She is seven, knobbly-kneed and serious-faced, when she stands in her room and stares at Straton. He goes through several forms in a flicker—sparrowbutterflylionmouse—which only happens when they’re nervous, but gets himself together after a moment.
Argenta takes a step back, and another, another. The room is spacious enough. Pulling. Pulling.
It starts to hurt very soon, but they both grit their teeth. Straton even moves back himself, toward her closet, and she backs up to the door. Years later she’ll still remember how it feels; a deep, slow wrenching from the inside, as if she’s cut herself open and is pulling her intestines out.
They don’t stop pulling until Argenta’s knees buckle, and she falls to the floor. The daemon doesn’t even think; he bounds into her arms as a wildcat, and she presses her nose into his fur and cries.
It’s been almost a year since she’s last been to the tailorshop two blocks from her house. She’s drowned herself in hunts and the liquor that her father forgets to keep in the liquor cabinet; she stands in the middle of a dozen decimated Grimm and remembers that this what she is, not the girl wiping away angry tears in the bathroom over something like love.
Straton rarely if ever changes around others, but lately he hasn’t been changing even when they’re alone. One afternoon she’s reloading Alba Centaury in the kitchen before a hunt, and it’s such a menial scene by any definition; but her movements are practiced and purposeful and she feels powerful. She knows she is powerful. Straton is at her side as a wolfhound, then shifts into a snow leopard. The ease of a breath. Contentment flows between them, and they look at each other.
They smile for the first time in a year.
"It feels empty here, doesn’t it?" Straton remarks as they sit in the dorm room at Beacon.
Argenta sighs, not looking up from her pamphlet. “Not very.”
He laughs, but he’s pacing across the floor and his tail is flicking. It’s been a week since Initiation. In the hallways and during mealtime Straton eyes every daemon he passes by, occasionally starting to playfight with one or two but always abruptly pulling back. They silently agree that it will be like this for the rest of the four years.
They’re proven wrong.
"Who are you?"
Argenta stands on top of a fallen Beowolf, weapon drawn and looking at the boy in Grimm hide and gaiter. His daemon is a wolf; she and Straton almost ran into each other, and Straton snaps his jaws in consternation as they circle each other, wary.
The tension is sliced cleanly by the howls of Grimm coming towards them. “We gotta get out of here!” the boy says, grabbing her hand and pulling her with him in the direction of Beacon; in the same moment their daemons share a look and bound off in sync, at their humans’ heels.
That strange, instantaneous connection isn’t immediately noticed by any of them, but it’s still there. Argenta and the boy stand back to back; their daemons snarl together like they’ve always been in the same pack. When it’s over and help arrives, it feels almost like a rude interruption. Later in the evening, while they’re watching the boy and the wolf leave, Straton looks at Argenta and rubs her leg slightly.
"Just stay warm against the cold," she calls after him. It’s the best she can come to an actual thank you, for now.