Lydia watched Scott cradle Stiles’s mostly-lifeless body onstage, scribbling corrections for next rehearsal. Stiles could do a better job of not blinking, for one. Lydia underlined “stop flirting onstage” for a third time, tracing the letters with her pen to bolden them.
“Are you sure you don’t want to try making out? It might give more meaning to my death. I mean, the original Mercutio and Romeo—“ Stiles whispered.
Scott snorted. “Lydia’s going to kill you if we mess this up. This thing has to be ready in like a week.”
Lydia tossed her clipboard onto the stage before storming the stairs. The clack clack of her heels caused Stiles to shudder and sit up.
“Just one more alteration?” He asked. “Finstock won’t even notice.” Likely an accurate assessment, given Finstock’s other improvements to the play, and if he did, he wouldn’t say anything, especially not to Scott, after the Winter Formal Debacle.
Lydia folded her arms, towering over Scott and Stiles on the floor. “Really? That’s why the two of you have to have private rehearsals? Because Finstock won’t notice if you mess up? Do you even know—“ Lydia began to snarl. That was when the floor beneath her disappeared.
“What the hell was that? Lydia?” Stiles pounded at the floor, but the boards didn't even sound hollow.
“I smell ocean,” Scott mumbled after a moment.
“So do I. What the hell?”
“Ugh, you’re still disgustingly attractive,” a voice sighed from the darkness to her immediate left. Lydia sat up slowly, assessing damages. Her thinking was bleary, but momentary-disorientation-bleary, not concussion-bleary, or foggy all over like possession from beyond the grave. She tried to move her left ankle, because sensation in it felt fuzzy, almost disconnected, but claws held it in place. “Don’t,” the voice warned. “I think it’s broken.”
“Cora?” It was hard to confirm, because the voice wasn't threatening bodily harm. The room was too dark, and smelled of earth and damp, not musty cloth and mothballs. “Where the hell is this?" she hissed. “Why are you here? Did you kidnap me?” Lydia jerked her ankle out of Cora's grip, getting it far enough out of that the pain flowed back. Lydia bit her lip on a whimper, but enough of it squeaked out to be mortifying.
Cora’s hand found its way back to her ankle. “That’s what you get for wearing heels.”
“That’s what I get for falling from who knows how high to who knows where.” Lydia used her sleeves to dab at the edge of her eyes before her makeup could smear.
“We’re in a cave under sea, I think I’m being held by merrows until they can confirm you’re a banshee. I might’ve said something. I was way talkier an hour ago.”
“Are you drunk?”
“Psssh, no. I got injected with something after I fell in the water.” Lydia could hear the light slur in Cora’s speech better once she listened for it.
Silence descended, which only made the volume of Cora’s breathing increase. Her breaths sounded heavier than Lydia’s, and faster. “Are you all right? How long have you been here?” As her eyes adjusted, Lydia noticed that Cora’s eyes were closed, but remained a minute source of light, rings of orange light outlined under her eyelids.
“I’unno. A while. I don’t like small spaces.”
“Should you be taking my pain while your control is slipping?” Lydia tried to remove Cora’s hand from her ankle, slowly this time, without jarring it. Cora’s arm wouldn't budge. Cora kept her arm close to her body, nearly wrapped around her knees, except for her hand around Lydia's ankle. Lydia stopped feeling around.
“Don’t,” Cora repeated. “I need to focus on you to stay in control.”
Lydia’s heart stuttered. “If you need focus, maybe you should jump start the healing process so you’re not drugged. And what the hell is that supposed to mean.”
“It means I got locked in a bank vault for a month and in my own basement for hours while it burned down, and now I’m in a cave with one exit, which is completely blocked by water. An’ now you’re here, I might as well be my brother, getting half-drowned and locked away with stupid, attractive Beacon Hills teens, I am going to enjoy the floaty feeling, okay.”
“Then bandage my ankle,” Lydia replied, electing to bypass all parts of the conversation that involved feelings. “Can’t you see in the dark?”
A pale woman with milky eyes, wearing nothing but a sopping red hat splashed up from the cave’s watery corner, treading water at the only exit. Beside her floated a phosphorous plant, enough to reveal her features, but hardly a lantern. “Banshee,” she greeted. Her eyes shone luminescent blue like Derek’s, and her teeth appeared sharper than should be natural, but Lydia assumed that, at least, was a trick of the light. Cora rolled forward, half-shifted, leaving pain to leech back into Lydia’s ankle.
“Ah-ah, wolf. I only need the banshee. Though you seem to know each other, you hardly seem friends.” The merrow’s voice danced, bordering on melodic, but her tone could not match the words. She put too much emphasis in the middle of the sentence, not enough to signal she had finished speaking at the end; she sounded as if everything she learned about English was from music, lengthening words where they sounded pretty, rather than where it made sense.
Cora snorted. “’Hardly’? No, she’s my girlfriend.” The venom in her tone was almost tangible.
The merrow froze. “Is this true?” She splashed forward, toward the edge of the rock.
Lydia blinked. “Of course. Did you think I would have been called here if she weren’t? I assume you used magic. These things do tend to bind on emotional connection.”
The merrow’s eyes narrowed. “But are you life bonded?”
“By the laws of my people, we can’t be, but in spirit? Absolutely.” Lydia flashed Cora her most blinding smile.
“I understand why you can’t bond with a wolf, we have laws for that, too, but not why you would want to.” Cora bared her teeth. “I will tell our witch to prepare a larger transportation spell. Unless you can swim?”
“No,” Lydia said at the same time Cora shouted, “Yes.”
Cora allowed her eyes to blink yellow at Lydia. “Are you serious? These shoes are way too cute for seawater.”
“Oh, you’ll only be underwater for a few miles. It’s a short swim.”
“No,” Cora agreed, slumping back against the cave wall. “Tell your witch to hurry.”
The merrow bared her teeth, which Lydia noticed were actually finely-pointed, oh god. “I’ll take as long as I please.”
“Do it quickly,” Lydia ordered. “Who knows how my magic will suffer while I’m confined like this.”
“Of course,” The merrow agreed, diving back under water. She left the phosphorous plant.
Cora waited precisely ten minutes, counting them under her breath in whispers, before turning to Lydia to hiss, “Girlfriend?”
“You started it.”
Cora clawed at the air in front of her face with human fingers. “Give me your sweater.”
“What? You can barely feel cold. I, however, feel all 30 degrees of the air down here.”
“I need something to wrap your ankle with.”
“Or we could let their witch drop us again, who knows how far, and see if the witch can cause permanent damage, this time.”
Lydia shrugged out of her sweater. At least the bandage would be soft. “How did you wind up near Beacon Hills again?”
“My pack in South America said I reeked of darkness after I came back, so I figured it was better not to drag that to them.” Lydia can’t really see the precise movements Cora makes as she tears the sweater with her teeth, but Lydia can hear cashmere ripping, and that’s really enough, thanks.
“You were planning to come back?”
Cora snorted. “Not even a little. I got kidnapped as collateral. They just took off my ropes before you got here. Don’t think I don’t notice you’re asking questions while I’m talky.”
Cora finally had to remove her hand long enough to tie the strips around Lydia’s ankle—not as good as a splint, but it was something. First, she popped her claws out, reaching for the leather strap on Lydia’s shoes.
“I think not,” Lydia snapped
Cora sighed. “You’re a crazy person.”
Lydia reached for the buckle herself, gritting her teeth while she loosened the buckle. When she lifted her foot out of her shoe, she began to curse, but it didn’t stop the wave of burning pain that engulfed her entire leg from mid-calf down.
Cora grabbed Lydia’s calf, leeching what pain she could. “Careful, you’ll make it worse.”
“Aren’t people generally nicer when they’re high?”
“Stereotype,” Cora mumbled, thrusting Lydia’s shoe into her hands while Cora balanced the shreds of cashmere in one hand and Lydia’s leg in the other. Cora shifted so that her feet faced Lydia, finally bringing Lydia’s leg down to rest on her bare feet. Cora switched her pain leech from her hand to her feet while she began to tie pieces of Lydia’s sweater around the injury. The pain was mostly drained, but the injury wasn’t numbed; Lydia still felt it when Cora moved too clumsily, jarring her foot enough to cause an unnatural sensation of places-where-nerves-shouldn’t-be-exposed touching.
“We need to keep this cold,” Cora said after Lydia’s foot was immobilized.
“Mm-hm,” Lydia squeaked.
“Hold on, I’m going to move you to the water, okay?”
Lydia nodded, biting her lip. She tried to mentally berate herself for ruining her lipstick, but it was hard to focus through the combination of pain drainage and lingering, actual pain.
She couldn’t find the effort to protest when, as Cora sat down, she kept Lydia in her lap while Lydia’s ankle soaked in the cave water.
“There, ha, did you see that?” Stiles waved the crystal around by the chain. He stabbed his finger down on a spot of the map only millimeters to the right of where the crystal had been hanging. “Magic just happened right there.”
“Uh, dude, I think it’s happening right here.” Scott pointed to the crystal, which no longer swung from Stiles hand, but pointed to a spot along the beach, about an hour west on I-80 from Beacon Hills.
“Huh.” Stiles frowned at his arm. “Your boss is terrible at instructions.”
“What are you talking about? Dr. Deaton is a great teacher.” Scott pushed Stiles back toward the back door of Deaton’s office, where the employee and supernatural problems entrance was.
The cave floor disappeared as abruptly as the stage did. Lydia’s curls were higher than her head when the sun reappeared. Cora pulled Lydia tighter, crushing Lydia’s knees to her chest to keep her ankle from the ground.
The impact caused a crack below Lydia, god, that was bone, she thought. Lydia wobbled in a three-limbed crab crawl away as gingerly as she could manage.
“Fuckfuckfuckfuck,” Cora growled. Her abdomen was depressed much more than it should be. Cora breathed slowly, a harsh, jerking inhale, and a wet exhale.
The merrow from the cave—at least, Lydia couldn’t tell the difference if this pale fish person was different—approached them on legs, holding her hat. “Take the hat,” Cora hissed. “She can’t shift without it.”
“Poor wolf,” the merrow cooed. Another merrow followed out of the water behind her, carrying a spear, which he leveled at Cora’s throat. Runes for power and the stealing of decorated the handle of his spear, shimmering across the surface of the handle like light through water.
Lydia flailed back toward Cora, losing her balance enough to smack her ankle against the sand. The scream clawed its way out of her throat.
“Did you hear that?” Scott revved the engine, which caused Stiles to sputter and flail.
“Easy, he can only take so much.”
“I heard Lydia scream.”
“Go faster, what are you waiting for?”
“What are we looking at?”
“Something sentient enough to use teleportation magic, I don’t know. Could be any organized supernatural thing. I texted Derek. So far I’m guessing merfolk, selkies, maybe harpies? Are sirens a thing?”
“Don’t look at me, you’re the one who translates that thing in your free time.”
Stiles went back to staring at the half-translated bestiary in his dropbox. “Awesome. How long until we get there?”
“Maybe twenty minutes?”
“Oh god, we’re not going to make it.”
“It’s not my fault this stupid town has so many side roads.”
“I changed my mind,” the merrow snarled. She remained on her knees, bleeding from her tiny, seal-like ears. “We don’t need you alive to gain some of your power.”
Cora pushed herself up, using the spear the merrow had dropped as a support. Once she was on two feet, she lifted it to point at the male merrow, edging to the side to place herself in front of Lydia. “Don’t even,” she slurred.
“S-some of my power? Why would you only want some when you could have it all?”
“Only our witch needs to eat you to gain your magic. It’s not perfect, but it would prevent future… accidents.” Behind her, the second merrow licked his lips.
Lydia tried to force as much bravado into her voice as she could manage, “I think being able to raise the dead would be a dealbreaker for eating me. Even if you had the power, would you know how?”
The merrows became less human for a few seconds, fins flashing along their arms, fingers becoming webbed. “You’re bluffing,” the first said, rubbing a half-scaled hand across her neck where blood had trickled.
Lydia noticed Cora’s breathing begin to even.
“How certain are you?”
The merrows glanced at one another, which was when Cora dove. The spear went through the throat of the witch, pinning him to a palm tree at his back, and then Cora turned to the other, who scrambled for Lydia. Cora shoved herself away from the spear, and managed to pin the other merrow with a knee at her spine before she could reach Lydia. “Leave her alone, or I will knock out your teeth and use them to cut you a second set of gills.” Cora held her claws at the merrow’s throat for emphasis.
“Tell your whole clan not to touch the Beacon Hills pack,” Lydia ordered.
Cora fished the merrow’s hat from the sand beneath her. “I’m going to hold onto this until you’re long gone. After we’ve left, you can come pick it up.”
“How can I trust you’ll leave it at all?” Below Cora, the merrow thrashed, gnashing her teeth.
“My honor as a shifter,” Cora replied. “But still, I guess you don’t have the luxury of a choice here, do you?” Cora pushed herself to her feet with too much ease to be genuine. Lydia chose to focus on the merrow for the time being.
The merrow bared her teeth as she stood.
“You’re still off-balance, at best,” Cora reminded her.
After a few seconds’ hesitation, the merrow waded into the water, becoming scalier with each step, until glossy and covered in fins and spines, she dove into the water.
Lydia pulled her phone out of her shirt, where Cora’s eyes lingered. “Still drugged?” she teased. For the first time since seeing Cora in the cave, Lydia allowed herself to look back. Cora’s clothes were, as always, flatteringly tight over her chest, around her hips. Her shirt had ridden up in the fight, flashing bared waist.
Cora’s cheeks turned pink. “Shut up.”
Lydia pursed her lips in front of her phone screen, taking the time to make sure her lipstick was still even. She used a pinky finger to smooth her eyeliner.
“Thanks,” Cora mumbled, scooting closer to put her hand on Lydia’s ankle again. The adrenaline had distracted from some of the pain, but clearly not nearly enough, Lydia thought.
“For not abandoning me to them.”
“That’s common courtesy, honey.” Lydia pursed her lips. “Taking care of my ankle and carrying me back to civilization, though…?”
“I didn’t carry…” Cora started. “Are you fucking serious.”
Cora rolled her eyes. “God, I don’t even have time to heal, do I?”
“An army of merfolk could come back at any minute,” Lydia agreed.
“I hate you.”
“Where are you going next?” Lydia asked. She licked the top of her ice cream slowly, showing off. The merrows’ cove had been dangerously close to a popular beach.
“You’re the worst.” Cora’s eyes mirrored every movement of Lydia’s mouth. “I guess I’ll visit Derek.”
Lydia imagined Cora pinning her to a wall, really getting into the details of Cora’s hands pressing into her ass, Cora’s teeth at her collarbone.
When Cora next breathed in, Lydia noticed her pupils were blown wide. Werewolves, Lydia thought. Cora’s hand tightened on Lydia’s calf, where she still leeched pain from Lydia’s ankle.
“I’m not staying in Beacon Hills,” Lydia admitted.
“That place is toxic.”
Cora nodded, leaning closer.
Their lips had hardly touched when Lydia’s tongue darted out. Cora pressed closer, careful not to lean into Lydia’s injured leg. Lydia blindly set her ice cream cup to the side, using her other hand to pull Cora toward her.
This is how Scott and Stiles found them behind the ice cream stand, minutes later: Lydia pressing Cora against the edge of the picnic table, Cora’s hand half-under the edge of Lydia’s shirt, rubbing circles into the skin.
“When—“ Scott tried.
“Dude, that does not look like magically kidnapped.”