Allison Argent reawakens with a start, pulled through by death to a new world. Her eyes open and the breath floods her lungs so suddenly she’s choking with it. A hand reaches out, steadies the jackhammer of Allison’s heart. The blood is dried on her clothes, but her mouth tastes like rust. She can still feel the press of Scott’s lips against her hair.
She is afraid.
"It’s okay." Crouching over her is a young woman with long, dark hair and a guarded expression. Her hand moves over Allison’s chest again, a reassuring circle, coaxing the rhythm back into place.
Allison’s eyes flicker past the young woman. There’s a man standing at the door with his arms folded, covered head to toe in purple and sporting a bandage across his nose. He’s very blonde.
The woman looks back to where Allison’s gaze has landed. “Oh, don’t worry. That’s Clint. He won’t hurt you. He’ll just glare a lot and be so generally annoying you’ll probably hurt yourself. Bashing your head in.”
The man sighs. “Kate, please. Save the comedy routine for when you have better material. And for when guests who drop in from alternate universes aren’t, y’know, recovering from a big ass stomach wound.”
Allison wants to laugh at the long-suffering expression on Clint’s face, but her body feels like its been tied into a knot, and even the slight pull as she takes a quicks gasp of air sends pain lancing through her.
"Oh, no, moving is probably not a good idea." The woman—Kate—moves her hand down to where the Oni gutted her, carved through Allison’s skin and muscle and bone, piercing internal organs, spilling blood till everything burned red and full of regret, mind blank except for Scott’s brown eyes and the echo of her father’s sad smile—
"Hey, Girl Wonder," Kate gently says. "Snap out of it. You’re hyperventilating. Focus. Com’n. Look at me."
Allison comes back to herself the way a swimmer might rise from the water, sound and light rushing in all at once. She looks straight into Kate’s eyes, and is shocked to find herself reflected.
Steel in the spine but a soft underbelly. Heart under all the hard edges forged out of necessity rather than desire. There’s familiarity in the swallowing blue of Kate’s irises and Allison knows with intimate certainty that she, too, is a warrior made by circumstance, not birth.
Nous protégeons ceux qui ne peuvent pas se protéger leurs-même.
And as for warriors…what good is one who has fallen? Who will Allison possibly protect now? How?
Kate moves, and there, revealed in a slice of light and shadow, is the shape of something so beautiful that Allison almost weeps: a longbow, sleek and deadly.
As her gaze hungrily traces each point of the arrows in Kate’s sling, Allison feels something in her soul shift, moving slowly at first, then more quickly, before slotting right into place.
Allison is seventeen. She died. But she is not dead.
She forces her mouth open, prays for sound to put color into the words.
"My name is Allison," she manages. "I like your bow."