She wishes they had been drunk the first time. She wishes it so much she almost believes they were. She very nearly imagines a bottle of wine in the cup holder of her car, stolen from Lydia’s counter when they left the pack meeting. In her head, she flavors the kiss with the smooth redness of one of Lydia’s parents’ better bottles. Later Allison thinks that maybe there was a woozy aftertaste to Stiles’s tongue. It’s possible.
After all, why else would they have done that? Why else would she have said, sitting in her car outside of Lydia’s, “Stiles, you know, you could—if you don’t want to go home—you could come to my place?”
And why else would Stiles have nodded?
Obviously they were drunk when she pressed Stiles back against the wall of the elevator and kissed him. When he kissed her back. Of course they were, because she dated Scott and Stiles is Scott’s best friend.
Of course they were drunk, except they weren’t.
Not even a little bit.
That first time, it’s not Stiles’s first time. That surprises her, and she’s upset that she’s surprised. Because why would she know? Who would have told her, when Stiles lost his virginity? It’s not like it’s something Scott would drop in casual conversation. And Stiles—yeah, maybe she would have expected him to say something, but then, apparently there’s a lot Stiles keeps closer to his chest than most people think.
She wonders if she’s supposed to be able to tell that she’s not his first. But his hands aren't shaking as he gets the condom out, aren't shaking as they fix on her hips like this is normal; he pushes inside of her with a small sound, a slight bite on her shoulder, and Allison knows that he is not new to this. And then her hips roll to meet his, and she doesn’t give a damn about anything at all, except for the way her fingernails dig into his shoulders and the way the rhythm they set hurts, until Stiles shifts an inch and her body is centered in black-edged heat.
After, lying next to each other in her bed, she asks, “We don’t know each other at all, do we?”
Stiles’s answering laugh is familiar, the sound he makes when he and Scott share an in-joke, the sound he made last week when Lydia and he went off on an argument about quantum physics that made Isaac and Allison so confused they left them and their textbooks and returned fifty minutes later with Chipotle burritos. The sound he made earlier that evening, when Isaac and Scott wrestled on the floor of Lydia’s living room.
“I slept with a witch,” Stiles tells her after his laugh dissipates. “A couple of times. She’s a part of that coven at the community college, the one I went to to find out whether or not they were actually legit. It just happened, you know? I didn’t really think anyone had to know. We were talking about the resonance of amethyst versus quartz and she had red lipstick on and was looking at me like—well, like no one really does—and I thought, why the hell not?”
“Did you like it?” Allison rolls to her side to look at him. He’s got his boxers back on, is lying on his back with his hands behind his head.
“I don’t know.” Stiles snorts. He rubs a hand over his face. “Yeah, I mean, I did, during. But not after, any of the times. It was just like,” he lifts his hands from behind his head and smacks them together, “it was fast and then she wanted it to be more but it wasn’t ever going to be anything. Besides,” he rolls to look at her, his gaze meeting hers, not moving anywhere, “turns out that it was not a legitimate coven, so she was just a kook.”
“Sleeping with a witch you’ll do,” she says, “but sleeping with a delusional witch?”
“Never again. Don’t recommend it.”
“Okay,” Allison shifts onto her back, stares at her ceiling. She can feel Stiles watching her. “I’ll keep that in mind.”
Allison and Stiles are up before Allison’s dad the next morning. She drives Stiles home before the sun’s even over the roof of her apartment building. It could feel sketchy, maybe, a drive of shame made even more awkward by the fact that Stiles’s Jeep is in the shop and so he’s reliant on Allison to get home. But it’s not awkward. It’s fine. Stiles invites her in for Sunday morning waffles.
She goes, cuts strawberries at his kitchen counter while Stiles pours batter over the waffle iron and his dad sits at the table, reading tidbits of the sports section out loud.
It’s all really normal, and Allison thinks, hey, maybe that was a one-time, never-again, breach of judgment. Maybe they can just be friends—like, post-traumatic-stress-friends.
She puts sugar in the sheriff’s coffee behind Stiles’s back and winks at him when she sets it down, and when he takes a sip he tells Stiles, “I like this girl, Stiles. I wouldn’t mind if she hung around more.”
Stiles rolls his eyes and says, “Not you, too,” and Allison isn’t sure whether he’s talking to his dad or to her, but the way he says it is easy, and nothing about this morning feels too hard.
Allison washes her sheets on Sunday night and takes three showers between ten p.m. and six a.m. and she is sure that none of the wolves will be able to smell Stiles on her, but she’s still nervous when she waves to Scott and Isaac in the hallway on her way to homeroom. They don’t pin her against the wall and inhale, though. They don’t look at her like she’s betrayed them. They don’t do anything other than wave in response.
Stiles sits down next to her in their pre-calc class, like he always does, and offers her a piece of gum, and every single thing is the same as it was on Friday.
Every Wednesday night, Allison's dad goes to therapy and she nearly goes crazy with how quiet the apartment gets.
Her dad doesn’t know she knows he has a therapist, but he’s gone for two hours every Wednesday and there’s a card for a psychiatrist tacked to the board in his office. He slipped another beside her coffee one morning. She burned it with a lighter, right there over the kitchen sink.
This Wednesday, she picks up her phone and tells herself she is going to text Lydia, but she winds up texting Stiles. What’re you doing? she asks him, scared shitless as soon as she sends it, because she doesn’t even know if there are any lines left to cross.
Stiles’s response comes quickly. Researching zombies, he tells her. What’re you doing?
She bites her thumbnail and types, Can I come over?
Anytime, Stiles answers, and she knows she shouldn’t, she really fucking shouldn’t, but she pulls on a hoodie and takes the elevator down and drives to Stiles’s without hesitating.
His dad isn’t there. Stiles answers the door in sweatpants and a cross country t-shirt and bare feet, and he smiles at her, head lowered a little. “Hey,” he offers, stepping aside. “If you and Lydia learned to climb through windows, I’d never in my life have to answer a door.”
“What makes you think we can’t climb through windows?” Allison laughs. “We’re just too sophisticated to do it all the time. It’s an emergencies-only measure.”
“Well, thanks. You keep me sophisticated, too,” Stiles gestures for her to go upstairs, and he follows her. She hesitates in the doorway to his room. There’re clothes all over the floor and books stacked on the bedside table and shelves and by the bed. The walls by his desk are bare, but marked all over with holes from pushpins.
“Waiting for the next supernatural murder mystery.” Stiles points at the walls. “I usually have at least a few suspects up there. You can sit wherever.” He settles into the desk chair, swipes his hand across the touchpad on his laptop. “I was just learning about how zombies are susceptible to drowning, which I’m not sure whether or not I believe. I wouldn’t think they’d need to breathe.”
Allison waits a few seconds, but Stiles just continues reading from what seems to be a very argumentative forum, and then she sits cross-legged on his unmade bed. He doesn’t even glance over.
Eventually she settles back with her head on his pillows and listens to what he deems the most important parts of the forum. “You know,” she says, when he pauses in between detailing how some zombies are petrified of cows and some migrate towards sheep, “I didn’t actually think zombies existed?”
“Well, I’m not sure.” Stiles spins in his chair. “I’m really not. I think, like, there’s an 18% chance they exist. So I thought I should probably read up on them, just in case they appear in P.E. tomorrow or something. Also, there’s Peter.”
“Point.” Allison covers a yawn with her hand. She kicks out a foot, taps Stiles on his knee, because he looks as if he’s about to turn back around. “Speaking of, where is Peter?”
“Fucked if I know.” Stiles glances over his shoulder, then reaches back and shuts the lid of his laptop. He stands and pushes Allison’s shoulder a little until she moves enough for him to fit on the bed beside her. She tries to keep her breathing even, her heart calm. It’s not like this means anything, she tells herself. It’s not like she wants it to mean anything. “Peter and Derek and Cora are probably off having some sort of Hale family powwow. Smoking pot around a campfire, hunting deer and rabbits and running around naked in the woods.”
“You don’t actually believe that,” Allison’s certain.
“No.” Stiles turns his head to look at her. “I don’t believe that. But I also don’t know where the hell any of them are. So,” he shrugs. “They could be, for all we actually know.”
“This is going to sound crazy.” Stiles waits in silence, his hands twisting over each other in his lap. “Do you ever miss when Peter was our bad guy? Even when we didn't know it was him?”
“All the time.” He’s looking at her lips. "Everything seemed so much clearer then."
“Stiles,” she starts, and he shuts his eyes.
“Sorry.” He presses the heels of his hands to his face. “God, I’m sorry.”
Allison reaches for his wrists and pulls his hands down. She sits up on the bed beside him, swings a leg over him. “I don’t know what we’re doing. I have no idea what we’re doing. But I don’t want not to do it.”
He lets her kiss him, and then kisses her back, his tongue in her mouth a fast track to her shirt on the floor, his fingers slim beneath the clasp on her bra, her hands under his shirt. And then their zippers are undone and Allison is on him. They’re breathing together.
“This wasn’t a good idea,” she says after.
He reaches out a hand and draws her head to his shoulder. He’s still got his shirt on, it’s rough against her cheek.
“Yeah,” he sighs. “I know.”
“Do you want to get dinner with me tonight?”
Isaac is standing in front of her, looking at his feet.
Shit. “I’m sorry,” she begins, but he shakes his head, curls falling everywhere.
“No, it’s fine. I get it—Scott, right? I mean, I thought he was coming around, but no, you’re right, we can’t—shouldn’t, I mean. Obviously we could, but. He’s our friend.”
Allison feels a wild laugh starting in her gut. She bites it back. “Yeah,” she agrees. “It wouldn’t be fair.” Even though that’s not it at all. That’s not it, and then she says, as he’s turning to go, shouldering his bag like it’s got the entire fucking world in it, “Isaac, it’s not about Scott.”
He looks over his shoulder, cocks his head. “Well, you could have let me believe it was.” He offers a wry smile. “Save my ego a little.”
“No, it’s not you—just, I’m not ready?”
“It’s okay, Allison. Don’t worry about it.” He lowers his head, leaves her alone.
“I hear you turned down Isaac today.” Lydia accosts Allison in the line at Starbucks.
“I told him the truth.”
“Not all of it.” Lydia reaches out and unwinds a few strands of Allison’s hair from where they’ve gotten stuck beneath the leather shoulder-strap of her bag. “Do you know what you’re doing?”
“What do you mean?”
Lydia glances around, then says in a low voice. “Stiles is my friend, too. Do you know what you’re doing?” She repeats the last part slow, enunciating every word.
“No fucking clue.”
“Good, well, at least that makes two of you.” Lydia turns and leaves without ordering anything.
Stiles’s Jeep appears in her rearview mirror when she’s on the way home from the grocery store. It’s late in the afternoon, and she hasn’t heard from him all day, which is rare for a weekend. He signals early to take a left into the preserve, and Allison doesn’t hesitate before flicking on her own turn signal, swinging through traffic to pull onto the shady back road. She rolls off into a narrow parking lot by one of the preserve’s hiking trails. Stiles parks behind her.
Stiles looks over when she climbs into the passenger seat.
“We’re going about this wrong,” he tells her.
“Do you even know what ‘this’ is?” She uses air quotes and then hates herself for it. Stiles catches her hands on their way back to her lap, holds them tight.
“A bad idea. But, like,” Stiles leans into her space, “Allison. It feels so easy when we’re together.”
Allison knows that he doesn’t mean sex. He means being alive, he means keeping breathing. He means that all the stupid shadows their trip to the nemeton granted them have less of a reach when they’re together.
“I know.” She kisses him. “I know, I know, I know.”
“Can they really fault us for wanting it to be easier?”
Yes, is the simple answer. Yes, even though—really, who the fuck cares? If Scott would be okay with her dating Isaac, why would he not be okay with her seeing Stiles? And besides, it’s her life, her life and Stiles’s life, and if they want this, then who’s to tell them they shouldn’t have it?
“The problem is,” she says, as it settles in her own head, “is that we’re not in love.”
“Yeah, but this is less complicated.” Stiles doesn’t even hesitate and a part of her is grateful, because a part of her was worried that he missed the neon sign blaring friends-with-benefits. “Or it would be if Scott weren’t such a romantic.”
It’s the first time either of them has said his name when they’re alone together, and it catches a little in Stiles’s throat, pulls at Allison’s gut. “It’s bullshit, you know.” She says it conversationally, like it’s not dropping a huge potential bomb in the middle of all this. “He doesn’t own me.”
“He can feel however he wants, though,” Stiles points out. Then says, “And no one could ever own you.”
“He’d forgive us.” She’s pretty sure on this. They’d just have to lie, tell him it meant something more than survival, than feeling safe.
“Yeah, but is it enough of something for him to need to know?”
She shrugs. “If he doesn’t find out, it’s fine.”
“If he does, we deal with it then. Lydia knows.”
“But she won’t tell.”
“No, she won’t tell.” Stiles rubs at his forehead. “I never really even thought of you, you know? You were off limits, so off limits. I couldn’t look at you as anything other than, like, a sister. Which makes all of this so fucked up.”
Allison’s sometimes surprised she’s looking at Stiles now. It’s not that she didn’t like him, she’s always liked him. It’s just—she couldn’t see past Scott for the longest time. And then there was Isaac, sharp and enigmatic and dangerous, but increasingly soft around her.
And then. “The nemeton did something to us, I swear.”
“No fuck. But,” Stiles looks at his hands splayed on the steering wheel, “Scott was there too? And I don’t feel—he’s not—I don’t know. He doesn’t,” he lets out an explosive breath, “he doesn’t fit with us right.”
Allison lets out a harsh laugh. “Maybe this true alpha shit is protecting him.” And then a hand flies to her mouth. “Oh, fuck, that’s—”
But Stiles is laughing, head thrown back, neck one long line. “God, we sound so miserable. Scott gets the best of everything and we’re, like, hiding and whining.”
“It’s so stupid.” Allison hits the dashboard with the flat of her hand. “It really fucking is, Stilinski.”
“I mean, he’s still a werewolf.” Stiles shrugs. “He never wanted that.”
“He’s like a super-werewolf, though. it’s ridiculous.” Allison shakes her head. “Look, we’re fucked, we may as well accept it. Would you like to learn how to shoot a bow and arrow?”
Stiles stares at her, mouth open a little, surprised, maybe for the first time since she's known him, at someone else’s non sequitur.
“That’s not super convincing. Try again.” But she’s already got the door open, has her feet in among the fallen leaves carpeting the ground.
“Yes, Allison, please, teach me how to use a bow and arrow. Teach me to be badass like you.” Stiles is jumping out of the Jeep and chasing her to her car. She grins at him and pops the trunk.
“You’re gonna suck at this,” she tells him.
“What’d you do to yourself?” Scott asks over lunch the next Wednesday.
Allison glances up. Stiles is caught mid-aggressive arm movement. He’s got blisters on his fingers and a scrape on his forearm from when he refused to wear an arm-guard the night before. It looks redder in the yellow light of the cafeteria.
He looks at his hands, then up at Scott. “It’s nothing,” he says after a beat.
“Looks painful,” Scott says around a bite of burrito. “What’s it from?”
Stiles looks like he’s about to start panicking, when really—Scott should be happy that his pack members are learning to protect themselves. “I’ve been teaching Stiles to shoot.” Allison takes a spoonful of yogurt, acts unconcerned.
“Oh.” Scott puts his burrito back on the paper plate. He isn’t looking away from Stiles, whose face is doing a funny scrunching thing. “Okay.” Scott shrugs. “That’s good. Good forethought.” But the words are stilted, bitten off, and Allison wonders whether he smells the guilt on both of them.
Stiles is an insomniac. This doesn’t surprise Allison in the least, but the first night she spends at his house and wakes up at three a.m. to find him lying facing away from her, the ghostly light from his phone falling over the sheets and their skin, she doesn’t know what to do. She feels guilty sleeping beside him, while he’s—whatever he’s doing.
“What are you doing?” She mumbles the words into his pillowcase, and he reaches a hand back over to pat her where it lands on her hip.
“There’s this old book on mermaids and selkies. I found a digital copy.”
“Are you,” but she doesn’t know how to ask what she wants to know, and so instead says, “Are mermaids real?”
“No idea, and the book’s pretty boring. Like, probably better than sleeping pills for most people. Except it won’t work on me.”
He jags his shoulder up, digs his fingers in where they’re still resting on her hip, his arm bent at an odd angle. “Too much to think about. It’s okay, when you wake up I’ll be able to tell you more about mermaids and selkies than you ever wanted to know.”
“You probably already could.” She can already feel herself drifting off again, the warmth of Stiles’s hand a weight sending her off.
She finds Isaac outside Derek’s abandoned loft. He’s leaning against the concrete wall, hands stuck in the pockets of his leather jacket. He looks like her dad’s worst nightmare, right down to the werewolf magic under his skin. She rests back against the wall beside him.
“Today was my mom’s birthday,” she tells him. He nods. Her mom would have killed him cheerfully, wiped the spatter of his blood from her mouth with a white grin. And he knows this, and he nods.
“It’s rough.” His voice is low. It’s chilly out, late November, and the lights in the parking lot are throwing skinny shadows of bare tree branches over both of them.
“Why do we miss them?”
It’s a question for a priest, for someone qualified to give absolution to the dead and forgiveness to the living. There’s no request for redemption in Allison’s words, though, and Isaac knows that. That’s why they’re both here, waiting for Derek to come back, waiting for their lives to kick into high gear again, so the missing can become an ache beneath their hearts, rather than a spasm right at the center of every beat.
“They loved us.” Isaac shrugs. The words must be hard for him to say; they’re hard for Allison to hear. “Despite everything, I guess that’s true. And it’s not easy to be loved. But it’s really fucking hard to be loved the ways they did, and then to have that end.”
Allison has more questions for him. She wants to know so much about him, about how he’s dealing with this. She wants to know if he thinks they’ll make it out of this town. If he wants to make it out of this town.
“Do you,” she starts, but Isaac interrupts, rapping his knuckles against the wall behind them.
“You and Stiles?” The words are—not anything. They’re toneless, come like two easy breaths.
She bites back her first reaction, which is denial, and her second, which is to ask if Scott knows. Her third is: “We don’t know what we’re doing.”
“I never would have,” he runs a hand through his hair, making it even more of a mess, “I really wouldn’t have expected that.”
“Yeah, well.” She shrugs, the concrete cold through the thin layers of her fleece and t-shirt.
“I thought we had a chance at happening.” He’s speaking to the ground, she sees when she glances over at him, unable to look at him straight on because she had thought so too, and she doesn’t know what happened.
Somewhere between being pushed under the ice, Isaac’s hands firm tethers on her shoulders, and a week later, they stopped being a likely possibility. It’s easy to point at the nemeton, at those sixteen hours spent drenched and half-dead and searching, as the explanation. It’s easy, and it’s what Allison thought at first, but she’s starting to wonder if that thinking is wrong.
“We did.” She wraps her fingers in the strap of her bag. “We did, I—don’t know what happened.” Stiles was there is the simplest answer, and the stupidest one. Isaac was there, too; he has been here this whole time.
“Well, whatever. You don’t have to answer to me. To anyone, I mean.” He’s hunching his shoulders up, looks like he’s ready to leave her alone here outside of Derek’s.
“We’re still pack,” Allison tries, wanting to get the conversation back somewhere normal.
“Yeah,” Isaac acknowledges. “That goes deeper than this.”
And he feels it differently, she knows, because for him pack is something instinctual, but werewolves aren’t all that different from humans, really. Even for her, their friendship goes much deeper than blood. It’s right in her bones—it’s in all of theirs.
She brings herbal tea to Stiles’s house. She stacks the boxes on the kitchen counter, by the toaster, and promises the sheriff that it’s not for him. She compiles all of her dad’s favorite classical pieces into a playlist and loads it onto her iPhone. She reads a lot about insomnia, and ways to fight it. She looks up bedtime stories, laughs at herself, and drives to the library to pick up a collection of fairytales.
She and Stiles sit on his bed, pressed together with their backs against the wall. Her iPhone is on his desk, the playlist on repeat, and he has a cup of chamomile tea in his hand. He keeps telling her he feels like an idiot. But he drinks the tea while she reads him “Rumpelstiltskin” and then “Hansel and Gretel” and then threatens him with “Little Red Riding Hood” until he sets his cup down on the floor, takes the book from her hands, and throws it across the room. He kisses her.
He falls asleep after.
“I talked to Stiles.” Scott drops beside her on the ledge outside of school.
She looks up from her phone, where she’s just opened a text from Stiles which reads, I talked to Scott. She bites her lip at the way Scott is looking at her. He’s frowning, and there are little lines between his eyebrows. Once she would have pressed her fingertips there until they went away. Once she wouldn’t have been the cause of them.
Well, she and Stiles, because she knows that, for Scott, hers is the lesser betrayal. You don’t fuck your best friend’s ex, Stiles had said a month ago, and then had gone red and white in quick succession because saying it like that made it sound so crass, so wrong, and because Allison has never just been the ex in their group, even just after everything imploded so spectacularly.
“We should have told you,” Allison admits.
Scott scuffs one foot against the ground, pulling up a clump of grass. “I don’t know. Stiles says he didn’t know what he was doing. He didn’t want to hurt me. I know you didn’t, either.”
“Hurting you is the last thing either of us wants.”
“Right.” Scott nods. “And also, it’s your lives. I mean, obviously I’m invested in them. But Stiles said he didn’t know it was going to last, and I can’t blame you for that.”
“How long have you known?” Allison wishes she knew exactly what Stiles had told Scott. She wants to know if he figured out a way to trick Scott into believing a lie. She really wants to know if he even had to lie.
“A couple of weeks.” He makes an embarrassed sounding noise, a light huff through his teeth. “I needed a little bit of time to adjust.”
Allison reaches out and squeezes his hand. “I’m sorry, you know.”
“Hey, he’s my best friend. Once you get to know him, he’s pretty impossible to resist.” But his grip on her hand tightens, and his eyes flash red before he shuts them.
They sit there for a long time.
“It’s not the nemeton,” she tells Stiles.
“No?” He’s sitting on the ground, his back against a tree. He’s got her bow in his lap, is fiddling with the string. He’s probably fucking it up.
“No. That stuff Deaton said, that ‘darkness around your heart’ bullshit? It’s messed up, you know? It’s not like other people don’t have dark things inside of them. Look at Isaac. Look at Derek. Even Scott. And it’s not like we were perfect before we went under. We aren’t together now because of the nemeton. We aren’t together now because my heart is black and your heart is black, because I don’t fucking believe that.”
Stiles raises his eyebrows at her. “Why are we together, then?”
She crosses the clearing to kneel beside him. She leans into his space, the bow across his lap digging into her knee. “There doesn’t need to be a reason,” she says like it’s a secret, a mystery solved.
"There is a reason, though. It's just that I want to." He pushes a few strands of hair behind her ear, his finger catching around the edge of it. "And you want to, too."