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Dancing, a Bouquet of Flowers, and a Heart-shaped Locket

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Kira has been glancing nervously at her watch for the last 28 minutes.

She promised a friend she’d give clubbing a try, and if ‘giving it a try’ can be translated into ‘ordered a soda, stood in the darkest corner she could find, and has been slowly sipping the soda for almost thirty minutes’, then, she considers her promise fulfilled.

Sighing, she hands her glass to a bartender and starts making her way towards the exit.

“Oh, sorry!”

Someone bumps into her, and suddenly, she’s staring down into gorgeous almost golden hazel eyes. Tossing her curly, blonde hair, the woman smiles, and Kira feels her heart somewhere up in her throat.

“Someone bumped into me,” the woman continues. “I didn’t spill anything on you, did I?”

“Uh, no,” Kira manages to get out. “Hi, I’m Kira.”

Smiling even more beautifully, the woman says, “Erica.” Reaching over, she lightly touches Kira’s hand with two fingers. “Would you like to dance?”

Despite her fear, Kira somehow finds herself answering, “Sure!”

This is going to end badly, she knows.

Except, suddenly, her hands are on Erica’s waist, Erica has one hand on her right arm, the other on her back, and moving is effortless to an almost instinctive degree.

She doesn’t know how long they move without words until now when Erica is looking up with her shimmering eyes and a mischievous, almost soft smile. “Would it be okay if I kissed you?”

Before she can decide how to respond in an enthusiastic but not desperate way, the words, “Please, do,” are out. 

When the kiss ends, she wants to protest.

“Um,” Erica says. “Look, the thing is, I can’t start anything serious right now. But I’m single, and if you’re single or, at least, hopefully, have an arrangement with someone and want to, will you take me home tonight?”

“I’m totally single,” Kira promises. “The last time I even had a proper date was almost a year ago.”

At the amused look on Erica’s face, Kira continues, “Oh! And yes, is the answer. I haven’t drank anything- well, I mean, I had a soda, but I haven’t had anything alcoholic tonight. Do you have a car, or do you want to take mine, or-” She fumbles.

Erica’s kiss is gentle but so full of promise it makes Kira feel tingly all over. “Your car,” she answers.

In the morning, Kira decides to battle the silent awkwardness with verbal awkwardness.

“I could make breakfast,” she offers. “Or we could get some. If you just want to leave, that’s fine. Uh, I’ve had one one-night stand before last night, and that- It was during a bad time in my life, and as soon as it was over, I just left him. Hopefully, that’s what he wanted, but people really shouldn’t be treated that way. Not that I’m saying you leaving now would- Oh, God, please, stop smiling like that and shut me up!”

Laughing, Erica kisses her. “Here, it’s my turn.” Leaning down, she grabs her purse. “I promise, I’m not trying to score more business, but,” she withdraws a card, “maybe come to Aldean’s Sweets and Grains Shoppe sometime. I work there part-time. Not telling you where I waitress full-time is legit a case of me, not you, okay? I promise.”

Kira nods. “Hoping to be a baker someday?”

“My dream since I was a little kid,” Erica answers.

“I work at the Boy’s and Girl’s Centre on Dr Boulevard Avenue,” she says. Hesitating, she adds, “I teach fencing and self-defence.”

“Cool,” Erica says. “Well, uh- I’m glad I met you, Kira. Thanks for rocking my world last night.”

She knows she’s either blushing or deathly pale.

Stealing a kiss, Erica gets up and starts rounding up her stuff. “Take care of yourself, alright?”

“You, too.”

On Saturday, Kira gets ready for her weekly lunch date with Chris Argent and smiles when she sees him near their regular table.

Waving, she comes over. “Hey!”

Kissing her cheek, he greets, “Hey, sweetheart. How are you?”

They sit down.

“I went to a club last Sunday. Uh-” It suddenly occurs to her she was about to tell the fifty-something-year-old man she practically considers to be part of her family about her one-night stand. “You were right. I did have fun. The music was unoriginal, but they had good soda, and there was dancing. What about you?”

“I’m still doing good,” he answers. “Did anything special come out of your night of dancing?”

“I had fun,” she repeats. “Um, adult fun. But it’s wasn’t serious.”

To her relief and slight surprise, he simply nods. “You’re young. I imagine there will be more non-serious people. What’s important is you’re out, so when a serious person does come, you won’t miss one another. You were safe, though, weren’t you?”

“Yes.”

She was, but the question makes her uncomfortable because, kitsunes can’t get or give sexually transmitted diseases, but Chris doesn’t know she’s a supernatural creature with a rolled up sword she either carries around in her purse or wears around her waist. He doesn’t know there are hunters who, if she ever manages to piss them off, might go after him simply because he buys her lunch every Saturday and encourages her to focus on life beyond her job and her internet surfing.

He doesn’t deserve such a thing, and despite what her parents constantly tell her, she can’t help but wonder if keeping him in the dark to the potential danger instead of breaking contact or telling him isn’t wrong.

She could never do the former, anyway.

The first time she and Chris had met in this café, he’d dropped his tea, stumbled back, and with painfully bright eyes muttered out an apology. She still remembers with painful, crystal clear clarity how raw and unnaturally subdued his voice was when he said, ‘You look so much like my daughter.'

From the pictures, she agrees, for an Asian woman and a white teenager, she and Allison do look largely similar.

Allison Argent had dark brown, slightly curly hair, big, doe brown eyes, and a tall, willowy frame. She died when she was only seventeen, killed by still-unidentified assailants.

She knows part of their friendship is always going to be about him trying to keep some link to his daughter in his life, but she also knows he does care about her for her own self, too.

“Would it be too weird for us to talk about this person?” 

Realising he’s placed their orders, she shakes her head. “I don’t think so. Her name was Erica. She was like a goddess. Her eyes, technically, they were hazel, but I swear, there were times when they flashed gold, and her curls- Anyway, besides being very pretty, she was so nice. She works in a bakery, here-”

Digging through her purse, she groans. “I don’t know what happened to the card. If I find it, I’ll be sure to bring it next time. But I can’t remember what the name is. She’s wanted to be a baker since she was a little kid.”

His expression a mixture of curious and sad, he nods and smiles. “I’m glad, sweetheart. She sounds- interesting. Was she around your age?”

“I think so. Maybe not clubbing, not that you couldn’t, but are you ever going to try getting out?” Gently, she adds, “Your life isn’t over, you know.”

“I know,” he says. “And I do get out. More than you do, in fact. However, I’ve already met the person I was supposed to spend the rest of my life with, and for over twenty years, we did. We had a beautiful little girl together.”

Reaching over, Kira squeezes his hand. “I’ll consider going out again tonight or tomorrow.”

She doesn’t know how Victoria Argent died, but she can’t help suspect it might have been suicide. She does know Allison was killed literally less than a year after her mother died.

“Good,” he says.

“I want it noted, though, that I do go out to movies, occasionally. And I went to my co-worker’s birthday party!”

No one can look as thoroughly unimpressed as Chris Argent can, she’s sure. “This would be the co-worker whose name you can never remember and who had his birthday party at your shared place of employment during a work day?”

“I should get points for siting in the breakroom and eating cake instead of hiding in the bathroom with a book?”

“No,” is his flat response.

She doesn’t go back to the club.

On Friday, her boss tells her, “We’re going to have a big delivery today. Some parent ordered a ton of stuff for their kid’s party, but it turns out, the kid isn’t going to be in town, so, they decided to have it donated here.”

“Oh, that was nice of them,” Kira comments. “Do you know around what time?”

“Around three."

“That should work out really well,” she happily says.

None of the kids in her 2 p.m.-to-4 p.m. class have any food allergies, and almost all of them are well-behaved and do okay around strangers.

At 3:06, a truck from Aldean’s Sweets and Grains Shoppe shows up, and Kira abruptly remembers what the name of Erica’s bakery is.

Mere seconds after she does, she sees Erica is one of the deliverers.

For her part, Erica grins and waves.

Kira waves back, and as soon as she and Erica are away from people, she says, “I had nothing to do with this. I couldn’t even find your card, and I couldn’t remember the name. Not that I’m not glad to see you, but I promise, this was just a weird coincidence, not a stalker thing.”

Erica laughs. “Good to know. For the record, I never thought that. This isn’t the first time someone has placed an order and donated it somewhere else. From what I understand, the dad’s divorced, and something happened with his kid and the kid’s friends coming over. Definitely happened with me before.”

“Oh, you mean- are your parents divorced, or are you? If that’s none of my business-”

“My parents are divorced,” Erica cuts in with a small smile. “That’s a complicated story, though, and I have to go soon. As for me, never been married.”

“Me either.”

Erica squeezes her hand. “It’s good to see you, again. Want to put my number and the bakery’s in your phone?”

“Okay!”

Once it’s done, Erica seems to hesitate. “Uh, look, I meant what I said about not being able to do anything serious, but would you like to get something to drink soon? Coffee, an actual drink, whatever.”

“I’d really like that,” Kira answers.

A few hours after her lunch with Chris, she meets Erica at a coffee shop and, feeling somewhat self-conscious, nevertheless orders some Dòng Dǐng tea. “Um, my dad is majorly big into Asian cultures, especially when it comes to beverages and drinks. And sometimes furniture. But he’s a typical American dad culture-wise.”

“That’s cool,” Erica says with no trace of mocking. She orders a mocha latte.

When they sit down, she continues, “If you didn’t know, my last name’s Reyes. Mi abuela, Grandma Juanita, her family came from Mexico. My mom, some of her older family members came from Cuba. Somehow, I never really learned Spanish or Cuban, and because everyone, including my family, does, I’ve always basically considered myself white.”

“People never know what to consider me,” Kira says. “For some reason, people tend to think I’m Chinese, even though Yukimura is Japanese. But uh, my dad’s actually Korean-American.”

Looking interested, Erica asks, “Really?”

“My mom’s originally from Japan. Her family died when she was still pretty young, and so, there was no one else to carry on her family name. When she and my dad met, he was in Japan doing research, and he took her last name. Japan didn’t have an option for couples to hyphenate. When they moved to America, though, he didn’t want to do that. He says he’s proud to have her family name and for me to have it.”

Erica nods. “Um, look, the reason I asked you here-” She takes a deep breath.

Kira reaches over to take her hand and waits.

“When I was fifteen, I met Boyd. Vernon Boyd, but he preferred Boyd. When I was sixteen, he died, he was only a month away from eighteen, and-” Erica blinks rapidly and wipes at her eyes with her free hand. “The thing is, we were never actually boyfriend and girlfriend. We could have been, if things had been different. Instead- we just sort of fell in love but never got to do anything about it. I hope to God, if he lived, we would have been together forever, but after years of- I know that I can’t be sure we would have. But yeah, there’s the reason I can’t get serious. It’s not fair to them, and even though my therapist doesn’t agree, it’s not fair to him, either.”

Kira squeezes the hand. “I’m sorry,” she says. “Um, if you want a friend, you’ve got one. I won’t push for anything more.”

“Thanks,” Erica sighs. “A friend.”

She sounds disappointed and maybe even a little bitter, but before Kira can work out how to respond, Erica’s expression back to being almost playful. “Did you enjoy anything in particular from the delivery?”

“Black and white cookies are my absolute favourite, and those were even better than what my dad makes,” Kira answers. “Please, never tell him I said that. Everyone loved the deserts, though.”

Erica grins. “Really? You know, I’m the one who made those black and white cookies.”

“Wow, you’re an awesome baker!”

Laughing, Erica’s eyes almost sparkle gold, and she gives Kira a small, almost shy smile. “Thank you.”

After they finish their drinks, Kira kisses Erica’s cheek and puts her name and number into Erica’s phone.

“I met up with Erica again."

Chris looks up from his food. “Oh?”

“Erica Reyes. Here’s the name of her bakery.” She gets out her phone and shows him. “But if anything, we’re just going to be friends.”

“Sometimes, a good friend is the best thing a person can have,” he comments.

Erica texts asking if she’d be interested in seeing a movie, and they meet up to make plans.

“I’m a major Batman fan, especially of Robin,” Erica tells her.

“Cool! I’m more into manga and anime, but I love Marvel,” Kira says.

Erica’s eyes light up. “Awesome. Um, there’s a cosplaying convention in Lane in two weeks. Do you maybe want to go with me?”

Kira hesitates. “Yes. I would. It’s just- in the club, I spent almost thirty minutes standing in a corner, sipping soda. I want to make friends and have new experiences, but- I’m kind of socially awkward? Shy? One of my friends has been trying for almost two years to make me more social. I’m just not sure how well I’d do.”

“That’s okay,” Erica says. “I used to be like that to.”

“Really?”

“Yeah. I used to have photosensitive epilepsy. Even worse, it was convulsive. Um, I pray to God you never come across this video, or even more terrifying, haven’t in the past, but there used to be a video of me on the internet. I pissed myself during a seizure, and for a long time after, I refused to get a phone that had a camera. Then, when I couldn’t do that, anymore, I went through a phase of putting sticky tape over the lens. Because that made sense.”

“It doesn’t have to make sense,” Kira quietly replies.

Inside, she feels herself burning with anger at the people who’d do such a thing.

“Right, well, anyways, my epilepsy’s been gone for years. The video was purged as best it could be. But the point is, I was the shy, epileptic girl subjected to bullying, and when I- went remission, I guess you could say, I tried to reinvent myself. Don’t be too angry at the kids who did that to me. I didn’t want to acknowledge it for a long time, but once I got healthy, I was a prima bitch. I was angry, cruel, and took joy in it. I did some bad things, some of which were actually illegal.”

“I don’t care,” Kira says. “You aren’t like that, now, and that’s what’s important to me.”

Erica gives her a soft smile.

“I’ll get back to you on the con, okay?”

“Okay,” Erica agrees.

“For the movie, I know there’s that new Batwoman one out,” Kira says. “Want to try it?”

After the movie, Erica grabs her hand. “Want to walk around for a little while?”

“Sure,” Kira readily agrees. “I actually liked the romance in this one. Usually, I don’t. It always feels tacked on.”

“Totally,” Erica says. “I think the fact they did so good with the female characters probably played a part.”

“So, anime, is it all animated, or does live action fit into the genre?”

“Well, there’s what I think, and what these jerks on the internet think. Personally-”

A howl suddenly fills the air, and Kira shivers.

She turns to-

Erica has let go of her hand and is crouching on the ground with her eyes fully, undeniably gold.

Kira isn’t sure what exactly she is, but she’s just as beautiful in this form as she in her human form.

Then, the spell is broken when Erica glances up, tenses, and starts to run.

Catching her hand, Kira holds on as tightly as she can, pleads, “Wait, look at me,” and inwardly begs her own eyes to change.

Abruptly, Erica stops, and based on the way she stares, Kira imagines they have.

“Kitsune,” she offers. “Also known as werefox. God, you’re just as beautiful as you are in your human form.”

“Werewolf,” Erica quietly says. “Bitten when I was fifteen.”

Carefully, Kira traces her face and studies her claws.

Then, she remembers the howl. “Um, is there another werewolf around here?”

“Yeah, we better get to your car,” Erica says.

After Kira convinces Erica to let her take Erica home, she turns on the flash, takes a selfie, and shows it to Erica.

Erica grins. “Beautiful.”

“Demonic,” Kira says.

“It looks like its protecting you. So, were you bitten by something, or are your parents werefoxes?”

“My mom is,” Kira says. “Um, what I told you was all true, but there’s more to it. See, my mom is actually over nine hundred years old. And while she was born and grew up in Japan, she hasn’t really been a citizen there since she was younger than me. She left to explore the world. She just happened to be passing through when she and my dad met.”

“I’m not half-human,” she continues. “When kitsunes decide to have a kid, if the kid takes after the kitsune parent, they’re a full kitsune.”

Handing the phone back, Erica asks, “Is that part of why you’re so shy? You’re afraid of getting close to people, because you know you’ll outlive them?”

Taken aback, Kira breathes out, “Yes.” She tentatively asks, “What about you? I don’t know how long werewolves usually live.”

Giving her a sympathetic smiles, Erica tells hers, “We usually live to our early hundreds. There is one alpha who’s over two-hundred, but she’s rare.”

“Do you have a pack?"

“No,” Erica answers. “Derek, he’s the alpha who bit me. We’re still in touch. Um, and Isaac, one of his other betas, we occasionally send each other Christmas and birthday cards. We used to be a lot closer, to be honest, but he’s found a proper pack of his own and gotten over a lot of his issues. And then-”

There’s silence.

“Boyd,” Kira realises. “Boyd was a beta, too.”

“Yeah.”

Moving closer, Erica takes her hand. “There’s nothing demonic about you, Kira.”

Leaning forward, Kira kisses her.

In the morning, when they’re only half-dressed, Erica says, “Let take a picture together.”

“Okay,” Kira agrees. “Your phone or mine?”

“Yours.”

Snuggling close to her and wrapping an arm around her, Erica turns on the flash, adjusts the phone, and snaps the picture.

“Woah,” Kira says. “Let’s hope my phone is never stolen.”

Her fox aura is present, and sitting next to her in a bra is Erica in werewolf form.

“They’d just think you had awesome Photoshop skills," Erica assures her. “So, about last night- I wasn’t trying to send mixed messages.”

“I know,” Kira says. “We could, uh, just date. If it gets too much for you, or one of us finds someone we want to commit exclusively to, we can stop.”

Smiling gently, Erica nods. “That’d be great.” She softly kisses Kira.

The next time she meets Chris, one of the first things he asks is, “How are things with you and your new friend, Erica?”

“Good,” she says. “Uh, it turns out, we’re causally dating.”

Looking at her intently, he asks, “And is this something you want?”

She tries not to squirm. “When she was sixteen, Erica’s boyfriend died. Except, they never really even got to be boyfriend and girlfriend. Um, yes, if I’m being honest, I’d love to have more, but she just can’t give me that. I’m not sure she can give that to anyone, right now. So, for now, I can be happy with causal dating, and she’s happy, too. If it gets to be too much, I’ll stop.”

Sighing, Chris looks away, but she can still see how sad his expression is.

Before she can try to say anything, he looks back and gives her a weary smile. “I’m happy she’s found you, sweetheart, and you her. Just- be careful, Kira. She was greatly wronged, and as much as I wish I could go back and do something to fix that- I don’t want you ending up hurt because she was.”

“I’ll try to be careful,” she promises.

For the convention, Kira goes as Snow White, and Erica goes as Mulan.

“My hair,” Erica gestures to it, “can be extremely frizzy. The one great thing is I can hold it up with pencils, and growing up, I always secretly wanted Chinese hair sticks.”

“They look amazing! Your hair, too,” Kira says.

Erica grins.

“Um, my parents want me to come for dinner, soon,” Kira says. “I haven’t told them about you, yet, but I was just wondering how you’d feel about- Me telling them? You possibly coming over?”

“You’d better tell them, first,” Erica says. “According to Derek, werewolves and kitsunes don’t have the greatest history. They might object to you dating me.”

“No, they won’t."

“I hope not,” Erica says.

Reaching over, Kira kisses her and squeezes her hand. “I promise.”

“Is there anything new in your life, Kira,” her mom asks.

“Um, I’m sort of dating someone. I mean, we’re keeping things causal, but her name’s Erica.”

“That’s nice,” her dad says. “What’s her favourite food? And does she work during the weekends? I have parent-teacher conferences all next week, including during the weekend, but maybe, I could make us all a nice breakfast.”

“She’s a werewolf,” Kira blurts out. “We’ve never actually talked about me dating anyone who wasn’t human, so.”

“You are never to date a hunter,” her mom says. “Anything else- maybe someone that's part of our world would be good for you. She does know, doesn’t she?”

“I wouldn’t say-” her dad starts.

“No hunters,” her mom repeats. “Obviously, we couldn’t stop you, but if you ever date a hunter, never bring them around here. A very close friend of mine was a werewolf. Hunters did terrible things to her.”

“If she does, though, it might be best for us to-”

“Mom, Dad, I swear, I’m not dating a hunter,” she interrupts. “I don’t think I’ve ever even met a hunter. I’ve definitely never gotten close to one.”

For some reason, her mom looks dubious, and her dad looks- sad.

“Werewolf,” she reiterates. “Erica’s a werewolf, and yes, she knows about me and us. But again, even though I really like her, we’re not very serious at the moment. I’m hoping she can come over for dinner soon, but next weekend, no. She works at a bakery, and they’re expecting it to be swapped then.”

“Oh, is she a baker,” her dad excitedly asks. “How are her black and white cookies, Kira? Would she be interested in any Japanese recipes?”

“What’s her last name,” her mom asks.

Kira lets out a small breath of relief.

She hadn’t expected her parents to react badly, but some part of her had been worried they might not be completely on-board.

“Reyes,” she answers. “Yeah, she’s a baker. She’s hoping to own her own bakery someday. Her black and white cookies are awesome, and I’ve already given her some Japanese recipes. Uh, actually, she’d be interested in some Korean ones, too.”

Her dad looks touched.

“Reyes. Is that Mexican,” her mom asks.

“Technically. Dad, you’re not going to make a ton of Mexican food,” she warns. “Just stick to normal food, please.”

Both her parents frown.

“And before you both start lecturing- I know, different cultures have different normals. Fine. Uh, but Erica doesn’t really- she doesn’t really like most Mexican food, and she mostly considers herself white. Her dad’s family came from Mexico, and some of her mom’s family came from Cuba. No Cuban food, either,” she adds.

“Okay, Kira,” her dad agrees. “Whatever makes you and your new girlfriend happy.”

Her mom nods. “Does Erica have a pack?”

Once plans are made for Erica to come over to dinner, Erica visibly steels herself. “So, random question. Your parents don’t have a basement, do they?”

“No,” Kira answers. “Um, they live in an apartment. This house was theirs, originally, actually. When I finished junior college, they gave it to me.”

“I have this thing about basements, is why I’m asking,” Erica explains. “I don’t do well near them, and in them- there’s a reason for the trauma, but let’s not get into it right now.”

Climbing into bed and snuggling next to her, Kira says, “Well, the apartment complex has a basement, but they’re on the sixth floor, so, we won’t have to go near it.”

“I’m sorry for my issues,” Erica quietly says.

“Hey, what, no,” Kira quickly says. Gently grabbing Erica’s chin, she guides Erica into looking at her. “Baby, it’s fine. I mean, I’m sorry you went through so much, but you having issues, I don’t mind. You’re here, and I appreciate the fact you tell me. Some people I’ve known, they’ve either been such jerks or been involved with people who were such jerks, and the thing is, they actually had legitimate issues, but instead of just saying this, they-”

Erica kisses her. “In the past, I was a lot like that. But I promise, I’ll try not to lash out at you or anyone else.”

They curl closer together.

While they’re getting ready to head over to her parents, Kira says, “Hey, toss me my purse.”

Erica does, and Kira takes out her sword, unfolds it, and hears, “Whoa.”

“Oh, right. I, uh, never told you about this.”

Almost literally bouncing over, Erica studies her and it with wide eyes.

“Kitsunes have this thing about having a special weapon. My mom gave me this sword when I was seventeen, and my dad made it to where I could do-” She folds it back up and sticks back in her purse, and then, takes it out and puts it around her waist.

“Awesome!”

Grinning, Kira kisses her. Then, she looks over at the wrapped deserts. “You made three different things. When you’re the guest. Seriously.”

“Yep,” Erica confirms. “Also, if your parents don’t like the coffee jelly and Tteok, you will be a good girlfriend and lie and say that someone else at the bakery totally made them.”

“What if they don’t like the black and white cookies,” Kira teases.

Erica shrugs and kisses her cheek. “Who cares, as long as you still do?”

Kira’s relieved her dad’s promise to make Spaghetti with meatballs and garlic bread held.

“It’s nice to meet you, Erica. I’m Noshiko,” her mom says. “What would you like to drink? We don’t have much in the way of alcohol, but my husband’s a teacher who sometimes has study groups over. We have a large selection of sodas, juices, and sports drinks.”

“Just a coke would be good, thanks,” Erica answers.

“Bottle or can?”

“I’ll get it,” Kira says.

“Hi, I’m Ken. That smells lovely, but did Kira not tell you’d-”

From the kitchen, Kira calls, “I told her you were making snickerdoodles! And that she was a guest, and therefore, shouldn’t make anything.”

“I decided not to listen,” Erica says. She takes the soda and squeezes Kira’s hand. “Thank you for having me over.”

“Of course,” her mom says. “Come sit down. Supper should be ready shortly. So, how did you and Kira meet?”

At lunch, she announces, “Last night, I took Erica to my parents' for dinner. They were as embarrassing as ever, but- I think it went well. They all seem to like each other.”

Chris smiles. “Good. I’m glad.”

She nods.

“It seems things are getting a little more serious,” he comments.

“Yeah. Um, I’m not really- I don’t want to scare her away. And the way things are right now, I’m genuinely am fine with them. It’s just- I’m starting to think, maybe, someday, we could- but for all I know, we’ll be over by tomorrow.”

His smile turns sympathetic. “Young love is often complicated, sweetheart. When Allison was sixteen, she met a boy her mother and I didn’t want her to be with. Thinking back on the relationship, there are still things I’m not sure of, but I am sure that I deeply regret how Victoria and I reacted to it. Some of the things we did. But Allison was strong, and so was he. The best advice I can give you is: If everything is easy and happy right now, try to just let it be that. Worry about the hardships when they come. Save the uncertainty for then.”

“Thanks,” she says.

Suddenly, she hears, “Kira?”

“Erica!” Jumping up, she looks around, catches her eyes, and waves her over. “Hey!”

“Hey, I was just-” Erica’s eyes turn golden, and fangs and claws start to appear.

“Baby, what’s wrong,” Kira asks in alarm. She tries to carefully grab Erica’s hands and shield her from the sight of the other patrons. “Erica, sweetheart-”

Wrenching away, Erica blinks, and she’s back to her fully human form. “I don’t know if you know or not or if this was some big- if you don’t, that’s Chris Argent, and he’s a hunter. Watch yourself.”

She strides away before Kira can even attempt to say anything else.

“What-” She looks helplessly at where Chris is still sitting.

“Yes, I am a hunter,” he tonelessly informs her. “Go after your girlfriend, Kira.”

Running, she sees Erica, grabs her hand, and pulls her over by some building. “I didn’t know, I swear. Almost two years ago, we sort of bumped into each other back there, and we started having lunch together. I remind him of his daughter. Um, did he- did he hurt you?”

Scoffing, Erica wrenches her hand away. “Allison,” she spits. “You’re nothing like her. Or I hope you’re not. Yeah, he and the whole damn Argent clan hurt me.”

“Allison is dead,” Kira quietly tells her. “She died when she was seventeen.”

Something flickers across Erica’s face. “Good.”

Feeling tears form, Kira shakes her head and takes a breath. “How can- she was seventeen. He lost his wife and daughter. I don’t know what he did to make you hate him, but-”

“As far as I’m concerned, she’s part of the reason Boyd is dead,” Erica snaps. “I’m glad she’s dead. I wish he’d do the world a favour and join his precious wife and daughter.”

Erica stalks away, and Kira lets her.

Once she’s done crying, she calls her Mom. “Mom, hi, um, don’t worry, I’m- I’ll be fine. I called- Chris Argent, the guy I told you and Dad about? I just found out he’s a hunter. Call me as soon as you get this. I love you.”

Erica is refusing to take her calls.

“We’re here,” her dad says.

Kira steels herself and gets out of the car.

Wrapping her arms around Kira, her mom says, “It will be okay, Kira.”

She hopes so.

They go to the table where Chris is waiting.

He stands up but doesn’t kiss her cheek or even smile.

Ever since she was seventeen (the year Allison died), hunters have always been a vague threat to her. Hunters hurt a friend of her mom’s. A man she loves (loved?) apparently once did horrible things to her likely-ex-girlfriend. Erica had only been sixteen. Boyd died at seventeen, the same age as Allison.

They all sit down.

“Why have you been talking to our daughter? We were wary, at first, that an older, white man had taken an interest in her, but she started to come out of her shell more. We were happy. Have you always known what she is,” her mom demands.

Kira hasn’t felt so much like a child since she actually was one.

Chris digs out his cell phone and shows them a picture of Allison. “This is my daughter, Allison. She died eleven years ago, when she was seventeen. In some ways, Kira reminds me of her.”

“Yes, I knew she and you,” he looks at her mom, “were kitsunes. I didn’t care. I’m- hunters never truly retire, but I’m close to it.” Sighing, he softly adds, “I had absolutely no idea Erica was around until Kira mentioned her.”

And didn't let on, Kira thinks. “What did you do to her,” she demands. “You and your wife and Allison?”

He shakes his head. “Allison, my father, and I. Victoria was already dead.”

She resists the urge to take his hand.

“We hunted them down,” he bluntly says. “Erica and Boyd. Allison shot arrows at them, and we strung them up in our basement with electricity. Eventually, I let them go, and sadly, that might have been a mistake. If I hadn’t, Boyd might still be alive. But then, that’s especially true if we hadn’t done all that to begin with. After they left, they were kidnapped by other werewolves.”

“Children,” her dad says with clear anger and disgust. “You did this to children.”

“They were dangerous werewolves,” Chris calmly replies.

Kira remembers Erica telling her Erica did some bad things once she got healthy.

Still, even with the sharp memory of Erica’s cruelty, she can’t imagine Erica could have done anything bad enough to deserve such a thing.

“You do not get to minimise-”

“Ken,” her mom quietly says.

“You’re a teacher, Mr Yukimura. A high school teacher. Are you going to honestly tell me you view every teenager as an absolute innocent?”

“No,” her dad answers. “I am going to take a firm stand, however, and say that even the most sociopathic delinquents wouldn’t deserve what you just described.”

“Where does this leave us,” Kira asks.

They all look at her.

“I mean, okay, I probably don’t have a girlfriend, anymore. Fine. I can deal. Um, but hunters and kitsunes and my dad- Erica. I don’t want any battles happening around me. I don’t want to be part of any. So. Let’s everyone just lay everything out. I never really got the hang of going out and socialising, anyways. If there are hunters around, that’s for the best. But my mom sometimes goes out of town for work, and well, my dad’s around innocent, human kids a lot. Plus, he’s human, too. And,” looking at Chris, she says, “I don’t really know how I feel about you right now, but I do know I don’t want you hurt.”

“I’m not going to go after you, your family, or Erica, sweetheart,” Chris softly says. “I promise.”

“And we’ve never gone after hunters without a reason,” her mom says. “Don’t ever hurt my daughter, Chris Argent. I’m over 900 years old. I’ve killed hunters before. They gave me a reason. I am still bitter over what your family once did to a dear friend of mine, but I’m willing to let it lie. But hurt Kira, and I will bring pain upon you that you can’t truly even imagine.”

“And I won’t do a thing to stop her,” her dad adds.

“I understand.”

“Hey, um, this’ll be my last voicemail. I mean, unless I ramble and get cut off- I talked to Chris. I know some of what happened with you, Boyd, Allison, and him. If you ever want to talk, please, call me, come over, whatever. Um, and Erica- please, be safe. Bye.”

There’s a knock on her door, and a surge of happiness goes through when she opens it to find Erica. “Hey.”

“Hey. Can I come in?”

Nodding, she moves aside.

Once, they’re settled, Erica asks, “What did Argent tell you?”

Kira tells her.

Sounding surprised, Erica says, “More-or-less.” She takes a deep breath. “Look, I get that you see a grief-stricken father. It sounds like he’s always been nice to you. And yeah, I get that hearing someone is glad someone else is dead, especially a teenage girl, might be hard, but sorry, baby, that’s just how I feel,” she says with no trace of sarcasm or maliciousness. “Boyd and I weren’t innocent. What happened with the alpha pack- they were probably going to go after us, anyways. I know all that. I just don’t care. I want Boyd back. I still have nightmares about being in that basement and seizing and pissing myself in front of them.”

“And I told you before, I have issues. I can be cruel. I was back then, and even though I try to not to be, now, sometimes, I still am. Allison being dead means the world is a better place.”

Kira takes several slow breaths. “Yeah, you told me. I could have handled that, you doing some harsh things as a kid. And believe me, I’d never want to make light of what happened to you. It’s just, you’re a grown woman, and you think that the fact a teenager, a girl who never got the chance to reach our age, to get to do so many of the things we have, to face the same struggles, even, that her being dead- And fine, you hate Chris. But I might want to have kids someday, and the thought of losing them, especially at so young-”

Erica gives her a sad smile. “It was great meeting you, Kira. Being with you. Um, look, if Argent stays away from me, I’ll stay away from him. In fact, I’m probably going to be moving very soon. I know I have absolutely no right to say anything about your decisions, so, I won’t. As someone who truly does care about you, though, please, just let me warn you: Be careful.”

“Chris Argent tortured a sixteen-year-old girl and seventeen-year-old boy. In almost every way, I’m white, but Boyd, he was a black boy. Allison’s boyfriend, Scott, he was a werewolf, but also- he was pretty much like me. White but with Hispanic relatives. And more than that, Argent has killed people before. Maybe they were all supernatural, and maybe they were all uncontainable and majorly dangerous, but he’s still taken life before. So, just be careful. That’s all I ask.”

“I will,” she quietly promises.

Erica leans over and kisses her. “Bye, Kira.”

“Goodbye.”

Sitting down across from Chris, Kira sighs. “Don’t ever mention Erica. I don’t know where she lives or what she’s doing with her life. And if I ever do see her again, I won’t be telling you.”

He nods. “Fair enough.”

“Ready to order?”

Giving her a small, sad smile, he nods.

Kira had expected there to be hurt –breakups almost always hurt-, but she didn’t realise how much she’d find herself simply missing Erica.

She sees a trailer for a new Bruce Banner movie and almost texts Erica. The kids at the Centre work on a science project, end up almost accidentally blowing one of the swimming pools up, and Kira mentally rehearses the best way to tell the story to Erica before remembering she won’t be meeting her for coffee and tea later. Sometimes, she wakes up in bed with a feeling something’s off before gradually realising there’s no drool on her neck and no arms tangled with her own.

When she comes over for dinner, he mom kisses her cheek. “Your father is dealing with something. He might not join us tonight.”

“What’s wrong?”

“One of his friends, an elementary teacher, was planning to have a birthday party for a vegan child, but the bakery screwed up and didn’t store the food correctly. Now, your father and several other teachers are trying to get enough acceptable treats from various bakeries. None of the ones open are willing to stay open for much later or accept large orders.”

“What all was ordered?”

“I don’t know.”

Sitting down, Kira inwardly debates.

Calling Erica-

Then, she remembers when she was a little kid, and her parents always made her birthdays so special. All kids deserve special days, especially ones who want or need unconventional foods. For almost three years straight, she insisted on Tteokguk for her birthday dinner. Her dad made it, and her mom brought ice-cream and cupcakes to her class. When she was seventeen and became close to some classmates, her parents rented a room in a pizza place, and she and her friends had a pizza party.

“I might be able to help,” she says. “Is Dad here?”

“In his the bedroom. Kira-”

She goes in.

“Yes,” her dad says in his ‘trying to be patient’ voice, “but-”

Waving, she says, “Dad, just hang up.”

Shaking his head, he continues, “Surely-”

“Ken.” Her mom comes over and hangs up. “Kira thinks she can help.”

Nodding, she says, “Tell me what all was originally ordered.”

Erica's worried voice answers on the second ring. “Kira, are you alright?”

Wincing, Kira says, “Yeah, uh, hey. So, I really hope I’m not interrupting anything, but- is it too weird or exploitative or something for me to ask for a favour, because if it is-”

“Baby, shut up and tell me what you need. If I can, I don’t mind helping you at all. I promise.”

She explains. “So, originally, there were 27 vegan funfetti cupcakes, what in the hell is funfetti, a sugar-free, soy chocolate cake, and 30 rice cake- Oh, for God’s sake, even the kids who like rice cakes aren’t going to eat any.” Groaning, she pinches her nose. “I’m all for people making the choice to be vegan or whatever, but why do parents do this to their kids? Someone will pay you, if you could please just somehow score us some vegan cupcakes and a sugar-free, vegan chocolate cake. And if you can’t, I’m sorry for-”

“Kira, honey, take a deep breath right now,” Erica orders. “Find something to drink. Then, come meet me at the bakery. We’re getting this done.”

“Thank you,” she breathes out.

“See you soon,” Erica says.

In the empty parking lot, she demands, “Seriously? They’re closed!”

“Hello, to you, too,” Erica says. Pulling Kira into a hug, she adds, “I have a key.”

“That- does that make this right?”

“Well, it doesn’t make it wrong,” Erica answers. “Come on.”

They go inside, and turning on the lights, Erica says, “If I ever get my own bakery, I’m going to find a way to keep it open 24/7.”

“Are you sure you’re not going to get in trouble?”

Erica tosses her a wrapped sandwich. The label reads Erica’s Lunch- don’t touch. “I’m guessing you didn’t actually eat at your parents’. Eat.”

“Thanks.”

Nodding, Erica puts her hair in a twist, covers it with a hairnet, slips on an apron, and starts washing her hands. “It doesn’t really matter. In two months, my lease is up, and I’m gone.”

Feeling her stomach sink, Kira asks, “Because of Chris?”

Drying her hands, Erica gives her a look. “I used to never sign leases or stay at a job for very long. I thought hunters had finally lost all interest in me. Even if him and me both being here is nothing but a huge, frakked up coincidence, I shouldn’t have forgotten hunters are literally everywhere.”

“How do you find new jobs? I mean, if it’s not my business- it’s just, I know that even a lot of restaurants and stuff are asking for résumés and complete work histories and all that.”

Her dad has given the lecture to his students enough times, at any rate.

“Yeah,” Erica says. “It isn’t easy. But better to die in some ditch under the open sky than at their hands.”

Kira flinches.

Closing a cabinet door, Erica says, “Look- I’m sorry. When I was sixteen and Boyd and I were captured by this pack of alphas, they held us in a bank vault for almost four months. Even if I actually had any credit, I might not ever be able to bring myself to get a loan. It’s just, with all that, I think about death a lot. That and how I’d be more okay than most with dying when the time comes.”

“Sometimes,” Erica quietly says, “I feel like I should have died back then.”

“I’m so sorry you and Boyd went through so much.”

Shrugging slightly, Erica picks up a cupcake pan. “Some of it, we, especially me, deserved. Just not anywhere near all of it.”

“What can I do to help?”

“Come dig my phone out of my pocket, and find us something to watch or listen to,” Erica orders.

After almost three hours, a sugar-free, vegan chocolate cake, several types of vegan cupcakes, and a batch of rice cookies have been made.

Hugging Erica tightly, Kira says, “Thank you, thank you, thank you so much. You are awesome!”

Laughing, Erica puts a hand on one cheek and kisses the other. “No problem. Want to call your parents and make arrangements to have these delivered tomorrow?”

After work, Kira meets Erica for coffee. “Did you get in any trouble,” she immediately asks.

Shaking her head, Erica answers, “No. I promise.”

“Good.”

“What about the kids?”

“My dad said the birthday boy and his classmates all had the best day. They loved everything but the rice cakes. Which,” she quickly says, “is because they didn’t eat any. Not because you-”

Grinning, Erica says, “Yeah, I got it.”

“So, um-” She hesitates. “How have you been doing?”

“Okay,” Erica answers. “Like I said, I’m planning on leaving soon.” Smiling slightly, she adds, “I’ve missed you.”

“I’ve missed you, too,” Kira blurts out.

“I make it a policy to make as clean a break as possible, but uh, do you want to catch a movie this weekend? I saw a new a trailer for this Bruce Banner prequel.”

“Yeah,” Kira says with warmth spreading through her, “that sounds great.”

After the horrible movie, Erica grabs her hand and says, “If I get arrested for hacking the studio-”

“You are not hacking- um, anything. Ever. Especially nothing involving movie studios or- Do you not remember that whole thing with South Korea?”

“North Korea,” Erica corrects. “How else am I supposed to trash his car?”

“You aren’t, is the point."

“No, I am. He ruined my fourteen-year-old self’s dreams.”

“Baby, I love you, but the fact you automatically jump to hacking and vandalising cars instead of doing the normal thing and writing an angry email concerns me.”

Horror overtakes her as she realises exactly what she just said.

Slipping her hand out of Erica’s, she stops.

Erica stops, too, and looks at her.

“Um-”

“I feel the same,” Erica interrupts. “It’s just- My issues. I really can’t stick around, knowing Chris Argent is around. I- I wish me and you had met in a different time and place. Of course, knowing my luck, we could have turned out to be worst enemies, but maybe, we could have had a real chance.”

Reaching over, Kira kisses her. “I understand.”

“Would it be okay if I asked if you were seeing anyone?”

“Not really,” she answers. “I mean, you can ask, that’s just the answer.”

She’d made Erica promise to call before Erica left, but she doesn’t know if Erica will or not.

Chris nods.

They continue eating in silence.

“Allison was a fighter,” he quietly says.

She looks up.

“I don’t expect you to be like her, Kira,” he continues. “My daughter is dead, and children can never be replaced. And the unfortunate truth is, I probably wouldn’t give her the advice I’m about to give you. I think, when it comes to the truly important things, you have the instinct to fight, too. Please, sweetheart, don’t ever fight for someone who hurts you. But if you love someone good, or even if you just think you could love them, then, don’t simply settle for, ‘It might have been.’ Don’t let them just walk away without even trying. Don’t walk away without trying. Because you deserve happiness. And if they’re good and give you that, they deserve it, too.”

Reaching over, she squeezes his hand.

When she meets Erica in the coffee shop, Erica hands her a newspaper.

“Um, thanks?”

“I have had a terrible day,” Erica informs her. “But that’s no excuse to take it out on people, so, uh, if I say anything bitchy, just whack me with that.”

Putting the newspaper down, Kira asks, “What’s wrong, baby?”

“Derek and I have been arguing, and he’s trying to drag Isaac in.” Erica rubs her head. “Anyway, what did you want to talk about?”

Pushing the newspaper over, Kira says, “If my babbling starts, just whack me. Um, here it goes. I’m not asking you to stay. I know- I understand- Your issues are valid, is what I’m trying to say. But, maybe, we could still date? Try to have a long-distance relationship? I really care about you, Erica. And I’d really like for us to not end. Maybe, if things got serious enough and you found a place to settle, I could move there.”

Unfortunately, the look on Erica’s face tells Kira the answer.

“I’m sorry,” Erica says. She takes Kira’s hand. “I really am. The truth is, though, I’m never going to find a place to settle. It’s part of what me and Derek have been arguing about. A few years ago, I honestly tried. I took some college classes, Derek found me a decent job that I worked hard at, I went to therapy, and everything was going great. Then, this insane werecoyote came into town, and hunters came to put him down. They killed him, and if anyone deserved it, it was him, he was rapist and a baby killer, and they didn’t do anything at all to me or Derek, but they were there, killing were-creatures, and-”

She takes a sharp breath. “I couldn’t breathe until I was walking down some backroad with just a backpack, suitcase, and purse, because, like I said, I’d rather die in a ditch with the open sky above me than have my place invaded and possibly deal with more electricity, more seizures, and be trapped inside somewhere.”

“And more than that-” She pauses.

“Boyd,” Kira supplies. “I- don’t take this wrong, but if there’s one thing he’s lucky for, it’s that you love him so much.”

Suddenly, Erica smiles so softly and beautifully, Kira feels her breath catch. “I promise you, Kira, someday, someone is going to love you so much, and they’re going to be so lucky because you’ll love them back.”

They kiss, and Kira feels her heart breaking all over.  

A week before Erica’s set to leave, Kira takes her for a special dinner out, and afterwards, they head to Kira’s place.

“I hope it’s okay, but when you told me not to get you a present, uh, I went and got you a present.”

“Kira,” Erica groans.

“Hey, I understand this is something you need to do, but you can’t just expect me not to worry and want-”

There’s a sudden flash of light, and suddenly, Erica grip on her hand is almost-too tight. “Hunters,” she hisses.

Undoing her sword, Kira feels her heart jump when an arrow sails past her, and another flash of light explodes.

Quietly, she asks, “Make a run back for the café?”

Almost as if in response, another arrow whizzes past, and she wasn’t sure where they were coming from before, but now, she realises heading back to the café would lead them directly towards the archer.

“Your house,” is Erica’s shaky response.

“You go towards, and I’m going to walk backwards,” she whispers.

They switch hands, and her sword poised, Kira scans the area.

The sound of a gunshot fills the air, and Erica roughly tugs her. “Forget that, just run as fast as you can, and don’t stop, Kira!”

They run, and Kira finds her keys, but her hands shake so much she drops them, and vaguely, she’s aware of a person with a gun approaching.

There’s another burst of light, a scream, and suddenly, she manages to pick up the key, get them inside, and lock the door.

“911, what’s your emergency?”

To her shock, Erica grabs her cell phone, turns it off, and glares. “We need to hide. What in the hell are you thinking, calling the police?”

As Erica leads her to the bathroom, she tries, “But guns, arrows, on a residential street-”

“There’s hunters on every police force! Hell, some of the ones out there might be!”

In the bathroom, they huddle down on the floor, and Kira’s phone rings.

“Hi, sorry, this is a new cell,” Erica chirps. “I’m not sure how you got called or why it just hung up. Yeah, everything’s great. Sorry.”

Taking a deep breath, Kira asks, “What now?”

“I don’t know. If they were going to break in, they probably would have done it by now. Hunters usually don’t, not with how discreet some alarms are nowadays. Realising you could kick me out at any time, still: If I survive this, you aren’t going to stop me from having a nice, long chat with Chris Argent.”

Hurt, Kira protests, “I’d never kick you out, especially when it’s a literal matter of life-and-death.”

“That makes you better than me.”

“What, you’d kick me out,” Kira sceptically inquires.

Sighing, Erica shakes her head. “You, probably not. But yeah, I am the type of person who’d do something like that to someone else.”

“I don’t believe that.”

They both jump when Kira’s phone rings.

“Mom, listen-”

“No, you listen, Kira. There’s some disturbing stuff on your father’s Facebook feed. Do you think there could be hunters in your neighbourhood?”

“Yeah, um, they chased us, me and Erica, but we’re locked in the house, in the bathroom.”

“It’ll be okay, Kira. Listen, your father and I will be there in five minutes. We’re going to use your dad’s key. Stay in the bathroom. We’ll knock and announce ourselves. We’re taking you both to our apartment.”

“Okay,” she breathes out. “I’ll tell Erica. Thank you, Mom. Thank you so much.”

“Of course. Do you really think we’d let our daughter and an innocent werewolf fend for themselves?”

“Kira, Erica, it’s us,” her dad says with a knock.

Kira scrambles to open the door and hug her parents.

“It seems the hunters are gone,” her mom says. “Come on, you two. Let’s get in the van.”

Her parents flank them, lead them to her dad’s minivan, and the next thing Kira knows, her mom is depositing them in the guest bedroom. “The only window here is in our bedroom. And Ken is making sure it’s secure. If someone does manage to get through, they’ll have to go through us. We’ve talked to the super, and he’s going have everyone who needs to be buzzed in monitored for a few days.”

“Thank you for doing this, Mrs Yukimura,” Erica says.

She sounds painfully defeated, and Kira wishes she knew how to fix this.

“Try to get some sleep. Ken and I never minded Kira having boyfriends over, and we wouldn’t have minded girlfriends, either, but if the bed’s too small, you’re welcome to the couch, Erica.”

“I’ll take it if the bed’s too small,” Kira firmly interjects.

Her mom smiles proudly at her.

In the dark, Kira says, “I can tell you’re trying not to cry, baby. If it’ll help- it’s okay. I know none of this is, and if not crying helps- but if you need to, you don’t have to be afraid.”

Besides her, Erica moves around.

Finally, Erica hoarsely whispers, “I used to dream of my wedding. Before I got the bite. White dress, a flower crown or a white veil, wearing this cross mi abuela gave me. I had all these ideas about kids. And now, Derek wants me to settle down, but how can I when I know stuff like this could happen? Even if it never does again, the possibility-”

Warm tears fall against Kira’s skin.

“I’m so sorry.”

“They were probably after me, and you were just collateral damage,” Erica gurgles out.

Kira holds her closer.

“What about you? Any dreams of weddings?”

“Not really. Um, this is going to sound weird, but ever since I was little, I’ve thought, if I got married, I’d want a heart locket that had to be opened by a key. And I’d wear the locket, maybe with a picture of me and them inside, and they’d wear the key. I mean, I imagined I’d probably buy them a ring, and they’d wear that, too, but- it doesn’t make much sense.”

“It doesn’t have to,” Erica says. “And yeah, in a way, it does. I hope you find that someday.”

“I hope you can find some true peace and happiness one day,” she replies.

In the morning, Kira stands outside her house and nervously begs, “Erica, please-”

She has her hand around her belt, and her eyes are torn between scanning the area and staying firmly on Erica.

For her part, Erica continues rooting around the ground and just generally staying in plain sight and target. Worse, occasionally, her eyes will turn golden.

“No one is that good at clean-up,” Erica informs her. “A bullet, an arrow, a wallet, I don’t care, I’ll search this whole damn neighbourhood, house by house, tree by tree, street by street until I find something or someone.”

“I live here!” Kira can’t help but explode. “That’ll be good, won’t it, everyone having to deal with Kira Yukimura’s crazy girlfriend right after there was a freaking shootout near her house!”

Erica pauses, and Kira takes a deep breath.

“Please, baby, there has to be a better way of-”

“Found something,” Erica announces. She stands up with an arrow in her hands. “Do what you got to do, Kira, but I’m going to find your friend.”

Kira sees the determination in Erica’s eyes and sighs. Taking out her cell phone, she calls.

“Hello?”

Chris sounds half asleep, and she feels a combination of guilt, exasperation, and sadness sweep through. He once told her it took years after Allison’s death for him to be able to sleep in. As a little girl, Allison was an early riser, and even when she was a teenager, he’d wake up early to check on her.

“Hey,” she says. “Um, Erica- can you meet us somewhere neutral? She’s on the warpath right now, and I’d really appreciate it if my girlfriend and my friend could, I don’t even know.”

“Of course, sweetheart. Kira, what’s going on?”

Erica tosses dirt on her.

“Oh, that’s mature,” she snaps.

“Kira?”

“Sorry, that was Erica. She- just tell me when and where, please.” Seeing Erica has picked a handful of leaves, she adds, “Throw that at me, and I swear, I will clog up the bakery with orders of rum cake!”

Literally showing her fangs, Erica drops the leaves.

“Okay,” Chris says.

At the café, Kira ignores Erica’s attempts to throw her off and keeps her hand firmly around Erica’s.

Striding over, Erica roughly sets the arrow down. “Argent emblem. Last night, we were walking home, and guns, arrows, and hidden hunters, right in the middle of suburbia.”

Shock crosses his face, and he looks down and carefully examines the arrow. “This- is-”

“Yeah, funny thing, when you’re shot down in the middle of the woods, and then, your boyfriend comes this close to almost getting an arrow in his heart, you tend to remember things. So, either you decided the risk to your girl was acceptable if it meant getting me, I mean, that would make sense, wouldn’t it, with all the times you pulled a gun on Scott and threatened to do to it Isaac for daring to touch your princess, or you’re rapidly losing sway in your family’s hierarchy.”

Kira feels her stomach twist.

Erica is beautiful, strong, and fierce, and so, so bitter. Anger and outright fury radiates from her.

“Erica-” Chris starts.

However, Erica suddenly spins around and rounds on some boy at a nearby table. “As much as I want you and all other hunters, especially Argents, dead, for God sakes, eat some sugar before you go into a diabetic coma!”

“Erica,” Kira moans.

She’s pretty sure Erica’s eyes just flashed, again, and this boy- he can’t be older than his early twenties, and she’s not completely sure he’s not a teenager. He’s a little scrawny with conservatively short but somewhat spiky brown hair and wide, scared, dark green eyes.

“Jacob?” Chris asks.

“Mr Argent.”

“Great awareness of your surroundings,” Erica says with a look at Chris. “He’s been for here ten minutes, at least.” Digging a wrapped cookie out of her purse, Erica shoves it into Jacob’s hands. “Here. Eat.”

“Um-”

“Oh, for- Kira, sweetie, I need you to eat some of this cookie, so that, hopefully, this moron won’t go into diabetic shock.”

“Jake,” Chris softly says, “it’s okay. Miss Reyes finds the idea of poisoning food, especially food she’s made, to be offensive on a personal level. Eat it. Then, check your insulin levels or whatever you need to do. You might feel fine, but she’s a werewolf, and therefore, does know better than you what’s going on within your body.”

“Thank you,” is Jake’s weak reply. He carefully takes several bites and slowly chews.

“Now, do you know something about this?” Chris picks up the arrow.

Hesitantly, Jake nods. “I was going to call you, later, but I saw you here- This is really good,” he offers with a wide-eyed look at Erica.

“Starting to regret not letting you slip into that coma,” Erica retorts.

“I wasn’t- Look there was a woman,” Jake says. He looks at Chris. “She was French, and I don’t know for sure she was an Argent, but she was high up in the family, sir. She knew the code, her arrows, that’s one of them, actually, and she even had your bestiary on a flashdrive. It was password-protected. She told me the Dixons were in town, and they had a bounty out on Peter Hale. She thought they might go after Miss Reyes or even Miss Yukimura to get to him, and she told me, Trey, and Juan to trail them. Trey, Miss Yukimura. Juan, Miss Reyes. And me the Dixons.”

“Last night, the Dixons made a move, but this woman, she was so calm, she shot the first arrow to put them,” he glances over, “on alert, and then, she opened fire on the Dixons. We gave her backup but didn’t fire any shots. That was all the Dixons. None of them were seriously hurt, and by the time Mr and Mrs Yukimura got there, they were all gone.”

“What was her name,” Chris asks.

Jake shakes his head. “She said that only the name Argent was important.”

“Right, an Argent was willing to open fire on another hunter family for the sake of a werewolf and a kitsune,” Erica sarcastically interjects.

“Well, yes, ma’am,” Jake says with an expression Kira can’t fully decipher playing across his face. “This woman said that this was personal, that Miss Yukimura’s continuing well-being is very important to Mr Argent and that you and her had unfinished business.”

“What did she look like,” Chris asks.

“Um, I’m not really- she wore a headscarf and sunglasses, sir. Even at night, so, I assume they were prescription. She was tall. White.”

Kira reaches over and retakes Erica’s hand. “Baby?”

Shaking her head, Erica glares at Chris. “Tell your family and everyone loyal to it, this isn’t the way to solve unfinished business. You want Peter, he’s in New Hampshire. Manchester. Street 303, North Jacksonville, apartment 15. If you want Derek, well, I didn’t break the first time, did I? If you want me, I work in Aldean’s Sweets and Grains Shoppe, and Kira’s never over at my apartment. I’ll be gone soon, and it’d be smarter to try to get me on some backroad somewhere, anyway, wouldn’t it?”

Tugging Kira’s hand, she strides away.

“Um, who’s Peter?”

“Peter Hale,” Erica answers, and her eyes light up. “He’s Derek’s uncle. Oh- look, Kira, I love Peter. I’d never betray him. He’d have so much fun if hunters showed up at his apartment. He wants to fight, but Derek has him on the bench.”

Amusement and sorrow well up inside. “You’re leaving today, aren’t you?”

Erica lets go of her hand. “Sorry, babe.”

Nodding, Kira takes a deep breath and tells herself not to cry. Reaching over, she kisses Erica.

...

The next night, she feels her heart jump when Erica and Jake appear.

“Erica, is that blood on your sweater,” she demands.

“Quiet, sweetie,” Erica orders. “And yeah.” Glaring at Chris, she says, “Well, I just helped your hunter take down a wendigo. She was in the process of eating a kid.”

Looking at Jake, Chris says, “You were told to wait until proper intel was gathered and verified. Involving a werewolf-”

“Yeah, back to the part where this six-year-old kid no longer has an arm and is lucky to be alive,” Erica snaps. “Your boy here had credible intel. Even I could see that. And I involved myself. We ran into each over, his insulin levels were still going crazy, and while I was dealing with that, we talked.”

She moves closer, Jake pulls out a chair, and Erica sits down and briefly squeezes Kira’s hand. Quietly, she asks, “Did Allison ever tell you about Scott saving me, Chris?”

Kira wonders if she should interject, but for once, Erica doesn’t sound angry and mocking, and Chris simply nods. “She and Derek both told me about it.”

“Look, believe it or not, I kind of get where you’re coming from. He’s two years older than Allison was, he’s stupid about his medicine, and yeah, he’s incredibly, almost unbelievably gullible about anything involving pop culture. But he had good intel, and when that wendigo had her teeth against my neck, he didn’t hesitate, and I’m still here. And on a plus side for me and others like me, he doesn’t seem to hate us based just on what we are.”

“So.” She sighs. “If you aren’t going to give him an actual chance, he’s going to come across his own wall pretty soon, start climbing it without any safety gear or mat, and when his blood sugar spikes, there’s not a very good chance anyone’s going to be there to catch him, is there?”

A half-smile crosses Chris’s face. “You’re defending a hunter.”

“I’m defending a kid who has a debilitating disease but isn’t weak because of it,” she answers.

Kira doesn’t think she’s ever been prouder of Erica than she is right now.

“Knowing what you know, take my advice or leave it. Just remember, though, a six-year-old kid is alive because of him.”

“And you,” Kira feels compelled to add.

“No, not really,” Erica says. “Look, I’ll call you later, okay, sweetie? I need to go shower.”

Erica comes over later.

“Any chance you’re not leaving,” Kira hopefully inquires.

“For a hunter, Jake’s okay, but then, Allison used to be, too. Chris is still here. And I- besides you, there’s nothing here for me anymore. My landlord has someone lined up to move into my apartment next week, I’ve quit my job, and-” She shrugs and snuggles closer.

“You could move in here,” Kira blurts out.

She immediately winces. “I’m not trying to pressure you. Just, that’s an option.”

“Baby, the last time I slept over, you almost ended up on the floor. As comfy as your bed is, you gotta admit, it’s a little small for two people.”

“We can get a bigger bed,” Kira says. She tries to quell the daydreams of her and Erica holding hands and walking around a mattress store. “Or you can sleep in the guestroom. Like I said, I’m not trying to pressure you.”

“I’d feel like I was taking advantage,” Erica admits. “Don’t ask me why. But unless you count three months in a bank vault with a boy I was in love with, I’ve never lived with someone. And if I do, there’s a chance all the Hales plus Isaac might show up, and really, the only reason me and Derek’s baby sis get along is because we hardly ever talk.”

“You wouldn’t be taking advantage,” Kira says. “Um, we could take things slow. I totally acknowledge that I could be projecting, but it seems like you might be willing to stay now that- well, you don’t hate all hunters, now, anymore, do you? Chris, I have to accept you’re always going to hate him, and even worse, his dead daughter, but you believe Jake’s story, don’t you?”

“I believe he believes it. Whoever this mystery chica was, though, I’m not sure she wasn’t trying to get one or both of us and use them and the Dixons to do it. Which speaking of them, with them still around-”

“They’re not,” Kira assures her. “Chris promised he was going to make them all leave today.”

“Well, that’s something, at least,” Erica says.

Kira looks at her and debates saying something.

Erica sighs. “Crap. Two days ago, I wouldn’t have believed that of him, would I?”

Kira shakes her head.

“The guestroom would be great,” Erica says. “And we’re definitely working out some form of payment for right now. No arguments.”

Letting out an excited sound, Kira semi-tackles Erica.

Laughing, Erica reaches up and kisses her.

The next day, Erica tells her, “So, it turns out, I still have my job. I- I, uh, didn’t realise how much they actually wanted to keep me. But my boss jumped at it, and actually, I’ve been promoted to full-time, too.”

She looks uncharacteristically vulnerable, and Kira pulls her into a hug. “Good.”

“We need to get a new bed,” Erica announces.

Kira looks up from the pancakes she’s making. “Really?”

“I mean, if you want,” Erica says.

“That sounds awesome.”

Nodding, Erica comes over and wraps her arms around Kira. “I love you. I’m sorry I didn’t say it earlier, but me and you, however long we’re going to last, if you still want me full-time, you’ve got me.”

“Of course, I want you,” Kira hurriedly says. “I love you so much, Erica. Thank- thank you. For loving me back. Um, is it-”

Erica kisses her. “How could I not love you? What kind of bed do you think would be good? At home, my bed was literally a hospital cot, and since then, I’ve always just gone for the cheapest bed I could get my hands on.”

“Well, when Mom and Dad got their new bed…”

In Beacon Hills, Erica kneels down in front of a tombstone reading:

Vernon Milton Boyd III

Loving brother and son

His true wealth was in his generous heart. And what endless wealth he did have.

She traces her fingers over the date of birth and death. “Hey, Boyd,” she quietly says. “I hope you’re happy. I- I’m sorry it’s been years. I just couldn’t handle coming back.”

Sinking into a sitting position, she looks down for a long moment. “I never wanted to let you go. Sometimes, I feel so guilty. The thing is, I know that I can’t know we’d have been together forever, but whenever I imagine it, we are. And until I met Kira, if someone said I could have a chance to save you, I would have done it in an instance, screw any consequences.”

Wiping at her eyes, she asks, “Does that make me a bad person?”

“Now, if I had a chance, if there weren’t any bad consequences, I still would, but I couldn’t leave her. And if there were- I’m so sorry.”

She takes shuddering breathes. “Everyone says you would have wanted me to be happy. That, if you’re out there somewhere, you do. I knew you well enough to know that’s true, but-” She shakes her head. “You were the first person to truly see me, even deeper than Derek did. And besides Alicia, I was the first one to see you. I still remember how your hand felt in mine. How beautiful it was to see your eyes light up when you talked about the important things. You used to look at me, and it made me feel like I was the most special person on the planet. I hope I made you feel like that, too.”

“I don’t want to let that go. I don’t want to give up dreaming that, someday, you and me will be together again. But- I think you’d like Kira, Boyd. She’s one of the kindest people I’ve ever met, and she’s so beautiful and funny. Most people look at me like I’m crazy when I talk about how much I love Robin, but she gets it. She listens, and she can go on for days about how important the newest incarnation of Iron Woman is.”

“And she loves me as much as I love her. So, I- I need to let go of that, Boyd. I’ll always love you and miss you, and I still hope that, one day, I can see you again. I hope you and Alicia are together, or that she’s out there somewhere and you’re looking out for her, and I hope you’ve found someone who makes you happy, too. But I’m going to focus on building a life with Kira, now. No matter how much it sucks, me and you just weren’t meant to be.”

Kissing her fingertips, she presses them against the grave. “I’ll start coming by on occasion. I love you, Boyd. Please, if you’re out there, be happy.”

….

“I’m not sure I feel right about your girlfriend cooking for all of us, Kira,” her mom says.

“I know, and I’m sorry, but um- look, you don’t have to live with her. She wouldn’t let up on cooking a big family dinner once she got back.”

Her parents definitely don’t need to know what Erica did to make her so blissed out she’d agreed to the idea before she could properly think it through.

“Maybe while she’s down there, she could invite her parents,” her dad suggests.

“Probably not,” Kira says. “I’m not sure she’s going to let anyone even know she’s there.”

She feels like a terrible girlfriend and an even worse person, but secretly, she’s terrified Erica will come back and end things. She doesn’t want to be jealous of a dead boy, and she doesn’t want to be the type of person who’d have a problem with someone going to visit a loved one’s grave.

Yet, she can’t help but worry about her own relationship.

There’s a knock on the door.

“I’ll get it,” her mom says.

While she does, Kira’s dad sits down and wraps an arm around her. “Your mother’s lost people she loved, too, sweetheart. Someday, I might be one of them. But I know her, and I trust her to know that she loves me and wants to be with me. Try to do the same for Erica, okay?”

She nods.

Her mom comes in with a huge bouquet. “Kira, these are for Erica. Someone from your neighbourhood sent the deliveryman over here. Once I told him you were her girlfriend, he agreed to let me sign for them.”

Curious, Kira gets up. “Is there a card?”

“No,” her mom answers.

“Huh. I wonder if they’re from Jake.” She examines them. They’re beautiful, and she instinctively knows Erica will love them. “Dad, I recognise the roses, but do you know what all these others are?”

“I recognise some of them,” he answers. “Iris, this one looks to be juniper, green locust tree, arbor vitae, butterfly weed, and aster. This one might be…”

Chris stands up. “I was very surprised to get your call.”

Erica nods. “Yeah, well, if this goes bad, it’s on you. Let’s sit.”

They do.

“How was your trip?”

“Okay,” she answers. “Boyd’s grave is still in good condition, and I managed to get in and out before any of the Stilinskis came across me.”

“I’ll cut to the chase: Why did you call me?”

She takes a breath. “I’m never going to like or completely trust you. Right or wrong, my feelings towards Allison are never going to be warm. But you genuinely love Kira, and so do I. I want to make sure you understand that.”

“I do.”

“So, for her sake-” She digs a box of her pocket and pushes it over.

He opens it. Inside is a white-gold heart locket and a gold chain with a white-gold key hanging from it.

“It's for Kira. She told me that-”

“I know,” he says. “She told me what she’d rather have instead of a wedding ring. I suppose congratulations are in order.”

“Not really,” Erica says. “When it comes to me, I don’t need or want your blessing. Hopefully, I’ll have her parents’. But you giving her your blessing would mean the world to her.”

“Of course.” He gives her a small smile. “I know how much you love her, Erica, how happy you make her, and that you’ll always love and protect her. And I know she’ll do the same for you.”

“In that case, if she says yes, I genuinely hope you’ll be at the wedding. I think it’d be best if you and me tried to stay away from each other as much as possible, but there are going to be important times in all of our lives that we’re going to need to share her.”

“I’ll see you at the wedding, then.” He closes the box and pushes it over. “You better get home quickly. It’s best to not waste time when it comes to things like this.”

She starts to stand, hesitates, and sits back down. “When it comes to Allison, even if I liked her, I couldn’t really understand. I’ve never had a kid or a little sister or brother. If one of my baby cousins died, I’d be sad a kid died and sad that family had died. But I’m truly sorry you lost Mrs Argent. Boyd and I weren’t married, and we never got to really be boyfriend and girlfriend, but I was in love with him, and losing him almost broke me even more than being in the basement and vault did. I’m glad you and Kira are friends because I know it’s helped some.”

“Thank you. I’m sorry for what happened to him, but I’m also glad you and Kira managed to find one another.”  

Nodding, she gets up and heads to the Yukimura apartment.