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So tonight I'm gonna cut it out and then restart

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She drops out of Sac State at the end of her first semester, because this isn’t her. It’s someone else’s picture of her, just like the leadership training was. She can be heard across an open field, can talk groups of people into things, beat out Danny for student council president her senior year. She can lead people just fine.

Allison has found out she doesn’t want to.

So she doesn’t go home when she drops out. Doesn’t, in fact, tell her father that she won’t be home for Christmas. He’s on good terms with Derek now, and if he mentioned it, Derek would tell Scott and Scott would - probably wouldn’t come after her, because their boundaries are still firmly in place, but she’d have to be aware of him being sad. She leaves behind her phone and disables the Lo-Jack in her Toyota and swaps the plates with the girl next door who doesn’t do quiet hours very well and then drives north. At a truck stop in Oregon she swaps plates again, with the only other sedan in the lot. She keeps driving. She’s somewhere in Washington when she has to pull over because she can’t keep her eyes open any more. The seat doesn’t recline very far, with all her stuff in the back, but she’s slept in worse conditions while on field training.

In Seattle, she calls Lydia from one of the only payphones she can find and tells her what she’s done. Lydia understands - of course she understands, she’s too smart not to, and there’s not judgement in her voice at Allison not wanting to play watchman of a pack she can’t join for too many reasons to count, at Allison not wanting to live as either a hunter or an overt traitor to her family. Lydia understands, and Allison cries right there on the street because she wasn’t sure anyone would, not really. Lydia understands that, too, and makes soothing noises over the phone.

When Allison stops crying, Lydia says sadly, “You’re not going to be able to talk to me.”

“No,” Allison sniffs. “My dad - I love him, but I can’t, and you know . . .”

“You need to be out of the country,” Lydia says, brisk and practical.

“Yeah.” There’s a beat of silence. “I love you,” Allison says, and hangs up. She wipes her eyes and sniffs hard and gets back on the road.

When she gets to Vancouver, she gets a job in Chinatown, getting paid under the table. They like that she speaks French, and she’s pretty sure they don’t say anything too bad about her when they have rapid-fire conversations in Cantonese. She sleeps in her car a week before she finds a house-share that’ll let her pay in cash. It comes with free parking, too, which is honestly kind of fantastic. Her housemates are intensely pro-environmental, and Allison learns a lot about aluminum recycling and growing your own pot.

Chinese New Year, the store in Chinatown lets her go, because the owner’s niece wants a job. Allison sells some of her stuff and worries about finding a job that’ll need real ID. She keeps her gun and sells her crossbow, because the gun can be hidden more easily. She sells pot, too, a little bit, in a gig one of her roommates sets her up with. It’s pretty mellow, and doesn’t pay a lot, and she tells her roommate she can’t do it anymore when she figures out one of her regulars is a werewolf.

She’s not afraid, exactly: she’s not afraid of much anymore except her father finding her and making her come home. But she’s an Argent, and he’s an Omega loose in a city, and she should do something.

She doesn’t want to.

She takes some of her small and dwindling savings and rides from Tsawassen to Schwartz Bay and takes the bus into Victoria to use one of the public computer terminals in the job search centre there. She emails Danny.

He replies almost instantly, which is good, because she doesn’t want to pay for a hostel overnight, and says he can’t do as she asks, which is bad.

They go back and forth a bit, because she knows that Stiles lies badly, and he hadn’t been lying about the fake ID coming through Danny. Allison needs a bit more than that, but Danny’s smart, and he can make it happen, and he’s got a huge bleeding heart that means he will. Danny knows what Allison’s running from, and that she doesn’t have the same kinds of barriers in place that he does. He accedes, eventually and with ill grace, and she promises to pay him via Paypal as soon as she can and gives him the post office box in Vancouver, WA that her housemate uses when he’s getting product into the US.

He tells her six weeks, and she tells him she loves him. He tells her to go fuck herself and not to contact him again.

She goes back to Vancouver, and finds things to do - sell watercolour postcards on Etsy because Paypal can buy delivery pizza, clean houses, babysit for a Quebecois couple who stay out until two in the morning and don’t tip or drive her home. She walks home alone through the Downtown East Side and yearns for her ID to arrive. When it does, when it comes back into Canada on a cloud of patchouli and the Szechuan her roommate treats the house to, she starts up the next morning on one end of Hastings Street and applies everywhere that has a paper application and gets the websites for the ones that don’t.

She ends up working at London Drugs as a cashier. It’s a regular job with a regular paycheck (paycheque, she’s Canadian now) that pays into the Canada Pension Plan for an Allison Goldsmith who doesn’t exist and was, according to record, born in 1992 in Ottawa (and died two days later, but that part isn’t all that visible in the records anymore).

When she’s been free a year, she gets a tattoo to commemorate. It’s small, but it makes her happy, because it’s one of the few things she’s ever chosen for herself, and not as a reaction to someone or something else. Her parents didn’t have strong feelings about tattoos one way or the other, and it feels like reclaiming her skin and making it more thoroughly hers. She designs it herself, too, a Pacific Dogwood in a soft watercolor style that looks good against the pale skin of her ankle.

The artist compliments her design and asks if she’s afraid of needles and doesn’t hide her skepticism very well when Allison says she isn’t. “Okay,” is all she says, though, as she finishes snapping on her glove.

The pain of it isn’t intense, is almost a comfort in how physically grounding it is. Allison decides then and there that she’s getting another one.

She does, two months later, a raven on her neck that’s either Huginn or Muninn depending on her mood.

This time, when she’s done, she gets up the courage to ask about how she would go about becoming a tattoo artist.

That takes another year, including the apprenticeship, but she’s never been as happy as when she’s handing in her notice at London Drugs. She smiles, deeply dimpled, at enough customers that she gets three phone numbers and four obscene propositions. The place that takes her on is small, but they let her stay once she’s done her apprenticeship, and she gets some of her own clients. She works long hours, because it’s better than being home, and sometimes they get interesting clients late at night. Mostly drunk college kids wanting to do something to piss off their parents, and the first time Allison gets one of those it’s hard not to say try moving to another country and disappearing and letting them think you’re dead - it’ll probably work better .

But she manages not to, and that’s not the only kind of late night client. One comes in screaming at her boss, Jack, about a tattoo she got earlier in the day having healed, and Allison thinks judgemental thoughts about her subtlety until she notices Jack giving her looks like she isn’t meant to hear any of this.

There’s a shop in the back half of the building that opens to an alley, a bicycle framebuilder they’re on friendly terms with. They share a beer fridge, and the connecting door isn’t ever locked, so Allison leaves her boss to the shouting client and goes to get the blowtorch.

She comes back with the flame naked and her face shielded and, as her boss and the client look at her in shock, says, “Werewolf, right?"

The client subsides into a chair and bares her ribs, and Jack holds the client’s shoulders down with blue-gloved hands, and Allison sweeps the flame back and forth across the werewolf’s skin. When it’s done and Allison’s sweating and adrenalized from being this close to a werewolf she’s inflicting pain on, Allison turns off the blowtorch and pushes up her mask and says, “We’ll discount the touchup since we didn’t have a chance to tell you about it, but that’ll still be $50.”

The client only looks a little like she wants to claw Allison’s face off, but she looks at her tattoo and takes out a crisp red fifty and hands it over and says, “Thanks.”

Allison doesn’t even look at Jack, just pockets the money, because she’s damn well going to consider it her ‘surprise werewolves’ bonus.

The client leaves, and Allison stays where she is. So does Jack, waiting until the client’s probably out of hearing. “You didn’t mention you knew about werewolves.”

Allison puts her hands in the back pockets of her battered purple skinny jeans and rocks back on her heels. “Not something that comes up in everyday conversation.”

He starts cleaning up his tools, still keeping one eye on her. “No, it doesn’t. You stayed really calm even when she was thrashing a lot - not freaked out by the whole claw thing?”

She keeps her eyes level and her shoulders straight. “I left parts of my life behind that I’d rather not think about.”

“Where’d you leave them?” he asks quietly.

“Is telling you a condition of my continued employment?”

He drops his gaze, finally. “No.”

“Good. Then I’m gonna put this back and go home.”

As she goes past, he says, “You know you’re safe here, right?”

“Thanks. I’ll see you tomorrow.” She leaves, and she’s coming down from adrenaline, so she can’t go home. She goes to a bar, instead, somewhere loud with hockey, and drinks. Just drinks - no one talks to her, a combination of Canadian politesse, the bar itself, and the fuck-off vibes she learned to put off back in high school. Two whiskey sours in, her hands have stopped shaking. The adrenaline crash isn’t nearly as bad when she actually gets to hit something.

Four whiskey sours in, she’s fit company for human beings again, and goes home.

When she goes back to work in the morning, she’s the last one in, and has a feeling she’s been a topic of conversation. Maureen’s the one who takes her to the back, starts setting up to make them both coffee in the Chemex stashed in with the mugs and glasses. “Your first appointment’s not for another forty-five, so we have time to talk before you set up your station.”

“About last night?” Allison asks, staring at the kettle.

“Mostly about scheduling more non-standard clients,” Maureen says, a little cautious. “Would you be good with that? Rate for someone non-human’s $300 an hour, and most of them don’t complain, since we’re the only good shop in the Lower Mainland that’s equipped for some.”

Allison snorts in disbelief. “That’s obscene. I’m definitely in.”

Maureen grins. “Awesome. I’ve gotten a couple comments on your coloring style, so you’ll probably have more appointments in the next couple of weeks.”

-

She gets busier, builds up a client list of humans and enough supernatural creatures that she could rent an apartment on her own if she wanted to start doing awful things like ‘cooking mostly at home.’ She hates cooking, though, and the house she shares is nice enough, plus finding regular parking anywhere else would probably be a nightmare. So she stays, and another year passes, and then Jack’s doing the absurd grown-up thing and actually buying a house, and it’s got a basement suite he’s okay with renting to her - no credit check needed.

Allison’s more excited than she’d expected to be as she turns in her notice and packs up her room. She’d moved around so much, and wanted to be gone from the life that made her move, but this is going to be a space that’s just hers, where she can lock the doors and wander around naked if she wants.

Jack drives her to work whenever they work the same hours, and it’s only a short walk on either side of transit when they don’t, so her car mostly just sits there. She doesn’t want to get rid of it, though, and is reminded why every time she starts to sketch out a design on a werewolf with an American accent.

Everything is calm, and good, and Allison goes to VIFF and starts to crochet, and her daily workouts mellow out a bit. She does her own tattoo next, a realistic harebell on the inside of her wrist, mourning everything she’s left behind but putting it on her skin so she’s not carrying it inside. She gets to unwind, even as something inside her still ticks down to when all of this will of necessity be over.

It’s pessimistic of her, she knows, but - ‘it’s not paranoia if they’re really after you.’ Her pessimism is justified one rainy afternoon when she looks up and Lydia is there. She stands, distantly thankful that she was working on her sketchbook and not a client, and says, “No.”

Maureen shifts her grip on the borrowed blowtorch and pauses in working on her client. She doesn’t have a direct eyeline on the door, tucked behind a partial wall, but she has a view of Allison.

Lydia looks older, of course, but still more put together than anyone else Allison has ever met, hair swept back and up and makeup perfect. “It’s time to come home.”

Allison looks wildly over at Maureen and her client, then says, “Come through - there’s a break room.”

Allison leaves her sketchbook where it is and takes Lydia back to the break room. They don’t really take people back there, even Jack’s friends, but this is - Jack will understand, if he wants her to explain later. Allison grabs two Blue Bucks from the fridge even though it’s only two in the afternoon and offers one to Lydia. “How did you find me?”

Lydia’s looking around - at the art, the disorder, the umbrella stand in the corner. She shrugs. “Danny gave me the starting point, and then a combination of research and luck. It really didn’t take that long, Allison Goldsmith. I’m done with two degrees - I’ve got myself more or less together after everything - so you should, too. It’s been five years.”

Allison takes a long swallow of her beer. “I can’t.”

Sipping her beer, Lydia takes a long look at her. “You think it’s the same?”

“I think the fact that the majority of my family died there isn’t going to change.” She killed people there, too - killed people there with Lydia’s help. Beacon Hills is not a good place for her. “If you want to stay here for a few weeks -”

“I’m flying south tomorrow,” Lydia interrupts. She hesitates, going a little soft at the edges, the way Allison hasn’t seen her in years. “Please. We miss you.”

Allison looks studiously at her beer and uses her thumb to worry the edge of the label. “I have a life here.”

“You could have a life there, too. With your dad, your friends.”

Allison opens her mouth to come up with some kind of counter-argument, but Lydia blazes to life before she can. “And don’t you dare say you’re avoiding the supernatural. I had a friend in Boston tell me how much she wanted to come out here to get a tattoo because this shop did the best werewolf work. You’re not fucking avoiding the supernatural, just the people who love you.”

Allison looks at the floor and absently notes that they need to sweep back here. “I do good work,” she says. “And I don’t have to kill anyone.”

Lydia sighs, explosively disappointed. “You’re ridiculous and perseverating on an idea that is no longer applicable to the reality of the situation, as you would know if you’d checked any kind of California news in the last five years.” She pauses, and seems to reconsider. “Well, three.”

“Look, Lydia,” Allison says, temper starting to fray. She’s missed Lydia, hasn’t been able to even really acknowledge how much for fear it would break her, but she doesn’t want to go back. She doesn’t want to be cornered into it or shamed or maneuvered. She likes Vancouver, likes her life here and her freedom from chaos and responsibility beyond what she’s chosen for herself. “I don’t care. I’m not going back.”

The anger coming off Lydia is palpable. “Fine. See you never, then, I guess.”

She turns and leaves, throwing out her beer on the way out. The angry clash of glass is the worst kind of punctuation.

Allison just stares at the wall in her wake. There’s - there’s nothing else to do. She breathes, the careful way she hasn’t had to in long enough that it’s effort to recall the habit, and finishes her beer. When she goes back out to the front, Maureen and the client both ignore her, and that’s good. She gets back to her sketching, back to her day, back to her life.

-

Lydia, true to her word, doesn’t come back, and Allison tries to pretend it’s not festering under her skin.

Two days after Lydia leaves, Allison and Jack close at the same time, and Jack takes the opportunity, once they’re both in the car, to casually bring up, “Maureen mentioned you had a friend stop by.”

“I used to know her, before I moved here,” Allison says, trying not to show the tension suddenly thrumming through her. “She left, though.”

Jack hesitates, and Allison hates the kindness that she knows motivates his hesitance. All he says, eventually, is “Are you going to need some time off?”

“No,” Allison says, and looks out the window at the cars they pass. Vancouver’s gorgeous at night, still bright downtown in a way Beacon Hills was too small to even attempt. She’s lived here a lot longer than she’d lived there, now, lived here longer than anywhere else.

That’s the end of it, thankfully, and Allison gets back into her usual routine. Lydia’s visit niggles at her, makes her poke around social media a couple nights after a couple drinks too many, but - the summer waxes hot and dry, and the ideas that flourished under clouds are burned away. She goes to English Bay Beach with Maureen and - doesn’t tan, really, and wouldn’t, not with the SPF 45 she slathers on as a matter of routine, but she soaks up the sun in a crop top and truly tiny shorts.

Allison waves off the joint Maureen offers, and Maureen hums before she takes another toke, looking out at the water. “Do you hang out with anyone you don’t work with?”

“Iris,” Allison says.

Maureen snorts. “Anyone you don’t share a beer fridge with?”

“I’m happy the way I am,” she says, and shrugs.

They sit in silence a moment, and she can feel Maureen decide to put it aside. “What are you thinking for your next tattoo?”

Allison’s been contemplating something for a while, but it’s too - she’s left that behind. She just wishes she could forget it for longer than she really can. “Something biomechanical.”

Maureen snorts again, far more amused this time. “Hell, no. You would never, despite how awesome they are.” Jack had done Maureen’s arm, where the gears and tubing follow the line of her arm to make her look like a steampunk robot from a distance.

Allison grins at Maureen. “Yeah, maybe. I dunno, I’ve been thinking blackwork, if you’d be up for it, but I’m still kind of kicking around ideas.”

“Just let me know,” Maureen says, and lets the silence settle back over them.

-

The summer wanes eventually, mostly evident in the return of the rain. Allison broods about it, even though she’s tried to curtail that urge in the past few years. She wonders what Lydia’s doing, if she found a job outside Beacon Hills or started a PhD program or -

She just wants to know. About all of them.

Maybe she should go on a date, try to have more of a life.

She doesn’t, though, just stays in with her sketchbook and her books and yarn, and on the sketchbook something starts to take shape. She hasn’t looked at the necklace in years - doesn’t know why she took it with her, doesn’t know why she hadn’t hocked it - but this is something different. Something more her.

The components are the same, sort of. A wolf at the center of it, but standing and not charging. They haven’t hurt her or hunted her or anything, while she’s been here, and they weren’t all bad, and she - she’s no longer really an Argent, no longer something to make them run unless they’re afraid of needles. The wolf isn’t snarling anymore, either, but howling. She probably shouldn’t include that, because she’s not lonely, really she’s not, and the wolves in that place probably don’t miss her anymore at all.

But she’s a lone wolf, in some ways, and she gets to howl. So that stays. And the arrow stays, but chained and not aimed for the wolf. Chained by apathy and distance and a code she wished had been the stronger. And the star shouldn’t be a star. Isn’t a star, not really. She draws the moon, too, a round full moon with rays of light and a three-part spiral in the middle.

She doesn’t really mean to, but when it’s done it feels right, and she puts her head down and cries, because she doesn’t want to leave.

She takes the sketchbook in to work the next day. She shows it to Jack, because they’re opening together, and he looks at it in silence for a few minutes. He can’t know all of it - doesn’t know who she used to be, but he knows how she is about wolves. “How long do you need to take off?”

“Two weeks?” It comes out more question than statement, which Allison hates.

He nods, and opens the schedule. “You’ve got a couple appointments booked three weeks out, but we can stop taking them after that, or try to move those up if you need to.”

Allison stares down at her sketchbook. “Three weeks is fine.”

Maureen comes in at four, and Allison’s in the middle of an appointment, or she’d talk to her. By the time Allison’s finishing up the aftercare instructions, Maureen’s in the middle of an appointment, and that’s the way it goes until after dark.

Allison’s wiping down her chair when Maureen wanders over. “Jack said you had a design you wanted?”

“Yeah - go back a page in my sketchbook.”

Maureen looks at it, and her reaction is like Jack’s: stillness and silence for far longer than it takes to take it in. “You want it tonight?”

Allison feels a stab of - something. Maureen doing this so quickly is a kindness, but Allison doesn’t feel completely ready to have the acknowledgement in the image embedded in her skin, and they all know that this is going to be some kind of shift in their working relationship, with Allison taking her first extended vacation ever, and it feels almost like Maureen wants to get rid of her, even though she knows that’s not true. It only takes a moment for her to say, “Yes, please.”

Maureen nods decisively, still looking at the sketch. “We’re getting Dial-A-Bottle for brownies and Thai.”

It’s something they’ve done before, for movie night, so Allison relaxes. They’re still friends, even with this.

They shut down the shop, working in tandem, and Jack settles in at the computer. “I’m just gonna do paperwork until you guys are done,” he says, waving vaguely at the computer. “I’ve seen you after you get through a batch of brownies, and you need a DD.”

Allison can feel heat rising in her cheeks, because who she used to be, who she’s acknowledging fresh again, had felt uncomfortable and daring about having a couple drinks underage, never mind getting high. “Okay,” is all she says.

The food arrives, which means they can lock everything up and kill the lights in the front half of the shop. Allison has half of the summer rolls and all of the peanut sauce before Maureen is done with her satay, and starts setting up Maureen’s station.

The tattoo takes a while - takes ages, most of them in the kind of floaty non-time induced by pain and pot. They eat so many brownies, and when it’s done the lines are raised and kind of angry but the wolf still looks calm when Allison cranes to look in the mirror. She puts her shirt back on and shoves her bra in her bag and hugs Maureen and Jack at the same time because they’re the best, they’re totally the best, they’re her family here.

-

The tattoo heals, lines stark and lovely and clear by the time Allison needs to head out. She hasn’t packed yet. It’s not like she has a definite timetable - not like she told anyone she was coming.

Allison won’t be a coward, though, so as soon as she’s finished breakfast she throws as much clean laundry as will fit into a duffle, puts her current project, wallet, laptop, assorted chargers, and ID in a messenger bag, and gets in the car. It’s an hour to the Peace Arch, but there’s not much line, and Allison’s back in the US for the first time in five years by 10am.

She puts off stopping as long as she can, because she’s got some vague idea of making it all in one shot. She needs to stop by mid-afternoon, though, because she desperately needs to pee and is losing all feeling in her ass. She’s back in the car half an hour later, and kind of craving In-n-Out. Animal style fries are gross when you’ve had good poutine - or even bad poutine but with buffalo chicken on top - but she could really go for a burger. It’s one of the things she hadn’t let herself miss from California. One of a lot of things.

At 7pm she hits the California border, and it doesn’t seem worth it to stop anymore. It’d be a kind of cowardice to stop, and she wants to see her dad. It’s only another five hours. And it’ll be late, obscenely late, but she can just sleep in the car if she needs to.

She stops at In-n-Out for dinner, and keeps going. The burgers really are delicious.

She gets into Beacon Hills about 1:30, and the moon is high and the woods are ominous and dark. It feels like stepping back in time.

It occurs to her only as she’s driving down her old street that she doesn’t know if her dad even lives in the same house. She pulls to the curb across the street from her old house and rests her head on the backs of her hands where she’s clutching the steering wheel. What was she thinking?

And now it’s ridiculously late, and her dad will be asleep if this is even where he still lives. Allison kind of wants to scream out her frustration with herself and her anxiety and everything, but it’s a residential neighborhood in the middle of the night, so she just sits back and presses her fingers to her eyes to relieve some of the pressure.

She doesn’t know how long she sits like that, but the knock on the window makes her start violently. She looks up and sees only uniform, the tan that cops don’t wear in Canada, and then a face that’s familiar despite the years. She hits the button for the window, says, “Derek.”

He blinks at her slowly. “Allison.”

There’s a pause that stretches on too long. “Does my dad even still live here?”

“Yeah.” He pauses, swallows visibly. “He’ll be glad to see you.”

Allison doesn’t cry. She doesn’t. It’s not something she does. But her eyes burn. “Okay.” She turns her car off, finally. “Good.”

“Do you want me to walk you to the door?”

“No,” she says. She takes a deep breath and grabs her messenger bag. “I can - it’s fine.”

The walk across the street and up the driveway feels endless, and then suddenly she’s at the door. She can spot lights farther back in the house now that she’s in front of the side window, so her dad’s up. No excuse whatsoever. She knocks.

She can see her dad’s silhouette as he comes forward, and her pulse trips faster. He pulls open the door, and Allison smiles weakly. “Hi, Dad.”

He gapes at her, and he looks tired and a lot older than five years explains, and then she isn’t looking at him anymore because he’s hugging her tightly. She clings to him, fingers digging into his shoulders, and it turns out she does still cry.

Her dad cries, too, and it takes them a while to stop. “Can I come in?”

“Of course, honey. Of course - do you have your things? Are you staying?” He keeps running his hands over her arms, like he’s not quite sure she’s real.

It breaks some of the spell. “I have two weeks off work.”

She has to watch his heart break all over his face, and it kills her. But he invites her in, and puts her in her old room, and promises they’ll talk in the morning.

-

Allison wakes up to the wafting scents of waffles and bacon. She pulls on jeans and a clean shirt, splashes her face with cold water, and goes downstairs.

Her dad looks tremendously relieved when he sees her. “I made breakfast.”

“Yeah,” Allison says, hurting from how awkward they are with each other. “Thanks.”

“So, you said you have two weeks off work. Will - are you staying here for it? I’d like if you stayed,” he says, getting out plates and studiously not looking at her.

“Yeah,” Allison says, and feels kind of dumb for not having anything to add. She picks at her cuticles, a habit she’d more or less broken herself of back in high school. “Um, I’m a tattoo artist?”

Her dad sticks a plate in front of her, piled with waffles and berries and bacon. “That explains the crow,” he says, nodding at her neck.

Allison suppresses the urge to touch it or cover it up and holds out her wrist instead. “I did this one myself.”

His hand hovers over it. “It’s beautiful.”

She tugs her sleeve back in place and picks up her fork. “Thanks. It was good to get back into art.” She winces internally. She hadn’t meant that to sound quite so - anti-everything. Allison shoves bacon in her mouth so she can’t talk any more.

Her dad just nods, though, which is kind of the worst. “Good. I’m glad. I just want you to be happy.”

That’s not what you used to want, Allison thinks, and eats another piece of bacon.

Her dad cuts his waffle up, but doesn’t manage to eat any of it. He clears his throat. “If I asked where you work, would you tell me?”

Allison freezes. It’s a legitimate question. It’s one she’d thought of, too, on the long drive down, but she’s not - acceptance isn’t welcome, and she’s not ready, quite yet. She wants her escape route, even if Lydia has made it illusory.

Her dad seems to catch her indecision, and just nods, looking sad again. “Okay. Well - I can take off the next couple weeks, if you wouldn’t mind spending time with your old man.”

“No, I - I’d like that.”

“Okay. Good. Okay. I need to go into the office this morning to sort out a few things, but then I’ll be free.”

Allison nods, and they finish their breakfasts quickly and in awkward silence. Her dad does the dishes, doesn’t even let her start. She only ever got treatment like this on her birthday, and it feels horrible and awkward. She has to remind herself that she knew it was going to be bad, that it’s her own fault it’s like this between them.

Her dad leaves, and he always drove fast when he didn’t have her as a passenger. It’s not like he’s driving away from her. He’s not the one who abandoned his family. Pissed, Allison shoves her hair back and grabs her keys. She’s getting a goddamn dirty chai, because she can’t have feelings without caffeine in her system. She gets in her car and - the only coffee shop she remembers is downtown, and hell no to that because she might run into someone she knows. She looks up a coffee shop on her phone, because roaming data charges are less important than not running in to people. There’s one about a mile and a half away, and she drives towards it relieved.

The relief lasts until she’s parked and already in the door, because Jackson Whittemore is behind the counter. “Fuck,” she mutters, forgetting, and his gaze snaps over from the customer he’s serving.

There’s another barista working, and she starts making the other customer’s drink, so Allison’s options are basically flee or woman up and order. And part of this trip is that she doesn’t want to be the person who runs away anymore, so she squares her shoulders and walks up to the counter. “Hey, Jackson. Can I get a large dirty chai, please?”

He writes the order on a cup and slides it over to his coworker. “It’s on the house. You’re back?”

She shrugs and wishes he’d let her pay. “I’m visiting my dad.”

“Where have you even been?”

So Lydia hadn’t told him. “Out of the country,” she says, truthful but uninformative. She doesn’t want to lie to any of Scott’s pack, because they’ll be able to tell and she’s turning over a new leaf. Maybe. Probably. She feels abruptly like this whole trip was a terrible idea. How do you even explain to all the people you left behind that you had to, that it was the only way to find your way out of your own head? Finding yourself is such a shit cliché phrase, a shit cliché phase, but she’d needed it, and there’d been no way she could have done so if she were still chained in Beacon Hills by love and obligation.

“We do what we have to,” Stiles told her once, and he was hardly a font of wisdom, but that had stuck.

“Have you told Scott you’re back?”

“I only got in last night,” Allison says, voice going mild in response to her irritation. She’s been back less than twelve hours and already people are trying to define her by him. And - he’s her first love, and she’s got way too much wrapped up in him, but she’s her own person, too, and exists separate from a star-crossed love and a code and all the expectations that had broken her before.

But she’s not broken anymore. She built herself into something new, someone who doesn’t buckle under the weight of expectation. Allison keeps those thoughts at the forefront and stares Jackson down until his coworker slides her drink across the counter.

“Thanks,” Allison says, smiles at her, and leaves. Her hands shake as she starts her car, but her first sip is bracing, and she can drive away.

-

She’s the first one back to the house that doesn’t quite feel like it’ll ever be home again, so she digs out her phone charger and connects to the house wifi and messages Jack and Maureen that she arrived fine. She searches for Lydia on her current Facebook, the one with no pictures actually involving her face, and messages her. Lydia she can deal with, maybe, if only because she knows Lydia wanted her here and she’ll be happy to have gotten her way if nothing else. Lydia hasn’t messaged her back by the time her dad gets home, but it’s not like that took very long, either.

Her dad comes in bearing coffee, and his face does a complicated disappointed thing when he sees she’s already got a to-go cup. Everything is terrible. He sets down the coffee tray, grabs one of them, and sits in the armchair facing Allison. She hadn’t realized quite how formal she was being: she’d just gone for the first outlet she could remember in the living room.

“I’m not sure what I’m allowed to ask you,” her dad says quietly.

“I’m sorry,” Allison blurts out. “I didn’t mean for coming back to make it worse.”

“No! God, Allison - nothing will ever be worse than thinking you were dead.”

She’s only ever seen her dad this upset after her mom died, and she’s the worst daughter, really. Allison bursts into tears and throws herself at him for a hug, very narrowly avoiding getting them both covered in hot coffee.

When she pulls herself together, she tells him what she’s been doing - minus the drugs and with no reference to location. It’s probably obvious, anyway. Poutine isn’t considered a real food anywhere but Canada. She paints as vivid a picture as she can of the life she’s found, the life she’s built, where she’s not in charge of anyone but herself and violence and blood are only a part of her life as an extension of art. She thinks he understands, maybe. Or maybe not - he’s quiet through the whole thing.

He takes her hand as she’s trying to explain why she came back, but the best she can come up with is, “I felt more settled in my skin? Enough that I could - that I might not be a disappointment, and it wouldn’t wreck me if I was.”

“Honey, I’ve never been disappointed in you.”

Tears want to threaten again, but she pushes them back. “I’m not the leader you wanted me to be.”

He hesitates, and she knows it’s because he doesn’t want to repeat what he said over breakfast. “I think maybe traditions should adapt to the times. I’ve spent a lot more time hunting with the pack in the last few years and trying to make sure we have our own house in order. Some things got - overlooked, that probably shouldn’t have.”

Allison nods, and it’s a huge relief. She doesn’t tell him about the tattoo yet, though, because, if she meets the pack and can’t be back yet, not all the way, she doesn’t want to have gotten his hopes too high. Silence settles, and she tries to remember neutral things they used to do, but so much of it was training of one sort or another. The only exceptions are the traditions they hauled out when she was sick as a child. “Wanna watch Mulan?”

They settle in, and her dad makes popcorn with parmesan on it. They do better, when they’re not talking.

Sheng’s fumbling his way through “You fight good” when the doorbell rings.

Allison stills, then sets aside the lap blanket she’s been using. “I’ll get it.”

“Okay,” her dad says, watching her carefully and pausing the TV.

It’s Lydia, because who else would it be. She looks like she might cry for a moment, eyes going suspiciously bright, then sets her chin and nods. She shoves a grocery bag at Allison. “I brought Java Chip and Kahlua.”

Allison can’t suppress a smile. “Yeah? C’mon in, my dad and I are in the living room.”

Lydia toes off her heels just inside the door and follows Allison to the kitchen, which is more help than she ever used to be. “I haven’t told anyone else, yet.”

Allison rummages through drawers that are no longer familiar until she finds the ice cream scoop. “Has Jackson? Actually, no, that’s not what I want to know. Why not?”

Lydia swigs directly from the bottle of Kahlua. “Stiles and Derek are finalizing wedding plans for next week, Scott’s at Davis with his fiancée Kira and couldn’t get the time off even if he wanted to because he’s already booked off for the wedding, Jackson already saw you, Danny’s at work until six, and if you actually want to see him or any of the rest of the pack we can do dinner like civilized adults.”

The ice cream falls from the scoop back into the container as Allison stares at Lydia. “Fiancée?”

Lydia looks at her with pity. “It’s been five years.”

Allison adds two more scoops to her bowl. She hadn’t expected Scott to wait - except she had, sort of, because he’d said he would, and she has. Though it’s not waiting, really, when your whole life is so much a lie that you don’t want to let people in close enough to wonder. She’s just been kind of drifting, while everyone else finishes degrees and moves forward and gets engaged, Jesus Christ. She yells, “Dad, do you want ice cream?”

“No,” he calls back.

Allison nods, even though he can’t see, and puts the ice cream in the freezer. “Stiles and Derek are marrying each other?”

“Who else?”

Allison nods again, slower. It makes sense. They hadn’t been together when she left, but she remembers a conversation in the woods too many years ago to think about and the way they’d been a unit even then. She grabs her bowl and takes it to the living room. “Lydia’s going to join us if that’s okay, Dad.”

“Of course,” he says, too quickly.

It’s less awkward with Lydia there, though. Allison had learned how to be idle with Lydia when they were teenagers, though never quite this idle. She’d learned to be still, to talk about magazines and movies and not be practicing something or studying something else. For that if nothing else Lydia will always matter.

They watch Mulan 2 after they watch Mulan, and it’s slightly disappointing as always. When it’s done, though, they don’t start anything new. Allison stretches out her leg and flexes her ankle, staring at her toes. “Vancouver has an international film festival, but nothing ever beats Disney.”

“Yeah?” Her dad’s all tense, but faking casual. It kind of kills her, because she loves him completely and absolutely and she’d tried so hard not to think about how her disappearing would hurt him. She’d very carefully thought only of escape and not having him come after her, but he’s her dad, and she knows he’d kill for her or die for her, do anything to protect her.

“Yeah,” Allison says around the lump in her throat. “I’ve gone, a couple times. It’s pretty cool.”

Lydia stays quiet, just digging her toes in under Allison’s thigh in reassurance. Her toenails are sharp, like the rest of her has gotten over the last few years. The gesture still makes Allison feel better. “One of the locations is really close to the tattoo shop - we’re on Robson, so everything’s pretty close, really.”

“Do you think you’ll be in Vancouver long-term? Because I can -”

He’s going to offer to uproot his entire life and leave the family business behind because she’s his only living family and he’ll choose her every time, and Allison kind of panics. “No,” she interrupts. She shoves her hand through her hair. “I - I’m not sure. I can work a lot of places, especially since I sort of accidentally specialized in supernatural creatures, who’re mostly willing to travel.”

“You - I thought you wanted to get away from the supernatural.”

“I did,” she says, quiet. “I guess some things you cycle back towards? It just . . . happened.”

Her dad rises and comes over to her, wrapping her in an awkward hug where she’s still sitting on the couch. He doesn’t say anything, which is all to the good, because part of her is still echoing with the idea that the Argent legacy is inescapable, and she’s still - she’d tried to escape, and no matter how much of herself she’d run from, her hatred of failure wasn’t part of it. She wraps her arms around her dad, and Lydia’s feet under her thigh provides the counterpoint, giving her contact with her whole small remnant of family. “I got a tattoo,” she says into her dad’s ribs. Not everything can be about a pack she’ll never be part of.

“I know, honey, you showed me.”

“No, I - um.” Allison moves her dad back and stands up. She hesitates, but then reaches up to bunch up the back of her shirt and tug so her back is visible.

Lydia gasps, because she can see it first, and touches where Allison knows one of the chain links wraps around an arrow. Allison turns, and her dad lets out a soft, “Oh.”

“I don’t - going after people isn’t something I want. Ever. I like being an artist. But I’m still an Argent, I think.” She wishes she could sound more certain of that, because it’s the family she came from and the name she grew up with. But given that the name is also a calling and a business and a code, she’s not sure. She ran away. If they were a branch of government instead of a family, she’d be a deserter.

Her dad hugs her again, awkward because she’s facing away from him. “You’ll always be an Argent. You’re my daughter.”

She turns around to hug him again, and they’ve hugged more in the last sixteen hours than in the entire last two years she lived with him. But it’s fine, maybe. It’s nice, at least.

After a few long moments, Lydia suggests, “Road to El Dorado next?”

They settle in, and it’s easier, less tension in the air as they waste the day.

-

Derek shows up in his deputy uniform the next morning. Her dad brings him back to the kitchen where they’re having coffee and Allison nods a hello at him. He holds out a card-sized envelope of heavy white paper. “I wanted to drop this off in person.”

Allison takes it, but cocks her head to the side and looks between him and her dad inquisitively instead of opening it. “What is it?”

Derek’s ears go pink. “Stiles and I are getting married this Saturday. We talked about it, and it’d be right for you to be there. We want you there.”

Allison glances at her dad, who nods minutely: he’s going. “I’d love to. Thank you.”

-

Allison and her dad end up doing archery behind the house, because despite how fraught it was for Allison at the end, with layers of responsibility and expectation, this is still something they’ve always clicked on. Allison’s not as good as she used to be, and isn’t as strong, either, but something still feels right about holding a bow. “I had to sell mine,” she says almost without thinking about it. She’s been trying to share, and it’s so foreign a conversational setting that she might be sharing too much.

“Well,” her dad says after a pause. “It has been a while since I last got you a Christmas present, if you think you’d want a new one.”

Allison nocks another arrow and takes careful aim. She looses, and the arrow thwacks satisfyingly close to the bullseye. “Um. I’ll let you know?”

He nods and looses his own arrow. It’s not his weapon of choice, but his aim is better than hers right now. The skill disparity itches, a little, but the very fact that it does annoys Allison. She doesn’t even want this skill anymore, and kind of wishes she could excise her competitive streak. It’s as much a part of her as anything else, though, more inescapable than a name. She rolls her shoulder restlessly.

-

Going out for drinks with Lydia isn’t as nervewracking as maybe it should be: she knows it’ll be awkward, but knows more that Lydia wants her to feel comfortable coming back.

The bar her dad drops her off in front of isn’t one she remembers, but she wouldn’t: she’d never had a fake ID before Canada. When she goes in, though, she thinks it’s the kind of place she would usually like, dark-paneled and decently lit. Lydia’s already in a corner booth, her eye on the door. There’s a dark-haired girl next to her focused almost entirely on her huge blue fishbowl of a glass. Allison tries to figure out who she is, but even though she’s familiar, Allison can’t place her.

“Allison,” Lydia says when she’s in conversational distance, “this is my girlfriend, Cora Hale. I don’t know if you remember her.”

Allison blinks. There’s a lot of information there. Last she’d seen Cora, she’d had a shaved head, for one. The hair had been shorn because Cora had spent nearly a decade living as a wolf, and her hair was too matted to detangle. She’d been nearly nonverbal, too, with Derek best able to communicate with her and Allison mostly picking up on the cue that Cora kind of wanted to rip her throat out. She also hadn’t know Lydia was into girls at all - even when talking about post-Jackson distractions, all the possibilities she’d brought up had been men. “Hi, Cora,” is all she says, sliding into the booth.

“Mm,” Cora says, raising her eyes and nodding as much as she can while not relinquishing her straw. The werewolf metabolism, at least, explains why she’s downing it so fast. When there’s still an inch or two in the bottom, a blonde server comes over with a menu in one hand and a second blue fishbowl in the other.

Cora finally raises her head, making a last slurping noise. “Thanks, Heather.”

“Don’t worry, I wouldn’t make you do this sober,” Heather says. She turns her attention to Allison and hands her a menu. “No offense, I just got warned about impending awkwardness.”

Allison shrugs, kind of offended. “Makes sense.”

Lydia rolls her eyes at all of them, but doesn’t say anything.

“I’ll be back in a few for your order, okay?” Heather grabs Cora’s empty glass and disappears back to the bar.

“I’m guessing you invited everyone so I don’t make things awkward at the wedding?”

“You’re going?”

“Yeah - Derek dropped off the invitation earlier this week. You didn’t know?”

Lydia sniffs, but it’s mostly for show. “I don’t actually know everything. Just close to.”

Cora reaches out and pats Lydia on the back of the hand. Lydia turns her hand interlaces their fingers. It’s adorable. “So how long have you been together?”

“Five months,” Lydia says. “It might have been longer, but neither of us wanted to do long distance. Since I’m done my Master’s, I’m here until Cora finishes in December, and then back to Boston for the rest of my PhD.”

“You’re in university?” Allison directs the question to Cora, but Lydia answers.

“Getting a degree in Finance.”

So the formerly-feral werewolf can hack getting a university degree, but Allison still just has a semester of college credits and a tattoo license. Awesome. Annoyed with everything, she orders a beer when Heather comes back.

Stiles and Derek arrive about the same time as Allison’s beer, and Stiles grabs her and bodily hauls her out into a hug. They are not hug people. The only time she’s ever hugged him before is graduation. She pats him on the back, though, and returns his hug - with less enthusiasm, because she actually respects people’s need to breathe.

“Missed you.” He lets go of her to hold her only by her arms, and it’s weird how much bigger than her he seems now. “You look good.”

“You, too, Stiles. I’m really happy for the two of you.”

“Thanks,” he says, and grins. They all slide into the booth, and Allison somehow ends up sandwiched between Stiles and Lydia with no chance to escape. She suspects planning. She checks her phone, and it’s exactly fifteen minutes after she arrived.

When Erica arrives exactly fifteen minutes after Stiles and Derek, Allison squeezes Lydia’s arm and smiles at her in thanks. “This stupid jerk insulted my cupcakes,” she says instead of saying hello to anyone. She drops into the booth next to Derek. Heather drops by with a drink for her without having to ask, same as she’d done with Stiles and Derek, which says a lot about how often they come here.

“Kill him,” Cora says, completely deadpan.

Erica grins wickedly and then turns her attention to Allison. “How long are you back?”

Allison shrugs again, and doesn’t realize until she lowers her shoulders that she’s tensed up again. Which implies that at some point she’d relaxed without realizing it. “I’ve got another few days off work.”

Erica nods, then launches back into her tirade, talking about how her cupcakes are, apparently, unimpeachable. The rest of the pack drifts in by ones and twos, filling the booth next to the corner booth as more of them accumulate. Isaac ends up right behind Allison, which is oddly comforting, especially because he goes out of his way to murmur context for things like Boyd’s nursing career and how Jackson flunked out of law school. Scott’s the last one to arrive, and from the moment he comes in, Allison can’t take her eyes off him.

He’s older, of course, more filled out. His hair is short, and he looks - well, he doesn’t look happy right now, but he looks like he’s more habitually happy. It hurts her heart. He’d been her first love, her great, transcendent romance, separated by family like Romeo and Juliet. She’d loved him more for it, she thinks. He’s looking back at her just as intensely, and she can’t tell whether her focus has narrowed or silence has fallen.

Stars crossing them was only a small part of why she’d loved him. Everything in him had been so kind, the kind of boundless kindness and care that makes it no surprise he wants to make caring for people his profession. He’d brought out the best in her, made her want to be better and be close to him and never leave his side. He was good and kind and he’d made her feel precious and she’d felt like she would love him forever.

Now when she looks at him it just hurts, and she sees the same hurt in him. Allison tears her eyes away and finally registers what has to be Kira, a gorgeous Asian woman who looks sad and nervous. “Hi,” Allison says.

“You must be Allison. I’m Kira! Hi. I don’t get to see everyone here very much because my parents are in New York and I go to school at Davis, but everyone’s mentioned you, and then Lydia said she found you and then that you were visiting, so I’ve been looking forward to meeting you,” she says all in one breath.

“It’s good to meet you, Kira,” Allison says, and reaches across the table to shake her hand. A spark jumps to Allison when their palms touch, and it kind of stings, but Kira’s still looking nervous so Allison doesn’t mention it. Allison kind of wonders what she was expecting, but then her eyes are drawn back to Scott like lodestone to iron, and she kind of knows. It’s not the same between them anymore, but there’s a great weight between them, sharp with the gravity of years of silence. She drags her eyes away and back to Kira, and lets go of her hand. Their handshake was maybe a beat too long, but it’s still changed something: there’s no nervousness left in Kira, just a tremendous sadness that comes just shy of pity. Allison drags up one corner of her mouth in a smile. “Great ring, by the way.”

She hasn’t looked at it except to note sparkle, and she doesn’t want to, but it’s an important acknowledgement, she thinks, in front of these witnesses.

“Oh,” Kira says, seemingly reflexively turning her left hand where it’s entwined with Scott’s right. “Thanks.”

It’s Jackson, surprisingly, who breaks the ensuing silence, asking about why she couldn’t move somewhere she’d get a decent tan. Stiles bickers back at him, and the conversation starts back up again more naturally from there. She and Scott somehow don’t end up talking to each other directly, which is just as well. There’s probably no way they won’t hear anyway, but Allison kind of feels like their first conversation in years should be less public. It’s why she makes Lydia and Cora let her out when he goes to the bathroom.

She leans against the wall in the little corridor outside the bathroom and waits for him, deeply embarrassed but not enough to sit back down. Scott starts when he sees her, frozen in the act of drying his hands on his jeans.

Allison jerks her head towards the door before he can say anything, and he nods. Lydia, at least, will see them as they leave, but should give them privacy for this. Scott follows her outside, and Allison goes around the side so they’re not in direct sight and then leans against the wall. She’s had days to plan this. Years, really, if she’d wanted to plan this. She hasn’t planned anything, though, and wraps her arms around her waist to stop her hands from shaking. “Hey,” she says.

“Hey,” Scott says, and starts to reach out before dropping his hand and then shoving them both awkwardly in his pockets. “You came back.”

“It was never you I needed to run away from,” she says.

“You did, though.” He’s finally more than placid, an undercurrent of frustration in his voice.

Allison’s had practice at not snapping out the first response in her head. It’s a skill well-honed in the past few years, but she’s still half surprised it doesn’t abandon her here. She doesn’t tell him that not everything is always about him, just shrugs. “I needed it. This town would have killed me.”

Scott huffs out a breath. “I always would have protected you.”

“That’s not what I needed, either. It’s not what I wanted, either.” She looks him in the eye until he drops his gaze and turns away, kicking at the pavement.

“You could at least have let me know you were alive.”

“Sorry,” she says, all she can offer.

He turns back to look at her, and maybe sees that, because all the tension goes out of his shoulders and he sags. “I’m glad you’re back.”

She takes his arm to go back into the restaurant, because they’ve said what they needed to and now she wants to go back in before it deteriorates into one of them crying. “You know, I kind of am, too.”

-

The wedding is beautiful, and Allison sees hints of what she’s missed in the supernatural attendees and number of discreet weapons. She’s happy to have missed it, and happy, too, that she’ll never be forced into the middle of what made them all so sharp-edged, but mostly she’s happy that they’re happy. Stiles and Derek look at each other like they’re the moon and stars and their kiss is Hallmark-worthy.

The reception is beautiful, too, spilling easily from the hall out onto a patio, the speeches rollicking and full of love and unsubtle jokes. Allison drinks maybe a lot, but she’s among friends, probably, and her dad will look after her. After dinner are the traditional dances, abridged because the Sheriff and Cora are their only blood relatives. Stiles draws the rest of the pack in by decree, though, which isn’t hard because most of them were in the wedding party. He does some unholy cross between the Macarena and the Chicken Dance in perfect unison with Scott, and Allison giggles into her glass where she’s posted herself near the bar. Stiles grabs Kira after, while Scott dances with Cora, and whirls Kira around the dance floor, both of them urging other people to get up and join in and have fun. They work fast as a team, and it’s only moments before they’ve circled around to Scott and interrupt them. Stiles physically puts Kira’s hand in Scott’s, then pats their joined hands like he’s decided that’s how they should stay. Scott and Kira look at each other and smile, stars in both their eyes.

“Hey,” Isaac says, right in her ear. If she’d still been on a hunter hair-trigger, she’d probably have noticed him coming up behind her, or stabbed him in surprise, but as it is Allison just jumps a little. She turns to look at him, trying to look inquiring and not spooked.

“Do you want to dance?”

Allison casts a last glance to where Scott and Kira are being adorable at each other, then turns decisively towards Isaac. “Yeah, I’d like that.”

He leads her out onto the dance floor, in amongst the faces she half-recognizes. He’s surprisingly graceful, though Allison considers after a moment that it shouldn’t be a surprise. He’s a werewolf, after all. But she knows him, and likes dancing with him, and stays with him when the song changes to a slow number. She slides close, sliding her hand up his arm and putting her head on his shoulder when he puts his arm around her waist. She can see Lydia doing the same with Cora and her dad sitting off to the side talking to the Sheriff, and it’s good. It’s all good. Being here doesn’t feel like something she can’t escape. It feels like home.

There are tattoo shops in Beacon Hills, and she’s got some clients who would travel anyways. It wouldn’t be obligation tying her down anymore, nothing crushing her and trying to make her into something sharp. She’ll be coming back because she wants to, and she’s got people here who’ll let her, so maybe they can be a family again.