Lydia moved through Alliance HQ as if on autopilot, getting coffee and adding Splenda and a splash of skim from the fridge. She took a sip and nearly spit it out. Apparently muscle memory didn't extend to tongues.
"Yep, still sucks," Stiles said, slipping into the kitchen behind her.
"Good to know some things haven't changed." She took another sip; that memory might come back, too.
"Not the coffee, anyway." Stiles cleared his throat. "It's, um, it's nice to see you back. Not that I haven't seen you—of course I've seen you; we're friends now—but it's nice to see you here."
In the past she would have had a cutting remark at the ready, probably something to do with Stiles always using ten words when two would do, but she didn't really feel up to sharpening her claws on him today. So she just said, "Thanks."
John poked his head in. "If you two could wrap up your coffee klatch, we could start the morning meeting."
"Sure thing, Dad," Stiles said.
She was a little jarred, walking into the briefing room, to not see Jackson and Danny among the people sitting around the table. Not that she'd expected them, of course; they weren't on her team anymore.
Lydia's usual chair was taken up by a familiar-looking blonde woman she couldn't place, so she sat on the other side of Stiles, closer to John. Allison grinned at her from across the table; Scott was next to her, of course. On his right was a tall man with light brown curly hair.
"First order of business," John began, and all eyes turned to him. "Welcome back, Lydia."
"I know you've been keeping current on our situation. Whoever burned your mission has been hitting the Hale team, too, so we're going to be working much more closely with them moving forward." He turned to Allison and raised an eyebrow. "I trust that's going to be okay?"
"Of course," she replied. "That was never my fight."
"Good, good. Now, as we're two people down we have some new members and reorganizing ahead. Isaac Lahey and Erica Reyes come from the Hale team and they're experienced, well-trained and ready to hit the ground running. Isaac, you'll be working with Scott and Stiles; Erica will be with Allison and Lydia."
Scott sat up. "Is that because—"
"No, no," John said, holding up his hand. "Just a better balance of talent, that's all."
That was where Lydia had seen them before: in a few Alliance-wide meetings. She had a vague memory that Erica had been in Stiles's training class, too.
"Now that we have two teams back in the field," John continued, "I'm going to double you up on the case Stiles has been working. Redundancy will be a key asset moving forward."
"All right," Stiles said, and punched up a file on the display as John sat down: a photo of a nondescript building with a large parking lot on a country road. "New club, just outside of town, open until six am on weekends, the usual bait for bored twenty-somethings. Oh, and also vampires. We've been casing the premises off and on for a couple of weeks now. Haven't seen anything too unusual yet. Owner looks clean, but we know that only means so much."
Lydia nodded along. She'd been out for three weeks, so she really hadn't missed much. "When are we going in?" she asked.
"Friday night. Observational, get the lay of the land, see if anyone's spidey senses go off."
"Bait and switch?" Erica asked.
Stiles raised his eyebrows. "Why, you got a good routine?"
Isaac shrugged. "That was our usual gig with Laura. Erica and I would draw 'em out, play the willing victims until they got us where we wanted them."
"Risky," Lydia said. "Easy to get cornered or outnumbered."
"That's why we do it together," Erica said, grinning.
"Wow," Scott said.
"Yeah, I wouldn't mind seeing that," Stiles said. Then, possibly realizing how that sounded, added, "I mean, how it plays in the field."
"Happy to show you," Erica replied.
"Don't go all the way," John said. "This is just observational, so we can get evidence for a mission, got that?"
"Yes, sir," Isaac said, and Erica nodded.
"Good," John replied. "Now, I understand you two have some clean up to do on a few cases."
"Meeting with the DA later today," Erica said. "We'll probably be in court most of the rest of the week."
"Just keep Stiles and Lydia informed of your comings and goings," John said.
"Will do." Erica nodded.
"And how's Laura adjusting?" John asked.
Isaac laughed. "Brooklyn's not going to know what hit it," he said.
"She keeps using the phrase 'kicked upstairs,'" Erica added.
"First time out of the field is rough," John said. "But she's a damn good operative; she'll get her feet under her in no time. All right, get out of here. Lydia, Allison, if you two could hang back?"
"Sure," Lydia said, and stayed put as the others left.
John turned to her. "We'll need to get you re-certified before Friday," he said. "Don't think it should be a problem but Allison, if you can be the observer at the range?"
"You bet," she said.
"Hand to hand?" Lydia asked.
"Yeah, so." John rubbed the back of his neck. "Erica would be certifying you ordinarily. She's been a special instructor at the academy for a couple of years now. But as she's on your team now I didn't want to suggest that without talking to you first."
Lydia tossed her head. "I think it's a good idea, actually," she said. "First-hand knowledge of the strengths and weaknesses of your team is invaluable, particularly when it's new."
"Glad you see it that way," John replied. "Report came back from Morrell so you're all clear on that end of things."
"But you might want to check in with Deaton before you hit any mats with Erica."
"Have an appointment with him this afternoon," she replied.
John smiled. "Of course you do. Better get to it. You'll find your service revolver in the cabinet."
When they left the conference room their new team members were nowhere to be seen, probably because they'd gone to their meeting with the DA. Stiles and Scott were watching something on Scott's monitor that could pertain to their case but on the other hand could be a play-through clip from a video game. You could never tell with those two.
Allison said, "I'll meet you at your desk? I need to get a few things."
"Sure," Lydia said.
She didn't say that she hadn't actually been to her desk yet; she'd put her bag in her locker and then gone straight for the coffee. Retrieving her gun made her feel a little steadier, feel more that she was truly back on the job. But her daggers were locked in her desk and it was probably wise to get them as well. She steeled herself, and walked over.
On top of her unusually clean desk was the mug that Jackson had stolen from her over a year ago. Strange, they'd been considering marriage at one point—or maybe that was her, and he'd just been tolerating the discussion—and now all that was left was a stupid mug with a siren on it. It had been a joke gift from Stiles—banshee, siren, same thing ha-ha—and she remembered how disappointed he'd been when he saw Jackson take it for himself. Her first instinct was to toss the mug in the trash, but Stiles was right; they were friends now, in a way they hadn't been before her leave. He'd been trying to date her for so long, but at some point that had stopped, thank goodness.
Perhaps it was time to reclaim the mug for herself. Along with some other things.
"Ready?" Allison asked.
Lydia blinked and shook herself out of her thoughts. "Let me just—" she said, and quickly unlocked the drawer to retrieve her daggers and her holsters. She slipped off her jacket and strapped everything into place.
Allison was shaking her head. "No matter how many times I watch you do it I still can't understand how you can conceal so many weapons on your person. Especially when you wear such short skirts."
"Tailoring," Lydia said. "But the boots help."
As they made their way out to the range, Allison said, "At least we're working together, right? All-woman team!"
"It can have its advantages, I'm sure." Lydia put on her protective glasses and loaded her gun, getting the feel for it back in her hands, her arms, her legs.
Allison raised an eyebrow. "Dislike her already?" she asked.
"Not at all," Lydia said. "Merely reserving judgment. The Hale teams are always superbly trained, but there's something about her that seems a little rough around the edges."
"Maybe that could be good," Allison said.
"Like I said, reserving judgment." She put on the ear protection, let her body settle into the familiar stance. At Allison's nod she fired several rounds into the target.
"Well," Allison said, watching the paper target moving toward them. "Your weapons recert won't be a problem."
"I should hope not," Lydia said, reloading her revolver.
Erica was not particularly happy that Laura had sent her and Isaac over to the Stilinski side of the Alliance, necessary or not. She was already feeling that her position in the Hale pack was relatively precarious—after all, she was neither a Hale nor dating a Hale, unlike, well, pretty much the rest of the pack. But it was Laura's decision and she had to make the best of it. At least she had Isaac—and Stiles.
"I have to admit," Erica said to him as they left the conference room, "I'm a little disappointed not to be working with my old training buddy."
Stiles smiled. "We're really one big team most of the time. I'm sure you'll work with me plenty enough to get sick of me."
"Never," Erica said, grinning. "Haven't seen you down on the mats much. You keeping up with your training, or letting your wolves do the heavy lifting?"
"Scott isn't my wolf," Stiles replied. "You should know that."
"I'm sorry," Erica said, chastened. But then speaking before she thought things all the way through wasn't new.
Stiles went on, "I know it's more hierarchical over on the Hale team, but we don't work like that. The only boss here is my dad."
"Good to know," Isaac said.
"Especially you two." Stiles waved his hand between Scott and Isaac. "Our third was a hunter, before. I'll need you to play nice if this is going to work."
Scott leaned back against the desk, hands in his pockets. He was wearing a blue button-down that stretched over his muscles; Erica was used to the physical perfection of the average werewolf but even then it was a bit much. Rumor had it that Scott had the potential to be a True Alpha, but he wasn't quite there yet and he seemed puppy like, more than most young wolves—even more than Isaac, which was saying something. Then he grinned, widely and unexpectedly. "We can do that, can't we, Isaac?"
Erica's chest tightened. She glanced at Isaac, who was blushing.
"Shouldn't be a problem," he replied.
"Good," Stiles said, and Erica couldn't quite tell if all that had been planned.
Isaac shifted his feet. "We should, uh, we should go see Blake."
"He's right," Erica said, taking pity not only because Isaac had done the same for her any number of times, especially where Laura was concerned, but also because she didn't want to be still standing around when Lydia and Allison emerged from the conference room. "See you around."
Stiles nodded, and he and Scott wandered over to one of the desks as Erica and Isaac headed to the elevators.
Erica let it lie for as long as she could, she did. "So, do you think a wolf can charm his way into being a True Alpha?" she asked.
"That wasn't charm," Isaac said. "Peter has charm. That was … I mean, you felt it."
"Charm isn't always conniving," Erica replied.
"Maybe. So, how about your team?"
She made a face. "An Argent hunter and a banshee with a giant stick up her ass? Wish me luck."
"Chris Argent's okay," Isaac said. "Anyway, all lady team."
"I do like that part," Erica agreed, as she'd been working with Kali and Cora before Laura's promotion and transfer.
"And it must be hard to come back from leave to a new team after shit went down."
"I suppose. Guess it was pretty bad if one of them went to London and the other quit the field entirely."
"But Lydia didn't quit," Isaac noted. "Lydia didn't go anyplace."
"No," Erica said. "She didn't."
"How is that reassignment going?" Jennifer Blake asked.
"First day," Erica said, trying to remember everything Derek had taught her about shielding her thoughts from a Druid. The DA was on their side but she still gave Erica the creeps.
"It'll take," she replied. "Stilinski's good at what he does. John, I mean. I don't know about the son."
"Stiles is all right," Erica said.
Blake raised her eyebrows.
Isaac sighed and stared at his fingernails. "What about the case?" he asked.
"Plan to be in court all day tomorrow." Blake pulled the evidence back into her folder. "It might go into the next day, but no longer, at least for you. Be available, just in case."
"We will," Isaac said. "That all?"
"For now." Blake waved a hand at them, and they took the hint to leave.
Erica pulled her jacket tighter around her. "God, she's such a weirdo."
"So are Deaton and Morell. They're all like that." Isaac paused. "Stiles probably will be, too, eventually."
"I hope not."
Isaac grinned. "Because you liiiike him."
"Not like that," Erica replied, because she didn't. She hadn't been sure, though, until she saw him. There'd been a crush, a little wish, when they were both in training, but seeing him now—they were different people, with their places in the grand scheme of the Alliance more secure. Now, he seemed like another buddy, like Isaac or Derek or Boyd. "And don't you think the Scott thing might keep that from happening?"
"The True Alpha or the charm?" Isaac asked.
"Where all of that comes from," Erica said. "Whatever powers it."
"Maybe. I hope so, since I'm working with the dude."
Erica's phone rang then—John Stilinski. "Reyes."
"How'd you like to do a hand-to-hand recert?" he asked.
That couldn't be for anyone other than Lydia Martin. "You've got a funny way of team building."
"Works," he said. "When can you do it?"
"Blake wants us in court all day tomorrow, so how's Wednesday?"
"Good for me," he said, "but you should check with her as well."
"Yes, sir," she said, and they hung up soon after. She turned to Isaac. "What do you think about getting a little workout in? I want to be sharp if I'm going to do a recert."
Isaac shook his head. "You're always sharp," he said, but she knew he'd help her out anyway. Probably had some energy of his own to get rid of. Change tended to do that to a wolf.
Erica and Isaac's testimony was continued into Wednesday morning, so by the time she got to the facility gym that afternoon she was in no mood. She hated going to court, because that part of the process was out of her control, never mind that she had to be so precise about what she said and what she wore and how she carried herself. Brown-pink lipstick, a modest suit and her hair in a tidy bun made her look like a model citizen, but she resented that she had to look like one to get people to take her seriously.
Isaac made himself scarce, the traitor, and it wouldn't be fair to take it out on Lydia during her recert. Erica had resigned herself to the punching bag when she saw Stiles near the locker rooms.
"Hey, wanna go a round?" she asked. "Batman versus Catwoman part 256?"
"Part 237, and why not." He put his headphones into his locker. "Don't get the chance to do much of that these days."
"What about your team?"
"Scott doesn't have your knack for knowing exactly how hard to push someone with human physical strength, and then he feels bad after. Allison doesn't have the patience, and hand to hand isn't Lydia's strong suit. So it's been a while."
"I dunno, Stiles, you've got a few years of field experience under your belt now. You might be able to take me."
"Nah," he said. "I'm pretty sure you'll whip my ass, but at least I'll learn something from it."
When they got on the mats, though, it was Erica who felt like she was learning. Stiles had always been a scrappy fighter, but he'd picked up even more underhanded tricks since being in the field. And he was harder to defeat than he thought he was, mostly because of that unconventional, improvisational style. Erica was glad to see it and feel it; she liked knowing that he could take care of himself out there.
Lydia arrived just in time to see Erica take Stiles down—or so she thought, because that flash of red hair distracted her for a nanosecond and he took advantage, knocking her legs out from under her to bring her down onto the mat with him.
"Team lesson one," Stiles whispered in Erica's ear as they watched Lydia smirk at them before heading into the locker room. "Don't let her pull your focus."
"You learn that the hard way?"
"Yep." He let her pull him to his feet. "But I'm good now."
She raised her eyebrows, and he scowled, crossing his arms.
"Seriously, I have other fish to fry. And we work better together now that I'm not half in love with her."
"Was that Jackson's problem?"
Stiles made a derisive noise. "Jackson had a lot of problems."
Erica decided not to pursue that. "Want to try again, see if you can get me fair and square?"
"Hey, I need all the unfair advantages I can get." But he stepped back and lowered his center of gravity.
When Lydia emerged, now changed into shorts and an athletic bra, Erica managed to keep her mind on her task. Oh, she was aware of Lydia, much as she was aware of everyone in the gym, but that didn't keep her from parrying everything that Stiles was throwing at her, calmly keeping him at bay. "You've made a lot of progress, Stiles. Usually frustration would get the better of you by now."
He was a little more out of breath than Erica was, but then, he would be. "No time to be frustrated when you're fighting vamps. Just gotta wait for your opportunity."
Erica flipped him onto the mat.
"Or beg for your life," he said. "That can work."
She helped him up again. "Give yourself some credit. I'm taking your tactics back to the classroom. I think they'd help the other humans."
"Thanks," he said, grinning.
She turned to Lydia. "Ready for your recert?"
Erica glanced around the room but the gym was mostly empty now. "Is Stiles all right for a witness?"
"Of course." Lydia came onto the mat as Stiles moved off and to the side. "Sure you're up for it?"
"Werewolf stamina isn't just for sex," Erica replied.
To her surprise, Lydia didn't say more after that, didn't engage in any verbal taunting, but went quiet and serious. Hand-to-hand for those of human physical strength—banshees like Lydia and mages like Stiles—was mostly about defense and escape. Physical attacks were left up to the werewolves and hunters on the team; the others were there to do what they did best. Erica had also read Lydia's file and knew that she'd received a moderate injury to her left knee during the attack that had sidelined her team, so Erica pushed there, to make sure Lydia wasn't favoring her right leg. Lydia met every challenge, holding her own with no more effort than might have been expected. She was more fluid and graceful than Stiles, which wasn't a high bar to be fair. They'd tangle at the center of the mat, but Lydia would manage to extricate herself, slithering out of whatever hold Erica put her in. She didn't have a lot of strength, but she knew how to use it. And aside from that there was something about her that made her seem more trouble to attack than she was worth.
Aware now, Erica pushed through the fog in her mind, made a direct attack on Lydia and managed to get her into a hold and keep her there.
"I'll re-certify you," she said, getting up, "but you're supposed to take off the charm."
Lydia's eyes went wide, and if this was her fake-guileless look, it was a good one. "I honestly didn't think it would still be there," she said. "I haven't been on the job in weeks."
Stiles shook his head. "It's my charm, and I saw you while you were out, so it renewed itself. It just needs proximity to me, not this building."
"Is that why you visited me?" she asked, climbing to her feet.
Stiles pulled his head back, narrowing his eyes and pursing his lips. "Of course not! What the hell?"
"All right," Lydia said, though she still sounded slightly dubious, and wasn't that a basket of trust issues for Erica to work with. Lydia turned to her. "Thanks for the recert. You're back with us tomorrow?"
"We finished up in court this morning," Erica replied, nodding.
"Good. I'll see you then." Lydia shook her hand, then walked away.
"Okay?" Erica said, once Lydia was out of earshot.
"Yeah, that's … to be honest, none of us have figured that out. Except Allison maybe."
"Great!" Erica shook her head. "Well, want to grab a beer?"
Stiles paused. "I'm meeting someone for dinner later, but sure, yeah."
"Excellent," Erica replied, grinning.
Stiles put his arm around her as they walked back to the locker room. "Good to have you on the team, Catwoman."
"Good to be here, Batman."
"Does that mean you'll wear leather on our mission to that club?"
"Don't push it."
When she was younger, Lydia had liked going clubbing. The dancing was fun, and the boys would display themselves to her before buying her drinks. But once she'd been brought into this world—or actually, finally stepped into the world to which she belonged—the presence of predators both human and not took the shine off. She'd been trained to assess threats, and she couldn't just turn off the instinct now that it was honed.
But at least that meant she didn't get distracted while on mission. She wasn't entirely sure the same could be said for her new team members.
The rest of them took up their usual positions without even thinking about it. Allison was stationed up in one of the balconies, Scott scoped out the back halls and bathrooms, and Stiles was standing at the edge of the dance floor near the DJ. Lydia was at the bar, claiming designated driver to get her club soda with a splash of grenadine and a drop or two of orange bitters. Usually Danny and Jackson would be in the middle of the action, especially Danny who both attracted attention and could see over the heads of many of the people on the dance floor. So it wasn't difficult to work around Erica and Isaac heading to the center of the floor. Lydia didn't—couldn't—have her eyes on them.
But Allison did. "No wonder you can get them to come to you."
Lydia could hear Erica laughing over the comm.
"What are they doing?" Stiles asked, and Erica laughed again.
"It's killing you, isn't it, Stilinski?" Isaac said.
"Shut it, Lahey," Stiles shot back.
Lydia huffed, stabbing at the ice in her glass with her straw. "Are any of you still actually working?"
"I'll show you work," Erica said. "Wanna go up on the stage?"
"You first?" Isaac said.
Lydia saw Erica walking up the stairs to the stage opposite the DJ booth, where about fifteen people were dancing. "Scott, you'd better get out here."
Erica made her way across the stage, dancing, seemingly unconcerned with any of the other dancers, and easily avoided their attempts to touch her. Half a song later, Isaac joined her, and they began to dance together, very close. But their dancing was clearly more for the benefit of others than for themselves. It was fascinating, in a procedural kind of way; Lydia didn't like to use seduction as a weapon and, frankly, rarely had to. Erica, on the other hand, was quite good at it. It wasn't long before the attention of most of the club was on them, swaying up on the stage.
"Whoa," Scott said. "Look at them."
"Works every time," Erica said.
"Are you seeing what I'm seeing, Lydia?" Stiles asked.
Lydia realized she'd been so transfixed by Erica that she hadn't even noticed that people were slowly walking toward the stage. She shook her head to clear it; she was the person who distracted others. It would not do to lose her own focus.
Sure enough, a few of the people walking closer to Erica and Isaac weren't people at all—they were vampires, enthralled enough that their glamours were slipping and Lydia and Stiles could see them for what they were.
"How many did we get?" Isaac asked.
"Three, by my count," Stiles said.
"More than enough for proof of concept," Lydia said. "Let's get you out of there."
"We can take three," Erica said. "The six of us, I mean."
"What?" Lydia replied. "Absolutely not. John was clear—and they haven't actually done anything. We don't have cause."
"Give us a few minutes and we'll get it," Erica said.
"No," Scott said. "I'm coming in. Allison, you see me?"'
"Yep, got you covered," she replied. "Stiles, which ones?"
"Blond in the red crop top, red haired dude in the sleeveless shirt, and probably the big guy with the hat," he replied. "Lydia, you want to bring the vehicle around?"
"Gladly," she said, and pushed her way out of the club as quickly as she could. It was too hot, too close—she needed to breathe. She took big strides across the parking lot, breathing in the sharp night air, barely hearing the low chatter of her teammates over the comm as they evaded the vampires and left the floor.
It wasn't until she was opening the door of the van that she realized how badly she was shaking. She flipped off her mic.
"Okay, Lydia," she said to herself as she pulled the door shut behind her. "Did pretty well so far for your first mission back. They'll get out no problem. In with the good, out with the bad." She exhaled. "Put the key in, start the car. Lights. No one's near you. Drive, not too slow. Good."
Her teammates were at the door when she pulled up, and Allison glanced at her, then said, "Why don't I drive?"
"Why don't you?" Lydia replied, sliding into the passenger seat.
The others climbed into the back. Scott and Stiles were none too pleased, but held it in until they were driving away.
Stiles started. "When my dad gives us a mission we stay on mission unless given clear reason to go off."
"And presence and ability to capture verified vampires wasn't a clear reason?" Erica asked.
"What part of they hadn't done anything do you not understand?" Stiles said. "They do actually have the right to exist."
Erica tutted. "Their behavior would have turned predatory pretty damn quick and you know it," she said.
"And then what?" Stiles asked.
Erica turned to Isaac.
"Lure them into the back," he said. "Where Scott and Allison would be waiting."
Scott shook his head. "No clear line of sight for Allison back there," he said. "Overcrowded bathrooms, too many humans to get in the way."
"Which is why this was a scouting mission," Stiles said. "In a new club that we've never been in!" He threw up his hands. "We were trained together, Erica. I know you know better than this."
"Yeah, well, once you get out into the field sometimes you learn that expediency is your friend. I've seen you improvise."
"This wasn't improvising, Erica. This was circumventing a direct order. What did Laura have you doing out there?"
"Actually, it was usually Kali," Isaac said. "She, well, she always knows exactly how to get her arrests through."
Stiles rolled his eyes. "I'm sure she does, but since neither me nor Lydia are currently fucking the ADA we're going to have to do it through, you know, evidence."
"When you're in a tight spot planning and regs don't help you," Erica said.
Lydia cleared her throat. "That wasn't my experience," she said, turning around and willing herself to stay calm. "Planning and regs were about the only thing that got us out of there. We fell back on our training and we all lived to fight another day." She locked eyes with Erica, who raised her eyebrows.
"I'll keep that in mind," she said.
"You do that," Lydia replied, and turned back around.
The others fell silent. Lydia could feel Allison shooting her little concerned glances and gave her an okay signal with her right hand. Then she turned and watched the darkened forest gradually give way to well-lit pavement as they made their way back into the city.
Once they were back at Alliance HQ Erica and Isaac made themselves scarce, and after a squeeze to Lydia's shoulder Stiles took off as well. Allison and Scott were whispering together, and then Allison came over to Lydia's desk.
"Ride home with you?" she asked.
"Scott and Stiles having a boy's night?" she asked.
"No. Stiles has … some things to do. Anyway can't a girl sleep over at her best friend's place without a reason?"
Lydia looked up. "I can take care of myself, you know," she said.
"I know," Allison replied. "But you don't have to all the time."
She sighed. "All right, but we'll have to stop and get ice cream on the way."
"Ice cream?" Allison asked.
"I know you'll make me work out with you in the morning," she said. "May as well have something to work off."
Later, once they'd dispatched with a pint of Half-Baked, a pint of Dulce de Leche, and the latest Nicholas Sparks movie (so Lydia had a thing for Cobie Smulders, so what) Allison put her spoon down and gave Lydia the Serious Look.
(It was one of the many things Allison and Scott had in common, that they telegraphed to you when they were Concerned About Their Friend.)
"So," Lydia said.
"So, Erica," Allison said. "Quite the rebel."
"Apparently," Lydia said. "Might need to have a conversation with Laura about that. Or—who's taken over for her?"
"No one that I've heard of," Allison said. "You could talk to Derek I suppose."
"Derek Hale, communicating with words?" Lydia asked.
"He's all right on email," Allison said, but she was laughing.
"Anyway, I think we can handle her, the two of us, can't we?" Lydia asked.
Allison narrowed her eyes. "Yeah, we can whip her into shape," she said, nodding.
"Well, I think I'm ready for bed. Aren't you?" she asked, and swung her feet off the couch.
"I'm still going to ask how you're doing," Allison said.
Lydia gripped the couch cushion where her hands sat on either side of her legs. "I'm just fine."
She sighed. "It was my first night in the field since I came back and I didn't get the shakes until I got out to the car, so I'm counting that as a victory." She turned to Allison.
Her friend smiled and nodded. "Me too," she said.
"But," Lydia continued, "I wouldn't mind if you shared the bed. No point in making up the couch."
"I don't know," Allison said, her eyes twinkling. "You did just spend the last two hours salivating over Maria Hill as a ghost. You might want better company."
Lydia rolled her eyes and hit Allison with a pillow, just because.
That night sleep didn't come right away. Lydia lay in bed listening to Allison's slow, steady breathing, a comfort in itself, and looked out the window at the waxing half moon. She thought about that night's mission, whether Erica would prove to be a bigger problem than they could handle. She hoped not; she didn't need another failure on her record. Probably, Erica would just be a pain in the ass until Lydia and Allison could get her straightened out.
Lydia wondered if the moon looked the same in London.
Allison snuffled, and Lydia came back to the present. She thought of Scott, giving up a night with his fiancee to her best friend, and that Stiles probably only left because Allison had assured him that Lydia wouldn't be alone. She closed her eyes and let the love she could feel from her friends anchor her, and pull her down into sleep.
"So why did you stick me with this bunch of squares, again?" Erica asked.
"You know why, and they're not squares," Derek replied.
"Whatever," Erica said, and blew her straw wrapper at him.
They were at the diner on a Tuesday morning, the day they both had off that week. The first night out in the field with her new team had only been the Saturday before and, well, fuck that Lydia Martin, basically.
"Don't be a child," Derek said.
"Oh, come on. It's just some paper."
"I didn't mean that. I meant about your new team. You need to get along. Jesus, it's like, week two."
Erica slumped down in her chair. "Fine, fine," she said.
"I mean it," Derek said. "Take it seriously. I don't want to have to clean up your mess next week."
"Next week?" she asked.
"Yeah. The reorg—Kali's going back to the training unit. They've got some traumatized twins no one knows what to do with. And with Laura gone, Cora and Boyd and I are coming over to your side."
"Really?" Erica asked, and sat up at that. "Wait, you're working with Cora? Aren't you supposed to—"
"Yeah, well, with what's been going on, at least I know I can trust both of them," he said. "An exception has been made."
Erica raised her eyebrows. "That's worse than I thought."
"It's pretty bad. I have some things for your group debrief when I get there, actually."
"Any closer to figuring it out?" She glanced around, making sure there was no one close enough to hear.
"Not exactly. Which is why you have to behave yourself. Lydia's clean—things went down while she was out—and we're pretty sure that the mole, whoever they are, is behind whatever fucked up her mission, too."
Erica was still smarting from Lydia's scolding and not in the mood to be charitable, but even that stick-in-the-mud didn't deserve to have what was supposed to be a simple mission blown sky-high. Sure, a few missions on their side had been burned, but only in that vampires had already closed up shop by the time they got there. No one got hurt. "Heard anything about Jackson?"
Derek shrugged. "London seems to be treating him okay. Haven't heard anything bad, at least. Saw Danny the other day, though. I think the lab's good for him."
"Good," Erica said. "That's good."
"And maybe you should take it easy on Lydia, huh?"
"Okay." Erica nodded. "She was—the other night, I mean, she was pretty solid. I think if you didn't know, you wouldn't know."
"She's a strong one. I guess she gave it right back to you."
"How did you know that?"
"I have my ways." He grinned.
Erica made a face. "You're as bad as Kali," she said, and he laughed. "Get away from me with your happiness."
"Who would pay for your pancakes if I did?" he asked.
"Excuse me, I'm a modern wolf who can buy her own breakfast, thank you very much."
Derek just hummed.
"So," Erica said, trying to sound casual. "What do you hear from Laura?"
"Not a lot. No more than you probably. She's busy trying to integrate herself. Got a lot on her plate."
He looked at her over his coffee cup, his eyes glowing a little in the sunshine streaming into the window. "You're not still pouting about that, are you? You two broke up six months ago and you only went out for a few weeks in the first place."
"I'm not pouting." She popped half a sausage link into her mouth, tried not to think about that moment she thought she'd be able to go from being Hale pack to being Hale family, and the disappointment that came after she'd failed. "I've moved on."
"Sure you have," he replied, rolling his eyes. "Just don't move on to my other sister, okay? I don't need the drama."
"Things get incestuous pretty fast when everywolf's bisexual," Erica said.
"Yeah, well, try not to make that literal, for my sake?"
"Cora's not single anyway," Erica said. "Didn't you know?"
Derek scowled. "Not Boyd? Laura's barely been gone a week!"
"No, not Boyd," Erica said, not needing the reminder that her first ex had gotten together with her second ex. "Isaac. Jeez, Derek, they were both staying in your loft. You didn't notice the looks?"
"God of course not, because you were giving someone some looks of your own, weren't you?"
"Remember when I said we're trying to keep it quiet?" he said. "So when I come over—"
"No teasing. It's cool. I can wait until off hours."
"Fine, so long as you get along with Lydia and Allison. I'm serious, Erica. There's too much actual shit going on for anyone to let you get away with the level of bullshit you're used to."
"I got it the first time, Derek," Erica said.
"Good," he said. Then, a bit overly casually, he asked, "So how's Scotty the Wonder Alpha?"
Erica happily went with the change of topic. "He's kind of like a puppy, or he looks like one, and then suddenly he's all serious business and sneaking you past some vamps. They don't even notice him."
"They can't smell him," Derek said. "He could be in their nest and they wouldn't even know it."
"Yep," Derek said. "It's no coincidence that all this shit started going down once your Robin made himself a Red-Eye."
"Bitterness doesn't suit you, Derek. I think you've been spending too much time with Peter."
Derek fidgeted. "Maybe," he said.
"Then I'm glad you're coming over to our side where I can keep an eye on you. He fucks with your head, dude."
"He's my uncle, and don't call me dude."
"Doesn't matter. Besides, you need to get along with your new team. I don't want to have to be cleaning up after you."
"Shut up," he said, and threw his napkin at her.
"Look, I will if you will?" she asked.
He nodded. "Okay. Shake on it?"
"How very human of you," she said, extending her hand.
"I try to blend in," he said, shaking it. "Part of the job."
Back at Alliance HQ on Wednesday morning, Stiles nearly ran Lydia down as she walked to her desk.
"All hands meeting, five minutes," he said as he zoomed by.
"What's up?" she shouted after him.
He turned around, walking backwards. "Dunno, but Dad is freaked out," he said, then turned back around just in time to not run into someone else.
Once again there were new faces at the briefing table, from the Hale side of the Alliance. She nodded at Derek, and was glad to see that her usual chair next to Allison was vacant. Erica, who was sitting across from her and next to Derek, gave her a little wave. Lydia thought it might be sarcastic, but she waved back all the same. Be the bigger woman, and all.
Stiles came in with an armful of folders, John behind him, and the door was closed.
"Good, good, I see everyone's here. So the big announcement you're expecting: with what's been going on we're consolidating teams. Derek and Cora Hale and Vernon Boyd will be joining us from the Hale end of things, make Erica and Isaac feel a little more like home."
Everyone nodded their greetings. "Glad to be here, John," Derek said.
"We'll need you, Derek. Because the actual big announcement, and I hate to say this, is Deucalion is back."
Lydia's eyes widened.
"Sucks to be us," Stiles said.
John peered at him. "Have a little faith, kiddo."
"He's not a god," Boyd said. "He's just a wolf who decided to go to the other side."
"He's not a wolf anymore," Cora said, her voice harsh and flat. "Turning takes care of that. Burns everything out of you."
Lydia saw Erica involuntarily shudder, and admittedly, it was a horrible thought.
"So, we have even more urgency to find that damned mole," John said.
"No offense," Lydia said, "but has anyone looked into Peter Hale?"
"No offense taken," Cora said. "We can't stand him, either."
Derek looked down at the table, silent, but looked deeply uncomfortable.
"What makes you suggest him?" John asked.
"He's creepy?" Scott said.
"He's manipulative?" Stiles added.
Derek cleared his throat. "He was inappropriate with a trainee and now he can't train anymore," he said. "It's not on his regular record, but …"
"That was me," Lydia said, and everyone stared at her. "I was that trainee. And he is creepy, and manipulative, and power-seeking, obviously. So that's why I'm suggesting him."
Cora made eye contact, and then said, "I'm very sorry that happened."
"Not your fault," Lydia said. "Either of you."
Derek glanced at Allison, and then back at Lydia. "No, I suppose not."
John grunted. "Now that we've got that squared away, any other suggestions?"
"Harris in the lab?" Stiles asked.
"Stiles," John said, rolling his eyes.
"No, hear me out. He knows ahead of time about nearly all the missions, he already gave information to Kate Argent when that whole thing went down—"
"He was tricked into it," Scott said. "You just think he's an asshole."
"Well, yeah, but that doesn't exonerate him," Stiles replied. "I'm just saying, Danny's still an agent even if he isn't in the field."
John sighed. "Look, I'll talk to Danny, see if he can keep an eye out. Okay?"
Stiles put up his hands. "That's all I'm asking."
"All right. Anyone have any other suggestions?"
Erica sat forward in her chair. "I was thinking. We know it isn't Lydia because missions on our side got burned and she wouldn't have had that knowledge, but what if she did?"
"What do you mean?" John asked.
"Well, wouldn't what happened to her team make the perfect cover?" Erica cleared her throat, actually seemed nervous, something Lydia would never have expected. At least, she wasn't making eye contact with Lydia or anyone else in the room other than John. "Burn your own mission, but make sure everyone walks away—far away, so the people who've been able to observe you the closest won't be able to keep watching you. Make sure events happen while you're on leave supposedly rehabbing. By the time you come back, it's like you've created your own alibi."
Allison pursed her lips. "Lydia would never do that."
"I didn't mean—"
"I think she's right," Lydia interrupted, looking at Erica. "If I weren't me, I'd find myself pretty damned suspicious."
Erica made eye contact, looked surprised, and then relaxed slightly.
Lydia turned to her friend. "But thanks for your loyalty, Allison."
"Of course," Allison said.
"So who's like Lydia?" Cora asked.
Isaac said, "Kali. Her team is broken up and she's back to training, and she could probably find out whatever she wanted to from Blake."
Derek pressed his mouth shut and sighed heavily through his nose, his eyes on the table. "Laura. Not that I think so, but, she fits."
Erica looked stricken. "Maybe this isn't such—"
"No, it is," Derek looked up at her, nodding. "It is."
"Well, if that's the list?" John asked, and when he was answered with silence he continued. "Right, so Lydia's team will be on Deucalion surveillance—"
"Why them?" Boyd asked.
"Because Deucalion has enough history with the Hales that even though he's not a wolf anymore he can smell a Hale a mile away. And I'm not letting him get anywhere near Scott if I can help it. Your team will look into Kali and talk to Danny about Harris, and Stiles's team will look into Laura and Peter. Everyone got that?"
Nods and "yeps" came from around the table.
"Good. Get out of here." As they all stood up to leave, John called out, "Oh, and Reyes?"
Erica turned around. "Yes, sir?"
"That was good reasoning."
"Thank you, sir," she said, smiling.
"But when I say surveillance, I mean just surveillance. Don't get close no matter what he's up to, and if you want to go in, you call in for approval and backup. Got that?"
Erica sobered. "Yes, sir. I got it."
"That goes for you too, Lahey. Derek and I have discussed this and I understand that Kali let some things slide but on this side of the Alliance we like our convictions to stick."
"Yes, sir," Isaac said.
"All right, then," he said, waving them out of the room.
Out in the main office Lydia heard Erica calling her name, and turned to her.
Once again, Erica seemed to be having a little trouble with eye contact. "I just wanted to say thanks for backing me up in there."
Lydia crossed her arms. "You were right. When you're right, I'll always back you up. When you're wrong, I'll tell you why you're wrong."
Now Erica did look at Lydia directly. "Straightforward, good. I am, too."
"So I've seen."
Allison came up to them. "I think we all are. It'll make us a good team. Should we get going?"
Erica turned to her, and smiled. "Definitely."
Erica sat in the driver's seat of the nondescript Ford they were using for the stakeout, trying to stare out the window and not at Lydia, who was in the passenger seat with her legs tucked up under her. A dark scarf hid her red hair, and while she looked like she was texting or maybe taking a selfie, she was actually watching the proceedings across the street through the lens of her phone camera. She wrinkled her nose.
"Ugh that smell. How can you stand it?"
"It's really not so bad." Erica shrugged. Cars usually smelled like something, and better grease and ketchup than any number of other things.
The pheromones she was getting off Lydia, for example. Or maybe it was just perfume.
They were on day three of following Deucalion around town, and the easy conversation had run out back on day one. But Erica liked the sniping; it kept her sharp, and reminded her how getting involved with team members generally ended.
"This is why I don't get fast food on stakeouts."
Erica scowled, but put the bags in the back. "Didn't hear any complaints while you were devouring that barbecue chicken sandwich."
"I didn't say it wasn't good. But I still think sushi would have been better."
"Yeah, fish and soy sauce, definitely less stinky."
Lydia rolled her eyes. "We should have sent the trash out with Allison, anyway."
"Probably." Erica scooted deeper into the driver's seat.
The one good thing about staking out a vamp was that they really couldn't go out during the day, so if you had good blackout curtains you could go home, catch some sleep, not need to go in shifts. Not that this made staring at an apartment building from across the street any less boring, and since Erica was the wolf it was on her to spot any movement; Lydia needed the enhancement of the specially modified camera lens to see in the low light of the dark street.
"Why couldn't he live downtown?" Erica asked. "Then we could just sit across the street in a diner or something, instead of this alley."
Lydia shrugged. "I assumed you wolves all lived in the lofts they made out of these old warehouses."
"That's just Derek. I rent a little house near the preserve."
"Closer to the forest. I'm sure that's good for you."
Erica had an excellent retort on the tip of her tongue, really she did, but then Allison opened the back door.
"Brought coffee! Anything yet?"
"Nope!" Lydia took the offered cup. "Guess he's a late sleeper."
Erica was just taking her first sip--blessed, blessed elixir--when she saw the flash across the street. She put her cup in the carrier, waiting a beat, because it could have been a werewolf or any of the other shifters with eyeshine. But no, it was Deucalion all right, though he wore a black knit cap that hid his blond hair.
"Hang on," she said. They waited for his car and driver to pull up to the front of the building, pick him up, and then move down the street before starting the engine and rolling out, quietly.
There were enough people around that they could stay a car or two behind as he ran errands—bank, drug store, dry cleaning.
Sitting outside Target, Erica felt bored all over again. "Talk about the banality of evil."
"That isn't what Arendt meant by that phrase," Lydia said, shaking her head.
"Oh god, of course you've actually read it."
"Some of us read things other than comic books, sweetie."
"Like Nicholas Sparks novels?"
Lydia sputtered. "Looking at someone else's Kindle is a violation of privacy."
"Next time don't leave it laying around the car unlocked."
Allison cleared her throat. "If you two are done flirting, I think that's him coming out the door now."
Erica started up the car and tried very hard not to smile. "If this is how she flirts, I'd hate to see her tear someone apart."
"Believe me," Allison said, "the latter is a lot more entertaining for the rest of us."
Out of the corner of her eye Erica caught Lydia giving Allison one of those looks, as if to say that she hadn't appreciated the comment. Erica felt that familiar warmth in her chest, and realized that she might as well give in. She wasn't going to be able to fight this one. If it was a disaster, well, at least Lydia wasn't pack, so the rejection wouldn't be so terrible.
Of course, Lydia also wasn't pack, so acceptance wasn't so meaningful, either.
They made a turn onto one of the roads leading out of town and Allison said, "Oh, I know where we're going: that dive they all inexplicably love."
Erica shuddered. She hated that shitty no-name diner with its old-fashioned booths and huge windows looking out over the highway; it reminded her of the place Henry and Jimmy are sitting in, in Goodfellas, when they find out about Tommy.
(Okay, that was Stiles who made that parallel, but once seen it could not be unseen.)
"Maybe they have really good food," Erica said, smirking. "You don't know; you've never eaten there."
Allison made a face. "Blood sausage? Blood pudding? Or is that the same thing?"
"Maybe they have it in bottles on the table instead of ketchup," Erica replied.
Allison cracked up at that. Erica glanced at Lydia, who was rolling her eyes but smiling a little and okay. Maybe she could make her laugh.
Looking back toward the diner, she spotted a familiar face. "Uh oh."
"Which one?" Lydia pulled her phone back out.
"Big guy, walking in through the door? Ennis Flint."
"Looks awfully muscly to be a vamp," Lydia said.
"That's because he's a werewolf," Erica replied.
Allison said, "No wonder they all tensed up."
"Not Deucalion," Lydia said.
Through the big windows they watched Ennis make his way to Deucalion's table. They shook hands and then Deucalion held up one hand. The vampires around him noticeably calmed as the two creatures sat down.
"Wow," Lydia said. "Wherever Deucalion's been, he must have learned some tricks if he can get the rest of the vamps not to mind a wolf in their midst."
"That's no good for us," Allison said.
"Deucalion working with a wolf like Ennis Flint?" Erica said. "Nope, that's no good at all."
Nothing more happened that evening. The team followed Deucalion as he made appearances at a few other places that catered to vampires—a coffee place, a bookstore, a bar. They watched him try on black frock coats in a boutique for what seemed like hours before he finally settled on the most ostentatious one.
"Typical," Lydia said, shaking her head.
All the time, they were doing what research they could with the laptop in the back—public databases, that sort of thing. They'd called in when they saw Ennis, and John agreed it was time to brief the rest of the teams, so once they were off Deucalion watch they really only had time for a cat nap before heading back into HQ. But Lydia was too restless to sleep—caffeine, probably, or at least she hoped. She sat in front of the TV mindlessly changing channels until it was seven am and a decent enough time to call a friend.
"Heyyy Lydia," Stiles said. "What's up?"
"You are, I assume," she said.
"Yeah, yeah, I'm up," Stiles replied. "No worries. Something wrong?"
"What makes you say that?"
"You've never called me first thing in the morning before?"
"True." Lydia sighed, but for once Stiles wasn't filling the silence with chatter, which was disconcerting. "So, you're friends with Erica?"
"Yeah, yeah, we went through training together. Why? You having trouble with her?"
"No, no. I think we've sorted ourselves out, the three of us. The team, I mean."
"Good, good, that's good."
"So, I was wondering." She paused and cleared her throat because this was ridiculous. The whole thing was ridiculous. "Just, what she's like when she's not on the job?" As soon as the words came out of her mouth, she buried her face in her hands.
"Mostly the same, I guess?" Stiles said. "She's really just tough on the outside but that's pretty obvious, I think."
"Yeah I got that." Erica had made enough veiled references to having been bullied at school, never mind her reluctance to speak up in the weekly briefings, for Lydia to work that out.
"Other than that, mostly the same. Determined, doesn't give up easily. A little reckless. Really funny when she wants to be."
"Yeah, she is."
"Wait—oh my god!"
"This explains it!"
"I have no idea what you're talking about, Stiles."
"The e-card I got from Allison yesterday that said, 'sorry for conducting the beginning of our relationship right in front of you.' You two have totally been stakeout flirting, haven't you?"
"I don't know where you get that idea," Lydia said. "Or Allison, for that matter."
"If you're not going to be helpful—"
"No, no, I'm sorry. Really, I'm sorry. Dude, just go for it. She's cool."
"I was merely requesting some information on a new team member," Lydia said.
"Sure, of course," Stiles said, in that placating way that made Lydia want to hit him over the head.
"And I'll see you later this morning."
"You got something?"
"Yep. Or I should say, it was really Erica who saw it."
"She's good at what she does," Stiles said. "That's why I was so mad at her, that night at the club. She charges in, sure, but she doesn't disobey orders. Not usually."
"Well, I think we've stopped that. So, thanks."
"And if you could—if you could not tell anyone I called?"
She expected Stiles to laugh at her again, or at least tease, but he did neither. "Of course," he said, sounding nothing but sincere.
"Thanks," she said sighing.
Once they hung up she went to wash the grime off; she always felt gross after staying up all night in a car on surveillance. There were butterflies in her stomach, but that was probably just indigestion thanks to that barbecue chicken sandwich.
Still, it would do her good to wear something pretty, put her hair in a style other than a bun under a big scarf. Dressing for herself always made her feel better.
And if there were any side benefits, well, she wouldn't mind.
Erica always felt a little off after a nap, never mind a week of nocturnal living, and her shower didn't help as much as she'd needed it to. At least, that's what she was blaming for putting in a morning call to Stiles.
"Hey man, what's up?" she said.
"Hey what's up? Any luck on the stakeout?"
"Yeah, actually, we're coming in this morning. But that wasn't why I was calling."
"Somehow I didn't think so," he muttered. "So what can I help you with?"
"You used to have a thing for Lydia, right?"
Stiles laughed nervously. "Not any more! Nope, ol' Stiles has wandered off to greener pastures!"
"I know that. I said 'used to.'"
"Anyway, I was just calling because … I was just wondering about Lydia?"
"Seriously?" Stiles asked, sounding aggravated.
"What?" Erica asked.
"Nothing, nothing. Sorry. What about her?"
"I was just—I don't know much about banshees other than the standard school stuff and I know she's dated a wolf or two, but I wasn't sure about her, you know. I don't think banshees are like werewolves."
"You mean with the casual bisexuality? No, actually banshees are usually all about that Sapphic love stuff, being all ladies. Lydia finding a few fellas to rock her world is more on the unusual side. Why?"
"Well," Erica said, and then felt suddenly shy.
"If you want to get all up in that business, you totally should," Stiles said.
"Yeah. If she had a hate on for you, believe me, you'd know it. Lydia's not shy about stuff like that."
"No, she's not shy at all." Erica sighed. "Thanks. Sorry that was kind of junior high."
"Hey, man, I'm willing to do whatever I can do to keep other people from circling each other for months before doing anything."
Erica laughed then, realizing why Stiles had been so weird when she mentioned his crush on Lydia. "Yeah you wouldn't know anything about that."
"Not a thing."
"I'd ask you to say hello to your companion for me but they've heard every word of this conversation, haven't they?"
Erica laughed. "See you later, Stiles."
The nice thing about wearing black boots and red lipstick nearly every day is that no one noticed when you did so for reasons. But Erica knew, and she suspected that would be enough.
She was doubly glad of it when she got to the office and Lydia, who was looking particularly fetching now that she could let her hair loose on the world again, said, "I think Erica should take them through it."
Lydia walked into the office that morning feeling scrubbed clean and mind clear despite her lack of sleep. She felt as though she'd been in a fog since she'd returned, drifting along without much purpose, but now she had the old spring back in her step. Having a real case to sink her teeth into was most of it, but admitting to herself that Erica was part of that, too, helped her put it all into perspective. Well, after that appalling lapse into high school behavior with that call to Stiles, but nobody's perfect.
Erica was looking good, too, walking into the main room with long, confident strides, which gave Lydia an idea.
"I think Erica should take them through it." Lydia said.
"Me?" Erica replied, and did not look particularly amenable to the idea. "I assumed you always did it."
Lydia shrugged. "You need more confidence with it, and practice makes perfect."
"It's not like school," Allison said, nodding. "They actually want to hear what you have to say."
"Well." Erica shuffled her papers nervously, then took a deep breath. "Okay, I'll do it."
"Good," Lydia said, nodding, and led the way into the meeting room.
Erica sat at the keyboard and Lydia sat opposite, watching Erica pulling up the computer files as the others came in and sat down. She took a deep breath.
"All right, what have you got for us?" John asked.
Erica threw a few photos up on the screen. "Deucalion's been keeping a low profile since getting back into town," she said. "The only known vamp feeding hangouts he's visited is Matt's Diner on 6th and the fetish club downtown."
"Animals and consenting humans," Boyd said.
"Very law abiding," Derek added.
"Exactly," Erica said. "But yesterday who should slide into the booth with him but this man." She opened another photograph. "Our old friend Ennis Flint."
Isaac sat up. "We helped Kali put him away three years ago. When did he get out?" he asked.
"Last month," Lydia replied.
"Around the same time that new club opened, and just a little while before Deucalion came back to town," Erica added.
"Wait, how can he be involved with the club?" Stiles asked.
"He owns the land," Erica replied, pulling out a copy of the deed from her stack of papers. "The club itself is leased by a shell corporation, which is how they got their liquor license."
"What was he in for?" Stiles asked.
"Remember the Yin-Yang Club?" Boyd asked.
"Oh my god." Stiles grimaced. "He was the werewolf front?"
Erica nodded. "It was supposed to foster cooperation between wolves and vamps," she said, "but it was actually just a nest and one night they finally went into a feeding frenzy. Not pretty."
"How the hell did he get three years?" Scott asked. "I thought most of the creatures involved in that mess were put up for longer stretches than that."
Isaac shook his head. "Said he trusted the wrong vamps. I've never seen Kali so mad; she and Blake had a giant fight after that sentencing hearing. But the judge believed him, so that was that."
"You think he's up to his old tricks?" John asked.
"Could be," Erica said. "His involvement plus the meeting with Deucalion is enough to get us a warrant, anyway."
"Certainly explains why Deucalion is back," Cora said. "His fingerprints were all over the Yin-Yang Club but we couldn't pin anything on him."
Lydia nodded. "Which is why we should go slow. Conspiracies take time to uncover."
Erica blinked at her. "Actually, I advocate going in as soon as possible."
"And risk losing Deucalion again?" Lydia asked.
"We lost lives going slow on the Yin-Yang Club. You want to make that trade-off?"
"I'm with Erica," Stiles said. "Worst case, we spook him and he has to start over. Best case, we catch him with his hand in the cookie jar."
Lydia turned to him, incredulous. Erica wanting to rush in was one thing, but Stiles?
"John?" Derek asked.
They all turned to John, whose eyes were fixed on the deed. He cleared his throat. "It'll take a couple of days for the warrant to come through," he said. "Let's take this week to see what else we can turn up, but plan on going in this weekend. Can't imagine they'd be able to get up to much of anything before then. But Erica's right—we have enough to get Ennis out of there now, and if that means Deucalion's out with him, at least we'll have stopped whatever they're planning."
Lydia turned her head away, hoping she could hide her anger. She didn't want to seem insubordinate, but she was fuming. It was Tuesday morning; an operation of this sort needed far more planning than the five days they'd have before Saturday night.
"Lydia, you okay with that?" he asked.
She turned around, smiling. "Whatever you say, sir."
"Good," he replied, nodding, and hey, at least she hadn't lost her knack for hiding her anger.
Then she looked up at Erica, and thought maybe she hadn't hidden anything at all.
Erica half-listened to the other teams talking about what they'd been up to over the last few days, trying to narrow down who was the departmental mole. She meant to pay all the attention; after all, they'd listened to her presentation even though she was nervous as anything, and the entire direction of the investigation was based on her own suggestion. But she was distracted, as she was more and more lately, by Lydia.
Lydia was taking notes, seemingly more attentive, but Erica could tell that she was furious and wondered if the rest of the team didn't notice, or was used to ignoring Lydia's moods in a way Erica wasn't yet. Erica glanced around the table and no one else was paying any mind; as close and protective as Allison was of Lydia, she couldn't imagine that her other teammate would miss how upset Lydia was. But then, Lydia didn't seem the type to respond well to coddling.
She tuned back in just in time to catch the tail end of what Derek was saying about Kali.
"We can't connect her in any way to what happened with Lydia's old team," Derek said. "They hadn't needed to get any warrants yet, or contact Blake at all."
"It was supposed to be an assessment," Lydia said. "They weren't supposed to know we were there. That's how they got the jump on us."
Erica realized, now, why both Lydia and Stiles had been so upset with her and Isaac at the club that first night—it was the same sort of mission as Lydia's. Kali had only told them a vague story about a routine mission gone haywire, but none of the details.
"We can rule Laura out, too," Isaac said, and Erica knew she wasn't the only one around the table who was relieved to hear that. "There wouldn't have been reason for John to talk to her about it, and we can't find any other level of contact. Peter, on the other hand, definitely knew."
Lydia perked up at that. "From whom?"
"Jackson," Stiles said. "It was in his debrief."
"They must have got into it again," Allison said, shaking her head.
"Again?" Lydia asked.
"Whenever they'd see each other," Scott explained, "like, in the gym or whatever? Peter would be an asshole and Jackson would be an asshole back."
"About what?" Lydia asked, narrowing her eyes.
Scott sighed and threw up a hand. "About you, all right? Peter knew it would get a rise out of Jackson if he was an asshole about you."
"He probably thought it was funny," Cora said, putting her head in her hands.
Derek, sitting next to Erica, clenched his jaw and sighed heavily through his nose, his eyes on the table. Erica put one hand on his shoulder, and he calmed just slightly.
"Jackson always did choose exactly the wrong time to be overprotective," Lydia said. "So Peter said something to him, and Jackson told him about the assessment?"
"Pretty much," Isaac said. "He says they were alone in the gym, and talking low enough that even a werewolf wouldn't have been able to overhear unless they were in the gym, too. And as you said, it was a routine assessment—no reason not to tell Peter."
"No reason except that it might have compromised the mission," Lydia said with a sarcastic smile. "That—I wish he'd told me; I could have put a stop to it."
Allison shook her head. "Not without talking to Peter, which no one wanted you to have to do. Especially Jackson."
"Still," Lydia said.
John held up a hand. "All right, so Peter Hale is still on the list. What about Harris?"
"Every single one of the compromised missions has included either an equipment request or needed some analysis done pre-mission," Boyd said. "So Harris was absolutely in a position to have prior knowledge of all of them."
"Told ya," Stiles said.
"Don't get ahead of yourself, kid," John said. "What about the other folks in the lab?"
"Danny says they only really know about their own areas of expertise," Boyd said. "They talk but they don't share details about missions. Only Harris knows everything."
"Hmm," John said. "Well, no reason for Peter to know what we're up to, and let's keep all information to anyone outside this room on a need-to-know basis. That includes Kali, Laura, and anyone else even if we've already cleared them. Understood?"
There were nods all around the room.
"I'll talk to Blake about the warrants myself, in person." He looked up at the clock. "In fact if I go down to the courthouse I should catch her on a noon recess if she isn't in her office. We'll reconvene at three pm this afternoon for planning, and bring all the information you can find on Ennis, Deucalion, and that club of theirs. When we get back together we'll figure out the holes in our knowledge that need filling before we go in on Saturday." He paused. "Well, go!"
Lydia was the first to leave the room, with Stiles and Allison hot on her heels. Erica moved to follow, but Scott held her back.
"Let them go," he said. "They can take care of her. Wanna come with me to the lab?"
Cora had since slid over next to Derek, who was still sitting at the table, and they were talking, low. Erica looked to Boyd, who nodded. They had this, but Erica still put a hand on Derek's shoulder as she passed him, and he put his hand over hers, patting it before letting it go.
In the outer office Isaac was at his desk, glancing up when he saw Scott and Erica. "Hey. I was just pulling up all the schematics and our notes from the other week."
"Cool," Scott said. "We're running down to the lab, putting in requests to replenish a few things."
Isaac nodded. Then he tilted his head toward the meeting room. "They're …"
"Yep," Erica replied, and then gestured as if beckoning them out of the room. "And when they …"
"Got it," Isaac said. He held out his own hand and grasped Erica's, briefly, and then Scott's. "See you later."
As they walked to the elevator Scott said, "Wow, I know the Hale pack is nonverbal but that was like, super nonverbal."
Erica blinked. The merger of the two sides of the operation had come so close before going out for surveillance that she'd still been feeling somewhat isolated from her pack, enough that she was slightly startled to hear Scott specifically mention their closeness. "You guys touch plenty."
"Yeah, but we also talk a lot."
"Well, Stiles," Erica said, and they laughed.
"But Lydia, too," he added. "She doesn't like to let anything go unsaid."
"No," Erica said as the doors slid closed. "I guess she doesn't."
Lydia left the meeting as quickly as she could, and made her way to the roof. She sensed that she was being followed and hoped that her pursuers would give up the chase, get the hint that she wanted to be alone.
But as they were Stiles and Allison, no such luck.
"So, want to explain what happened back there?" Stiles asked.
"Differences of opinion happen all the time in team work." She shrugged. "It's John's call. You won't see me being insubordinate, if that's what you're worried about."
He huffed. "That isn't what I meant and you know it. You have a problem with the mission and I want to know what it is."
There was no one on the roof but them, and she could see that the thick access door was shut, but she still leaned in closer. "We don't have nearly enough time to prepare an operation of this size! There are so many variables—"
"Are you kidding me?" Stiles shook his head. "Five full days is plenty of time to plan an operation in a location we've already checked, inside and out, against two known enemies, with a team of nine! Dad will be in the van and you know Kali's not going to stay out of it; now that we've cleared her there's no reason for her to. We've gone in with a lot less before."
"Yes, and look how that's turned out."
Stiles and Allison looked at each other, and damn them anyway for having been on a team together, for being able to do that. Damn them for following her up here, too.
They must have decided on Stiles, as he was the one that spoke. "Look, I don't know how you got past Morrell—okay, I kind of do—but you have got to stop blaming yourself for what went down with your old team. That mission didn't fail because you were unprepared. It failed because we have a fucking traitor in the fucking building!"
She knew the truth of that, which is how she'd passed her psych eval, but she couldn't stop the thoughts that came up in meetings, in the car on the stakeout, in the night when she was trying to sleep. "But if we'd been more prepared, had more contingency plans—"
"No!" Stiles shouted. "Actually, the opposite! The more you'd planned ahead, the more the mole would have known, and the more they would have been able to use that against you! Hell, half the reason Kali's missions were never seriously compromised is because she wings it so much that there's nothing to compromise. And I've seen you change it up in the field; you're a brilliant tactician and you know it. But you've let them into your head and now you're second-guessing yourself all over the place."
Lydia felt tears stinging her eyes and blinked them back because she was not going to cry. Maybe it was just the wind on the roof, or just that she hated it when Stiles was right. Luckily he rarely was when they argued, but when he was, it was usually about her. Damn him. Out of the corner of her eye she could see that concerned look on Allison's face and just—damn it.
Stiles put his hand on her shoulder, and his scowl was softer now. "We need you, Lydia. We need you in the present."
She pulled her lips between her teeth, forced herself to make eye contact, to take in his concern for her. "Okay." She nodded. "Okay."
He smiled then. "Okay." He moved his hand to the side of her neck and kissed her on the cheek, stroked it with his thumb. "I'm going to go back down but I'm around, whenever."
"I know." She smiled, too, or at least tried to.
"Cool." And then he was walking away, back to the door, and gone.
Lydia turned to Allison. "Have I really been that bad?"
She shrugged. "The only person you've really been your old self around is Erica, actually."
"Did you really send that email to Stiles?"
Allison laughed. "Yeah, well, I thought he'd be amused that the shoe is on the other foot now."
"But do you think—is it a good idea?"
"Does it really matter? Anyway, it's like Stiles said: she keeps you in the present."
Lydia cocked her head, considering this.
"Just—can you wait until Sunday to fuck her, maybe?" Allison laughed, and Lydia laughed with her.
But it was true; she had decided that Erica was what she wanted, and once she focused on a goal—a very willing goal, that is—it was only a matter of time. "For you, of course."
"Thank you. So I'm going to …" She pointed at the door.
"I think I need just a few more minutes. But I can't believe I didn't bring my compact up here. How's the face?"
"It's fine. You're good."
"You know, I am," Lydia said, nodding.
Allison pulled her into a hug and at times like this it was nice to be short, to be able to bury her head in Allison's chest and close her eyes and just breathe for a moment, hold her friend very close.
Lydia did only spend a few more minutes up on the roof, enough time to pull herself back together inside as well as outside, get her shields back up. Beacon Hills generally wasn't much to look at—it wasn't like it had a real skyline—but in the soft light of an early spring morning, there was a dignified, old-fashioned beauty in its squat stone and clay buildings.
She was making her way back to her desk when she passed Danny in the hallway.
"Hey stranger!" he said, looking genuinely pleased to see her.
"Yeah, hey, I'm sorry I haven't—"
He waved his hand. "No, I get it. It's tough."
"Yeah. So how's working for Harris?"
Danny made a face. "Mostly Finstock actually runs the place. Harris just approves all the paperwork and goes to the ExComm meetings. Which is probably best."
Lydia pictured Finstock in a procedural meeting with John, Chris Argent and Melissa McCall and it didn't sound like a good idea to her, either. "Probably. But the lab?"
"It's amazing. There are requests but mostly they just let me build whatever tech I want. Having been in the field helps because I know what's needed; I know what kinds of things happen. But it's like I get to just play around and see what works. And I think I've done some good stuff."
Lydia nodded. "Like that night vision camera in my smartphone. Really came in handy on stakeout."
"Yeah? You guys should like, feel free to tell me what's working and what isn't so I can keep tweaking."
"Be careful who you say that to; I think Stiles would take any excuse."
"Maybe," Danny said cocking his head. "He's been better since I've come back, obviously."
She nodded; apparently Stiles had been going easy on Danny just as he had been with Lydia. Well, at least until today. "So, I heard from Jackson."
"Yeah he really likes his new team. A hunter and a techie; he said it was like being with me and Allison. Only, if I was a chick and she was a dude. The hunter even uses a bow and arrow."
"It's weird, isn't it? I bet there's Argent in him somewhere. Some kind of distant cousin."
"Probably." Danny paused. "We'll all be okay, Lydia."
She looked up at him and he was so sincere that she couldn't brush off the sentiment. "Yeah," she said. "I think we will be."
When Erica and Scott got to the lab Finstock was sitting up front.
"Hey, where's Danny?" Scott asked.
Finstock shrugged. "Wandered off, I don't know. Need something?"
"Eleven multi-frequency earpieces," Erica said. "Need them for Saturday."
"All right," Finstock said, pulling a form out of a slot to his left and placing it on a clipboard. "Exact nature of your mission?"
"What?" Scott asked. "We've never been asked that before. Why do you need to know?"
"New regs from on high or something. Gotta answer to get the gear." He tapped his pen against the clipboard. "Come on, I heard you're working on the Deucalion thing."
Scott's eyebrows went up. "Yeah, yeah, um, we're going in on his place."
"Like, his apartment? Downtown? Erica's team's been staking it out all week."
"You need an eleven-person crew at an apartment?" Finstock asked.
"Oh, no, there was another place you said he went?" He turned to Erica.
She tried to look innocent, which was strangely difficult. "Yeah, this clothing store he goes to all the time. We think he might be using it as a front. No one needs that many frock coats."
Finstock rolled his eyes. "Vamps. Okay, they'll probably be ready for you on Thursday. I think we have all your impressions on file."
"Cool, thanks man!" Scott replied, and he and Erica quickly fled back upstairs. They were silent in the hallway, even in the elevator, just glancing at each other, wide-eyed.
But as soon as they got back to their own offices, Erica had to say something. "Wow Scott, you're a really good liar."
"Can you say that when Stiles is listening? Because he keeps saying I suck."
"So you don't think there are new regs, do you?"
Scott shrugged. "Seemed kinda weird, didn't it? Figured, you can't be too careful."
"Who do you think it is?" Scott asked. "After listening to us this morning, I mean."
Erica cocked her head. "I wouldn't count Peter out yet. He's always been seriously creepy, even without what he did to Lydia. He keeps trying to get into Derek's head, too, make him as creepy and weird as Peter is. I think he thought with Laura in New York this was his chance? But now that we've merged, that will help Derek. Working with John will be good for him."
"Yeah, John's pretty awesome," Scott said, just a little louder than before, so Erica turned around and saw Derek walking toward them.
"Hey," she said.
He nodded his reply, and while he looked calmer than he had at the end of the meeting, he still didn't seem happy. He turned to Scott. "You should know, since it's your case, that my uncle has been trying to call me all morning, and now he's sent me an email asking me all kinds of questions about what I've been working on."
"Really?" Scott said. "Because you should know, since it's your case, that when we went down to get earpieces Finstock said Harris put in new regs that you need to give the lab mission details when you ask for equipment."
"Really?" Derek said, and it was his turn to raise his eyebrows. "That's strange. What did you say?"
"Well, he already knew about Deucalion so we told him we were going in on his apartment and some clothing store."
"Huh. Maybe I should lie, too. Throw him off."
"Maybe if something happens we'll figure out which one it is," Scott said. "If you tell him a different story."
Derek nodded. "Got anything, Erica?"
"He likes this bar, the Tick-Tock? Ends up there most nights."
"I think I can spin something out of that," Derek replied.
"Cool," Scott said. Then: "Hey, so, I mean, I really hope it isn't him."
"Yeah?" Derek asked.
"Yeah. He's a creep and stuff but he's still your uncle."
Derek blinked at him, then nodded slowly. "If it is him, I want to catch him."
"Of course," Erica said.
"But I hope it isn't him, too," Derek continued. "Because Stiles really likes being right."
Scott laughed, surprised, and Derek was smiling just the tiniest bit. Just then the elevator doors opened, revealing Stiles and Allison.
"Hey," Stiles said. "Looks like you're feeling better."
"How's Lydia?" Erica asked.
"Um—" Stiles began, but Allison put a hand on his shoulder.
"She'll be fine," she said, smiling. "She'll be back in a few minutes."
Derek beckoned the rest of the team over, and he, Scott and Erica filled them all in on the developments with Harris and Peter, and their plan to deceive them.
"We'll have to tell John," Boyd said. "But yeah, it's a good call, Scott."
"He's a great liar," Erica said.
"Apparently only when I'm not around," Stiles replied.
"Hey," said Lydia as she walked into the room. "Planning without me?"
"Not at all," Allison said. "Something else; we'll fill you in later."
"Good," she said. "Because I've been thinking about that little show Erica and Isaac like to put on for the vamps, and how we can use it to our advantage."
"Really?" Isaac said.
Lydia shrugged. "We've got a lot of different skill sets here. Need to figure out how to put them together."
"So you're in?" Erica asked.
"I was in when John made his decision," Lydia replied. "But I have reconsidered my initial objections. Perhaps they were overstated."
"Well, now that we're one big happy family again," Cora said, rolling her eyes, "maybe we can put the floor plans up on the big screen and get to work?"
Everyone bustled off then, to grab their information, but Erica paused to catch Lydia's eye.
"Sorry I didn't back you up, before," Lydia said.
Erica shrugged. "You said you'd tell me when I was wrong."
"Then, getting me that barbecue chicken sandwich? Definitely wrong."
And Erica had to laugh at that.
The key to the whole mission came on Thursday, when they were staring at the floor plan and photos for the hundredth time, and Boyd suddenly said, "Where is this room?" He pointed to a place on the plan that was blank, while the photos of the outside of the club clearly showed there was a room.
"Huh," Stiles said. He and Scott stared at each other; they were the only ones who'd been in the back that night, and Stiles only briefly.
Scott squinted at the floor plan again, counting under his breath. "There was a door that said 'Employees Only' but it was so close to the next one that I figured it was just a closet. I opened it, and it was pretty dark."
"But it must open out on the inside," Boyd said, and they traced from the door—which on the plan did indicate a narrow, janitor-style closet—and then beyond its back wall and out into the space that was clearly inside the outer walls of the club.
"Clever," Stiles said.
"We need to get into that room," Derek said.
"A room that's most likely full of vampires, and almost definitely Deucalion?" Cora asked. "Who can do that?"
All eyes turned to Scott. "Um," he said, and then smiled a little. "Guess I know what I'm doing Saturday night."
Once they had that goal, it didn't take long to put the plan together, and on the night they were more than ready. While the rest of them took up their positions in the club, and John, Kali and the local deputies waited outside, Scott let himself get chatted up by one of the vamps. Not that this was difficult; at least three likely ones had been circling him since he came into the room. Scott, being an alpha, could sniff them out and he let a tall approach him, buy him a cocktail.
"Amazing how innocent he can look when he wants to, isn't it?" Stiles said.
Allison growled, which got Cora cackling.
"All right, quiet on the mic," John said. "Let's have some professionalism, please."
Scott walked into the back hallway and they all held their breath until they heard him say, "Wow, who knew this room was even here?" and then, "Gosh, are they all vamps? Are you a vamp? Cool! Wow, who's that guy with the sunglasses?"
John hmphed. "Good, our friend Deucalion is right where he should be. Phase two, go," he said.
Lydia, who'd been chatting up the bartender, turned around in her chair. Erica and Isaac were getting into place to do their vampire-luring routine, with Derek on the lookout for strays and Cora and Boyd backing them up. Allison was up high, as usual, keeping her eye on the entire operation. Stiles was on the other side of the floor from Lydia, watching and waiting as she was.
Now that she knew what to look for—and the rest of them knew how to keep the situation safe—watching Erica and Isaac together was mostly fascinating from an academic standpoint. That girl playing it up on the stage wasn't her Erica—and when Lydia had started thinking of Erica that way she wasn't sure, as it was silly and definitely premature, but there it was—and her relationship to Isaac was pack-based, almost sibling-like, and not sexual. But the way the vampires reacted, slowly walking toward them as though they couldn't help themselves and letting their glamours slip as they did, it had to be magical. She wished they could test it. Would it work with any combination of wolves, or did they have to be with the same pack? They probably couldn't be alphas, but what about omegas that didn't have a formal allegiance to a pack, or betas newly turned?
Stiles broke into her thoughts. "Lydia, you're muttering," he said. "Get ready to go."
"Oh, sorry," she said, blinking, seeing the vamps that had crowded around Erica and Isaac.
Derek was dutifully herding the ones he found hiding in nooks and corners, who'd rush to the dance floor to avoid him and then be drawn to Erica and Isaac like moths to a flame. It had taken about twenty minutes to get the fifteen or so vampires to cluster near where Erica and Isaac danced on the stage.
"All yours," Isaac said.
"Got it," Stiles replied, and moved quickly to the permitter of the vampire circle, steadily walking around them and whispering as he went, until he reached Lydia on the other side. When they touched, Lydia added her energy to Stiles's and she could just see the slight shimmer of the field going up that would keep the vampires contained.
"Get them out," Lydia said.
Cora and Boyd wasted no time dashing in and snatching Erica and Isaac out from the middle of the vampires, whose reactions had been slowed just enough by whatever had entranced them to Erica and Isaac that the wolves were able to slip away. As the vampires turned to chase them they found themselves trapped, and in their anger and frustration dropped their glamours entirely, revealing themselves as snarling, pale, angry monsters. The humans who'd been standing near them recoiled.
"We're good," Erica said.
"Phase three," John said. "See you in there."
Lydia left the shielding in Stiles's capable hands—with the size of it he'd needed a boost from her to get it up, but he could maintain it just fine solo—and headed into the back hallway. Allison was staying behind to back up Stiles, and John and the BHPD were coming in to clear out the humans. All the wolves were making their way down the hallway.
"I'm heading to the office," Kali told Derek. "If I don't see Ennis there I'll join you in the nest."
The hall was chaotic, with humans running in both directions, but the space in front of the door to the nest was calm, likely charmed to keep humans from noticing. It was not unlike the charm Stiles had put on Lydia herself, to keep her from being an object of interest. They were running out of time, though; Scott had been putting off getting a nibble from his vampire date for the last five minutes and was running out of excuses.
It was nothing for the betas to take out the two guards just inside the door and let Lydia slip into the room. Boyd was just behind her, hovering near the curtain that separated the closet from the nest beyond, keeping one eye on her as she walked inside. The rest of the wolves huddled in the closet, waiting and listening.
She looked around, letting her eyes adjust to the dim light, and spotted Scott in the corner near a small bar. They made eye contact and he nodded, then looked alarmed.
Lydia turned, and there was Deucalion, walking toward her like he could see her. "Well, well," he said. "I've been waiting for you to stop by. I've seen you following me all over town with your little friends. Interested in vampires, are we?"
And then Lydia did what she'd come into that room to do. She screamed.
"Go, go, go!" Derek said. Scott had been keeping up a commentary of the nest, giving them information as well as reassuring them that his cover still held. The vamps were going to outnumber them almost two to one, and there were ten or so humans to keep track of, but they had four betas and two alphas plus Kali in reserve. They were well-trained and well-prepared, even more so with the advantage Lydia had just given them.
Erica dashed into the room with her fellow betas, Derek bringing up the rear. It was Boyd's job to get Lydia out of the way, while the rest of them herded the humans, all in various stages of vampire-induced catatonia, behind the small bar and out of the way of the fight. The vamps would only be incapacitated by Lydia's scream for five minutes at the most—the frequency disturbed their inner ear, leaving them stunned. Scott was helping, too, while Derek stood near the door in case he'd missed any vamps during the earlier part of the operation.
Nests always gave Erica the creeps; she'd only been in three nest fights so far in her time with the Alliance and still hadn't gotten over the chill that came over her when she walked into one. She'd never worked with a banshee before, though, so she wasn't used to this buffer to take care of the humans. Usually they'd break in to find the vampires smugly suckling on their humans, careful to take just enough blood to leave them in a malleable stupor, but well beyond the legal limit of consensual blood-taking.
The humans stared at her, unconcerned as she carry-pushed them away from their vampire and off to the bar. That in itself was proof that they'd been pushed beyond their limit; an aware and consenting human was rarely interested in leaving their vampire's side, wanting more of the orgasmic-like rush that came from a shallow feeding. But these humans had dead eyes and pale skin that was clammy and cold to the touch, and they shuffled like the movie zombies they inspired.
Of course Deucalion was the first to come to his senses, and Isaac, who was carrying out the last of the humans, hopped to get behind him before he was spotted. But Derek loomed in front of him, taking the attention upon himself.
"So the Hales have a pet banshee now? How charming." Deucalion smiled at them. "Won't help you much now."
"I don't know," Derek said. "I think we'll do all right. Especially if you come along peacefully."
The other vampires were shaking their heads, getting their senses back, but they hesitated, fixed on Deucalion, apparently waiting for his signal.
"Now why would I do something like that?" he asked. "An alpha, four betas and a banshee that can't even fight against nine vampires and me?"
Scott was walking toward them, slowly. "I thought vampires were good at counting," he said, and let his fangs grow, his claws extend, and his eyes go red.
Deucalion looked at him, and then his eyes widened. "You!" he said, pointing.
"Looks like you're outnumbered now," Derek said, cocking his head.
Deucalion charged the alphas, and just like that, the fight was on in earnest. The other vamps surged forward, and it was up to Erica and the other betas to keep them too busy to help Deucalion. Lydia was behind the bar with the humans, knives at the ready; even though she didn't have another scream in her she could still make noise if she had any trouble. Besides, Erica knew all too well that Lydia could handle herself one-on-one.
Erica could, too, of course; hand-to-hand was her specialty and vampires were actually kind of shit at close fighting, other than being able to avoid blows. She was currently handling two vamps at once, charging her from both sides, and had to keep throwing them off of her back. It was tough work but she was gaining on them, connecting more swipes of her claws with each pass, more kicks with each leap.
She could sense the fight around her, could see Derek and Scott working to put down Deucalion out of the corner of her eye. Despite what Cora had said about his previous self having burned out of him when he was turned, he still had the strength and agility of the werewolf he had been, even kept the claws. Everything he'd done had been to gain more power, and Derek and Scott had their hands full.
The vamps Erica was fighting were beginning to tire, and she put one of them down with one last blow to the head. The other tried to flee as soon as she turned to him but she grabbed for him, slashed him across the chest, then kicked him in the side and he fell over hard, moaning as he went.
Looking up, she saw Cora struggling with three vamps and plunged in, pulling one of the monsters off Cora's back and throwing it down onto the floor, then kicking it in the throat for good measure. Surprisingly, it didn't get up again but flailed like a turtle turned upside down. She moved to stand side to side with Cora, facing off against the other two.
"Tiring out kinda fast, aren't they?" Erica asked.
Cora nodded. "I think he's pulling from them," she said, meaning Deucalion, and of course he was single-minded and foolhardy enough to pull on the energy of the other vampires in the room, not thinking of how weakening them would just leave him with more wolves to fight. She and Cora put the last two down with a series of kicks and punches, then turned to see that the boys were holding their own.
"Let's round them up," Cora said, and Erica nodded, grabbing two of the vamps by the scruff of their necks and hauling them across the floor to the corner opposite the humans to join the vamps Isaac had put down. Derek and Scott were taking up more of the space at the center of the room, keeping Deucalion occupied but not landing many blows; the vampire seemed as hearty as ever while Derek and Scott were scowling in frustration.
"Isaac and I will keep them here," Cora said, meaning the six incapacitated vamps who seemed perfectly happy to lay in a heap in the corner.
"Great," Erica said, going to where Boyd still fought. He'd put down one, which Erica slid to their heap as he finally put down the last.
"Shit, Lydia!" Isaac said.
Erica turned and saw that the vamp she'd put down with the kick had gotten back to his feet and made a beeline to the bar. Lydia was holding him off, but only just; she'd lost some physical strength in that scream.
Before she even thought about it Erica was moving across the floor, avoiding the fight in the center of the room. She pulled the vamp back, out of Lydia's space, and set herself between them, growling.
"So easily fooled," the vamp said, shaking his head, and charged again.
Erica swiped at him but he easily grabbed her wrist, holding it away, and she realized that Deucalion hadn't pulled any strength from this one.
The vamp grinned, seeing the thought cross her face. "I wouldn't open myself up to that charlatan," he said, grinning toothily. "Once a wolf, always a wolf, wouldn't you say?"
She tried to struggle out of his grasp but he had her firm. She shifted her weight slightly, trying to pull him off balance, and he did totter just slightly, enough for her to try a sweep kick.
Just as she swung her torso off to the side and her feet in the air he lunged for her neck, fangs out. Thanks to her movement he caught her side instead, better but still painful, and sunk his fangs into her. She cried out, falling backwards, feeling the burn as the toxins from his saliva mixed with her blood. At least her blood was just as toxic to him; he wouldn't get the kind of strength from her that he'd get from a human.
Or any strength at all, apparently, as once the vamp had pushed Erica over, Lydia jumped off the top of the bar, stabbing him in the neck. He shrieked, letting Erica go, and she slumped down onto the floor. By now Boyd had come over as well, and he pulled the vamp that Lydia had incapacitated off Erica.
Lydia knelt down next to Erica. "Hang on," she said.
Erica blinked, feeling woozy. "Nah, probably gonna pass out," she said. "How're they doin'?"
"Done," Derek said, swimming into her field of vision, and wow, things were getting spotty now. "Scott's got him down. We're okay."
"Good, good," Erica said, and it was an effort to even say that. She could feel Lydia's hand in hers and she squeezed it as well as she could. "Gonna nap now."
And as she closed her eyes she could hear Lydia calling her name.
Lydia hated hospitals, but then, she wasn't sure she knew anyone who liked them. She'd meant to hand off Erica to the first qualified professional, but found that she couldn't quite let her go. Boyd carried her out of the club, placed her on a stretcher, and then unceremoniously pushed Lydia into the ambulance before shutting the door. Lydia stood in the ER as long as they let her, watching as they worked to get the vamp toxins out of Erica's blood as quickly as possible. It wasn't life-threatening, but it was draining for even werewolf healing to fight single-handedly, and they had to rush to pull the toxins out before the wound started to close.
But now, a few hours later, the doctors and nurses had done all they could and it was just a matter of time and rest. Erica was staying overnight for observation while IV drips pumped anti-serum, fluids and nutrients into her bloodstream. And even though Lydia knew the science, knew that Erica's vitals were normal now, she didn't think she'd be completely comfortable until her girl woke up.
Well, not her girl yet, but she intended to fix that as soon as possible.
Derek and Isaac were in the room with her, their scratches and nicks cleaned up and mostly already healed. The rest of the team were texting for updates every few minutes.
"I don't think I've ever seen her so peaceful," Derek said. "Even when she's sleeping."
"Saw her get knocked out in training once," Isaac said.
Lydia shook her head; the gallows humor that helped them all to cope had left her, hopefully temporarily, but she wasn't finding this line of conversation soothing in the least.
Then Erica stirred. "Ha ha," she said. "Never got knocked out."
Lydia leapt to her feet. "Hey," she said, taking Erica's hand.
"Hey," Erica said, smiling just a little.
Isaac and Derek came up behind Lydia. "Welcome back," Derek said.
Erica hmphed. "Better come back," she said. "Guess I have to defend my honor."
Lydia picked up the cup of ice water nearby and put the straw to Erica's lips. "Don't talk too much. Sip on this."
Erica nodded, but pointed at Isaac as she drank.
He shrugged, unrepentant. "Figured if anything would wake you up, it'd be someone insulting your hand-to-hand skills."
"Don't listen to him," Derek said. "You were great."
"A credit to the pack?" Erica asked, and her voice sounded very small.
Derek raised his eyebrows. "You know that you're family, right?" he said. "I mean, you never had to, you know. To be family."
Lydia had no idea what Derek meant by that, but from the look on her face she could see that Erica did.
"Yeah," Erica said. "Maybe I do."
One of the nurses came back into the room, closely followed by Melissa McCall. "All right," Melissa said, "now that she's awake, one at a time." Lydia could see Derek and Isaac exchanging looks out of the corner of her eye.
Then Derek leaned down and kissed Erica on the forehead. "You be good."
Isaac laughed. "That's what got her here!" He squeezed Erica's hand. "We'll be back."
Erica nodded, smiling after them as they and Melissa left the room. The nurse finished noting Erica's condition on her chart, then left them alone.
Erica was looking more alert every second, that werewolf healing business again, but she wasn't quite back to full capacity. "If you're tired, I can go, too," Lydia said.
"No, please stay," Erica said. "Someone has to tell me how it went."
Lydia pulled up one of the chairs next to Erica's bed and sat down. "The rest of the operation? Well, Scott and Derek brought in Deucalion, but you saw that. And Kali got Ennis—he was trying to sneak out with the humans, but she pulled him out of the crowd, and while they were fighting Allison shot him with an arrow full of wolfsbane and he went down like a ton of bricks."
"Shot him from where?"
"Her perch; she didn't come down until the all-clear."
Erica blinked. "That's … impressive. Glad she's on our team."
"Aren't you? Stiles said the vamps saw the whole thing happen from behind the barrier and they were a lot more docile after that little show."
"Who wouldn't be?" Erica felt around at the side of her bed, found the controller, and adjusted the bed so she was sitting up more. "Any news about the mole?"
"Well, Peter and a few of his pals showed up at that bar, but no one else. Deucalion's apartment, on the other hand, was full of vamps when the BHPD stopped by."
"So it was Harris all along? Really?"
Lydia nodded. "Looks like Deucalion had been planning his return for months, and was trying to weaken us from the inside. With Laura in Brooklyn he thought it would be the best opportunity."
"What made Harris do it?" Erica asked.
"Money! That was all! And it wasn't even that much!" Lydia scowled; she was furious. "Can you believe it? All that, risking all our lives, just so he could get enough money for a condo in the Bahamas or something."
Erica reached down and took Lydia's hand. "You're still here, Lydia. You have every right to be as angry as you want to be, but you're still here and doing the job. You all are. He didn't stop any of us. He just slowed us down. And tonight, we got him."
Lydia nodded, and tried to loosen her jaw. "I was still scared."
"Because you're not stupid. But you also still did your job."
"Yeah," Lydia said, nodding. "I did."
"So what about Peter? Let me guess: he didn't think Derek could get Deucalion without his help?"
Lydia went with the change of subject gladly. "Apparently that's what he said to Chris Argent."
Erica shook her head, disgusted. "He's always undermined Derek. It's hard to watch. Laura stuck up for him and Cora tries, but …"
"Maybe this time Derek will do something about it."
"I hope so," Erica said, but didn't sound hopeful. "So now we build the case."
"Somewhere in the finances we should find something that connects Ennis and Deucalion so Ennis can't get away so easily again."
"Oh, numbers, yay." Erica rolled her eyes.
Lydia scowled. "Numbers are your friends!"
"Maybe yours," Erica replied, but she was smiling. "But I think we made a pretty good team."
"I agree. With Allison, of course."
"Of course. Who else would shoot arrows at bad guys at a long distance?"
"Buy non-shitty food while we're working."
"Endure constant fashion commentary."
"No one needs that many frock coats!"
"Keep us from fucking in the stake-out car."
"Definitely," Lydia said, before she thought. She cocked her head, looking at Erica. "Better for us to do that on our own time."
Erica smiled, pleased, and her thumb rubbed the back of Lydia's hand. "That's just what I was thinking. We're good at improvising. We can figure it out as we go along."
"That's what everyone else seems to be doing."
"But I don't want our first kiss to be when I'm sitting in a hospital bed. My lips are chapped and I probably look terrible."
Lydia shrugged. "Your skin is a little grey. But I can wait. I'll just do this." She lifted up their clasped hands and placed a soft kiss against Erica's fingertips. "Will that do, for now?"
"I think so," Erica said, and she looked shy, like she might have blushed if her skin weren't still so ashen. "For now."
"Good," Lydia said, and kissed her again.
Erica was actually a morning sort of wolf; she just kept that under wraps. Her favorite part of being a creature of the night was being awake to see the dawn, the way the dark blue of the night turned paler and then rosy before the sun rolled up over the horizon. No matter how dark the night, the dawn always came. It was reassuring.
Now she was laying in bed in her little cottage watching that light play across red curls and freckled skin, watch as the sun gave back all the color to Lydia that the moonlight tried to take away.
"You're staring," Lydia muttered, her voice muffled by the pillow.
"You should be sleeping," Erica replied.
"So should you," Lydia said, pulling at Erica's arm so she was the little spoon again, and nestling back against her.
Erica wasn't particularly tired. The full moon had been a few days ago and they'd had a good run, very necessary after six long months of getting the Deucalion case ready for trial while handling any number of other things. But it was over now, Deucalion and Ennis both put away for many a year and several other vampires along with them. The local vampire community was even having a long debate about how to live among humans ethically. Erica knew that not all vamps were monsters, but she never thought she'd see the day that the ones who weren't would get the upper hand.
Lydia's heart rate had slowed, her breathing slow and even. On nights when Lydia wasn't staying over and sleep was slow in coming Erica wished she could record that sound, have it as her own personal white noise machine. But it seemed a little creepy and anyway a microphone wouldn't pick up what she heard. She tucked her head into Lydia's neck.
The next thing she was aware of was blinking into yellow sunlight; she must have drifted off. Lydia had turned in her arms.
"You're staring," Erica said.
"My turn," Lydia replied.
Erica breathed in, slow and deep. "What time is it?"
"Plenty of time before we have to go."
"You want to fuck again? I haven't showered."
Erica raised an eyebrow. "You want to fuck after we shower instead?"
"No, but …"
"Then let me do this." Erica rolled over atop Lydia and buried her nose in Lydia's neck. She smelled of sweat and last night's sex, Erica's favorite scent, and it had taken the entire six months of their relationship for Erica to ease Lydia out of her self-consciousness. Now Lydia might shudder a little when Erica lifted her arms, breathed in that strong odor, licked the soft skin with stubble rough against her tongue, but she didn't push her away. She didn't protest when Erica slid further down, used her nose and forehead to push up Lydia's breast for the sweeter sweat-smell there, lap at the mark the underwire had made against Lydia's skin. Lydia even opened her legs to Erica, even though her smell was the most pungent there, last night's orgasms and whatever she'd dreamt about still clinging to the red curls that grew in thicker now that winter had come and Lydia wasn't waxing for the benefit of her collection of tiny bikinis. She pushed Lydia's thighs further apart and buried her nose between them. Bliss.
"Erica," Lydia moaned. Her hands were on Erica's shoulders, pushing. For Erica the sniffing was foreplay and bonding, and it was for Lydia too, to a certain extent. But Lydia wasn't a wolf, so it was more of a tease for her, and when she wanted to get to the main event, she was not shy about letting Erica know.
So Erica replaced her nose with her tongue, long slow swipes up the entire length of her opening, then pointed her tongue to slip into every fold of skin, going from pale peach to dark pink like a flower. She moaned, tasting the salt-sweet tang of Lydia's passion-wet skin. She teased and sucked at the fluttery ridges, kissed Lydia's clit and worried at the stiff nub with her tongue. Then, when she sensed that Lydia was far gone enough not to try to close her legs, Erica moved her hands from Lydia's spread thighs to her pussy. She dipped her thumb into Lydia's wetness and used it to keep her clit happy while two, then three fingers of her other hand slid inside, partly for penetration, partly to caress that spongy spot inside.
Lydia moaned and Erica looked up from her work to see that Lydia's head was back, her mouth open, her fingers pinching and pulling at her nipples. A pink flush bloomed across all that pale freckled skin, a little like the pale pink light of dawn.
Erica bit her lip. "You need to come, baby?" she asked. "You have to tell me."
"Yeah," Lydia whimpered, her voice hitching. "Make me come, make me come."
After that it was like riding a wave. Erica moved her fingers and thumbs, faster and harder. Lydia could never keep herself from thrusting up when she got into it, and Erica had learned how to move with her, keep going even after her muscles tensed and she cried out. The first one or two orgasms were often a little shallow and Lydia liked it when Erica kept going through them, paid them no mind, pushed Lydia's body further. When the big one came Lydia's voice caught in her throat and her whole body went taut, head and feet digging into the mattress, and then she collapsed, drained.
Erica sat back on her haunches, watching and not touching while Lydia calmed down. She was so, so sexy, and it was times like this that Erica couldn't believe that Lydia was actually in her bed.
Then Lydia stirred and blinked, looking up at Erica through hooded eyes, her intent clear as anything, and Erica shuddered as she remembered exactly why Lydia was in her bed.
"What do you want?" Lydia asked. "More wolf dick?"
Erica sucked in a breath remembering Lydia pushing the dildo and its knot into her, how she opened up for it, how good it felt. But not now. "I just want you."
"My fist, you mean."
"How many fingers is up to you," Erica said, shrugging, trying to seem nonchalant.
Lydia sat up, pulling her legs under her. "I know how greedy your pussy is. Maybe I fucked you so open last night that only my fist will do."
"Only one way to find out," Erica said, sitting back against the footboard.
"Spread 'em," Lydia said, and once Erica complied she wasted no time at all slipping two fingers into Erica's pussy. Her other hand wrapped around Erica's hip, and she nuzzled and sucked at Erica's breasts.
(Lydia's firm rule: no making out during morning sex. But Erica was okay with that. There were other things that mouths could do.)
Lydia had been right about Erica feeling open, and she spread her legs a little further.
"More?" Lydia asked.
"Yeah, you need that big hole to be stuffed full, don't you?"
"Fill me up," Erica said, because yeah, she did, and they both knew it.
"I guess two fingers just don't cut it when your pussy is made for werewolf dick."
Erica moaned and arched her back, scooting her ass forward on the bed.
"Okay!" Lydia said, and Erica got two more fingers for her trouble. "Still going to need it all?"
"Yeah," Erica whispered, nodding. "All of it." She looked down and Lydia was smiling at her.
"Good girl," Lydia said, and she was rotating her hand around, getting Erica ready for knuckles. "My sexy, needy girl."
Erica could only nod now, and stare, and pant.
Lydia pulled her hand out, just to tuck her thumb in Erica knew, but she still whimpered with the loss of it. When it came back it was a fist, and Lydia's fist might be small but it was strong, pushing in against almost no resistance.
Erica tightened her muscles around it, loving the feel of it. Lydia was moving slowly back and forth, stroking her knuckles carefully across Erica's inner walls.
"You're so strong," Lydia said. "All that work is paying off."
Erica nodded; she liked her ben-wa balls because they sat inside her, but having to tighten up around them did have that added benefit. But it was all kind of overwhelming now, and she could feel herself going under, slipping beneath the water and breathing it in like air. She heard herself crying out Lydia's name.
The next thing she knew, she was sitting up, blinking, and Lydia was wiping her hand off on the sheet.
"You good?" Lydia asked.
She nodded, then held up her fingers. "Shower, breakfast, party?" she asked.
"I'll go start the coffee."
Lydia leaned over and grabbed her robe, then wrapped it around her as she got up off the bed. "You know, if you wear those new jeans you bought, I'll fuck you in the ass when we get home." She looked at Erica over her shoulder, raising her eyebrows, then walked out of the room.
Erica gulped, blinking. Well, Lydia was good at giving her something to think about.
They arrived at the housewarming party early as requested, freshly showered and with a tray of lemon bars and all the fixings for mojitos.
Stiles opened the door. "Oh, thank god it's you. You guys are lifesavers."
"I really shouldn't be helping you at all," Lydia said, walking in, "since you never saw fit to tell me that you were dating Derek Hale."
"I told you I was sorry! I thought you'd figured it out and I didn't want to insult your intelligence!" Stiles grinned sheepishly. "Anyway you had other stuff you were worrying about; you didn't need to be thinking about my love life."
"Exactly!" Lydia said. "Which is why I didn't put it together." She squinted at him. "Do you even notice when you're being contradictory?"
"No more than you do," he replied. "Let's get this stuff into the kitchen."
"Where's your cohabiter?" Erica asked.
"Yeah, so Peter found out about the party? And sent Derek this whole nasty email about family and a whole bunch of other bullshit and I guess he emailed Cora and Laura too because they both called and I'm so sure they told him he was doing the right thing by not inviting Peter but now he's in the living room 'decorating' which really means 'silently freaking out for as long as possible until the guests come.' So, like, whatever you can do?"
"Okay," Erica said, but if Laura and Cora had failed, she didn't have that much hope for herself.
Derek was stringing up lights around the living room. "Hey."
"Hey. Let me help you." She scooped up the other end of the string, held it in place while Derek tacked it up.
"Thanks," he said. "So, what do you think?"
"It's cozy," she replied, and it was, with furniture from Stiles and Derek's old apartments, as well as some new things. Plenty of room for the Hale pack, and Scott's as well.
Then, because why be coy, she said, "You know he's a giant dick, right? You know that."
"Stiles told you," Derek said, shaking his head. "I just wish—we used to be so close."
Erica shrugged. "I never saw him be kind to you. And you really don't need help with that."
"Yeah, but he's—"
"If you say the word family, so help me. Family is as family does. I should know."
"You do," Derek said, nodding. "Anyway that's what my sisters said, too."
"Good. They should. Family doesn't use the word family against you."
Derek looked at her through his eyebrows, then sighed. "Yeah, okay."
"All right, come on," Erica said, waving him close, and gave him a hug. She could feel him relax into her arms, and then hold her close.
Footsteps came up behind her; Stiles was not one for sneaking up on a person. "Is that a smile I see?" he asked.
"Maybe," Derek said, letting go, and now that Erica could see him, yes, it was.
"Don't want to interrupt," Stiles said, "but we thought having a pre-party cocktail was a good idea. I have the wolfy ones." He handed mojitos to Derek and Erica, then took his from Lydia.
"Well, here's to your new home," Lydia said.
"And doing what you need to do to feel safe," Derek said, making eye contact with Lydia, and she nodded.
"And family that helps you do that," Erica said.
"Yes, all of those things!" Stiles said, nodding. "I'll drink to all of that."
They clinked glasses and Erica took a swallow, feeling the slight burn of the wolfsbane-laced rum as it passed over her tongue. "It's good," she said.
Lydia took her hand, and smiled up at her. "Yes, it is."