Outside the diner, a thunderstorm pours down.
Stirring her coffee, Allison quietly asks, “Why are you so nervous, Dad?”
Giving a weak chuckle, Chris looks down at his own drink. “Sweetheart, I’m not doubting you, but I feel the need to reiterate: Take everything Bloom says with a grain of salt. In many ways, he’s more dangerous than his brother ever could be.”
There’s a gust of cold when the door opens, and closing his umbrella and wiping his feet, Stephen Bloom spots them.
They stand up, and coming over, Stephen takes off his hat before offering his hand. “Miss Argent.”
She shakes it. “Mister Bloom.”
“Stephen. My brother disowned his first name years ago, and so, he’s Bloom. Mr Argent.” He nods to Chris.
“Please, sit down,” Chris says. “I haven’t seen Miss Ling around.”
“Yeah, uh.” Stephen scratches his ear. “We had a minor disagreement, but you know, she really wanted to kill me, she wouldn’t keep planting car bombs when Bloom’s around.”
Allison gives Chris a wide-eyed look, and sighing, he simply shakes his head.
A waitress comes over. “May I take your order, sir?”
“Coffee and some grits, please.”
Writing it down, she asks, “And anything else for you two?”
Allison nods. “Yes. Could I please get a glass of water?”
“No problem. Anything else, hon? Sir?”
Chris shakes his head, and Allison answers, “No, thank you.”
The waitress leaves, and leaning back in his chair, Stephen studies them. “I don’t want you to think I’m trying to minimise your role as the new head of your family, Miss Argent, the Argents matriarchal bent is one thing I’ve always thought you all did half-way right, but since I’ve dealt with your father in the past and can usually read him, I’m asking him: What are we doing here, Christopher? Surely, you’ve done your duty and told your daughter there’s no way in hell we’ll be acquiring healthy Nemeton bark for you.”
“I did. And we’re hoping to change your mind.”
Stephen scoffs. “Well, I hope this will prove as entertaining as I’m imagining it to be.”
The waitress comes back with the coffee and water.
After she's gone, Stephen makes an exasperated noise as he digs through the bowl of mixed sugar and artificial sweetener packets. “You know, I remember when places like this used to have a clear shaker of sugar on every table.” Opening several packets of sugar and dumping them in, he continues, “Alright, so, what’s the pitch, Miss Argent?”
“My father hasn’t told me why you’re so insistent on not doing this.”
“My brother and I are smugglers and were conmen, Miss Argent. Bloom had a rule that we never pull a con on a woman. That’s part of what has ensured your family and mine have been able to do business to both parties’ satisfaction in the past. I hope we can continue to in the future. You see, a werewolf’s family doing business with a big-time hunter family like the Argents, even if it’s a human member, opens a lot of doors for my brother and, to some extent, Bang Bang, that’s Miss Yueng Ling, in the shifter world.”
“But we are not killers or slavers, and aside from getting a few people drunk, we don’t do drugging, and we’re not poisoners. Thieves, liars, potential destroyers of life, many other unscrupulous labels you want to apply, they’re all accurate or, again, were. We’ve destroyed property on occasion. In this case, however, my brother is a werewolf, and we know full well what some of the dangers hunters, especially one with so much money and prestige in the human world, could do with healthy Nemeton bark.”
He looks at Chris. “Gerard shouldn’t have been so hasty in cutting down that one in Beacon Hills.”
“No, he shouldn’t have,” Chris agrees.
The grits come, and Allison raises an eyebrow when he stirs sugar in them.
“Please, don’t start,” he says. “I get enough from Bloom. I tell ya, even when he was human, whenever he wanted sweets, I’d get them for him, but recently, he’s been all about eating healthy and expects me to do the same. A waste of good shifter metabolism if you ask me.”
Smiling slightly, she sips her coffee.
“Things have changed for us, too, Stephen. I don’t know if you’ve heard, but Allison has changed our family’s code. Nous protégèons ceux qui ne peuvent pas se protéger eux-mêmes.”
Stephen scoffs. “Yeah, I’ve heard. It’s a smart move.”
“Then, you believe we’re sincere?"
“No. He doesn’t,” Chris answers.
“No, I believe that you sincerely believe those words. Let’s just be honest, though, and acknowledge that it’s a PR move, and some of the shifter communities in America, at least, are falling for it.”
Allison furrows her brows. “A PR move?”
“Of course. People have been saying for years that, ‘Nous chassons ceux qui nous chassent,’ is largely bullshit. Most of the shifters you hunt, they didn’t attack you. You can say, and maybe even be telling the truth, that they did do serious harm to humans, but that’s not the same as attacking you. Oh, but this? This gives you carta blanca. You just aren’t ready for others to realise it, yet.”
“That’s not-” Chris starts.
Putting a hand on Chris’s, Allison asks, “What do you mean?”
“Most humans can’t protect themselves. Offensive defence is the typical response to the fact we live in a dangerous world. People like my brother are diseased beasts, and the best way to protect humans is to remove said diseased beasts before they turn rabid.”
She shakes her head. “I know that shifters aren’t all dangerous. None of them are ‘diseased beasts’. I, uh, know that it rarely helps someone’s case when they say, ‘Some of my friends,’ but it’s true. My best friend is a banshee. Some of my friends, some of the people I’ve fought side-by-side with, some of the people I’ve protected are werewolves and other shifters.”
“Yeah, I’ve heard that,” Stephen says. “I’ve also heard someone in the Argent family turned over two sixteen-year-old kids to Deucalion as revenge against Derek Hale. Except, oops, someone didn’t do a great job at establishing the fact he wasn’t the one who bit your mother. Again, though, if it was you, you were smart about it. Your code about not going against non-adults, it could be argued it only applies to adults, and you were seventeen at the time.”
Allison takes a small breath. “You’ve heard wrong. I believed that Derek bit my mother. We hunted down Erica Reyes and Vernon Boyd, and we held them captive in our basement. But Dad,” she glances at Chris, “let them go without my knowledge. They were captured by Deucalion and his alpha pack.”
“And I don’t make excuses for what I did. Whatever my reasons, I was wrong. I did play a part in their deaths, and I will live with that for the rest of my life. But,” her tone turns cold, “those reasons include the fact my grandfather, Gerard, manipulated all of us. He was just as much, if not more, of a conman as you are.”
Raising his eyebrow, he responds, “I can believe that. Thing is- maybe you and I are just built differently. Bloom is the one person I’d do anything in the world for, including give my own life. Now, has him being a werewolf stopped me from conning other shifters? No. Would I kill one if I needed to in order to protect him? I would try my very best.”
“But I’ve never sold a shifter out to hunters. I’ve never killed, imprisoned, or tortured one. Again, there might come a day I do any of the above, but unless extreme circumstances involving Bloom happen, when I think of that happening to them, I think of it happening to my little brother. These friends and allies, you knew them and what they were when you went after those two betas, didn’t you? And yet, you still went after them. If you tell me you believed they’d helped Derek attack your mom, fair enough, but I’ve never gotten the impression they were anything but a way to further hurt him.”
Chris speaks up. “I know you didn’t have much respect for Victoria, but she was her mother. She was my wife. Losing her was one of the hardest things I’ve ever faced, but a seventeen-year-old girl losing her mother-” He takes a shaky breath. “I should have protected her better, but I didn’t, and Gerard used all that grief and anger and helplessness to his advantage.”
Allison squeezes his hand.
“No, I didn’t care for her at all. Still, I am genuinely sorry for what happened to her and for the pain it’s caused you. All that said, is there any guarantee other than your word you can give me that getting healthy Nemeton bark wouldn’t be used to unfairly target people like my brother?”
There’s a gust of cold, and when Stephen jumps, the two follow his eyes.
On the welcome mat, a wildcat shakes water off.
Putting some money on the table, Stephen adjusts his hat. “I know. Pleasure not doing business with you.” Going over to intercept the wildcat, he leads it to the men’s restroom.
As men quickly start pouring out of said room, Allison gives Chris a confused look. “Dad? What in the hell just happened?”
“That, um, that was Miss Ling, sweetheart. We’ve always had a hard rule that neither she or Bloom would come to any meetings with Stephen.”
“I wish you’d told me. I would have made it clear that both were welcome. She- didn’t look like any werecat I’ve ever seen.”
“Different types can shift into different breeds of cats,” he reminds her. “Miss Ling’s shift is that of a wildcat.”
“Okay. Should- should we check on them?”
“I’ll go.” He puts his hand on her shoulder. “Allison, sweetie, let me. Miss Ling’s never attacked a human, as far as I know. Give me five minutes, alright?”
Chris slips into the bathroom.
On the sinks, Bang Bang is sitting on Stephen’s jacket, and leaning against the wall, Stephen asks, “Are you sure?”
Nodding, she turns her eyes to Chris.
Handing Stephen his umbrella, Chris asks, “Is everything okay with your brother?”
Leaning down, Stephen answers as Bang Bang crawls up onto his shoulder, “Yeah, Bloom’s fine.” Going over to the window, he hoists her up. “Your daughter’s interesting. I think she’ll go far.”
Setting Bang Bang back on the counter, he withdraws a lock picking kit. “I’m going to need you with opposable thumbs. Want me to make him leave?”
“Stephen.” Chris grabs his arm. “Do you remember I once compared you to Peter Hale? There’s a way you both get when someone you love is in trouble or danger. In your case, that’s Bloom.”
“Well, you get partial credit. Bloom’s fine, safe in Spain. But the one werewolf you hunters should have killed years ago is in town, and I want to find out why.”
“The one, the only, the not yet blind.”
“Why don’t the four of us talk about that?” He offers his hand. “Miss Ling.”
“Hey, you want to take him down, I’m the second last person who’d never even try to stop you, but-”
“Which do you consider worse: Us having some healthy Nemeton bark or him continuing to live free and relatively unimpeded?”
Bang Bang shakes Chris’s hand.
In Chris’s minivan, Allison politely greets, “Miss Ling.”
Nodding, Bang Bang attempts to flip Stephen’s hat onto her head with her tail.
“Diamond Dog is the alpha who turned Bloom-”
“No. A person’s bit, and one of three things happens: Nothing, they become a shifter, or they die. Bloom was young, thirteen, strong, and healthy. He was meant to be a werewolf, and so, he had a fever for three hours and twelve minutes, and when it broke, he had yellow eyes and everything else that bastard did to him had healed. At least, physically.”
Stephen stares at the rain-covered windshield. “I wouldn’t have been particularly happy about my brother being turned into a werewolf without his knowledge and consent, but Diamond Dog did much worse than that. He hurt my brother in ways that could break certain adults, never mind a shy, kind-hearted kid.”
“And then, you destroyed one of his eyes,” Chris notes. “You cut it out with a knife, threw wolfsbane in the socket, and burned the eye to ash.”
“It wasn’t an Argent, but that’s on you hunters. I was fifteen, almost sixteen, and I could have killed him. That’s not false bravado. I could have, and I would. Except, a hunter had a need for him to stay alive, and killing a human teenager and barely teenage boy would have been too much hassle. He convinced me that killing Diamond Dog would turn Bloom back into a human and that, given the injuries he’d been suffering when he transformed, he might not survive the process.”
“I’m sorry,” Allison quietly says.
Bang Bang flips the hat, and it lands perfectly on Stephen’s head. Digging a package of cards out, he starts dealing them between him and her. “Don’t be. You’re not your grandfather or aunt, and every Argent but them that I’ve ever come across, they’ve always been straight with me. I imagine any of them but those two would have been back then as well.”
“Did you ever meet either of them?”
“Yeah,” Stephen answers with something close to sympathy in his voice. “Both. But hey, we’re all still alive, and Bang Bang here is the same type of quirky that a lot of people like to call insanity as she was before ever crossing paths with them.”
“I question that,” Chris says. “However, let’s talk about the fact we’re all in agreement hunters going after a werewolf such as Diamond Dog isn’t something you’d consider objectionable.”
Bang Bang holds up a card with her teeth, and eyeing her suspiciously, Stephen slides a card over to her. “Certain things, I don’t think of the potential long-term consequences for. Yet, it strikes me as odd a hunter might make a deal to kill an alpha who they can’t prove has broken the code in exchange for-”
“We’re not killing anyone,” Allison interjects. “Mister- Stephen, I’d like to explain why we want the healthy Nemeton bark so badly.” She takes a deep breath. “When I was seventeen, I was possessed by a nogitsune.”
Dropping the cards in her mouth, Bang Bang stares at her with glowing purple eyes for a long moment.
When her eyes turn back to brown, she looks at Stephen, and Chris and Allison watch as the two tilt their heads in different directions and occasionally blink at one another.
“Okay,” Stephen says. “Uh, I’m genuinely sorry to hear that and extremely relieved you managed to get free with your life intact. Did- did this happen before the two betas-”
“No, that was all me.”
“Gerard,” Chris firmly corrects.
“One of my friends was also possessed. We all thought he was possessed by a nogitsune, and maybe, he was. Maybe there were two of them. But we can’t be sure. He’s better now, but he’s not human anymore. Even with it cut down, he has a connection to Beacon Hills’s Nemeton.”
“A war is coming, Stephen,” Chris says. “You, your brother, and Miss Ling know it. Stiles, the man in question, a banshee, and Allison have all been having disturbing dreams and visions. The Ghost Riders might be taking people already, and if they are, Beacon Hills will be one of the earliest targets. That’s why we can’t afford to go far from it for any length of time. If we could, we’d get the Nemeton bark ourselves.”
“And having it might help you and this Stiles figure out what exactly he is and what he can do to help fight whatever’s coming.”
“Yes,” Allison confirms.
“Should have just opened with all this. No way in hell is Bloom or Bang Bang willingly getting anywhere near this war when it comes, but something like this, it doesn’t cost me anything to help.”
“You speak for both of them,” Chris pointedly inquires.
In response, Bang Bang bops her head.
“Course, I do. If she ever decides to, I couldn’t and wouldn’t stop her. As for Bloom, well, even if he disagreed, yeah, I’d pull rank. Despite all she’s done, you still a remember a time when you’d’ve done anything to protect your little sister, don’t you?”
Turning, Chris leans back in his seat.
“We want to help you, Stephen,” Allison says. “We won’t kill Diamond Dog- just out of curiosity, do we know his real name?”
“Harold Fagin. Trust me, Diamond Dog’s the best choice.”
She shrugs.“There’s a place in Beacon Hills called Eichen House. It’s not ideal, but plans for finding a better option are temporarily on hold. Encased in a human mental institution, supernatural people who are a threat to society but ultimately controllable are held. We have been making sure it’s humane ever since I found out about it’s existence. If you don’t object to technical kidnapping and unlawful imprisonment-”
“Do I have your word I’ll get a telegram or letter if he escapes?”
“No one uses telegrams anymore,” Chris says. “You’re worse than Derek Hale. Do everyone a favour, including yourself, and get a cellphone and an email address.”
“Bang Bang has a cellphone. Do you know how much computers cost? When it comes to email, I genuinely don’t know how much getting one of those addresses costs, but stamps and the fee for sending a wire are cheap. And even those tiny ones, tablets, they’d just get in the way when I need to travel light.”
“You can get a phone that has internet, including email, for a very reasonable rate,” Allison says. “And there are plenty of services that offer free email accounts. But yes, we’ll make sure you’re contacted if he does.”
Chris eyes Bang Bang. “The weather’s getting worse. Why don’t we finish discussing this at the hotel?”
Allison nods. “We’re staying at the Mint hotel. We could get you a room. Or two.”
In the hotel lobby, closing his umbrella, Stephen leads Bang Bang in human form over to Allison and Chris.
“Miss Ling,” Allison says.
The two women shake hands, and Stephen says, “She understands English but doesn’t really speak it.”
“I’m kind of the same with Japanese,” Allison says.
Bang Bang tilts her head.
“One of my friend's mother is originally from Japan. She’s been teaching me over the last few years, but I’m doing a better job at understanding what she’s saying than I am making the words come out of my mouth properly.”
“Let’s get you two checked in,” Chris says. “Then, we can all go up to our suite to talk.”
Stephen nods, and as he talks, Bang Bang repeats the numbers he says via holding up the appropriate amount of fingers. “One room’s good. Twin if they have it, but if not, we can make do with a double.”
In the Argent suite, Bang Bang peels a peach, tosses it to Stephen, and begins munching on the skin.
Wincing, Allison adjusts herself so she’s facing Stephen more fully. “Do you know how Diamond Dog became an alpha?”
“In something I’ve always found hard to believe but know to be true, he didn’t kill to get it. He’s a born wolf, and his great-grandmother was an alpha. She died of natural causes at the age of 113, and the spark settled in him.” He scoffs. “Whatever was responsible for that, if the theory was that this would strengthen his pack, that was a bad call. He’s a greedy, selfish bastard, and long before Deucalion went around encouraging alpha wolves to kill their packs, he’d done it.”
“Did he kill everyone in his family,” Chris quietly asks.
“He never had a family. Or even a pack, really. He was born to a pack of werewolves, and he was raised in it. A year after he became alpha, he slaughtered every werewolf in it. And don’t make any assumptions for the good about the fact he didn’t kill any of the younger children. He waited until they started manifesting. The ones who it became clear they’d always be human, he used the fact he left them alone to gain points with certain hunters.”
“What about human adult members,” Allison asks. “The ones who were there before he killed the werewolves?”
Stephen and Bang Bang exchange a glance, and Stephen responds, “I’ve heard there are humans in the Hale pack. That pack is determined to stay unique, isn’t it? First, an alpha who could do a full-shift, and now, this. Miss Argent, maybe you and your father have had different experiences, but in mine, proper werewolf packs are rarely truly close to any humans, let alone so close they’d call them pack. Omegas like your Scott McCall was might develop a pack-like relationship with humans, but most tend to seek already established packs to accept them.”
Smiling sadly, Allison nods. “Was that- did he turn your brother-”
“Bite,” Stephen corrects. “He bit him. Bloom’s DNA reacted in such a way that he was turned.”
“Did he bite him with the intention of killing him if he did turn?” She asks.
“I wouldn’t put it past him. But-” Scoffing, he looks up at the ceiling. “Diamond Dog has had a twisted fondness for Bloom since the first day we met him.”
Bang Bang chucks a hockey puck at his head.
Rubbing his head with a laugh, he digs out a packet of cards and proceeds to start aiming them one-by-one at her. “Diamond Dog’s fondness, in addition to being twisted, is shallow. He’s never loved, and he’s never had remorse due to shame. Calling him a diseased beast might be too generous, but it’s an accurate enough label in a pinch.”
“Could Diamond Dog be here because you are,” Chris asks.
“I doubt it. After he got an eyepatch, he developed quite an aversion to being anywhere near me. No doubt, he wants his revenge, but he has to be very careful about the delivery. He’s cultivated a mystique about his missing eye, and my reputation of being a silver-tongued,” at this, Bang Bang snorts, “scoundrel who’d soon spin a flight of fancy than give the time isn’t unearned. It comes out, though, that a fifteen-year-old human mutilating a fully grown, born wolf alpha is true- Well, he doesn’t want that.”
“Come to think of it,” he muses, “we probably don’t, either. Good conmen and women never resort to the violence, at least, not physical, and the Brothers Bloom are better than good.”
“You routinely use explosives,” Chris points out.
“If we means Bang Bang, yes. And I’m sure you’ve started fires during camping and hunting trips. I never said we didn’t damage property. But we never cause physical harm to our marks.”
“Does we include-”
“Dad. Stephen, you wouldn’t happen to have an idea of how we could lure him to an isolated area, would you?”
“Well, he still uses telegrams, too. If he got one that gave him a reason- He wouldn’t come if he knew it was me, or at least, not alone, but the beauty of telegrams is you don’t have to disguise your voice or handwriting and you can say it’s from whoever. As long as you don’t use a credit card to pay for it, it’s typically hard to confirm the identity of the sender.”
Bang Bang snaps her fingers, and when they look over, she points to herself.
“Yeah, he might be interested enough to come, but what’s your motivation?”
Chris looks at him, and he continues, “From Diamond Dog’s point of view, what’s her motivation? Sure, there are a million things about us that she could say she objected to, but there’s a big leap from walking to making contact with someone like him.”
“Miss Ling, have you ever worked with any humans besides Stephen when it comes to, uh, less than legal endeavours,” Allison asks.
Flopping down on the chair, Bang Bang makes a motion with her hands.
“She has a never work with the same people twice rule, too. Human, shifter, if there’s something appealing about the job, she takes it.” A thoughtful look crosses his face. “I could think of several plausible opportunities that you’d be interested in that me and Bloom wouldn’t touch.”
“Real or fictional,” Chris inquires.
In Bang Bang and Stephen’s room, sitting on a towel on one of the beds, she tinkers with a dye pack.
From the bathroom, he ponders, “Obviously, they can’t trust us, but can we trust them?”
When he sits on the other bed, she shrugs.
“Chris is the bigger threat, and no, I’m not saying that because of his age or sex. He let his wife kill herself, and if he became a shifter, if his daughter became a shifter, it’d be the same. Whether she knew what her mother was going to do, there’s still a chance her ideals have changed enough that she genuinely only condemns shifters dangerous to humans. And if that’s not the case, she still, as far as we know, hasn’t mandated the death of any turned shifter.”
Bang Bang holds up a paper. A stick figure drawing with long hair and yellow eyes holds a knife and reads, ‘No!’ to a stick figure holding a gun with the word ‘code’ written above.
“You think, if she was changed, she’d refuse?”
Another shrug is her only response.
“I’d hope so. But if she didn’t and he couldn’t bring himself to kill her, I imagine Chris would be the one willingly eating a bullet. On a different note, I was thinking that, maybe, we could-”
She raises an eyebrow.
“I don’t see why we can’t do that."
Rolling her eyes, she firmly shakes her head.
Putting an arm underneath his head as he lays down, he laughs. “Still, what’s it coming to, us doing semi-legit dealings with the Argents?”
Turning off the lights, Bang Bang crawls into bed next to him.
Early in the morning, up in the Argent suite, Allison asks, “Where’s Miss Ling?”
Stephen’s eyes light up when they land on the sugar shaker. “Don’t worry, she’s not doing anything that would get any of us kicked out.”
“That isn’t comforting,” Chris gripes.
“It’s a little comforting,” Allison says. “If she joins us, will it be in human or wildcat form?”
“I honestly couldn’t say. She went to bed in human form, but she took her morning shower without opposable thumbs.”
Chris starts to respond.
“Don’t, Dad. Whatever works for her-”
“I question how it can work for her.”
“Dad, out of everything you could get into with him over, it’s the hygiene habits of one of his female acquaintances? Seriously?”
Before either man can respond, there’s scratching at the door.
Allison opens it, and carrying a bulging pillowcase in her mouth, Bang Bang comes in.
“About no one getting kicked out-” Chris starts.
“Bang Bang never gets caught.” Steven squats down to go through the snacks, mini-liquor bottles, and complimentary slippers. “I have a plan for her making contact with Diamond Dog. It turns out, there’s some hunters who got some training from the Dixon family over in the next town. They’re transporting a rare breed of yellow wolfsbane. One your dad,” he gives Chris a look, “has some experience with procuring from the Calaveras.”
Chris sighs. “The Calaveras were doing experiments to see if this wolfsbane would turn a bitten shifter back into a human, sweetheart. Gerard ordered me to destroy it all, and so, I did.”
“What about the people?”
Stephen scoffs. “You’re thinking it probably wasn’t voluntary, and you’re right. They were captives. And the answer is, they were useless without the wolfsbane. The Calaveras weren’t going to keep them around until they got more or thought of new experiments they wanted to try.”
“After all, they could always just go out and capture some new ones when necessary. Your grandpa might have assumed your dad, carrying enough weapons on him to mildly impress a small militia, would have some sort of mercy on them. He didn’t.”
“I didn’t know the Calaveras would kill them.”
Both Stephen and Bang Bang give him an unimpressed look. “You should have.”
“If your brother was one of-”
“One or both of us, meaning you and me, would long be dead.” Standing up, Stephen tosses a bag of potato chips at him. “Neither you or your daughter like being judged. But the thing is, I’m a criminal. A thief, a conman, a liar, and one not above petty revenge. Levelling charges against someone who’s already admitted to them can be a bit redundant.”
“I don’t have any duty to protect humans. I’ve never claimed any such responsibility. I’ve never forged a silver bullet or taken a public oath. And my brother being a werewolf doesn’t mean I owe them anything, either. So, judge me for everything you find wrong with me, and I’m not going to care. But if you’re going to call yourself the good guys, then, that means, everyone, even people like me, have the right to judge you when you fall short.”
“Anyway, this could work to our advantage. The Argents suddenly have a renewed interest in this wolfsbane, and while I’m not an option for whatever reason, you’ve developed a reputation for employing and creating alliances with shifters. Enter Bang Bang. She could do it alone, no question,” he dodges the slipper she flings at his head, “but having an alpha go into a meeting with her to meet hunters would level everything more into her favour.”
“That might work,” Allison says. “Dad and I haven’t had breakfast yet. Would the two of you like something?”
A few hours after breakfast, Stephen announces, “Bang Bang got a telegram from Diamond Dog.”
Chris reads it. “Is the fact he asks about you a concern?”
Bang Bang shakes her head.
“No. If he asked about Bloom, it would be. But he’s just trying to make sure he doesn’t end up blind or dead.”
“Which he won’t in the case of the former,” Allison firmly says.
“Hey, human non-hunter here. You get him locked up in Eichen, that’s enough for me, unless he happens to escape. I’m old enough that the chances of me surviving an alpha bite are dramatically low, and more than wanting revenge, I want to go to bed and wake up without the knowledge he’s out there, free and capable of going after my brother again, in my head.”
“Okay,” she says. “So, what’s the best way for Bang Bang to respond?”
After lunch, Allison and Stephen go for a walk outside.
“Right now, it doesn’t particularly matter, but are you still a conman or not?”
“There are layers. Bloom always wanted to go legit. I’ve always loved the game. Now, we explore the world, and occasionally, if we come across someone who deserves it, we pull out our old tricks. It makes a difference to Bloom, not me.”
“What exactly does your rule about not conning women entail?”
He chuckles. “Bloom’s rule. I just follow it. You know, your mom asked me the same thing. She wasn’t as nice about it, but it’s good to see her in you. The answer is, yes, sometimes, we indirectly con women, but the main target is always men. I’m not trying to con you or your father, Miss Argent. I’m being very upfront about what I want, and I promise, you do it for me, I’ll have genuine, healthy Nemeton bark delivered to you in less than two weeks.”
“What about Bang Bang?”
“Neither you nor your father has anything she’s interested in. Besides, she’s less interact with marks and more-”
“That’s not exactly what I meant. You and her seem close. Is that why she’s in this?”
“We’re not really. We’ve worked together for enough years that communication between us is easier than it is between her and most people. Bang Bang, I don’t know much about her. Where she came from, what her favourite book is, if she’s bitten or born. Every time we part ways, it could be the last time we ever see one another.”
He looks over. “You’re wondering if you can trust us. Here’s what I do know about Bang Bang: She hates boredom, but she has an extremely strong sense of self-preservation. All this is a game to her, but getting legit involved with Diamond Dog, that wouldn’t be. I’m a human who doesn’t have a cellphone and gripes about the lack of sugar shakers in greasy spoons, Bloom’s a bleeding heart in a lot of ways, always trying to find his place in life, and Diamond Dog killed his own pack.”
“What about my father and me?”
“She’d probably prefer it if Bloom were here. Throwing me in front of you, given the fact I am human, it likely isn’t going to buy her much time. But my brother, oh, she’d most definitely throw him to the hunters if things went south, which is why he’s staying in Spain for the time being.”
“As for you and your father, she wouldn’t double-cross a hunter. That crosses over into not-a-game. But if things go south, don’t expect her to stop for either of you.”
“Would she throw you to Diamond Dog?"
“Oh, most definitely,” he cheerfully answers. “Like I said, we aren’t really close. What’s a human to her?”
“The big brother to a werewolf.”
“When she decides she’s done for good, neither Bloom or I will ever be able to find her if we give it our best.”
Reading the newest telegram, Stephen says, “He wants to meet tonight instead. I wonder if someone told the idiot that tonight’s a full moon. Him having a trick up his sleeve is definitely something I’m not discounting, but it could be as simple as the day he learns to check a lunar calender-”
Bang Bang kicks him.
“They have those online now, don’t they? Not that it’s particularly hard to-”
Yawning loudly, Bang Bang gives him a pointed look.
“Anyway, he’s going to think this gives him a leg up. He buys into that whole ‘full moon makes shifter stronger’ line of thought.”
“You don’t,” Allison asks.
“Well, I took his eye on the night of a full moon.” He opens a can of soda. “I believe the full moon enhances senses and, in some cases, can amplify emotions, but no, I don’t think it gives any sort of boost to physical strength.”
Suddenly, Japanese pop music fills the room.
Digging her cell phone out, Bang Bang tosses it after looking at the caller id.
Stephen greets, “Hey, Pen. How’s my favourite sister?”
Allison looks at Chris, and he shakes his head.
“You asking that tells me that you don’t already know. Sorry, but what I’m doing is something it’s better Bloom doesn’t know about right now. I’ll tell you both all about it once it’s done.” He pauses. “Okay, hey, the Argents are in the room. Give me a minute to get somewhere else.”
He slips out, and the Argents look at Bang Bang. “Sister,” Allison inquires.
“I had a bad dream, Stephen.”
Sighing, he rubs his head. “Not about Bloom?”
“No. About you. There’s a female alpha with a gun, and you end up burning up with a bullet in your spine.”
“A female alpha?” He frowns. “I’ll be honest: I’m about to meet an alpha, but he’s male. There are no female shifters around. Bang Bang’s checked.”
“Penelope, you know I respect your dreams, but are you sure this isn’t a normal nightmare? Short of Bang Bang becoming an alpha and suddenly deciding to pick up a weapon she’s never used, there aren’t many ways your dream could realistically happen, and even that, it isn’t what I’d call realistic. Technically plausible, yeah, but not very probable.”
“I hope it is, but it didn’t feel like it.”
“I’m coming home soon, Pen,” he softly says. “I promised you and Bloom both I’d walk you down the aisle. Okay? You know I wouldn’t make a promise like that to him if I wasn’t going to keep it.”
“Just be careful.”
“I will. Other than the dream, are you and Bloom doing okay?”
“Yeah. I found this gorgeous outfit I think Bang Bang will really like. And we finally got the permit to set off non-firework explosives.”
He laughs. “Good. I’ll see you soon. Take care, Pen.”
Back inside, he moves aside the box full of Barbie heads to sit down next to Bang Bang. “It doesn’t add up. I think this was just a normal showing of her interesting subconscious.”
“Who was that,” Allison politely asks.
“My brother’s fiancée. Penelope Stamp. She’s also a banshee, but she spent childhood until nineteen in a sealed house due to a misdiagnosis of severe allergies to everything. Then, her mom got sick, and she still never really left the house. It was her mom’s approaching death that activated her powers, but until she met us, she mostly just thought they were weird dreams and products of her seizures.”
He studies Allison’s expression. “Yeah, she’s epileptic. I heard Erica Reyes was, too, but I never knew for sure if that was true or not.”
“And now,” Chris asks. “Why’d she call?”
“Something about a female alpha shooting me.”
Shifting into her wildcat form, Bang Bang trots out.
He picks up her clothes. “Bang Bang will check again, but it’s highly doubtful another shifter, let alone an alpha, has arrived.”
Allison swallows. “What kind of alpha? Sorry, I mean: Werewolf, werecoywolf, or something else?”
“I didn’t ask. Given that she didn’t tell me, it probably wasn’t clear to her. Non-werewolf alphas are very rare, though. Besides, what shifter uses a gun?”
“My aunt,” Allison grimly answers.
“Well, any chance she’s around?”
“No,” Chris answers. “I talked to Dr Geyer two hours ago. Even if she escaped since then, there’s no way she could get here so fast.”
“If she killed an alpha, could she become one?”
Chris shakes his head. “She’ll never have the chance to find out.”
They order room service when Bang Bang comes back.
“Diamond Dog will have omegas with him. He doesn’t care if they’re werewolf or not, just as long as they’re shifters but not alphas and don’t have any strong ties to any pack. He pays them well, and that makes things mutually beneficial for all. He might have some humans, too. If so, Bang Bang can help you identify who’s who.”
“Are these humans and shifters trained to use weapons,” Allison asks.
“The humans might be. Mainly, he uses them when he knows or suspects hunters will be around. A sort of human shield, in more ways than one. The shifters, doubtful. This isn’t Beacon Hills, Miss Argent, and most shifters aren’t like those in the Hale pack.”
“None of the Hale pack uses weapons.”
“He’s talking about our allies in general, sweetheart. Sheriff Parrish, Kira, Raeken. Generalising all shifters as Hales or members of their pack.”
Stephen shrugs. “Guilty. But my point still largely stands. Shifters tend to avoid guns, arrows, and knives.”
Bang Bang snaps her fingers.
“Most humans wouldn’t touch the weapons you go for, which, aren’t any of the three,” Stephen replies. “Speaking of weapons, however, I have no doubt you both have a number of them at your disposal. But do either of you have a bullet-proof vest or any other protective gear?”
“I know how this might sound, but: We don’t need it,” Allison says.
Scoffing, he shakes his head. “You’re one of the few people I wouldn’t ever gamble against, Miss Argent. So was your mom. At the risk of showing extremely poor taste, have a care about remembering where she is.”
“I do everyday,” is Allison’s neutral response. “I remember where all the dead innocents and ones I love are. And then, I remind myself I’m not them. I’m still alive and whole, physically, if not always emotionally. That’s why I’m not worried about you staying here while we go get him.”
In the diner, Allison shows Stephen and Bang Bang the pictures and videos on her phone. “If the people we’ve called aren’t here by tonight, I’ll take over so my dad can get some sleep.”
Stephen presses play. “I know you’re behind this, Stephen boy. Come and see me, hmh? We need to discuss our Bloom-”
Catching the phone and handing it back to Allison, Bang Bang pushes Stephen’s raised foot back onto the ground.
He takes a deep breath. “Alright. I’m fine. If you’d be so kind as to hold the phone, Miss Ling, I need to hear the rest of the message.”
Giving him a look, she shakes her head but nevertheless takes the phone.
“Our Bloom and his lovely bride-to-be. After what-”
Muting the video, Bang Bang covers Stephen’s eyes and watches. When she unmutes it, Diamond Dog continues, “I wonder, what is this werecat to you and him, truly? The Argents won’t kill me, Stephen, and you and I have unfinished business. Don’t let them cart me away without us finally settling it first.”
Motioning for her to hand the phone back, Stephen asks, “You coming?”
Flashing her eyes, Bang Bang smirks before stealing a bacon strip off his plate.
They get to the abandoned building out of town.
“Remember, stay out-of-reach," Allison says. "They’re all chained up, and we have electricity going through the shifters, but-”
“We’ll be careful,” Stephen assures her.
They go inside, and producing a pack of cards, Bang Bang finds a spot to sit.
Going over to Diamond Dog, Stephen looks down at him. “They tell you where you’re going?”
“Yes. I’m surprised at you, Stephen. Not disappointed, just surprised. The Argents were the ones who blinded Deucalion. No one blames what happened to my eye on hunters, but you’ve gone from-”
Cutting him off with an unimpressed sound, Stephen kneels down. “You know it doesn’t matter how many kids the Argents killed or how many people they unjustly disabled or even imprisoned. They’ve stayed away from my brother.”
“You were the one who brought Bloom to me.”
“Yeah,” Stephen quietly acknowledges, “I did.” He sighs. “The sad thing is, we could have been genuinely loyal.”
Diamond Dog chuckles. “I fear it was always going to come to this.”
Frowning, Stephen stands fully. “Bang Bang, let’s go.”
She stands, and after he goes over to her, they start walking towards the door.
Suddenly, there’s a sound of glass breaking, and one of the prisoners stands up without his chains on.
“Smoke bomb. Allison!” Chris cries.
Taking a deep breath and holding it, Bang Bang pinches Stephen’s nose, covers his mouth, and starts to lead him out.
Allison grabs a gun from Chris, and Bang Bang pulls Stephen aside.
As Allison keeps the gun aimed on the prisoner, Chris quickly chucks the smoke bomb back outside before readying his own gun against the intruders.
One of them aims at Allison, and breaking out of Bang Bang’s grasp, Stephen calls, “Allison, behind you!” Getting over, he starts to pull Allison aside as the gun fires.
Firing, Allison hits the man, and gasping, Stephen falls onto his side.
“No! Stephen!” Kneeling down, Allison looks at the bullet in Stephen’s spine. “Dad!”
Coming over, Bang Bang carefully presses her hand against Stephen’s forehead.
More gunshots fill the room, and through gasping breaths, Stephen says, “Hey, I need you to do me one last favour.”
Shaking, Bang Bang withdraws her hand.
“I’m sorry,” Allison quietly says. “I’m so sorry. You-”
“Hey, it’s okay. Always wanted to go out in a blaze of glory. Just let Bang Bang-”
Chris comes over. “Allison, keep an eye on the door and windows. You,” he grabs Bang Bang’s arm and tugs, “come on.”
“No, no,” Stephen begins hyperventilating, “no, Bang Bang, please-”
“Sh,” Allison murmurs. Placing her hand on his cheek, she says, “Hey, I promise, my dad’s not going to hurt her. It’s okay. Concentrate on the feel of my hand on you. It’ll help with the pain.”
Over in front of Diamond Dog, Chris shakes Bang Bang’s wrist. “Claws.”
Her claws appear, and pointing his gun, he shoots Diamond Dog in the middle of the forehead.
“No,” Stephen mutters.
“She’s still okay, I promise,” Allison says. “Dad hasn’t hurt her. She’ll be back in a minute.”
“Stick your claws in him,” Chris orders. “The electricity's off. All the other shifters are dead, and so, there’s a chance the alpha spark will go into you.”
Taking a small breath, Bang Bang kneels down.
A howl fills the air, and Stephen’s breathing begins to steady a little.
Walking back over, Bang Bang looks at him with red eyes.
He smiles. “Remember that plan I once had? You talked me down from it? Well- you know what I mean. Now, you know I promised Penelope I’d walk her down the aisle. You’ve always liked that one.”
She looks at him with unsure eyes.
“If I die, Diamond Dog’s men killed me,” he quietly says. “I can’t feel my legs or arms, Bang Bang, and even if the Argents get me to a hospital in time- the bite will be a gift either way. I walk, or I died finally helping to put an end to him. Please.”
Standing, she moves back to shift. Trotting over in wildcat form, she hesitates, and then, leans forward to leave a small, bleeding bite on his chin.
“It usually takes a few hours to know whether- the bite will take or not,” Chris says. “Allison, sweetheart, why don’t we make sure we’re prepared for if anyone else shows up? We need to call Jordan, explain what happened, figure out what to do with the ones still alive.”
A loud sound makes Chris and Allison jump, and they turn to see Bang Bang has thrown a pair of handcuffs against the wall.
They come over, and Stephen looks at them with yellow eyes.
Sighing, Allison presses her hand against his forehead. “The fever’s broke.”
“But I still can’t feel my legs or arms.”
“We need to get the bullet out. It’s preventing you from healing,” Chris says.
“Why would one of Diamond Dog’s allies use silver bullets? Are they the idiot, or was he?”
Rolling her eyes, Bang Bang takes off his belt, rolls him onto his stomach, gets the bullet wound exposed, and looks expectantly at the Argents.
Sharing an uneasy glance, they quickly get to work, and soon, Stephen is sitting up and laughing as he moves his arms and legs. “Hey, do we know what I am, now?”
Allison smiles. “Try to concentrate on doing a full shift. Either claws, fangs, and ridges will appear, or you’ll start literally turning into an animal.”
Closing his eyes, he takes a steadying breath, and when he reopens his eyes, he’s shifted.
“Most likely a werewolf,” Chris says. “Most bitten shifters aren’t hybrids, and almost all werecoyotes can do a full shift.”
“How typical is it for a bitten person to not turn into what the biter is?”
“I’m not sure, but there aren’t many alpha werecats. Miss Ling here,” Chris glances at her, “is a rarity, now. Be careful, okay?”
Nodding, Bang Bang turns her phone on and hands it to Stephen as it starts to ring.
“Hey, Bloom. So, uh, I’m-”
“I’m going to kill you, Stephen. I’m glad you’re okay, but I’m going to kill you. You promised this would be a simple meet and brush off, and now, you’re a werewolf, but more importantly, you were shot! And tell Bang Bang she’s going to pay for turning off her phone and Allison Argent’s when-”
“Wait, Bang Bang turned Allison’s phone off?”
Frowning, Allison digs her phone out of her pocket.
“We couldn’t find Chris Argent’s number, but for hours, hours, Stephen, we’ve been trying to get you to answer. You don’t know how close we were to calling Beacon Hills’ Police Station and demanding to speak to Sheriff Parrish.”
“How did you even get-”
“My fiancée’s a banshee and good at navigating the internet.”
“Right. Uh, look- I’m sorry, Bloom. But I’m okay, and I’m going to be back home soon, alright?”
“If you aren’t, there are three of us and three Argents left. I’d lay odds on us.”
“Well, technically, until Pen actually marries you, there’s only us, and once she does, it’d still just be you and her.”
He catches the Chinese ring dagger Bang Bang tosses at him.
Bang Bang looks up from her cell phone when Allison sits down beside her on the bench.
“There’s something you should know.” Allison blinks, and when her eyes open, they’re red.
Setting the phone down, Bang Bang studies her.
“I’m sorry. If he’d known that I didn’t need to be protected from the gun- I’m sorry. For both- for what happened to both of you. If you hadn’t, I would have bitten him, but I’m glad that I wasn’t the one to. I plan to apologise to him soon, but I- I thought I’d talk to you first.”
After a moment, Bang Bang gestures to Allison’s eyes.
“I killed an alpha. It was self-defence. I protected Beacon Hills by doing it. But I killed an alpha,” she quietly says.
Nodding, Bang Bang offers her hand.
Allison shakes it.
In the diner, Stephen makes a face when he takes a bite of his grits and a sip of his coffee.
He waves the waitress over. “This is my fault; I put too much sugar in my coffee and food. But could I get a fresh bowl and cup, please?”
“No problem,” she answers.
When the food and coffee comes, Allison offers, “Here, want me to try?”
She deftly mixes a significantly lower amount of sugar into both. “Part of it is your enhanced senses, and part of it is just, most shifters don’t have much of a sweet tooth even if they’re bitten and did before.”
“When’s Bloom getting married,” Chris asks.
“Next Wednesday. This is good, thanks.” He swallows. “They’re getting married on a beach at night. Just them, us, and a non-denominational minister.”
Taking out her phone, Bang Bang shows them pictures.
“She’s beautiful,” Allison says. “And she took most of these, didn’t she?”
They both nod, and he answers, “Yeah, Penelope has a crazy amount of hobbies, all of which she’s extremely talented in, and photography is one of them. She can even take pictures with a watermelon.”
“This is her wedding outfit?”
Glancing over, he shakes his head. “Bang Bang’s. She wants the three of us to wear white. Bloom and I aren’t sure what she’s wearing, and if Bang Bang here knows, she ain’t saying.”
Giving a small smile, Bang Bang finishes her food.
Soon, they all finish, and when Stephen and Bang Bang’s taxi arrives, he kisses Allison’s cheek and shakes Chris’s hand. “One of us will call once it’s sent. Take care of yourselves.”
“You, too,” Chris says. He shakes Bang Bang’s hand. “Good luck with the wedding. Give our congratulations to your brother.”
Hugging Bang Bang, Allison nods. “We’ll contact you once we get it. Thank you, and I hope we can do further business in the future.”
On a beach in Spain, Bang Bang and Penelope sit in lawn chairs, and down below, Stephen and Bloom are stretched out on beach towels.
“Here’s to the Bloom pack,” Penelope says. “Ghost riders or anything else, we’re not going down for a very long time.”
Shaking a vial of nail polish, Bang Bang nods with a flash of red eyes.
Bloom smiles up at Penelope, and looking up from his book, Stephen squeezes her ankle. “Yeah, here’s to us. The Four Musketeers don’t have anything on us.”
Sinking down onto the ground, Bang Bang picks up Stephen’s free hand to begin painting his nails.
Penelope smiles softly at the three.