down with some water. Then she flops back down. “Oh, my God. Did we…”

Also call John, and treat him to an earful of Chris trying to fuck her while she played around with that damn vibrator’s settings, and making a mess of it, and then eating her out to make up for that? “I think he hung up on us before the second time,” Chris says after a moment’s aching thought. “I don’t think he was mad. He didn’t sound mad. Maybe he had something to go to?”

“He wasn’t mad, are you kidding me?” She twists her face around to him again, squinting, and then pulls herself over by the arm around his waist so she can press her head against his shoulder. “Best damn V-day present he’s ever gotten, I bet. Don’t worry about it, John was just…whatever’s been eating at him this trip.”

Chris makes an acknowledging noise. He can’t help but still worry a little, with that part of him that refuses to believe he could possibly be doing this well, but he trusts Melissa to know John’s quirks. Anyway, John will be home…God, later today, and if Chris wants to know how the man really is, he’d better concentrate on sobering up first.

“You were great,” Melissa adds. She gives the side of his neck a soft kiss, then lets her head slide back to the bed as she giggles sleepily. “That was good, Chris. Believe me, I don’t have any complaints. I haven’t had a night out like that in a long time.”

“I didn’t really plan to have that much wine,” Chris mutters. But he’s feeling warm at her words, and he leans over and presses his forehead against her temple, then against the side of her throat. “Haven’t done this in a while. The whole…”

“I know, but I had fun. And I hope you did too.” She draws back and looks at him, laughs at his disbelieving face, and then snuggles back in, close enough that he pulls up his arm to make room.

He hesitates, then puts it back down on her, bending it so he can just rest his hand under her breast. Her mouth’s near his, he can feel the breath puffing on his chin, and he dips and he’s just going to peck her but she wants a full kiss and he can’t really say no to that. And fun, hell, he was thrilled about it—even under the morning-after embarrassment, he still feels a little giddy. And more than a little off-kilter from that, but as they’re kissing that mostly melts away, and he’s just got a beautiful woman he loves in his arms, and—

Their hangovers rear back up about the same time, so Chris is swallowing a hiss just as Melissa puts her hand to his cheek, both pushing him back and apologizing for it. Melissa swears in Spanish—he knows she speaks it fluently, but at home she only ever seems to drop into it in bed, when she’s very tired—and then snorts, leaning their foreheads together.

“God, did we,” she sighs, with a little wince.

He smiles, then tilts his head into her hand as she starts massaging his temple. “Thank you,” he says.

“Same to you,” Melissa says, kissing him lightly on the mouth. Then she winces again. “Okay. But we’re not getting up any time soon, right?”

Chris laughs very quietly, trying to keep it from shaking their heads. “Wasn’t planning on it.”

Chapter Text

“You just burped out…” Derek snags the bit of white fluff from the air and then sniffs at it “…dandelion seeds?”

“Oh, shit,” says his alpha, dropping the prototype whatever Lydia’s just handed to him. He claps his hand over his mouth, ignoring both Lydia’s shriek and Jackson’s desperate dive to catch the prototype, and then grabs Derek by the arm and hauls him towards the door like the forest is on fire. “Sorry gotta go sure it’s awesome let’s talk field protocol later!”

So Derek thinks he can be forgiven for thinking it’s an actual emergency.

“It is an emergency,” Stiles insists through a mouthful of food.

Actually, something like three mouthfuls. Stiles isn’t a shifter but right now, Derek honestly wonders about that, because he’s pretty sure even alphas can’t unhinge their jaw so far. And Stiles doesn’t even look like it hurts. No, he just keeps double-fisting bacon and ham and prosciutto and that lardo whatever experiment Derek’s mom had in the fridge, slurping and chewing and swallowing with a focus that’s kind of terrifying. And this to people who operate their own crematory.

“Stiles, are you sure we don’t need to call your father?” Peter says, looking just as concerned as Derek feels. He edges his hand towards his pocket again and Stiles snarls at him.

Peter automatically jerks his hand up, then blinks hard. Sure, Stiles is their alpha but status alone doesn’t necessarily trigger a submission gesture and…Derek just makes a note to himself to ask Laura what the hell she and Stiles have been talking about lately, because that had sounded pretty damn genuine.

“’m fine, ‘m fine, just pass me the sausage,” Stiles gobbles.

“He’s okay,” Scott pants. He’s just arrived, but he’s barely inside their kitchen before the urgency drains out of his scent and he just sighs. “Oh, it’s just…and do not call his dad, he’ll just curse at you and hang up and avoid Stiles for the rest of the day.”

Stiles looks wounded. Sort of. There are three strips of bacon, a jerky stick and leftover meatballs in the way. “’m not that gross.”

“You kind of are,” Scott says. He averts his eyes as all that meat mashes together into Stiles’ mouth. “This is normal, it’s just it’s his last day to eat meat till winter.”

“Oh. Oh. Oh, yes, that would…make…” Peter continues to stare at Stiles, even though he’s looking increasingly nauseated. “Stiles, shouldn’t you at least…we have utensils, I’m happy to slice up anything so you don’t choke—”

Stiles snarls again, lunging over the table. Peter hasn’t even made a move towards the food, but Stiles throws himself over it all and then clutches it jealously to his chest, dipping his head to nibble as he does. “Mine.”

“This is gross,” Derek finally says. “I mean, werewolves, but this is gross. Even babies don’t eat like that.”

“Fuck you and your year-round carnivorous ability,” Stiles mumbles. At least, that maybe is what he says. It’s hard to tell through the ham. “I gotta store up.”

“He’s going to regret this in the morning, isn’t he?” Peter mutters to Scott.

“A lot sooner than that,” Scott sighs, pulling out his phone. “Okay, so if you’re gonna stay, I’ve got a list of stuff we should start getting together. If not, don’t worry, I totally understand. Nobody ever wants to stay and help with this.”

Stiles makes a face, but nods. “Yeah, yeah, free pass.”

“I admit that I am tempted this time,” Peter says after a second. He grimaces as Stiles dips a sausage into the lardo, then holds his hand out for Scott’s phone. “But pack is pack, and let’s just move this onto the back porch, shall we? I don’t think the rest of the family needs to see this.”

“Not if we ever want to eat in here again,” Derek mutters, leaning over to see the list. “It’s going to be bad enough explaining to Mom where all her meat went.”

Chapter Text

The knock comes again, and then the bolt rattles and Melissa opens the door. “John?” she says. She frowns when she sees the half-empty glass on his desk and her eyes go to the trashcan, and he doesn’t miss that little relieved hitch when she realizes there’s not an empty bottle in it. “John. It’s pretty late, you know.”

“Yeah, I know, I was just…” he fingers the half-filled report he’s been staring at for the last fifty minutes “…I had some stuff to wrap up.”

Melissa shakes her head at him, but doesn’t say anything. She comes over and looks at the papers on his desk, and then she gets his bag up from the floor and starts putting files into it. When he raises his hands, she gives him a sharp look and then twitches the sheets right from under them, and sticks them into the bag. “You send Stiles home with the Hales?” she says.

“Well, he’s not with you, is he?” John mutters. He puts his hands down on the chair arms, pushes at them, and then sighs and slouches back, letting his arms slide to dangle down on either side. “Shit, Mel.”

“He’s all right,” Melissa says, eyeing him. She pauses, and then she puts that file into his bag with a little less briskness. “You’re going to be all right. Just go home, get a good night’s sleep under your belt, and get up tomorrow and figure out how it happened.”

John starts to answer her and then he stops himself. He gives himself a hard shake, then runs his hand over his face and the back of his head. She’s right, of course. She’s always right; with all the principals already in custody, people stopped calling him an hour and a half ago, and his brain stopped coming up with anything useful around the same time. He’s no good right now and he needs to be, if he’s going to be any kind of father to his son. If he’s going to find out what the hell he missed this time.

He sighs again, and then he puts his hands on his desk and pushes himself up. His hand bumps his glass and he grimaces, and he’s about to get it and dump it out the window when Melissa gives him a nod. “You can finish that,” she says, with a softer note in her voice.

You okay?” he asks, looking up, and that’s when he notices Chris is there, too.

Looking a little awkward, standing in the doorway and fidgeting with a cup of coffee. He shies a bit from John’s gaze, then stiffens himself and raises his head. “Hey,” he says. “I can drive.”

John’s first instinct is to reject the offer, but then he rolls his shoulders and God, he’s tired. Tired and old and still falling behind, and…yeah, maybe he should just take a backseat for once. So he nods, downs the last of his whiskey, and then lets Melissa hand him his coat.

“You two staying over at hers tonight?” John says, seeing whose car keys Chris is holding.

“Yeah,” Chris mutters, looking down again. “Yeah, Allison—she was over with Scott and she heard what happened, and…and she’s kind of upset and I just figure better to bring her an overnight bag than make her come home.”

“You’ve got a pretty full house yourself, I’m guessing,” Melissa says, a little apologetic, a little warning, as she comes up. She looks more apologetic when John makes a face at her—sure, he didn’t quite see Allison’s problem coming, but he’s not a dick—and she puts her hand on his arm, nudging him out of the office. “I mean, you’re welcome to come and join the party, but I was thinking—”

“Yeah, no, I’m staying in tonight with Stiles. God knows the kid’s always bouncing off the walls after an incident, and the Hales looked pretty shaken up too.” John kisses her on the cheek to show no hard feelings, taking his bag from her. Then he’s going to do the same thing to Chris, except that the man’s blockading him with the coffee.

So John takes the coffee. Chris twitches a little, his fingers closing like he means to snatch the cup back, and then he just reaches back and rubs at the side of his neck. “Do you need anything?” he says. “Just—we can’t—and I’m sorry that—”

“Your kid needs you, I can deal,” John says. He slips the coffee to Melissa and then hooks Chris by the shoulder before the man can dodge again. Ignores how Chris goes rigid and keeps his hand going till he’s got Chris loosely gripped by the nape; by the time he’s brushing his mouth against Chris’ temple, Chris is leaning into him. “Anyway, this isn’t my first time.”

“Yeah, well, that’s—that’s why we’re asking,” Chris says, looking up again. He looks more than a little nervy about it, but he meets John’s gaze. “Why we came by.”

John pauses, and then he sighs and stops. Pulls Chris over, tipping their foreheads together, and then he pulls back—doesn’t drop his hand from Chris’ neck—so he can take in Melissa, too.

“It just sucks,” he says. He shrugs, then pretends to grimace as Melissa bats his arm. “What? I don’t know how else to say it. It sucks and I gotta get home and tell my kid I’m sorry again, but we’ll do better next time, and I just gotta keep going home and doing that. Been doing it already, and I’ll do it as long as he needs me to. But thanks, and I mean that. It’s nice of you to come by.”

“Nice, God, John, sometimes you take this whole lowkey thing to another level,” Melissa mutters. She bats him again, then lets him tuck her against his side for the walk out. “Well, all right, but we’ll probably be up, so don’t be afraid to text or call.”

“And I can drop by in the morning,” Chris adds. He’s quiet again, but he at least doesn’t look so guilty about choosing between John and his daughter, as if that’s actually a choice in either of their eyes. “If, you know, I can do anything.”

What is new, and nice, whatever Melissa thinks about that word, is the company, John thinks. “Well, you’re driving me home, somebody’s going to have to get me to work,” he says. “And I’m pretty sure Stiles won’t be available.”

“True,” Chris says, blinking. “So…like seven tomorrow?”

“Sure,” John says, as they step into the parking lot. “Works for me.”

Chapter Text

“Well, then, what would you suggest?” Peter snaps, banging his way into the library. He slaps the door, which was already open, and leaves a deep enough claw mark that they’ll probably have to sand it down instead of relying on the runes. “Flat-out disobeying him? Any alpha worth their pack wouldn’t tolerate it for a second, and for good reason.”

Talia suppresses a sigh, standing at the doorway. She waits so Peter has a few seconds to stalk around the room and settle on a chair to throw himself into, and at the edge of her vision something moves nervously. It’s her husband, holding a couple files and a pitcher of what smells like iced tea; Francis likes to put in an hour or so of paperwork before his dawn run, and he’s probably left something he needs in the library.

She waves him off, maybe a little too irritably—not his fault he didn’t predict Stiles’ midnight blow-up at her brother and son—and he nods and quietly heads off towards the front of the house. Derek’s brooding in the parlor there and Talia spares a moment to hope that Francis will think to take her son along for his run before Cora wakes up, and starts prodding Derek. Then she takes a deep breath, and steps into the library.

Peter sprawls in his chair, legs straight out, hands limply flipped over the ends of the chair arms. He looks moodily up at her, lip slightly curled in frustration. “For that matter,” he mutters. “Shouldn’t an alpha drag back a misbehaving beta?”

“Are we thinking reverse psychology on a teenage non-were who’s just been through a very difficult experience?” Talia says, as neutrally as she can.

Her brother shifts up, his jaw set at a challenging angle, and then he sighs and flops back to stare at his feet. He twitches away when she closes the door, then just sinks deeper into his thoughts.

“I think his point is that it wasn’t that difficult for him,” Peter says, as she’s walking over. He doesn’t quite look at her as he waves her off. “He didn’t need us, after all.”

Talia grabs his hand and moves his elbow so that she can perch on the chair arm. Peter’s lip curls more, nearly a snarl, and his muscles are stiff in her grip, but he doesn’t fight her. He’s making a point not to fight her, and the teenage girl in her wants to grab him by the scruff and shake him hard, and storm over to the Stilinski house and call Stiles out.

But that’s the girl, not the alpha, and certainly not Peter’s older sister, who’s learned a thing or two since she was first presented with a chubby, chew-happy little baby who always managed to pick out her most expensive shoes for a gnaw. So Talia pushes that all away, and instead she puts his arm down on his lap and then puts her arm around his neck.

Peter stirs a little at that, rigid where his head and shoulder come to rest against her, a small, irritated huff escaping from him. “Really?” he says. “Am I five now?”

“When you were five, you bit holes in my arm whenever I tried to hold you like this,” Talia says dryly.

Her brother huffs again, surprised and amused, and then, very slowly, he relaxes into her. His head shifts against her ribs; his hands rub absently at his knees, then go still. He starts to mutter something, stops himself, and then he lets out another sound, so low it’s almost inaudible even to a werewolf. It’s close to a whine, except that the edges of it aren’t sharp, but are blurred into the sigh he lets out at the same time.

“Why don’t I…” he says, pushing his head into her side. “I’m—Talia, I should know—”

“You’re a good beta,” she tells him. He shifts, startled, and it hurts her because damn it, she should’ve known. She’s the alpha, she’s his sister, when their parents died she promised him she’d always look after him. He shouldn’t still be surprised when she says things like that.

But that’s old, she thinks, and she just…has to keep trying to make it better. She can’t make up for the times she missed saying before, so she’ll just have to say it more now.

“You are,” she says. “Stop doubting that. And Stiles knows that, he’s got a good head on his shoulders. He’s just very young, Peter. And he pushes himself past his age, we all know that, and that’s just why we forget he is. I think even he forgets.”

Peter nods silently against her. He’s still tense but she can smell a little less of that acrid frustration, and even more bitter fear, on him. She holds him a few more moments, listening to his heartbeat and his breathing, and then she lets him go, a second before he readies himself to push at her.

She does give his hair a quick ruffle. Can’t help that, looking at him, her little brother with the angel curls and the sly face, even if it’s downcast now, and she laughs when he screws it up at her. “Just be patient for once, Peter. Give him a little time to think it over.”

“I’m always patient,” he says. He pushes himself out of the chair, sweeping a pointed hand over his hair. “Worry more about Derek for that.”

“I know,” she sighs, and he glances back at her, halfway to the door.

“Well, fortunately, I’m there to keep an eye on him,” he says. He’s not quite back to his usual mocking ways, but he’s at least putting on the front and that’s a good sign for him. He takes another step, putting his hand on the doorknob, and then he pauses for her to get up. “You…would you have…”

Talia rolls her eyes. “I wasn’t the one they were trying to kidnap, back in our day. Now stop malingering and go deal with your pack.”

“Fine, fine, speak of impatience,” he snorts, letting her go out first. Then he swings in behind, a little close on her heels for most alphas’ taste, but she expects that and she just tilts her head for his peck on her cheek. “I’ll get out of your hair, sister.”

“You say that and yet you never do, you know,” she says, reaching for his hair again.

Peter bats her off this time, then lets out a mock-snarl, but he’s smiling behind it. She smiles back, touches him on the shoulder, and then…she steps back, and lets her brother go.

Chapter Text

“I don’t know, I still thought it was sweet,” Allison says as she picks up the tray of sports drinks. “Sure, it’s been done before, but he even got disappearing ink so that the teachers won’t catch it. I thought that was a nice touch.”

“Well, I suppose it also saved the rest of us from staring at his grammatical errors for the rest of the day,” Lydia sniffs, shaking out a canvas tarp with Stiles. “And handmade is charming, I suppose, although I think professionally custom-made is a much, much better sign that he’s—”

“Shhh!” Stiles says, spotting incoming werewolves.

But it’s too late. You’d think that full moon hunts would be enough to keep those furry ears from eavesdropping, but Derek’s looking suspicious even pre-shift. “Are you talking about prom?” he says, stalking across the lawn. “Who the hell is this guy, anyway? How come I’ve never heard of him before?”

A bloody chunk of fur comes sailing through the air. Derek ducks, then twists and snatches it as a glowering Cora stomps after him. “None of your business, and Stiles, I swear, if you don’t keep my brother busy in the boys’ locker room or something—”

“Me?” Stiles says. “That’s not just my job, you know.”

And looks at Peter, who’s languidly strolling up with an elk hindleg over one shoulder. All picturesquely decorated with blood and dirt, and he purposely rubs at a smear over his belly, dragging it along the waistband of his jeans as he smiles oh-so-cluelessly back. “Did you want something, alpha?”

Stiles makes a face to cover up the fact that he’s having to remind himself his dad and Melissa and Chris are all hanging out in the kitchen behind them. “To not end up having inappropriate reactions to slasher flicks,” he mutters, gratefully taking the ice-cold bottle of sports drink Allison hands him and shoving it against his crotch. “Ugh, I don’t even like elk blood.”

“I know,” Allison says, staring at Scott, who’s toting the elk head under one arm, bare-chested like the rest of them. “And yet…”

“Just think of it as an excuse to break out the hose,” Lydia says, smiling and holding up the handle of said object. She gives it two quick squeezes, then beams at a suddenly-wary Jackson, water dribbling down the handle and her forearm.

“You always do this,” Cora goes on, ignoring the byplay to slap at some feathers stuck to the blood on Derek’s back. “Every single time. I don’t need my big brother freaking out my dates—”

“If they freak out, they’re too lame for you,” Derek mutters, batting back at her.

“God, seriously, kids.” Laura jogs up behind them and smacks them both upside the head, and then drops back so she can help Isaac and Jackson with the rest of the elk. “Cora, your prom date’s not a secret if he’s painting the school parking lot. Derek, stop being a Hale.”

Cora pouts. Derek blinks a couple times, which allows Peter to come up to him and make him help hang that elk leg from the porch roof, incidentally dripping more blood on them both, and then he frowns at his sisters. “What the hell is that supposed to mean?” he says.

“It means, stop being a dick about your sister having a love life. It’s weird and Freudian,” Cora says.

“You don’t even know what that word means,” Derek says. “You’re just saying what Laura says. And speaking of—” he turns to that sister “—I never did anything to your boyfriends.”

Laura looks up from where she’s showing Jackson how to dislocate the elk’s shoulder to get off the foreleg. “You used to leave dead mice in their shoes when they’d come over.”

“That—I was ten! You were supposed to be watching me and Cora, not making out! That was just getting you for being a shitty babysitter,” Derek sputters. “And big deal, dead mice. Mom says Peter did worse.”

“I did no such thing,” Peter says. He grunts a little, his claws sticking as he skins the hindleg, and then he gets over the tricky spot and tosses his head in smug satisfaction. “I was conducting perfectly legitimate fitness tests.”

“Fitness tests?” Talia says. She’d looped around to the front, apparently, because she comes out of the kitchen door, already redressed with a little blood under her claws, smiling with serene curiosity at her brother. “And what, exactly, were you testing when you told Richard that we had a longstanding vendetta against pick-up trucks, and he needed to sell his and buy an SUV before the pack would accept him?”

Francis, who’s just emerged with a dead pheasant under one arm, looks a little puzzled. “He told me it was against jeeps,” he mutters to Laura.

Stiles snorts as he hands Derek a sports drink and a bunch of sani-wipe packets. “Well, I totally buy that one. He doesn’t bitch half so much about making out in any other car.”

Peter’s head twitches in Stiles’ direction, but otherwise he keeps looking at Talia. “That ridiculous rust heap he had was a liability and you know it,” he sniffs. “If it had so much sentimental value, then it belonged in a museum, not on the road.”

“But it did have a very comfortable backseat,” Talia muses, with a pleasantly nostalgic expression. “And roomy. They really don’t make trucks that large anymore.”

“Ewww,” Derek and Cora say. “God, Mom,” Laura groans, putting her hand over her eyes.

“Maybe we should, um, help our parents in the kitchen?” Scott whispers to Allison.

Allison brightens, starts to nod, and then pauses and holds up her hand as an uncomfortable Jackson and Isaac—and Lydia, though she’s less grossed-out and more irritated—look hopeful. She keeps her hand up as she takes a step over and peers into one of the kitchen windows. “Okay. Okay, I can see…I can see everybody’s hands. Okay, let’s go.”

“See, this is what I mean,” Laura goes on, looking at her mother. “They always have to stick their nose into it.”

“It’s prom, Derek, it’s not like I’m going to marry the guy,” Cora says, nodding in agreement. “I don’t know why you’re wasting your time baiting some dude I’m probably not going to even acknowledge exists next month.”

“Now, Laura, Cora, let’s be evenhanded here,” Talia says. She steps out onto the porch, conveniently making room for the line of teenagers tiptoeing past her into the kitchen, and then smiles at her flustered, confused daughters, and her smirking son. “After all, if we’re going to talk about family tradition, I did report a few of Peter’s old flames to the police.”

“What?” Laura says. “Wait, when was that?”

“Hey. Hey, wait, but I’m—we’re already official!” Stiles protests, not liking how Peter and Talia are looking at each other. “And I’m a good guy! You all like me!”

Cora looks thoughtful. “But you’re kind of an asshole sometimes.”

Peter and Derek immediately step closer to Stiles. Derek growls at his younger sister, who grins to show her teeth and then tosses her hair over her shoulder, nonchalantly going back to cutting up the elk.

“I still think that those were uncalled-for,” Peter says, glaring at his sister. “I had it handled.”

“You’re just mad I got them for cheating on you first,” Talia says. She leans forward and pats his cheek, and then switches to patting Stiles’ shoulder when Peter shakes her off. “Oh, don’t worry, Stiles. Unlike our brothers, we Hale sisters only strike when our family’s been struck first.”

“I completely understand that…and yet I am completely paranoid now,” Stiles mutters, leaning into Peter as Talia turns and saunters back into the kitchen. He reaches out and hooks his arm around Derek too, before he and Cora can get into another bickering spat. “Man, I’m glad I’m an only child.”

Chapter Text

“I let Stiles do the taxes one year,” John says, frowning at his laptop. “Let me just say, classified status isn’t worth a damn thing when the IRS comes knocking. Never again.”

He and Chris are sitting on opposite ends of Melissa’s couch, both of them with identical stress-hunched postures and deep furrows in their brows. Chris at least looks up when Melissa sets a fresh mug of coffee down by him, but he still mutters his thanks, alternating between poking at his laptop and shuffling through the folders and folders of invoices and receipts he’d brought with him.

Melissa says another silent thanks for the Service, which allows them to charge back tax-preparation fees, and Lindsay, who recced her the excellent accountant she’s been using since she and Scott moved to Beacon Hills. Then she gingerly moves aside a pile of folders and plops down between the two men, leaning over to glance at John’s screen. “I thought you said Stiles was doing his own tax returns this year?”

“Yeah, well, he’s technically his own head of house now, and Peter got him all excited about community-property special group loopholes, and I basically told him the Service won’t let the IRS repossess anything, but otherwise he’s on his own come audit time,” John mutters. He puts up one fist and knuckles into the side of his face, squinting at the laptop. “You think I can write off extra ammunition as work-related expenses?”

“Why didn’t you just charge that back to the office?” Chris says. “They’re a regulated product, especially if they’re filled with anything. The accounting records you have to maintain are a pain in the ass.”

“Because mismatched bullet and corpse counts are an even bigger pain in the ass to paper,” John says.

Chris blinks, then turns his head and looks at John. He blinks again, and then nods slowly in agreement. “Makes sense.”

“Well, I know I said I’d offer moral support, but maybe I should just move the coffeemaker in here and go do a few loads of laundry,” Melissa says, shrugging. “I feel like I’m just taking up elbow room.”

John ducks his head, looking mildly guilty. “Sorry about that, Mel, I—”

And then he stops. He watches, a little bemused, as Chris shuts his laptop and slaps a bunch of folders on top of it, lets out an exasperated huff, and then stretches his arms over his head, cracking his spine, groaning and letting his shirt ride up to show a sliver of belly. Chris allows his arms to drop, huffing again, and then reaches up to scruff at his hair.

“Actually, I could use a break,” he says, turning to them again. His head’s got that slightly sheepish downwards tilt to it, but the corners of his mouth are hopefully quirked up. And when his and Melissa’s eyes meet, she definitely spots a knowing glint in his before Chris drops his hand and tugs his shirt back down. “I’m starting to forget how to add two and two, could stand to clear my head, I think.”

Melissa leans back and considers him, and then…leans back some more, resting her head against John’s shoulder as she pulls her leg up onto the couch, bending the knee so she can slide her foot behind Chris’ back. Her skirt slides up and Chris’ eyes dip down, and then she grins and adjusts her skirt hem a few inches north.

“Well,” she says. “I could use some relaxation time too, come to think of it. I filed my taxes last month, but it’s inventory time at the hospital and God, it’s awful.”

Chris makes a sympathetic noise, sliding his hands up her shins. He pulls her other leg up onto the couch and then drops his hands to loosely circle her ankles as he wiggles his head beneath her skirt.

“Okay, really, I swore I wasn’t going to get distracted again,” John says, still watching them and not doing his taxes.

Melissa inhales sharply, grabbing at the couch cushions as a slightly stubbly cheek grazes against her inner thigh. Then Chris turns his head and licks over the same spot, laving up till he’s wetting the edge of her panties with his tongue. For someone who still blushes whenever one of them kisses him in public, he can be a giant tease; his tongue-tip flicks at the elastic, almost but not completely sliding under it, till Melissa finally grabs his shoulders. And then he just puts his open mouth against her panties and sucks.

“I need to get this done today,” John groans over Melissa’s breathless cry. She’s not sure what he’s doing, too busy riding Chris’ mouth, but a moment later John’s laptop clicks shut and then he turns around to help hold her in place. “If I get audited, I’m sending you two to talk to the IRS for me.”

“That’s all right,” Chris’ muffled voice says. He’s ducked back so that he can tug off Melissa’s panties. “Think we can be pretty persuasive.”

“That is so wrong,” Melissa says, laughing. “So wrong, Chris, so very wrong, but I have to—oh, God, you have to keep doing that. Yes, that.”

Chapter Text

“Peter?” Talia says, frowning. She looks at the book in her hand, then sets it on the kitchen counter as she walks out onto the back porch. “A little early, isn’t it? I thought the party was going to run till midnight, at least. You said you two might just get a hotel room instead of coming home.”

Her brother doesn’t stir from where he’s sprawled on his back on one of the benches, his arms loosely folded over his chest, his eyes closed. He’d look very peaceful if he didn’t have blood all over his front and pieces of glass in his hair. “Yes, but there’s really no point in staying once it’s peaked, is there,” he murmurs. “Nothing sadder than a party past its prime. Unless it’s a fool who doesn’t know when people are laughing at him.”

Talia looks at him, and then goes back inside. A few minutes later, she returns with her cellphone, a mug of hot chocolate with little marshmallows for her, and a bowl of chocolate mousse for Peter. She sets the bowl on his chest and then takes up a perch on the bit of bench beyond his head. Then she picks glass out of his hair while texting till he sighs and sits up.

“Please don’t bother declaring war on my behalf,” he says, peering over her shoulder. “Yes, it was insulting, but we only just concluded talks with them and the last thing I want to do right now is go to Monterey.”

“Which is why I’m not declaring war, I’m making damn sure that while whatever you did to that son of a bitch’s motorcycle is hardly adequate compensation, it’s certainly a lot cheaper than if I asked for formal redress,” Talia sniffs. Then she shoves her mug between her knees and snatches a piece of glass just before it would’ve fallen into his mousse. She starts to flick it off, then pauses. “This is from his bike, right?”

Peter’s mouth twists a little bitterly, but he is amused. “You hated that thing from the start.”

Talia shrugs and nods. Her brother looks at her for another moment, then sighs and leans back. He gives his hair a good shaking out, scratches around in a few places, and then tips forward to start eating his mousse.

“I should stop picking my dates based on their accessories,” he says after a second. “Clearly, the benefits of access to those still don’t make up for the loss of dignity.”

And she…resists the urge to comment. Talia wonders quite frequently why her handsome, intelligent, effortlessly manipulative brother doesn’t seem to be able to spot a bad one when it comes to romance. And then she remembers how limited her own choices are, as an alpha with her kind of status. Peter doesn’t have much more of a selection to pick from, just by virtue of being her brother, and on top of that they both have a very unconventional take on his role in the pack. Honestly, sometimes she wonders if Peter just gets—impatient, or tired of waiting for a nonexistent perfect mate, and just wants to not be alone.

She hopes not, both for his sake and for the sake of her children, who are so young but who’ve already suffered too much, but…she and Peter keep ending up on the back porch.

“The accessories do make for satisfying targets,” Talia finally says.

Peter snorts. “Well, when it’s your turn, and you’re complaining about how hard it is to get kerosene out of your shoes, I’ll remind you that you said that.”

“If you didn’t, I’d think something was wrong with you,” Talia says. She plucks a marshmallow out of her mug and eats it, and then reaches over to rub the back of Peter’s neck. “You know if you really wanted, I’d—”

“I know.” Peter pauses, then sticks his spoon into his mousse and looks over at her. “I know, but…I honestly don’t want to go to Monterey any time soon, even as part of a victory parade.”

“Well, all right,” Talia sighs. She lifts her mug and sips from it, and Peter picks his spoon back up and nibbles his food, and together they just sit and watch the night.

Chapter Text

Don’t get Chris wrong, he’s not ungrateful about Melissa inviting him and Allison to move into her house. God, he’s so far from ungrateful he still can’t really find the words to talk about what it means to him, except that he’d put his life down to make sure she never has a reason to revoke that invitation. It’s just…sometimes it’s just a little weird.

“G’ morning, is that the trash?” Scott yawns, padding into the kitchen and then across one corner to duck into the adjoining laundry room. “Got it, I’ll take the mail out too.”

“Okay,” Chris says, as the garage door is already closing. He slowly straightens up from where he’d been tying off the bag Scott’s just snatched out of his hand, then shakes his head. Turns back to the stove, grabbing the dishrag off the counter to wipe his hands, and he’s picking the rest of the bacon off the pan when Scott comes back in.

Right around then, Allison comes down. She’s dressed for school but hasn’t done her hair or make-up yet, and she gives Chris a sleepy smile as she gets some milk out of the fridge. Scott sniffs loudly as she uncaps the jug and Allison looks up at him, but he shrugs.

“Think it’s okay for now, but I gotta remember to hit the grocery this afternoon,” Scott mutters, turning for the shopping list posted to the fridge.

“Dad and I were going anyway, we can just get yours too,” Allison says.

“Oh, okay.” Scott frowns at the list, then scribbles a couple items besides the milk. “That’d be really helpful, thanks. Then I don’t have to run from the team party.”

Allison giggles as she pours the milk into her bowl. “On second thought, do you want to keep the grocery run?”

“I’m the co-captain, I have to stay for the whole thing,” Scott says. He’s understandably mournful, seeing as their coach is apparently hosting the party for graduating seniors at his house. “No, it’s okay, Finstock lives on the opposite side of town from the grocery and otherwise I’d have to really book it to get home before Mom leaves for the hospital. That or ask somebody for a ride.”

“Well, it’s no problem for us,” Chris puts in. “But are you walking all the way back?”

“It’s not that bad if I’m not in a hurry,” Scott shrugs. He catches Allison’s eye and shakes his head. “Stiles has to leave earlier than me, he and his dad have some meeting at the office. He did offer to have Derek come and get me, but I, um, that’s just a lot of trouble, really.”

Allison puts a spoonful of cereal into her mouth, cutting off the face she’d been about to make, and then bubbles a little as she drips milk out one corner of her lips. She lifts her hand to wipe it off and Scott leans over to swipe his finger over it first, smiling affectionately. “Dad, were you going to go anywhere after we do the groceries?” she says, smiling back at him. “Because then I could—”

“I don’t think so,” Chris says. He’s been debating whether to offer to get Scott, and he’s a little embarrassed to admit feeling relieved at Allison solving that for him. Scott’s been more than accommodating about Chris seeing his mother, but the two of them haven’t really talked one-on-one. Chris knows he’s not remotely close to stepping in as a father figure, but he also just—doesn’t know what he is with Scott now, period.

Allison beams. “Well, then I can—”

“Scott?” Melissa calls, sounding annoyed and confused. She’s coming down the stairs at a fast enough clip that Chris straightens up. “Scott, why is the front porch ward going—”

“Oh, right,” Scott mutters, sounding odd. He pushes one hand through his hair, rough and irritated, and then turns away from Allison just as she frowns and reaches out for him. “Sorry, I forgot, I was going to move it to the garage.”

It sounds like Melissa’s opening the front door. “Well, why don’t you just—”

Scott’s expression twists from annoyed to something harder, more resentful. It’s so unusual that Allison throws an uncertain glance at Chris, who’s already set down his tongs and is just about to cross to that side of the kitchen.

“It’s from Dad,” Scott says curtly.

A moment passes and then the front door shuts. There’s another pause and then Melissa walks slowly into the kitchen. She’s got a robe thrown on over her pajamas and has her crossed arms pulling the sides of that together, looking at Scott with a mix of guilt and concern that Chris unfortunately recognizes.

“I checked, there’s nothing in it that is—is going to rot or anything,” Scott mutters. He starts to turn, then looks back at his mother. His tense shoulders loosen up a little, but when he speaks again, he sounds very tired, with a little pleading edge. “I don’t think it’s anything legal, right, they’d have to go through—and anyway, you wouldn’t send stuff like that in a big box like that. I just didn’t want to deal with whatever it is, there’s so much this week.”

Melissa presses her lips together. “He would know you’re graduating,” she says, with clear reluctance. She half-lifts her hand towards Scott, then pulls it back and moves with sudden briskness around him. “Well, we need to get it off the porch, the ward keeps pinging my phone.”

“Yeah, I know, I’m sorry, I forgot,” Scott says. His shoulders drop in relief, though he’s still moving a little stiffly as he follows Melissa over and grabs a glass for her as she gets herself some juice from the fridge.

Allison starts talking a little after that, asking Melissa if she needs anything else from the grocery store, and the two of them are chatting about chicken thighs versus breast—Allison’s started asking Melissa to show her how to cook—when Scott slips out and catches Chris moving the box to the basement.

“I already ate,” Chris says. He hefts the box in front of him, as if that’s an adequate shield; it is a large box but he’s also a grown man, for God’s sake. He shouldn’t even be thinking about shields.

Scott blinks, then shrugs and steps back. He gets the basement door for Chris, and then follows a few steps behind.

“I guess over there,” he says, nodding at an open space. “Thanks.”

Chris puts the box down and he and Scott go back up. Scott breathes in a little sharply when they get near the top of the stairs, like he might say something, and Chris slows down. But then Scott just jerks his shoulders and walks up the last steps, and back into the kitchen. Melissa asks him, a little uncertainly, if he thinks they should bring anything to the graduation party Lydia’s throwing and Scott pauses, then shakes his head.

“I’m pretty sure I overheard her telling Stiles that if he let Derek or Peter bring something Talia made, her caterer would consider it a mortal insult,” he says.

Allison agrees, and reminds Melissa that they still have to make something for Stiles’ party, and Melissa sighs that all her best party foods have animal fat in them. As Chris sneaks back over to the stove to get the greasy pan, Allison starts throwing out suggestions while Scott makes supportive comments.

It’s just so…mundane, Chris thinks. Not normal, it’s not that, but it’s different from simply being used to the unexpected. Even when he was training in France, Chris has never felt like what he did was just what happened when he woke up and went about his day. The Argents train from birth to hunt, and hunting is a calling, not a lifestyle. If you got so relaxed that you thought about it that way, you were doing it wrong.

Well, or so he’s been taught. Then again, he thinks, looking at the other people in the room. Then again.

Chapter Text

“Well, if I don’t like something, it can feel it, and that doesn’t make it feel good,” Stiles explains. “And Nemetons aren’t really that different from people with things like that. It doesn’t want to feel depressed any more than you do.”

Despite the constant attitude problem, Jackson’s a reasonably intelligent person, and that’s without a Lydia assist. Stiles knows for a fact that she didn’t intervene with Jackson’s SAT and ACT scores (other than blistering him with prep questions to the point that even Stiles thought he didn’t deserve it), because she and Stiles were in the same testing room for that and she was way, way too busy doodling circuit diagrams on her scratch paper after she finished. And Jackson still managed to score high enough that his parents can legitimately claim he got into college on the merits and not on the back of lacrosse.

So he really shouldn’t be looking at Stiles like things aren’t computing, because even grade-schoolers get this level. Just last week, when the Service had been hosting a class of third-graders, they’d all nodded and gone ‘awww, poor tree’ when Stiles had trotted out his line.

“In other words, you’re guilt-tripping it into doing what you want,” Jackson says after a second. “A blood-drinking, killer tree who could sink the entire town if it felt like it, but it doesn’t. Because that would make you feel bad.”

“You can put on the skeptic hat all you want, but at the end of the day, do you really want to test that one?” Stiles says, leaning forward till Jackson twitches. “See if all that lies between you and a massive sinkhole is my goodwill?”

“Because you’re not that kind of person,” Scott says, somehow managing to sound both firmly loyal to Stiles and faintly reproachful. He slides back into the booth, refilled soda in hand, and then looks between them. “Why are we talking about this, anyway?”

Stiles flicks his fingers at Jackson. “Co-captain here wanted to know whether, since we’re gonna be away at college, I can still make sure that our good ol’ rivals the Timbersnakes won’t prank homecoming.”

“Oh. Well, that’s really thoughtful of you,” Scott says. He retains that hope for a good second, then sighs. “Come on, guys.”

“Do you actually have any confidence whatsoever that Bergen’s going to hold the line once we’re gone?” Jackson snorts. “Thoughtful, my ass. I just want to know that the legacy I spent four years of high school building isn’t going out the window the very next year.”

“It’s okay, buddy,” Stiles says, slinging his arm around Scott’s shoulders. “I already told him I’m not gonna have the tree eat anybody over this.”

Scott looks dubious. He also looks pained, like it genuinely hurts him to be suspicious of Stiles, but that he is. And that probably is what makes his expression so effective.

“And petty murders are wrong and bad and on top of producing mounds of paperwork, they give Dad heartburn and no, okay, we’ll just stall anybody dumb enough to sneak the preserve till the cops can get there,” Stiles sighs. “Okay?”

“Okay,” Scott says, relaxing a little.

“So what, Derek can’t just show up and look at them?” Jackson says. “It’s not like he’s actually doing anything, anyway. He has resting psycho face, you can’t blame him for how he was born.”

On the one hand, Stiles isn’t about to allow Jackson to just throw shade at Derek, but on the other…honestly, he’s not actually sure Derek would be insulted by that one. And Jackson does have a little bit of a point.

Scott puts his head in his hand. “Guys.”

“I know, I know, Scotty, it sucks to be the moral compass,” Stiles says, absently patting him. “But you know, the merits of deterrence and hey, Derek might be on patrol anyway…”

Chapter Text

“Oh, here it is,” Chris mutters, scrabbling in the drawer. He starts to take it out, then swears and catches himself against the dresser as Melissa nibbles at the side of his throat. “Damn it.”

Melissa…really doesn’t feel that guilty, and just presses closer to him, rubbing one hand up and down his straining fly. Chris groans and dips his head to catch her mouth, and then curses again, just yanking his hand out before their hips accidentally slam into the drawer. “Careful,” Melissa says, and then laughs as he growls and turns them around to kiss her. “Okay, okay, no, seriously, I don’t want to be setting your wrist so let’s just—”

Move to the bed, yes, and they topple over it with an unexpected little bounce of the mattress. Melissa’s knee comes up into Chris’ thigh and they both grunt a bit, but it’s just a passing twinge and she’s already rolling with it, coming up on top of Chris and grabbing his head in both hands and…“Wait, what is that?”

Chris blinks at her for a second, and then cocks his head so he can glimpse the vibrator sitting next to it. “That…isn’t it yours?”

“No,” Melissa says, still staring at it. “No, definitely not. And—and it looks used, doesn’t it?”

They both look at it, Melissa easing back on Chris so he can twist over more and get a better view. Chris purses his lips a few times. “John said something the other night, didn’t he? Joking about leaving things in the bathroom?”

“Right,” Melissa says slowly. “He put it in there, so he found it in the bathroom—I think he thought I’d washed it and left it to dry in there. But it’s not mine, so…oh, no.”

The thought obviously strikes Chris at the same time, and for a few seconds he’s just speechless, a flush burning up his neck and face, obviously mortified. His mouth works a little bit, and then he raises his hand towards her and Melissa can’t help it, she just breaks into snickers and flops herself into his chest.

“I am—I am so sorry—I’ll talk to her—” Chris stammers.

His hand is floating around near her hair, occasionally touching a curl but not quite getting into it, and that hesitation feels raw enough that Melissa makes herself look up. “It’s okay, it happens,” Melissa says. She watches the disbelief in Chris’ eyes sharpen to a near-flinch and disciplines herself enough to put her hand up to his cheek. “No, really, it’s okay. We’re still figuring out how to fit everybody in, it’s okay, honestly. I’m a nurse, Chris, and the kids are…”

“Not really kids anymore,” Chris mutters, wistful and annoyed, his eyes sliding away from her and into some memory for a second. Then he sighs and looks back at her. “Still, that’s just—just irresponsible. It’s not like I ever found—I don’t know, a used condom when Scott stayed over.”

Melissa grins. Both for her son—she knows he’s a good one, but it’s always a nice moment to hear from somebody else that he’s been listening to her—and for Chris, who’s slowly finding his way to a smile. She strokes his cheekbone with her thumb and every pass seems to sweep away a little bit of the tension that’s blocking him, till finally he relaxes into it.

“I guess just letting her know will probably be enough punishment,” he eventually says.

“Probably,” Melissa agrees. “So long as she doesn’t think to ask about just how we found it.”

Chris’ blush had been dying off, but it comes back again. “Sometimes you think way too much like them. All right, fine, so we should…should we just sneak it back in her room?”

“Oh, God, no,” Melissa says. “Are you kidding? John set this all up, that should be his job. I’m sure he can think of something, or if not, at least think of something Stiles has done that’ll work for this.”

“You’re terrible,” Chris says warmly, as he leans up towards her, his hand finally sifting into her hair.

They knock the vibrator to the floor. Melissa makes a mental note to drop a pamphlet about proper hygiene practices into Allison’s bookbag or something like that, and then she doesn’t think about their kids anymore.

Chapter Text

“Wait, wait, wait,” Laura says, rubbing her eyes. Then she takes another look. It’s early dawn, and she made the mistake of coming out to check the weird noises without firing up the coffee machine first, but even so, there’s no way she can be not seeing this. “Wait. You are…you are shoveling out the crematorium.”

Her brother stabs the shovel blade into the ground, then steps away from it as he shakes up the sides of the bag he’d been filling. A thick cloud of grey dust rises up and he scrunches up his face, then stuffs his nose against his shoulder as his hands move quicker. He just manages to get the top tied shut and then he ducks sideways to sneeze violently.

“Yeah,” he says. “Why are you up now? I thought you were going to ‘enjoy being unemployed and childless’ and sleep till Mom kicks you out of the house.”

“Well, sure, that was the plan, but I’m watching you clean out the ashes,” Laura says. She watches Derek pick up the shovel and make as if he’s actually going back inside. “I mean, really clean it out, and not just grab a couple bags and then swirl what’s left around so it looks like a skimpy layer.”

Derek makes an annoyed noise at her. She smirks at him and then walks in after him, only to lose the smirk when she sees the number of full sacks inside the chamber. “So what?” he mutters.

“So you’re doing this of your own free will. And I know that because it’s way too early for Stiles to be up, and if Peter was making you, he’d be hanging around here gloating, and so you’re doing this just because. You. My brother.” Laura swiftly sidesteps the ash Derek tries to fling at her, then retreats to the safety of the doorway. “I’d check if you’re possessed, except you’re just seething at me instead of trying to kill me, so I know that’s not it.”

“Can you just go back to sleep?” Derek demands. He looks at her, then sighs and lowers the shovel. “Look, it’s a birthday present. But nobody around here can keep a damn secret, so that’s why I’m doing it now, okay?”

“A birthday present?” Laura says. “Who the hell would need—oh, wait, for Stiles?”

“Fertilizer,” Derek says.

Laura leans her shoulder against the doorway. Her brother eyes her for a few more seconds, then, with a scowl, returns to shoveling ashes. He’s really cleaning out the place, she notes. She can even see the original floor in spots, he’s scraped through so much of the hardened ash layers.

“So you really have picked up some biology since he came,” she finally says. “Botany. Well, soil science, really. Anyway, science, Derek!”

“Why do you have to be so annoying,” he mutters. He chips at a stubborn bit of compressed ash, then levers the shovel blade under it. “He gets most of what he needs from the Service, and Mom gives him food, and Lydia gets him all the gadgets, and Peter has books covered, and…what.”

“Nothing,” Laura says.

Derek looks at her. “What.”

“Nothing, really.” She rubs at her nose as some ash goes up it, snorts that out, and then wipes her fingers against her hip. “Just thinking, I have a car and I don’t cry when a little speck of dirt gets on it, and you can’t carry all of this out, it’ll take so long somebody will see.”

“I don’t cry,” Derek finally says, but she knows him and that particular grumble is his grateful one.

“Fine, whatever, whimper uncontrollably,” Laura says, pushing off the door. “I’m gonna go dress and then I’ll drive the car around. Also, you’re going to shut up about Braeden.”

Derek inhales irritably, then shrugs. “Whatever,” he says. Thank you so much, big sis, you’re the best!

It’s worth the early wake-up call, Laura thinks.

Chapter Text

“I’m sorry, what was that?” Stiles says, laying his head on Peter’s chest. “Can you say that again? I don’t think I heard you.”

Peter moans through his gag, blinking back stinging drops of sweat as the sunlight filtering down through the leaves overhead catches them, refracting dizzying rainbows across his already-shaky vision. They’ve been lying under the tree for at least an hour now, he realizes with exhaustion-dulled surprise, going by where the sun is.

Hours, but it seems more like days, and when Stiles laughs, puffs a breath at Peter’s aching nipple, the graze stirs a sharp, deep prick of pain that seems to grow endlessly outwards, spreading its overheated tendrils on and on as the lines between flesh and air blur away. Flesh and earth—Peter shifts against the ground, groaning as pebbles and knobby roots rub over long-bruised muscles.

Flesh and plant. He shifts again, gasping so hard that the joint of his jaw hurts, as Stiles lazily turns over and resumes nursing at Peter’s nipple, and for a second he somehow musters up the strength to strain against the roots tightly coiled about his wrists and ankles. But it’s barely a full second, and then he’s slumping back into the Nemeton’s cradle, whimpering helplessly as that clever mouth tortures him. Not biting, not anything so crude as that, but just a steady, firm sucking, drawing the blood up, teasing the flesh into soreness and then burning and then a vicious throb so gradually that it’s sapped his will to resist far more effectively than any kind of clamp. Now he can’t help but rock up into Stiles’ caresses, pressing his chest into those lips even as they pluck and lap ever greater measures of agony from his body.

Stiles pulls back, giving Peter’s nipple a light, deceptive huff that at first soothes, with the air cooling the spit-soaked nubbin, and then stokes the burning sensations as the coolness recedes. Peter twists hard against his bonds, hard enough to hear a low groaning that doesn’t come from his own throat.

Half-draggled instinct spurs to life and Peter goes still, but the man lying on top of him is still relaxed, humming to himself as he draws idle circles in the sweat slicking over Peter’s throat and jaw. And the roots Peter has just tested so roughly, they slacken for a moment, just enough that Peter, groaning, pushes down on his shoulderblades in an attempt to relieve the stress on them.

The moment he’s at his fullest extension, the roots suddenly tauten. Peter whimpers so much, shivering in their grip, that Stiles ungags him. “Hey,” Stiles says, but it’s not directed at Peter. He stretches over Peter for a second, then drops back, petting and stroking Peter’s hair as the roots loosen up. “Hey, easy, he’s the bringer of tasty things, remember? Sorry about that, it got kind of excited. You all right?”

Peter licks his lips. He’s still dazed and staring up at the branches, and as one of them sways in the breeze a memory suddenly springs into his head. Strange one to come up, but then, his mind is so disjointed right now, perhaps the irrationality of the connection is the most predictable result—he remembers himself and Talia climbing the old Nemeton before Deaton had cut it down and put it into hibernation. Them as small children, sneaking off when Yvette and their grandmother hadn’t been looking, coming to see the great and terrible Nemeton, only to find…a tree.

Just an oak tree, they’d thought, till they’d climbed halfway into it and suddenly Talia had seized him and leaped wildly out of the branches, back down to the ground. She’d felt chilly, she’d said later. Chilly, but Peter hadn’t protested much since he’d felt that too. A chilly, almost hateful feeling, like a bucket of ice water. He’d been glad to get away from there, and since then he hadn’t made the mistake of underestimating the Nemeton again.

Strange. He hasn’t felt the chill again either, not since Stiles had taken up the guardianship. Even just now, after wrenching at its roots, all Peter feels is the damp, cooling earth under his back, the warm sun on his face, the smooth hand cupping his jaw. “Stiles,” he says, as the other man bends towards him. “Stiles, oh, Stiles, take it off now, please.”

“Well, never mind then, guess you’re all right,” Stiles says, snorting. He absently scrunches at Peter’s hair, then takes away his hair and flips the sweat from it; his fingers are soaked, there’s so much of it. Then he changes his sprawl so he can reach down and tug at the strap buckled tightly around Peter’s cock. “I don’t know, I think we’ve still got a while yet. You know what, lemme see what the tree thinks. You think he’s ready?”

Stiles tilts his head. He can communicate with the tree without any outward signs if he wants to, but he usually doesn’t bother with that act around Peter. It’s fascinating to watch—his eyes unfocus a little, as is standard with trancing, but sometimes their color seems to change, with threads of greens and golds momentarily lacing into the irises, like the veining on a leaf.

“Tree says we’re weird and it doesn’t know why pollination takes so long with us,” Stiles reports a few moments later. He’s pushing himself down Peter, lifting his hips as if to—yes, yes, he’s positioning himself over Peter’s cock, holding that up with one hand as his fingers busy itself with the strap at its base and yes, that is finally coming loose. “Happy to help and all but its roots are getting a little dry and fine, I guess we gotta stop imposing on it and all…”

Peter’s reply, if he indeed had anything coherent to say, is lost in their twinned groans as Stiles sinks down on Peter’s cock. And somehow Peter thinks there’s another groan too, a deeper, slower one, coming up through the ground. But echoing the same feeling: relief.

Thank you, he thinks at the tree. It can’t sense his thoughts, as far as he understands, but he does it anyway. And maybe it’s the same flight of fancy that made him remember the tree as it had been, so many years ago, but as his climax seizes him, he thinks he feels one root tip give his clenched fist a light stroke across the back.

Chapter Text

“I figured you wouldn’t be handing out the acorns to school tours if there really was a chance that they could turn into Nemetons, but I just was curious,” Allison says, as she and Scott heft another bag of soil into the back of the Jeep. One of the things Stiles appreciates about her is how she doesn’t mind getting down into the grunt work, even though one, she’s rocking a new pair of boots and two, werewolf boyfriend. “I was helping Dad go through more of the family diaries and there’s this one section about First Nation theories of how Nemetons are created. Or what they were telling my ancestors, anyway, which I’m ninety-nine percent sure was a bunch of lies.”

“Really?” Stiles says. He ticks the last item off his checklist, initials next to it and then goes to hang the clipboard back on the door to the supply shed. “Come on, you can’t lead with that and not—”

Allison does give the tops of her boots a quick wipe, but she uses her bare hands and then absently dusts her fingers against her jeans, which…Scott gives her butt a furtive look that lets Stiles know that that storage unit the Argents keep is still giving Scott a serious challenge for her attention. “Well, like they only spring up on the graves of the unjustly killed and the first guardian is whoever successfully avenges the dead person? Which doesn’t make any sense if one of their main roles is to help tamp down on restless spirits.”

“It’s a tree, you can’t use people logic on it,” Stiles says. He deliberately swerves close to Scott as he passes him, so the other man turns and thus avoids Allison noticing anything as she looks up. “Okay, okay, no, you’re right. Dead people are necessary nutrition, sure, but they’re not motivation any more than I get motivated by food.”

Scott frowns, catches on, and gives Stiles an appreciative smile. And then pulls the rug out from under him. “I don’t know, I’ve seen you break in for a leftover tamale before.”

“Because it was your mom’s homemade chorizo one!” Stiles yelps defensively. “Also, we had a murder suspect in the workplace to investigate.”

“You ate the tamale before we looked at any of the files,” Scott reminds him. “It wasn’t even in the same direction as the file room. We had to backtrack past a guard.”

“Well, because I don’t deduct efficiently when my blood sugar’s down and I was tree-less at the time, so it’s not like I could pull on its energy reserves,” Stiles mutters. He hooks the clipboard in place and checks that the shed door is locked, speaking of, and then returns to the car. When Allison climbs into shotgun because she just happens to be closer, he absolutely does not protest that that’s been Scott’s seat since before he dated possessive werewolves who make a point of having sex in the backseat at least once a week to reinforce territorial scenting. “Anyway. No, it’s not just feeding it dead bodies. If that were true, then every graveyard would be chockful of Nemetons.”

The last backseat sex incident was this morning, and while Stiles did thoroughly wipe down everything, not enough time has passed for the Jeep to air out. As indicated by the way Scott coughs into his hand and then scoots way over to hang his head out the window. “So what does it take?” Allison asks, digging into her purse. She comes up with one of those nasal-spray things and hands it back to Scott, all without looking. “Or if that’s a state secret, then just let me know and I won’t ask again.”

“Um, well, some of the details are, but the general idea isn’t. Actually, if you want to spread that around, it’d help get rid of some of the crazy myths out there,” Stiles says. He starts the car and backs up from the shed, then curses and slams on the brakes as something rattles off the roof—he forgot where he put his thermos.

Scott werewolf-ninjas out an arm to intercept, then pulls in the thermos. “Sorry, can I borrow a…thanks,” he says, as Allison mindbonds again to have a tissue ready to wipe off the coffee that’s splashed onto his arm. “Here.”

And now Stiles feels bad, and all he can do is take the thermos and roll down all the windows and secretly promise to make it up to Scott later. “Yeah, so the short, non-classified version’s not about dead bodies or magic or anything really but a lot of commitment, for a really long time. Nemetons start out like any other tree—I mean, I can talk, sort of, to any of them. Some of them are kind of, well, sticks of wood, but I can talk to them. I just can’t—can’t bond with them. You have to work them up to that.”

“Like develop them, almost?” Allison says.

“Yeah, like…you know, human babies, they don’t automatically know how to socialize. It’s the same thing, it’s not like a tree knows to manage all the magical currents and the living things and that stuff. You have to teach them,” Stiles says. He sticks the thermos into a cupholder and then gives Scott a thumbs-up over his shoulder. “But they’re trees and it’s a whole different timeframe and you usually have to be at it for a couple generations before they’re fully cultivated. That’s kind of why the guardian thing runs in families.”

Allison leans back, looking thoughtful. “No kidding, I had no idea…that explains why we can’t just make new ones.”

“We’re trying, but it’s also just really hard to find people who’ll dedicate that kind of time these days. And you don’t want to get halfway through cultivating a Nemeton and then just leave it high and dry, any more than you’d abandon a kid,” Stiles says. Scott gives him a clap on his shoulder and then points out the next turn, right before Stiles would’ve automatically turned towards his tree, in the exact opposite direction they need to go today. “Also that’s a whole separate load of training, to start raising one from scratch. I’m not sure I could do it, actually—there are something like ten people in the world who still know how.”

“And you don’t want to get into something like that just by trial and error, I’m guessing,” Allison says, sounding faintly like her father for a second. “Horror stories?”

“Horror stories,” Scott seconds solemnly.

Allison shifts a little uneasily, glancing at Stiles, and for a second she looks as if she might apologize for bringing up the subject. He definitely appreciates her sensitivity to possible trauma, but…there actually isn’t any this time. It’s not like when guardians have been killed—the last time something went bad due to a half-developed Nemeton was so long ago that even Stiles has a hard time relating to the circumstances. And the length of time it takes to even get a speck of greater consciousness into a Nemeton tends to rule out any abuse by psychos, too. “They made a really terrible direct-to-video movie about it five years ago,” he ends up saying to make her feel better. “Like, really bad. Like there were talks at very high governmental levels about whether it was worth officially protesting not because they thought anybody would really believe it, but to make it clear that we weren’t connected with such shoddy CGI.”

“What’s it called?” Allison says, just as Scott groans. She glances over her shoulder, then grins. “You have a copy.”

Stiles snorts. “Of course I have a copy! And I do not have a drinking game to go with it, because I am underage and breaking drinking laws is not something that is critical to the mission so I am a law-abiding citizen in that arena. But I do have a spot-the-nonsupernatural-biological-inaccuracy-last-and-eat-hot-sauce game!”

“I think Mom needs me at home,” Scott mutters. “To clean out the basement or something.”

“I think Dad ran out of stuff to clean upstairs and could handle that,” Allison says, because she and Scott are adorable telepathic soulmates but that doesn’t mean she lets his never-ending compassion stifle her evil moments. “Come on, I gotta see this, and I can’t even regrow my tastebuds.”

“They grow back too fast, the burn doesn’t have time to go away,” Scott says. He pauses, looks between them, and then sighs. “Okay, let’s just remember to buy more milk on the way home. Please?”

“Sure. Anyway, you’ve watched it before and I haven’t, I’m sure you won’t be losing,” Allison says comfortingly.

Scott’s recall, which is better than his grades let on, has nothing to do with how often he’ll be losing, says his strained smile. And if Stiles were a good friend about this, he would not follow through on movie night. Which, honestly, would cause Scott to check whether he’s possessed or a replacement clone and Stiles feels like putting Scott through that mental stress would be worse than a few seconds of pain—just trying to be a great friend, here.

But he’ll pay for the milk. Least he can do.