Derek has never been so grateful for Rhett’s Cakes and Coffee in his life.
If not for the fact Camden is doing a crap job at looking out for his own little brother, he would see if the diner has a phone and call his uncle. Uncle Peter would come and drive him the rest of the way home, and if not for Coach Lahey, he’s fairly sure he could convince Uncle Peter to take Isaac, too.
Breathing in the open air and revelling in the feeling of being able to properly move his legs, he smiles down at Isaac.
Isaac tentatively wraps a hand around his.
“We’ll be home, soon,” he promises. “Let’s find a booth together, okay?”
“Okay,” is the small reply.
The rest of the team shoves tables together, and Camden tells Isaac, “Remember, nothing over ten dollars.”
He manages not to growl.
Alpha, beta, omega, he inwardly repeats. Alpha, beta, omega. Omega, beta, alpha. Omega, beta, alpha.
After Isaac climbs into the booth, he wraps his fingers as best he can around Derek’s wrist when Derek starts to slide into the other side.
Taking the hint, he sits down beside him, and they open their menus.
Soon, however, he realises unpleasant chemo signs are coming off Isaac, and Isaac is staring blankly at the menu.
“Do you need help figuring out the total cost?” He knows Camden barely manages a C in math.
He hears his heartbeat change.
“Okay. What are you thinking of getting?”
It suddenly hits him that Isaac might be having trouble reading the menu. Whether it’s because Isaac needs glasses or there’s an undiagnosed learning disorder in play- Coach Lahey already seems vaguely puzzled by Derek paying more attention to his ten-year-old son than the other players, and he doesn’t want to come across as creepy or, worse, as someone who’d ever hurt a little kid. Still, if there is a problem, he needs to find some way to let the coach know.
“Are you two with them?”
He looks over, and everything in him starts to go off at once.
The waitress is gorgeous, smells wonderful, and to his fearful horror, is wearing a pendant he’s recognises from sketches. An Argent wearing it or one just like it killed a great-aunt of his. It wasn’t her; she can’t be older than twenty-something, but an Argent so close to Beacon Hills city, especially if she’s a hunter, too-
“Yes,” Isaac answers. “My daddy’s the coach, and my brother’s on the team, too.”
“Really? Did big brother here win?”
He realises she’s referring to him.
“I’m not his brother.” At Isaac’s subtle hurt, he quickly adds, “But you never know, I might just steal him away. I’ve always wanted a brother, and Camden, his brother, once stole a candy bar from me.”
Oh, yeah, make a joke about stealing a human kid away to a potential hunter, flits sarcastically through his head.
Isaac beams. “They- they didn’t play a game. It was cancelled.”
“Well, I don’t know about your big brother, but I imagine this one here would have definitely won." She winks. "Pretty smooth for a teenager. Do you two know what you want?”
“Give us a minute, please,” he says.
After several minutes, he figures out Isaac really wants a slice of fig cake and a hot chocolate with marshmallows. Thankfully, he can truthfully tell Isaac it’s under ten dollars.
He knows some families have to stick to budgets, but the Laheys don’t. Coach Lahey always gives Camden enough money for both, and Camden just wants to pocket as much of the money for himself as he can.
The waitress comes back over, and they order.
When she brings their orders, Isaac blurts out, “That’s a pretty necklace.”
He wishes she wouldn’t smile. He knows some of the most dangerous predators are the most beautiful, and she doesn’t have a gun on her, but he’s sure she does have some form of concealed weapons on her.
Kneeling down and propping her elbows on the table, she holds it out so Isaac can get a better look. “It’s a family heirloom. Want to hear a story?”
Isaac fervently nods. “P-please."
“Well, you might not believe it. Most people don’t. But a long time ago, in France, there was this girl, not much older than your brother and his teammates. She could shoot a bow and arrow better than anyone else in the village. And even though there were strict laws about when and what people could hunt, she didn’t care. She’d shoot deer and catch rabbits whenever she felt like it, so that she and her family would always have plenty of food.”
“Then, this monster started killing people all over France. No one could stop it. Or that’s what everyone thought. She decided she would stop it, though, and she did.”
“With a bow and arrow,” Isaac eagerly asks.
Chuckling, she shakes her head. “No, but good guess, honey. This monster couldn’t be stopped by any regular weapons. So, she found a man who could do magic, and he made her a special spike made out of silver. She set traps, and when one of them caught the beast, she shoved it straight through him.”
“Cool,” is Isaac’s quiet reply.
“Yep.” Standing, she reaches past him to twine her fingers through Isaac’s curls. “And I’m just like her, so, don’t worry. If a monster ever comes around, I’ll protect little boys like you.”
I have to call Uncle Peter, he realises.
The other boys tease and, sometimes, shove Isaac around, but they’ve never seriously hurt him. If this woman finds out a Hale werewolf is sitting in her diner with a ten-year-old human by his side, though, his entire family, his pack, could be in danger. Everyone knows Gerard Argent doesn’t keep to the code agreed on centuries ago, and though the Calaveras do, they don’t care that the Argents don’t.
Seeing she’s walked over to the team, he tries to figure out the best way to get a hold of a phone. He can get his books out of the bus after he calls, or if worse comes to worse, he can leave them behind.
He’s still trying to figure this out when she comes back. “Hey, kid. You okay?”
Suddenly, her warm, callous-roughened hand is on his forehead, and everything inside him warms and squirms.
“Fine, ma’am,” he manages to get out.
“Carsickness, huh? Happens to the best of us. My kid can handle cars, buses, and planes just fine, but put her on a boat, and she goes from pale to ghost. I’ll bring you some fizzy water. Try to take a few sips. That usually helps her.”
She walks away before he can say anything, and giving him a concerned look, Isaac asks, “Fizzy water?”
“I’m fine. I just suddenly got a little bit of a stomach-ache. Fizzy water is…”
When she brings it over, he thanks her and obediently takes a few sips. “Is there a phone I can use? My uncle can pick me up.”
As expected, Isaac visibly deflates at these words, and he wants to apologise. He wants to demand of her, ‘How can you do things like this but call us the monsters?’
Except, all she’s done is be nice to a little kid and show concern for- She thinks I’m human, he realises. As long as I don’t do or say anything to make her think I might not be-
“Never mind. My stomach’s settling.”
She smiles. “Good. If you change your mind, though, there’s a phone in the kitchen. Are you going to want yours to go, or do you think you can stomach it?”
“To go, please.” He takes some more sips.
When everyone’s getting ready to leave, he finds himself studying her as she takes a couple’s order. She doesn’t have on any rings, including a wedding band. Aside from the pedant and simple silver studs in her ears, she doesn’t wear any jewellery.
Her daughter must be young, much younger than Isaac. He wonders if she truly believes all werewolves are a threat to her little girl. He wonders if she teaches or will teach her daughter that people like him should be hated and killed, even if they’ve never done anything to hurt anyone.
Isaac gently tugs at his sleeve. “Ready?”
“Yeah.” Balancing the takeout box in one hand, he takes Isaac’s with the other.
As they’re walking out, she looks over and smiles at them.
He knows he should tell his family, and he doesn’t know why he isn’t.
Instead, he finds himself going back to Rhett’s. Part of him hopes she won’t be there. If she is, maybe, she won’t even remember him.
Part of him hopes she is and does.
Inside, he orders and quickly establishes she isn’t around.
Despite the embarrassment and disappointment, he knows this is a good thing. Everything will be fine. No hunters will come around and blind anymore werewolves. No hunters will capture and torture him or his pack.
He’s finishing his tea when he finds himself sniffing the air, and he realises why when she comes in with her hand in a little girl’s.
A new set of emotions overtake him at the sight.
The girl is around Isaac’s age, and maybe, a little older. Exactly how old was her mom when she had her? There’s a pregnant girl in one of his classes, but she’s seventeen and still managed to secure a scholarship. Was this woman younger than fifteen? Is she actually in her early thirties?
“Here you go, cutie pie.” The waitress hands her daughter a package of gummy worms and a milkshake.
“Remember, only Kool-Aid after you finish that, and if you get hungry later, make yourself a sandwich and have some crackers. I should get off at nine, and we can get some real food, then.”
The little girl nods.
Kissing her, the woman says, “Love you, baby girl.”
“Love you, too.”
The woman goes into the kitchen, and he’s counting out the tip when she comes back, sees him, and walks over. “Hello, again.”
“Hi. It’s just me today.”
He thinks clawing himself might be less painful than this.
She glances down at his book. “AP English, huh?”
“Do you do tutoring?”
“What? I’m sorry, what?”
“I’m guessing, if you’re in an AP class, you must be pretty smart and good at handling schoolwork. My daughter,” she gestures to the little girl, “is on the AB honour roll, but she wants to be on the A honour roll. I was never one for school. So, if you or any friends of yours want to score twenty bucks a week and some freebies from here, we can probably work something out.”
“What does she need help with?”
She shrugs. “If she needed actual help with anything school-related, I would have already found professional help. My girl,” she laughs, “is the type of kid who insisted on grounding herself when she made a C on a test, and I was the kid who convinced a classmate to forge my dad’s signature. Really not sure how that produced this, but hey.”
He really isn’t sure how he’s suddenly the type who does things he knows are bad ideas.
“I wouldn’t charge twenty dollars. How about a free drink?”
“Nothing alcoholic, and anything over ten bucks is a no-go unless you help her get a perfect score on some big test.”
“When can you start?”
“If today’s good for you and her, it’s good for me.”
“Come on over, and I’ll get you something else to drink.”
They go over to the booth.
“Hey, baby girl. I might have found you a homework helper or whatever it is you’ve been wanting." She pulls him closer. "This beautiful, too-smart for my own good girl is Allison. Allison Argent. And I’m Kate.”
He shakes their hands. “Nice to meet you both. I’m Derek.”
Miss Argent doesn’t seem to notice or care about the lack of a surname being given, but he can tell Allison does.
“Here, sit down. What do you want to drink?”
After her mother leaves, Allison shakes her head. “My mom just tried to rope a total stranger into helping me, didn’t she?”
“Not exactly. Uh, a few weeks ago, my basketball team came in here, and your mom helped me when I got a sudden stomach-ache.”
“Oh,” she says, and he can tell she’s relieved by this. “What’s your last name?”
“It’s a secret.”
He can tell she’s going to press, but her mom comes over with his tea, and once she goes over to another table, Allison shrugs. “Okay. Um, I’m doing good in English, French, art, and gym, and I do okay in social studies, but math and Science are hard.”
“You’re taking French?”
She nods. “My uncle’s paying for me to go to Devenford prep. I wanted to go to regular school, but Mom convinced me to try it. I really like it.”
This is true, but he gets the feeling she doesn’t like the part where her uncle is paying.
“Do you know what specifically you’re having trouble with in math and Science?”
She pushes some papers over, and pointing with her pencil, she says, “The biggest thing is…”
“Mom, Derek taught me some awesome tricks! I’m going to get an A for sure on all my homework.”
Letting out a beautiful laugh, Miss Argent leans down and kisses Allison’s head. “Good, sweetheart.”
He stands up. “I’ll be back tomorrow?”
Nodding, she squeezes his shoulder. “Thanks for this, Derek. If you ever have kids, you might understand what this really means to me.”
“Maybe, but it’s not a big deal. Bye, Allison.”
To his surprise, she climbs out of the booth and hugs him. “It’s a big deal to me.”
A few weeks after he’s been tutoring Allison, he brings her some of his old books, and he hadn’t thought this would be a problem. Classmates and teachers have given him books all his life. They say it’s easier than trying to sell them or making an extra trip to some store or library to donate them.
“You’re not going to give my daughter a stack of books.”
Allison subtly inches them closer to her.
“They’re all suitable for her age group.” He gestures to the reviews and national ranking list he gave her. “I don’t think you’d object to any of the content.”
“I’m allowed to read and watch whatever I want,” Allison says.
“Yeah, this isn’t about that. Kid, some of those books are hardback. I can tell they’re all in great shape. You could make some actual money off some of them.”
“I still have-”
“You’re keeping that hundred dollars Grandpa sent, and you’re spending it on something he’d hate. Which is basically anything you’d enjoy.”
“Grandpa likes reading, too, Mom.”
“He likes reading stuff even you’d find boring, baby girl. If it isn’t written by some old white man who’s been dead for, at least, over a hundred years, it’s a no-sale for Gerard.”
“I wouldn’t sell books,” he says. “I have all of these on the eBook reader that my sisters got me for my birthday last year. If you won’t let Allison have them, most of them are going to the town’s library. The rest, I’ll anonymously drop off at one of the pawn shops.”
“That isn’t the point.”
She’s getting more and more irritated, and he knows, there’s a good chance he’s going to get himself in trouble he can’t get out of, but he also knows, he can’t back down in this instance. “Miss Argent, I’m sorry I didn’t talk to you first. I didn’t stop to think. But they’re just some books I think she might like and will help her get ahead in English. You, uh, are actually paying me to help her do that, right? Besides, if she has some more books to read at home at night, she won’t spend so much time cooped up in the library on the weekends.”
Looking between them, she exhales. “You said thank you, right, cutie pie?”
He and Allison both nod, and Allison adds, “Thank you, Mom!”
“We’re talking privately." Grabbing his hand, she drags him away.
One day, he and Allison are working on her science project when he picks up her mother’s voice.
“Damn it, Chris, you can’t just show up unannounced.”
“So that you can take Allison and be out of town before-”
“Think me doing that might be a clue to something?”
“I think, after all the money I’m spending on that prep school-”
“She doesn’t want to see you, Chris!”
“And whose fault is that?”
He can’t see either of them, but he can practically see the look on Kate’s face. “I don’t tell my daughter what to think, Chris, and I don’t lie to her. So, her having objections to the big brother who tried to steal her from me, who forced me to go into foster care, where I ended up doing a stint in juvie after I had to protect myself from an even worse foster dad than ours, that’s all on you. You did that.”
There’s a sharp breath. “I made mistakes.”
"'Making mistakes doesn’t give you a free pass or gain you sympathy for the hurt that you caused yourself by making them. You have to deal with the consequences just like everyone else does.’ Sound familiar, big brother? Well, guess what? Your niece not wanting to see you-”
“Derek,” Allison tugs at his arm. “Hey. Are you okay?”
“Yeah. Uh, I’m sorry. My mind just wandered. Here.” He resumes painting.
A few minutes later, Allison mutters, “Oh, no.”
“What is it?”
Looking across the room with a dark look, she informs him, “My uncle’s here.”
Following her eyes, he sees Kate has come in with a tall, blond, icy blue-eyed man, and the man is carrying concealed.
“Uncle Chris,” Allison continues. “I wish he’d never come visit.”
Kate and her brother come over. “Allison, look who’s here. Be polite, baby. Chris, this is Derek. He’s a local kid who comes in to help Allison with her homework. Derek, this is my big brother, Chris.”
“Sir,” he says.
Giving him a brief nod, Chris kneels down in front of Allison. “Hi, sweetheart. It’s good to see you.”
An unenthusiastic, “Uncle Chris,” is her response.
“I brought you a present.”
Allison looks at her mom.
Kate nods. “Derek, let’s give Allison some time alone with her uncle.”
He almost feels sorry for Chris Argent. He doesn’t think Allison is being intentionally rude, but the look she shoots her mother at these words- going by Chris’s swallow, he sees and understands it perfectly.
He follows Kate over to an empty booth.
“Allison doesn’t seem to like her uncle,” he tentatively says.
Letting out a bitter laugh, she sighs, “No.” She rubs her eyes. “You’re a smart kid. You’ve probably figured some things out. Wondered about others. I was barely a teenager myself when I got pregnant.”
She looks over at the two. “I don’t know what I might have done if I had the choice. I don’t know for sure what I even thought or felt. But my dad and brother made it clear that I wouldn’t be getting an abortion. Then, they decided Chris and his wife would adopt my baby.”
Taking a shaky breath, she slumps down. “That was just too much. I ran away, went into the system, and thankfully, they couldn’t get me out or get Allison handed over to them.”
Suddenly, looking at him with sharp eyes, she adds, “If you ever repeat what I just said to Allison-”
Hurt but understanding how stressful this situation is for her, he simply says, “You know I never would.”
Groaning, she covers her eyes. “He’ll be gone soon.”
A spike in Allison’s vitals makes him look over, and he sees her glaring at Chris. “Yeah, well, Aunt Victoria is a bitch.”
“Kate, go check on Allison,” he hurriedly says.
Uncovering her eyes, she gives him a brief look before glancing at Allison and Chris. “Great,” she mutters. Standing up, she strides over. “Hey, baby girl, you doing okay?”
“No. Mama, I don’t want to talk to Uncle Chris anymore.”
“Right.” Grabbing Chris’s arm, she bodily drags him up. “Come on. You’re getting the chance to explain what you did to my daughter before she tells me. Let’s go.”
Once they’re out, he goes back over to Allison.
“Can we just finish the DNA,” she miserably asks.
Thankfully, Chris doesn’t come back.
Cassie Smith, one of the new waitresses Kate loves to tease, hands him a large slice of white chocolate cake and a cup of tea. “Miss Argent called in today. She told you, I mean, me, to give this to you as an apology.”
“Thank you,” he says.
He decides to eat it now rather than take it home, and when he’s almost done, a shiver runs down his spine, and there’s a prickling behind his ears.
“You promised!” Allison outright wails.
He’s witnessed more than one person be subjected to Kate’s sharp, impatient words, but the one time he saw her get truly exasperated with Allison, even then, she was only a little huffy. Now, however, her tone is cold and hard when she says, “Kid, you know that things happen. I’m sorry, I truly am, but Mommy has to do this.”
He heads outside.
“I’m not getting out of the car.”
“Look, you had your chance to stay with your friend. You’re waiting here until Heather’s mom can pick you up.”
Coming into the back parking lot, he sees Kate literally trying to drag Allison out, but for good or bad, Allison’s holding her own.
Taking in the rest of the situation, he realises: Kate’s going on a hunt. She always keeps weapons in her car, but she’s never had this many, and until now, what she’s had has always been securely locked in her trunk. Mountain ash, mistletoe, and wolfs bane are all somewhere inside, too.
“Allison, if you don’t-”
“Kate? Allison? What’s going on? Cassie-”
Spinning around, Kate takes him in. “Oh, thank God!”
He knows Kate likes him well enough, but the sheer relief she feels at seeing him almost overwhelms him.
“Okay, sweetheart, this is a crazy situation. I acknowledge that, and we can talk more if- when, when I come back, but,” she clasps her fingers around her pendant, “let’s just say there are monstrous things in this world, and sometimes, I need to handle them.”
Turning back, she grabs Allison’s chin. “Look, baby, I understand you’re hurt and angry. I know that you love me. And I love you more than anything or anyone.” Threading her fingers through Allison’s curls, she kisses her forehead.
Then, taking a shaky breath, she turns back to him. “I need you to take Allison inside and get Shellie. She’ll watch over her until Janice can come get her.”
“He’ll be sorry, if he does,” Allison darkly declares.
“Oh, for- Fine. Derek, don’t let her run away. I’m going to get some of Josh’s Nyquil medicine.”
In that second, he knows: Kate will drug her daughter, carry her inside, and drive off.
Reaching out to stop her, he moves past her, undoes Allison’s seatbelt, and picks her up.
“No!” Allison screams, and for a preteen human girl, she’s strong.
He’s stronger, however, and listening as Kate peels out of the parking lot, he carries her inside, sits down at the nearest empty table, and pins her in his lap.
Cassie works on calming and reassuring the customers, and Shellie sets a package of gummy worms and milkshake on the table.
Eventually, Allison stops screaming.
“Your mom’s long gone,” he’s immediately aware he could have phrased this much better, “and you aren’t going-”
“I know,” is her venomous, sullen reply. “I need to go to the bathroom.”
Thankfully, Cassie is nearby, and he motions her over.
When Allison gets back, she glares at the gummy worms and now melted milkshake.
“I’m sorry. I- I don’t really understand what’s going on, Allison.”
“I know you’re a werewolf,” she quietly says.
He feels his whole world tilting. “Werewolves aren’t-”
She gives him an utterly unimpressed look. “My mother is a hunter. When I was two or three, my grandfather had some werewolves chained up, and Mom put me in a zipped playpen while they interrogated them. I knew how to shoot a gun before I started school. Part of the reason Uncle Chris pays for Devenford is, because, they have gymnastics and an archery team.”
“Does your mom know?”
Coming over with a fresh milkshake, Shellie picks up the old one.
“Thank you,” Allison says.
After Shellie is gone, she shakes her head. “Mom only did hunting part-time after she had me. Then, when I was six, she got hurt bad. I had to stay with Uncle Chris and Aunt Victoria for almost two months. She promised she wouldn’t hunt, anymore. Plus, you’re a Hale. I know about your family from them. And I was finally making straight As.” She gives a half-guilty shrug.
“How,” he asks.
“It’s not hard to find out who people are around here, Derek. My neighbour Heather’s friend has class with your sister, Cora. And you really don’t like my mom’s necklace. There’s this look in your eyes you get every time you see it.” She hesitates. “And that time I accidentally dropped my backpack on your foot wasn’t an accident. Your eyes flashed.”
“And if they hadn’t flashed?”
“You were getting hot chocolate accidentally spilled on you.”
Trying to keep the exasperation out of his voice, he asks, “And what if I were human?”
“Then, the mountain ash I was planning to slip into your tea wouldn’t have done anything to you.” She frowns. “Don’t look at me like that. I didn’t want to hurt you. I just wanted to know.”
“What if someone else had noticed?”
“People don’t really notice these things unless they already know. Mom was in the kitchen, remember? I would have waited until she wasn’t around for the other two, too.”
It fully strikes him how much she’s truly like Kate, and it makes him a little sad.
Up until now, Allison didn’t have a problem with him, but Kate, whether something supernatural hurt her or it’s just the way she was raised, she neither likes or trusts werewolves. If not for Allison, she’d be happily hunting every one she came across.
Beautiful, intelligent, strong, fearless Kate is going to teach Allison to feel the exact same way someday, and adorable, sweet, intelligent, strong, and fearless Allison, the little girl he’s helped build a DNA model and make As on her math tests, someday, she’s going to hate him and everyone like him.
“She might not come back.”
Snapping out of these thoughts, he takes in the quiet words and her dejected, coiled stance.
“Do you know what she’s hunting?”
“A feral band of wendigos.” She sniffles. “When Mom got pregnant, almost everyone was mean to her, even the people who were supposed to be helping her. But there was this boy, Juan, she met. He knew about werewolves and stuff, too. They were friends. I’m not sure what exactly happened, but he didn’t handle being gay well. She helped him. Now, he’s a hunter, and he called her this weekend.”
Stabbing her straw angrily into the milkshake, Allison declares, “It’s not him being gay that makes me hate him. But if she dies-”
“Hey,” he gently says. “I don’t know much about all this, but I know your mom is strong. I know she’ll do everything she can to come back to you.”
He knows this isn’t much, and he wishes he could say or do more.
Finishing her milkshake and gummy worms, she stares into space.
“I want peanut butter scones and green tea,” Allison irritably declares.
Sighing, Kate quietly slips the opened gummy worms to a little kid whose parents aren’t paying attention and sets the milkshake in front of a college kid on a laptop.
He knows it’d be a terrible idea to point out the health code violations she just committed.
“And I’m not doing my homework,” Allison informs him.
“Allison, you need to-”
“If you don’t-”
“Can’t make me.”
“No, I can’t, but your mom-”
“Okay, here you go, cutie pie. If you want me to add some honey or sugar to your tea, just tell me. Derek, you might be out of a job for a while. Allison’s decided she’s going on a homework strike.”
Taking drink, Allison makes a face.
Kate deftly mixes some honey in, and though Allison’s frown deepens, she contentedly sips the tea. “Derek, can I talk to you in private?”
They go over to a nearby table.
“Okay. I have a friend in law enforcement. I could never be law enforcement, not with my record and my general maverick attitude, but I make great backup. This friend was facing some serious things, kiddo, and I couldn’t let them go in alone. It’s not legal, what we did, but what we did literally saved a host of lives.”
He knows which part of this are lies and which part is the truth. The important thing is, she’s back. “If Allison doesn’t do her homework-”
She laughs. “Right, of course, that’d be your main concern. Look, knowing my kid, once her anger fizzles, she’s going to be horrified at her dropped grade average, and I’ll go to the school, explain there was some crazy family circumstances in play, and you’ll help her do any extra-credit she needs. It won’t be long until this is just a regretful memory.”
“You-” He thinks about his own family. His mom and Uncle Peter have always been proud of his grades, and he never considered not doing homework and turning it in on time. If he had, he doesn’t know how, or even if, they would have reacted. “What if she doesn’t decide to start taking her schoolwork seriously again?”
Kate shrugs. “Kid, I dropped out of high school. If my baby girl wants straight As and college, I’m getting it for her. But if she doesn’t, then, I’m not going to force it. I don’t care if she’s like me or not, but I care that she’s happy. School never made me happy, and I know for a fact, people can survive without it. If her grades are really important to her, she’s just hurting herself right now, and it’s not going to last long. If it weren’t for this friend, I’m not sure she and me would be here today. When she’s a little older, she’s going to be able to understand that a little more.”
She squeezes his hand, and he reluctantly nods.
Looking over at Allison, she continues, “Besides, when-”
Gasping, he looks down at his hand. “You’re in pain.”
She looks back over. “No, I’m not.”
Carefully detaching his hand from hers, he says, “You shifted and winced a second ago.”
“Crap,” she mutters. “I’m fine.”
Uncle Peter taught him why it’s bad to do the pain drain, but- he wants so badly to retake her hand. He could keep her from seeing, he could truly make it so there’s no pain, so she’s not just having to hide and bear it- “What happened?”
“I suffered a few injuries. I’ll heal. Nothing permanent or debilitating. The pain will go away soon enough.” Standing, she says, “I need to get back to work.”
He nods, and when she’s in the kitchen, he goes over to Allison. “Think you can get your mom to go home for the rest of the day?”
She looks at him.
“She’s in pain. It’s not good for werewolves to take away people’s pain unless there are very extreme or unique circumstances in play, but if you could get her off her feet and to maybe take some medicine, that’d probably help her heal faster.”
“I’ll do my homework and tell the teacher, if there’s any wrong, there’s been family stuff. In a few days, you can help me. Thanks, Derek.”
Feeling a sense of pride, he nods.
During the summer, he starts working at Rhett’s.
Allison has switched from gummy worms and milkshakes to peanut butter cookies and iced vanilla coffee.
His worries about a preteen drinking coffee have been soundly mocked and ignored by both mother and daughter.
One day, Isaac comes in.
“Hey, what can I get you?”
Giving him a crooked smile, Isaac points out his order, and he feels familiar concern returning. Isaac’s going through a growth spurt, already taller than most boys his age, but he still seems to take up too little space and is still a bundle of vaguely unpleasant chemo signals. He knows Cam isn’t coming back in the fall. He’s gotten permission and enlisted in the army.
He’s ashamed he hadn’t stopped to think of Isaac. He’d just thought, this was probably a good idea for Cam. Cam’s never had much interest in school, but he’s talented in athletics, good with his hands, and always did well in art. Hopefully, he won’t get himself killed and can figure out something he’ll be good at after he finishes his tour.
Taking an early break, he sits down, and Isaac is surprised but not upset or angry. “How have you been doing, Isaac?”
“Um, okay. Good. What-what about you?”
When Isaac leaves, Kate grabs him. “I’d’ve thought he’d start to outgrow his shyness by now. Everything okay with him?”
“His dad isn’t the greatest. He’s always been more focused on the swim team than anything.”
“I thought his dad was basketball?”
“Coach Lahey filled in for our regular coach some last year, but no, he’s the swim team coach.”
A few days after Isaac comes in, he comes again.
This time, however, it’s early in the morning, and he comes in with Kate and Allison. Leading him by hand to her usual booth, Allison gives him a kind, vaguely indulgent smile.
“Make some hot chocolate with marshmallows,” Kate tells Cassie. “Did Georgie get milk?”
“Yeah, it’s in the fridge. Does Allison have a boyfriend, now?”
“Nah. He’s a little charity case. Speaking of, hey, Derek.”
Finishing wiping down the cash register, he comes over.
Quietly, she says, “Here’s the deal: The police might come in later. If so, you keep Allison and Isaac occupied and away from the conversation.”
“Okay. Would it do any good to ask what’s going on?”
“It’s better you don’t know.”
He disagrees, but he also knows that’s a firm: No, it won’t do any good. “What about Allison’s classes?”
“She’s taking the day off and chilling in here today.”
At lunchtime, he’s eating with Allison and Isaac when Sheriff Stilinski and a deputy come in.
Kate intercepts them before they can come over. “Sheriff, Deputy. If you’d like to talk, please, come over here. We can all see Isaac, and my daughter’s tutor is watching them. One of you going over there will just upset him.”
Sheriff Stilinski looks over, and in a stroke of luck, Isaac breaks into a laugh at something Allison says.
“Okay,” the sheriff says.
The deputy sits at a table near them, and Kate and Sheriff Stilinski sit across the room.
“I should tell you, I’ve contacted one of my family’s lawyers. Technically, what I did is kidnapping, but I’ll deal with that later. I want CPS at the Lahey house, and if Isaac isn’t put somewhere away from his dad while they are, I promise you, I’ll find a way to make sure he is.”
Allison gives him a questioning look, and he suggests, “Isaac, why don’t you tell Allison about that time Camden won a gold medal, and later, I can tell her about some of the things her mom’s done?”
Taking the hint, Allison keeps Isaac’s attention on her.
The sheriff is mostly bewildered. Thankfully, though, he’s not angry.
“Miss Argent, if Coach Lahey has hurt Isaac-”
“He has. Listen, I honestly don’t mean to come across as antagonistic. I wasn’t here when you were elected. From what I hear, you have a kid of your own, close to Allison’s age, and he’s a good kid. A little wild, but hey, that’s a plus in my book. As a hellraiser myself who’s never really grown out of it, I take the view kids should be kids.”
“But a little boy is being hurt, and if I don’t do something, there isn’t much hope anyone else will. Isaac’s a shy, sensitive kid, and his dad’s a respected member of the community in a high position. If you’re here to arrest me, I’ve already called my brother. Derek,” she nods over, “will watch over them until he or my sister-in-law can come pick Allison up. But I’m going to make this very clear: Until CPS and a child’s advocate lawyer are here to drive Isaac to safe location where his dad can’t get to him, he’s not leaving this building.”
The sheriff- he has some respect towards Kate or, at least, what she’s doing, and he’s uneasy about how to best approach this situation.
He knows his mom likes Sheriff Stilinski, and he’s starting to think he might, too.
“I try not to arrest Good Samaritans. Could I ask some questions to try to clarify Isaac’s situation?”
Unfortunately, he doesn’t hear much. Isaac needs to go to the bathroom, then, Allison does, and then, they both need refills.
“And he’s been staying at your house?”
“Apartment,” Kate corrects. “Yeah. He’s encouraging my kid’s bad habits. Yesterday, they colour-coordinated my clothes, and the day before, he helped her completely clean her room. How am I supposed to wake up properly if I don’t fall over her stuff when I get her up in the morning?”
Glancing over, he sees the sheriff is trying to figure out if she’s joking or not.
“My daughter’s the organisational, clean up after herself type. I’m not. More than once, she’s given me lectures that are close to what most other parents give their kids. I don’t know about Isaac, but I promise, we haven’t been forcing him to clean. He’s been happy to help her with her projects. If he wasn’t, Allison wouldn’t bully him into it, and I wouldn’t let her.”
“And where’s Isaac been sleeping?”
This isn’t a good answer, he immediately knows, and he wonders if he should go over and try to smooth things over.
“In her room?”
“Yeah, her bed’s plenty big.”
“Miss Argent-” The sheriff trails off.
Kate scoffs, and he realises she’s starting to lose patience with the sheriff.
He starts trying to figure out what to do. Isaac needs something, he knows, whether a better home or something to make his home with his dad better, but Allison needs her mom, and Kate needs to be free and to have Allison. He needs her to be free and have Allison.
“Sheriff Stilinski, I was thirteen when I got pregnant, fourteen when I had Allison. That isn’t going to happen to her. Our apartment is a one bedroom. I sleep on the couch. I’ve had Allison keep her door open at night, but if I thought there was a chance of him trying anything, she’d either be sleeping with me, or I’d figure something else out.”
“I don’t know if Isaac likes boys, girls, or both. I don’t know which way Allison’s going to swing when she’s older. Frankly, none of that matters right now. Isaac’s a traumatised kid who’s just happy to have a safe place to sleep, and mine isn’t interested in the idea of sex right now. This isn’t any different to her than when she slept with me when she was little or when she goes to sleepovers now.”
“If you’re going to judge me and my parenting, you’re just the latest on a very long list of people. My dad- I wouldn’t have called him abusive. Would have laughed at the idea. But then, I realised there was this human, a real life human, growing inside me, and then, there was this baby, part of me, out in the world, and when I thought of some of the things my dad did, how he raised me, I decided not only no but hell no.”
“And now, there’s this kid, a little younger than her, who is being hurt in worse ways than I ever was. In ways that I’d kill someone if they ever tried it on my daughter. I really hope that a man who swore an oath to serve and protect his community will agree that no kid deserves to be hurt and that something should be done to stop it when it happens.”
He’s never felt guilty about listening in when Kate talked to others, but suddenly, he does. He wonders if he had any right the other times.
Most of this, he already knew. Some of it, she’d told him, and some of it, he’d pieced together, but-
His mother is strong, and so is the rest of his family. They’re all powerful. They’re good people he’s proud of.
Kate, though, she was only a little older than Cora and Allison, she wasn’t powerful and rich like his mom when she had her baby, she and Uncle Peter are the type who are unable to be quiet when it’d be better if they were, and he’s willing to bet she was like this even back then, but she didn’t have someone like his mom to keep her out of too much trouble. Physically, she’s just as fragile as all humans are, but-
How can a person be so strong? How can a little kid with a baby grow up to be such a wonderful, funny, strong person?
“No, Isaac, the Beast of Gevaudan wasn’t afraid of mistletoe because of human love,” Allison is saying. “Mistletoe is poisonous when humans and animals, including wolves, eat it. So, if werewolves are real, it’d make sense they’d be allergic to mistletoe.”
Looking at them, he hopes Allison grows up to be just like Kate.
Camden comes home with an early discharge and takes Isaac out-of-town.
He hopes they’ll both be okay.
Sheriff Stilinski is blunt about the fact he doesn’t see eye-to-eye with Kate on certain things, but he doesn’t arrest her or try to take Allison away.
School starts, and every day, he picks Allison up, takes her to Rhett’s, helps her with any homework, and then, works a few hours. Uncle Peter gave Laura his Camaro, and both his mom and Uncle Peter suggested he could have a new car for his birthday, but he’s happy with the family’s minivan. It’s safe for Allison and Cora’s softball team, and it’s easier for him to haul the latter around than to work out who’s going to find out which parent, older sibling, or teacher will be in charge of Cora during trips.
Today, Allison is going to the birthday party of her former neighbour Heather’s big brother, and he’s working on his own homework before his shift starts.
Suddenly, everything in him tenses, and he finds himself looking at the man who just came in. He’s high on something, and his chemo signals-
There’s chaos when gunshots ring out, and he desperately tries to find Kate’s heartbeat, her scent, anything, she can’t be dead or hurt-
“Kid, take a breath.”
He’s on the ground, near the booth, and Kate is kneeling down with him. She’s safe, no blood or bullets, and taking a breath, he focuses.
The man is demanding money, but he has a sinking feeling the man isn’t just going to leave after getting it. His intoxication is making him angry, scared, and liable to start hurting people at any minute. The police aren’t going to get here in time to stop him.
He knows what he needs to do, and to his surprise, he isn’t scared.
“Okay, Derek, listen, sweetheart, I need to get to my car.”
If he thought she was just trying to escape, he’d be relieved, but he knows even before she starts ranting about the city’s ordinance against open carry and Shellie’s hippy-dippy limousine rules against firearms on premise that the reason she wants to get to her car is, because, her car has weapons she can use against the crazy man with a lethal weapon.
This would all be so much easier if he could just get her out, and then, do what’s needed.
“You’re not getting your guns. I can disarm him if you-”
“Keep dreaming, kid.”
The last of his hopes for this ending without losing her and Allison from his life die.
It doesn’t matter, he tells himself.
His mother has protected this town for years, someday, Laura will, and when they aren’t around, it falls to him and Uncle Peter.
Grabbing her hand, he says, “Kate,” and when she looks over, he concentrates until he feels his eyes changing.
There’s a sharp intake of breath, she falls onto her bottom, and thankfully, the man is still yelling at poor Cassie to fill his bag faster to notice.
“If you tell me how to safely disarm him, I can.”
“No. I’ll- deal with this later. You’re still a kid.”
“And you have a daughter,” he counters.
She pauses at this.
“Kate, like it or not, a werewolf has a better chance of coming out of this alive than a human does, no matter what guns or other weapons you have. And if I don’t, my mom and uncle will take care of my sisters. Who’s going to take care of Allison if you don’t?”
“Chris and Victoria,” she mutters. “Alright, you listen, and you listen good, kid, or I swear, dead or not, I’ll make you regret it. Here’s what you need to do…”
After she tells him, he spots a glass jar of red jam on a nearby table, and slowly standing up, he grabs it before walking past the scared people who try to pull him down next to them.
The most important thing is: No one was hurt.
On a less positive note, he could have happily gone his whole life without knowing what a gunshot feels like.
It’s fine, he continually tells himself. He has the bullet hidden, and everyone believes the jam got spilled on him during the struggle.
After lectures, people treating him as if he’s a hero, and more lectures, he finally convinces his mom and Uncle Peter to let him go back to Rhett’s, although, this comes with further lectures and a warning the people there will be even worse about treating him as if he did something amazing than the kids at school and the people in the grocery store are.
He knows it’s a bad idea beyond this. Kate isn’t going to go after his pack just because he’s been deceiving her for almost two years, but there’s a good possibility she might do terrible things to him. Anything from telling him to stay away from her and Allison to actually using one of her weapons to do worse than the gunshot did are legitimate possibilities.
Allison wraps around him, and even when he sits down, she doesn’t let go.
Wrapping an arm over her shoulder, he takes in her scent and the familiar sound of her heartbeat, and he thanks God she wasn’t here a few nights ago. She’s tough just like her mom, but in some ways, she’s still so little. No doubt, it scared her when she heard what happened, but even the thought of her facing the same fear he and the others felt while it was all happening- he almost hates the crackhead gunman.
Cora’s already started manifesting, and she’s a lot like Uncle Peter. If someone ever pulls a gun on her, she’d probably find something to mock about the whole situation. These thoughts terrify him, but nothing bad has ever happened to the Hale pack for decades. He can mostly believe his sisters, uncle, and mother will all always be fine, even if something does ever happen.
But Allison is human, and with a twist to his stomach, it further hits him the world is full of so many bad things. What if Kate can’t always protect her? What if she can’t always protect herself? What if he can’t protect either of them?
Based on the disapproving way Kate is tapping her fingers on the booth as she sits across from them and stares at him, there’s a good chance he won’t even have the opportunity.
“Mom,” Allison sternly says.
“Can we, at least, agree that you and Derek Hale here are guilty of lying by omission?”
“If we can also agree that, after you broke your promise not to do anymore major hunting, you outright lied about not being hurt.”
Kate rolls her eyes. “I need to get back to work.” She catches his eyes. “Are you coming back soon, Hale? We’re running low on staff.”
One night, they’re closing up when she asks, “Is Allison still sleeping?”
Focusing, he hones his senses. “Yes.”
“And you’re sure the doors are all locked?”
He nods. Earlier, he’d walked a sleepy Allison out to the minivan, lowered the backseats, made a pillow out of her jacket, and covered her with the blanket he always keeps in the van before rolling the driver’s window down a little bit and locking all the doors.
Splitting a box of day-old croissants, they sit down with coffee for her and tea for him.
“I didn’t tell you, at first, because, I didn’t want to risk my pack. My family. Cora was still human, and sometimes, we have human family stop by for short visits. Even if you didn’t go after them, though, telling a hunter, ‘By the way, I’m a werewolf, and my werewolf family that’s never been on great terms with yours is here,’- Later, I didn’t tell you, because, I didn’t want to have to stop seeing you and Allison.”
“Allison might be a werewolf someday.”
Completely confused, all he can do is look at her.
“If you ever treat me like a victim, I’ll kill you, Derek. Got it?”
Sighing, she leans back into the booth. “I was never physically forced. And I can honestly say I didn’t think I was in love or that we were star-crossed soulmates. Allison’s bio dad was my science teacher. It turns out, when my dad went and wiped out an entire pack, he missed one. I know it’s not popular to champion low-scale genocide, but in this instance-” She shrugs.
“No force or idiotic delusions of love, but I was a stupid, hormonal thirteen-year-old. Finding out he’d gone after me as a way to get back at my dad and Chris, that was one thing. I told you that they made it clear I didn’t even get the choice of deciding if an abortion might have been right for me or not. Finding out that he’d deliberately done everything he could to get me pregnant, on top of all that, well, I think some part of me did snap.”
“Allison saved me, though,” she quietly says. “Whether I’d had the choice or not, this little girl, this tiny, beautiful, terrifyingly wriggly baby was mine. She was here, she was alive, and she came from me. For her sake, not mine, I couldn’t let everyone else keep making choices about and for us.”
A heartbreakingly beautiful smile crosses her face. “I know that I really lucked out in having a kid like her. Most of us working is down to her being a naturally patient, kind, independent kid.”
“If she is a werewolf someday, fine. She’ll still be mine. We’ll find a way to work things out. The issue here is I thought you were safe.”
“Really? You knew that I might have problems with my kid being around a werewolf, and so, you stuck around and didn’t tell me. She’s been keeping a secret she knew I’d find important for almost two years.”
“Earlier this year, she got on the pill to help with her period, and as much as I wish my baby girl’s period didn’t make her semi-suicidal, I’m relieved in some ways. She’s on birth control, I know she’s on it, and if she and some kid near her own age end up giving into their hormones or, God forbid, something worse happens, hopefully, she won’t have to make some hard choices. After I was denied that, no way in hell would I deny it to her.”
“I’ve showed her that condoms make great water balloons and promised that, if she ever tells me she wants some for water balloons, I’ll believe her. I’ll buy them as soon as I can, and even if she has a boyfriend she’s going to be spending a significant amount of time unsupervised with, I’ll believe her. I’ve also sworn that, if she wants to have sex and tells me, while I might threaten any boy in question with death if he hurts her, otherwise, I’ll be cool. I’ll get her condoms, I’ll find a safe space for them to have privacy, I’ll help her find a different kind of birth control if the pill isn’t a good choice for whatever reason.”
“All that is stressful enough. I didn’t know the Hale family actually- I moved us here, because, I thought your family was largely isolationist. You didn’t bother humans, but with you nearby, Chris, Victoria, and my dad, especially, wouldn’t be visiting often. Just because Allison being a werewolf is something I could handle, I sure as hell don’t want my kid being bitten. You’re not an alpha, but what’s to stop an alpha family member of yours from going after me or her?”
“My mother would never bite a human without consent, and little kids can’t give informed consent to something like that,” he says. “Kate, I love Allison. But that doesn't matter. She’s a kid. Even if Cora wasn’t close to her in age, I’d never hurt a little kid in that way.”
“I’m sorry for lying,” he continues. “I didn’t tell you at first to protect my pack. Then- I didn’t really have friends. I had classmates I could hang out with. It was nice helping Allison with her homework and being around both of you."
He knows now definitely isn’t the time, but he suddenly wants to tell her Allison isn’t the only one- Even when he turns eighteen, assuming she doesn’t hate him for the werewolf part, she’s always going to see him as a kid.
It’d be worst if she were kind about it instead of laughing and rolling her eyes. If she went on about teenage hormones and all the people he’s going to meet in the big world outside of Beacon Hills.
He’s had fantasies involving sex and her, but sometimes, at night, he imagines her just lying in his bed beside him. He wants to know what she’s like when she first wakes up in the morning, how she is just before she falls asleep, if she tosses and turns, if she snores, if she sprawls out across the bed or curls into a ball. He wonders what makes her feel better when she’s sick, and he wishes he could rub her feet at night to see if that works better than the foot massager Allison got her.
As much as she has no interest in books, there are some movie adaptions that are fairly faithful to the source material but have enough action and sex added in that he thinks she might find them interesting. He’s already helped Allison keep her from plotting to burn down the city’s IRS building by doing her taxes for her. He could help her teach Allison even better self-defence against werewolves; as strong and capable as she is, having an actual werewolf to practise on would make her training even more effective.
“Alright,” Kate says.
Trying not to get his hopes up, he studies her.
“I’ve never killed a human teenager. I have killed some young werewolves. So, let me make this clear: I don’t care what code my family has. I’m going to trust you, Derek, and more than that, I’m going to trust you around my baby girl. If you ever do anything to hurt her, well, then, sweetheart, I will hunt you down. I will destroy your whole family, your pack, if I have to. Now, is there anything else I need to know?”
“No,” he answers. “Thank you.”
She gives him an amused look.
“My family, we are kind of isolationist. We go to school, and my mom and uncle try to support the sheriff’s station and some of the town’s local businesses, but mostly, we stick to socialising with other nearby packs. None of us have ever hurt a human. My mom says that we’re predators, but we don’t have to be killers.”
“Yeah, that’s what I try to show Allison,” she says. “Humans are apex predators, even if we have all these ideas about civilised societies. I hope she never has to kill anyone, but when she’s older, I want her to be able to go after anyone who tries to hurt her.”
“I could help with that.”
She gives him a considering look. “Maybe, you can.”
Pulling into Rhett’s, he goes inside.
Kate waves, and ignoring the familiar increase in his heartbeat, he goes over.
She kisses his cheek. “Hey. Allison’s in the bathroom. Thanks for doing this.”
“No problem. She actually ran over the deputy-”
“The school’s getting the brakes on that car fixed. Besides, what kind of idiot deputy stands behind a driver’s ed car when there’s a fifteen-year-old behind the wheel?”
She has a point, but all the same, he’s relieved he got the minivan inspected before he agreed to start helping Allison practise her driving.
“Have you got your midterm grade, yet?”
“No, not yet. In case she and I do get stopped, you haven’t buried any teenagers in the woods, have you?”
Recently, Kate got her lifeguard certification. Now, she works at one of the local swimming pools during the summer and assists the school’s swim team coach during the year.
“No. I can see why you didn’t like Adrian much, but it turns out, he’s an interesting man. If those little brats ever get to be too much, I’ll just charm him into helping me dissolve their bodies. Don’t worry, though, Cora’s one of the best parts of my morning class.”