"You took her to a shooting range?"
Kate looks up from her homework—a floor plan of her house, to scale—and glances back at the hallway. She can see the light's on in the kitchen from where she's lying on her belly on the rug, but she'd have to walk closer to actually see inside. She didn't hear her mom come in, probably because she fell asleep on her notebook—she stretches her neck to catch a glimpse of the clock on the mantelpiece—half an hour ago.
She does feel better now, but she's kind of glad her mom started screaming and woke her up. This thing is due tomorrow.
"It was just an archery lesson," her dad says. The doors that separate the kitchen from the hall from the living room are all always open, so you can hear pretty much anything anyone says in the next room even if they're not yelling. If Chris were here, he'd drag her to her room, but fortunately he's spending the weekend at Berkeley, scoping out the scene or whatever, so Kate caps her pen to avoid any accidents and stays where she is. Once she hears the start of something, she has to stick it out. It drives her crazy not knowing what exactly it is about or how it ended.
Chris says that's called being nosy, but what does Chris know anyway? He's always talking about how she has to be subtle and read people and not ask too many questions, which is bullshit. Listening is much easier, and expecting people to answer questions you haven't asked is a waste of time. It wasn't subtlety that got her a brand new pair of leather boots for her birthday.
"It's never just an archery lesson," her mom says, in that tone that means she's digging her index finger into the nearest flat surface to punctuate her word—probably her palm this time, because Kate doesn't hear any tapping. "You know what is just? Kate. She's just thirteen."
"So was Chris when he found out what we do, and look at him."
Kate isn't sure how that even factors in—everyone knows her close family sells weapons. It's not like they ever get to do anything cool with them.
"She has to know how to defend herself," her dad says.
"So sign her up for a martial arts class. Don't teach her how to kill people."
Her dad snorts. "She's been asking me to take her shooting since she was eight. A karate class isn't going to cut it. And this was a real class; there were other girls there. You should've seen Kate—she was the only one who put an arrow in the inner circles."
"Look," her mom says, "I know it's not just archery. It doesn't stop. It's that now, and next you'll teach her how to shoot a gun, and then she'll want to join you—"
"—you and your friends, and you'll take her out there because we both know that's one thing you can't learn in a controlled environment, and something will happen to her. She'll get hurt. She'll hurt someone. You have to consider these things—"
"And what? Do you want her to be eighteen and go off on her own and have no idea what's out there?"
"No," her mom says, unnervingly quiet; Kate has to strain her ear to hear the rest, and even then she can only make out sounds for a while.
Shooting guns sounds pretty good to her. In fact, it sounds awesome. The bow and arrow thing has its appeal, but it seems like it would be a huge hassle, carrying it around and stuff. Guns are much easier to conceal and, unless her dad is planning to teach her how to shoot hunting rifles, they're probably less of a workout. Her arms are sore in really weird places and she was only at the range for two hours. She only got to shoot twice, and that was with the instructor at her back doing most of the work.
When the argument in the kitchen gets louder, she makes out her dad saying, "Besides, she is thirteen. Where is she going to get a gun?"
Her mom huffs. "I don't know, Gerard. The basement, the garage, my nightstand drawer, Chris when he comes to visit."
"Chris isn't going to give Kate a gun," her dad says.
"He will if she knows how to use it. You do remember when he found out, right? You remember how angry he was that we'd been keeping him in the dark? Because he does. I can assure you he does." Her mom sounds tired of the argument, and there's a short stretch where no one says anything. Finally, she changes the subject, but she doesn't sound any more excited when she speaks. Worse than that, she sounds deflated, though that could have something to do with the stool that squeaked across the floor a moment ago. "You know he's picked a college already."
"Did he call from Berkeley?"
"No," her mom says. "He made up his mind before he left."
"So it's Berkeley," her dad says gruffly, sounding mostly satisfied.
"It's not Berkeley," her mom says, her voice shifting, turning sharp. Kate knows that voice; it's her I am done being mad and I'm about to tell you how many weeks you're grounded voice. "He's moving to the East Coast."
Silence. Kate risks a look at her homework, which hasn't drawn itself while she was eavesdropping on her parents, and then looks up again.
"I've been asking you to take a break for years," her mom says eventually, sounding exhausted, and suddenly Kate realizes they don't know she's here. Her mom usually only sounds like this when she's still up at two in the morning, before she sees Kate on the stairs. "There are a lot of people who do what you do, Gerard. You have people you've trained. You can be a figurehead for a few years, just give Kate an actual chance to choose what she wants to do. We don't have to follow news stories from town to town. We could pick somewhere that's nice. Somewhere we like. Hell, somewhere Kate likes. If she's anything like you she'll have tunnel vision before she's twenty."
"I don't have tunnel vision, and it's not that easy."
"It is that easy. Argents don't put down roots, remember?" her mom says. It sounds weirdly wistful; it sounds like she just realized she's an Argent, which would be about time, since she's been married to her dad for what? Nineteen years?
Kate gathers her things, scurries upstairs, and makes a list of places she'd like to go if they move again. Just in case.
It's the first time Kate's had first pick of bedrooms. It's also the smallest house she's ever lived in, but the room she picks has a long window seat and a view of the woods, stands over the garage and shares half a wall with her dad's office. First order of business is taking advantage of that, so she doesn't waste time and by the end of her first day at her new school, she has the AV club eating out of the palm of her hand. She could try to install some kind of connection to the garage and the office on her own, but these kids know more about that stuff than she does, and she doesn't want to fuck it up.
She knows why they're here—another small town, Arizona this time, a cover story about expanding the weapons business, but she's not angry there's nothing for her here, because she knows why they're here. Her dad told her, sat her down after her mom left—year and a half ago now, after finals—and told her why her mom had left. He gave her a little wooden box with a necklace inside, a pendant with a little wolf on it Kate remembered seeing around her mom's neck years before, before their move to California. None of it came out of left field; her dad had never made an effort to sneak around the family or lower his voice or hide things, and if Kate is honest she was relieved, relieved to know she wasn't crazy, relieved to know there was a box of wolfsbane bullets in the locked drawer of Chris's desk for a reason.
Last Kate heard, her mom had settled in North Carolina, in some town where she had some distant relatives Kate's never met. Kate has her phone number, but whenever she tries to call, she ends up calling Chris instead. He always knows what's going on with her mom, and after she gets off the phone with him it seems pointless to call her, because what are they going to talk about now if Kate already knows what she'd have asked?
It's fall now, too early to have an opinion of her school she can relay without sounding unlike herself—"Oh, it's great, everyone is great."—or making her mom think her dad's doing a poor job of raising her. She doesn't think her mom would take well to hearing about the two hours she spent in the kitchen last night pouring over accident reports with her dad, or the whole thing where she's pretending to like the AV club kids so they'll help her bury herself deeper into the family business.
It's frustrating as hell that her dad won't just let her in. She's sixteen now, and she hasn't done anything reckless in the past two years, just gone along with the archery lessons and the shooting lessons and the reading of books that are boring as dirt, smell like dirt and are probably too outdated to be of any value. She wants to do something.
"Are you really telling me if dad let you in on his plans you wouldn't go up ahead of everyone and try to be a hero?" Chris asks. She called him to mock the Halloween party she went to last night, and the conversation somehow ended up here. She's carefully omitted the part about how she listens into dad's hunter meetings.
"I wouldn't say hero," Kate says. "I have no interest in being a hero. I just think if there's a problem maybe they shouldn't step around it until it goes away."
Chris mutters something she can't make out about pronouns and then says, "How sure are you that there's a problem?"
"Sure enough," she says pointedly.
There's a sharp intake of breath on the other end, and then Chris says, "You know what this is, right? He's making up for mom."
"I don't know why," Kate says. "It's not like we're not fine without her."
"No, but I don't think he ever thought you'd be without her at all. Besides, if you get hurt that would give her a case for custody."
"Mom doesn't want custody of me," she snarls. "She's the one who left, remember?"
Chris breathes a laugh, humorless. "Yeah, she does. The only reason you still live with dad is because you wanted to. If he screws up, you're going straight to North Carolina."
"Not if it's not his fault."
"You're sixteen, Kate," he says, and great, he's put on the older-and-wiser tone now. Like she doesn't get enough of that every time her dad has other hunters over for dinner. "Anything that happens to you is his fault."
So everyone says. She can take responsibility for her own actions just fine. She doesn't want to be like Chris and move across the country and only visit her dad on holidays. Sometimes when Chris is home he'll help out with whatever incident their dad's looking into at the time, but he never goes on patrols with him, he never even picks up a gun. Not here. She knows, from dad, that Chris has a group of hunters in Massachusetts, distant relatives of people their parents have met over the years and people those people know. It doesn't sound like they do a whole lot of hunting, either.
If Kate had the kind of freedom Chris has, she wouldn't just sit on her ass and wait for someone to get killed.
"And that's why dad doesn't take you anywhere," Chris says when she tells him that.
She hangs up.
Her mom marries an attorney in an early June wedding, a small private ceremony and a small private reception after that. Kate is the maid of honor, but it's more a figurehead thing than anything else; she's finishing up community college while her mom's soon-to-be husband's daughter takes care of everything. Kate arranges her schedule so she can make the bachelorette party, but the day she's supposed to drive to North Carolina, she drives upstate instead, following the trail of a pack of wolves her dad's put aside for a year now, concerned with proof and numbers. She puts an arrow through a beta's chest, and in the ensuing confusion she catches sight of the alpha, her red eyes and defensive stance. Kate picks up her trusty gun and shoots her in the head.
Her car broke down, she tells her mom. There's no point in sounding convincing. They both know better.
The wedding is boring but painless, and she got to pick her own dress, so at least she looks good, good enough that two of the groomsmen eyeball her several times through the ceremony, which is tacky and disrespectful. She makes a point to turn them both down, in person and in clear, sharp words.
"You didn't need to do that," Chris tells her when she sits down at their table. She toes off her shoes and nicks his glass of champagne.
"I'll be the judge of that." Leaning back in her chair, sipping on stolen champagne, she watches the room, the deserted tables, the people dancing near the band. The restaurant started to clear out a couple of songs ago, so now it's just the wedding party and a few distant relatives who are too drunk and too young to know when to quit. Soon enough the groom's daughter makes off with one of the people Kate's mom invited from the law firm where she works as a paralegal—some things haven't changed—and Kate turns to Chris, cocking her head. "How come you're not hooking up with anybody? Roger has some pretty decent-looking nieces. Of course they're not as hot as I am, but you gotta make do."
Chris shakes his head and grabs his glass right out of her hand, which earns him a glare. He leaves it out of arm's reach, but picks up the bottle from the middle of the table and fills up her empty glass. "How's dad?"
"You'd know if you came home more than twice a year," she says. "You don't even have an excuse anymore, you live like, a state away."
"I come home more than twice a year."
"Obviously it's not often enough if you're asking me how dad is." He gives her a blank look, the kind that says he's not going to engage with her petty antics. Like she's still a teenager or something. Like she didn't bring out a gun. "He's fine. He's more efficient than he used to be. I personally believe we all have me to thank for that, but you know him. He's a proud type."
He raises his eyebrows and says, "Have you actually gone hunting with him?"
"Sort of." She shrugs. She has, but she always has to stay back, like she can't hold her own, like she's shadowing the other hunters. Last year her dad recruited an eighteen-year-old boy, and he gets to shoot more often than she does even though his aim is nearly always off. "I don't think I'm made for team work. There's so much head-butting and they waste so much time figuring out if they should even do anything. No, thanks."
Chris doesn't say anything, just fingers the lighter from one of the guest gift baskets, rolling it on and off. She knocks back half her glass of champagne—she's not going anywhere tonight and her hotel room is only an elevator ride away, might as well make the most of it.
"I have some news," he says, and she looks up, narrowing her eyes at him. "I wanted to tell you in person, but I didn't want to draw attention away from—" He gestures towards their mom, swaying more than dancing with her new husband, smiling at something he said. She wants to be happy her mom's happy, but all she can manage is neutral. It's taking actual effort to shove down the annoyance she's felt every time Roger's talked to her. "Turns out weddings are a really bad place for these things."
"Okay, come out with it," she says suspiciously.
"Do you remember Victoria?"
Kate can't say that she does. Unless— "Is she one of the hunters? The one with the spiky hair and the endless supply of electroshock guns?"
"That's what you took away from—" Chris opens his mouth in a manner somewhat akin to a fish, and then he shakes his head. "Yeah, that's Victoria."
Kate met Victoria and a few other hunters last year, when she went up to Boston for spring break. Victoria seemed—headstrong is one word for it. There was a certainty in the way she spoke and a determination in her posture that made it clear without testing it she and Kate would clash like magnets, aversion by sameness and all that. In a work environment, at least.
"Anyway, she's relocating to California after the summer," Chris says. "She got a teaching job there and neither one of us wants to break things off so—"
"—so I'm going to ask her to marry me. Next week. I don't know when I'll see you after this, so there's a chance I will be engaged by next Sunday. If all goes well."
Kate stares at him. And stares at him some more. She's aware she's looking at him like he's a freak, but he's twenty-four and he wants to marry another werewolf hunter and it's the most baffling thing she's heard in her life. "Did you knock her up?" she finally manages.
"No," he says slowly, frowning. Kate isn't convinced.
She wants to point out that the last hunter an Argent married ended up leaving him for fucking North Carolina and a day job as a paralegal, and she wants to ask him how long he's been dating Victoria—is that why he introduced them? Did he make a point of getting them to spend more time together than Kate spent with anyone else that spring break? The weapon analysis and viewing was educational, sure, but it would also have been educational to know she was holding her brother's girlfriend's sniper rifle. It's unsettling to think Victoria knew something Kate didn't.
"I'm going to pretend you didn't say anything," she says, "and relax here some more, and tomorrow I'm going to kill you so I don't have to go to two weddings this year."
"Sounds reasonable," he deadpans.
"Damn right," she says, and knocks back the rest of her drink.
All she said was, "I'm getting a lot of weird animal attack reports from local papers around California. I'm moving out there," so she's not sure why Chris is laughing. "I'm serious. It's been so quiet around here lately, it's killing me."
"So move again," he suggests, "get a real job. Sign up for more classes. Join the fucking police, Kate, hunting was never supposed to be a full-time job. One day dad's going to cut you off and you're going to wish you had something to show for the past twenty-three years of your life."
"Okay, one, that's not going to happen, two, I have tons to show for it, and three, I am moving. To California."
Technically she's not supposed to go anywhere—she's in Phoenix now, living in a tiny apartment with a couple of artist types who don't seem to care about the trunk full of weapons as long as she makes the rent. Her dad knows a lot of hunters around the state and left her in charge, sort of, when he moved to Washington. So she's supposed to stay where she is, with some leeway, like moving to the capital. She's been following jobs from crappy little town to crappy little town since she finished college, hopping from motel to fellow hunter's couch to motel to fellow hunter's couch, and it was driving her insane. She liked the mobility of it, not being tied down, but she had to live somewhere, and having a home base in the capital and traveling from there makes a lot more sense than what she was doing before. It doesn't mean she's matured. It's just practical.
Still, Chris doesn't need to know that. "Just have the guest room ready when I get there. Tell little Allison her aunt's coming to visit. She'll understand that, right? I'm not sure how three-year-olds work."
"Remind me not to ask you to babysit," Chris says.
"Aw, come on, I'm an awesome aunt," she says. Not that she has that much experience, but as far as she knows all that's required of her is gift-bearing and help sneaking around the parents, both of which she excels at.
After a moment of silence, Chris lets out a long-suffering sigh and says, "Well, I guess we won't find out unless you spend time with your niece."
Allison is a tiny little thing with really dark hair who loves the toy bow Kate gives her as soon as she's done dropping her stuff by the front door. She's more of a little person than she was the last time Kate saw her, and giggles when Kate kneels down on the rug and says, "Hey, remember me? I'm the person who will help you hide your boyfriends."
Chris groans somewhere to her left, and Victoria shakes her head and tells Kate she'll leave her bags in the guest room so Kate and Chris can catch up. It translates roughly to I need some time for myself before I can deal with you in Kate's head, which is fine. Whatever. It's not imposing if she's there for a reason. Besides, it's about time she gets to know the version of her niece that can walk and talk and use her dad's back as a target for her fluffy little arrows.
Kate meets a few hunters in the area, hunters who actually treat her like an Argent and not like her dad's little girl. She knows Victoria goes out with hunting parties sometimes, but it's not the same thing Chris and Kate do, or if it is it doesn't overlap. Kate doesn't ask questions because she knows what it's like to want no questions asked.
There's something intriguing about the wolves they're going after this time, some connection Kate can't quite put her finger on. The packs she comes across on full moons seem incomplete—not in the practical way, not because they run away from her, but because there's no alpha to be seen. They're not independent packs, but they won't lead her to their leader; as far as it concerns Kate, they're on their own, and even Chris's charts are no use.
She settles for scoping out the territory, watching people as she walks through main streets and treks through woods with a gun down the back of her jeans and a bow in her duffel bag. It's not much, but it leads somewhere: it leads her to a whole family of wolves. A real family, a family by blood and name.
"We can't go after an entire family," Chris says.
"The hell we can't," she says. "I could call everyone I know out here. A job this big, even dad would come help out. He'll bring reinforcements."
He looks at her intently, silent, until she stops talking. Then, he says, "We can't go after an entire family. We don't know if everyone in it is a werewolf. We don't know that it's actually hereditary. What we do know is they have children—"
"I'm not saying kill the kids, what kind of person do you think I am?"
"If you—if we put out a hunting party on a full moon and there's even a glimpse of a wolf, how many people do you think are going to stop to figure out how it sizes up before they shoot?"
"They're still wolves, Chris," she says. "You can't just do nothing."
"I can give it some more thought. Wait a while for proof. Not all of us are as starved for something to do with our lives as you are."
It stings, and all Kate can do is look at Chris, her mouth half open, a little disgusted. It takes her two weeks to tie up some loose ends and move up to Denver, four to hear news Chris and Victoria have packed up and moved little Allison to Pennsylvania. Apparently Victoria's parents live there. They're retired hunters, and Chris tells Kate he'll ask them about the Hales, pass on any useful advice they offer, but Kate knows when someone's sincere and when they're lying to make peace with her.
She's trying to do something good here. These aren't poor defenseless animals she's hunting; they're human beasts, they're smart, resourceful, big damn fucking wolves with an instinct to maim and kill. Leaving them alone only accomplishes more confusing headlines, more mountain lion attacks, more people bleeding out and losing limbs and turning. They understand safety in numbers. They have a weapon Kate is going to have to do without.
The deal she made with herself was that she'd stay in the same place and keep a job for two years, save up enough money to buy some of her own equipment. By the twenty-fourth month she's drafted her resignation letter about two hundred times, a quarter of those in actual writing. She has a brand new laptop, a collection of bugs, a number of handguns with varying range and advantages, a fake driver's license and a half-formed plan. She knows where to leave her car and where to pick up a motorcycle without tying the purchase to her name; she's put in a call at a decent-looking B&B and memorized several maps, itineraries and escape routes.
There's a family tree on the notebook she carries in the hidden pocket of her bag, as much information as she's been able to get without passing through an inconveniently small town more than twice a year or sending in a recon patrol. And now there's a window of time—her brother's in North Carolina, her dad's moved on to investigate reports of a feline-like shapeshifter in Nebraska, and for all intents and purposes she's on a break from hunting, her usual party now scattered away.
Her life has been stable for long enough that there is no hint of a lie when she answers her phone from a gas station in northern California and tells her dad things are the same in Seattle and she'll come out of retirement when she's ready to have her arm broken in three places by a wolf in mid shift again. There's nothing odd about telling Chris she's piled up some vacation time and will swing by to see Allison next month.
In Beacon Hills, she lays down the guns and leaves out the research. Kate Vincent is working on a collection of short stories about small-town California, wears reading glasses and only drinks decaf because caffeine makes her cranky. Her makeup is minimal and often missing, her wardrobe mainly consists of jeans and t-shirts, and she gives off a near-aggressive antisocial vibe she picked up from her roommates when she was living in Phoenix. She tries every bar in town, every diner, the two places that call themselves cafés, the local library, spends hours pretending to write, doodling pictures of bears and turtles, stools and pepper shakers instead. She's pretty sure it's not even out of character.
She spots a face she recognizes or two, builds on from there—who picks up which kids from school, who drives up to the big house in the woods. That's the only common point, and she doesn't hesitate before slotting it in as the axis of her plan. She has no intention of actually stalking anyone—too risky, too boring—so all she needs is an in.
It's nearing the end of May, and the diner across the street from the library is crowded with students from 4 to 7, splattered after then. One of the Hale kids, the oldest who's still in high school, usually stays until closing, ordering new things every half hour. As big as his house is, she can imagine what would drive someone to study elsewhere. She's glad her parents didn't have any children after her.
For a week he switches up books every day, but then he gets stuck on a pile of notes, highlighting and writing and rewriting for days. Wednesday evening, he brings the actual textbook with him. It peeks out of his bag as the place starts to clear out, and she hops off her stool at the bar, saunters over until she's casting a shadow over his table.
His first look at her isn't exactly favorable, but the edge comes off his face when he sees her, and she's met enough boys in her life to recognize the hint of a smile when she licks her lips.
"Having trouble with that?" she says, gesturing at the book with his head. "I minored in Economics in college. I could help you out."
"Why would you do that?"
She gives him her best conspiratorial, self-apologetic look, nose scrunched up, eyes narrowed, slight rise of her shoulders. "I'm trying to write a story. It's not going well."
There's still some confusion in his look, indecision masked as blankness, but then his shoulders soften and he blinks and says, "Grab a chair."
He makes room on the table while she gets her things from the bar, and when she sits down he doesn't say anything at first, even though her head is tilted expectantly. "My name's Kate," she finally says, "what's yours?"
"Oh," he says, shaking his head a little. He's had his head buried in those notes for far too long. "I'm Derek."