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The Red Queen Hypothesis

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“Well, I warned you it was a busy posting,” Melissa says, forking up another piece of pie. She chases the mouthful with a sip of coffee, then makes a face of silent joy. “God. That diner looks like somebody piled up tin siding and then added fluorescent lights, but its pie is amazing.”

John grimaces into his cup. “Wish I could say the same about the coffee. This isn’t as bad as the crap in D.C., but it’s pretty close.”

“The place next to the old highway turn-off’s pretty decent,” Chris says. He’s still got his nose buried in his cup, just like the last ten minutes. His shoulders tense a little more whenever one of them looks at him, but otherwise he might as well have been drinking coffee by himself. “Not open as late, though.”

Melissa catches John looking and asks a question with raised brows. John shrugs, because what is he supposed to say? He rubbed himself and Chris off against a tree in the preserve, and Chris happened to be taped to that tree, and oh, by the way, had looked kind of disappointed when John had cut him loose? She would’ve gotten that all from bandaging up Chris’ hands and neck.

“It’s a little out of the way too,” Melissa finally says, tacking onto Chris’ comment. She checks her phone, then sighs. “All right, gentlemen, I’m almost out of pie, and we have three bodies in the back here.”

She gives the SUV’s back door a light pat, then makes a face as there’s a faint groan inside. Then she gets out her tranq pistol. She loads up, pops open the back window and darts whoever it was.

“I guess we’ll send them on to Sacramento,” John says, glancing through. He makes sure that the jackasses settle back down before shutting the window. “Don’t have the space to hold them here.”

Not unless they were feeding the tree, and they’d just done that yesterday. Melissa doesn’t know that but she trusts John and Stiles on that problem, so she just nods and checks her phone again. “Is anyone going to pick up at this hour? Even if you start driving now, it’ll be all day before you get back and we’ve got a home game tonight.”

“We do?” John says. Then he grimaces. He hasn’t made a single damn game since they moved here, and for all that he knows his son gets it and doesn’t even particularly care so much about the sport, Stiles’ face just looks so happily surprised whenever he does manage to get to a school event. Well, unless they’re seeing the administration. “Damn it, right. Are you going with Scott?”

“I have to leave after the game,” Melissa says, texting someone. “Took the later shift, remember? But it’s fine, Scott promised he’d stick with Stiles.”

“Allison told me she’s going out to dinner with friends after the game,” Chris says hesitantly. He looks up and meets Melissa’s gaze square-on, but he’s picking at his fingers again, scratching at what’s left of the tape residue. “That usually means she’s seeing Scott.”

Melissa shrugs, but John can see her back going up. “Doesn’t mean he’ll forget to bring Stiles along. Stiles is a good kid, he’ll keep them honest.”

Chris seems a little less convinced about Scott, or maybe it’s his daughter, but he’s sensible enough to keep his mouth shut. He gets off the bumper when they do, then stands back while they check over the scene one last time.

“I could tell Allison I’m taking her out to dinner instead,” Chris offers abruptly. “It wouldn’t be that odd. Her grades are down a bit and she knows—”

“It’s not my son’s fault,” Melissa says sharply. She scrubs her hand over the side of her face, looks at John, then looks at Chris. Then she rubs her face again. “Damn double shifts. Look, Chris, it’s a nice idea but Scott knows how to be responsible.”

“I’m not saying he doesn’t,” Chris says. He fiddles with his wrist and doesn’t seem to notice he’s unfastened his bandage. “I’m just thinking that Allison went shopping recently, and she wouldn’t show me what clothes she bought, and they’ve got some kind of anniversary up, don’t they?”

Melissa stares at him. John can tell that she’s worn out, pie and coffee and badly-hidden amusement at him and Chris notwithstanding. He can also tell that she’s a little frustrated with herself and hasn’t quite wrestled her pride down enough for her sense to take over, and that whatever Chris is going for here, it’s not what she’s used to.

“Probably. They have so many anniversaries I can’t keep track,” Melissa finally says. She glances at John, then at the SUV. “Well, how’s Stiles?”

“Annoyed at me, but that’s nothing new.” And anyway, Stiles is more annoyed at the Hales. At least, that’s what Stiles is saying to him, and even if they both know there’s a whole lot of omissions going on with that, Stiles looks so stressed that John doesn’t want to push right now. “He’ll be fine. He’ll get home one way or the other, don’t worry about it. Anyway, if he thinks we’re messing Scott around, that’ll probably just make things worse. You know how those two are.”

“Oh, yeah.” Melissa rolls her eyes and then steps back from the SUV. She looks around, then half-turns so she’s facing towards the nearest trailhead. “No, don’t give me a lift, you’ve got to go in the opposite direction. It’s a hundred yards to my car, John. Besides, the walk might give me the second wind I need for the rest of tonight.”

“If you say so, Mel,” John says, and stifles a laugh when Melissa rudely waves him off. He does watch her go, just to make sure she’s picked up the right trail—Melissa’s got wilderness training but she’s not out that regularly—then reaches for the SUV door.

He pauses and the man reflected in it moves awkwardly. “I can walk,” Chris says. His chin goes up a bit when John looks over his shoulder. “I’d like my gun back, but if you’re not feeling like it, I don’t think anything left in the woods is going to give me that much trouble.”

“You can come by the office tomorrow with your permit papers, and get it back,” John says. Then he opens the front passenger door. Leaves it open and walks around to the driver’s side and gets in. He looks over and Chris is still standing there, looking wary but stalling in spite of himself. “You’re on my way, and it’s half a mile with a mess in your jeans.”

Chris bites his lip and puts his hand back to tug at the back of his neck, then flinches. He takes his hand down and eyes the open door like it’s the doorway to hell.

It’s late. John has to process three perps and then figure out who to dump them on, he’s going to miss his son’s game, and the local werewolf pack is practically denning up around the lacrosse field trying to get Stiles’ attention. “Get in the goddamn car, Argent.”

Chris gets in the car. He stares straight out the windshield. “Thanks.”

John turns on the engine and reaches for the gearshift. He grips the top for a second, then looks over. Then he lets go of the gearshift and grabs Chris’ shoulder. The other man starts, turns, and then sags hard when John kisses him. Chris hasn’t put his seatbelt on yet so he’s immediately sliding across the seat, his feet thumping under the dash. He tastes like that shit coffee and flinches when John’s tongue slips into his mouth; his lips are probably still raw from the tape. His hand lands on John’s thigh, then jams down again, a few inches lower, moving like he has no idea what he’s doing with it.

It hurts, so John catches Chris’ wrist with his free hand and pulls the man’s arm straight and out to the side. Chris moans into his mouth, nips eagerly when John twists his head over for a different angle. He suddenly jerks up—got a knee onto the seat—then bends like a willow rod when John gets a hand around the back of his neck.

The back of the SUV moans too. John yanks himself back, then curses. He peeks around the headrest and everything looks quiet, but yeah, he should know better.

He turns his head and Chris is still right there in front of him, twisted over the gearshift with John’s hands pushing him into position. Chris bites his lip again, breathing raggedly, his eyes flicking back and forth over John’s face.

“I’m—” Chris runs out of breath, takes a deep one “—this isn’t about my license.”

“Yeah, well, gonna have to rework that one anyway,” John mutters. He’s surprised at the dullness of the disappointment in Chris’ face. It’s fierce but it’s like the man was expecting it. “Jesus, Argent, if I’m fucking you in the woods I can’t really be an objective evaluator of your mental state, can I?”

Chris blinks. Then he sinks down some, steadying himself against the back of his seat, and not because he was expecting that. “Oh. Oh, right. So are we going to have to start all over, or…”

“I don’t know.” John lets his head drop back against his seat. “Probably not. Your practicals aren’t a problem, I can sign off on those. I’m gonna have to look into it when I get back. This doesn’t come up a lot.”

“No?” Chris says, like he’s teasing. Maybe he is; his mouth isn’t quite a smile but it’s quirked in that direction, and his eyes are less guarded.

John snorts and absently rubs his thumb along Chris’ jaw. He’s half-forgotten his hand is even on Chris’ neck—for all that the man looks like he’s thinking of jumping out the window, he hasn’t put up any resistance to being man-handled—and then Chris sucks in a breath and just looks at him, and suddenly there aren’t any walls in the man’s eyes at all. Just…flat-out lust and nerves, and a tinge of something that makes John run his thumb further, right up to Chris’ mouth.

“You’re going to mess my jeans again,” Chris says, in a thick, strained voice. He tugs at his hand, reminding John he’s holding that too, and then, when John lets go of it, reaches back and carefully braces it against the glove compartment. “John, listen, I’m not—I don’t want to make trouble, all right? I meant it when I said I just want to help. I can’t—I live here, and when I see these kinds of people drive in I know what they want to do, and I can’t just sit back. But I’m not trying to get in your way.”

“Yeah. Yeah, I believe you.” John shifts his fingers across Chris’ nape, then watches Chris’ eyes darken and tells himself he needs to let the man go. For one, he’s got a job to do. For two…Jesus, if he’s telling Stiles not to go and make things more complicated than they have to be, he’d better listen to himself because Chris Argent does not look remotely like ‘casual.’ “Shit, I need to figure this out. I really want to fuck you.”

Chris’ eyes close like he can’t help it. His head drops and his mouth opens because it’s going slack, and then it’s John that’s climbing over the gearshift, pinning Chris’ head between his hands so he can eat out the other man’s mouth. Chris whimpers, Christ, and digs his fingers into John’s back, trying to pull them further down.

Somebody bangs into a window. Chris’ elbow. John snaps his head up, gets stuck for a moment staring at Chris’ bruised mouth, and then shakes his head. He drags himself back and wipes the hair off his face and does some staring out the windshield himself.

“Shit,” Chris says softly. He sounds like somebody’s got their hands around his throat. “Shit, I haven’t fucked around like this in almost twenty years.”

John shakes his head again. Pulls his seatbelt over himself, puts the car into drive. Flips on his headlights, does all the routine things. “Are we fucking around?” he says.

He turns the car out of the little hollow where he’d parked it and pulls up a low hill, then turns towards the main road snaking through the preserve. They go over a rock and the car jolts, nearly sending Chris nose-first into the dashboard. Chris gets his arm up and jams it out in front of him, and also John seizes his shoulder again, and then Chris pushes himself back and puts on his seatbelt, still looking like he’s not quite all there.

“Like I said, I don’t want to get in your way,” Chris finally says. He slumps down and flattens his hand over his face. “I don’t think I’m in any shape to talk about this right now.”

“Well, come get your gun back,” John mutters. Frankly, he could use some time to sort out his head too, and never mind how Chris is looking at him. “We can sort that out, anyway.”

* * *

John offloads the hunters and then drives back to a son who’s holed up in his room driving central intel insane with werewolf courting research requests. He puts up with it for a few days, hoping it’ll just burn out, and then starts looking for excuses to get Stiles out of the house. It’s a little hard, seeing as the Hales might be keeping their distance from Stiles, but don’t seem to have the same courtesy towards John or Melissa.

“I didn’t even know Peter could look mopey,” Melissa says. She and John have just wrapped up some business in the morgue and are taking advantage of the fact that formaldehyde puts off werewolf noses. “He can’t bluff worth a damn when he’s in love, either.”

“Don’t say that,” John says half-heartedly. He’s still not ready, but honestly, it’s probably not the Hales themselves. They can be annoying as hell but they’re also thoughtful, resource-rich, and desperate to make a good impression on Stiles, which would be a nice change from all the assholes who just want a Nemeton.

It’s just that his son is so damn set on being the only person miserable when the tree, as has happened eight times, doesn’t work out, and Stiles is going to be a fantastic guardian and those werewolves see it even if they don’t know everything. And Talia has done everything short of pledging her family’s lives to John to try and convince him, when he can already see how Stiles keeps looking over his shoulder for a wolf, and he loves his son so much he wants Stiles to have everything in the world. And eighteen years is not long enough for him to fully come to terms with the fact that maybe that involves letting somebody else help take care of Stiles.

“They grow up so fast,” Melissa says, reading John’s mind. “I swear to God, I caught Scott staring at a wedding party getting their photos taken the other day, and my heart just about stopped.”

John grimaces. “Shouldn’t Allison be the one setting the timeline for that? Which reminds me, Argent hasn’t shown up to get his gun back.”

“He does run a gun business. I’d think he has spares,” Melissa says. She tilts her head. “You figure out his license yet?”

“Yeah. He’ll have to drive up to Sacramento for the psych eval, but he can finish up his practicals here first. And they said they want me to take duplicate statements, just in case he opens up more. Which I haven’t told him yet, because he hasn’t come by,” John says, his mouth twisting. It makes sense to him, and it’s not like he hasn’t played emotional attachments off for the job before. But it bugs him. He likes the man.

He can feel Melissa’s eyes boring into his brain. He wonders if kissing her might make her stop, and then remembers she knows him and she’s got a hell of a right hook.

“You want me to talk to him?” Melissa says. “I wasn’t in a great mood last time. Maybe he thought he was horning in.”

“It might be better coming from you,” John admits. “Anyway, I should be pulling back, at least try and look like we’re avoiding a conflict of interest. I’ll give you his gun when we patrol tonight.”

“Okay, but I think you should talk to him, too,” Melissa says. She checks the time, then shakes her head. “Got to get going, sorry. Look, why don’t you take Stiles to the shooting range with you? Sounds like he’s got some things to work out too, and if things go south with Chris, you just take Stiles to lunch.”

It’s on the tip of John’s tongue to refuse, but he can’t think of any reason why it doesn’t make sense. Melissa smiles, like she knows exactly what he’s doing, and then leans in for a quick kiss. She ruffles his hair and he ends up grabbing her ass, and by the time she eels out of his arms, he’s given up and agreed with her.

* * *

Stiles isn’t thrilled about going to the range, but the moment they’re there, he sets up a row of targets and starts mowing them down. John catches Chris taking a second look at Stiles and excuses them to a backroom.

“You’re both covert,” Chris says. He frowns thoughtfully. “So’s Scott, isn’t he? I thought we were running into each other an awful lot at night.”

“I can’t confirm or deny without Melissa,” John says. He catches Chris’ twitch when he closes the door and can’t resist giving the knob a twirl to show it’s still unlocked. “Anyway, do I really have to spell it out for you? There’s no way you didn’t dig into us.”

Chris grimaces and then leans against the desk. It’s a small room, barely big enough for that and a couple file cabinets, and judging from the way Chris’ hip crumples some files, it’s not his office. “I did, but I don’t know what you think my connections are like these days,” he says. “My sis—Kate and Gerard, they burned a lot of bridges.”

“I heard you aren’t on good terms with the French side either,” John says. Not meanly, just interested. He still feels a little guilty when Chris’ color goes paler.

“No,” Chris says curtly. He crosses his arms over his chest. “What did you want to talk about?”

Melissa said she’d talk to Chris about the new licensing arrangements, and she was supposed to do it yesterday. She didn’t text John to say that she’d had a problem, but John isn’t sensing an act from Chris. It really sounds like Chris has no idea why John would want to corner him.

John doesn’t want to start with the license rigmarole. “Mel and I aren’t like you think,” he says, not thinking.

Chris blinks. “Well, we all had coffee afterward, and she usually tells me right away if she wants to kill me for hurting someone close to her, so…”

“You’re kind of smartass-y for a guy with an eighteen-year-old daughter,” John snaps.

“You just used your kid as an excuse to corner me,” Chris snaps back. “What the hell are we doing, John?”

“Don’t talk about my son, you have no id—” And at that point John realizes he’s walked across the room, all two yards of it, and has Chris by the shoulders. He sees Chris’ pupils dilate and snorts, and yeah, he’s being mean now. “Is that why you came?”

Chris sucks in his breath, then tries to duck out from under John and knee John in the stomach at the same time. He’s good but John’s weight already has him sitting on the desk, and the files under his ass make him slip, go off-balance. He gets in a good hit to John’s ribs and then John has him over the desk, belly-down with arms twisted up behind his back.

“Goddamn it,” John says, once he’s caught up with his body. He winces as Chris stabs a bootheel down on his foot, then yanks up on Chris’ wrists till the man stops. “Damn it. Why didn’t you come get your gun?”

“What?” Chris grunts in pain, twisting his leg, and then exhales sharply when John stops grinding his knee into the back of Chris’. “Wait, what? What the—what, were you asking me on a date or something?”

John hikes himself up a little more, then lets gravity crush him onto Chris’ arms. They’re pretty close in height but he’s got a fair number of pounds on the other man. “I’m guessing from your tone that if I say yes, you’d say you didn’t want to go on one.”

“Because that makes sense!” Chris hisses at him. He’s still struggling, even though John can feel his arm joints groaning. “You don’t want a date, John—”

“I think I do, Argent.” John inches his head up a little more on Chris’ back. Their little tussle’s dragged down Chris’ shirt, and if he gets another inch, he’ll be over the collar and on bare skin. He feels Chris twist hard, not fighting him but fighting the shiver that’s starting in the man’s shoulders. “Jesus Christ, I didn’t just leave you tied to the tree, did I? I got you coffee, drove you back to your car—does that sound like I’m dicking you around?”

“You really think this is a good idea?” Chris jerks his head to the side, like he’s trying to get his neck as far from John as possible. “You’re evaluating me, and then you have the Nemeton, and—”

“Goddamn it, I know it’s not going to make my life any easier, but I like you, Argent, and I don’t work all the time. I want to at least get to know you before I decide whether to write you off,” John hisses right back. “You really think avoiding me’s any more mature? You think I’m going through all this bullshit with your license for just a fuck in the woods?”

Chris wrenches at his arms, so hard that John has to let up some or else have the man dislocate his own shoulders. He’s prepared to slam Chris right down afterwards, but Chris just—slumps over the desk. Buries his head in a pile of folders and groans like he’s being gutted.

“Jesus, John,” he mumbles. “Why do you have to say things like that?”

“Why do you have to keep saying my name like that,” John says, swallowing. He lets go of Chris’ arms and puts his hands down on either side of Chris. Watches Chris let himself shudder this time, feeling the body heat over him. “Look, if you don’t want to, I’ll go. But you’re going to have to tell me that to my face, Argent.”

Chris shudders again. His arms are still crossed over his back, limp as overcooked noodles. He moves his head, then again, inching it around till he can get one eye on John. “You can’t call me Chris?” he says softly, still sounding gutted.

John bites back his own shiver. Then something makes him bend down, right over Chris’ ear. He breathes across it, hears Chris whine, and then bends even further down. “Chris,” he says.

The little bit of ear and jawline and cheek under him jerks convulsively. Then Chris moans, pushes his ass back into John, and—

“Dad! Dad!” Stiles yells. “Dad, you better come hear this!”

* * *

So John ends up giving Chris the full rundown about the Nemeton while trying to will Stiles into doing what he’s told and coordinate with Melissa and the local sheriff’s office because the idiots in central command won’t give him enough rangers. Chris listens attentively and doesn’t look disgusted about hearing about tree guardians, which either means he trusts John on that or he’s a little more educated than the average hunter. John doesn’t have time to dig into it, because they have a necromancer rolling into town.

Then reinforcements show up.

Then the trees in the preserve, which borders the highway for a couple miles, start lobbing dead branches like spears.

And then Stiles calls and after that shows up with a mad grin on his face like John hasn’t seen since Claudia died, two filthy, smug werewolves hanging onto his every step. Melissa still has Chris’ gun, and Chris sacrificed his coat to wad up against a deputy’s gunshot leg so he’s wearing John’s. Stiles and Scott and Allison put it together and then Talia Hale walks in, and all in all, John’s glad for his son but he’s pretty goddamn happy to have the sheriff interrupting to ask what the hell to do with all the bodies.

Clean-up takes well into the night. He sends Stiles home with the Hales, and Chris leaves at some point to take Allison and Scott back, so John ends up driving Melissa. Halfway into town, Melissa says she’s starving and yeah, so is John, so they turn into the diner with the good pie and then climb into the backseat. Melissa rides John’s fingers till he’s biting his own arm to keep from biting her on the shoulder, then claws open his jeans and swallows his cock down without so much as a warning cough. He bangs his head into the window hard enough to see white lights.

“So, sorry, but I didn’t get around to talking to Chris,” Melissa says once they’re in the diner. “I fell asleep on the couch after my shift, didn’t wake up till the next morning when you called me.”

“It’s okay.” John pokes at his pie. It is good pie, and normally he’d be all over it like a man whose son has him on a strict no-sweets diet. But he’s been up and running for so long that he’s in that weird floaty stage of fatigue, where all the aches and pains that’d normally be telling him he’s hungry, he needs sleep, his knee is going to hate him in the morning, they don’t feel quite real. “I think. Mel, is he really done mourning his wife? I know the mourning period’s over, but—”

Melissa props her head up on her hand and licks some whipped cream off her fork. She grins because even dead on his feet, he can’t help but look. Then she tips her head and thinks. “I’m pretty sure I saw Lacey Wilkins and him eating at the Fox and Hound the week before you moved in. Granted, he looked bored to death, and the rumor mill is that she shanghaied the date out of him by faking a faint in the woods and he was too polite to turn down a thank-you meal, but I’ve never known Chris to let anyone really make him do something he didn’t want to do.”

John maybe twitches.

“I said he was Old-World,” Melissa says, more seriously. She scrapes at the berry filling smears on her plate. “It’s probably something with his family. He’s raised Allison like a non-hunter most of her life, but she’s said a couple things here and there. Wasn’t that long ago that they were still insisting on proving you and your family before a date. Look, I can still talk to him if you think it’ll help.”

“If he’s that Old World, then that shouldn’t be a problem,” John mutters. Then he shakes his head. “Well, but then he doesn’t know who Claudia’s family was. Probably thinks we’re just some newcomers.”

“I don’t think that’s what Allison meant. Chris isn’t a snob.” Melissa rubs at her temple, then digs in her fingers to open up her closing eyes. “Damn it. I’m too tired for this.”

“Let me drive you home,” John says. He shakes his head at her when she starts to look mulish. “It’ll keep till mor—shit. Till we all get some sleep.”

“Yeah, okay, I’ll talk to him later,” Melissa mutters, letting him pull her off the stool. She folds against him, nearly snoring, and he forgets that he was going to tell her to forget about it.

* * *

John grabs a few hours of sleep, but he’s due back at the office for more clean-up hassles. Running into his son trying to climb Peter Hale like a tree in his kitchen, however, makes that prospect considerably more appealing. He’s really, truly glad that Stiles is happy, and he’s not the kind of father who’s going to pretend teenagers and sex don’t follow each other like bread and butter, but he doesn’t need to see that. Or Derek Hale yelling that he can’t find the lube.

Anyway, he’s still sort of relieved to have paperwork waiting for him when somebody knocks on his office door. Turns out to be Chris, with coffee that’s a hell of a lot better than what the office machine puts out.

“I still don’t have my gun,” Chris says, sitting down.

John winces. “Shit. Melissa still has it. She was supposed to…well, anyway, since you’re here, here.”

He hands over the file that explains Chris’ revised license application process. One of the new junior rangers—God, he has staff again—pokes his head in to ask a stupid question about dealing with the press, so John misses Chris’ initial reaction. By the time he’s looked back, Chris has the file open and is reading at about the two-thirds mark.

Chris looks up, catches John, and weirdly, looks like he’s the one caught out. He rolls his shoulders uneasily and shuts the file. “This is a lot of trouble,” he says.

“Sacramento’s not that far,” John says.

“I meant for you,” Chris says, grimacing. He tips the file back and forth between his hands. “You didn’t have to—”

“I actually do, or else you’re being denied your full rights as a citizen, and the Service isn’t doing its job in a fair and evenhanded manner,” John says. “It’s my job. I know what hunters think, but we don’t go in trying to deny a license. We just want to make sure everyone knows what their responsibilities are.”

Chris grimaces again. It looks like he’s going to protest, of all things, but then he clams up. He sticks the file into a bag at his feet, then pulls out a thick, rubberbanded accordion file with bits of yellowed paper sticking out through the splitting seams.

“I went through my…my father’s things,” he says slowly. He looks at the file instead of at John as he holds it out. “He still willed them to me, God knows why. This is everything we’ve got on the Nemeton. The Argents weren’t in this area for that long, but we were around when the last guardian died.”

Which hadn’t been that long ago, and John had already gotten a pretty detailed story from his predecessor, Dr. Deaton, who’d had to put the tree into hibernation when they couldn’t turn up an heir. But he takes the file and carefully unwraps the rubber bands from around it, and slides out a couple papers. Then slides them back in. “Okay…okay, thanks, Chris. I’ll get the front desk to send you the research policy—”

“You can have them,” Chris says abruptly. He’s got that wary look to him again, tense shoulders and flexed hands, like any moment he thinks he’ll have to lunge for an exit. Then he ducks down and pulls out a couple papers stapled together, and hands that over, too. “I already did the donation paperwork, it’s all transferred over. It’s more useful with the Service than sitting up in my attic.”

John doesn’t really know what to say to that. He takes the papers and automatically glances them over, then drops them in his to-archive box.

Chris stiffens when the folder goes up, and then relaxes when it goes down, and don’t let it be said that John can’t take a hint.

“Coffee’s good, too,” John says. He takes a sip. “Where’d you get it?”

“Café on Main and Third. It’s behind the sign for the garage,” Chris says. He stops looking like he’s positioning himself for an attack and actually sits in the chair. “Is Stiles all right?”

“He’s fine. He’s…probably why I’m not going home any time soon.” John drinks more coffee in the hopes that it’ll blot out the memory. “I’m going to have to scare up some doctor’s note. He’ll have to stay in a couple days, get adjusted.”

Chris pulls out his phone and starts scrolling through it. “If you don’t have a GP already, I can give you mine and Allison’s. He’s pretty good about the notes.”

“Oh, th—what?” John gets up as yet another junior ranger wants to know what do they do with the leftover bullets. Sometimes John thinks that central command deliberately tests its senior agents on how much it takes to snap.

He explains the purpose of an armory and then moves over as Chris stands up. The junior ranger wanders off, hopefully to find the damn armory, and Chris picks up his bag. “You’re busy,” he says. He’s stalling, says his slow feet. “I should get out of your way.”

True, that would be the right thing to do. There’s no way John’s new staff isn’t doing something he needs to go out and stop.

John reaches back with his foot and toes the door shut. He nods at the cup Chris left on his desk. “You didn’t finish.”

“Your office?” Chris says, half-skeptical, half-encouraging. He’s only got the bag strap halfway onto his shoulder. When he steps around the chair, it slides to hook over his elbow.

“Well, it’s not like I’m gonna fuck you over the desk,” John says, and then he pushes Chris into the nearest file cabinet.

Chris’ bag thuds at their feet, dragging Chris’ arm with it. He’s already got his other hand fisted in John’s shirt, his head thrown back so John can suck under his jaw, where it flows into the throat. He gasps, squirms, gets his free hand up and palms at John’s fly. “Jesus Christ, I can’t call them all shaving cuts,” he groans. “Goddamn it, John, please, lower—”

John works down Chris’ throat, obeying the letter if not the spirit of the request. He catches Chris’ thigh between his legs, rubs up its length till Chris can’t fit his hand between them anymore. “So we’re not running now, right?” He grabs Chris’ wrist when it tries to slip out, pulls it back against the cabinet. “I’m not fucking you over the desk, but I could see sucking you off right here, and then it’s about time for lunch.”

“Jesus,” Chris says again. He drops back against the cabinet, kisses back sloppily, like it’s taking all his energy to make those deep, hungry noises. His knees spread till he bangs one into the wall. Cursing, he pushes himself up the cabinet and tries to pull at John’s arm. “Jesus, no, not running, but—shit—John, shit, you—do you know what you’re doing?”

“I think I’m trying to ask you to lunch,” John says. He isn’t going to make it all the way down Chris. His mouth is stuck biting at the little bit of collarbone that’s peeking out of Chris’ shirt, nipping the wings and then tonguing the hollow between them, Chris shivering at every lick. His hands are a little further along, but every time they move off Chris’ hips, it’s to pry the man’s hands off his shoulders. “Also, get in your pants.”

Chris grabs at him again, then stifles a ragged gasp into the wall when John forces his arms down. “You can’t just ask me?”

John leans up and bites the side of Chris’ jaw. Chris hitches his hips up the cabinet, makes a choking noise. “Want to get lunch?” John says. He twists his body, gets the bone of his hip up against Chris’ groin and pushes. Chris curses, sounding like he’s drowning, and shakes his head. “Want to keep your hands still?”

“That a tape roll in your pocket?” Chris manages.

John snorts into Chris’ shoulder. Rolls his hip, lets Chris shudder against him. The cuff clicking shut makes Chris start and he pulls back, stares at John with blown eyes and a red mouth. He pushes his other arm behind his back to make it a little easier, and then closes his eyes.

He makes soft, shaky, half-killed sounds into John’s mouth. They vibrate against John’s hand; he’s got it up under Chris’ jaw, forcing it up because Chris keeps jerking down into John’s hand in his jeans, on his cock. His lips work around the seal of John’s mouth like they’re nursing at it, sucking but weak. When he comes, his knee knocks into John’s shin and his head goes into the file cabinet hard enough to make John concerned.

John gets back so he can see and Chris just—slides down the cabinet, folds onto his knees as easy as paper. He still has John’s coat on, Jesus, how John didn’t notice that before. He sways for a second, staring up dazedly up, cuffs glinting at his back, and then he tips forward and noses into John’s crotch like an over-friendly hound. Except shit, dogs don’t know to get zippers between their teeth, don’t start sucking out cloth through the undone fly so John has to get his cock out and into Chris’ mouth or else ruin a good pair of underwear.

He has one hand on Chris’ shoulder for support, but it’s a good thing the file cabinet is there too, otherwise he probably would’ve dislocated Chris’ arm, coming in the man’s mouth. As is, he can feel Chris going rigid, even as the man keeps swallowing.

“Shit,” John mutters. He steadies himself against the cabinet, then pulls carefully out. Gets his pants back up and finds the cuff key, and unlocks those before he starts straightening out his clothes. “Shit, Chris. So is that a no on lunch?”

Chris is still on the floor, though he’s gotten off his knees to sit with his back against the cabinet. He looks up at John like he thinks maybe John is one of those stars he’s seeing, then rubs shaky hands over his legs. Gets up to his still-open fly and absently tugs at it, starts tucking his cock back in. He’s still looking at John and he’s so dazed he can’t be doing it on purpose, but it’s more of a tease than half the strip clubs John has had to visit.

“I don’t get how you do this. I wanted to talk to you and then you just—” Chris says, short of breath. He blinks slowly. “Lunch. Right. Sure.”

John goes down in a squat, slow, with his hands out in the open. He watches Chris’ eyes clear as they track him. “Chris. Do you want lunch?”

Chris presses his lips together. He looks angry, which John doesn’t like but can somewhat understand, and then, strangely, a little sad. Then he shakes his head. He pushes himself off the cabinet, pauses, and then leans in and presses his lips to John’s. Pauses again, and then comes in for an actual kiss. John wraps his hand around the back of Chris’ head when he feels a warm flick of tongue, but drops it when Chris starts to move.

He doesn’t go that far, just enough to rest his forehead against John’s cheek. “Yeah,” he says quietly. “Yeah, I would.”

There’s something going on and John puts a pin in it. But that’s a hint and he’ll take it and see how far it gets him for now. He gets back up, then offers Chris a hand, and it’s all Chris swinging in close to take it.

* * *

“So, Dad,” Stiles says over breakfast. “You and Chris Argent. I don’t need the gory details, I just need to know when a shut door means privacy and when it means you’re being held hostage by a mind-controlled lizard.”

They haven’t had this conversation about Melissa, and John suspects they aren’t going to. John also suspects that Melissa has enlisted Stiles to get Scott to stop looking jumpy around them, which is why he loves both of them. Lastly, he’s pretty sure that Melissa has deliberately not looped Stiles in on the more peculiar facts of the Argents, which he has very mixed feelings about. Especially when it’s keeping him from enjoying the rare occasion that he gets pancakes. Lowfat buckwheat with no butter, but still. Pancakes.

“Sure, that seems fair,” John says, cutting off another piece. “Like I need to know when a broken door means a home invasion, or when it just means that Derek lost his key again.”

Upstairs there’s a loud thump, and then some scuffling. Stiles goes pink but determinedly drowns his pancakes in maple syrup. “It wasn’t just that, Dad. I told you. Besides, you’re the one who threatened to nail shut all the windows.”

“Because Peter left a bag of guts on my dresser,” John says. He raises his fork. “Yeah, he put it in an evidence bag and filled out the tag better than you do, but still. That goes to the office. Or at least the basement fridge.”

There isn’t any scuffling this time, because Peter at least acts his age, but John gets the prickling feeling that he’s got eyes on him. Also, Stiles is not-very-covertly gesturing irritably at something in the hall. “God, Dad, I’m just saying, I don’t want to interrupt whatever you two are doing,” Stiles mutters, stuffing his face with pancakes. “I want to respect your personal life. You know, your boundaries as a guy with needs and wishes and wants, and not just my dad.”

“So put a sign on the door,” John says. He eats a couple mouthfuls while he thinks that one through. “No, don’t put a sign on the door, I don’t need a repeat of you and the janitor’s closet in Milwaukee.”

Somebody trips down the stairs, while Stiles blushes again and looks wildly at the hall. “Dad. Jesus, did the NSA call or something? Why are you trying to make my life so much more complicated than it has to be when nothing happened in Milwaukee, it was all a terrible misunderstanding, nobody appreciates double entendres anymore.”

John sighs and turns around. Nobody’s in the hall. He turns back and lifts his hand and points to his gun holster on the kitchen island. Then he looks at Stiles, who’s recovered enough to look mildly offended. “Just be thankful I skipped the traditional shovel talk from your mother’s family,” John says. He watches his son snort and roll his eyes, looking just like Claudia, and then caves. “Anyway, Stiles, you’re acting like he’s moving in next week. We just started seeing each other.”

“Yeah, well. You’re my dad.” Stiles stares over John’s shoulder again. “I just want to be prepared, is all.”

John frowns. He has thought about the Argent-Hale past history, but after seeing Talia and Chris interact, he’d figured that was firmly in the past. Talia can do a mean California granola girl impression, but he can see the no-nonsense leader behind it and if something was going to happen there, it would have been years ago.

“No, not that,” Stiles mutters, catching on. He sounds like maybe he’s speaking on gut and not on real knowledge, but he looks at John pointedly enough to get across that he wants to deal with it himself.

It’s his pack, John thinks, and God, that still sounds odd. Not that he doesn’t support Stiles, or believe his son can pull it off, because he does both. But it’s just…his son, the alpha. He’s going to need some time.

Anyway, just wanted to clear the air, see where we were, and the air is crystal clean and beautiful, and you and Chris are slowboating it, got it,” Stiles says. He inhales the rest of his breakfast and then gets up. “Good talk, Dad. Let’s not do this again.”

“Yeah,” John says. He eats more slowly, then shakes his head. “Yeah.”

* * *

As far as John knows, he wasn’t lying to Stiles. Sure, he and Chris aren’t exactly waiting till marriage, but they’re consenting adults, and Chris is a seasoned hunter who had a pretty impressive list of take-downs before his family had blown up his reputation. He could speak up, but he seems fine with coming over for office sex and then lunch.

You’re fine with that.” John gropes for his shirt, then lets his arm flop and just stares at the ceiling. “Aren’t you?”

Melissa shifts her head on his chest, then groans and rolls over. “John, you have to get a rug in here. I’m not twenty anymore,” she mutters. She runs her hand through her hair, then sits up. A long, twisty lock is stuck to her back with sweat and it curves right along one beautiful muscle. “Also, it’s two in the morning, and we’re going out for diner pie as soon as I find my bra.”

“Sorry, I was holding out for the moving truck. They finally are getting the damn thing over tomorrow.” John pushes himself over on his arm and lays his head over that piece of hair. He kisses it and Melissa smiles down at him, then thwaps his shoulder. “Ow! Okay, okay—is that it by the chair?”

It is, and Melissa crawls over to grab it while John tries not to be distracted by her ass. He digs up his shirt and then his underwear and one sock. He’s looking for the other sock when his phone goes off; after grabbing it from his desk, he props himself against the desk leg and checks the message.

“Well, I’m not Chris, or you, and obviously something’s bothering one of you. Maybe it’s time to try something different, see if that changes anything.” Melissa adjusts one bra cup, then starts to finger-comb her hair into a ponytail. “You know, he’s started coming by with coffee at the end of my shift. The other nurses think we have something going on.”

It’s a text from Derek, saying that he and his sister ran across some tire tracks in the preserve where there shouldn’t be any. John replies that he’ll send a ranger out and please wait for the ranger. Because honestly, convenient as it is to have werewolves at your back, John doesn’t want to file paperwork for another unauthorized kill this week. “Do you?”

Melissa’s fingers slow in her hair. Then she shrugs and twists her hairband over the tail, pulling it up into a loose bun. “Well, I think that threesome fantasy of mine would like to get fulfilled at some point, but I’m not in a hurry, and I wasn’t getting that feeling off him either. He mostly wanted to know whether Scott was still getting harassed by the lacrosse association—oh, maybe I didn’t tell you. Some stuck-up hunter’s on the board and has a son in Springfield High, and got sore when Scott embarrassed his kid in a game earlier this year. It blew over, no big deal. But it’s funny that he’s asking about it now.”

John calls the ranger on duty and relays the coordinates, then shuts off his phone. He catches the pants Melissa tosses at him. “He didn’t get involved before, I take it?”

“He doesn’t get involved with other hunters, hasn’t since his wife died.” Melissa pulls her shirt over her head, then toes her bottom scrubs over. Then she looks up. “What?”

“He keeps bringing me stuff. Files, bestiary excerpts,” John says. “Supposedly it’s from his father’s things, but some of it’s too recent. I was thinking he was pulling from his contacts and didn’t want to say it outright because of his license application.”

Melissa slides into her scrubs and then stands up. “It could still be that. You went through a lot of trouble to keep it going, after all.” She puts in one of her earrings. “Why don’t you get him to come meet us at the diner? If he’s heard something and is trying to let us know, we can quiz him there.”

“At two in the morning?” John says.

“Scott’s staying over at your place, working on his history homework with Stiles,” Melissa says pointedly.

Scott is not at John’s house, and even if he is, he’s not doing history with Stiles, because Stiles is locked in his bedroom with Peter. “Mel, no offense, but the kid really needs to learn how to lie,” John sighs. “Still, you think Chris will be up?”

“Just text him. Can’t hurt,” Melissa says.

John sighs again, but he sends the text. He hasn’t even looked up when there’s a reply.

Melissa isn’t looking smug or even looking at him. But John rolls his eyes and she flaps her hand at him, and he just gives up and puts his pants on.

* * *

Chris is already at the diner when they get there, sitting in one of the back booths with a black duffel on the bench beside him. He’s got his own coat on. He starts to get up, then sits back down in a hurry when John grabs the duffel and stuffs it under the table.

“Please tell me that if one of the night-shift deputies swings by here, there’s nothing in that that I have to pull rank about,” John mutters, and then signals for the waitress. She hollers whether they want the usual and he says yes without thinking. Then he looks at Chris. “Did you order already?”

“No,” Chris says slowly. He looks between John and Melissa. “So this isn’t an emergency?”

“Oh, hell,” Melissa says. Then she dives across the table and digs out John’s phone like it’s not in his back pocket. “What did you say, John? Honestly.”

“I—hey.” John makes a half-hearted grab for the phone, then slouches back. “Well, do you want something?” he asks Chris.

“You texted me at two in the morning,” Chris says. He purses his lips, then lets out a resigned sigh and calls to the waitress that he’ll take a coffee and a bagel. She yells back that they don’t have bagels at this hour and he frowns, glances at the specials board and then opts for the cherry pie. “Is this a…a munchie run?”

Melissa looks up from John’s phone, then giggles like somebody twenty years younger at Chris’ face. She hands back the phone and then reaches over to pat Chris’ hand. “Sorry. John does this a lot, you’ll get used to it.”

“If I’m calling because I need back-up, I’ll tell you what to bring,” John says dryly. Then he shoves his phone back in his pocket to cover for Melissa kicking his shin. “Anyway, yeah, sorry if you got the wrong impression. We were up late going through coroner reports and were getting something to eat, and just figured we’d see if you were busy.”

Chris still looks kind of sour, but it’s softer, less like he feels tricked and more like he thinks they’re idiots. He settles back in the corner, then shrugs and starts pushing his coat down his arms. “I was already up. Don’t know that I’d say I was busy,” he says, glancing at Melissa.

She nods. “They are such bad liars, I don’t know whether to be grateful or be afraid for them.”

The waitress comes over and bangs down three coffees, along with the creamer and sugar. She tells them she’ll bring out Chris and Melissa’s slices once John’s scrambled eggs are done and then hikes back to her little TV set below the counter. Chris offers Melissa the sugar bowl and she grabs a couple packets, then takes up the creamer.

“I wish I knew how you deal with Stiles being out late,” she says. “Scott’s a good boy, I should trust him, but I still can’t sleep well when I don’t know where he is.”

“Well, it’s not that much better when they’re great liars,” John mutters. He takes a cautious sip from his cup, then reaches to take the creamer from Melissa. This one’s going to need a lot of that, and a fistful of sugar, too. “I don’t know, it’s a little apples to oranges. When he was little I knew the tree would watch over him, and when he got older, well, we didn’t really have a choice.”

Chris straightens up. He’s put in his two sugars but isn’t making a move towards his cup otherwise. “Why not?” he asks. “No offense intended. I just don’t know anything about it.”

“You didn’t look through your father’s papers?” John says. It’s not a jibe, but Chris flinches like it was one, and John feels both annoyed and guilty about it. “He’s a tree guardian—it’s just like his eye color or his height. It’s what he is. He was going to need another tree, and you…have to show you can guard it. Provide for it, that sort of thing, if you’re going to have a chance to bond with it. Much as I would’ve been happy to do that for him, I couldn’t.”

“Oh.” Chris drums his fingers along the table edge, then hastily pulls his hand down when John glances towards it. He shifts again, his eyes flicking towards the door. “All right.”

“I have to say, sometimes I’m glad Scott isn’t a typical werewolf,” Melissa says, smiling pleasantly. She’s using her soothe-the-patient voice. “I thought I’d seen plenty in the ER, but it’s one thing to have to clean up a bloody stretcher and it’s another to come home and find bloody deer bits under the porch. At least he waited till after we joined the Service for that.”

The waitress comes over with the pie slices and the scrambled eggs. Chris stares at his like he doesn’t remember ordering it. Then he lets out a small, but distinctly resigned, grunt, and pulls the plate over. He starts when John just hands him his silverware, then hunches up in the corner.

“When Allison was eight, we moved out of my father’s house and came down here,” Chris says, so quietly that John thinks he’s talking to himself at first. “He was…he was already going off his rocker. I didn’t want her exposed to that. I took everything I had from him and locked it away—I thought about sending it back, but I didn’t know what he or Kate might do with it. And I didn’t want to use it, because I didn’t know if he’d changed any of it, twisted it around to his thinking. If I needed information, I pulled it from other hunters or from the licensing agencies.”

“Is that in the file you gave me?” John says.

Chris winces. He starts cutting off pieces of his pie with his fork without eating them. “No, that’s a different—sorry. I should’ve mentioned that when I gave you that one.”

“You did say it was your father’s file,” John says. Then he shoots a look at Melissa, because his shin is black and blue now, and he’s not saying anything that’s not true. “It’s fine. We’ll cross-reference it against whatever we already have anyway.”

“I wish I could give you something else, but Deaton worked with the old guardian here, so I never had a reason to go up against the Nemeton.” Then Chris looks up sharply, like he’s expecting John to rail at him. “Wasn’t looking for one either, so we’re clear.”

“Well, what are you looking for?” John says. When Chris goes still, John can’t quite stifle an irritated sigh. “You’re jumpy as hell, Argent, and you keep acting like you want to say something but somebody else has your tongue. What’s the problem?”

Chris stares at him. The fork swings limply from Chris’ fingers, then clatters onto the plate, and Chris just keeps staring.

“You’re being an asshole, John,” Melissa says. She gets up and comes around and hauls John out of the booth. When the waitress looks over, she smiles and waves her off. Then she looks at Chris over John’s shoulder. “Stay there, watch my pie.”

She hustles John into the little side hallway that goes behind the counter to the restrooms. They can still see Chris from there, and Chris looks pissed and unhappy but he’s not moving. He’s also avoiding eye contact with them, and if John didn’t know any better, he’d say the man was trying to make himself as unnoticeable as possible.

“What the hell are you doing?” Melissa hisses.

“I don’t know,” John hisses back. “I don’t. He’s acting like he thinks I’m going to shoot him.”

Melissa looks over her shoulder, then back at him. She looks like she might be coming up with something. “Does he do this when you two have lunch?”

“I…sometimes. Not this bad,” John mutters. “We aren’t usually talking about his family. And also, he generally doesn’t act like I might give him something if he touches me.”

She looks at Chris again, a little longer. “John, if he was a werewolf, where do you think he’d go in the pack hierarchy?”

“You’re asking me?” John says. “Mel, I’ve worked with a lot of them, but y—”

“Say you’re alpha and I’m alpha mate,” Melissa says slowly.

John had already started to see where she was going with it. And yeah, it fits, he’s not going to ignore what’s in front of him. But—“I’m not an alpha werewolf, and he’s from generations of hunters. Don’t you think they’d go the opposite direction?”

“Well, I don’t know, I never looked into it,” Melissa says, as if she isn’t also jabbing him in the ribs. Then she goes back to the booth, and this time, she slides in on Chris’ side.

He looks a little surprised but she says something and he answers her, and by the time John gets back to the booth, Chris is actually eating his pie. Chris looks up and watches John sit down, still talking to Melissa—something about PTA volunteering, God spare John—and then he pushes back the half-eaten slice.

“I’m sorry if you got the wrong idea,” Chris says, more quietly than he’d been with Melissa. “Haven’t noticed anything. Actually, it seems a lot calmer.”

Except for those tire tracks in the preserve, but John’s phone hasn’t gone off so he assumes it’s not so bad that the tree is alerting Stiles. “Yeah, well, good to hear,” John says. “I could use a breather. Actually move into my damn house.”

“Furniture’s finally showing up,” Melissa says around a mouthful of pie.

Chris grins. It’s still a little hesitant, but he relaxes into it when John rolls his eyes. “Glad to hear that. If you need any help with the boxes—”

“Oh, thanks, but they give us movers.” John raises his foot and catches Melissa’s, because however disappointed Chris looks, there’s a damn good reason why the Service gives them movers. Chris may know his stuff but John and his son have picked up some very unusual items over the course of the years; John doesn’t like even Stiles handling some of them, and Stiles is one of a handful in the country who are qualified to do it.

“Well, we should finally have that welcome dinner once you’re unpacked,” Melissa goes on. She puts her foot down and leans back, folding her hands over her belly. “I went through all the trouble of making reservations at Antonio’s, and then you ditched me.”

“I had an emergency,” John says, exasperated. It’s not like he asked for the NSA to dump that disposal job on him his first night in town. “Also, don’t Stiles and Scott have that bowling thing tomorrow?”

Chris snorts. “I don’t understand what that’s about. Allison’s been complaining all week, but she keeps telling me she has to go.”

“Some high school drama thing, I’m pretty sure we don’t want to know.” Melissa looks between the two of them. “Anyway, do we have to bring the kids?”

John grins, and she grins back. Then they both grin at Chris, who shifts like he’s not sure whether he should go back to fidgeting with his food. “I guess I’m free,” he finally says.

“You don’t have to come if you don’t want to. It’s just dinner, nobody’s holding a gun to your head,” John says, and yeah, maybe he’s still a little sore from earlier. He gets what Melissa is seeing, and maybe he doesn’t understand where it’s coming from but if it’s anything like werewolves, they can override their instincts when they feel like it.

Chris twitches like he’s overriding a grimace. Then he straightens up. He’s looking John in the eye but there’s still something off about it, like he’s got something pushing him into this as well as wanting it. “No, I’ll come,” he says. “Thank you.”

“Great. I’ll call Antonio’s in the morning, see if we can get in. If not, Circe sound all right?” Melissa says. She’s getting up. “Hitting the ladies’ room, be right back.”

Since John hasn’t had the time to try either place, John has no opinion. Chris moves his shoulder in what might be an okay, but by then Melissa’s out of the booth. For a second Chris looks like he’s going to make an excuse to get out too. Then he bites it down and looks back at John.

“There’s really nothing going on,” Chris says. “I don’t—I didn’t mean to give you that impression. I’m just sitting at home a lot these days, and I thought if you needed help…”

“I appreciate that, but like you said, seems quieter.” John remembers his coffee and reaches over to grab it from near Chris’ elbow. Then he pauses. Slowly picks up the cup and sits back. “Chris, I’m not such an asshole that I’d want you to feel like you had to do something for me. I don’t know why the hell you’re so nervous around me tonight but I don’t get off on it.”

Chris blinks hard. He’s pissed off again, but not at John. And then he gets up and walks around to John’s side of the booth, and stops there. “Come out here for a second,” he says. It’s a damn sight more confident than he’s been since they got here. “John. Just come here.”

The coffee is terrible, and anyway, this Chris is a lot more like the one who’d sassed John while handcuffed and kneeling in a car trunk. John slides over and gets out of the booth.

As soon as he’s standing, Chris presses forward. John feels his balance go as his ass swings back over the bench seat and he swivels them without thinking, so Chris is stuck between the side of the booth and him. Chris seems to be expecting that, and has his knees spread so John slots right between them, so they’re flat against each other, from hip to shoulder. John still has his arms by the elbows and if Chris gets any closer they’re going to be breathing out of each other’s mouths.

“Is the waitress still there?” John says after a second.

Chris nods. He puts his hands on John’s triceps, then slides them up just short of John’s shoulders. His breath smells like cherries.

“Do you want me to fuck you in front of her?” John says.

He’s half-kidding. Half, because Chris is starting to hitch his hips just a little, just up into John, and from the way Chris’ eyes are hazing over, it might not be entirely conscious. “Jesus, maybe,” Chris mutters. He sucks in a breath. “Damn it, John, I’m jumpy as hell because I don’t know how to—I don’t know how to stop around you. If you think it’s because I don’t want you, you’re an idiot.”

John bites the inside of his mouth. He’d meant when he’d told Stiles they were still getting to know each other. He’s not that kind of person, even if—yeah, Chris has a point, even if they both have a problem acting like it.

He lets go of Chris’ arms. Chris makes a small, wistful noise, almost a whine, so small John can believe he’s just hearing things. He can’t quite step back yet, but he lifts his hand and just touches the side of Chris’ jaw.

“Have dinner with us,” John says. “Just—dinner.”

Chris makes another noise, one loud enough that John is sure it’s real. It’s a little harsh and a little like laughter, except with a nasty hook. He turns his head into John’s fingers, just for a second, and then jerks his head down and runs his hand through his hair. “Yeah, okay,” he says. He sounds thick, and John catches him swallowing as he looks up again. “I’ll come. I want to come.”

“Okay,” John says. He can see Melissa in the corner of his eye. “Okay, then. We’ll see you tomorrow.”

* * *

It’s nearly four by the time John gets home, though he’s thankfully got the day off tomorrow for the furniture, and the movers aren’t showing up till the early afternoon. He fires off a couple emails before he crashes, and then, when he wakes up, gets down to the real business of researching hunter courtship, if such a thing exists.

He spends an hour or so setting up inquiries and making phone calls so the results will not go to Stiles. They’ll talk about it eventually, if there is something to it, but John would like to get a chance to sit with it before his son dives in head-first.

Anyway, he gets a couple more hours of sleep. Then Derek’s car pulls into the driveway and unloads him and Stiles. Peter shows up a few minutes later, with his sister, because it was Talia’s realtor that found this second, bigger house and arranged for the snappy mortgage approval, and Talia seems to think this gives her the right to evil-eye the movers for scratching anything. John resigns himself to fending off her inquiries about government internships for Cora and waits for the movers to show up.

They actually do, and he has to admit he’s surprised. Then he shakes it off, and between the pain in the ass that’s remembering what goes where, and who’s allowed to open what box, and werewolves nosing around where they technically shouldn’t—or making his son drool by lifting heavy things—he’s kept pretty busy. He’s lucky Melissa remembers to give him a warning call, or he’d never have gotten showered and changed in time to make the reservation.

It’s a pretty nice restaurant. Nice enough that he’s glad he bothered to shave and change out of his work shoes, but he didn’t think it rated the silk shirt and dress slacks that Chris shows up in. Not that John is complaining, by any means. Chris looks a little edgy but he matches Melissa, who’s actually gone and worn a dress and heels, a lot better than John does.

They get a table in the back, near the exit, with clear sightlines to everything except for the party room, because Melissa is one of the best John has ever met. It’s great, except they go through most of the dining room to get there, and John starts to understand Chris being edgy when table after table looks after them. After Chris, specifically, even though John’s the new one in town.

“I don’t go out much,” Chris mutters, once they’re seated. He takes the wine list from Melissa a little quickly and looks sour at himself. Then he shrugs and a very resigned, very thin smile comes onto his face. “Richard Hale was very well liked in town.”

“I think most people know which side you came down on,” Melissa says carefully.

Chris shrugs again. “They do, but that doesn’t mean they like me. I know Victoria and I didn’t take it well at the time, but you know, I’m pretty glad your son fell for Allison. I think that’s helped her a lot at school. It’s harder for children—I’m old enough, I can stare back at them if I feel like it.”

“So, they finally scheduled your interview,” John says. He glances over the menu and then stops when he sees steak. The best part of Melissa’s idea is that Stiles isn’t here to police his diet; he has to admit he should’ve thought of that earlier. “I don’t know if they sent you the email—”

“Yeah, I got it.” Chris looks up from the wine list, then sighs and slumps in his seat. “I’m sorry. I’m bad at this.”

Melissa makes a noncommittal noise and leans so she can look at the list over Chris’ shoulder. “Well, I should’ve thought. We could’ve gone to somewhere less…pushy.”

“I’m pretty sure you said something to me about being tired of high heels,” John says.

She mock-glowers at him. “I might have, but they’ve got a dress code and I’ve been dying to eat here for ages. My friends keep raving about the rabbit ravioli.”

“It’s good.” Chris scratches at his neck. His shirt pulls tight over his chest for a second, and it’s a lot thinner than his usual shirts and John just glimpses the outline of a nipple under the suit-coat. “I mean, that was years and years ago, the last time Victoria and I were here, but I liked it.”

“Well, I’m getting it, and I guess you’re getting the steak—” Melissa nods knowingly at John “—so we should stick to reds. Maybe a Pinot Noir?”

John shrugs. “You’d know. I never got posted to a vineyard.”

Chris seems to know something about wine, so he and Melissa discuss for a couple seconds. It distracts him enough that he rattles off his dinner choices to the waiter without appearing to notice the old woman gaping at him from two tables over. John stares at her for a good two minutes, but she just keeps going. So he gives up and digs into the bread basket.

“How was the move?” Chris wants to know.

“I don’t understand why Derek keeps taking off his shirt,” John says without thinking. He looks up at Melissa’s snort, then stabs his butter knife into his roll and wedges in some butter. The rolls are good, but the butter is ice-cold and if this place wasn’t so fancy, he’d hold the butter plate over the mood candles in the middle of the table. “It’s not like Stiles needs any encouragement to drag him into the nearest room with a door. Actually, I’m lucky if he remembers to look for a door.”

Melissa thanks the waiter bringing over the wine, then pours for everyone. She leans her head on her hand and sips from her glass, then nods approvingly. “You can’t just live in your office, John. Make him put a sock on the knob, or something like that.”

“Is that why you’re always there?” Chris says. He sounds amused, but also like he’s not quite sure he should be.

“No.” John glares at Melissa. “Well, eighty percent of the time, no. There’s a lot of groundwork for setting up a new Nemeton, and they couldn’t send me a single ranger with prior experience with one. No, training program, let’s give the newbies some hands-on work.”

“But twenty percent of the time,” Melissa says. “Honestly. I had to fight with Scott for two weeks, but he eventually learned.”

She looks at Chris, who hesitates, then shakes his head ruefully. “I just go out. Allison…still tends to think I’m trying to break them up, if I say something about him.”

Melissa blinks rapidly. Then she looks at John while swigging her wine, as if he hadn’t just tried to change the subject and she’d been the one to balk.

“You should just come over to the office,” John says. He senses a foot aimed at his shin and hastily tucks his leg under his chair. “Maybe someone else explaining why you don’t put fertilizer over a wellhead will get through to them.”

Chris looks up. He seems—well, they’re all glad to get away from the topic of Scott and Allison, but Chris looks almost too glad. It’s like he’s a starving dog and John’s just dropped a fat pig’s leg in front of him.

John grimaces, though he doesn’t think either of the other two have noticed; the waiter has thankfully rushed out their appetizers. That werewolf idea of Melissa’s is still stuck in his brain.

He’s looking into it. But right now, he’s at dinner, and he’s tried very hard, for Stiles’ sake if not his own, to be at least decently socialized. He shoves that off and just works on thinking of something neutral to talk about.

Melissa starts talking about this moronic hiker they’d had to airlift out after the idiot had munched on some mushrooms growing in a fairy circle, so John mentions the fairy rave he’d once ended up attending in Miami. Chris gets interested since he’d handled some fairies going over the top with illusions in a haunted house they’d been running, and apparently he doesn’t have problems talking about hunting so long as they stay away from his family.

That gets them going well into their entrées, at which point John thinks the wine might be kicking in. He’s still on the same glass—he just doesn’t get wine; a good whiskey, absolutely, but most wines taste like slightly sweet vinegar to him—but Melissa’s been enjoying it and Chris looks looser around the shoulders and eyes. And he’s enjoying looking at them, watching the way Melissa absently pats Chris on the arm and the way Chris smiles back at her.

Which, of course, is when Stiles calls.

Nothing against his son, Stiles did the right thing and then stayed put for once, and John’s ready to kiss the kid just for that. But it would figure. Right when he thinks it’s slowing down, and he can catch his breath, maybe sort out a couple things outside of work, and the world lands him with an out-of-place splintercat body.

Melissa isn’t exactly drunk, but the splintercat is already dead and the local deputies are radioing to have the ambulance turned around, no major injuries, so she readily agrees to get a taxi home. Chris had come in his own car, but he takes a couple steps towards John’s SUV, then pauses, and John figures the man will just follow him anyway so he tells Chris to get in.

It’s just a couple minutes to the bowling alley, and when John walks in, Stiles is on third base and heading home with Derek right next to the corpse. Sometimes John just. He can’t.

Chris vanishes somewhere around John throwing Stiles and Derek out into the parking lot so they can get the body bag in, then reappears when John is back at the office, arguing with his Oregon counterparts about migratory patterns. He’s got coffee with him from the café he recommended to John, which has since become John’s favorite, when he can get down there before it closes, and he closes the door just as John is jamming the phone back onto its hook.

“You all right?” he says.

John glares at the phone. “If an endangered animal shows up outside of its expected range, how is that my fault?”

Sensibly, Chris doesn’t answer. He just comes over and hands John one of the coffees, and then leans against the desk to look at the map spread over it. “Is anybody looking into whether somebody brought it here?”

“Splintercats don’t have any market value that I know of,” John says. Yeah, he’s considered it, but Oregon isn’t that far. It is bothering him that the Nemeton didn’t pick it up. “They’re endangered because loggers keep shooting them, not because anyone wants a piece of them. I thought maybe a school prank, but that does seem extreme.”

“Beacon Hills doesn’t have any major rivalries with Oregon schools,” Chris says.

John pokes the map. “Yeah, that’s what Stiles said.”

“I could…ask around,” Chris says slowly. “See if it’s a hunter. The new ones can be pretty stupid sometimes, come up with dumb initiation ideas.”

That still seems a little improbable to John—the hunter would’ve wanted to show up and kill the splintercat and be a big damn hero, in his opinion. But it’s as good as any other thought he’s had, and they might as well rule it out. “Thanks, that’d be great. Just…if it is, you’ll come back and tell me, all right? Don’t just take care of it yourself and get me another mess on my plate.”

Chris looks at him, then suddenly grins like he’s slotted in the last piece of a thousand-piece puzzle. “I knew not everyone was coming back out of the woods.”

“I didn’t just start you and Talia on some new fight, did I?” John says.

The grin wipes right off Chris’ face.

“Shit,” John says. “Forget I said that.”

“No, I get it,” Chris says. He’s looking at the far wall, and he sounds like he’s talking from about a mile off. “They’re family for you now, I get it. Look, John, my father and my sister were wrong, dead wrong, and they didn’t just kill Talia’s husband. They got my wife killed, they almost got Allison killed, and they’ve completely murdered our good name. And we had a good name, you know. We were a great family in hunting circles.”

John gets up. Chris tenses but doesn’t look over or move, except to set his coffee down on the desk.

“Honestly, some days I wish I’d killed them myself.” Chris closes his eyes. “And some days I think about walking up to Talia and telling her that I lost at least three to her one.”

“She’s a good alpha, from what I’ve seen, but I also get the impression she’s never not had a leadership position,” John says. He watches Chris open his eyes and then reaches out and turns Chris’ head to face him. The jaw in his hand is trembling and he can’t help rubbing his thumb along it. “You don’t have to like her, just because Stiles is alpha to Derek and Peter now. Things are complicated—Stiles and I, it’s not like we haven’t seen that before. My wife’s family—anyway. You can feel whatever you feel, so long as you’re not killing each other.”

Chris goes so tight that John thinks he’s going to snap. And then he does, but it’s not the punch John was bracing for; Chris sucks in air between his teeth, then twists around and buries his head in John’s shoulder. His hands come around and up to cling at John’s back. He makes a denying, disbelieving sound, like he’s going to pull back and pretend this never happened, and then he sinks so hard against John that John grabs at him, thinking he’s falling over.

He doesn’t, but he does make a noise that’s wracking and rough and dangerously close to a sob. John’s shoulder feels dry, but John automatically glances around for some tissues anyway. Then he bites down a hiss of pain, because Chris is really digging into his back.

Comforting is not exactly John’s specialty, compared to say, Melissa. But he can hold up somebody till they feel like standing on their own again, and he can do it for a damn sight longer than Chris seems to need. It’s not a breakdown, John thinks. More like a release.

“Shit,” Chris mumbles. He shifts his head but doesn’t lift it. “Shit. Sorry.”

“Hang on a second,” John says. He can feel the sway in Chris’ body, and when the other man tries to back off, he resorts to grabbing the back of Chris’ neck. “Just…okay. Okay, you’re good. Well.”

Chris is dry-eyed but looks like he’s just been run through a gauntlet of needles; he’s pale, bled-out. He rubs at the side of his face and that gets a little color back into it, but it’s slow to come.

“I am most of the time.” He shrugs. “Talia’s annoying. She always was—she likes knowing how far she can push before you’ll stop her. Same as Peter, just not as obvious. I guess I’m a hard one for her to figure out, plus maybe she wants to know whether I’ll break the way my sister did, but I just—what, I’m supposed to show her my flanks? I’m sorry about what happened, always will be, but you earn that from me.”

“That…makes sense,” John says. “And I was thinking she just likes seeing me twitch.”

Chris looks at him a little oddly. It’s like he can’t believe John, but all mixed up in something pained and wistful. “She likes you.”

“She’s got a weird way of showing it.” John moves his arm, because it’s starting to hurt, and that’s when he notices his hand is still wrapped around the back of Chris’ neck.

He moves it because he’s going to take it off, but Chris moves with it, stepping up and close, and then Chris kisses him before he can adjust. It’s aggressive, a lot more than he’s had from Chris before, and suddenly he’s got Chris bent back over the desk, with needy hands gripping his shirt and a leg trying to curl up around John’s hips. John—fuck, John likes that, likes the way Chris moans under him, likes the melting cling of the man’s body, but yeah. Cling. The word pops into his head and he’d just thought that about Chris a couple minutes ago, except different reading and that reading is still hanging over them.

John has to fight some to get Chris back close to vertical. He pulls Chris’ hand away from his belt, levers the man up till Chris’ ass is sitting on the desk. Chris keeps trying to suck his brains out through his mouth and shit, is Chris good at it. But John is not that brand of asshole.

“Argent,” John says, prying his mouth away. He runs his hand up and down Chris’ neck, trying to ground himself, and realizes his mistake when Chris rolls his head back into it. “Damn it, Ar—Chris. Chris.”

“What,” Chris says, and he’s as nervous as he’s annoyed. He comes off the desk and tries to grind his groin into John’s thigh, and fuck fuck fuck he’s at least half-hard. “John, please, please.”

“I—shit. Wait.” John digs his nails into Chris’ nape, almost not thinking, and Chris stills. It’s just for a beat but it lets John get his arm between them and crowbar them apart. “Wait. Look, you’re worked up.”

Chris looks at him like he’s an idiot. “Because I want you to fuck me,” he says.

“Yeah, sure, and then I’ll be the asshole who fucked you because you wanted to fuck out of your mind, and that’s a healthy relationship, all right,” John says. He tries to will some reason into Chris’ eyes. “Just…go home. Call your contacts. Come at lunchtime tomorrow, and if you still want to talk me into fucking you over my desk, I’m willing to hear you out. But you need to go home now. Talk to Allison.”

“Allison,” Chris repeats. He shakes his head slowly, then closes and opens his eyes. Then he puts his hand up and squeezes the bridge of his nose. “She said she was fine.”

“Well, then talk to Melissa, she’ll probably still be up, she’s used to late shifts. Or I don’t know, call me and I’ll put you on speaker. Just go home, Chris,” John says, trying not to keep the frustration out of his voice. “Go home.”

Chris looks at John and he’s hearing what John is saying. He’s hearing it and it’s getting through to him. His lips thin and his hand jerks up, like for a punch. Then he sucks in a breath and presses in for a bruising kiss.

“Goddamn it,” he says, pulling back. “Goddamn it, why do you have to be so—fine. See you tomorrow.”

He turns on his heel and walks out, and after a second John sits down and puts his head on the damn desk. The phone rings and he lets it go almost to voicemail before he sighs and picks up the receiver.

* * *

Chris doesn’t come by the next day, but he texts that Allison wanted to spend some time with him. Something about never seeing a splintercat before and wanting to know how to take it down.

“It’s a good sign,” Melissa says when she comes over for lunch. “One, he texted you before school started, so I’m guessing they talked over breakfast and he let you know right away. Two, I only get bits and pieces but I don’t think she and Chris have had the easiest time talking to each other.”

“Well, yeah, I got that too,” John says. His computer chimes for an incoming email. “Forget your pack idea, he’s starting to remind me of those guys who spend too long embedded with criminal organizations. Like it hurts to trust somebody.”

Melissa considers it, then shakes her head. “No, he trusted you straight off. Never even tried to take you down, from what you’ve told me. And for that matter, you never really tried to take him out either.”

“Didn’t get that vibe from him, and like usual there were a zillion other people I needed to take out first,” John says, shrugging. He opens up the new email and then frowns. “What the hell. Did he go through the whole licensing directory?”

“Huh?” Melissa puts down her sandwich.

“He said maybe it was a dumb newbie hunter initiation ritual, offered to ask around. I said fine, and now he’s sending me a spreadsheet breaking down the answers he got by region.” John scrolls a bit, then pushes his mouse away. “Mel, that’s over a hundred phone calls. Even if you assume some of them were reaching out for him, and then reported back…”

She gets up and comes around to look. “We should try dinner again,” she finally says.

John blinks. “Huh?”

“Get him to be just a guy for a couple hours. Wow, I had an idea he was lonely but this is bad,” Melissa mutters. “He needs to get out before either the hunter community shoots him or a Park Service recruiter shows up on his doorstep.”

“I…okay.” John reaches out for the mouse again and closes the email. Then he clicks on the new email that’s popped up. “Oh, that’s annoying. What, werewolf courting, they can turn around in forty-eight hours, but hunter courting—yeah, yeah, I thought about it and put out some feelers. Not that it’s turning up anything.”

Melissa tsks but she’s thinking about something else. Then she looks sharply at him. “Well, at the end of the day, it’s just about showing how much the other person means to you, right?”

“Why are you looking at me like that? I sent him home,” John says. “Look, it’s not like I could leave, and he did look fine to drive.”

“John, I love you, but sometimes you just don’t see yourself,” she says, shaking her head. “Anyway, the point is, you don’t act the same around him as you do with me, or Claudia, or pretty much anyone else I’ve ever seen you try to date. I just want to know—”

“I like him.” John pauses. “I don’t know him that well, Mel, all right? Sorry if it’s not that romantic, but I don’t. But I like him a lot, and I’m trying to get to know him. I want to know him. I don’t want to just fuck him. But it’s too early, and I’m not going to say things I’m not sure I can back up. I don’t want to do that to either of us.”

Melissa smiles at him like he’s just handed her the key to the city on a silver platter. “I never said you had to, John. Well, good, make sure you’re free and I’ll text you when I’ve got the restaurant locked down. You call him.”

* * *

John ends up texting Chris, because squonks show up in the middle of recess at a local daycare. Squonks, which live in the Appalachians. They’re relatively harmless, except when they’re creating big slippery puddles amidst a horde of panicking, running children. By the time they get the things contained, John’s seriously considering just going home and crashing.

But he checks his phone and Melissa’s sent him an address and a time, and yeah, okay, he’s more than a little concerned about how he and Chris left things. So he sends a text to Chris, and then adds a second saying not to bring any work gear. Chris answers immediately that he’s free. Doesn’t reply to the second text. John tries not to think about it and just works on not collapsing on his face.

“You look pretty crapped-out, Dad,” Stiles says. “Something come up?”

“Huh?” John stares at his car keys because he can’t remember whether he’s coming or going.

“Dad?” Stiles hops off the porch and skitters down the front steps. He reaches into the car for John’s work bag, then snatches back his arm when John smacks the back of his hand. “Okay, okay, no touchee. But seriously, you look bushed.”

John shakes his head, then pulls out his bag and closes the car door. “Did the Nemeton pick up anything?”

“Nope, nada, just same old, same old. Well, it’s a little hungry, but we got an okay for Peter’s tip, and I figure me and him and Derek will do it Friday-ish,” Stiles says. “But that’s it. Why, did you want to ask it something?”

Yeah, why the hell can’t a magical tree powerful enough to take out the whole town find a bunch of Pennsylvanian wart-birds? But John bites that back, because he can see that Stiles has changed his shirt from this morning. Then the door creaks and he looks up and finds Peter just stepping out onto the porch. Right, the movie marathon Stiles has been going on about.

Squonks aren’t that bad, and it doesn’t matter to the paperwork whether John asks Stiles now or in the morning. “No, just wondering. Good to hear that we’ve got authorization first for once.”

Peter looks entirely angelic as he comes up beside Stiles. “Well, of course we want to follow government guidelines whenever it’s possible,” he says, tucking his arm around Stiles’ waist. “I do hate lying.”

Stiles coughs into his shoulder, which sounds very much like a sarcastic liar. John just sighs. “Just get him home on time, Peter. He’s got a quiz first period tomorrow.”

“Of course, John,” Peter says. His tone’s a good deal less smarmy, and he maintains eye contact for a second, then turns Stiles towards the car.

Stiles pulls Peter’s hand back from a body part John doesn’t want to try to identify, then hollers a ‘bye!’ over his shoulder. John sometimes wonders whether he should worry more about his son; both Peter and Derek are quite a bit older, and while John trusts them to protect Stiles without hesitating, he’s also got no illusions about their attitudes towards things like homicide and evidence tampering.

He doesn’t because he knows his son is a good kid, and at a certain point parents just have to go with that. Still, John waits till Peter’s car has disappeared around the bend before he shuts the front door.

John’s got some time before he has to leave again. He washes his face, checks his hair and under his nails for blood, and then changes into a shirt that doesn’t smell like tears and hemlock pines. Then he sits down at the kitchen table and attempts to do some work. Attempt being the keyword: the splintercat was chipped and tagged, so they now know it was in Oregon up till about two months before it appeared in Beacon Hills, which tells them nothing. Squonks might be terminally shy, but they’re not endangered so nobody’s tracking their populations.

Also, the Forest Service is pinging his inbox. John has a bad feeling before he even opens the email, and once he has, he sits there for a couple seconds before deciding he can pregame a little. He’s taking the whiskey bottle down when there’s that weird tickle of the wards registering somebody. His phone buzzes with the identification: one known, one unknown.

“Hey,” Melissa says when he opens the door. Her eyes drop to the bottle in his hand, because God, his brain isn’t working, and then she makes a face. “Okay, I figured we’d need to come drag you out from how you sounded, but…”

Chris is with her. There’s only his car in the driveway, so he must have picked her up from the hospital. “Are you all right?” he says.

“Yeah, just…shit, hold on.” John stops himself from stepping back and reaches up to rub his fingers over the lintel, where the keystone runes for the entry wards are. Then he holds out his hand. “Here.”

Chris looks surprised. He blinks and purses his lips like he’s going to say something, and then slowly gives John his hand. He inhales a little when John presses their fingers to the runes, then ducks his head and steps through the door.

“That’s the good stuff,” Melissa observes, following him.

“Park Service,” John mutters. They both grimace at each other. “They’re taking an interest. You hear about the squonks?”

“Yeah, from Mary in pediatrics.” Melissa strips off her coat and folds it over her arm. “No injuries, just scared children, but it took up most of the nurses with any free time. Chris offered to give me a ride, save me some time, but you look pretty bushed. You okay? I can cancel the reservation.”

Frankly, John should kick them out and just curl up on the couch. But Melissa’s got a nice top on and her fancier earrings, and Chris is…is just inhaling the hallway with his eyes. He’s in a profession that requires him to be observant, but there’s something hungry and also, honestly, a little desperate about his interest, and it makes John shake his head. “I could use a break,” he says. “Gimme an excuse to not answer the Park guys.”

“You know they’re just going to show up if you do that,” Melissa says, but she’s looking at him like she’s getting all of it. She looks around, then wanders towards the kitchen. “Well, we can just stay in if it’s easier. You’ve already got the whiskey, there any bar snacks to go with? Chris, you should see their back porch, it’s gorgeous.”

The kitchen door swings half-closed behind her, like she just accidentally knocked it and isn’t this moment tidying away John’s papers for him. John jiggles the bottle, grinning after her.

“I’m sorry about the other night,” Chris says quietly. “I laid a couple things on you that aren’t your problem.”

“I guess if it’s not my business, that’s one thing. But if it gets you twisted up like that, I don’t think that’s healthy,” John says. He goes back to the front door and locks it. “You know, if you’re thinking about the license, I’m not taking your statements till after you go up to Sacramento, and those are just to compare with what you tell those people.”

“It’s not the license,” Chris says, almost savagely. He pulls himself back, looking angry and embarrassed, and then looks off to the side. He exhales and touches his temple like he’s got a headache, then starts pulling at his coat. “Jesus, I don’t know how you don’t even—John, I have a terrible family history.”

John starts forward slowly, because Chris is yanking his arms like he’s trying to rip them off and not get them out of his coat. Then Chris yanks so hard that he looks like he’s overbalanced, and John grabs his shoulders and pulls him up straight. Chris backsteps and really, John’s not even trying to get the man against a wall. They just end up there.

“Chris, damn it, just stop. Stop.” Since he’s got Chris up against one, John uses it and flattens Chris till he has to stop fighting. The coat’s still got Chris’ arms trapped behind him, and John bends his knees so Chris’ legs are pinned, too. “Okay, your family. We all know. It’s not like you’re hiding anything.”

“You don’t—they don’t even count us with them anymore,” Chris hisses. He twists uselessly one last time, then slumps back and tips his head up to look at John. “I’m not an Argent as far as they care. I’m just a guy with the same name, and Allison—Allison, if she’d been anything but the great-granddaughter of Dangereuse Argent, they wouldn’t even give her a choice about being a nobody with me or coming back to them.”

“Look, I don’t know how the French side works, but U.S. custody and kidnapping laws don’t make exceptions for hunters,” John says. He searches for something else to say, something that’ll quiet the near-crazed light in Chris’ eyes. Comes up with the goddamn bottle of whiskey, which he drops onto a nearby table with a disgusted sigh. “I don’t know what the hell you’re trying to say, Chris. But I didn’t invite your family in here. I…”

Chris closes his eyes at the word ‘family.’ His head drops so his forehead’s resting against John’s cheek. He’s twisting his arms in his coat; he doesn’t look like he’s going to bolt now, so John raises his hands to help Chris out of his sleeves, only to end up grabbing Chris’ shoulders when Chris suddenly lifts his head.

It’s to kiss him, though at first it’s as violent as any other reaction that John might’ve predicted. John moves his grip to either side of Chris’ head, trying to get him to gentle it, and Chris shudders and makes a rough, dying sound. His mouth goes still, but when John makes to move back, he chases after.

John presses him back against the wall. Runs careful fingers along Chris’ cheeks and jaw, then curls them at the hairline as Chris leans into the touches. He’s the one doing the kissing now and he does it slowly, steadily, trying to show the man he wants the taste of it, the warmth, and not the bite.

“Okay?” someone says softly. Melissa fits up against John’s back and hooks her chin over his shoulder.

Chris draws back and looks at her, then at John. He still looks half-wild, like one of those abandoned pets who’s been feral just long enough to get strong, but not long enough to forget living with people. John slides his thumbs in behind Chris’ ears, rubbing into the soft hollows, and Chris starts and then settles into it.

“I don’t,” Chris starts. He swallows. “Why are you trying so hard? I’m just—I don’t have—”

Melissa makes a coaxing, shushing noise, reaching around to slide her hand behind his neck. She shifts over to stand beside them, then slips behind Chris as John pulls him off the wall.

Chris closes his eyes again. He arches up as John pushes his head up, then sinks back against Melissa. Her hair sweeps over John’s fingers, and then John snorts as Melissa nips one finger. Chris moans over it, hanging between them like his knees are going.

John takes another step back, sucking at Chris’ lower lip. Then another, giving Melissa time to shuffle forward and keep them pressed together. She pushes at Chris’ hips, and when John glances down she’s sliding her fingers into the front pockets of Chris’ jeans, hooking her thumbs over John’s belt. He grins, kissing Chris again, and Chris opens his mouth like John’s feeding him honey.

The phone rings. Multiple phones ring. John’s phone, Melissa’s phone, the house phone. Which is Stiles.

“Oh, fuck,” Melissa mutters, dropping her head on Chris’ shoulder.

* * *

Dwarf shoggoths and Talia Hale in his crime scene and goddamn Park Rangers coming who think it’s a great idea to shoot a propane tank in the middle of a wildfire area. Some days John wants to take his job and cram it into a shitpile.

Stiles comes back into the theater to let him know that on top of everything else, there’s alpha werewolf nonsense to be taken care of. All right, John’s not a werewolf but he’s versed enough in pack management—even before the crash course in courting talks—to understand, and anyway, it matters to Stiles that he’s standing up for Peter. But it’s a school night, Stiles had been looking forward to this marathon for a while, and as much as John doesn’t want to know the details of what his son’s doing with his betas, John is aware that they’ve had an awful lot of interrupted dates lately. Stiles needs off-time, just like anyone else.

“Alpha Hale,” John says, stepping away from the sheriff. Nice man, good with faces, easy to see how he keeps getting re-elected, but he’s a little flaky. “A word?”

“Any time, John,” Talia says with a big, toothy smile.

They walk over to a quieter spot in the parking lot. Peter’s already taken Stiles back to the car, but just as they step behind a bush, John spots Chris looking over. Chris looks different, and it takes a moment to register that at some point Chris has slid on a gun holster, changing the line of his coat.

John presses his lips together. It’d been faster to just take Chris’ car rather than get John’s out of the garage, but he hadn’t asked the man to get involved besides that. But one thing at a time, and alpha werewolf right in front of him is slightly more urgent. “What’s Alpha Blackhorn’s problem?” John says.

Talia blinks once. “You’ve been keeping up,” she says.

“They might not live around federal land, but it’s a Forest Service problem if it starts affecting Stiles, and we’ve got open cases right now,” John says. “I’m happy to stay out, Talia, but I just want you to know.”

“Oh, I’d expect no less. You’re his father, after all,” Talia says. She’s using that fond, almost flattering voice of hers, like she finds John simultaneously impressive and adorable.

John’s too goddamn tired for this. “Can we cut the sparring for now? How bad is it?”

He’s not actually expecting it to work. He’s had run-ins with Talia when he’s been in more of a rush and had less preparation, and she’s never not managed to make him feel like a rookie again. But Talia looks at him for a second, then changes her posture so she’s matching him instead of just skating the edge of provocation.

“It’s not bad, just…interminable,” she says slowly. “It’s a young pack, and it’s too large, with several alphas born in the same generation. They should have split before this, but I believe they’re under the impression that breaking up would lose them ground against the Coeur pack. Which is not an unjustifiable belief.”

“So tonight aside, is Stiles going to have to get more involved?” John says. He’s shocked, but thankfully, he’s been with the Service long enough for certain things to run on autopilot.

Talia shakes her head. “No, Peter and I have it under control. If necessary, I’ll bring in Francis—I only haven’t yet because Peter hasn’t asked, and I don’t want to undermine him. I’m sorry if we worried you.”

“I’m not…worried. Yet. Just looking out for my kid,” John says. He glances back at the rest of the parking lot. He can’t see the sheriff anymore, but it looks like a lot of the cars have emptied out, so maybe they’re wrapping up.

However, he can see Chris, leaning against the SUV and talking to one of John’s rangers. The ambulances are all gone so Melissa must have caught a ride with one of them; John would have thought Chris would drive her over.

“We have no quarrel with him,” Talia says. Her brows rise when John starts, and then she smiles indulgently. “My son seems to think that we need to reassure his alpha we aren’t afraid of Mr. Argent.”

“Really. Stiles usually mentions it to me when he thinks somebody might be dangerous,” John says. “And since he hasn’t tranqed Chris or gotten him arrested for first-degree murder, seems like he’s not that concerned.”

Talia stops smiling. She’s not…upset, exactly, but she studies John for an uncomfortably long time, and for once she’s serious about it. He’s got this creeping feeling that she’s editing some mental file she has on him.

“You know he and his daughter are on their own,” Talia finally says. “We’re very fortunate in resources ourselves, but the Argents’ assets are impressive. He doesn’t have access to any of that.”

“I didn’t think we did dowries these days,” John drawls. “Anyway, I get a pretty good pension, Alpha Hale. And Stiles is never going to want so long as the Nemeton’s healthy.”

Talia…laughs. She throws back her head and her eyes glitter, and for a second she damn well has John thinking she’s going to howl. And her laugh has more than a bit of bite to it. “Oh, if we’d only met you and your son sooner, John.”

“God forbid,” John mutters. Which he probably shouldn’t have let slip, but he shrugs it off and just returns her stare. “I respect you a lot, Alpha Hale, but most of the time I can’t tell whether you like me or you’d just like me to jump.”

“You can drop the title at this point, you know,” Talia says. She takes a step away, then turns. “And to be fair, you have to admit you’re a difficult one to read. Most of the time I can’t tell whether you’re challenging me or just being temperamental.”

She walks away while John’s chewing over that. Then someone calls John’s name—the damn theater manager, who seems to think that complaining one more time might save his night’s business. John doesn’t like ruining anyone’s night, but he’s not going to be responsible for a string of tentacle mutations a couple weeks from now, either.

One of his rangers comes up to mention that they found shoggoth slime in a sewer under the theater. John’s more than happy to take the out, but as it turns out, it’s a dead end. The trail comes back up a manhole just down the block, in a small strip mall with the usual collection of nail salons, cheap restaurants and discount clothing stores, and John’s no closer to figuring out what the hell is going on.

“Well, good eye, at least, finding the trail,” he says to the ranger, because they might drive him up the wall but he’s going to make a stab at training them.

“Oh, er, wasn’t me, sir,” the ranger says. “It was Mr. Argent.”

“Oh,” John says. He looks back towards the parking lot, but Chris and his car are gone. A ranger can drop John off—but he checks his phone, just by reflex, and there’s a text from Chris saying he’s going home because Allison called him, and then some new emails from the, fuck, right, Ranger goddamn Givens. Great.

John holds his phone, then fights down a snarl and just stuffs it back into his pocket. Then he walks back over to the theater to close out.

* * *

The next couple days, John’s practically glued to his office. The Forest and the Park Services don’t have a rivalry, exactly. Certain arrogant, dickheaded agents aside. But John’s well aware that his office and its staff are a work-in-progress, and he’s damn well not going to let it be an embarrassing one.

Anyway, when he’s not trying to investigate all the foreign species that are suddenly showing up in Beacon Hills, he’s trying to get things shaped up. Stiles offers to help, but John wants him to concentrate on the tree—winter’s coming up, and first ones after a reviving can be tricky—so he declines and Stiles doesn’t fight him on it. If the two of them are maybe also avoiding a very, very long discussion about Stiles realizing John let Chris in through the house wards, that’s between the two of them. And Melissa is busy herself at the hospital, now that flu season’s in full swing.

Chris comes by a few times, but John barely has time to greet him. He doesn’t seem to take offense. Sticks around the office anyway; John sees him talking here and there with some of the rangers, and one of them mentions that Chris has invited them over to the shooting range for tips.

The man does have an arms business. He’s not cleared anymore to sell to the government, and won’t be able to get that back before the hunting license gets cleared up, but John doesn’t suspect him of being up to anything. Not really. It just—bugs him.

“It’s like him showing up with that file from his father’s papers,” John says on the tail-end of a business call with Melissa. “Or talking to you about Scott’s trouble with the lacrosse board. It just—you know what it is? It’s that it doesn’t fit him. He’s a guy that’s used to helping out, sure, but this isn’t how he usually does it, I bet.”

“Well, if you don’t like it, just ask him to stop. Damn, listen, John, they’re calling me. Sorry. Just try to relax, okay? Whatever’s going through his head, I don’t think he’s trying to make things worse,” Melissa says, and then hangs up.

To be honest, John isn’t sure whether he likes it or not. Letting Chris hang around and give out tips is technically against the rules, but it’s not a violation that is doing any damage, so far as John can tell. It’s not like Chris is undercutting him with his staff, or spreading misinformation. On the other hand, Chris doesn’t know—at least, officially, he doesn’t—half of what the office actually does, and while the number of people who are in the loop are never going to match up with actual security clearances, John doesn’t want people to get comfortable with that. It’s just commonsense.

Melissa would point out that John’s already let Chris through the house wards. Yeah, fair point, but Chris just has entry. He’s not keyed into them like Melissa or Scott, and even if John is maybe hoping things head that way…he’s just twisting his head up, sitting here and thinking in circles. John puts his head down on his desk and groans.

He’s considering sneaking out for some coffee, just to have something mindless, when his computer chimes. It’s the research arm, finally delivering some results on hunter courtship.

* * *

Scott’s eyes widen. “Er, Mr. Stilinski,” he half-yelps. “Stiles isn’t here, I swear. Actually, I think he’s—”

“—at the tree with Derek and Peter, I know. I need to ask you something,” John says. Then he sighs. “I’m not mad at you or him, and it’s not an investigation, Scott. I just want to check on something.”

“Okay,” Scott says. He lets John in. “You sure you don’t need my mom?”

“Then I’d be at the hospital,” John says. Normally he’s not this cranky with Scott; he likes the kid, thinks he’s a good influence on Stiles. But he needs to get back to the office and deal with incoming Park Rangers, so he doesn’t have time for Scott’s waffling. “Do I act like a werewolf?”

Scott blinks.

“Body language,” John adds.

“Well, don’t we all get body language training?” Scott says. “I’m pretty sure those handbooks are where Stiles started getting his werewolf information from.”

“That’s just basics on how to read it and how to not accidentally flirt or challenge,” John says. “Look, me versus the other rangers. What impression do you get? And no, I’m not going to ask one of the Hales.”

“Well, I know, that’d be really awkward with Alpha Hale,” Scott mutters. He scruffs his hair. “Um, not…exactly? I mean…I’m used to you, kind of. But you’re…it’s kind of like how languages like Spanish and Portuguese sound really similar, but they’re not.” He brightens, clearly finding his handle. “You’re not alpha, really, but you move like you’re on their level and when they, you know, start signaling they’re a big deal, you match them. You know, actually, you remind me a lot of Mr. Argent when me and Allison started dating.”

John grimaces. “Chris?”

Scott starts, and then holds up his hands and waves them frantically. “Not that—you know, um, I thought Mom told you we worked that out. Since…you guys…yeah…”

And now the kid is blushing. From what John can tell, he’s fine about John and Melissa, even if he can’t figure out how to talk about it. Melissa says Scott’s still trying to avoid the whole subject of Chris, but she’s adamant it’s not a big deal and he just needs time to adjust. He doesn’t seem terribly upset, but John has to say, sometimes he can really see the difference early fieldwork made in Stiles.

“Maybe he’s a bad example. Yeah.” Scott frowns and pulls at his hair again. “It was just how he would get into my space a lot, like he wanted me to try and push him out. No, you know, I think you’re a lot more like that—God, what’s her name. That one hunter we worked with, when you came and visited us in Fresno.”

“Victoria Winslow,” John says slowly. Victoria Winslow is the last surviving member of a very old British hunter family, which supposedly dates back to the time of Merlin. She worked for MI0, the supernatural section, for decades before retiring to take up the family profession again. John has only ever met her that one time, but he’s heard of her staring weres out of their shifted form, and he certainly plans on never getting on the wrong end of her gun.

Scott nods. “Yeah, her.”

“Right. Thanks, Scott.” John turns to go.

“Hey, John? Is…is everything all right?” Scott takes a step towards him. “It’s just—I knows things are pretty hectic with the Park Rangers, and Mom said you were barely getting home at night. I know we’re both really happy you guys are staying, but it’s a crazy post.”

He looks genuinely regretful about that, and John can’t help reaching out and ruffling his hair. “Knew that going in, Scott. It’s messy but it’ll blow over, they always do. Anyway, tell your mom to get some sleep herself, all right?”

“Yeah, will do,” Scott says.

* * *

Raylan Givens is as much of an asshole as ever, but the Everglades office had the sense to send a babysitter with him. It’s only been half an hour since he got into town, but the place hasn’t blown up yet, so John excuses himself from the conference room and goes back to his office.

Chris is waiting for him. Sitting, but he gets up when John comes in. “They said I should just stay here till you were through with the Park Rangers,” he says, and then pauses. “I thought about just coming back, since I know you shouldn’t have civilians just—”

“Well, you’ve been around enough they might not notice right away,” John says.

Chris flinches.

“Shit.” John sits down behind his desk. “No, I told you it was okay, didn’t I?”

“Yeah,” Chris says slowly. He’s still standing but he turns so he’s facing John and not the door. “Yeah, and I was wondering whether you were just joking, but you haven’t said anything. I can stop.”

“I want to talk to you about it first,” John says. Then he half-rises, because he can hear Gutterson in the hall and why Gutterson would need to—man’s just asking where the bathroom is. John sits back down and then makes a face at his desk. “I’m already this close to shooting them and burying them under the tree. This weekend is going to be…Chris, just sit already.”

The moment the words are out of his mouth, John regrets it. But Chris is already in the chair, hands knotted over the arms, feet flat on the ground and spread to launch.

“Did something else show up?” Chris finally asks.

“I don’t know,” John mutters. He glances at his computer, then calls himself a coward and faces the other man. “The tree guardian status came down from Claudia’s family. I’m just human, Chris—well, as human as you can be after a couple decades chasing after evil druids. I started out human, anyway, and my family’s nothing special. Military for a couple generations, and I think I have a cousin in the Secret Service, but we’re not hunters.”

“I know that.” Chris looks like he’s not as confused as he wishes he was. “John, did—did someone call—”

“Nobody called me. And nobody’s going to call me, or if they do, I’m forwarding them to the PR department, because—I realize what it looks like from the outside. Stiles and I do a lot of coloring outside of the lines. But at the end of the day, I work for the federal government.” John rubs the side of his face, then pulls himself up in his seat. “Look, that talking I did with Talia, about her pack splitting, that was for Stiles. He has the Nemeton, he actually has status over and above employee. I don’t.”

Chris is silent for a few seconds. He’s a little pale.

“Do you…you think I’m negotiating for Allison and I to partner with your family?” Chris says. He speaks very low, and like each word is its own pain to drag out.

“I can’t make that kind of agreement,” John says. He hears Gutterson come back and call out that Raylan needs to see something. “I won’t. One, I’m not in a position to, and two, well, Jesus Christ, this isn’t a power game for me. It’s my career. I look after forests, I don’t argue about whether so-and-so’s getting expansionist about their hunting range. And three, if you need help, I’ll help you, but you should just ask, Chris. Not try and pull something up around me without telling me.”

He gets up. Chris gets up too, and is quick enough on his feet that John ends up pushing him at the desk instead of reaching the door.

“John, wait,” Chris hisses. He’s still got John’s arm. He throws his whole weight back and comes within a hair of sending them to the floor. “Damn it, wait, that’s not—”

“Stilinski.” Givens barges in, with Gutterson a half-step behind. He pauses, looks at the situation, and then shrugs. “Whatever this is, what we’ve got is a bigger deal.”

* * *

Even Chris isn’t going to hold onto John’s arm when there’s a Piasa loose. Piasas are extinct in the wild these days, existing only to be bred for the insane megalomaniac watchdog trade, as Stiles once put it. Which is about right: they are vicious, winged, fire-breathing beasts who can’t be tamed and who like their prey charred to well-done. A couple scientists still think they might have ecological significance as prairie fire-starters, but in John’s opinion, lightning and controlled blazes handle that just fine now. And one is in John’s town, because the Park Service didn’t want to share about the drug-lord they were tracking. In town. In Beacon Hills. Surrounded by trees, including one Nemeton that’s bonded to his son.

Yeah, John’s a little upset.

The Park Rangers take off while John is still giving orders to his staff. John curses and takes off after them, only to have Chris pull up in front of him in the parking lot, passenger door wide open.

“Allison texted, she and Scott have eyes on it,” Chris snaps. “Also said she called Stiles.”

John gets in the car, then checks his phone while Chris is jumping the curb. Stiles called too, but hit voicemail. John doesn’t bother listening to the message; he texts Stiles to get under cover and that he’s on his way.

Chris just drives, thank God, which leaves John to finish alerting the hospital, the local fire department, and the sheriff’s office. After that, there’s about five seconds before the car crests the hill for John to think about where Stiles might be. They’ve been seeing fireballs in the sky for a good ten minutes.

Stiles is smart. Sometimes too much for his own good, and his mouth is constantly getting him into trouble, but he’s not stupid about his weaknesses. He knows against a fire-breather, his best bet is to sit tight and wait for reinforcements; if he’s close enough to work runes, he’s close enough to catch fire, and he’s about thirty percent more flammable than average humans.

At least, that’s what John is telling himself for that five seconds. Then they get to the top of the hill and he can see leaping werewolves, but he doesn’t see his son.

Gutterson shoots down the Piasa. Bastards aren’t sharing their labs either; tranqs didn’t work that fast, the last John checked. Still, he’s not so interested in fighting right now. He jumps out of the car and the first thing he sees is Allison dragging a smoking Scott towards them, crying and shaking.

Chris rounds the car so fast his shoes skid on the road. He drops and hugs Allison. John turns around, still looking. “Stiles?”

“Here, good.” Stiles slides out of a car, grinning. Then his face goes white and he bends over, like he’s going to be sick, and instead he faints.

Derek and Peter get over first, and Derek snarls when John grabs Stiles’ shoulder. John snarls back, hand on his gun, and Derek blinks hard and lets go so John can roll up Stiles’ eyelids and check pupils. Not concussed, just rapidly focusing and unfocusing, so it’s probably just the tree being over-assertive. John takes Stiles’ pulse just to be sure, then stands up and does his damnedest to rip Givens and Gutterson fifty new assholes.

Somehow, Givens still isn’t getting it. Gutterson looks like he might be, but he’s not stepping up so John just hauls them all back to the office, as soon as containment will allow.

Things get slightly calmer there. Stiles is awake and fully preoccupied with whatever trauma Derek and Peter appear to be reliving—well, John can guess, but it looks mild and he doesn’t have time to dwell—and Melissa shows up to help wrangle rangers. John’s a little surprised she isn’t coordinating at the hospital, but she shrugs and hands him a paper cup of water.

“It was shaping up to be a slow night, and head nurse is Betty, she can handle it,” she says. “I thought you’d need back-up here more than they need me there. Besides, I do not believe that Scott was barely involved, not a damn word of it.”

“He’s back with Allison, talking her out of the shakes,” John says, looking over her head. He’s lost track of the Park Rangers—no, there’s Gutterson. And there’s Givens. “I phoned Talia too, she’s sending Laura over. She’s…she was really worked up. I don’t think I’ve ever heard her like that.”

“Yeah, well,” Melissa says tightly. She pokes him, so he drinks the water, and then she reaches out and squeezes his arm. “You all right?”

John grimaces. “Yeah, aside from this urge to tear up a couple Park Rangers. So anyway, thanks for coming. If they’re fine back there, can you get on the phone and work on coordinating the containment and transport teams? Gutterson says they’re sending a fleet. This guy’s got a whole zoo with him, apparently.”

Melissa agrees and lets John go so he can corner Givens in a room with a speakerphone. Givens’ supervisor is a little more sympathetic to John’s complaints, and by the time they get out of there, Givens is…well, not cowed, he’s too arrogant for that, but he’s at least volunteering information about how he plans to find this drug-lord.

And then Laura Hale shows up, and when she and Givens see each other, it’s some weird mix of flirting and dominance-posturing, and John just wonders where the headache ends. At least she agrees to get the Park Rangers out of John’s hair for a while.

“John,” Chris says.

“What,” John says. He hadn’t noticed Chris come out, but from the looks of it, he’s been there for at least part of Laura’s oral itinerary. “Look, I need to—”

“John, listen—never mind.” Chris steps in front of John. “I know those houses she mentioned, those aren’t going to be it. There’s a—”

And the last thing John needs right now is Chris running around town, looking for the same thing Givens is. “If I want a hunter horning in, Argent, I’ll pick one from the approved list.”

Chris jerks back. His mouth opens, twitches around unspoken words, then closes. He raises and lowers his hand. “I’m just—”

“I don’t know what the hell kind of right you think you get, but you don’t have it. You’re not that kind of partner,” John snaps. Then his phone goes off.

He has about a second to luxuriate in pure, undiluted aggravation. Then he hears Stiles calling him, and the moment he lifts his head, he knows he’s fucked it up. He doesn’t need to look at Stiles’ face—worried under a thin layer of cheerfulness, like the first days after Claudia’s death—or to check whether that is, in fact, Allison Argent’s death glare he’s feeling on the back of his head. He just needs to see, and not even head-on, but in his peripheral vision, the way that Chris’ shoulder is hunched. Fuck.

Stiles asks whether Chris can drive him and Derek and Peter home. John’s initial instinct is to say no and to deal with the mess here. But, well, fuck. He can’t. He knows he can’t. He has too much to do, and his head can be there dealing with it or here trying to deal with this, and but it can’t be in both at once. And yeah, he’s self-aware enough to know that right now, he can wrap it around tracking down a drug-dealer’s menagerie a lot easier than he can with…with whatever he and Chris are doing.

So he lets them go.

* * *

“Scott called me,” Melissa says, leaning in the doorway of John’s office. She has her arms crossed over her chest, but there’s no judgment in her voice or face. Yet. “What happened?”

“I don’t know,” John says. He pushes back from his desk, then digs out the briefing paper he printed off and flips it towards her. “Honestly, I don’t know. It’s the purple tab.”

She comes in and picks up the paper. Scans a couple lines, sits down, and silently reads through a couple pages, head cocked to the side. “It…fits with what he’s done,” she says slowly. Her head tips the other way. “But it doesn’t, not with how he’s acting.”

“I know. We were talking about it and then Gutterson interrupted, and the Piasa happened.” John slumps in his seat. “A Piasa. Mel, do you ever wonder if someone’s out to get us?”

Melissa ignores that, and continues reading through the briefing. She reaches over and grabs a flag dispenser off his desk, and marks a couple sections. “Huh. Oh…huh. Interesting.” Then she shakes herself, and closes the paper. “Goddamn it, I’m losing my mind. Look, John, who’s talking to him?”

He looks at her.

“We are,” Melissa says. It’s as much of an interrogative—not a question—as a statement.

“Yeah. Yeah, I—yeah.” John sits up, grimacing. “Yeah, no, whatever the hell he’s doing, I still want…I do like him. I just wish I knew who the hell I’m liking.”

“And they say older, wiser, and you live and learn, and here we are,” Melissa says, sighing. She claps her hands around the briefing. “We probably should’ve sat down on this before. I just thought, you know, it’s kind of heavy to just come out there with, let’s all relax first.”

“It’s not your fault,” John says. He glares at the new emails in his inbox, then makes up his mind and turns off the screen. “It wasn’t a bad approach either. Hey, I hate to ask, but…”

Melissa is already smirking at him. “…can I stay up all night and take over, while my son bones his girlfriend in my house and you’re hopefully boning Chris in yours?”

“You really think anybody’s up for that? Don’t tell me, I don’t want to know that about your kid,” John says. Then he shakes his head, and gets out from behind the desk. He comes over to her and kisses her forehead, then her mouth. Then he leans their brows together for a few seconds. “Thanks.”

“Just—hey.” She grabs his wrist as he straightens up. “Just text me after, all right? Let me know if it’s okay.”

“Yeah, okay,” John says. He kisses her again. Then her hand, when she strokes his cheek. For a second he thinks about just both of them leaving…but hell. They’re not like that. So he sighs, gives her one last peck, and then goes home.

* * *

Chris hands John a coffee, then sits back at the kitchen island. He jerks his head at the ceiling. “All sleeping, I think,” he says stiffly.

“If they’re not, I’m going back out and sleeping in the office,” John says into the coffee. “Do not want to hear that, not after all this…look, what the hell is going on?”

“I’m not negotiating.” Chris’ mouth twists like it’s full of bitterness. His cup is empty, and has been for a while, judging by the dried brown line around the rim, but he crouches over it and bends his head like he’s smelling the dregs. “John, Jesus, I have a business that just about pays the mortgage, and enough relics in the attic to pay for Allison’s college tuition. I don’t—I don’t know where your information came from, but if you’re looking for an alliance, you’re supposed to be able to actually offer something.”

John opens his mouth to reply, then thinks the better of it. He moves a few inches closer and Chris tenses up, but doesn’t shift away. Still, John figures that’s far enough for now, and settles in to hear it.

“Or, you know, basically any kind of relationship,” Chris adds. He pulls his elbow up onto the counter and closes his eyes, and grinds the heel of his hand into one eye. “I can see where you’re coming from. Passing over intel and showing off my personal skills—it’s not what I meant, it’s just what I have. I should be giving you teams, safe houses, supplies, but I just don’t have that. I don’t, but I wanted to give you something.”

“You didn’t have to. You don’t have to,” John says.

Chris bolts up and John has his hand out to grab him when Chris just drops like a wet sack. He stares at John like he thinks John is an idiot and like he thinks John is going to kill him. And like he thinks John is something worth piling out treasures for.

“I wanted to,” he says, suddenly fierce. “Goddamn it, if you were a hunter we’d be following you to the end of the world. I don’t understand how you don’t see that. I do, and I want to give you things and I can’t. And I know you don’t care about that, neither of you do, I know you don’t even want it. I know. I just—I can’t—”

“You keep talking like you’re going to be a burden on me, or something like that,” John says. He’s itching to grab Chris’ shoulder, shake the man out of the near-choke that’s overtaken him, but John holds back. “I get pride. I get it. But what are you going to do, hang yourself because you don’t think you’re good enough for me? You’re a grown man with a kid, Chris, you’re not living in a period novel. You don’t think you can stand it, then get out. Do whatever it is you need to do to stand on your own, all right? It’s just, well, goddamn it, I’d like to help you. But if that’s just going to hurt, I won’t.”

Chris sucks back a sharp, racking breath and then looks at John. His hands hang limply on either side of the stool. He’s still now, so still John doesn’t think he’s breathing.

And John’s right; when John sets his coffee cup down, Chris starts up and then inhales like he’s been down in the ocean and has just broken the surface. He grabs at the counter, kneads it, and then gets unsteadily up from the stool. John steps back to give him room and Chris stops where he is. He’s white in the face and drained in the eyes, but there’s something about the set of his shoulders…John holds still for Chris’ next step, and then breathes himself when Chris reaches out and abruptly buries his face in John’s shoulder, hands knotting up in John’s coat.

John waits a couple breaths, then reaches out and gingerly cradles Chris’ head with his hand. Chris trembles, then goes slack, his grip loosening. He moves one hand up and down the coat zipper, then slides it inside the coat and spreads his palm over John’s heart. His head lifts, not quite enough for them to look each other in the eye, and then he puts it back down.

“I want to,” Chris says, very softly. He shifts under John’s hand and John lets it drop to curl over his neck. “I just…I want to.”

“Yeah,” John says. He runs his hand up and down Chris’ neck, light, not really gripping it at all. “Yeah. So, earlier, I was an asshole.”

Chris jerks and it’s a second before John realizes it’s in amusement. Then Chris jerks again, and he’s laughing. Mostly soundless, and it dies out pretty quickly.

“John. Listen.” Chris raises his head and looks at John. He’s still pale and far too somber, but he at least looks like he’s thinking, instead of just tearing at himself. “It’s been a long time since I was really much of a help to anyone. You can ask Melissa—when Allison and Scott started dating, I wasn’t—”

“You can talk to her about it,” John says firmly. He shifts back, but just so he can start getting his coat off. He keeps his hand on Chris’ neck till he has to take it off to get the second sleeve off, then puts it back. “I heard about it at the time, some of it, but Scott’s her kid, not mine. Sure, I love him too, same as she loves Stiles, but we don’t get confused about who is whose parent. And some people might disagree, but I think that’s one of the reasons we work so well together.”

Chris doesn’t look like he’s in the disagreeing camp, but he also doesn’t look like he entirely follows. But he doesn’t push it, just nods and chews his lip over something new. “I don’t get it,” he says after a moment. “You do work well together. So why…”

“Because I like you. She likes you.” John can’t help an exasperated noise, though he follows it up by running the ball of his thumb over Chris’ jaw. “There’s nothing to ‘get,’ Chris. You don’t get people, they just happen to you.”

“I don’t…shit.” Chris makes as if to wrench his head to the side, and then drops his shoulders instead. He looks down, then tips his head so he’s leaning it against the side of John’s face. “Jesus. Yeah, John, they happen to you. You happened to me, and then Melissa started in, and…shit. Shit, all right, I give. I just…I give. I give. Just…please. Please.”

“Chris?” John says. He stops stroking Chris’ jaw.

“Please,” Chris says, almost whispering. “Please, I just…I can’t go home. I know Allison’s over with Scott, and I can’t just—sit up by myself again.”

“Well, yeah, you can’t.” John moves his hand back into Chris’ hair, tugs lightly. When Chris’ chin lifts he kisses the man.

He just means it as a quick thing, just some reassurance. They’re neither of them that young, and Chris still looks like he’s wrung out dry while John has been beating back an adrenaline crash since he walked in. And it’s light at first, nothing but touch, but then Chris’ mouth opens some and John’s tongue slips, and Jesus. John is too tired for this, he is. His dick isn’t even stirring. But an irritatingly large part of him wants to will it into action, and when he and Chris finally pull back, they’re both gasping.

“Okay, no. For a lot of reasons, one being I have a goddamn drug-lord to track down in the morning,” John mutters. He still has his hand on the back of Chris’ head and he rubs his fingers along the hairline, and doesn’t feel particularly guilty when Chris stifles a moan. “I need to let Melissa know things are all right, so why don’t—shit, wait, I have to let you in the upstairs wards. Okay, just—”

John digs through his pockets till he finds his phone. He shoots off a text, hesitates over the zillion other new messages he’s got, and then shoves his phone back in his pocket. Then he pulls Chris out of the kitchen and up the stairs.

And remembers something. “Chris, listen, Talia said something, and I looked into it, and—damn it. Please tell me I’m not accidentally alpha-ing people.”

Chris is sticking close to the walls and doesn’t come to the bed till John hooks his wrist, but he manages a raised brow. “We had sex after you taped me to a tree.”

“That was on purpose,” John says. He jams off his shoes and socks, then pulls off his belt. Thinks about getting some sweats and then decides he’s too tired, and just tugs out his shirt-tails and undoes the top couple buttons of his shirt. Tosses his phone and wallet on the bedside table. “I haven’t actually worked with that many weres.”

“You move like you’ve run up against a lot of them,” Chris says. He sits on the edge of the bed and follows John’s lead. Then he keeps sitting there, his socks in one hand. “I’ve met some covert ops people before, and I’ve met plenty of non-weres born into packs. It’s close, but it’s not either.”

“Well, I’ll give you the run up against. Stiles and I tried out eight Nemetons before this one matched, and packs near one tend to be a hell of a lot more aggressive. Also, tend to not know a thing about the damn thing, like they just don’t notice a blood-drinking tree. I never can understand that.” John flops down on his back and leaves one arm trailing in Chris’ direction. “I just want to know I’m not fucking with someone’s head without knowing it.”

Chris flips his socks a few times, then leans down. Tucks them into his shoes or something, but anyway, he comes up without them. He pauses with one hand on the bed, then twists over and slides till he’s lying next to John, on his belly with his head hovering over John’s shoulder. “If you mean me, yeah, you fucked it pretty good, but it wasn’t that so much,” Chris says dryly. His head drops when John curls that arm up over his back, but he doesn’t quite put it down. “You know, they used to train wolfhounds on crippled live wolves. Dogs are naturally scared of wolves, but you put them in there early enough, they lose that fear. You can teach them how to read a wolf, how to fight like one.”

“They used to cross wolves into dog breeds, too,” John says, looking over at him. “Made for a better guard dog, supposedly.”

“The old families aren’t usually strict blood purists,” Chris says. He smiles when John blinks, and there’s a glimmer of teeth. “It’s a pedigree system, not just ancestry. You have to prove it’s still good, and if it works, it works.”

“You don’t have to prove anything to me.” John trails his hand almost up to Chris’ neck, then wraps it over the shoulder. “You want to show me something, or talk, well, that’s different.”

Chris stops smiling. He shifts on his arm, then flattens himself where he is, just spreads his body till his head’s on John’s shoulder. He’s still looking at John.

“You didn’t hustle me into anything I didn’t want,” he says quietly. “That was the whole problem. I wanted it. I still want it.”

“You can want,” John says, just as quietly. He moves his hand over so his fingers are just feathering against Chris’ throat. “Just maybe get a few hours’ sleep first.”

Chris shivers. He inhales like he’s going to say something, then just pushes his chin over John’s shoulder. Gets his head on the pillow, stretches his neck so John’s cupping the side of it. His eyes flutter, then snap open. He stares for a few seconds, then lets out a very low sigh, and closes his eyes. This time they stay shut.

* * *

“Do you—would you like to come over for dinner, when this is done?” Chris asks in the morning. He leans in the bathroom doorway, watching John shave. “To my house?”

“Like a date?” John says. When Chris stills, he sighs and puts down the razor, and tries to remember that goddamn briefing paper. He’d thought they were okay, given that Chris had agreed to stay for a shower and breakfast, but maybe not. “Is this some weird quid pro quo about me letting you in the wards here?”

“I want you to come over,” Chris says after a second. He’s still in last night’s clothes, rumpled all over with creases sharp as knife cuts. He glances down, then lifts his head and meets John’s eyes in the mirror. “Yeah, I was also thinking it’s not fair that you aren’t keyed in, but I can’t separate it out, John. I know what I’m doing but there are reasons why I do it. I—it’s not just upbringing. It all means something to me.”

John nods, then picks up the razor again. He absently rubs a finger over the remaining stubble on his neck before grabbing the shaving cream and smearing a little more on. “Just so long as we’re—”

“It’s a date,” Chris says. He sounds a little stiff. Then he grimaces and reaches out. He touches John’s elbow for a moment, then slides behind John and pulls the shower curtain open. “I know you don’t follow the same customs, all right? I’m not tricking you into anything. I never was, it just…it made me feel like I was doing something.”

The cream’s all thin and scummy, barely enough to keep away the razor burn. John checks the can, then makes a face and dumps it into the trash; it’s nearly empty. He’s not looking camera-ready, but if they’re lucky for once, no other complications will pop up and he can shove press duty off onto someone else.

“Well, all right, then,” John says. He steps away from the sink and Chris hands him a towel to wipe his face, and instead John takes the man by the wrist. “I haven’t really dated in a while. I went out on a couple whenever Stiles got antsy about me burying myself in work after Claudia…but the moves and trying to find him a tree usually ate that up.”

Chris looks at him. “You and Mel—”

“We were friends and coworkers first, and it never really got formal because…I don’t know, it doesn’t feel like that between us.” John snorts. “Jesus, hasn’t she mentioned that our first time was in the backroom of a shitty small-town airport bar? I’m pretty sure that cot was for pilots for crop-dusting planes.”

“What?” Chris says. His shoulders loosen up and he almost grins. “You what?”

“Yeah. Yeah, well. Anyway.” John squeezes Chris’ wrist, then lets go and takes the towel. “So my manners aren’t great, but dinner sounds good. What are we eating?”

Chris hesitates, stuck between the light humor—which looks good on him, damn it, fills up his eyes and smooths off the grooves around his mouth—and all the things that seem to be eating him. He purses his lips a few times, runs his hand through his hair. Rolls his shoulders and then seems to settle something.

“I have some pork chops.” He cocks his head. “I don’t think there’s much in the way of vegetables in the fridge, unless this drug-dealer’s hiding in the grocery. Is your son going to come after me?”

“He’ll be fine,” John mutters, rubbing the leftover shaving cream off his face. “Jesus. One abnormal cholesterol test, right after we had a goddamn incident in a cattle slaughterhouse, by the way, and he hasn’t let up since.”

“Well, if you’re sure,” Chris says, but he’s more kidding than not. He glances at John again, then turns towards the shower.

Strips off his shirt, and John stares at the muscled back stretching in the mirror, then shakes his head and walks out of the bathroom before he forgets he’s supposed to be tracking down criminals. They’d better not be a hassle, because at this point, much as he hates to agree with Givens, he’s just about ready to shoot first and sort things out later.

* * *

The portal is down, drug-dealer is in a body-bag and his mage is safely arrested, and the Park Rangers are stuck with the wrap-up. Stiles is fine, if smeared with tree sap, and the Hales seem to be back to making everybody but Stiles’ eye twitch. John’s son also seems to have picked up a banshee who wants to work in weapons tech and another werewolf, but John isn’t quite sure what exactly is going on there and from the look on Stiles’ face, he isn’t sure he wants to.

Anyway. The point is, everyone who John wants to be safe is safe, and everyone who John wants to be screwed over is currently being screwed over—even if Laura Hale sniffing around Givens has a lot of backfire potential—and John isn’t too proud to admit he’s pretty content about it. He’s been an agent long enough to take a moment when he sees one, and this is definitely a moment.

“You’re a really good cook,” he mutters, semi-around Chris’ throat. He pushes his weight forward, waits for Chris’ grip to slip and then slides his fingers another couple inches into the front pocket of Chris’ jeans. “Tastes great.”

Chris shudders, moves his hands from John’s wrists to John’s waist, and then puts one back and pulls weakly. “You ate two bites,” he groans. He hitches himself up against the counter, then shudders again and arches his throat into John’s mouth. “Fuck, fuck, can you get them down for once?”

John grins. Runs his teeth along the corded muscle flexing out from Chris’ neck, then thumbs open the top of Chris’ fly and starts flicking down the zipper with his index finger. “Turn ‘em inside out before you wash them.”

“I don’t want to explain that to my daughter,” Chris hisses. He twists his hips in a way a man his age really shouldn’t be able to, then sighs into John’s shoulder as his jeans crumple down his thighs. One of his hands wanders up under John’s shirt, grazes at John’s belly and then digs in nails-first over John’s hip. Then it drops off and Chris makes an annoyed, ragged noise. “Fuck. Someone’s at the door.”

“Pretty sure I heard Scott and Allison drive off.” John keeps sucking at Chris’ neck. Whatever the hell makes that so sensitive for the man, breeding or training, the result is addictive to watch and feel. He chuckles at the near-whine he draws out of Chris, then knees apart Chris’ legs and cups his hand under the man’s balls.

Chris abruptly slumps forward. He claws at John’s back and arm till he’s got his hands laced together over the back of John’s neck. “Shit, shit, shit,” he gasps. He squeezes his eyes shut and John feels the hum of magic around them, and then Chris relaxes. Only to jerk violently when John rubs a knuckle back behind his balls up towards his hole. “Shit, wait—”

“Guys?” Melissa calls. The front door closes, and then she strolls into the kitchen. She’s grinning. “So, I just got a really annoyed bunch of texts from Scott…”

John stops moving his hands but he doesn’t step back from where he’s got Chris against the kitchen counter. “Does somebody have to tell him where to take Allison?”

“I don’t want to think about that,” Chris mutters. He pulls on John’s neck and then swings in for a kiss. It gets hot and heavy pretty damn fast, and he’s trying to step out of his jeans when Melissa leans up next to them.

She cranes over John’s shoulder to peck his cheek. He turns, a smile teasing at his mouth, and then just gapes instead when Chris twists over, catches Melissa’s mouth and then goes to town on it. Melissa makes a startled noise, then a pleased one, and grabs the back of Chris’ head to drag him closer.

Her and Chris’ combined weight drags them away from the counter, and she doesn’t miss the chance to push in behind Chris, just like that last time. But Chris is fully cooperating this time, groaning when John licks the throat that’s now bent towards him, lifting one foot when Melissa stands on his hanging jeans and finally kicking those off. He pulls off Melissa and hungrily kisses John back, even though he’s tilting a little like he needs air.

“Shit,” he says when John backs off. “Shit, wait, wait, I want—shit, I can’t—”

John thinks he’s having second thoughts again, and grabs at Chris’ waist before he can move back. But Chris is leaning in, more like he’s trying to burrow into John, and then Melissa tips a glance over his back at John. She reaches around and Chris gasps, jerks, then settles, shoulders shaking, as she gets a firm grip on his cock.

Her knuckles are grinding pretty close to John’s fly, too. John grunts and pushes at Chris’ hip, then sighs in thanks as Melissa gets that open for him. He looks around, absently cupping Chris’ buttock, and then looks at her.

“I’m a nurse, not a supply closet,” she says, but she’s smiling over the kisses she’s dotting on the back of Chris’ shoulder. “You and your kid’re the ones who carry—”

“Yeah, well, it’s in my coat, which is over there.” John nods at the hall.

Chris’ head comes up and he flaps his hand at a drawer. The snarl would be more convincing if his eyes weren’t completely blown. “Hurry up,” he says, and dips up for a hard, insistent kiss. “Get in me before I go off.”

“Oh, fuck,” John says, and he can’t help dragging Chris up against the other counter, pinning his hips and kissing him half-senseless.

Melissa gets whatever it is, and gets John’s attention by pinching his ass. He jerks, then peels back from the counter, takes Chris with him. Chris is hanging by the nails from John’s shoulders now, but he wakes up enough to inhale sharply when Melissa worms in her finger. She laughs and kisses John over Chris’ shoulder. Chris hitches again, shocked at something John can’t see, before Melissa grabs John’s wrist through Chris’ legs and pulls it back.

Fuck, oh fuck, please.” Chris manages to swing one arm over John’s neck. Then he slumps from it, making tight, low, choking noises as they work him open. He bears down on their fingers till John grabs his hip to slow him, and Melissa has to reach around and lock her fingers around the base of his cock again. “Fuck, fuck, fuck. Don’t let me—”

Even Melissa’s a little breathless now. She hisses as Chris tries to hike himself up John, then grinds back into her. “Condoms, Chris, I don’t want to run out to the car—”

“No, just—” Chris somehow picks up on their hesitation, even with his eyes nearly rolling back into his head “—I haven’t been with anyone since Victoria, I’m clean, just—”

“Same with us.” Then Melissa half-grits her teeth, half-laughs as she presses her head to the back of Chris’ neck. “If you’re paying attention.”

“Fuck it, I don’t care.” Chris drops his head onto John’s shoulder and whimpers, his hips rocking, as John pushes his cock out of the way and presses forward. “Just—please, now—”

Melissa’s not going to be able to hold him up, not the way John wants to fuck him. John has just enough brain cells left to see that. He gets them turned around, ends up with Chris against the counter again. Chris grabs the counter, helps get himself halfway onto it and then John’s nudging his cock into the man and Chris is just collapsing backwards. His head thumps back pretty hard and John wishes he had the control to worry, but fuck, Chris is tight.

He gets halfway in and has to stop so his head stops spinning. Chris is moaning, pleading with somebody to—to wait. John jerks at Chris’ hips, pulls himself in another inch or so, and feels an arm between them. Melissa’s holding onto Chris’ cock, nearly flat on the counter next to him, making soft comforting croons as Chris begs and cries out. Then she twists her head on Chris’ shoulder and looks back at John.

“Jesus, get going already,” she snaps. Follows it up with a hard knee to the back of John’s leg.

John swears at her, but he’s already humping forward. He finally gets fully seated in Chris, braces his hands on the counter. Chris moans like they’re gutting him alive.

“Goddamn,” John says, and then he pulls back and grabs Chris’ thighs and fucks in. Hard, fast, no fucking finesse but he’s not made of iron.

He tries to hold off till they at least work past the initial burn. Chris is hissing and John can see the tight way the man’s clamping his jaw. He bends over, tries to kiss Chris but he can’t really do that and fuck hard enough at the same time, so he settles for sucking at the point of Chris’ shoulder. Melissa takes Chris’ mouth instead, her ponytail a sweaty mop trailing over both their necks, and the sounds they both make, fuck. John feels his rhythm stutter, then slip anyway entirely.

And then Chris twists under him, clenches up from hips to tipped-back chin, and John can’t. He drags his hand wildly down Chris’ hip, knows he’s drawing blood, and then just about keeps from flattening the other man as he comes.

Chris’ eyes are wide open. Wide, staring open, and swallowing John whole. He trembles, his mouth gaping too, lipping at empty air, and then makes a throat-caught keen as he slumps down. He blinks once. John swears and hauls himself up, wraps a hand around the back of Chris’ neck, pulls him up for a kiss.

They’re still kissing when Melissa pushes her shoulder into John’s chest. He grunts, then props himself up on his arms. He’s going to apologize for trapping her when she just—straddles Chris, with her back to him. She has—she has a skirt on, but it’s hiked up around her waist and there’s no underwear when she grinds herself down on where John is still plowed into Chris.

John grabs the edge of the counter and holds the hell on. Chris does a little better, even though—John doesn’t think Melissa’s riding him, Chris can’t have gotten hard again already—but Melissa’s got her hand down there doing something to him, and he’s still heaving for breath but he slips his hand down to join her. John can’t, can only just watch, but Jesus. It’s a goddamn great view.

Melissa comes with a sharp rocking motion and a heavy gasp, and then drops over Chris. He grunts, then whines as John moves in him. She snickers, looking between them, and then crawls up enough so that John can see a slick streak on Chris’ limp cock, like she’d been using it to rub off her clit. John inhales a little sharply. Pries one hand off the counter, traces around the streak.

Chris groans and shivers, and then lets his head loll on the counter. “Jesus, do you want to kill me?” he mutters.

“No.” John shifts his hips, then bites down on the inside of his mouth as Chris shivers again. “But gotta say, don’t know that I want to get out yet.”

“I don’t really want to get down either,” Melissa says over Chris’ moan. She’s pillowing Chris’ head on her arms so she can flop over his chest and shoulders. “Oh, my God, I’m going to feel this in the morning.”

“Yeah,” John says. His knees and his back are starting to complain, but when he moves, Chris hitches like it hurts. He stops, then leans over so he can get his elbows back on the counter and take some weight off that way.

Chris has his eyes closed. “Yeah. Yeah, just…couple seconds. Just…stay, for a second.”

John grins tiredly. “Sure.”

* * *

“So, Dad.” Stiles drums his fingers over his belly. “Read the briefing. Anything specific I need to know?”

He and John are sitting under the tree. It’s a full moon night, so the werewolves are running around somewhere, probably hunting something down for breakfast. Stiles got the tree to clear the roots out of a patch a few yards away so John could park one of the Service’s pick-up trucks; Melissa and Chris are sitting in the back with Allison and Lydia Martin, educating the younger generation on the finer points of poker with opponents who can track your heartbeat, pheromone changes and breathing rate. All in all, it’s pretty nice.

“We’re having dinner with Chris next week, and with Melissa the week after. Since we’re long-term now, we might as well brush up on your table manners,” John says. “Did you tell them to skin and gut and put in the basement freezer instead of just leaving it on the back porch?”

“Yep,” Stiles says. “So we’re good?”

“Yeah.” John stretches out his legs and picks up his beer. “Yeah, actually, I think we are.”