"I think I may have done something stupid."
They were lying side by side on their stomachs on Scott's bed, halfway through act four of Gears of War 2. Stiles didn't look away from the screen when he spoke, but there was something in his voice that made Scott instantly wary, thinking what Stiles was about to tell him might have been more grave than the confession that he'd finished off the last of Melissa's peanut butter cookies. His scent was... off. Derek would have been able to pinpoint the underlying emotion more exactly, but even after half a dozen impromptu lessons, Scott couldn't distinguish between sadness and anxiety and fear yet. It all smelled the same to him, stingy and bitter and acid.
Hitting pause, he put down the console and turned to Stiles. "What do you mean?"
"Remember those books I borrowed from Deaton during the Kate thing? I kept one of them after we dealt with that particular problem. The stuff in it... Some of it sounded worth checking out, you know?"
Scott frowned. He dimly remembered Stiles walking out of the clinic with an armful of tomes piled up so high that he could barely see above them. But Stiles had always been keen on research and since Scott was notoriously bad at it and preferred to have something to do rather than understand the theoretical frameworks behind it, he hadn't really paid it much attention. "Sure. You always like this sort of stuff."
Stiles still wasn't looking at him, eyes fixed on the game even now it was on hold. "So... there was this... ritual... spell type... thing. And I thought, hey, why not give it a try? I mean, what can possibly go wrong?"
Stiles' caginess, the fact that he wasn't just saying outright what had happened, increased Scott's worries. Stiles was never one to mince his words. Usually he blurted right out whatever was on his mind. It was hard to imagine him feeling so anxious or guilty about something that he'd be searching for the right way to phrase it, but that's clearly what was happening right now.
"What did you do?" Scott asked, cold dread clenching around his heart like a fist. He watched Stiles' Adam's apple bobbing as he rapidly swallowed. This is gonna be bad.
"I didn't do anything," Stiles said, which made no sense at all. He finally looked at Scott. "I tried to do something, but it didn't work. I need you to know that, because I don't want you to get your hopes up. It didn't work. And I should probably not tell you at all, because chances are that this spell I did didn't actually do anything, but I don't know if there are any weird side-effects or shit, and this is why I guess you should know. But you need to realize that it didn't work."
"You said that for the third time now, dude. You're starting to freak me out here."
Stiles sighed. "I don't mean to. Like I said, nothing happened."
"Okay... then why are you freaking out? Because I don't need to be a werewolf to see that you're one step away from a full-blown panic attack." Scott couldn't help but wonder if Stiles was getting so worked up because he was worried about what he might have done, or because he was worried about what Scott's reaction would be. He couldn't decide which one was the better option. Neither of them seemed to be boding well. "Come on, man, just tell me what you were trying to do."
Next to him, Stiles took a deep breath, then looked Scott right in the eye as he said, "I was trying to bring back Allison."
* * *
"This is not the sort of thing you mess with," he told Stiles. Told all of them, really, as they were gathered in the back room of the vet clinic, because even though Stiles was the one who'd tried to resurrect Allison, most of them had entertained the idea at least once, with varying degrees of seriousness. If Scott or Lydia had known how to and had the means to do it, they would have done so the moment the Nogitsune was defeated. But they hadn't, and Stiles was the one who'd gone and tried, and now Scott was upset and Lydia— Lydia wasn't even there, hadn't answered any of their calls and texts for weeks, cutting herself off from the pack after she helped put Kate back in the ground where she belonged. Stiles couldn't blame her, no matter how much he missed her. He sometimes wished it would be as easy for him to cut his ties. Nothing had been right since the Nogitsune. The nightmares that made him wake up in cold sweat; the guilt that kept him awake through the nights; the way the others kept looking him and he knew they were wondering if he was really himself; the Allison-shaped hole in their midst.
They all wanted her back, each and every one of them, but none of them felt wrecked with guilt on top of the loss because it wasn't their body some homicidal Japanese trickster spirit had taken over to kill Allison. If Stiles' plan had worked, his friends wouldn't keep shooting him looks halfway between sad and betrayed that seemed to say how could you, they'd be busy hugging Allison and celebrating her return.
"It doesn't really matter, does it? Because it didn't work. I failed. Allison is still dead, so we don't have to worry about how necromancy is a big no-no."
Deaton signed. "I know you don't see it that way, but it's a good thing it didn't work. Bringing back the dead... it's not something that can be done without consequences." His eyes darted to Peter, who raised an eyebrow and shrugged in a 'what can you do' gesture. Stiles didn't really understand why Derek had brought him along in the first place. It wasn't like Peter had given a fuck about Allison when she was alive. "Nature demands balance, Stiles. When you upset it like this, it would take a lot of death to restore it."
Derek, who hadn't said a thing since they got here, added, "And even if your spell had worked, there would have been no telling if what you brought back was really Allison."
It wasn't like Stiles hadn't thought about it – there were too many movies where someone came back from the dead wrong not to take that possibility into consideration – but it seemed like a small risk he'd been willing to take. Now, hearing it spelled out like that, it made his stomach clench, and from the sudden uncomfortable silence that filled the room, it had a similar effect on the others, the scars from their brush with Stiles-not-being-Stiles too fresh to ignore.
Stiles swallowed against the lump in his throat. "Okay, I get it. It was dumb, and I was really lucky that I apparently messed the whole thing up."
He didn't feel lucky. From the looks on the others' faces, neither did they.
* * *
Suddenly, Peter stopped his little speech mid-sentence, making Derek wonder if it was a new tactic to catch his attention. "What?" he snapped. He already regretted asking the moment the word slipped from his tongue. Any sort of response, however curt and grumpy, might only encourage his uncle.
Instead, Peter held up his hand and looked up, frowning.
"We have a visitor," he said.
He was at the door, pulling it open even before the knock came. Lydia pushed inside without preamble. It was the first time Derek had seen her in weeks. She looked... Her hair was immaculate, and her make-up was flawless, and he was sure her outfit cost more than two month's worth of rent, but underneath the concealer and the blush, her skin shone pale, and her eyes were red like she hadn't been sleeping well or had been crying a lot.
"Come on in, make yourself at home," Peter quipped, but Lydia didn't even acknowledge him.
"It's the Nemeton," she said.
Derek frowned. "What about it?" Nothing related to that tree stump could be a good thing. They'd barely survived the last thing it brought to town (not all of them had), and he wasn't ready for a new supernatural emergency yet.
"I used to hear it. A faint background buzzing, like..." She waved her hand around in a nondescript gesture that was probably supposed to illustrate what she was saying but really only accounted for her nervousness. "Bees, I suppose. It was always there, ever since the night of the sacrifice, and it was driving me crazy. And then, earlier today... it stopped. It suddenly got really loud and terrible, and then – nothing. And it hasn't started again. It's all quiet now. Dead silence. I used to want that. I wanted the noises gone from my head, but now they have, it feels wrong."
"When was that? When did it stop?"
Lydia shrugged. "I don't know. This afternoon, after school. Four-thirty, maybe five-ish? I didn't exactly clock it."
Derek and Peter looked at each other, and Derek knew they were both thinking the same thing. The silent exchange wasn't lost on Lydia, who narrowed her eyes at them. "What? Why are you looking like you know what happened? Tell me."
"It might be nothing," Derek said, reluctant to jump to conclusions. "Just... Stiles was messing with magic earlier, and he said what he was trying to do didn't work. But if he was drawing energy from the Nemeton, maybe that's why you can't hear it anymore."
Peter shook his head. "Don't be stupid. The Nemeton has a lot of energy. You and I both know that it takes more than a failed little spell to deplete it."
There was that. But Stiles had been certain that he had failed in bringing back Allison, and even Deaton hadn't questioned that conviction. "Maybe it's just a coincidence," Derek speculated tentatively.
The look Peter sent him was scornful, like he couldn't believe that Derek could possibly be so naive. "Maybe not."
Lydia huffed, looking between them impatiently with her arms crossed over her chest, clearly unimpressed with their stalling. "What are you talking about? What was it that Stiles was trying to do?"
"He was trying to bring back Allison." It was Peter who said it, because Derek didn't know how to. Everyone knew that Lydia had been the one hit hardest by Allison's death, dealing with the dual effect of the guilt over Allison dying trying to save her and the loss of her best friend. She'd made it clear afterwards that she didn't want anything to do with werewolf business or supernatural shenanigans anymore, and now she was being dragged right back in because Stiles couldn't accept that death was final, no matter how great the loss.
Lydia's mouth opened and closed soundlessly, and she looked like she was about to faint. For all his blatant display of nonchalance, Peter was at her side in an instant, a hand on her arm to steady her. It only took a second for Lydia to shake off his touch, visibly pulling herself together. Her voice was almost steady when she spoke. "How do we know that it didn't work?"
"Stiles said it didn't."
"But what if it did?" Lydia insisted, looking from Peter to Derek and back.
Peter shrugged, crossing his legs as he leant back against the windowsill, looking far too relaxed for the conversation they were having. Derek was half-convinced that the blasé attitude was for the sole purpose of getting under Lydia's skin. "Then, according to Deaton, we're in trouble because it's not the kind of magic to be messed with. He gave us this whole speech about upsetting the balance of nature and actions having consequences. It was really good. You should have been here for it."
"What kind of consequences?"
"Puppies and fluffy bunnies." Peter rolled his eyes. "What do you think? It's necromancy. When you raise the dead, you unleash death and destruction." He held up a hand to forestall whatever Lydia was trying to say. "And yes, before you mention it, I'm perfectly aware of how deeply ironic it is that I'm the one saying these things."
Lydia turned to Derek. "We should check the Nemeton. Just to make sure."
It made sense. He didn't like it, but he knew they needed to deal with this before it became something dangerous. "Okay. Did you bring your car?"
As they turned to go, Peter's footsteps followed. "I'm coming with you."
"Fine," Derek bit out, because there was no stopping Peter from doing anything he wanted, and they didn't have time to fight him on this. Besides, there was no telling what they'd find, and they might need all the help they get. He threw Peter his car keys. "Take the Toyota and meet us there."
* * *
He watched her drive, letting the silence grow until curiosity finally got the better of him. "Why did you come to me with this? Why not go to Scott?"
"I came to see Peter, actually," she said, eyes firmly fixed on the road ahead.
It was not what Derek had expected to hear. Lydia had no reason to trust Peter, after everything he'd put her through, despite his dubious claims that it had been for her own good and helped bring out her full potential as a banshee.
Perhaps Lydia heard the disbelief in his silence, because she elaborated. "I don't want to put Scott in harm's way if it can be avoided. Peter... I don't really care about what happens to him." Her heartbeat was steady, no trace of a lie in her tone, but Derek didn't think it was quite the whole truth either. He let it go.
* * *
It looked dead.
Lydia stepped closer, crouching down and tentatively putting her hand against the cut face of the wood. Derek had to force himself not to grab her and pull her away. Out of the corner of his eyes, he saw Peter's hands twitching as well. None of them were comfortable around that tree and its cut-down remains. No matter how lifeless and innocuous it might have looked, that didn't mean it couldn't still cause harm.
Brushing herself off, Lydia stood. "I don't feel anything."
"What did you expect?" Peter asked, his voice ripe with snark. "Did you think it would communicate with you through touch and tell you where to find your dead little hunter friend?"
"I'm saying," Lydia said pointedly, "that it doesn't feel like it has any sort of magical energy anymore. And if that's really because of what Stiles did, if his spell depleted the Nemeton's energy, if he was wrong about it not working, I think Allison might well be somewhere around here."
Derek shook his head. "She isn't."
"What do you mean, she isn't? We haven't even looked yet." Lydia sounded agitated, starting to walk like she was prepared to search the entire forest all on her own. Grabbing her arm when she passed him, Derek stopped her.
"We don't need to. There hasn't been any living being anywhere near this place in days."
"How can you tell?"
"Werewolf," Derek said, tapping his finger against his nose. "We can sniff it out. It's not particularly precise when we're in civilized areas, but if a place is deserted, it's easy enough to tell if anyone's been here in the past twenty-four hours."
"No footprints either," Peter added. "Looks like we can all sleep sound tonight. The balance of nature is preserved." It was hard to tell whether the chipper tone his voice had taken on was sarcastic or not.
Lydia wasn't quite ready to give up yet. "Actually, I'd like to check out Allison's grave first." When Derek and Peter exchanged an uncomfortable gaze, she pursed her lips. "You don't have to come. I don't need an escort. I'm perfectly capable of visiting my best friend's grave on my own."
She turned her back on them and went to her car. Derek slid into the passenger seat as she started the engine. Lydia didn't seem in the least bit startled that he had decided to join her, not even acknowledging his presence.
"Lydia— Even if she's back, you know that this isn't a good thing, right?" He was trying to be kind, but he knew he also needed to be blunt. He knew from experience how much people wished they could have back the loved ones they'd lost. He understood why Stiles had tried it. But at the same time, he felt that he, as the person with the fewest ties to Allison, had to be the one reminding the others why their friend's resurrection was potentially worse than her death had been.
He hated it. Hated to be the one who took the chance away from them, but someone had to do it, and there was no one else. Scott was too close and Kira was too kind and Peter didn't give a damn one way or the other, and Deaton wasn't exactly pack. He wished Erica and Boyd were still around, because they would have been able to tell the others bluntly what they didn't want to hear without hurting them.
Beside him, Lydia was biting her lip, and her voice sounded choked up. "I know. I get it. But that's all the more reason for us to find her, if she's really back, right?"
"Right," Derek agreed tentatively, wishing she sounded less hopeful.
When they arrived at the graveyard, he wasn't sure what Lydia expected. He wasn't sure what he expected, except that he'd been almost sure they would find Allison. As Peter had pointed out – it didn't make sense that a spell that supposedly failed would deplete of all the Nemeton's considerable energy.
But Allison's grave was untouched, fresh flowers on top of it – white roses from Scott and tulips that were probably Lydia's – with no sign that there wasn't a body buried underneath anymore.
"Well," Peter said, "that was anticlimactic."
"I was sure we'd find something," Lydia whispered. She looked weary and resigned and crushed, disappointment written all over her face despite their little chat in the car just now. Derek didn't begrudge her the feeling, but at the same time he also realized that where he was going next, he shouldn't, couldn't take her along.
"I'm sorry." He hesitantly reached out and put a hand on her arm.
It only took her a moment to pull herself together, her usual mask of self-confidence and attitude covering the blank, broken expression. "Like you said. It's for the best." Her smile didn't reach her eyes. It barely was a smile at all, just a twist of her lips that looked more like a grimace. "I just needed to make sure."
Derek nodded. "I know. Look, just— Go home. Try to forget about this. At least the Nemeton won't be a problem anymore."
Lydia frowned at him, probably hearing the dismissal between his words. "You're not coming?"
"No, there's... something I have to do."
He was lucky enough that Lydia didn't question the vague excuse, tiredness and grief overriding her natural curiosity. Peter was another matter, raising his eyebrow at Derek like he expected a more detailed outline of Derek's further plans, which was nothing Derek was inclined to give him.
"You should make sure she gets home safely," he told Peter, almost feeling guilty for basically settling Lydia with a man who in the past had tried to kill her and manipulated her mind for his own resurrection. Then again, Lydia had proven time and again that she could hold her own against Peter, so he wasn't particularly worried.
"I don't need a babysitter," Lydia snapped, but it didn't have the force it usually did, and when Peter got in her car with her, she didn't stop him.
Derek watched them drive off, alone in front of a row of Argent graves. He tried hard not to look at Kate's when he passed it, and left in the opposite direction to the one Lydia and Peter had taken.
* * *
He let himself shift, fangs and claws, ready to fight if necessary, half-expecting something – something that looked like Allison but wasn't – to jump at him out of the darkness. There was nothing, though, no movement, no noise. Nothing that explained the way the hair at the back of his neck had stood to attention the second he got out of the car and stepped through the gates.
A faint rustle from somewhere to his left made Derek spin around. Probably a squirrel, or a stray cat.
Maybe. Maybe not.
"Allison," he called out, loud enough to echo through the night, going against his better knowledge. A last-ditch attempt to find something before they could lay to rest the fears – and, despite themselves, hopes – that Stiles' little necromancy experiment had worked.
He was ready to turn around, get back into his car and drive off when she stepped out of the bushes, wide-eyed and trembling and naked and alive. She awkwardly attempted to cover herself with one hand, the other clutching a tree branch like a weapon, as if she was expecting to have to defend herself.
It took an effort to mold his features back to human, every one of his instincts screaming danger and attack, because this wasn't right. The dead were dead, and when they weren't, it was never a good thing.
The creature that looked and sounded like Allison took a step further towards him out of the shadows of the trees, and even though he was trying to resolutely fix his eyes on her face, they darted downwards to her midriff where an angry red scar marred her skin, fresh like a wound that had only just healed.
"What the hell happened?" she asked, and he felt his stomach drop because he didn't know how to tell a person, no matter who or what they were, that they'd been dead for weeks. He wished he hadn't sent Lydia home because if she'd been here, she would have known what to say.
Luckily, Allison saved him from telling her about the fight. "I mean, I know I died. I remember all that. The Nogitsune and the Oni and Stiles and Lydia. I was stabbed. Right here, and Scott held me, and then the next thing I know I wake up alone, in the middle of the night, at the same place where I probably bled out. Unless I didn't die and they got me to a hospital and fixed me, and now I'm having some sort of psychotic break where I have amnesia and take naked walks around town."
Her voice had an uncharacteristic hysterical edge, but Derek couldn't blame her, considering what she'd been through. If anything, her distress made her seem more real, more human, more likely herself.
"Is that what's going on? Am I going crazy?" Allison sounded scared and hopeful at the same time, as if no matter how scary that scenario was, it was still better than the alternative.
Derek shook his head, trying to speak around the lump in his throat. "No. You're not crazy."
She squeezed her eyes shut for a moment and nodded, as if she was willing herself to accept the truth. "I thought you'd say that." She'd let go of the branch, and her free hand was unconsciously tracing the scar tissue. Derek found it impossible not to follow the movement of her fingers with his gaze, morbidly fascinated by the physical reminder of the lethal wound she'd suffered.
"How?" she asked.
"It's... complicated." It wasn't, really. Stiles felt guilty and terrible about what happened and buried himself in research until he found something that brought her back. It was an explanation that fit into a single sentence, and yet Derek was reluctant to tell her because once he started, it opened the door for questions like, If it's that easy, why not bring back everyone we love? He knew, because that was the first thing he thought when they'd discussed it earlier today. If they could resurrect Allison, they could bring back Derek's family, and Stiles' mom, and Allison's mom. Everyone they'd ever lost. Except they couldn't, because Deaton's words still echoed in his head. Nature demands balance. When you upset it like this, it'll take a lot of death to restore it.
He could barely believe that less than six hours had passed since then. It felt like half an eternity.
Allison accepted the evasive answer almost too easily, like she knew she wasn't really ready for the truth yet. She nodded and tried for a smile, missing by half a mile. "Of course it's complicated. When isn't it, right?"
"Come on," Derek said quietly. "Let's get out of here."
* * *
When she complained that she was freezing, Derek turned the air conditioning up, even though it was a a fairly warm night for January.
"I'll drive you to Scott and you can have a shower and get dressed, and we'll talk about what happened," he offered.
Allison frowned. "Why are we not going home to my dad? Did— Did something happen? Is he okay?" She sounded frantic, worry coming off her in waves.
"He's fine. Don't worry. He just— He needed a break, after everything." He chose not to give any details about what exactly happened while Allison had been gone. She didn't need to know about Kate. As far as she was concerned, her aunt was dead and buried. Which was true, after all. There was no need to tell her that for a couple of weeks, she'd been alive again, wreaking havoc. "He left town. Isaac too. They went to France to— I don't know. Visit family of yours, I guess?"
"Oh. Okay." She sounded surprised, but not unhappy. "It's good that they're getting along."
When Derek threw her a quizzical look, she grinned. "Dad wasn't happy when he found out about me and Isaac. I guess the whole werewolf boyfriend thing wasn't any easier for him to wrap his head around the second time around."
Derek couldn't help it. Despite the seriousness of the situation and the turmoil of conflicting emotions Allison's return set off, he snorted out a laugh, too amused by the mental image of Chris trying to handle the dilemma that while werewolves were not the enemy anymore, the idea of them making out with his teenage daughter still made him want to put a round of wolfsbane bullets into them.
"Derek?" Allison began, sounding unsure. When he briefly glanced at her, she was chewing on her bottom lip. "Would it— Can we wait until tomorrow until we tell Scott and the others? I just— I think I need some time to deal with this on my own. I was dead. I mean, I can't actually remember that part. I remember dying and waking up, but nothing in between. But still. It's just— "
"Sure," Derek said, even though he knew he shouldn't. He should let the pack know and Deaton, and they should deal with this together. None of them had any idea what exactly Allison coming back meant, how the a lot of death Deaton had talked about would happen. For all he knew, the creature beside him wasn't Allison at all but only pretending to be her, like the Nogitsune had pretended to be Stiles, wearing their skin like a Halloween costume, and it might strike when he least expected it.
Then again, that might well have been an argument against bringing the others in yet. He could keep an eye on Allison for the night and if she had to be... dealt with, he'd do it and no one else had to know about it. Better that way than to get Scott's and Stiles' and Lydia's hopes up only to have them watch what looked like their friend being killed right in front of them for a second time.
"You can stay at the loft tonight. We'll talk to the others tomorrow."
Allison smiled gratefully. "Thank you."
Don't thank me yet, Derek thought. I don't even know what you are.
* * *
This is it, he thought with a mixture of dread and resignation. He got up and went downstairs as silently as he could.
When he stepped into the kitchen, fully wolfed out and ready to strike, Allison was standing at the counter with her back to him. If she was aware of his presence, she didn't give any indication.
"What are you doing?" he asked.
Startled, she spun around. There was no knife in her hand. She was holding a mug and the sugar sprinkler. "I made tea. I was cold, and I thought it would warm me up. Sorry I woke you."
Behind her, Derek could now see that the kettle was still steaming. It made him feel stupid and embarrassed, his face changing back to normal. "It's fine. I just heard noises and... I thought I'd check them out."
The little pause he made clearly wasn't lost on Allison, and something like recognition flickered on her face, like she knew what he had expected to find. She sat at the table and put her tea down in front of her, looking into the mug as if it held all the answers.
"I feel okay," she said, and at first he thought she was trying to assure him, but when she continued, he realized it was more than that. "I mean, I'm cold, and I can't sleep, and I'm confused about what happened, but I don't feel like there's anything wrong with me. And I know that this should be a good thing, but at the same time it's— How can I come back from the dead and still feel normal? It's... not right." She looked up at him when she said that, like she was daring him to contradict.
Derek sighed, rubbing his forehead. He pulled up a chair and sat down next to her. "It's not. But, honestly, it's better than if you felt like going off and killing people."
If she was surprised by his blunt honesty, she didn't let on. "Yeah, it's been pretty clear that you've been expecting that."
He winced. "Sorry."
"No, don't be. I'd be lying if I said I wasn't worried about that, too." He could tell she wasn't lying, that it wasn't something she was saying to make him convinced that she was herself. But just because she was herself now didn't mean she would remain so. They both seemed to share the same train of thought, because the next thing she said was, "If that happens..."
"I won't let that happen." It was more promise than threat, and he knew she understood that when she nodded.
* * *
"Look," she said. "Nothing has changed. I came to you last night because I was worried about the Nemeton, but that doesn't mean I want any further part in whatever supernatural craziness the town comes up with next." Her tone was firm, but underneath he could hear the bone-deep tiredness in her tone.
He couldn't blame her. The previous night's endeavor had obviously taken more of a toll on her than she let on, and how could it not? Even for him, going out to the Nemeton, not knowing whether they'd find Allison there or knowing what she'd be even if they found her alive, had been a nerve-wracking experience, and it wasn't his dead best friend they'd been looking for. That was why he had to convince Lydia to come. She didn't know that he'd gone to Oak Creek after, or what he'd found, and he was trying to honor Allison's wishes by waiting until the pack meeting to let the others know, but to do that, he had to make sure that Lydia would be there.
"I get it. But you need to be here for the meeting today. I promise you, I won't bother you again afterwards. Just come to the loft after school."
The pause before she spoke was enough to let him know that he'd made a mistake. "What's going on, Derek?" she asked, suddenly sharp and alert, like she was figuring something out.
"I'll explain later. Just be here."
"Oh my God. We went to the wrong place last night, didn't we?" When he didn't respond, she pressed on. "Derek. You found her after you sent me home with Peter, right?"
"Can we— "
'talk about this later?' was what he meant to say, but Lydia interrupted him before he could even get the words out. "I'm coming over now," she said, and since he'd lost the fight to keep things under cover anyway and she was about to hang up, he sighed and said, "Fine. Bring some clothes, okay? Something Allison's size."
After he ended the call, he found Allison in the kitchen, eating a bowl of cereal that had probably been Isaac's, from back when he lived with Derek. She was wearing a pair of wool socks he couldn't remember buying and might well have been Cora's once, and her slim frame was almost swallowed by the large cotton shirt he'd given her. When he entered the room, she looked up.
"I told the pack to come over after school." he told her. Then, apologetically, "Lydia knows. Sorry, I was trying not to let anything on until later, but she figured it out."
The smile on Allison's face was the first genuine expression of happiness she'd showed since he found her. "Of course she did. It's Lydia."
* * *
Derek frowned. "I didn't mean you should empty all the stores at the mall and max out your credit card."
Lydia pursed her lips. "You said to bring clothes. A girl needs to wear something, and trust me, there's no better 'welcome back from the dead' present than the new spring/summer collection."
"I'm going to take your word for it," Derek said dryly. Behind him, Allison rushed down the stairs, stopping when she rounded the corner. For a moment, the girls only stared at each other before Lydia dropped the bags in a heap and ran at Allison, throwing her arms around her friend, hugging her so tightly as if she was afraid that Allison would disappear again if she let go.
"I can't believe you're back," Lydia whispered and then, over and over again, "I missed you so much," and whatever else she said got lost because she was sobbing too hard, and so was Allison. Derek quietly left the room, deciding that it wasn't much of a risk to leave Allison unsupervised with Lydia for a while.
* * *
They all couldn't stop touching her, tiny warm brushes of skin against skin, as if they needed to reassure themselves that she was real and made of flesh and blood.
The Isaac-shaped hole among them was glaring, though, his absence a sharper, more painful reminder of how much Allison had been missed than the others' exuberant joy over her return.
That night at Oak Creek, she'd been so strong. It felt like death was easy, but that wasn't death, it was dying. Death was what came after, and it wasn't something that happened to her, it happened to Scott and Lydia and Stiles and Isaac and her dad, and looking into her friends' faces it was obvious now that death hadn't been easy at all. It had, in fact, been so unbearable that they brought her back, and it felt selfish of her to blame them for it.
And yet, part of her did blame them, the part that couldn't quite join in with their easy laughter, couldn't stop thinking I was dead and now I'm not and it's not right, couldn't stop noticing the way Derek kept looking at her like she was something else entirely, couldn't stop waiting for the other shoe to drop.
Eventually, it did.
"What about—" Stiles began, then stopped himself, his gaze flickering to Allison before settling on Scott. "What Deaton said?"
There was an uncomfortable silence, which grew more uncomfortable when Allison spoke up. "What was it? What did he say?" Her voice sounded hollow, steeled against the hard truth she knew she had to face. She pulled the new cardigan tighter around her shoulders, shivering.
No one spoke for entirely too long. Scott was biting his lip and Stiles looked to the floor and Lydia started picking imaginary lint from her tights. At last Derek was the one to broach the tense stand-off. "He suggested it wouldn't be a good thing if Stiles succeeded in bringing you back. That there would be consequences."
He didn't clarify what kind of consequences. He didn't need to.
* * *
Derek sat up when she took a step into the room. In the dark she couldn't make out his expression, but his voice was wary. "Hey."
"Sorry. Do you have some extra blankets somewhere? I didn't want to snoop around." She felt bad about waking him up the second night in a row, especially when it was for something as silly as being cold.
She didn't need to see his face to hear the frown in his voice. "Are you still freezing? I turned up the heating in your room. It's practically tropical in there."
He got out of bed, stepping closer towards her, and there was a moment when she almost wanted to back away because a part of her mind always associated Derek Hale stepping into her personal space with a threat. But even from a distance of two feet she could feel the heat radiating off his body like a furnace, and swayed towards him when he reached out to touch the back of his hand to her forehead, like her father used to do when she was feigning a fever to skip school.
The moment he touched her, a shiver ran though her body. It felt like she'd come in from the cold and someone was holding a hot-water bottle to her skin. "Shit, you're warm!"
Up close, she could see the way his brow furrowed. His hand fell away. "Not really. You feel normal."
Allison laughed a little shakily. "Trust me, from where I standing, I feel like a block of ice and you're made of burning coals." She unconsciously moved closer towards him, seeking out more of his warmth.
"We should ask Deaton about it. Maybe he has an idea." His frown deepened. "Not that he seemed to have much of idea what's been going on to begin with."
He reached out and rubbed his hands against her upper arms. It felt really nice, the friction and the body heat making Allison's fingertips tingle in that pleasant way they sometimes did after a good workout. They stood like that for a few minutes until he stepped back, and Allison immediately, acutely missed his warmth. "Better?" he asked.
She couldn't very well expect Derek to stay up all night being her personal heater. She wished she was staying at Lydia's, because then she could just cuddle up to another warm body without it being weird or inappropriate. Then again, it could be worse. It could be Scott.
"A little." Allison smiled, trying to convey her gratitude even though the cold was already beginning to seep back in.
Perhaps Derek heard the half-truth in her voice, or perhaps his werewolf senses just registered the way her skin was rising in tiny goosebumps. "Okay, new plan. Come on." He motioned towards the bed.
Allison blinked, because she could have sworn that Derek 'personal space issues' Hale just suggested that she share a bed with him, which seemed so far out of the realm of the possible that even coming back from the dead was perfectly normal in comparison. Her disbelief was clearly written all over her face because Derek rolled his eyes and sighed.
"Look, Lydia and Scott will kill me if you die of hypothermia under my watch. Just... get in the bed. Sharing body heat will help. I promise to keep my hands to myself."
"I think that kinda defeats the point," Allison said, because she couldn't help herself.
Derek snorted, getting back into bed and holding the covers open for her while she gingerly sat down on the edge and crawled underneath. His mattress was harder than the one in the guest room, and the duvet was larger but lighter. She thought that if she'd been cold under the other one, she'd be absolutely freezing here, but then Derek curled around her, spooning her, a solid warm weight against her back. For a moment he seemed unsure what to do with his arm, but then he apparently gave up and let it drop around her waist, his hand resting a few inches above her scar, and the heat from his touch spread through her entire body.
This is weird, Allison thought. I'm snuggling up to Derek Hale. Kate had killed his family, and he had bitten her mother, and the only reason he was letting her stay with him was so he could keep an eye on her and kill her if she turned into a blood-thirsty zombie.
Her body was slowly beginning to warm up, but there was no way she was getting any sleep tonight, not like this, in Derek's bed with him wrapped around her.
It was the last thing she thought before she fell asleep.
* * *
They awoke to a text message from Scott calling an emergency pack meeting. Apparently, it had started right when Allison came back, but no one really noticed because the deaths weren't violent. No clawed bodies and ripped-out throats, no blood and gore. Just dead people, a lot of them – most of them in the hospital, some in their homes. Old people, young people, sick people, people who were just in the emergency room because they cut their palm on a kitchen knife. There was no pattern, no reason to it. Their organs just failed and they dropped dead. At least that's what the coroner's reports said, because no one had actually witnessed any of the deaths. They all had died alone, and didn't that make it all the worse?
"There has to be something we can start from," Stiles argued. "At least something about the way they died that tells us what kind of monster of the month we're dealing with."
He seemed more agitated than the others. Allison couldn't blame him. She was feeling guilty enough for living, but it had to be worse for Stiles, who'd deliberately started this even when he hadn't been aware of the consequences.
Deaton shook his head. "I've had Melissa send me photos of the bodies and copies of the reports and there's nothing. If I believed in coincidence, I'd say this was a sad occasion of a lot of people dying of natural causes at the same time."
"We know it's because of me, though. Because I came back. So what if I died?" Allison asked. "That would stop it, right?"
She'd barely even finished the thought when Scott started to protest vehemently. "No. We'll find another way."
It was too vague for her, the hope that they could maybe fix this without having any sort of plan or even an idea where to begin. "And what if we don't?"
Derek's voice was firm and sure, like he didn't have the faintest doubt that they would come up with something. "We will," he assured her, at the same time as Lydia said, "Then we don't. We'll wait it out. It's about balance, so it can't keep killing forever. It's gonna stop eventually."
It was just like Lydia to approach the situation with cool pragmatism, but at the same time, the lack of empathy made Allison blanch. "I don't want to live when it's costing other people their lives," she protested.
Lydia pursed her lips, her face set in a way that warned Allison that arguing with her was pointless. It was the exact same expression she used to wear when they were watching a movie and Jackson tried to pick something she didn't approve of. Except they weren't talking entertainment choices now, but life and death. "Well, tough, because I'm not going to lose you again. We only just got you back. And if you think about sacrificing yourself, think again, because this time, I'm going to be the one who'll drag you back here kicking and screaming, no matter how much death I'll unleash."
She meant well – of course she did – but Allison still felt a wave of anger at the idea of Lydia making this sort of choice about Allison's life without her consent. She was just about to argue about her right to decide what to do with her own life when Deaton held up his hand, silencing the discussion.
He turned to Allison. "If it helps, I don't believe you dying would necessarily fix anything. It's like the butterfly wings that set off a hurricane. Once the storm is raging, pinning the butterfly won't make a difference."
It was a solid argument. It didn't bring them any closer to solving the problem, but it took
Allison sacrificing herself as a possible solution clean off the table, and judging from the looks on the faces around her, everyone apart from her seemed relieved. She sighed. "The question is, am I the butterfly or the hurricane in this scenario?"
The smile Deaton offered her was mild and kind. "I think you know the answer to that. You must stop blaming yourself for things that are beyond your control."
* * *
"I mind," Derek said, deadpan, kicking Peter's legs off the table.
Peter stood, ice blue eyes fixing on Allison in a way that made her want to reach for the knives she wasn't carrying. "No offense, but you, my dear nephew, haven't exactly proved to be the best judge of character in the past, especially when it concerns women you care about. And this one smells like she's been rolling around in your bed all night. So forgive me if I don't want to trust you to do what needs to be done if our sweet little huntress here starts coming after all of us with a crossbow." He reached out as if to touch Allison's hair, smiling when she instinctively jerked back.
"It's not like that," Derek argued, stepping between them. Peter was clearly getting under his skin – it was obvious in the frustrated anger in his voice, the way his eyes flashed electric blue for a second, in the clenched fists that looked like he was fighting to keep the claws at bay. "And I can take care of her myself, so how about you—"
"He's right," Allison interrupted him. Derek snapped around towards her, looking betrayed and confused, and Allison felt a hot flush rising to her cheeks. "Not about you and me. We're not—" She took a deep breath, fighting back the embarrassment, and turned to Peter with a steady gaze and a firm voice. "Nothing's going on with me and Derek. The reason I'm staying here is because he needs to keep an eye on me. I'm me right now, whether you believe it or not, but none of us knows if there isn't something else inside of me. And I think having an extra set of claws around isn't a bad thing."
Derek looked from her to Peter and back again. The tension hadn't left his body. "I don't like it. I trust him less than I trust you."
Allison smiled without humor. "I don't like it either. But if whatever happened to me when Stiles brought me back changed me, we have no idea what I'm capable of. Just remember how strong Stiles was when the Nogitsune had taken him over. Even if you were able to kill me, even if you wanted to, I might be too strong for you to stand a chance alone."
There was a self-satisfied smile on Peter's face when he turned towards Derek, raising a challenging eyebrow. "You gotta admit, your girlfriend's making a lot of sense."
In a flash, Derek was in front of Peter, fully wolfed-out with his claws digging into the tender flesh of Peter's throat. Two thin lines of blood trickled down, leaving stains on the gray cotton of Peter's v-neck.
"Call her that again," Derek growled, "and it's not Allison you need to worry about."
The smirk didn't fall away from Peter's lips. If anything, it turned even broader and more wolfish as Derek's grip tightened. "As you wish."
* * *
"Is this okay?" she asked quietly. It sounded too loud in the still of the night, the darkness and silence of the room like an entity of its own that took up all of the space.
After Peter's earlier insinuation, being in Derek's bed was even more awkward than it had the night before, and she would have stayed away if her body didn't feel like a million tiny icicles were buried underneath her skin.
Derek made a noncommittal sound Allison interpreted as agreement since he didn't move away from her. It didn't help her lose the tension in her body, though, the extra weight on her shoulders that had been there since the deaths started.
"I just... I'm starting to think I might never feel warm again."
Derek leaned in closer, his nose brushing against her hair, his breath almost searing hot on her cold skin. "We'll figure it out. We'll stop whatever's out there killing people, and then we'll try to find something to keep you warm. We've always figured it out."
Yes, we always do, she thought darkly, but the last time Aiden and I died before we fixed it, and the time before it was Erica and Boyd. Their victories were riddled with the bodies of the people that died before they came up with a way to turn things in their favor. She didn't want anyone else to pay for an issue she had inadvertently created through her resurrection.
As if he was sensing the direction her thoughts were taking, Derek's arm tightened around her waist.
* * *
Scott's eyes flashed red for a second and his hands clenched into fists, control slipping at whatever his mom was saying at the other end of the line. Allison tried to listen in, but she couldn't make out any words, just the frantic, panicked edge in Melissa's voice.
"We're going to be there as fast as we can," Scott told her. "Promise me you'll stay away from it." He fell silent while Melissa was answering, then his face tensed up and his voice grew agitated. "Mom, we have no idea what this thing is, just that it killed at least a dozen people." Lydia gripped his arm while Allison stood by, feeling oddly like an outsider.
Melissa's answer must have mollified him, because he relaxed a fraction. "Okay," he said. "See you in a few minutes."
He put the phone in his pocket, turning to Lydia and Allison. "My mom saw whatever's been killing those people at the hospital. I'm going there now."
"We still don't know what kind of creature it is, much less how we can fight it," Lydia argued.
"And we won't, unless we get a look at it." Scott's tone softened. "Look, you don't have to come. Derek and me will handle it."
Lydia glared at him like he was a particularly silly little kid. "Right. Because you and Derek have such an excellent track record solving mysteries on your own. Of course I'm coming. I'm just saying when we get there, we shouldn't rush in and jump at it right away."
Neither Scott nor Derek looked like they were going to make any promises, the three of them so caught up in their little staring contest that Allison felt like she had turned invisible.
"I'm coming too," she said, and three heads snapped around to look at her. Not so invisible now. The thought was accompanied by an odd sense of triumph that she knew was childish.
None of the others looked particularly happy about Allison's announcement, but Derek was the one who voiced what they clearly all thought. "I don't think that's a good idea." It was more carefully phrased than she'd expected, especially from Derek, but at the same time, it was exactly the sentiment she knew she'd encounter, and she was prepared for it.
"I think it's the best idea I've had since I came back." She forestalled a protest from Scott. "No, listen to me. I know neither of you really trusts me, but I've been here the whole time, so whatever's out there killing people, it's not me. But it's because of me this is happening, and I have to be there. If I ever want to have peace again, I have to look this thing in the eye and watch it go down. You know that."
Scott and Derek looked at each other, silent communication going back and forth that made Allison uncomfortable. Lydia reached out and grasped her hand. "It's not so much that I don't trust you, I just don't trust you not to do anything stupid." She squeezed Allison's fingers, her hand small and shaky and burning hot around Allison's. "I just don't think I can bear losing you again."
Lydia looked at her with anxiety written all over her face, and Allison felt her eyes tearing up.
"Guys," Scott said. "There's no time for this. We gotta go. If you want to come along, no one's going to stop you, but just—" His face scrunched. "Be careful, okay?"
Allison nodded. Neither Lydia nor Derek seemed happy with the situation, but they didn't voice their discontent either, and Allison wasn't looking for anyone's approval. It was just something she had to do.
* * *
It looked nothing like they had expected: no fangs, no claws, no weapons. It was dark and vaguely shaped like a person but at the same time not, almost translucent and oddly blurry around the edges, as if it wasn't corporeal at all.
Everything happened in a blur. Lydia's warning notwithstanding, Derek didn't wait until he struck, rushing at the creature with his claws ready to slash into it. It turned around, snarling, fixing Derek with piercing eyes that burned bright yellow. Derek lunged – and was flung backwards so hard that he crashed into the closet in the corner, its wooden door shattering from the impact.
Aiming at the center of the creature's head, Allison fired her crossbow, only to have the arrow stop before it reached its target and ricochet violently in their direction. Too fast for human senses, Scott barreled into Lydia, knocking her out of the way before the arrow hit her.
He screamed when it lodged itself into his shoulder instead, uncomfortably close to his carotid. A little further to the left, barely even an inch, and not even his werewolf healing might have been enough to save him.
Allison stared at the dark spot where the blood was soaking through his t-shirt. I almost killed them, she thought, panic rising in her throat like bile. I almost killed Lydia. I almost killed Scott! It didn't matter that it hadn't been her who diverted the arrow in their direction. It had been her arrow, and she had been the one who fired it.
Her fingers went slack around the handle of the crossbow, and it dropped and clattered to the floor. Allison turned to the creature and stepped towards it.
Behind her, Lydia screamed, and Allison wasn't quite sure if it was her best friend or the banshee screaming, if it was panic or the announcement of an oncoming death, wasn't sure if there was a distinction.
The creature's flame-like stare burned into her as she closed the distance between them.
"Come on! It's me you want, not them, so why don't you come and get me." She wasn't sure if it could hear her, if it could understand what she was shouting, but it certainly saw her, its eyes remaining fixed on her the entire time.
When she reached out, it was more invitation than attack, and yet the creature shrank back as if it were afraid of her.
It didn't make sense. It had thrown Derek through the air like he weighed nothing, it had deflected her arrow before it even reached it, it had taken life after life, and here she was – unarmed, prepared to offer herself up, and it didn't go for the kill. It didn't even defend itself.
It was trying to crawl away as if she was a threat.
She took another step towards it, and another, until it had nowhere to go. Scott was screaming her name, but it was a distant sound that seemed to come from far away. When she reached out again, her arm went through the creature, as if she reached right into it, and it felt a little like sticking your hand into water vapor, cool and damp against her skin.
The creature released a piercing shriek when Allison's fingers breached its form.
Then it dissolved. Just like that, it was gone.
Allison stared at where the creature had been only seconds ago, half expecting it to materialize back out of thin air.
"That was pretty cool," Scott said behind her, sounding impressed. When she turned to him, he was standing again, and she noticed that the bloody patch on his shirt had stopped growing. "It's like you scared it to death."
She looked around the room, still not completely sure that it was over and the thing was actually gone. "Um, I don't think it died? I don't think it was actually alive to begin with. It might come back yet."
Derek was helping Lydia up, but his eyes were fixed on Allison. "I doubt it," he said. "We can ask Deaton if he can find out more about whatever it was, but I don't think it'll be back."
"I hope it won't," Lydia said. "That was creepy as hell."
Allison didn't say that she hadn't been creeped out at all. The creature hadn't frightened her, not even a little. If she told the others, they probably wouldn't think anything of it, because all the time they'd been dealing with sociopathic killers and murderous monsters and vengeful demons, Allison had always put on a brave face, never daring to let anyone know that she was scared all the time. But she had been: she'd been scared in the school when Peter tried to kill them, she'd been scared when they were locked in Stiles' house with the Kanima on the loose and Derek's pack outside, she'd been scared going after Derek after her mother's death, she'd been scared when the Alpha pack came into town and the Darach kidnapped her dad, and she'd been scared, so scared when the Nogitsune possessed Stiles.
Now, here, staring down a discarnate, black shadow that killed without remorse or mercy, she hadn't been scared at all.
When they headed down the corridor, Melissa rushed towards them, pulling Scott into a hug. Allison walked on while the others lingered. She was feeling oddly numb, waiting for a sense of victory or relief to set in, when she passed the bed of an old woman. She might not have paid attention at all, if the woman hadn't suddenly reached out and grabbed her hand. Startled, Allison almost jumped back. The fingers that had closed around hers were frail and bony, but their grip was surprisingly strong.
"You're glowing," the woman said. The wheezing sound of her voice was ripe with wonder, and the expression on her face turned content. "It's so beautiful."
Then her face went slack, her fingers growing limp around Allison's palm. Allison stumbled backwards, shocked, covering her gasp behind her hand when she realized the woman was dead. She wanted to run – run far and fast until she had left everyone behind and there was no one she could hurt anymore. Instead, she was frozen to the spot, staring at the lifeless body in front of her, the hollow cheeks, the dead eyes that were still focused on her.
Suddenly, Melissa was at her side, pulling a sheet over the woman's face and taking the file from the edge of the bed to write something down.
"I killed her," Allison said softly, horrified.
Melissa turned around and looked at her. When she tried to reach out, Allison pulled back sharply, scared of what would happen if Melissa touched her. The kindness written all over Melissa's face felt like a stab in the gut.
"No, sweetie, you didn't kill her. She's been dying for a long time. We didn't expect her to last so long." She put her hand on Allison's shoulder too quickly for Allison to escape, and it was like Allison's heart stopped for a moment because she was convinced that Melissa would drop dead any second. Nothing happened. "I know it's terrible to watch someone die, especially after everything you've been through. But trust me, it was better for her."
Allison shook her head, biting her lip to stop herself from crying. "No, you don't understand. She touched me and told me I was glowing and then she died right afterwards."
Melissa gently squeezed her shoulder and pulled her into a hug. "She was delirious and in a lot of pain, Allison. Don't worry about it. There's nothing wrong with you."
Allison didn't feel like there was nothing wrong with her. She felt like a monster. She felt like death.
* * *
Allison was shaken to the bone, unable to stop picturing the woman's face when she had grabbed her hand. Lydia was standing at her side, her fingers entwined with Allison's, squeezing her hand ever so often in a silent offer of comfort and reassurance. Derek was right behind her, not touching, but close enough that Allison could feel his presence, grounding her in a way Lydia's touch couldn't.
"I don't know what you are, but I wouldn't worry too much," Deaton told Allison, not bothering to look up from where he was bent over the dog on his table. "In my experience, no creature anyone ever described as glowing and beautiful is malicious."
"What about fairies?" Stiles chimed in, fingers restlessly leafing through a book even though he didn't seem to actually look at the pages.
Deaton rolled his eyes at him. "Not every mythological creature you ever heard about is real, Stiles. As it happens, fairies are not."
"Oh." Stiles frowned. "That's... both a relief and a bit of a let-down, to be honest."
Allison knew that he was mostly trying to distract her, but she didn't really want to be distracted. Not if it meant that the next person she touched might well keel over dead. "That woman looked at me and touched me and then she died. How can this not be a bad thing?"
Sighing, Deaton stopped and looked at her, his fingers continuing to unconsciously comb through the dog's long fur. "From what you and Melissa were saying, it was the other way around. She was dying and she reached out for you. Sometimes people who are at death's door see things the rest of us can't recognize. And whatever she saw in you, it clearly wasn't anything evil." He offered her a smile. "Really, don't worry about it. You'll be fine."
It seemed good enough for Scott and the others. It wasn't really good enough for Allison.
"I feel like I'm some sort of harbinger of death," Allison told Derek, later, when they left the clinic and he was giving her a lift home. It wasn't quite the truth, but it sounded less ridiculous than saying, I feel like I am death.
Derek didn't say anything for so long that she thought he wouldn't reply at all. Then, quietly, he told her, "When you came back, I thought that maybe a part of you had stayed... there. That what came back wasn't wholly you. But I don't think that's what happened. I think you brought something back with you, and whatever it is, I don't believe that it's a bad thing."
"How can you know that?" A week ago, all it had taken was for her to get up at night to make herself some tea and he'd been ready to rip her throat out and send her back to where she came from. That at least she understood. She didn't understand his absolute, unwavering belief in her benevolence now, especially after what had happened at the hospital.
The intensity of his gaze almost made her uncomfortable. "I just do."
* * *
Now, lying awake, Allison felt the steady beat of his heart against her back, his breathing calm and even as he slept. Unconsciously, his hand had slipped under the edge of her shirt where it had ridden up a little, fingers brushing over the scar on her stomach.
Her breath caught in her chest, and it had nothing to do with the agonizing sense-memory of the sword sliding into her body or the fear of her touch being deadly, and everything with the sensation of Derek's large, callused fingers gently resting against her abdomen, the touch distracting her from her swirling thoughts in a way she hadn't expected.
Oh, she thought.
It took her a long time to fall asleep.
* * *
Derek had called him the third day after he found Allison, when he was almost sure that she was herself and not a demon they'd have to send back to wherever it came from. It had been Allison's request that he shouldn't tell Chris what had happened and just ask him to come home. Since there was no good way to tell a man on the phone that the teenage daughter he'd buried a couple of months ago had been resurrected, Derek hadn't had any objections.
But now, with Chris standing in the doorway of the loft, duffle bag thrown over his shoulder, looking older and more tired than Derek had ever seen him before, he wasn't so sure if it had been the right decision.
"Derek." Chris offered a brief nod in greeting. "What are we hunting?"
Derek wished he had known when Chris would arrive so he could have prepared himself and he'd have known what to say. "It's not— There's no threat." It made sense that this was what Chris assumed he'd been called in for. Derek's message had been short and vague, but he'd probably sounded frantic enough for Chris to assume that whatever they were facing was dangerous. "There was something, some… thing killing people, but we dealt with it."
Chris frowned. "Why didn't you call me? You could have told me that you didn't need my help anymore."
Rubbing the bridge of his nose, trying to keep the oncoming headache at bay, Derek searched for the words to convey what was happening. "That's not why I called you in the first place," he explained. "It wasn't about needing your help." It sounded awkward and like stalling, because that's what he was doing. He knew he was messing this up, but there didn't seem to be a good way to handle a situation like this.
It didn't help that he knew Allison was listening from the curve of the stairs where she was sitting, just out of sight. He could hear her erratic heartbeat, her quick, panicked breathing, and the smell of her anxiety was filling the entire room.
Chris clearly didn't appreciate Derek's ambiguity and was quickly losing patience. "Why am I here, Derek? Is this some kind of joke, or some… intervention because you and Scott—"
"I'm going to tell you what's going on," Derek interrupted him, trying to sound firm and sure and reassuring when he didn't feel either of these things. "In fact, I'm going to show you. But before I do that, I need you to understand that there is no threat. We made sure of that. It's not— There's no reason to be alarmed."
"Why do I get the feeling that you leading in with this is a surefire sign that I should be alarmed?" Chris sighed and stepped further into the room, closing the door behind him. "Look, I appreciate the way you're trying to prepare me for something that I'm clearly not going to like. But to be honest, I'd prefer if you just told me right out."
Derek nodded. "Okay," he said, not without hesitance. Just because Chris thought he could handle anything Derek could possibly tell him didn't mean he was quite ready for the truth. Derek was still wondering whether he should just bluntly tell Chris, 'Allison is back' or at least offer some sort of context like 'Stiles resurrected Allison' when the stairs started creaking under Allison's steps.
Even though Derek's back was turned to her, he could see the exact moment when she stepped into Chris' line of vision. A flurry of emotions reflected in her father's face. Shock and confusion and anger and relief and suspicion. He turned white like a sheet, and his heart did a little jump that made Derek fear that he'd collapse. Derek stepped closer so he could steady Chris if necessary, but while Chris swayed a little, he stayed on his feet.
"Hi, Dad," Allison said behind Derek, and he could hear the smile in her tone just as he could hear from the shaking of her voice and the racing pulse that it was fake. "Sorry, Derek is really terrible at this."
Chris suddenly gripped Derek's arm, tight enough that it was painful even to a werewolf. His gaze was piercing and relentless, even when his eyes were glassy with tears. "Tell me—" He choked. "Tell me this is really my daughter. That she's herself. That this isn't just her body some kind of monster is taking for a spin."
Derek felt Allison flinch and he instinctively wanted to comfort her, even though he understood Chris' worries. It wasn't so long ago that he'd shared them. But he'd watched her kill the shadow creature, he'd seen her sick with worry over the consequences of her resurrection, he'd held her when she was shaking from the cold, he'd watched over her day and night for a week now, and no demon could impersonate someone that perfectly. Nothing inhuman could ever be so painfully, deeply human.
"She's Allison," Derek said, putting all of his conviction in his voice.
It seemed enough for Chris, who let go of Derek's arm and was at Allison's side in a heartbeat, enveloping her in a hard, tight hug, muttering her name over and over again. Allison buried her crying face in her father's shoulder, holding on just as tightly, and Derek silently slipped out of the room, giving the two of them some space.
* * *
"Is your dad going to stick around?" Lydia asked, gingerly taking a bite while trying not to ruin her lipstick.
Allison nodded, picking up one of the olives Stiles had discarded and popping it into her mouth. Across the table, Stiles made a disgusted face, and she smirked. "Yeah," she said, after she finished chewing. "He's staying in the little motel on Main Street for the time being, but he said he was going to get his own place. He wasn't sure about Isaac. Apparently, my uncle's family in France practically adopted him and he really likes it there. Having no Kanimas or Alpha packs or crazy hunters trying to kill him is probably a plus."
"Also, French girls," Scott added, perking up. Kira must have made some kind of gesture that Allison couldn't see from where he was sitting, because Scott first looked at Kira, then at Allison, grin giving way to an awkward, wide-eyed oh shit expression. "I mean— Not that Isaac— I didn't—"
He clearly didn't know how to get out of the hole he'd dug himself into, so Allison decided to throw him a lifeline, however amusing it was to listen to him struggle for words. "It's okay. He's allowed to date as many French girls as he wants." There was no bitterness accompanying the thought. She missed Isaac, but it wasn't the sort of bone-deep loss she felt after her break-up with Scott. What they'd had was good, but neither of them had truly believed that it was forever, and knowing that Isaac was somewhere safe and happy was enough.
"What are you going to do?" Kira asked. Part of it was probably genuine curiosity, but mostly, she was trying to steer the conversation away from the awkward subject of ex-boyfriends. "Will you go live with your dad now, or are you waiting until he finds his own place?"
"I'll stay here for the time being," Allison said, without thinking, before she realized that they hadn't exactly discussed living arrangements yet. She turned to Derek, suddenly unsure. "If that's okay with you?"
"Sure," Derek said easily.
Peter, who was hanging around even though no one had invited him in the first place, rolled his eyes. "Shocking," he said, ignoring the way Lydia jammed her elbow into his side just like he'd ignored the fact that the others tried to convey how unwelcome he was by not ordering any pizza for him. It had backfired, because he kept stealing slices from everyone else.
Stiles narrowed his eyes at him. "I don't understand why nature couldn't have demanded balance by pulling him back into hell when I brought Allison back," he whined.
Lydia laughed. Peter pulled a grimace. Kira and Scott, sitting huddled together on the floor, smiled, though Allison didn't think it was a response to Stiles' quip or that they were even listening, since they were too engrossed in each other.
Allison's gaze skipped over each of them before it fell on Derek, who was watching her. It was hard to interpret the look he gave her. He seemed more relaxed than usual, no tension in his posture, no angry tightness around his mouth, but his gaze was intense.
What? she mouthed quietly.
He just smiled and shook his head.
She frowned a little, unsure what to make of his reaction. It took her a moment to realize that the others had fallen silent, catching up on the sudden tension, looking from her to Derek and back.
It was obvious that Peter was just about to say something and Allison really didn't want to hear another of his pointed little digs. Perhaps Derek felt the same because he forestalled whatever comment Peter was going to make by answering Allison's question.
"It's wasn't like this when you were gone," he said quietly. His voice was serious, but his smile didn't waver. "I'm glad you're back. What Stiles did was reckless and stupid." He ignored Stiles’ indignant protest. "And it could have been a disaster. But I'm glad he did it."
"Amen, dude," Scott said, and reached his hand out over the table to give Stiles a high five.
Feeling her eyes welling up, Allison tried her best to push the tears back. She hated crying in front of people, even her friends, even when they were happy tears. She smiled and inconspicuously wiped her eyes, looking from Scott to Derek to Lydia to Kira to Stiles, all of them comfortable and happy. "I'm glad to be back too," she said, and meant it.
* * *
"Hey." He awkwardly hovered a few feet behind her for a moment. Then, coming to a decision, he crossed the distance and sat down next to her. "Scott's looking for you. Something about needing your opinion on a birthday present for Kira. I told him it's kind of bad form to ask your ex-girlfriend about what to give your current girlfriend, but he seemed pretty desperate."
The smile on Allison's face was brighter than anything he'd seen in weeks, and some of the worry he felt when he found her here, staring at her own gravestone, eased. "Are you alright?"
She nodded. "I'm fine. I just wanted to see it. I don't know, I guess it's kind of morbid. I can't stop wondering if there's a body in there now or if it disappeared when Stiles brought me back."
Derek frowned. He hadn't considered that. He knew they had definitely buried Allison's body, but unlike Peter, she hadn't exactly risen from her grave, she just turned up out of nowhere at the same place she died. He had no idea how things like that worked. It would surprise him if anyone knew for sure, and short of exhuming the grave, he didn't think they'd find out.
Mistaking his silence for discomfort, Allison shook her head. "Sorry, I'm being weird. It's just— I'm dead. Officially. They put me in the ground and held a funeral and everyone said their goodbyes. And now I'm back, and I'm glad that I am, but— What am I supposed to do now? It's not like I can go back to high school and say, 'sorry, that was just a prank, I'd like to sit my finals now'. Never mind that I'd probably fail half of my classes anyway because no one thought to bring me coursework while I was dead."
Despite the humor in her tone, it was clear that she was serious, and it wasn't hard to understand her dilemma. Peter had avoided all resurrection-related bureaucratic issues on account of the fact that he'd never been officially declared dead, but it was a different matter for Allison, whose funeral had been attended by too many people to be swept under the rug. There weren't many options for her in Beacon Hills.
"You could start over somewhere else, somewhere no one knows you or heard about your death. Perhaps it wouldn't be a bad thing." His smile wasn't without bitterness. "I tried it twice, but it just never stuck. Cora and me went to South America last year, and after the fire, Laura took me to New York. It was a bad time, but— I liked it there. I think you'd like it there." He imagined Allison at the small corner table in the coffee shop in Brooklyn where he used to do weekend shifts, or sitting at the grass on the campus of NYU, bowed over a textbook.
The mental images were vivid, and the Allison in his mind was smiling, carefree and happy. It was a good thing to imagine; he didn't understand why it made his stomach drop like he'd eaten something laced with wolfsbane. He should want that for her, even if it meant that she'd turn her back on everyone in Beacon Hills and never return.
Oblivious to Derek's conflicted emotions, Allison grinned, her nose crinkling slightly. "You haven't even kissed me yet, but you're asking me to run away with you?"
"I didn't—" Derek started to protest because he hadn't actually meant to imply that they'd go together, but he stopped short when he realized what she’d just said, his eyes going wide. "I wasn't sure if you wanted to—"
"I'm sleeping in your bed almost every night, Derek," she pointed out.
"You said it was because you were cold."
She rolled her eyes at him. "Yeah, well, I didn't cuddle up to Peter to warm me up, did I?"
The wolf in him almost started growling at the idea of Peter touching Allison, suddenly fiercely possessive in a way he hadn't let himself be before she'd voiced her interest. His distaste for the suggestion of her in Peter's bed must have been written all over his face, because Allison laughed. It only lasted a moment before she suddenly sobered, awkwardness clinging to her tone like vines. "You don't have to. Obviously. If you don't want to. I didn't mean to say—"
Derek cut her off with his mouth against hers. Her lips were chapped and not quite as warm as they should have been, reminding Derek that she was running cold these days, but when they opened under his and her hands came up to pull him towards her, it was still the best kiss he’d had since he was sixteen and stupidly in love for the first time. She tasted like warmth and home and comfort, and at the same time made his stomach churn with desire and the need to claim her as his own. It was almost too much all at once, after not allowing himself to want her for all these days when she'd curled against him in her sleep.
He cradled her face in his hands and pulled back a little until their lips were only brushing lightly against one another. Her breath was warm against his face, her heartbeat a fast, steady rhythm drumming in his ears.
Out of the corner of his eye he could see the writing on her tombstone. It was a terrible location for a first kiss, but oddly fitting, after everything they'd been through.
Breaking away, he rested his forehead against hers, breathing in sync with her. She smiled softly, content.
"Your father's going to kill me," Derek said, without heat.
Allison chuckled. "Our timing is good, I think. I'm pretty sure I get a free pass, coming back from the dead and all." She leaned in and stole another brief kiss that soon became as heated as the first one, and this time it was Allison who struggled not to let it get any further. She smiled widely, a little sheepishly, and shook her head. "We really should get back, before Lydia convinces Scott that he needs to buy Kira a Prada handbag and a weekend trip to Paris."
"Hmm." Derek couldn't bring himself to care much about Scott's choice of birthday present. Getting back home, though, seemed like a better and better idea by the second. "And maybe we can find some place with more privacy and less gravestone."
Allison's laughter echoed through the trees, her hand coming up as if to stifle the sound. "Good thinking," she said, voice full of mirth.
* * *
"Are you feeling any warmer yet?" he asked, nosing along her jawline.
Allison laughed and pulled him on top of her for a drawn-out, languid kiss. She tasted like fruity tea and minty toothpaste, and Derek chased her tongue with his, his fingers tracing her neck down to her shoulders. "I'm feeling pretty warm right now," she teased.
"I mean in general," Derek said, faking exasperation, but he was aware that his approximation of annoyance was so painfully false no one who knew him even a little would believe it. It was hard to credibly fake it when Allison's fingers were combing through his hair, nails scraping deliciously against his scalp in a way that made him want to purr like a fucking cat.
"Mmm." Allison made a noncommittal sound. "It's getting better. Some days I almost feel normal. The nights are still kind of bad. Like the chill is seeping through my skin into my bones. But it's not quite as bad as it was." She stilled and looked right at him. "Do you want me to move back to the guest room?" The corners of her mouth twitched imperceptibly.
Derek rolled his eyes at her. "Yes, that's why I'm asking. I clearly hate having you in my bed."
Later, when she was almost asleep, he put his lips against her ear and whispered, so softly that he wasn't sure if she could hear it at all, "Stay."
In this bed. In my life. Alive. All of it.
* * *
– Epilogue –
"I had it in storage. Seemed safer that way, with someone new coming after us every second month. The car was bound to take a hit sooner or later." He couldn't quite resist adding, "And some asshole kept smashing my car windows."
Chris smiled wryly. "We've come a long way, haven't we?"
They had. Derek remembered returning to Beacon Hills a little over a year ago, blaming everyone carrying the Argent name for what had happened to his family, assuming they were all alike. He remembered Chris and his guys harassing him every step he made, remembered Allison after her mother's death, hardened and changed by grief into something barely recognizable, coming after him and his pack with arrows and bullets. It was hard to believe they could come out of the other side of that with a new kind of understanding between them. Harder yet to imagine that he'd come to consider Chris an ally, perhaps even a friend, and Allison—
Derek had seen her at her worst: he'd seen her hateful and vicious, and broken and fragile, but most of all, he'd seen her pull through and come out stronger, time and again. He wasn't sure when, during those past few weeks since he'd found her at Oak Creek, keeping an eye on her had turned into watching out for her, and at which point it simply turned into watching her.
Peter surely would have something to say about it, some choice words on how Derek's weakness for Argent women would end up getting him killed. Fuck Peter. If recent events proved anything, it's that Allison was nothing like Kate, and Derek would gladly lay down his life for her.
They'd come a long way indeed.
"Just call us if anything comes up and we'll be back," he told Chris. In theory, Beacon Hills should be a safer place now that the Nemeton was dead, but considering everything they'd been through before the damn tree stump even got jumpstarted back to life by Scott's, Stiles' and Allison's substitute sacrifice, Derek wouldn't bet on it.
Chris nodded and smiled a little too easily. "Sure."
Derek heard the restless jump of Chris' heartbeat indicating the lie, but Allison clearly didn't need werewolf senses to know that her father wasn't entirely honest. She narrowed her eyes at him. "Promise you'll tell us if you need our help."
"It's okay, sweetie, I promise." He touched Allison's cheek, his expression turning wistful, and Derek chose to give them some privacy to say their goodbyes.
He got in the car and buckled his seat belt. It took Allison a few minutes to follow. Her eyes were wet, but she was smiling.
"You gave me a lift in this once. Remember?" she asked. Her lips curled into a grin that was more than a little mischievous. "I thought you were so hot. And a total jerk."
He'd almost forgotten about that, the night of Scott's first moon, but now that she mentioned it, he could easily remember it, Allison curled up in the passenger seat and asking him a ton of questions about Scott and how they knew each other while he offered monosyllabic, evasive non-answers. He'd been trying to keep her safe that day, but in hindsight, it made sense that she would have thought he was acting like a dick. "And now?" he asked, lifting an eyebrow at her.
She laughed. "Are you fishing for compliments, Derek Hale? I think half of my first impression was right. You can decide which one."
The smile on his lips faded after a moment. "You know your dad's not going to call, right?"
"Yeah." She looked out of the window to where Chris was standing, looking a little lost, raising his hand when she started waving at him.
"You okay with that?" he asked.
Allison shrugged. "I figure if they really need us, Lydia will let us know. Or Stiles. They'll put it off as long as possible, but eventually, they'll call us."
"Probably," Derek said, but secretly, he wasn't so sure. He wouldn't put it past Scott to use his Alpha status to stop the others from reaching out, just to keep Allison and him out of harm's way. It should have worried him because they'd been his pack in all the ways that counted in the past few months, but the idea of leaving them behind didn't bother him as much as it should have. Allison deserved a fresh start, somewhere far away and safe. She would have argued that the same thing applied to him, but a fresh start wasn't what he was after. Home, for him, had never been a place. It was Beacon Hills with his family, and then New York with Laura, and later Beacon Hills again with Scott and his pack. It could be anywhere now, with Allison. Going with her was the first truly selfish thing he'd done in months, and while he couldn't help feeling a little guilty about it, he knew Scott and the others would be okay without them.
He put the key into the ignition and started the engine, throwing Allison a quizzical look. "So, where are we going?"
She smiled at him, all dimples, and pushed her sunglasses up her nose. Pulling the window down, she stuck her arm out and waved at where Chris was getting smaller and smaller in the rearview mirror. "Let's see where the road carries us."
* * *