When their mom dies, Allison and Stiles hold a vigil outside of her hospital room. There’s a string of directives from both sides of the family that clearly state do not get caught by normal humans doing weird shit so they lock themselves into a janitor’s supplies closet and Allison pulls a series of tapers out of her backpack as Stiles chalks runes onto the floor.
“Are you sure this isn’t going to set the hospital on fire?” Allison whispers, lighting a white candle and dripping melted wax into a small pool at the north point of the pentagram. She presses the base of a green taper into the wax and waits for it to cool.
Stiles shrugs and concentrates on the center of the pentagram, carefully copying runes for long journey and safe travel into an even circle. “I mean, the candles won’t,” he finally says.
“Oh, jeez,” Allison mutters. “Great. Because that’s very comforting.” She finishes the second taper and moves on to the third. “Move your elbow.”
“Hello, delicate spellwork here,” Stiles replies prissily, but he shifts slightly to the left and frees up the southwestern point for Allison’s use. “I’m sorry that you can’t just shoot an arrow into this circle and make it work, but.”
“Shut up,” Allison says through her teeth, and she elbows Stiles in the side, hard, using her unfairly gained archery muscles. “God. My annoyance with you knows no bounds.”
Distracted, Stiles says, “Yeah, clearly,” and then, “no, blue at the southeastern point.”
Allison rolls her eyes and reaches into her backpack. “Midnight or periwinkle?” she asks, hefting one in each hand.
“Midnight,” Stiles says. “Use black to secure its base, okay?”
Allison uses the white candle to light the black one; as she blows out the white, she comments, “This is getting scarily close to something that you’re making up as you going along.” She watches with a stark, non-blinking gaze as Stiles frowns at a set of runes, licks his forefinger, and rubs them out to start over.
“I would never,” Stiles says, trying for affronted but too distracted to commit. He admits, “Okay, well, I have, but this is Mom. I wouldn’t make up a ritual for Mom.”
When Allison lets go of the midnight blue taper, Stiles finishes the final rune and the candles simultaneously burst into light, flames making a shocked, whooshing sound that is fairly disturbing, considering how many flammable cleaning solutions are stocked in industrial-grade containers around their make-shift ritual site.
“Shoot,” Stiles hisses, falling back on his ass to avoid setting his sleeve on fire. “So, maybe I’m a little nervous. Only a little.”
“Calm down,” Allison orders, shuffling back on her knees. “If those candles burn down, I didn’t bring enough replacements.” Stiles is positioned exactly across from her. His face is soft from baby fat and his hair flops into his eyes; their mother has been too sick to cut it, and he won’t visit Supercuts. Shockingly enough, when he settles back onto his heels, hands on his knees, Allison can see where his adult face will push through. He looks like their mom.
“I’m calm,” says Stiles lamely. He inhales deeply, closing his eyes, and repeats, “I’m calm,” much more convincingly. The flames gutter and die down, settling into a steady, amber glow that picks up the ghostly whiteness of the chalk.
“What do we do?” Allison whispers, as the flames eat through the wax and Stiles is still silent, eyes still closed, hands stuck to his knees.
Slowly, Stiles opens his eyes. “We have to believe that she’ll be okay,” he says. In his voice is everything wrecked that Allison hasn’t been able to contemplate in the past two years—their mom, bald head hidden under the hats that Allison had gotten progressively better at knitting; their dad, hiding with his gun safe in the garage; the house, whispery and thin; the phone ringing in the middle of the night and their dad’s tight, “It’s Gerard; don’t answer it.”
“She’s sick,” Allison says wretchedly. “She’s not okay, Stiles.”
“Mom is going to die,” Stiles agrees, and there’s a world of hurt inside of him that leaks out as he says it. Allison can feel the pain, high and tight between her lungs, the mirror image of whatever Stiles is feeling. “But we can make it better for her, Allison, we just have to believe it.”
Since the morning twenty-five months ago when their parents had sat them down at the kitchen counter of the house in Biloxi and explained that they were moving to Baltimore so that their mom could get treated at the Sidney Kimmel Center, Allison has had a hard time believing in anything. Nothing feels normal anymore; she can’t even taste a tuna fish sandwich without it falling into thick, ashy pieces in her mouth.
“I don’t know if I can do that,” Allison tells Stiles, blinking back the stupid, useless wave of tears that rise in her throat. She’s just old enough to know that crying is a thing that babies and younger children do and Allison is not a baby.
“Of course you can,” Stiles says. He reaches around the outside of the pentagram, utilizing those too-long arms that most often find themselves connecting with juice glasses and pieces of furniture and standing lamps. “We have to be the spark.”
When he says spark, the candles jump excitedly, like Stiles does when they’re in class and one of their teachers asks a question that relates to one of Stiles’ obscure areas of interest, like female pro soccer players from Croatia or the origin of the yoga mat.
Allison reaches for his hand automatically. “I want it not to hurt. She looks sad all the time, Stiles, like Dad after he got stabbed by Mr. Thompson.”
“We can take away the hurt,” Stiles promises her. “Just believe that we can take it away. Think and leap, that’s what Mom says. Close your eyes and jump.”
Across the circle, Stiles exhales and his shirt, emblazoned with the Incredible Hulk’s fist and the words HULK SMASH! across his collarbone, flutters with the motion. Allison lets her eyes drift shut; she can see the after-image of the print against her eyelids, a purple fist shooting out across the pentagram detailed in Stiles’ steady rune-writing.
Jump, Allison thinks, as strongly as she can. Jump, Mom. Be free.
“Are you kidding me?” Stiles asks forcefully. He’s never really been good at the deference part of being an Argent, which is maybe why it’s for the best that he’s a living disaster when he has a gun in his hand.
Their dad rolls his eyes heavenward and says, “When have I ever answered in the affirmative to that, Stiles?”
“I don’t know,” Stiles says, “I was hoping this would be a first. A little bit of, haha, joking, we’re not actually going to move for the fifth time this calendar year?”
Allison shifts her weight to her left foot and lets her palm brush against Stiles’ fist. He sighs and his pinkie finger extends across her palm, hooking their hands together. Their father presses a thumb to his temple and bites out, “We’re a migrant family, Stiles.”
“Yes,” Stiles agrees, “the Argents are secretly a flock of predatory birds, I get it.” He holds up his free index finger and continues, “However, if I might make a salient point?”
“No,” their dad says. “The subject—which was never a discussion, by the way—is closed. We’re leaving on February 11th, your first day of school is on the 14th. Without any unnecessary interjections about how much your life sucks and everything is awful, is that enough time for you to safely break the wards on the house?”
Their dad has his this is life, suck it up and move on face on. Stiles, who basically exists to ratify the expression “when God was handing out common sense, he was waiting in line for a second helping of stubborn,” nonetheless sighs and, pausing to think, finally says, “No, that should be fine. I’ll have to finish most of them on the new moon, though, so we’ll have about a week without any wards.”
Allison’s face twists involuntarily into a half-wince; her dad smothers his before it can get further than the left corner of his mouth. “Believe it or not,” he says, “we made do before we had witches in this family. Allison, I want you to come up with a proposal for house safety by the end of the week.”
“How many men do I get?” Allison shouts after him as he sweeps out of the kitchen.
“Just us!” their dad calls over his shoulder. “Be creative!”
“Be creative, he says,” Stiles mutters. A second later, he brightens perceptibly. “Does this mean you’re going to use my boiling oil idea?”
Allison doesn’t bother masking the full-body shudder that this evokes in her. “Stiles, there exists no plane of existence upon which I would inflict your stupidly complicated boiling scented oil scheme.”
Stiles contorts his face into a parody of sadness and despair. “Allison. You know it’s a really awesome idea. Not only are you taking boiling oil, which was a cornerstone of medieval fortress defense, but you’re adding to it the magical assurance that”—here Stiles begins counting off his fingers—“your oil will always hit its target; you can hit a wider spray; and mortalities are guaranteed!” He finishes strongly, with jazz hands, presumably reflecting in the wider area to be hit with his patchouli oil.
“No,” Allison says. “Also, no. And it’s your turn to make dinner.”
“Just for you impugning the honor of my tactical brilliance,” Stiles says huffily, nose in the air, “I’m going to make vegetarian lasagna with extra mushrooms and zucchini. Think of it as a present.”
“Ugh,” Allison moans, and they go their separate ways. When the lasagna is baking downstairs and Allison has crumpled up her third piece of graph paper and begun to draw the perimeter of the house and its property for the fourth time, Stiles slinks upstairs, fingers pruned from the wet pasta.
“Scoot,” he tells her, nudging her butt with his knee, and she obligingly slides her desk chair to the left, freeing space for Stiles to slip his in. “So, what’ve we got?” He plucks her three discarded paper balls from the corner of her desk and unfolds them, flattening them out and frowning over them, mouth drawn into a moue of concentration. “Oh, hey, this one’s pretty good.”
“Except for the western ground-floor windows,” Allison tells him gloomily, stabbing the sheet with her pencil. “I tried working from the attic down because I kept on having trouble with the chimney, but then I ran out of patrol time for the living room.”
“Well, yeah,” Stiles says with the easy grace of a born tactician, “but we can cannibalize the timing from somewhere else. Your grid is solid and you should use that as a foundation.” He flips through the other two ideas, makes a sad face, and says, “We’ll just make a new set of check-ins.”
Allison gently rests her forehead against her desk as Stiles steals her pencil and begins to scribble, head industriously bent over her desk. She knows that she’s better than Stiles in the field—better sense of timing, better stealth, better aim, better at hand-to-hand—but their dad wants her to become a leader, and Stiles is better at that. Allison has read books on war strategy until her brain feels like it’s going to melt out of her earths, but Stiles is some sort of freak prodigy.
“Here,” he says, tapping the shell of Allison’s ear with his pencil. “I’ve got it. Shave down patrol time on the second floor by barricading up my bedroom and the office. I’ll sleep in here and the office should be packed by then, anyway.”
Allison groans into her desk and blearily lifts her head. “Stiles,” she moans.
“I know,” he agrees. “Which is why we’re going to have archery practice after dinner and you can beat my butt up and down the range while Dad lurks in one of the upstairs bedrooms and watches us like a creeper.”
Halfway through first period, as Allison slinks further down in her chair to avoid the scary, reptilian way that her Spanish teacher doesn’t blink, her phone vibrates in her pocket. WHAT IS IN THE WATER IN THIS TOWN, the text from Stiles reads.
I KNOW, Allison sends back.
Three seconds later, she gets a picture of an ass, isolated from the rest of its possessor’s body, bent over a water fountain. This guy’s a total dick, the message underneath reads, but Jesus, I bet he drinks protein shakes with the blood of his enemies for breakfast and does aerobics with tiny babies strapped to his legs.
Allison coughs into her hand to hide her laughter; Mrs. Morales’ head swivels on her neck and she zeroes in on Allison. “Senorita Argent?” she offers waspishly in Spanish. “Is there something you wish to share with the class?”
“No, no,” Allison assures her, “nada,” and Mrs. Morales hardly looks reassured but she also no longer appears to want to eat Allison’s head, so that’s nice.
Stop taking pictures of people’s butts, Stiles, she types with her left hand, industriously copying down the forms of the subjunctive for verbs ending in –car with her right. You’re going to get punched.
Thnx to you and dad, I’m the best at avoiding people’s fists, Stiles replies. Great job at paying attention in class, Thing 1.
Great job at being distracting as hell, Thing 2. And if the guy who has that ass punched you, I bet you’d feel it in your bones.
SHAWING, Stiles sends back, and it’s the last Allison hears from him until third period, which it turns out they share.
“Thank God,” Stiles moans, throwing his bag onto the desk next to Allison’s. “Have you noticed that, in addition to being inordinately attractive, the people here are also kind of dumb? There was this kid in English last period who, I swear to God, looked confused by the concept of reading.”
The guy who fairly obviously had been angling to sit next to Allison gives Stiles a dirty look, which Stiles returns three-fold and with a faintly bitchy, “My sister isn’t interested in dating you, Finn Hudson,” and he immediately slinks off to sit in the back of the classroom.
“Ouch,” Allison quietly observes. “Overly-aggressive much, Stiles?”
“According to Dad, you’re not allowed to break any hearts here.” Stiles paws through his backpack until he unearths a notebook with CHEMISTRY written on the front in Sharpie. “I think Michael Weinberg serenading your bedroom window with the greatest hits of Chippewa Falls High School Marching Band was a last-straw kind of deal with him.” Thoughtfully, Stiles bites the end of his pen. “Although it might’ve just been the sax? At least try to avoid the band geeks here. I know that putting all hopeless cases off-limits will be an unattainable goal.”
Allison is opening her mouth to say something about how she does not have a hopeless type—or maybe just to laugh; that’s still her native response to the crazy stuff that Stiles spews out instead of expressing his real feelings—when a guy bolts in from the hallway and throws himself into the seat in front of Allison, breathing heavily with a distressing kind of rattling in his chest.
“Mr. McCall,” the teacher says, his eyes glinting dangerously behind his glasses. “How good of you to join us. Just in time to volunteer to answer the first question from last night’s homework, no less.”
The guy huffs, garbles something unintelligible, and then reaches for his bag. He pulls out an inhaler, and then, after a few seconds of medicating, says, “Okay, Mr. Harris,” in a traumatized voice. Even with the trauma, it’s surprisingly engaging—low, kind of raspy, and, combined with the way that his hair curls over the back of his neck, enthralling—and Allison finds herself leaning forward slightly in her seat when Stiles jabs her in the side with his pen.
“What?” she hisses under her breath, jerking to the side.
I know that look, Stiles mouths at her.
Allison opens her eyes wide and breathes, “What look?” and that serves the unfortunate result of calling them to the teacher’s attention.
“New kids,” he says, pointing at them and snapping. “Names.”
“Stiles and Allison Argent,” Stiles says promptly, sprawling backwards in his seat. The teacher looks pained and unimpressed; he’s the kind of guy who never should’ve been allowed to finish his student teaching.
Harris’ eyebrows go up. “Stiles?” he echoes, meanly.
“It’s a nickname,” Stiles replies. “Feel free to try to pronounce my first name, I guess, but many good men have fallen before you in pursuit of that.”
Allison steps on his foot, meaning stop baiting the teacher, Stiles, and he kicks her ankle lightly, affectionately, in return.
Now bored, Harris says, “I don’t actually care,” and turns to McCall, his lips pursed to suppress a fairly obvious case of extreme glee. “Well,” he drawls, “at least you showed up, Mr. McCall.” As far as Allison can tell, the equation on the board isn’t disastrous—he’s got one too many oxygens, but that’s it—but she forgets about a lot when McCall turns on his heel and shuffles back to his seat and, um, wow.
Something definitely in the water, she writes at the top of her notebook, tilting it in Stiles’ direction.
For a while, Allison listens to Harris over-exaggerate the importance of McCall’s misplaced oxygen radical and takes notes as they move on to the rest of the homework. She’s sort of forgotten about how adorable the guy in front of her is, in the face of a jump in Chemistry that looks like at least three chapters compared to where they last were in Chippewa Falls, when Stiles aggressively nudges her elbow, drawing her attention to his notes.
You’re my twin sister and I know that look and that look is you deciding on your next case of hopeless boyfriend.
Stiles is Allison’s twin and her best friend and she loves him, but sometimes his ability to stress over situations completely lacking in stressors is sort of alarming and also very annoying. Still, baiting Stiles is one of Allison’s favorite things to do, after archery and judo, so she affixes an expression of besotted amusement on her face and scribbles, Look at him! He’s like a puppy. But, um, fourteen times hotter. Those are biceps under that shirt, Stiles.
She immediately thereafter returns to her notes; in the hierarchy of Argent family home life, staying alive ranks above everything else, followed by keeping your family alive, and then doing well in school, after which are home responsibilities and staying inconspicuous and other things. Allison does well at staying alive and keeping her family alive and getting good grades; she’s bad at interrogation and strategy, ace at physical fitness, and shit at cooking.
Hey, I straddle both sides of that fence. I’m just saying, you’ve got a type and that guy is so obviously your type that I’m actually surprised he’s not an idiot.
Bizarrely, Allison’s first response to that is, He might be, you don’t know! which is so clearly a bad idea that she chokes on her own laugh. Instead, she steals Stiles’ pen for her next class and he sticks his tongue out at her—huge and sloppy with spit and totally gross—and even though they only get to see each other twice a day, it’s enough to keep Allison from feeling like she’s going to drown in a sea of kids she doesn’t know with intricate social relationships she can barely navigate.
It’s only after Scott and Allison begin to date for real that she finds out that he and Stiles work together. “How did you not mention this?” Allison hisses, jabbing her index and forefinger into Stiles’ side. “I’ve been picking you up from Dr. Deaton’s office for the past three weeks!”
Stiles flails in response and the elbow that almost breaks Allison’s nose is entirely instinctual, unfortunately, which means they’re going to be wasting even more of Allison’s valuable extracurricular time on reminding Stiles how basic self-defense works. “We’re bros now,” Stiles squawks. “Your creepy crush on him had no bearing on our work relationship!”
“You’re such an asshole,” Allison says, viciously turning the key in the ignition.
“If it’s any help,” Stiles replies, “like, all Scott wants to talk about is you. The twelfth time that he asked me a vaguely probing question I had to be like, dude, that’s my sister, please stop.” Stiles manages this with an entirely straight face; Allison gives him a bitch-face and he crumples into helpless giggling. “Okay, so, I punched him in the arm and told him to nut up and ask you out and look, now you’re going on bowling double-dates with Lydia Martin and her jackass boyfriend and making out in the bleachers.”
“We haven’t made out in the bleachers,” Allison counters defensively. “It’s cold, why would I willingly spend time on freezing metal?”
Stiles says, “Yes, because that’s clearly the point to focus on.”
“What else do you want me to say?” Allison asks. “I could punch you again, I guess, but you didn’t seem to like that.” She raises her fist and Stiles quickly pushes it down.
“Eyes on the road!” he orders. “The fact that you’re the older one is continually impressive to me, since I’m a bottomless well of maturity in comparison. All right, so, now you know that Scott also works at Dr. Deaton’s after school, although in a much more, ahem, normal capacity, so—are we good now?”
They’ve never really been anything other than good, even when Stiles is a jackass and Allison gets pissy, but Allison says teasingly, “We haven’t been good since that thing with Chris Cui, Stiles.”
“Oh my god,” Stiles shouts, “that was four years ago, Allison, seriously!”
Over his indignant squawking and flailing, Allison continues, “He was my boyfriend and you flagrantly stole him out from under me, Stiles, and that shit hurts. It takes a while to heal.”
Stiles makes the sign of the cross and holds it out towards her over the gearshift. “He said that you’d broken up! Why do I have to keep going over this with you? You broke his nose, he clearly regretted sticking his tongue down my throat, and now we’re all good.”
“We’ll never be good,” Allison says gravely, in her best imitation of their dad. “We’re done, Stiles,” and then she and Stiles are laughing hysterically, bent over the dashboard, Stiles wheezing theatrically and pounding a fist over his chest.
“Oh god, his face will forever remain in my memory,” Stiles wheezes. “That look! He was so sure that I was going to be the one to hit him, he just completely forgot about you.”
Allison breaks at a red light and takes the chance to gather back some semblance of dignity. “Well, he learned his lesson. And kept learning it, presumably, when he went home and found all of those spiders in his bed. That was almost a little too unfair, Stiles.” She says the last bit lamely, since she doesn’t believe a word coming out of her mouth.
“The spiders were totally legit.” Stiles waves a hand dismissively. “Oh, do you know if Dad wants us to pick something up for dinner? I texted him after seventh period but he never responded. Presumably he’s out in the Preserve, saying threatening things to the Hales or whatever, and the cell reception is fairly shitty that far in.”
The light finally turns green and Allison turns left. “No, but we’re out of cereal.”
“And milk,” Stiles agrees, which is how he and Allison end up at the Raley’s on Hudson, Stiles aggressively campaigning for vegetable stir-fry and Allison waggling a box of Velveeta enticingly in the hope that she’ll be able to emotionally manipulate Stiles into making their mom’s mac and cheese.
Stiles has a zucchini in each hand and he’s gesturing with the slightly larger one in his right, stabbing at the box as if its continued existence is personally offensive to him, when someone to their left says, “Excuse me? I need to get by.”
“You need to eat vegetables!” Stiles orders, and then, “Oh, yeah, sorry,” and he has to drop one of the zucchinis to wrestle their cart out from the middle of the aisle. This prompts a friendly smile from the brunette woman who probably doesn’t want to watch Allison and her brother come to blows over their dinner menu.
As the woman considers the boxes of organic macaroni and cheese to Allison’s right, Allison rallies and takes advantage of the break in Stiles’ concentration. “We’ve got that huge Chemistry exam on Thursday; the leftovers will make sure that Dad won’t starve.”
“Dad isn’t in danger of starving,” Stiles huffs. “Dad’s like the freaking Grizzly Man, okay, he’d just, like, shoot dinner for himself.”
Allison turns her eyes big and luminous, letting her lower lip shift into a pout. “Stiles. He’s our father.”
He survives for seven protracted seconds; then, groaning, Stiles drops the zucchini and says, voice muffled by the palm he has over his eyes, “Put the box back, I’ll make it from scratch.”
Allison shoves the Velveeta behind her and shrieks, throwing her arms around Stiles’ shoulders. “You’re the best, Thing 2.”
“We’re having zucchini on the side, Thing 1,” Stiles threatens weakly. “Wow, it’s like zucchini isn’t even a word anymore. Zucchini. Zucchini.” He makes a warbled, wet noise as he thrashes his tongue around inside his mouth. “Bleck. Weird.”
Allison lets go of his neck and gives him a half-hearted noogie; Stiles twitches out of her arms with a well-executed dodge. “I’ll get the pasta and breadcrumbs if you get the cheese.”
“I should make you get it all,” Stiles says, but he takes the cart and disappears in the direction of the cheese section, leaving Allison and the stranger and an aisle full of boxed pasta.
In the silence that allows follows whenever Stiles leaves the room, the woman comments mildly, “You and your brother seem close.”
She sounds friendly; Allison says, “Yeah,” weakly. The woman looks familiar, but more than half of the influential adult population of Beacon Hills has been in and out of their living room in the past few weeks, and Allison isn’t super fantastic with names.
“I’m sorry,” the woman says, “you don’t remember me, do you?”
“Um,” Allison replies, cringing at her own lack of manners, “no?”
The woman laughs and offers her hand. “Beatrice Hale.”
“Oh,” Allison says blankly. A few seconds later, she shakes herself and says, “HI,” slightly louder than is really necessary in an otherwise empty supermarket aisle. She takes Mrs. Hale’s hand and shakes it firmly, trying not to look as nervous and stupid as she feels. “It’s nice to see you again, Mrs. Hale,” Allison says.
The last time they had met, Allison had been ten and her mother had just died; she and Stiles had slept in the backseat of the car while their Dad drove them from Maryland to California in what would later be, to Allison, an astonishingly short period of forty hours. There’s not a lot of that trip that Allison can remember, except that their father had yelled at so many people in such a short period of time that he had lost his voice, and Allison and Stiles had been mostly catatonic, still cried-out after the funeral that had seemed just as protracted as the months that their mother had spent in the hospital.
In recognition of this, and the fact that Allison’s aunt had tried to trap all of Mrs. Hale’s family inside of their ancestral home and raze it to the ground, Allison awkwardly swallows in deference to her weirdly dry mouth and shifts from her right to left foot.
“It’s nice to see you, too,” Mrs. Hale says. “Much better circumstances, I should think.” When she smiles, the corners of her eyes turn up and crinkle. They remind Allison of her mother, and also the way that she can see bits of her mother in herself when she smiles into a mirror.
“Um,” Allison says. “Yes. Much better.”
“I’m glad that we can live together,” Mrs. Hale continues, turning her attention back to the macaroni and cheese. “Your mother was quite a special woman. A lot changed because of her.” Apparently decided, she pulls down three boxes and adds them to her cart. “Have a nice evening, Allison. Please give my best to your father and brother.”
“Right,” Allison says breathlessly. She sucks in a breath and thinks of her father’s stern, Our daughters are leaders, and she manages to add a reputably steady, “Have a nice night, Mrs. Hale,” as Mrs. Hale turns on her heel and disappears, the wheels on her cart squeaking softly against the linoleum floor.
Shit, Allison mouths weakly, propping herself up against a shelf of Barilla pastas. Mrs. Hale is human, she remembers that, at least, if apparently nothing else, so there’s no need to worry about how embarrassing her heart sounds right now as she attempts not to suffer a myocardial infarction.
When she finally reconvenes with Stiles in the cereal aisle, holding two boxes of ziti and a cardboard of container of breadcrumbs, it’s to Stiles surveying the fiber contents of two kinds of granola. For some reason, this revitalizes Allison; she drops her groceries into the cart and hits Stiles on the back of the head. “Granola? Seriously? No, we’re getting Reese’s Puffs.”
“Oh god, there is actually nothing healthy about that cereal except that you aren’t just eating a bowl of Skittles with root beer,” Stiles whines, but Allison knows the truth of his secret heart, and he wants Reese’s Puffs as much as Allison does; he just fights about eating healthy because it’s one of the ways that he thinks he can help keep Allison and their dad safe.
They usually humor him—they eat the vegetable stir-fry and the veggie burgers and wear the protective amulets under their clothes and pretend not to notice when Stiles puts extra wards outside of their bedroom windows—but Allison cannot stomach the thought of eating granola for the next week considering that she just met the matriarch of a werewolf clan that her aunt tried to murder.
“Reese’s,” she says firmly, and Stiles immediately puts the granola back.
“What happened?” he asks quietly, making the half-shift in demeanor that preludes a full change of priorities from civilian to Argent. He puts two boxes of Reese’s Puffs into their cart. “How are we on orange juice?” he adds a second later.
“That was Beatrice Hale, in the pasta aisle.” Stiles, horrified, almost runs over his own foot; Allison reaches out and puts a restraining hand on the cart’s handle. “Dad said if we got pulped OJ again he’d make us run suicides every day for a month.”
“If you get it without pulp it’s just colored water,” Stiles asserts, on automatic, his eyes still blown wide and scared. “Holy shit—did she say anything to you?”
“I think if we get it with pulp we’re going to have shin splints for a month.” Allison tugs Stiles behind her, rescuing him at the last moment from knocking over a tower of stacked Special K boxes. “Just some weird stuff about how great Mom was. It was really strange; she said that a lot of things changed because of her.”
“That’s because Mom was secretly a superhero,” Stiles says. “I hate shin splints, so no pulp.” They make it to the juice and yogurt aisle at the end of the store in complete silence. “Do you think—the Hales know? About Mom? And, by extension, I guess, me?”
“If they didn’t, that mystical she changed a lot made no sense,” Allison points out, waggling her fingers in the air to accentuate the middle bit. “You have like zero spine when it comes to sprinting, Stiles.”
“This body wasn’t built for sprinting,” Stiles says, gesturing to his torso and then his legs in a protracted, Vanna White-kind of way. “What you’re looking at is 157 pounds streamlined for aggressive Googling.” He reaches for a gallon of orange juice (no pulp) and then changes his mind and grabs a half-gallon instead. “I mean, I guess if this is Hale territory, it makes sense that they know about Mom. She was from near here.”
“We were born near here,” Allison reminds him. “Speaking of which, it’s our birthday next week. Should we get some flowers on the way out?”
“Yeah, we can go by the cemetery after school.” After stowing the juice in their overloaded cart, Stiles pauses for a moment and frowns, his hands clenching and unclenching against the handle. “I—I really like it here. I don’t want Dad to freak about the Hales cornering us at the local supermarket and drag us to, like, backwater Toronto or something insane like that.”
“Are you seriously suggesting we just not tell Dad that we saw Mrs. Hale at the grocery store?” Allison demands. “Are you?”
“Well,” Stiles says slowly, extending the syllable until it pops, “no. But I suggest we heavily focus on the not-terrifying aspects and completely ignore anything that might convince Dad that the Hales are interested in consuming our entrails.”
“She was buying organic macaroni and cheese, Stiles,” Allison says, wresting control of the cart away from him with a well-placed kick to the shin. “There’s no way any of the Hales are desperate enough to consider eating us.”
Stiles makes an offended face. “We qualify as organic! We’re grown with neither pesticides nor fertilizers! All of our meat is local and we eat enough yogurt to balance the digestive system of a cow.”
“I cannot believe we’re talking about being eaten by our neighbors,” Allison tells the nearest ceiling tile. “Stiles, shut up and find the grocery and gas credit card, okay?”
“Well, I can’t believe you’re neglecting to view this as a possibility, considering that our neighbors in Wichita totally wanted to eat us,” Stiles says snippily, palming his wallet and digging through its contents for the Visa they use for household purchases.
“Our neighbors in Wichita were evolving into wendigo,” Allison reminds him. “I don’t think there’s any connection between werewolves and wendigo. Like, not even a little bit.”
“Whatever, Scully,” Stiles says dismissively. “The truth is out there.”
“Don’t quote me on this,” Stiles announces as he enters the kitchen, holding their mail in one hand and a single letter in the other, “but I think we just got invited to dinner at the Hale’s.”
Before Allison can do anything other than swallow a mouthful of Gatorade, their dad has leaned across the table and yanked the letter out of Stiles’ hand. “Thanks, Stiles,” he says as he collects the rest of the mail. “Go take a shower, you reek.”
“Well, your face reeks,” Stiles says weakly to their dad’s retreating back. His shirt is damp through, wet in long Vs down from the neck in the front and back, and his shoes are covered in dirt.
“You’re getting dirt on the floor,” Allison tells him. It’s her week to clean the downstairs; Stiles dragging muddy footprints up and down the wood floors is hardly conducive to his continuing physical health. “Seriously, take your shoes off. It isn’t hard.”
“My legs are noodles,” Stiles tells her. “I sort of got lost and ended up cycling through the Preserve twice on my way back. I’m lucky I could work the gas pedals at all, or else I would’ve been stuck in the parking lot a lá Barney Stinson.” He frowns and hooks one ankle over the opposite knee and then leans into the stretch, groaning at the motion. “Any more of that?” he asks.
Allison caps the bottle and rolls it across the counter at him. “Why did you get lost? You run the same path every time.”
“I got distracted,” Stiles says airily, before promptly drowning himself in Gatorade.
If he thinks Allison is going to be waylaid that easily, he’s not living up to his reputation as a tactical genius. “By what?” she prompts, leaning forward and resting her overheated arms on the cool marble on the counter. It makes sense for them to split up while working out now—Allison practices judo in the basement with their dad, while Stiles works on endurance running in the Preserve—because they’re developing into different types of fighters, but Allison still misses the years that she and Stiles had trained together.
“By what what?” Stiles rasps, wiping his mouth on the back of his hand.
Allison rolls her eyes. “Don’t even with me, Argent. You know what.”
Astonishingly, Stiles begins to blush. He’s dewy and sweaty and Dad’s recent focus on weight lifting has given some additional definition to the chest that always looked disproportional to the rest of his body; and he’s theoretically attractive, if his handful of boyfriends and girlfriends past are anything to judge by.
“Are you having an illicit liaison?” Allison hisses, aware that their dad will sometimes lurk by the stairs and listen in on their conversations in the kitchen.
“What?” Stiles says, “no,” but in the half-second it takes him to work up enough indignation, Allison can see that he’s lying.
“Oh my god,” she whispers, “you totally are! You are totally having an illicit liaison with somebody in the Beacon Hills Preserve! STILES, WHY DIDN’T YOU TELL ME?”
Stiles leaps across the counter and slaps his sweaty palm over her mouth, slick from the condensation of the Gatorade bottle. “Allison, shut up, it’s not like that and Dad’s going to think I’m moonlighting as a hooker or something if you keep going on like a harpy.” He puts his free hand on the back of her head and bodily drags her out onto the back porch, her arms flailing behind them like ribbons.
Once they’re outside, Allison bites his palm and they engage in a brief and highly embarrassing slap-fight for dominance, which Stiles wins by being bigger and sitting on her. “Okay, seriously, Allison, you have to not make a big deal out of this, okay?”
“No promises,” Allison says sulkily.
Stiles grips her chin and forces them to make eye-contact. “I’m serious,” he tells her, quietly, firmly. “You can’t make a thing out of this.”
Immediately, all interest in pretending to be a snot-nosed brat drains out of Allison. “Stiles, what is it?” She rests one of her hands against his arm and squeezes, using it to center both of them. As far as Allison is aware, Stiles doesn’t use his emotions like normal people—he keeps them locked up and he doles them out when the situation absolutely requires it. The last time Allison had seen her brother act this focused, they’d ended up dragging their half-bleeding father to the ER at St. Joseph’s in Phoenix.
“It’s not, um, huge, or anything,” Stiles begins, slightly awkwardly. “I just—I just sometimes end up running with Derek Hale in the Preserve.”
His sentence ends in a rush; Allison jokes, “Asking Cho Chang to the Yule Ball much, Stiles?” and then meaning of the words settles in and she says, “Derek Hale? Running?” in a confused and traumatized voice.
“Yeah, see, this is why you can’t tell Dad,” Stiles insists. “Telling Dad would be bad because he’d totally misread this situation and go crazy.”
“Misread what?” Allison demands. “Misread that you’re in love with a werewolf, Stiles?”
Stiles actually topples off of her with the force of his surprise. “I’m not in love!” he shouts, louder than he probably anticipated, and he overcompensates by then hissing, as he pokes at her chest, “I just hang out with Derek occasionally, okay?”
“The last time you looked like this,” Allison points out forcefully, “was when Mary Campbell verbally eviscerated that football troglodyte in Jacksonville.”
“Mary Campbell had the tongue of a viper and the rack of a Victoria’s Secret model,” Stiles recalls fondly. He shakes himself and adds, “And this isn’t anything like that. I just had a crush on her.”
“Not helping your case,” Allison says. “God, I can’t believe that you fell in love with some guy that I’ve never even met! Stiles, this is so not okay. You made me introduce you to all of my boyfriends.”
“It’s so I have their contact information in case of emergency,” Stiles mumbles. “That was a comment on your driving prowess, by the way, and I do mean your lack thereof. And it’s not the same thing because I don’t have a crush on Derek Hale!”
After he finishes blushing and squawking, Allison waits fifteen seconds—give them long enough to consider all of the implications of what they said, Allison, but not long enough to thing of a better lie—and then says, “Bullshit,” and Stiles caves like a bad hand of poker.
“Yeah,” he says miserably. “But he’s twenty-four and I think he might actually be the male version of Pandora, because there’s no way the genetic lottery produced someone that good-looking without some kind of retribution in the cards, like the end of humanity.”
“Well,” Allison says bracingly, “he is a werewolf.”
Glumly, Stiles says, “Oh, trust me—I know,” and Allison pretends that him being sweaty and gross isn’t a problem and she takes him into her arms for one of their patented Argent twin hugs, the kind where she buries her head into the curve of his shoulder and Stiles’ hands spread across her back and they steady each other.
Three minutes later, after their dad has stomped downstairs and loudly announced that they’re going to the Hale house for dinner, Allison asks, “What the hell is up with this dinner invite?”
“I have no idea,” Stiles admits, “but I imagine it maybe has something to do with his sister catching us making out in the woods?” Allison affectionately plucks at his ear before she immediately twists it to the left, hard enough to make him shriek, “Okay, ow ow ow owow.”
“You are so dead,” Allison tells him. “I mean it. When Dad finds out—which presumably he will at this farce of a dinner—he’s going to drag you out of town so fast you won’t even time to think of anything pithy to say about Regency heroines.”
“I always have pithy things to say about Regency heroines,” Stiles says. “But, um, fair point.”
Allison had thought, occasionally, about how much she wanted to get to know her brother’s boyfriend better, but in no universe had she contemplated that wish being fulfilled by their being chained together in some psycho migrant pack’s basement.
“Do you see my bow?” she asks Derek, testing the diameter on the shackles. This is bad—Allison can saw through most kinds of rope in less than thirty minutes and she’s a lock-picking savant when it comes to cuffs, but shackles are a whole other kind of awful.
“What are you going to do with it?” Derek asks. “Shoot something with your complete lack of range of motion?”
Allison rolls her eyes, observes, “You are spending way too much time with my brother,” and estimates that she has maybe a centimeter of free space beyond the circumference of her wrist. Even if she dislocates her thumb, she won’t be able to slip out. “It’s actually because I keep a set of picks in the handle.”
After a moment of silence, Derek admits, “No.”
“Well,” Allison says, “great. Time for option two.” With her arms strung above her head, she doesn’t have enough give to successfully scratch herself. “Sorry, this is going to seem like a weird question, but do you think you could bite my neck?”
Derek blinks at Allison twice, the low light of the basement reflecting off of the icy blue of his eyes. “What,” he finally says.
“I just need to be bleeding,” Allison explains. “I’m currently not and this entire process could really be expedited if I was. Just enough to, um, trickle? I know you’re not an Alpha; I’m not worried about changing.”
Pissily—and, more likely, terrified of her father—Derek hisses, “I’m not biting you without a better explanation of why.”
“Look,” Allison says, “Stiles is the one with the technical expertise and general know-how, but if I start bleeding, it’ll activate the amulet and Stiles and my dad will know where we are. It’s obvious we’re not going to be getting out of this one ourselves.”
Derek has a look on his face that implies that he still thinks they might be able to Butch and Sundance their way out of this; Allison patiently waits for his ego to settle the hell down and then she prods, “Well?”
“If Chris asks,” Derek says, elongating his jaw and opening his mouth to reveal his second row of canines, “you’re telling him that this was your idea and I agreed under duress.”
“Yes, yes,” Allison agrees, “I know, now, if you would?” She tilts her head back, exposing more of her throat, and she tries to get as close to Derek as she can without being in his lap. She can feel his eyes on the line of her neck for a long handful of seconds, and then his breath, warm and slightly moist, and then the silk-screeching sound of skin tearing as his fangs sink into her flesh. “Fuck,” Allison swears quietly, bearing down through the pain.
Hazily, she can feel the moisture gather on the cusp on her collarbone and then trickle down to the neck of her shirt. She can’t feel anything when the amulet is activated, but it must be at some point because twenty minutes after the bite, when the blood flow has mostly stopped and Allison is uncomfortably aware of how intimate her relationship with her brother’s boyfriend has now become, there’s the crackling hiss that precedes a smoke bomb coming from upstairs.
“Dad,” she says, grinning.
“How did—” Derek says, frowning.
“One of Stiles’ shielding spells,” Allison explains. “He’s good at those.”
The comfortingly loud recoil of her dad’s favorite sawed-off interrupts further conversation, closely followed by the emptying of a clip from a Beretta. Allison woozily categorizes the sounds from upstairs—Dad, Bronson, Peters, and maybe Stiles, although it’s more likely that he’s spellcasting from a distance—until all of the action dies off and the door to the basement slams open.
“Allison Richard Argent,” Stiles yells, flinging himself down the stairs like a kamikaze moron, “if you are dying I am going to resurrect you and then kill your ass all over again, you freaking idiot.”
Derek says, “Your middle name is Richard?”
Allison, long-suffering, says, “It’s a thing,” as Stiles jumps the last three steps.
He points at Derek and shouts, “Don’t even get me started on you,” before he sees the shackles, the bite on Allison’s neck, and the weak outline of the amulet through her shirt. “Oh,” he stutters, stumbling over his too-big feet on the unfamiliar ground. “Hey, that was kind of clever, Allison!”
“Don’t sound so surprised,” Derek tells him. “You gonna stand there all day or you gonna unchain us, Stiles?”
“Just for that, I’m going to do my sister first,” Stiles announces, hefting an iron ring of keys. As he tries each of them, he shakily narrates the events of the past few hours—Allison and Derek disappearing separately, Scott’s frantic series of texts, the moment that he felt the spell on her amulet activate, and their dad’s subsequent crazy episode.
“Who’s upstairs?” Allison asks. “Sounded like Bronson and Peters.”
“Bronson, Peters, and Peters Jr.,” Stiles says. He reaches the last key on the ring, which is, of course, the correct one, and the shackle opens with a groan, releasing Allison’s arm so that it cam immediately cramp. “Lower them slowly,” Stiles tells her, as if she doesn’t know that already, but Allison knows how Stiles shows his affection. “Peters Jr., by the way, is kind of a liability in the field. The magic thing spooked the hell out of him, too.”
“Did you do the thing with the glowing eyes?” Allison asks suspiciously. “That always spooks the other hunters, which is why Dad tells you not to do it.”
Stiles cheerfully lies, “Nope!” and, finished with her other wrist, moves on to Derek. “You should take my phone and call Scott, Allison, before he has a panic attack or something.”
“And tell him what?” Allison replies, slightly bitter at the way that Derek’s left hand, when it’s released, immediately falls on Stiles’ hip and digs into the flesh there. “Hey Scott, sorry I missed our date, I was locked up in a migrant pack’s basement. Oh, what’s a migrant pack? It’s a Dungeons and Dragons thing.”
Both of Derek’s hands are now on Stiles’ hips; he uses them to lever himself to his feet, slowly, and Allison does the same. Her arms feel like thousands of fire ants have been released to eat clean through to her bones, but at least she isn’t chained up anymore. Allison hates being chained up, even more than she hates interrogation lessons.
“Dad’s developing the party line upstairs,” Stiles says absently, now running his fingers along the curve of Derek’s jaw. All of Allison’s bitterness swells, and then lapses in a sudden, sorry heap. She can’t really be jealous of Stiles; she loves him too much for it to stick. “Stop blaming me for the D&D line, Maribel Fonte totally bought that.”
“She called you my ‘meth-dealing brother’ for the rest of the year,” Allison corrects him. “So, in fact, she thought you were high.”
Stiles flips Allison off and then gives into his urge to mack on his boyfriend’s face. He’s slightly taller than Derek—seventeen and still growing and Allison hates him and his stupid height because now she has to wear five-inch heels to be taller, and, as the older twin, things like that should be her prerogative—and the desperate way that he curves his back tells her that he’s keeping a panic attack from setting in mostly by sheer force of will.
“I’m going to go call and lie to my boyfriend,” Allison finally says, when they show no sign of stopping and she would much rather have her gigantic bite wound cleaned than sit around watching her brother suck on the face of the guy who probably still has her blood in his mouth, ew.
“Okay,” Stiles says happily, muffled.
“Dad’s going to come down here in a few minutes and if you’re still making out, he’s going to kill you both,” she adds, because it’s true.
“Mm-hmm,” Stiles murmurs. “Right.” He slips closer to Derek and mumbles something that makes Derek grin and bite into his mouth harder.
After years of living with Stiles Argent: Master of the Sarcastic Interjection, Allison has a whole mental bank filled with things she could say right now to ruin the mood; surprisingly enough, she’s filled with an odd kind of fondness for her brother and his boyfriend, who are not even pretending that they don’t want to stick their hands down each other’s pants.
“Talk about liability in the field,” Allison murmurs as she leaves and Stiles’ open-mouthed bark of laughter gets swallowed by Derek Hale. It’s okay, though, because Allison has enough ammunition now to strong-arm Stiles into helping her convince their dad to let her tell Scott the truth.
“Fuck you, Thing 1,” Stiles half-shouts up the staircase after her.
“I love you too, Thing 2,” Allison coos right back.