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It wasn't often Allison Argent felt like a fool. She did now. A complete, over reactive fool.
So she did what she usually did when her nerves were raw and she needed to breathe. She took her bow and went to her favorite place in the woods and proceeded to decimate a tree. The tree didn't mind. The tree didn't have feelings to be hurt. And if the tree felt pain - - well, Allison had come to the realization that the infliction of a little pain now and then - - especially the well deserved type - - effected the quality of her sleep not at all. There were some things that needed to be done and the people that needed doing them either bucked up, or got out of the way.
She wouldn't be a bystander ever again, that was a promise she'd made to herself. And the things that hindered that life decision, the things that made her weak - - even if some of those things had a place in her heart that could not be shaken - - were things she willingly deprived herself of.
She was eighteen. She didn't need to be head over heels in love. She just wanted to have a good time with someone she liked. To enjoy what was left of her high school years without being consumed by a boy. She'd been there, she'd done that and the problem with love was it made you vulnerable. Weak. And she was never going to be weak again. Never going to allow things to slip past her notice because all she could think about was the way he kissed, or the feel of his hand on her skin, or the way she could make him lose his concentration just by smiling at him, or all the hundred little things about him that became just so overwhelmingly important that they drowned out the rest of the world. Because maybe, if she'd been paying attention things might have been different. And she hated herself a little bit every time she thought about that possibility. And maybe sometimes she hated Scott a little for the same reason.
It wasn't fair to him. It didn't make sense, but then, neither did love.
Isaac didn't make her weak. She could like Isaac, want to be with Isaac, without wanting to lose herself in him.
So she'd lost her cool with Scott. And she'd been a little bit of a fool with Isaac, because she hadn't understood. She still didn't. Not the things going on inside her own head any more than she did his.
Scott she could read. Scott was all open emotion and painful honesty even when he was desperately trying to deflect. But Isaac had that little bit of furtiveness you'd expect from someone who'd grown up expecting the worst kind of abuse. He had shutters that he sometimes pulled closed that even a perceptive girl couldn't see past.
She wasn't sure if she was more upset with him backing away from her because of something Scott might have said to him, or from the notion that what Scott thought mattered more to him than a budding relationship with her. Some beta/alpha thing maybe. Or maybe even the simple painful fact that Isaac's loyalty to Scott, deep down, outweighed his attraction to her.
Either way it came down to Scott. It always came down to Scott. Who she couldn't not believe when he had that earnest surprise in his eyes. Taken seriously off his guard by her attack. And maybe she'd been taken a little by surprise by it too. When she went on attack, it was usually thought out, with tactics in mind and a clear course of retreat laid out. But as soon as Isaac had spoken those words - - Scott's upset with me doing his ex - - something inside her had burst. She hadn't been able to find Scott soon enough to give him her opinion of the subject.
And Scott hadn't even been the culprit. Of course Scott hadn't, because Scott didn't go out of his way to create conflict. That was his partner in crime, who didn't have a smoothly working filter between brain and mouth. Stiles. Who knew Scott better than Scott knew himself, so maybe if he'd said it - - there was truth behind it, and she didn't know what to do with that.
She blew out a breath and focused on the shaft presently poised on the string of her bow. She let it fly and it joined three of its comrades in the trunk of a rough barked pine, close enough that the fletching touched.
For a moment she stood, arm relaxed, watching her breath fog before her face, listening to the sound of utter silence as snow drifted down through the winter foliage overhead. She spun, snatching an arrow from the quiver at her back and releasing the shot before she'd fully finished the turn. The arrow thudded home in another tree, again nestling close with another black fletched bolt. She was better than she had been, and she'd been very, very good. Before, when she'd been that naïve girl that thought things like werewolves the stuff of romantic legend and horror movie fodder, all she'd ever fired at were straw filled targets. She was battle tested now. She could hit a moving target without losing a beat. She could hit a living one without a ghost of hesitation. And had.
Grim practicality learned from an aunt and a grandfather who'd stopped at nothing to get a job done. But they'd held no distinctions. They'd seen no grey between their stark blacks and whites. And somewhere along the way they'd lost their grip on the humanity they claimed they were fighting to protect.
So yes, she'd learned the harsh side of reality from two ruthless teachers.
Honor, she learned from her father.
The trees gave up the shafts she'd driven into them. She pulled them out, inspected each head and each set of fletchings before putting them back into the quiver at her back. Then she walked. Away from the path leading back to the car. The tension had bled out of her, like sap from a tree, and wood was too beautiful, covered in snow not to appreciate now that violence was not her primary goal.
It was a familiar path, made foreign with the snow. She usually ran it twice a week, weather permitting, a long arc through the woods, around the pond where an old quarry used to be and back. She walked it now, the bow propped across her shoulder, with mittens replacing the archery gloves and a crocheted cap on her head.
She hadn't wanted to hurt Scott. God knew she didn't want to hurt Scott, because Scott hurt hit her like a fist in the gut every time. Isaac had just been easy company. And there was an attraction between them that was different than the one she felt for Scott. And new and different and easy was what she needed in her life.
She needed to talk to Scott when she wasn't quivering with indignation. She'd been so annoyed at what Isaac had said - - the other aspect of it hadn't really sank in. Scott wasn't dealing well with the fact that she was dating both a friend and his current roommate. She could understand it, now that it slapped her in the face. But then again, it wasn't her fault they both ran with the same circle of friends. It wasn't as if she had the time or the inclination to go out and meet new people. People who weren't in the know. People she'd have to lie to about so very many aspects of her life. And she understood so very well, how much lies could hurt. Even well intentioned ones.
The trees thinned out on the left side of the trail, which ran along the edge of a big old farmhouse that had been empty and for rent as long as Allison had been running this trail. Smoke issued from the chimney now. And there was a SUV with snow on the roof and the hood pulled up next to the house. There was someone out in the vast snow covered expanse of field between the house and the woods. A girl, by the look of it, in a winter coat and a knit cap.
The girl saw her, and canted her head, curious. It was either keep going, melt back into the woods and avoid having to explain walking about with a bow and a quiver of arrows, or assuage her own curiosity.
Allison chose the latter, tromping through overgrown grass barely covered by snow towards the girl.
"Its nice to see snow for a change," she smiled in greeting.
The girl, who was not quite so young as she'd seemed from a distance, eyed her critically, taking in the bow and the quiver strapped to her back. "This barely counts as snow. This is just a winter tease. Doing a little hunting?"
"No. Just practicing. The trees don't criticize when I'm off my mark." She smiled.
"And does that happen often?"
There was something a little off putting about the young woman. She was pretty enough, with a bob cut and a heart shaped face, college age at least, but there was something a little cold in her eyes. Maybe it was just the weaponry a stranger out of the woods came bearing.
"No," she admitted. "So, you've moved in here? I'm surprised the old place is livable?"
The girl shrugged. "There's nothing like a project."
"I'm Allison, by the way. Just so you have a name to go with the girl running through the woods with the bow and arrows."
The girl did smile a little then, a little loosening of that guarded expression.
"Erin!" A man stepped out of the cavernous old barn behind the house. Too distant to see anything but a shape, but his voice carried.
The girl started, glancing back, brows drawn for a moment, before she turned back to Allison with cool blue eyes. "My uncle is an artist. He likes his privacy. Don't make him tell you to keep off his property himself. He's not as polite as I am."
"Ahh- - sure." Allison blinked at the blatant warning. "I didn't know. I was just curious."
The girl lifted a brow. "You know what they say about curiosity - -" Then she turned and trudged through the snow back towards the house.
Allison took a breath, mittened hand tight on the bow. The dark shape of the man still stood in the doorway of the barn, staring towards her. When she retreated back into the shelter of the wood, and turned for one more look, he was gone and so was the girl.
Stiles road the bus home. The bus. It was humiliating sitting there along with the freshmen and the band geeks and the rest of the carless losers.
A pair of pimply-faced freshmen sat across from him, eagerly rifling through a set of Pokeman cards, not even realizing they were inviting ridicule from the heavy browed pair of assholes sitting behind them. Which they got in the form of spitballs to the back of the heads. Which might have ended there, since the freshmen were in no wise prepared to retaliate against their bigger badder, tormentors, save that poor aim sent one of those saliva moistened missiles past its intended target and into the ear of the kid sitting in front of them. That kid and his seatmate took offense and the ensuing school bus brawl had the bus driver screaming for them to sit down over the din of kids either crying encouragement, or cringing in their seats to avoid getting clipped by the tussle.
Stiles slouched in the much patched vinyl seat and fumed over the indignity he had to suffer just because Scott was having a rare fit of hissy. The whole being late for work excuse being valid was just a happy coincidence. The twenty minutes it would have taken Scott to drop him off at home wouldn't have gotten him into hot water with Deaton. Scott was just annoyed because Stiles had inadvertently forced a confrontation that he hadn't wanted to face. Scott would have been perfectly happy holding it all in and suffering in silence.
And Stiles knew from love-addled idiots. It wasn't like Lydia wasn't his premier masturbatory fantasy material. It wasn't like he hadn't constructed a hundred scenarios in his mind of the day she'd finally get a clue and realized he was the best thing that would ever happen to her. Every boy she'd ever dated he sort of hated, up to and including the surlier half of the Wonder Twins. But he had an outlet. He bitched about it at least twice a week to Scott, who tended to be an exemplary listener, even if he had the habit of occasionally zoning out when Stiles was in the middle of a tirade. When Scott and Allison had actually been together, Scott had told him pretty much everything - - it was only after Allison had decided to 'take a break' - - Scott's term - - that he'd gone silent on the subject. It just wasn't healthy, holding it all in. No seventeen year old on the planet was Zen enough to deal with the crazy myriad of problems Scott had had to deal with over the last year and a half- - his love life or lack thereof the least of the bunch - - and not be expected to eventually snap. Stiles expected it daily.
He dug in the refrigerator when he got home, stuffed a few slices of turkey into mouth and grabbed a soda, before retreating to his room. He kicked off his shoes and woke up his computer, settling down play a little Warcraft to settle school bus frazzled nerves. He had a level 68 Death Knight that needed to kick some ass. After about an hour of adventuring, he got bored and hungry again and wandered back into the kitchen to find something more substantial to eat. He thought about calling his dad and seeing whether he wanted to pick up something on his way home - - there was an Italian place a few doors down from the sheriff's office that Stiles could have happily lived in, but then, his dad might not be counted on to get home before six or seven if he got tied up at the station, and Stiles stomach was not prepared to wait that long to eat.
He could whip up some pretty decent spaghetti himself with the proper ingredients. So he sautéed some onions and peppers and plopped a can of Ragu on top, spooned half of the mixture onto pasta and left the other half covered on the stove for his dad when he finally got home.
He took his bowl back into his room and sat down in front of the computer again. This time he pulled up his piddling little file on the family Dupont. He'd been scouring the net since they'd gotten home from their ill-fated road trip looking for information on the man that had come so close to killing them. But finding a trail was like looking for breadcrumbs in an aviary. It was non-existent. The majority of what little information he'd gleaned had come from Allison's dad, and Chris Argent wasn't the chattiest person alive. He told you what you needed to know and left it at that. So Stiles knew the basics. The Dupont's had been big game hunters for generations, old family money fueling the trade. It was only the last few generations that had narrowed their focus to the sort of big game that most people never knew existed. Dupont's father had been the first. According to Argent, the elder Dupont had been in tight with Gerad, which just figured. Murderous assholes tended to flock together.
His other subject of interest had gained him a little more success. All it had taken was the Googling of 'vanago' and he'd starting scoring. Mentions of it in turn of the century Slavic folklore. A few disturbingly accurate etchings. A little deeper digging and he'd actually found an old photo from the late 1900's of a group of Polish hunters posing by the hulking corpse of what might have been a giant malformed, black bear. Unless you'd seen one in the flesh and knew better. The picture it was paired with was a lot grimmer. A shot of a line of canvas covered bodies - - a lot of canvas-covered bodies - - of the victims the thing had taken down before it had fallen itself.
Dupont's retelling of the vanago legend was close to the ones Stiles found online. Murderous, unnatural beasts that had once been men. Deserters from the Tsar's army, slaughtering and robbing anyone unlucky enough to cross their paths, until their last victims, a family of Polish gypsies had laid a curse upon them with their dying breaths. Transforming beastly men into true beasts. Personally Stiles would have wished them into the forms of ill-tempered slugs over unstoppable killing machines, but he supposed when you were bargaining with some higher power for vengeance with your dying breath, beggars couldn't be choosers.
He spent a little time browsing other Russian folklore - - because now that the door was open on the existence of supernatural creatures, who the hell knew what might crop up - - so it paid to be in the know, just in case.
His fingers were poised on the keyboard, when something thudded outside his window. He froze, staring out half drawn shades into the early darkness that came with winter shortened days. His heart thudded right up his chest and lodged in the area of his esophagus. A whole ten days worth of nerves strung so tight they were literally fraying at the edges had him imagining the worst sort of serial killer/monster/gun-toting hunter outside his house. He reached for his phone, trying to even out his breathing, trying to decide which would be worse, him dying a gruesomely violent death at the hands of something or someone about to break into his house - - or him suffering the emasculating embarrassment of placing a panicked call to his dad - - or Scott and having it turn out to be absolutely nothing.
He stuffed the phone in his pocket and grabbed the bat by his desk. The metal was cool against his skin, the weight of the thing comfortable in his hand. Not as comforting as a big ass gun that fired a lot of bullets in a short amount of time, but then, if he happened to accidentally shoot any of the neighbors in a spray of sporadic gunfire - - even if he was aiming at something that deserved a few bullets - - his dad would probably be pissed.
The bat it was then and he held gripped it tight, holding it against his shoulder as he eased out the back door looking for anything out of the ordinary. There was just snow and the neighbor's cat perched on one of the fence posts, staring at him with indolent yellow eyes. The cat didn't seem concerned about anything lurking, but then again, unless you were another cat - - or a werewolf - - this cat hated Scott with a passion - - the cat wasn't particularly concerned about anything but the food it mooched from half the houses on the street. It was a fat cat.
Stiles gave it a look, and it feigned interest in something else, ignoring him. There was a big clump of snow on the ground outside his window, and bare patch on the roof, where it had slid off. That had been the noise. He felt the fool. He'd been jumping at shadows all week long and for good reason, but maybe Scott had a point. A little loosening of his guard wouldn't be a bad thing.
When Scott got home from work, his mom's car was in the drive and there was the smell of frying beef wafting out from the kitchen. Late taco night. He rolled his bike into the garage, stomped the snow off his boots and headed into the house via the backdoor. His mom was at the stove, still in work scrubs and Isaac was sitting at the kitchen table, chopping vegetables. They both looked up when he came up.
His mom smiled a greeting. "Hey sweetheart. Your timing's perfect, dinner's almost ready."
Isaac looked down, concentrating on the tomato he was dicing. Scott could almost smell the awkwardness condensing in the air. His fault. His decision to 'makes things right' and he thought he might have screwed things up more than smoothed them over.
He stood there for a second, not knowing what to do with himself, until his mom turned another look his way, a slight curious smile twitching at her mouth and suggested a course of action. "Go put your things away then come and put the taco shells in the toaster oven."
He could do that. He half caught Isaac flicking a cautious glance his way as he went into the hall to shrug off his jacket and drop his backpack by the stairs. Wary of him. Which was not what he'd wanted.
He blew out a breath and walked back into the kitchen, avoiding eye contact himself. Broke open the cellophane wrapping on the shells and stuck the stacked pile of them into the toaster oven.
"Separate them a little," his mom suggested. He followed that advice and stood there, staring at the toaster toast like it was the most interesting feat in the world.
"Isaac, we need diced tomatoes not puree," Isaac got a little culinary advice as well. Scott half glanced over his shoulder to see the pile of tomato mush under the knife in Isaac's hand.
His mom didn't have the time or energy with her work schedule to do a lot of sit down dinners, but she knew a lost soul when she saw one and had been going out of her way to make Isaac feel included. The almost three months that he'd 'officially' been here she'd made sure they'd had at least twice weekly meals where she did her duty and made them sit down at the kitchen table and take a few precious minutes to eat, while she grilled them about their days. He couldn't have loved her more for the effort.
Tonight it was making his palms itch, as she filled the void of their conspicuous silence, forcing monosyllable answers from them with increasingly pointed questions.
Isaac made his getaway as soon as the plates were cleaned, claiming homework with a muttered excuse. Scott retreated to his own room before she could really pin him down with the questions the look in her eyes suggested she was dying to ask.
He dumped the contents of his backpack on the bed, staring at the array of books. There was a bio lab pamphlet he was supposed to go over for tomorrow, an English lit reading assignment - - but he was having trouble focusing. He'd made a mess of things today with that one bit of brutal honesty, when a lie would have been kinder for everyone. For Allison and for Isaac at any rate. The ache he felt had become pretty familiar. And hopeless. No wonder she'd been pissed at him. Seven months and he still hadn't gotten the clue.
"Honey, do you want to talk?"
God. His mom stood in the doorway, that look of worried concern on her face that made him want to hide in the bathroom or jump out the window to avoid her sympathy.
"Not really," he pulled the bio lab booklet out of the pile on the bed and tossed it down amidst the clutter of his desk. "I've got homework - -"
"You can take a minute and tell me what was up between you and Isaac tonight? Did you two have a fight?"
"No. Mom, it's nothing. Really."
She lifted a brow. "It didn't look like nothing. The two of you could barely look at each other. Does this have to do with Allison?"
"No," he denied it immediately. She kept looking at him, that little furrow between her brows that said very clearly that she knew bullshit when she heard it. A year ago he would have clung to the lie, but then he wasn't that same kid and she deserved better.
He blew out a breath, sat down on the edge of the bed and admitted. "Sorta of. Maybe."
She made a little sound of assent and sat down beside him. "Isaac and Allison have been spending a lot of time together."
He cast a look her way and shrugged.
"Okay," she nodded, digesting that in silence for a moment. "And you didn't see it coming?"
He opened his mouth. Shut it. Tried to suss out in his head what he'd known and what he hadn't. What he'd denied in his own mind and what he'd accepted at face value.
"I don't know. Maybe. Yes. I thought I was okay with it. I thought - -"
He took a breath, feeling things bottling up, feeling that hard little knot in the back of his throat that signaled a weakness he in no wise wanted to show to his mom. She sat there silently, waiting him out.
"I messed up," he finally said. I was trying to make things better, but made them worse instead."
She sighed, patting his thigh. "Sweetheart, you're a lot of things, but a saint isn't one of them. You're human and human's feel. And feelings are complicated and messy. I can promise you, you're not the first person to stick your foot in your mouth when emotions are involved."
He gave her a dubious look. She smiled wryly, shrugging. "I've embarrassed myself more times than I'd like to admit, so maybe it's a family trait."
"God." Which was not what he wanted to hear.
"You still have feelings for her." It wasn't a question. She knew him too well for it to be a question.
He groaned, flopping back and dragging a pillow over his face. "How do I stop?"
"The last time we had a conversation along these lines, you were all for the pain lasting forever."
"There's more at stake than just me and her, now."
She was quiet for a long enough time that he shifted the pillow and canted a look up at her. She had a faint, quizzical look on her face.
"You're worried about Isaac?"
"I'm responsible. He doesn't have anybody else."
She opened her mouth, sat there, whatever words she'd had on the tip of her tongue drying up. Finally she shook her head and said. "Honey, you're 17. You're barely responsible for yourself."
But she didn't understand. She understood family. She understood looking out for her own and for a kid she'd taken under her wing. But she couldn't really comprehend the instinct the wolf in him had to protect pack.
He didn't want rifts that would cause Isaac to lose the sense of security he'd found here. Because Isaac needed it - - the reassurance of a safe haven that he hadn't known for a very long time. He needed the safety of pack. It had taken Scott a long time to feel the call of that instinct - - before it had started to mean more to him than a simple word. But then, he hadn't needed it. He'd had people who loved him, people who would have gone to the mat for him if he'd needed it - - his mom, Stiles, Allison. Isaac had had a dad that locked him in a freezer and left him to scream until this throat bled.
So yeah, he'd messed up. And that part of him that that felt the draw of pack, that felt the need to protect and preserve the sanctity of the people that relied on him was okay with taking a bullet if meant one of his didn't have to.
When Scott knocked on the door to Isaac's room, Isaac was lying in bed, English lit book propped on his chest, reading the assignment that Scott should have been going over himself. The guest room wasn't a guest room anymore. Isaac hadn't taken a few things from his old house, clothes mostly, a few essentials, but most of it he'd left for the bank to dispose of when they foreclosed on the property. Like he'd just as well forget. But he'd still managed to make it his own.
"Listen," Scott stepped into the room. It was spotless, compared to his own disaster area of a bedroom. As if that was one of those things that had been drilled into Isaac's head before his dad had died - - the notion of everything having a place and being in it.
"Yeah?" Isaac was staring at him, waiting for him to pick up his train of thought.
"What I said before . . . I will be okay with whatever the two of you have. It just might not happen overnight. I'm trying."
Isaac sat up, the book in his lap, canting his head and staring. "Are you actually feeling guilty for feeling hurt?"
With Stiles that question would have been backed by all the sarcasm a human expression could muster. With Isaac it was just candid curiosity. It threw Scott a little off his intended goal. "No . . . not at all."
"You still love her?" Isaac's candid curiosity had nothing on his tendency for brutal bluntness.
Of course werewolf hearing didn't miss a thing and it was a small house. Sometimes you couldn't help but hear things you weren't meant to hear, even if you weren't trying. And Isaac didn't have the boundaries Scott had set up for himself when it came to using his werewolf abilities.
"She's moved on. I need to, too. If you're happy and she's happy, I don't want to get in the way of that. I don't' want there to be a - - thing - - between you, me, her. Not because I'm stuck in a place I can't get out of. I'm not holding grudges, I promise you. You're pack and no matter what, I've got your back."
Pack Isaac would understand.
Isaac was staring at him, intent blue gaze from under half lowered lashes. "What if she hasn't? Moved on?"
Scott blinked at him, the connections between brain and mouth shorting out, Isaac scattering all his well-laid plans with that simple query. He didn't know what to do with it.
"I'm okay with that, you know. I don't mind complication." And when Scott had said it himself, he'd barely believed his own words. When Isaac said it, it was with absolute conviction. "Like you said. Pack."
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