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I can't stand to watch you walk away

Chapter Text

The red envelope had been sitting on her kitchen counter for the past three days. Her name and address were written on the front in neat block capitals, and the author had drawn two stick figures in the bottom righthand corner of it.

 

One of the stick figures was holding a bouquet of flowers, and the moment Lydia Martin had seen it, she’d been filled with irritation and had picked up the envelope, which had been waiting for her patiently on her doormat, and thrown it onto the kitchen counter.

 

Where it had been sitting, now, for a little too long.

 

Of course, she had a feeling that she knew exactly what was within the envelope, and that was exactly why she refused to open it.

 

She just didnt believe that it could be true.

 

But the damn thing was haunting her. It couldn’t just be a regular white envelope that she’d picked up and opened without a second thought, or put down and successfully ignored until it became too late. 

 

It had to be red. Eye-catchingly red, because that meant she couldn't not look at it whenever she walked past it.

 

And she was sick of it.

 

Finally, after she couldn’t resist any longer, she snatched up the red envelope and ripped it open as destructively as possible. Normally, she was a neat, slide a letter-opener underneath the flap kind of girl, but this caused for ripping the whole thing open as violently as she could.

 

Even though part of her had known what was coming, reading the words on the cream and gold embossed card inside the red envelope still caused her stomach to sink. Even after all these years.

 

Please join us as we celebrate the marriage of
Mieczysław “Stiles” Stilinski & Grace Freeman
on Saturday, January eighteenth
at one in the noon.

 

“Ugh,” Lydia said aloud, her voice echoing around the living room and kitchen area of her New York apartment. She reached for her phone and scrolled through her contacts until she found what — or who — she was looking for.

 

“Hey, Lydia,” Scott said once he eventually answered his phone. His voice was warm and comforting, like a soft blanket. Whenever she spoke to him, she always felt more relaxed. “I’m actually kind of busy at the moment, can I—”

 

“I opened it,” she announced, sinking down onto her cream coloured couch and propping her feet up on the thousand-dollar coffee table she’d ordered in from France. She had naively decided that the ridiculously expensive coffee table was exactly what the apartment needed to become home. “The invitation.”

 

Scott was quiet for a while. For too long. She was ready to ask him if he was still there, when he said, “Finally. It should have reached you days ago.”

 

“So, you knew?”

 

“Of course I knew,” Scott said, “and you knew as well.”

 

“That they’re together,” she reminded him, narrowing her eyes, “not that they’re freaking getting married.”

 

Again, he was quiet. Sometimes, she hated how impartial he tried to be. He was always careful with what he said and how he said it. Although, really, it wasn’t his fault — he was so often caught in the middle and he’d found the best way to handle it, like he usually handled arguments within his group of friends, was to be completely neutral.

 

“Stiles didn’t know whether to invite you or not,” he confessed, and Lydia suspected that Stiles hadn’t wanted that to be mentioned to her. Maybe even Scott had to be partial at times. “But in the end he decided that the two of you have gone through too much together not to invite you, and he wants you to be there.”

 

“I wish he hadn’t,” Lydia lied. The truth was that she had no idea, one way or the other, what she wanted.

 

If Stiles hadn’t invited her, she’d be offended and pissed that he thought he could invite all of her friends but not her; but then again, with the invitation in her hand, she didn’t feel like she had received the better end of the deal.

 

She understood his dilemma when it came to sending her the invite. She wouldn’t know what to do either, and that was a rarity for her.

 

“We’ll all be there,” Scott reassured her gently, “so if you decide to go, you won’t be there alone. But if you don't think it’s a good idea, Stiles will understand.”

 

Lydia was a logical person and everybody knew that. She thrived on things making sense — complex equations, molecular formulas — and anything that had a logical sequence and a clear, definitive answer she loved. It was simple. Maybe the work was difficult, but once she found the answer, she knew that it couldn’t be changed. Nobody could just suddenly decide that it was wrong. It was right. Clear-cut, correct.

 

Not like this.

 

She knew she should go. Stiles had been her friend for a long time, long before they’d ever dated, and it would be rude not to attend his wedding. Just because they hadn’t seen each other in years and she’d tried her best over the years since their break-up to ignore his new relationship. She’d known that he was serious about his girlfriend, but it never crossed her mind that he was serious enough to get engaged to her.

 

But still, that didn’t give her a reason not to go to Stiles’s wedding — because she knew that he’d go to hers, no matter his personal feelings about it.

 

But then … Could she really stand to see Stiles get married? Maybe it would be bearable if she was just invited to the reception, she could show up in an expensive designer dress, perfect blowout and professionally done makeup. They’d already be married and she would look fabulous whilst simultaneously not having to witness that for herself. But she was invited to the entire thing, and the thought of sitting there, as a guest, while Stiles got married …

 

Her heart ached just thinking about it.

 

But that wasn’t because she was still hung up on Stiles — God no. She was just … nostalgic. Her life in New York was fast-paced and crazy, but she missed the days of Beacon Hills and the days that the gang fought the supernatural terrors together.

 

Well, maybe she didn’t miss the supernatural terrors, exactly, but she missed the late nights, figuring out the answer to the latest mystery and working with her friends to save lives. Again and again and again.

 

If she was being really honest with herself, she missed all of it. She had long since moved on from Stiles, accepting that their relationship was clearly not supposed to work, but she still ached for Beacon Hills and the life she’d lived there.

 

New York didn’t feel like home to her, despite living there for the past five years. When someone asked her when she lived, Beacon Hills was always on the tip of her tongue before she forced herself to say New York.

 

“I’ll think about it,” she answered eventually, aware that she’d kept Scott waiting for a long time while she’d been lost in thought.

 

“Okay,” Scott said, sighing. “I hope you do come.”

 

She promised him that she’d seriously consider it, before she lied and said she had work to do and she couldn’t chat for longer. After her phone call with Scott, the room felt empty. She’d tried her hardest to make the apartment homely, and had more than enough money to decorate it just how she wanted, but it was still so impersonal.

 

The walls were stark, white and empty.

 

Maybe if she framed a photo, that would fix the problem.

 

She was constantly looking for ways to make the apartment feel like home, but nothing ever seemed to work. New York was still just a city, the apartment felt like somebody else’s. Her heart belonged in Beacon Hills, and it always would.

 

______________________________________________________

 

Lydia wondered when she’d become so transparent. The second she stepped into her office at the scientific research centre she worked at, her assistant knew something was wrong.

 

Maybe it was the slightly dishevelled look she was sporting due to the lack of sleep she’d had in the last few days, or perhaps even the fact that she wasn’t wearing lipstick. That was usually a big give away. Or maybe it was because Lydia was three minutes late to work, which never happened.

 

It could have been none of these reasons, or all of them. She didn’t know. It was Ella’s own choice, and Lydia didn’t have the energy to wonder what gave the game away.

 

“Have you slept at all this weekend?” Ella asked, taking a seat in one of the chairs across from Lydia’s desk.

 

“Nope,” Lydia answered, logging into her computer and watching as the screen began to load. Her eyes were bleary from stalking Stiles’s Facebook profile for hours last night and she hated herself for what she’d become.

 

“Why?” Ella asked.

 

Lydia shot her a look. Ella never knew when to stop asking questions. “My ex-boyfriend sent me an invitation to his wedding on Friday night,” she explained briskly, then rolled her eyes. “Well, no, he sent me the invite before that. I opened it on Friday night. It ruined my weekend.”

 

“Wow,” Ella said. “Which ex?”

 

Lydia forced herself to look at her computer screen, loading up the checklist app she couldn’t live without, and tried to make herself sound cheerful when she answered. Like Stiles’s wedding invitation hadn’t filled her with an all-consuming bitterness and general feeling of dread. Like there was nothing even to think about.

 

“Stiles.”

 

“Wow,” Ella said again, causing Lydia to shoot her another look. “That’s not just any ex. That’s the ex. The one who broke your heart, right?”

 

“He did not—” Lydia answered, her voice a little too shrill to be normal. She regained composure. “He did not break my heart. It was mutual.”

 

“Oh,” Ella replied. “Right. So, are you going?”

 

“What?”

 

“To the wedding,” she said. “Are you going? I mean, wasn’t he your best friend for years?”

 

Lydia started to feel that twitch in her eye returning. It had started happening when she’d moved to New York, and it had taken her forever to fix the problem. It usually only surfaced when she was extra stressed and she told herself it was because there was a huge deadline coming up at the research centre, and she needed to be on her best game.

 

“I can’t go back to Beacon Hills,” she told Ella flatly, “there’s too much to be doing here.”

 

“I’m sure I could figure something out for you if I just speak to Robert—”

 

“Ella,” Lydia sighed. “Please don’t do that.”

 

“Wait, so you’re not going?”

 

“I haven’t decided yet,” she replied, scrolling through the checklist without really paying attention to what she was looking for. Something to do, she supposed. Something to keep her only half-focused on the conversation with Ella.

 

“If you need the time off work, I can arrange that for you,” Ella said slowly. “You’ve put in enough hours at this place for the last five years, they owe you more than just a weekend off. If you need that. If not — don’t worry. Just let me know.”

 

Lydia nodded, softening a little. Ella had been a good friend to her for the last few years. She was just stressed and sick of thinking about this damn wedding. She’d almost RSVPed — I accept with pleasure the invitation to the Stilinski-Freeman wedding or, sometimes, I decline with regret as I don’t want to go to your stupid wedding! — before deleting the response every time and staring at the invitation for just a little while longer.

 

It was ridiculous the amount of strain this damn invitation had caused. She’d gone crazy going back and forth for the past few days, thinking about what would happen if she accepted, if she declined, if she just tossed it out of the window of her eighth-floor apartment and completely ignored it.

 

And now, Monday morning, she still didn’t know. The dilemma had cost her the entire weekend and she had nothing to show for it.

 

“Thanks, Ella,” she said, “I’ll let you know.”

 

“You have a meeting at ten,” Ella reminded her, getting to her feet. “I’ll be at my desk if you need me.”

 

“Thanks,” Lydia said again, watching as her assistant left the room. As soon as Ella left, she rooted around in her purse for the invitation. For some reason, she hadn’t just left it at the apartment. She’d walked right past it before leaving for work and then she’d gone back for it, picked it up and stuffed it into her purse without another thought.

 

Now, she wasn’t sure why she’d brought it with her. If inanimate objects could stare, it would be eyeballing her right there and then while she sat at her desk.

 

She used the phone on her desk to call Malia, which she wasn’t supposed to do, but she classed this as an emergency.

 

Malia’s voice was a welcome distraction. “Hey, Lydia.”

 

“Hey,” Lydia said, keeping her voice as quiet as she could and spinning her chair so she faced the wall. She didn’t want any of her superiors to walk past and overhear her personal phone call. “Did you get the invitation to Stiles’s wedding?”

 

“Uh-huh,” Malia replied, sounding bored already. “Is this why you called?”

 

“Yeah,” Lydia said. “Are you going? I mean, he’s your ex-boyfriend too.”

 

“Of course I am. He’s my friend.” Malia answered. She made it sound so simple. “And I like weddings.”

 

“Right,” Lydia said.

 

“You like weddings too,” Malia reminded her. “I thought you’d be the first to reply, but Scott said you didn’t know if you’d be going.”

 

“He’s my ex-boyfriend,” Lydia told her, though she didn’t think anyone needed reminding about that. “I can’t believe I’ve even been invited to this thing. What am I supposed to do?”

 

“Say yes,” Malia urged her, “you’re his friend and he’s yours. You should go so you can support him. Stiles doesn’t have a big family — we’re the only family he has.”

 

Malia’s words resonated with her and simultaneously sent a shocking amount of guilt through her. The pack had been an unshakeable unit for so long that it seemed like nothing could come between them, but when Stiles and Lydia had broken up during their second year of college … Lydia hadn’t known how to come back from that. She’d stopped talking to the rest of the pack. She couldn’t face them. After college, she’d moved to New York and only went back to Beacon Hills for holidays.

 

It was only recently that she’d built up the courage to call Scott and Malia to beg for their forgiveness. And luckily, they were the forgiving type. But Stiles, she still hadn’t fully known how to deal with. She’d told the truth to Ella, their break-up had been mutual … but it also wasn’t as simple as that.

 

“I don’t think I can go, Malia,” she said quietly, because part of her scoffed at the idea of being too afraid to go. She was Lydia Martin! Since when did she shy away from anything?

 

But she just couldn’t picture going to that wedding and watching Stiles marry someone else. Even if they’d both moved on and she didn’t love him anymore, she thought she’d have to be some kind of a crazy person to willingly watch her ex-boyfriend marry somebody else.

 

So, no. She couldn’t go. She didn't want to make things weird and awkward. She didn’t want her friends to spend the entire day worrying about her and how she was doing, when they should be celebrating Stiles.

 

It was his day, and she had a feeling that she’d ruin things if she went. Nobody liked the one guest who sat in the corner at weddings, checking her watch and figuring out when it was an acceptable time to leave.

 

She just wouldn’t go. That would spare all the heartache, the confusion, and everything between. It was stupid, really, to think that she had genuinely considered going.

 

Also, if she was being honest with herself, she didn’t know how she’d feel after seeing Stiles again for the first time since they’d broken up (she’d become very good at orchestrating her trips home to see her mom for just when Stiles happened to be either out of town or too busy working to meet up). It had been seven whole years now but she still wasn’t sure that she could get through that. It hurt enough the last time she’d seen him, and it had taken her long enough to stop thinking about it. Even with that pain residing at the back of her mind, how could she see him again knowing it would be his wedding day? To someone else

 

“I … can’t,” she said again, even though Malia hadn’t asked her for an explanation. Both Scott and Malia liked to do that thing where they waited silently, patiently, for her to keep talking and give more excuses than necessary. They thought it made her realise how stupid she was being, but usually it just annoyed her.

 

“I’m sure Stiles will understand,” Malia said finally, “but he said the other day that he was looking forward to seeing you. We all were — it’s been so long since we were all together. You come home at the worst times, you know.”

 

Lydia felt more guilt seep through her. “I know, I know. I just … Work is so busy at the moment.”

 

“Uh-huh,” Malia didn’t believe her, but then again Lydia didn’t believe herself. “That’s why you’re on the phone to me at nine-fifteen a.m. rather than working.”

 

Lydia’s cheeks burned red. “You’re right, I should probably go. I’ll speak to you soon, Malia.”

 

“Uh-huh,” Malia said again, “bye, Lydia.”

 

With the office quiet again, Lydia opened up her personal email account. She felt formal emailing Stiles — like hell she was going to email Stiles’s fiancée instead of him — but she didn’t know if he’d changed numbers in the last seven years. It was likely that he had, but she didn’t want to ask Scott for his new number because Scott would want to know why.

 

Then she would feel obliged to tell Scott that she was, in fact, declining Stiles’s wedding invitation because she thought it might bring back all those memories she’d worked so hard to forget. She would have to admit that she was declining for completely selfish reasons.

 

She didn’t think she could handle Scott’s disapproval on top of everything else.

 

Quickly and professionally, she began constructing the RSVP to Stiles’s wedding invitation — it was an email she never imagined she’d need to send, because she’d always assumed that she’d be the one marrying him — with a multitude of thoughts whizzing around her head.

 

Maybe it would be awkward and weird to go, but she was Lydia Martin. Would she really not go to some stupid wedding because of her own selfishness?

 

This was Stiles. He knew her better than anyone, and the thought of him receiving her answer and knowing she’d said no filled her with annoyance. He’d think that it was because of him. Maybe everyone would feel sorry for her. She couldn’t stand pity.

 

She had no idea what to do. For once, she was completely at a loss.

 

She deleted the reply and stared at the blinking cursor on the screen. She really needed to get back to work — she couldn’t put this off for much longer. It was now or never.

 

She typed out a reply, titled the email as Lydia Martin’s RSVP, and hit send.

Chapter Text

Stiles was playing a particularly challenging game of Solitaire on one of his “work from home” days when a new email popped up.

 

Thinking it would be his partner, Agent Woods, checking on some files he had promised him for 8 a.m. sharp, he checked the email almost immediately and stared at the screen, his mouth hanging open just a little.

 

Stiles was an FBI agent. He could solve cases; he could work out seemingly impossible cases if he just focused hard enough. How many times had they figured out the answer to the latest supernatural threat in Beacon Hills? Countless. He had become really good at predicting the outcome of a case weeks before it was official. 

 

But this? He could never have predicted.

 

He called Scott, drumming his fingers against the corner of his desk while he waited, and Scott finally picked up.

 

“Hello—”

 

“Lydia RSVPed,” Stiles interjected, shaking his head. He read the words in Lydia’s short email for the sixth time. “She said yes.”

 

“Really?” Scott sounded genuinely surprised. “Wow.”

 

“Why do you sound surprised?”

 

“Aren’t you surprised?”

 

“Yes,” Stiles answered, “but you sound more surprised than I thought you’d be. Have you talked to her?”

 

“We talked on Friday,” Scott replied. He sounded tired. “And I got the impression she was planning on declining, but I guess she changed her mind. Which is what you wanted, right? So, there’s no issue and everyone is happy.”

 

Stiles didn’t answer straightaway. He read her answer again. I accept with pleasure. He hadn’t thought she’d accept — wasn’t that part of the reason why he’d sent the invitation in the first place?

 

He’d been going back and forth for weeks, knowing that the date for sending the invites out by was looming. On the last possible day, he’d added her name to the list Grace had made to keep track of the invitations. They’d send the invitation, knowing that she would be outraged if she didn’t get one but everyone else did, and expect her decline within a few days.

 

He never thought she’d accept.

 

“Shit,” he said. “She said yes. She’s coming.”

 

“You said you wanted her there,” Scott reminded him, “we had this conversation a few days ago, and for what it’s worth, she didn’t know what to do. You know Lydia. She wouldn’t have made the decision lightly.”

 

Stiles nodded, murmuring an agreement. He knew Lydia like the back of his hand — or at least he thought he did. Maybe he didn’t know New York Lydia. Maybe she’d changed. He supposed that someone could change in a matter of seven years, but he didn’t think Lydia would ever change. She had no reason to.

 

“I do want her there,” he said. “I guess this means I’ll have to go to hers when the time comes, right?”

 

For some reason, he hated the idea of that. It made him squirm. Was that how she’d felt when she accepted his wedding invitation? A little bit nauseous and uncomfortable? 

 

“Probably,” Scott laughed. “I gotta go, Stiles. I’ll see you this weekend in Beacon Hills?”

 

“Yeah,” Stiles said. “See you then.”

 

He put his phone on his desk and hesitantly selected the contacts app, scrolling down to Lydia’s name. He clicked on her, seeing her photo in the little icon, and smiled involuntarily. He’d taken that photo on their road trip to Washington D.C. after high school finished. She was laughing at something he’d said to her, probably some lame joke that had made her laugh at him rather than with him. He’d never cared. If she was laughing, she was happy. That had always been his primary goal. 

 

She’d probably rolled her eyes at him right after he’d snapped the photo, but he’d always kind of liked that too.

 

He should call her. He should call her and ask her if she was sure, because he knew how weird he’d find it if he went to her wedding, but he didn’t want her to doubt her answer. After all, she’d typed it and sent it. She knew what she’d written.

 

She’d made the decision — he just had to live with that. Accept it. Be glad that she’d made it. That meant things were okay between them, which was something he’d questioned for a long time. That was just one of the reasons why he hadn’t known whether to invite her.

 

What was the protocol for inviting an ex-girlfriend to your wedding? Especially when that ex-girlfriend had been his anchor to bring him back from the brink of death/object of his maybe slightly obsessive affections for ten years/person who had opened a rift in the space and time continuum to save him from the supernatural ghost riders.

 

He hadn’t thought she’d say yes.

 

He heard the door for their two-bedroom apartment and left his office, hurrying to meet his fiancée and almost colliding into her in the process.

 

“Stiles!” she cried, widening her eyes at him. “What’s wrong?”

 

“Just wanted to see you,” he explained, lightly wrapping his arms around her. It always took him for a few seconds to adjust his arms so they were comfortable around Grace. She was 5’7 to his 5’8, which had taken him some getting used to when they’d first started dating three years ago.

 

“That’s sweet,” Grace answered, still sounding ever so slightly suspicious of him. She wrapped her arms around him, her engagement ring brushing the back of his neck as she joined her hands together at the nape. “What’s the rush? Got something to tell me?”

 

“We … got another RSVP,” he said. He wondered if she could sense his discomfort. He couldn’t quite make eye contact, like Lydia’s RSVP was something dirty and shameful.

 

“Who?” Grace asked. “My Aunt Julia? Because I sent her invitation a week ago and she still hasn’t replied.”

 

“No, no,” he said. “One of my friends from home. Lydia Martin.”

 

He watched her carefully, waiting to see if there was a flicker of recognition in her bright blue eyes. He’d met Grace almost four years ago now, and he’d removed any trace of his relationship with Lydia on his social media accounts pretty much straight after they’d broken up. But Grace worked in admin at the FBI in Los Angeles — that was how they’d met, after Stiles was transferred to the LA field office — and he wouldn’t put it past her to have ordered a background check on him.

 

But there was nothing. Unless Grace was an excellent actress, there seemed to be no signs that Lydia’s name meant anything to her.

 

“Great!” she answered, patting his back before she dropped her arms and headed for the couch. Leaning against the wall was a large piece of card that she’d been using for the guest seating plan, and she pulled it out now. “Where should we put her? With your other high school friends?”

 

“Yeah,” Stiles said. “Put her with the pack.”

 

“Right,” Grace laughed. “The pack.”

 

Stiles had accidentally referred to his friends from home as “the pack” on their second date, when she’d asked him about his home life, and after seeing the confusion on her face he’d had to make up some story about how they jokingly referred to themselves as that. Luckily, she found it funny — if a little bit strange — and had laughed. At least that meant he could call them that without accidentally letting slip all their secrets.

 

“Next to …” Grace picked up a pink pin and hovered over table 3, where Scott and the others had been seated. “Malia?”

 

“Sure,” Stiles answered. May as well seat the exes together, he thought dryly. “Sounds good.”

 

“Great! Six weeks tomorrow and we’ll be getting married!” Grace stuck Lydia’s pin into the empty seat beside Malia and sat back to admire her work. “Isn’t that exciting?”

 

Stiles nodded and tried to muster up some enthusiasm. He knew Grace would be concerned if she thought he wasn’t as excited as he should be. And he was excited, he was just … nervous too. The thought of getting married completely overwhelmed him in general, but now he had the added pressure of seeing — and speaking to — Lydia for the first time in seven years.

 

Why was he even thinking about her?

 

The only reasonable explanation had to be that the RSVP had completely shocked him. Which it had, that was the truth. Maybe he was an idiot for feeling so surprised at her decision. He had confidently thought she would decline, and he felt like an even bigger idiot for assuming Lydia freaking Martin would shy away from any kind of challenge. 

 

It shouldn’t even have been bothering him. He’d met the most amazing woman in Grace. They had similar interests, they literally worked in the same field, she was beautiful — blonde, big blue eyes and the warmest smile — and she got on well with the Sheriff and with Scott. He didn’t know why Lydia had suddenly filled his mind again.

 

“I can’t wait,” he said distantly. 

 

If anything, he reasoned with himself, it would be good to see her. He just wanted to talk to her. To just know how she was doing. To know that she was happy. He hadn’t thought about her in what felt like forever. It had been at least several months since she’d crossed his mind, which was a hell of an improvement compared to how it used to be. Just after their break-up, and in the year following, it was really bad. He’d be in the middle of a case, or grocery shopping on the weekend, and something that reminded him of her would be right in front of him and all those memories of her would come rushing back.

 

Then, he’d graduated from college, worked in Washington D.C. for about a year before he was transferred to the Los Angeles office. There, he’d met Grace. And slowly but surely, he felt better. Scott helped too, of course, because Scott was always there to help and he knew what it was like to lose someone he loved. He stopped thinking about Lydia and concentrated on his work, on his friends in LA, on his life without her.

 

Five years after graduating and seven years after their break-up, she only crossed his mind when he went home and took in those familiar settings, and a few other times. It wasn’t as crushing as it had been before, though. He could go home and see Mrs. Martin in the street without wanting to run in the opposite direction. He could go into his bedroom without imagining Lydia lying on the bed, her shoes kicked off and her smile radiating around the room.

 

He only thought about Lydia Martin now in terms of fondness. The same way he thought about an old friend, or the rest of the pack.

 

He only thought about her occasionally.

 

He wondered if she ever thought about him.

 

“What are you thinking about, babe?” Grace asked, tucking her legs underneath her on the couch and looking over at him.

 

“My friends,” he told her. It was almost true. “I just think it’ll be great to go home this weekend and see everyone.”

 

“Shoot,” Grace said, “I forgot to tell you, I can’t go to Beacon Hills with you this weekend. My mom asked me to go over to hers to help her out with the house. You know she’s been having those problems with her back …”

 

“It’s fine,” Stiles replied, guilt surging through him as he realised he was relieved. He loved it when Grace came back home with him, but he needed some time alone. He needed to talk to Scott about the wedding without the possibility of Grace overhearing. It would give him some space and time to think. “Don’t even worry about it.”

 

“Are you sure? I know we were going to check out the church and make sure everything is confirmed for the day, but I wondered if you could stop by and check on that yourself.”

 

He nodded. “Of course.”

 

“Have you talked to your father about us staying with him the week before the wedding?” Grace asked. “You said you would, remember?”

 

“I’ll talk to him about it this weekend, but I already told you he’ll be fine with it,” Stiles answered. “Stop stressing.”

 

Grace looked at him. “I’m stressing because this is our wedding day and I want it to be perfect, Stiles. Don’t you want it to be perfect?”

 

“Well, sure, but we shouldn’t put too much pressure on it,” he said easily. “Things will work out.”

 

She raised her chin at him defiantly. He knew from experience that she hated being told not to stress over something; he didn’t know why he’d said it in the first place. Maybe he was looking for a fight and he knew how to push her buttons.

 

Lydia had always argued back if he picked a fight, but Grace usually fell silent. That was her preferred method of arguing: the silent treatment. 

 

“I should go back to my office,” he said, getting to his feet and glancing at the seating plan board, where Lydia’s name screamed out at him. “I still have work to do.”

 

Grace barely registered what he’d said, returning to the seating plans, and he headed back into his office without another word. There was a framed picture on his desk of him and Scott on their high school graduation day. He remembered Lydia taking the photo, but it was the only photo he had of that day that she wasn’t in.

 

He should call her and thank her for RSVPing to the invite. He could pretend that it was something they’d done for all of the guests so far — a personal thank you for their prompt replies. It was just politeness, there was nothing weird about it. Nothing weird about it at all.

 

Only, what if Lydia spoke to Malia or Kira and they said they’d never received a personal phone call from Stiles to thank them for replying? Maybe he should call those two as well, so there was no risk of anyone calling him out. Except Kira and Malia had both answered their invitation weeks ago. Lydia had been the last person to get an invitation.

 

Admittedly, he just wanted to hear her voice. It had been seven years since he’d heard it but he still remembered it like no time had passed at all.

 

Honestly, he remembered everything, but he was supposed to forget it all because he was marrying someone else. It wasn’t fair to Grace to be thinking about Lydia. He hadn’t even thought about her in passing for months — it was just the RSVP. It had thrown him off. 

 

He felt like he was going round in circles.

 

He called Scott again.

 

“What do you want?” Scott said, answering the phone. “You do realise that I have a life too, right? I can’t just keep answering the phone to you or Lydia all day, everyday.”

 

“Lydia called you?”

 

“You are just … unbelievable,” Scott sighed. “Yes, she called. She told me that she responded to the invitation and she’s happy that she’s going. She said she thinks it’ll be fun — why can’t you call her and ask her these things?”

 

“I can’t call her, Scott.”

 

“Why not? She’s your friend.”

 

“She was my friend nine years ago,” Stiles reminded him, “then she became my girlfriend.”

 

“Just because you guys haven’t talked in a while—”

 

“It’s been seven years, man. That was the last time we talked. When we —” Stiles glanced over at the door to his office and subsequently lowered his voice — “broke up. When she walked away from me.”

 

“How many times have we been over this?” Scott asked. After all, it had been seven years and his patience and understanding only lasted so long. Even with Stiles. “You both ended it.”

 

“And then she got on a plane back to Boston and I never saw her again,” Stiles said.

 

“And you let her,” Scott replied easily. Then, “Call her. Don’t wait until the day of the wedding until you see her again — she’s feeling weird about the whole thing as well. Trust me.”

 

“She is?”

 

“Yes,” Scott said. “I can’t be the messenger between you two for six weeks. I won’t do it, Stiles. I have a job, you know? A life, things to do, other commitments.”

 

“I know, I know,” Stiles said, rolling his eyes. “So, I should call her, right? It’s not weird.”

 

“Not at all. Even if it is weird, this is Lydia we’re talking about. She knows that you’re weird. I don’t think it will take her by surprise.”

 

“Okay, that was uncalled for.”

 

“Call her,” Scott answered, ignoring him. “And I’ll speak to you at the weekend. Okay?”

 

Stiles begrudgingly agreed and hung up the phone, staring at his contacts list. He didn’t even know if she’d have the same number. He could email her and ask for her number, but would that sound like he was hitting on her? He wanted it to sound casual, not like he’d been agonising over it.

 

He sent a message to Scott, asking for Lydia’s number. His phone buzzed a few seconds later with her contact details, and Stiles quickly — so he wouldn’t chicken out — selected the “call” icon and put the phone on loudspeaker.

 

It was totally cool. He was totally cool. He’d just chat to her for five minutes or so, see how she was doing and how her job at the research centre was — then a thought hit him.

 

She was probably at work. 

 

Not everybody could work from home on some days. Lydia was probably extremely important and he knew just how hard-working she was. She probably never took work from home days, or accepted personal phone calls while she was in her office.

 

She’d be working. It was still so early in LA, just after 7 a.m., which meant it would be 10 a.m. in New York.

 

He couldn’t call her. She was probably in the middle of an important meeting. He hung up the phone quickly and hoped it hadn’t reached her. Hoped to God that she didn’t call back the number. Stiles stared at his phone screen for seven minutes before he opened up the email app and selected his personal email address.

 

Thanks for accepting the invitation to our wedding. We look forward to seeing you on the day! Stiles and Grace.

 

He felt a wave of hatred over his pathetic cop-out, before he hit send.

Chapter Text

Lydia crossed another name off the list she’d been keeping of potential dates for the wedding and sighed as quietly as she could, massaging her temples and reaching for the glass of water in front of her.

 

She’d had a bad headache all day and sitting in a stuffy, warm conference room for the past hour hadn’t been helping the matter. She felt ill, the migraine pulsing at the side of her head.

 

“Miss Martin,” her boss, Robert Warner, spoke her name and jarred her from her thoughts. She looked up, subtly flipping to a new page in her notepad. She didn’t want any of her colleagues or any of the important superiors to think she was doodling in a meeting like this.

 

“Yes?” she asked, smiling at Robert.

 

“Are you ready to present to the board your findings on linear algebra involved in neuroscience?” Robert asked.

 

“Yes,” she answered. “Absolutely.”

 

She scraped back her chair and stood up, only to send the room spinning. “Sorry,” she said, just about managing to force her words out. Her vision was spotty as she swayed, unsteady on her feet. The man in the seat beside her held out his hands, ready to catch her if she fell, and she shot him a small, reassuring smile as if to say, Don’t be ridiculous, I’m not going to fall.

 

“Lydia?” Robert’s voice was concerned and Lydia heard it at the back of her mind, but it sounded distant.

 

“Sorry,” she said again. “I don’t feel too well—”

 

“Maybe you should have some water and step outside for a minute or two,” Robert said. He walked over to her, discarding the meeting and offering his arm out to her. “Lean on me, Lydia. I’ve got you.”

 

She nodded. “I haven’t eaten …” she said, but her words were jumbled and she didn’t think she was making any sense. She watched as her hand reached out to lean on Robert’s outstretched arm, and took the first step towards the door of the conference room.

 

But she never quite made it.

 

Her vision blurred before everything went black, and she collapsed to the floor.

 

______________________________________________________

 

She insisted that she was fine and could continue the presentation, but Robert told her that he’d asked someone else to take over the presentation for her and the board had been extremely impressed. He made sure Ella found some water and food for her, which she ate, feeling numb, at her desk.

 

Then, he sent her home.

 

“It’s okay,” he kept reassuring her, as she kept denying that she needed to go home. It had just been a dizzy spell. She hadn’t eaten much all day, she’d been nervous for the meeting and the conference room had been too warm. She didn’t need to go home.

 

“Yes, you do,” he said. “You know what? I want you to take the week off — you’ve worked so hard for the last few months for that meeting and today showed me that you’ve been overworking yourself. When was the last time you took time off, Lydia?”

 

“Christmas,” she lied.

 

“You worked until eleven p.m. on Christmas Eve, I remember because I did too,” Robert reminded her. “Please, Lydia. Take the week off — aren’t you going home this weekend?”

 

“Next weekend.”

 

“Fantastic,” he replied, clapping his hands together. “Now you can go home for the whole week rather than fly all the way to California just for the weekend. See? I’ve done you a favour. You’re welcome.”

 

“Robert,” she said, shaking her head. “I can work — I promise. I don’t want to let you down.”

 

“Let me down? Lydia, your presentation was phenomenal. Take the week off — you know what? As your boss, I’m using my power of authority to tell you that you must take the week off to recuperate. I can’t have my best mathematician overworked.”

 

“Honestly,” she argued, “I’m okay.”

 

“Great! When you come back after your week off, you’ll feel even better,” he said, clapping his hand onto her desk before he walked away, nodding at Ella as he left Lydia’s office. Ella waited roughly fifteen seconds for Robert to leave before she dashed over to the chair opposite Lydia’s desk and collapsed into it.

 

“This is just perfect,” she exclaimed. “When is the wedding?”

 

Lydia didn’t even need to think about the answer. She’d been involuntarily counting down the days to the wedding from the moment she’d accepted the invitation weeks earlier.

 

“Ten days away.”

 

“So, you go back to Beacon Hills, you tell Stiles that you’re still in love with him and you can run away together! It all ends happily ever after.”

 

“I’m not going back to Beacon Hills,” Lydia answered tiredly, then narrowed her eyes at her assistant. “Also, that’s not why I’m going back in the first place. I’m not telling Stiles that I’m still in love with him.”

 

“Why not?”

 

“Because I’m not!” Lydia answered. “I’ll go back next weekend as planned.”

 

“I just think that you’re missing an opportunity to go back earlier and see your friends,” Ella said, then added with a wicked smile, “and maybe Stiles too.”

 

“I have no idea if he’ll even be there,” she confessed. “He lives in Los Angeles now. They’re going back to Beacon Hills for the wedding, but there’s still ten days to go. Who knows what they’ve planned?”

 

“In that case, you should go back home now so you’re back there before him. Maybe then it won’t feel so terrifying.” Ella suggested. Lydia shot her a look and Ella swiftly changed the subject, knowing Lydia disliked admitting she was scared of anything. “What have you got on your notepad there? A list?”

 

Lydia moved her hand to cover the list of names she’d been making during the first half of the meeting, which she still felt awful about. She’d been doing the work for that damn meeting for the past seven months. She hadn’t even been paying attention for the first half, her head filled with thoughts about dates and weddings, and hadn’t been able to present the findings she’d been working on for months. This wedding was ruining everything.

 

“I need a date for the wedding,” Lydia told Ella flatly, figuring it might be less embarrassing if she told her rather than showed her the list. Eleven names she’d written and she’d crossed out every single one. They were all either busy, married, or hadn’t yet forgiven her for breaking up with them. Or all three.

 

“Leave it to me,” Ella offered. “I’m your assistant so I’m assisting you. Just promise me you’ll go back to your apartment now and at least consider going home early. I can even book your flight if you need me to.”

 

“I appreciate that, I really do, but there’s nothing for me in California,” she told her. Beacon Hills was a reminder of everything she’d loved and lost there. Everything that had once meant the world to her, and now she wouldn’t be able to walk anywhere in the entire town without thinking about something she’d had to let go, or had been taken away from her.

 

“That isn’t true. Your mother is still there, your friends are still there and, from what I gather, they are still all important to you. Maybe going home earlier would make them happy, but you never know, you might find something there that you didn’t know you needed. Maybe it’s just what you need,” Ella said softly, before she got to her feet. “I’ll call you a cab.”

 

“I can take the subway.”

 

“Lydia Martin taking the subway?” Ella frowned. “I don’t think so. I’m calling you a cab.”

 

Which was how Lydia found herself in a cab at 11 a.m. on a Wednesday morning, when she should have just finished the most important presentation of her career so far, heading back to her apartment. She felt completely deflated as she tipped the cab driver and let herself into her empty apartment, settling down on the couch.

 

An hour later, she woke up with a start and blearily reached for her phone. She had three messages from Ella, who informed her that she’d successfully secured Lydia a date for the wedding. One of Ella’s old college friends apparently lived in San Francisco and was available to travel down to Beacon Hills for a few days the next weekend. He owned a tuxedo and had agreed purely to help Ella out. Ella sent Lydia his contact details, and then another message with a smiley face emoji.

 

Lydia smiled at the messages from her friend and tapped out a quick response, then a new one to the contact details for her date — Jacob — introducing herself and thanking him for the favour. She even promised she’d buy him a drink on the night as way of thanking him for being a stranger’s date to a wedding, where he didn’t know anybody. 

 

Once she finished replying to her unread messages and emailed Robert thanking him for the time off — after she purposefully scrolled past Stiles’s impersonal, probably automated email to her on the day she’d accepted the invitation to the wedding — she looked up from her phone. The apartment was completely quiet, with only the distant sound of traffic from the street outside causing any kind of noise.

 

Only recently had she been noticing how quiet the apartment was. Usually she didn’t mind. She only needed to spend evenings and weekends there, and most weekends she tried to make plans with her friends from work to keep her busy, but she didn’t know quite how she’d hold up with an entire week there by herself.

 

It was just curiosity, Lydia sternly told herself, as she reached for her laptop and searched flights to California. She just wanted to see how much it would cost her if she did decide to go back home earlier, perhaps … the weekend before the wedding. That would give her a few days in New York to organise herself and get her things together, before she made her way home.

 

She wouldn’t tell anyone.

 

Apart from her mom, obviously, because she needed somewhere to stay.

 

And she’d tell Scott — she owed him that.

 

Before she confirmed the flight — Saturday morning, one week before the wedding, due to land in San Francisco International Airport in the afternoon — she reminded herself that she wasn’t doing for this any particular reason. She wasn’t going back to Beacon Hills to get one step ahead of Stiles, or even somehow persuade Stiles to ditch his wedding for her.

 

She just … didn’t want to be in New York, alone, for the week. That was all there was to it.

 

She pressed confirm, sat back to wait for the screen to load, and thought about Stiles’s impersonal email again. She was sure it was automated. It had been sent so early west coast time — she’d worked it out, it would have been 7 a.m. when he’d sent it — and she was positive that meant it was automated. He would have either been working or sleeping at that time, surely. He wouldn’t have been checking his emails at 7 a.m.

 

Lydia wondered, not for the first time, how he might have felt when he’d seen it? Surprised? Pleased? Confused?

 

She didn’t know anymore.

 

After receiving the definitely automated email, she’d called Scott and asked him if he’d talked to Stiles. Scott said that he had, but he refused to tell her what Stiles had said. Instead, he’d said, Call him. She’d scoffed at the idea — why would she call him when he’d sent her a ridiculous, automated email thanking her from Stiles and Grace?

 

She’d look like an idiot if she actually called him. And what would she even say? What was she supposed to say to him when it had been so long since they’d last spoken? When Scott, Malia or Kira talked about Stiles, it was easy to forget that it had been so long since she’d actually talked to him herself. The things she knew about him, she knew because of her friends.

 

She missed the days when he told her everything, even things that didn’t matter at the time. She missed being the person he came to first. But she’d lost the right to be that person when she got on the plane back to Boston and walked away from him forever.

 

She knew that, and over the past seven years she’d accepted it and learned to live with it. It was just something that had happened, and she believed everything happened for a reason.

 

That night, she fell asleep on the couch with a book in her hands and a blanket pulled up to her chest. When she woke up the next morning, she felt more rested than she’d felt in months. Maybe she hadn’t personally presented her findings at the research centre, but it was still over. All that hard work, and she’d been given an opportunity to relax and not think about work and research for once.

 

After showering in the morning, Lydia went into overdrive organising for her upcoming trip. Just because she didn’t need to think about work, that didn’t mean she wasn’t thinking about every other little thing she needed to do. She booked appointments all over Manhattan — cut and blow-dry, a fresh manicure, and treated herself to a new dress for the wedding after — for all of Thursday.

 

The next day, she packed meticulously for the trip, grateful that California’s winter was nowhere near as arctic as New York’s. It would feel warm in comparison. The weather was just another thing Lydia couldn’t adjust to in New York. She missed wearing a light sweater in the middle of winter, rather than leaving her apartment in five layers and still shivering.

 

By the time she’d finished preparing herself for the weekend, Saturday rolled around. It was a six hour flight to San Francisco, so Lydia woke up early and hailed a cab to the airport. After arriving, she bought breakfast and a strong cup of coffee, before she settled down to wait for her gate to be opened.

 

She called Scott.

 

Amazingly, he answered, despite it being 5:30 a.m. in California. “Hey, Lydia,” he said, sounding like he’d just woken up. “Is everything okay?”

 

“Everything’s fine,” she said. “I’m at JFK, actually.”

 

“The airport?”

 

Yes, the airport,” she replied. “Could you pick me up from San Francisco International at around three?”

 

“You’re coming back?” Scott asked. “Now? Lydia, you do realize the wedding isn’t until next week, right? Wait, that is right, yeah?”

 

“I know,” she said. “I’ll explain later. Are you free? Or should I ask my mom?”

 

“I’m free,” he answered. “I can pick you up.”

 

“Don’t tell anyone,” she told him. “I need to figure out my plan before I tell everyone I’m home.”

 

Scott was quiet for a few seconds. Then, “Do what you have to do, Lydia. I’ll see you at three.”

 

______________________________________________________

 

Lydia couldn’t help but power walk over to where Scott was waiting for her in arrivals. His sweater was soft under her arms as she threw them around his neck and he clung onto her in return.

 

“I’m so glad you’re back,” he said into her ear. They finally pulled away from each other and Lydia looked at him carefully, making sure that he looked well. “I can’t wait to tell Stiles. He’ll be surprised, but thrilled.”

 

“What’s … the deal with Stiles anyway?” she asked, trying for casual as Scott grabbed her bag off her and began walking over to the exit. “Is he in town?”

 

“He’s in LA,” Scott answered, but he sounded unsure and Lydia wondered if he was telling the truth.

 

“And everyone else?”

 

“Beacon Hills,” Scott told her. They stepped out of the airport and Lydia felt that winter breeze that felt deliciously mild compared to New York. “You okay, Lydia?”

 

“Just having a moment,” she responded with her eyes closed. She opened them again to find him watching her, amused. “Sorry. It’s just so cold in New York.”

 

“Right! I always forget about the whole ... seasonal weather thing there. How’s the job? How did that big meeting go?”

 

“I collapsed halfway through and my boss forced me to take the week off to fully recuperate,” she said flatly.

 

“Ah,” he answered. He located his car in the parking lot and opened up the trunk, dropping her bag into the back and opening the passenger seat door for her. Once they were both inside the car and Scott turned up the heater, he said, “So, that’s why you’re home early. Not because you wanted to be here but because it was forced on you.”

 

“That isn’t fair. I could have stayed in New York for the week,” she reminded him.

 

Even though Scott’s words rang true, she felt awful whenever one of her friends mentioned how little time she spent at home. She knew Stiles lived in LA now, but Scott and Malia still lived in Beacon Hills, and Kira lived just the next town over. They saw each other regularly, and Stiles was only four or five hours away. Lydia was the one who’d moved the furthest away and she knew they partially took it personally. It wasn’t them. She’d just needed to get away for a little while, and then a little while somehow became five years.

 

“I’m glad you decided not to,” Scott said. “It’s a couple of hours drive.”

 

“That’s fine,” she answered, settling into the passenger seat as Scott began driving out of the parking lot for the airport. “I checked in with my mom before I got on the flight, and she’s not even at home this evening. So I guess I’ll just head back to hers and order some food in.”

 

Scott looked at her. “Come on, Lydia, I can’t let you do that.”

 

“It’s fine,” she told him.

 

“Come to my house for dinner,” he suggested brightly, smiling at her. “I cook now.”

 

“You do?”

 

He nodded, pleased with himself. “You know, since the supernatural stuff calmed down in Beacon Hills … I actually have time to do things other than saving the entire town on a weekly basis. I bought a recipe book.”

 

“Impressive,” Lydia said. “I don’t ever have time to cook.”

 

“I guess not. Life in New York is pretty fast-paced?”

 

Lydia sifted through memories of her working late at the office, getting home at 8 p.m. and curling up on the couch as she continued working into the night and watching old re-runs of The Bachelor. She’d spent the past five years just working. She was doing well at the research centre, she’d always been an overachiever but this was something else. After taking just a few days off, she realized how much the job had taken over her life.

 

“Oh yeah,” she replied brightly. “It’s … just crazy out there.”

 

Scott looked at her. “Really?”

 

If there was anyone she could be honest with, it was Scott. She shook her head. “The truth is that I’ve barely seen any of the city since moving out there. I’m always at the office, and when I am able to go back to my apartment, I hate it there. I mean, the apartment itself is beautiful, but …”

 

“It isn’t home?” Scott guessed. Lydia nodded. “There’s always a place for you back home, Lydia.”

 

Lydia smiled at him, but she knew that she couldn’t go back to Beacon Hills. Not permanently. She’d moved on for a reason. “So, dinner, huh?”

 

“Yeah,” Scott replied easily. If he knew Lydia was avoiding the conversation — which he almost definitely did, because it was Scott — he didn’t let on. “We’re having Mexican.”

 

Lydia said, “I love Mexican.”

Chapter Text

The Sheriff waved cheerfully when he saw Stiles’s car — he was glad in a way that the Jeep had been passed onto Scott before Stiles had left for college; Stiles’s current car was a little more … appropriate for a federal agent — pull into the driveway. He walked over to the car and opened Grace’s door.

 

“Hey, kids!”

 

“Hey, Sheriff,” Grace eased herself out of the car carefully and stepped over to the Sheriff, planting a quick kiss on his cheek as a greeting.

 

“How are you doing?” he asked, drawing back from Grace and pulling Stiles, who had walked around the front of the car to greet him, in for a hug. “You both look great. How’s Los Angeles treating you both?”

 

“Great, thanks Dad,” Stiles said. He pulled back from his father. “Should we go inside?”

 

The Sheriff nodded eagerly and led the way into the house — the same house they’d always lived in. It even had a plaque beside the door that said The Stilinskis. Stiles felt a lurch of emotions that now only one Stilinski lived there.

 

“You kids arrived just in time,” Sheriff Stilinski said, “I was thinking about ordering in food for dinner.”

 

“Actually, Dad,” Stiles said, “I need to pick up my tux from that place in town before it shuts tonight. I was really hoping to get it done so I can check something off the ever-growing to-do list. I can pick up something on the way home though, if that helps.”

 

Noah Stilinski nodded. “Well, sure. That saves me from finding somewhere to order from. Grace, are you going with Stiles?”

 

“Sure, I can—”

 

“You can’t see my tux! It’s bad luck,” Stiles interrupted. “I’ll just pick it up and come straight home, I won’t be long at all.”

 

“It’s only bad luck to see the bride’s wedding wear,” Grace told him, rolling her eyes, “of course I can come with you.”

 

“You don’t want to keep the old man company while I’m gone?” Stiles asked, tucking his arm around Grace’s waist and squeezing her reassuringly. “I won’t be long. I promise. You won’t even notice I’m gone.”

 

“Come on, Grace, I can make us some coffee,” Noah said, shooting Stiles a confused look.

 

“Just tea for me, please …” Grace said distantly, but she smiled at Noah and followed him into the kitchen. Stiles felt bad for disappearing on both his dad and fiancée within minutes of arriving, but he knew that the store where his tux was would be closing soon — and there was the added bonus of the formalwear store being located extremely close to Scott’s house.

 

It would give him an opportunity to drop in on Scott and talk to him for twenty minutes without Grace wondering where he was for too long. Without anymore hesitation, he left the house and jogged over to his car, getting inside and reversing from the driveway.

 

As he drove through his old town, he thought about Lydia and all the time they’d spent driving around town — at first, in the early days, just on missions and to deal with various supernatural occurrences, but then later on as they headed out on dates, or over to Scott’s house, or just as a way to spend time together — back in the day. He’d also driven her to the airport on the day they’d broken up, his heart thudding inside his chest with the inevitability that he would be driving back the other way with a broken heart, which he didn’t like to think about as much.

 

He picked up his tux from the formalwear store he’d reserved it from and carried it out to the car. After he’d laid it down carefully in the back seat, praying he didn’t need to brake too sharply and crease the damn thing, he began the short drive over to Scott’s house.

 

Scott’s car was in the driveway and Stiles parked a little haphazardly outside the house, grabbing the tux from the back of the car and jogging over to the front door. It was unlocked, so he let himself in. He’d been to Scott’s house too many times to count and it was like letting himself into his second home. 

 

“Scott?” he called through the house. “Scotty? You here? Your car’s here — which means you are … Otherwise I’m talking to myself. Scott?”

 

He walked through the entire house, before he finally spotted Scott sitting outside in the back yard, apparently laughing to himself. He bounded over, carrying the tux over his arm, and pushed open the porch doors into the yard.

 

“Scott! I’ve been calling your name!” he said, announcing his arrival loudly and causing Scott to glance over at him, apparently surprised by the interruption.

 

Stiles watched as Scott’s smile visibly and obviously faded from his face, and Stiles frowned at his best friend, trying to figure out why Scott was looking at him like he’d just grown another head.

 

That was when Stiles realised that Scott wasn’t alone, and he hadn’t been laughing to himself but he’d actually been laughing with someone else.

 

He looked across the table at Scott’s guest.

 

It took his brain a few long seconds to register twenty-seven year old Lydia Martin. The last time he’d seen her, she’d been twenty years old and carried three advanced textbooks everywhere with her. No, that wasn’t entirely true. The last time he’d seen her she’d dropped his hand in the airport and walked away, through to departures, and he’d known without a doubt that he wouldn’t see her again.

 

Until now.

 

In Scott’s back yard.

 

Looking better than ever.

 

Of course, she’d always been beautiful. That was the first thing he’d loved about her, but as his love for her over the years had developed and grown into more than just a schoolboy crush, he’d realised she was so, so much more than her beauty.

 

Just sitting there, a few yards away from him, it was like he could see her intelligence, her kindness, her quick-wit and everything else he’d always loved about her.

 

Seeing her stirred up all kinds of old feelings — feelings he’d thought he’d successfully managed to forget in the last few years — but he shook his head and forced a smile until he could push them to the back of his mind.

 

Because Lydia was here, obviously, for the wedding.

 

His wedding.

 

So, there was no time for his stomach to be flipping over Lydia Martin. It was just that he hadn’t been expecting to see her, not in Scott’s back yard, with a glass of wine in front of her. It was like the invitation all over again — how did she manage to keep shocking him so much that he couldn’t stop thinking about her? It was like she was doing it on purpose.

 

“Lydia?” he said, even though that was a stupid thing to say. It was her. There was no way he could mistake anyone else for her.

 

“Stiles!” she said, calmly getting to her feet and crossing the yard over to him.

 

She was wearing a leather jacket, dark jeans and those suede heeled ankle boots that she’d always loved so much. Wearing those, she reached his shoulders and she easily wrapped her arms lightly around his shoulders in a easy, friendly hug.

 

“Hey, Lydia,” He was still confused and he knew it showed on his face. “What are you … I mean, you’re in Beacon Hills. Already!”

 

“It’s a long story,” Lydia answered, waving the comment away, “but I’m here for the week. Scott picked me up from the airport and invited me over for dinner.”

 

“Oh,” Stiles said, glancing at Scott. He frowned ever so slightly at his best friend, who was carefully avoiding eye contact. “Well, great. Have you two been catching up?”

 

“We speak pretty regularly, so there’s not really any need to catch up,” Lydia answered, her eyes still on Stiles. Stiles nodded slowly, wondering why it felt like Lydia was challenging him. 

 

“Is that your tux?” Scott asked, still sitting at the table and chairs. He looked completely unsurprised at this turn of events, maybe even a little bit … smug.

 

Yep. That was the only word Stiles could think of to describe to look on Scott’s face. Smug.

 

“Uh, yeah, it is. Just picked it up.”

 

“Let’s see it!” Lydia replied, clapping her hands. She reached for the zipped bag the tuxedo had been hung inside, and pulled the zipper down excitedly. While Stiles still felt weird and on high-alert around her — he hadn’t seen her for seven years, how was she acting so fine about all of this?! — Lydia moved with an ease and confidence that Stiles remembered and knew so well.

 

It was like this whole chance encounter hadn’t fazed her at all.

 

She pulled out the tux, her fingers gliding over the material, and nodded. “It’s nice, Stiles. Really nice. I’m impressed by your taste.”

 

He cleared his throat, exceptionally awkward. “Grace picked it out, actually. But I approved it!”

 

There was a second — just a split second — when her smile faltered at the sound of Grace’s name. But Lydia had always been a master at a neutral, unaffected facial expression and she smiled easily, softly immediately after. So smoothly that Stiles wondered if he’d imagined her faded smile. Maybe it had been wishful thinking that she would still care.

 

“She has great taste,” Lydia told him earnestly. “So, how are you feeling for next weekend?”

 

“Nervous,” Stiles answered, glancing over at Scott and wondering why he wasn’t getting involved in the conversation. He was just sitting at the table, beer in hand, sipping and occasionally nodding in agreement. It was uncharacteristic and suspicious as hell.

 

“Well, that’s understandable,” she answered. “Are you staying at your dad’s now? You live in LA, right?”

 

He nodded, feeling a rush of … of something that she knew that. She asked about him — it was either that or Scott volunteered information about his life, whether she wanted to hear it or not.

 

“Yeah, we got in about an hour ago. We’re staying with my dad the week before the wedding because there’s so much to do in Beacon Hills to prepare for the big day still — there’s no way we can do it from LA.”

 

God, he sounded just like Grace. He was pretty sure she’d said the exact same thing to him when she’d suggested staying with his dad a few months ago.

 

“That would make it … very difficult,” Lydia replied.

 

“When did you get into town?”

 

“Today,” she said. “Scott picked me up from the airport.”

 

“Of course — I already knew that,” Stiles said awkwardly. “You’re staying with your mom?”

 

She nodded. “I am.”

 

“Great,” he said. “That’s great.”

 

Lydia and Stiles stared at each other for a few seconds. Then, Lydia smiled widely and glanced back at Scott. “Anyway, I should probably … be heading home. My mom should be back soon and I don’t want to miss her, so … I’ll see you guys around probably.”

 

“It’s a small town,” Stiles said.

 

“Do you need a ride, Lydia?” Scott asked.

 

“I’ll walk,” she answered breezily. “You guys chat. I could do with the fresh air.”

 

She grabbed her purse from the seat and hugged Scott, whispering something in his ear that Stiles didn’t quite hear from where he was standing. And then she was walking towards Stiles, her eyes not quite focused on his face, and she stood in front of him.

 

“It was great seeing you again, Stiles,” she said, her voice quiet. Just to him. His breath caught and he nodded.

 

“You too.”

 

“I’ll see you around,” she continued, her voice still quiet. He nodded again — why could he only apparently nod in answer to her? “We should get together soon. The pack, that is.”

 

“Yes,” he replied, managing to force out at least one word. “Sounds good. See you around, Lydia.”

 

“I’ll let myself out,” she announced, disappearing into the house with one last wave. Stiles waited for a minute, staring at Scott as Scott looked back at him casually, until he was sure Lydia was gone and wouldn’t be able to hear their conversation.

 

“What the hell,” he said, claiming the chair that Lydia had just vacated, “just happened? Why is Lydia here? Not just in Beacon Hills, but here here?”

 

“Her mom wasn’t at home, so I invited her over for dinner — she had nowhere to go,” Scott said easily. He sipped his beer, hiding a smile, but Stiles knew him too well to allow him to get away with his plan.

 

“I told you very clearly what time we would be arriving in town,” Stiles reminded him, “I said that we’d be getting in at around six and I’d pick up my tux and then drop by yours on my way back. You knew I was coming over, man! You set me up!”

 

Scott sighed and set his beer down on the table. “I didn’t set you up, Stiles. I just invited her over and I lost track of time — I forgot you were even coming.”

 

“I don’t believe you,” Stiles said to him firmly, “and if I was a werewolf, I’d be listening to your heartbeat right now to prove it.”

 

Scott frowned at him. “Well … you’re not a werewolf, so …”

 

“I can’t believe you set me up. You knew that I’d come over and she’d be here — you invited her over because you knew I was coming! What did you think would happen, Scott?”

 

“Maybe that you’d get to see your old friend and stop feeling so weird about her coming to the wedding next weekend,” Scott suggested, then shrugged. “But you can’t prove I did anything.”

 

“I would kill you, but—”

 

“There’s no way you physically could?”

 

“—I need to be back home before my dad and Grace start to wonder where I am,” Stiles finished, ignoring Scott. “I’ll see you later.”

 

Scott waved at Stiles as he turned around and marched back through the house, furious at the trap he’d walked right into. Okay, so he knew that Scott had technically  just used the timings to a certain advantage and that none of it had actually been orchestrated to be a trap, but Stiles still felt like he’d been tricked in some way.

 

He was in the FBI, for God’s sake. He shouldn’t be walking into traps so easily.

 

He got into his car and turned the volume up high, which he did whenever Grace wasn’t in the car. Grace hated loud music in cars and always worried that Stiles would get distracted singing and crash, but he considered himself a pretty good driver and turned it up as loud as he could whenever he drove alone to compensate for many music-less trips with Grace. He headed back to the Sheriff’s house, still irritated by his best friend’s trap and at his weird behaviour around Lydia.

 

He’d thought that by the time he saw her, he’d be too busy thinking about the other stuff going on — i.e. the fact that he was getting married — to focus fully on her. Seeing her a full week early had completely upset those plans, and now his mind was beginning to unravel.

 

And then, to make matters worse, he saw her.

 

She was walking along the side of the street because there was no sidewalk, and it had grown dark outside since Stiles had left the Sheriff’s house earlier. He couldn’t let her walk home in the dark by herself — her mom’s house was at least a few blocks away and she was carrying a couple of heavy looking bags with her.

 

He realised with chagrin that this had probably been the next step in Scott’s master plan. Scott hadn’t insisted he give Lydia a ride home, which was unlike him, and Lydia had ended up walking home in the same direction that Stiles needed to drive to get to his dad’s house. Scott had known that Stiles wasn’t capable of driving past her without stopping to help.

 

He slowed down the car and rolled the window so he drove alongside her, turning the volume of his music all the way down. He didn’t want to scare the life out of her. Even though he was pretty sure Lydia would be able to handle herself, he didn’t want to take his chances.

 

“Hey! Lydia!”

 

She looked over at him, peering inside the car. He waved. “Stiles?”

 

“Yeah, it’s me. You need a ride?”

 

“I’m fine,” she answered. “But thanks.”

 

“Are you sure?” he asked. He’d figured she’d say no the first time, but he was pretty sure she was just trying to be polite. “It’s the middle of winter and it’s dark … I’m pretty sure there are still all kinds of supernatural creatures roaming the town.”

 

She hid a smile, but he caught it. “This is practically tropical in comparison to New York.”

 

“I’m going your way anyway,” Stiles said, “come on. Just get in the car, please?”

 

She stopped walking and he braked slowly so the car came to a complete stop. She walked over to the door and opened it, sliding into the leather seat and shutting the door behind her.

 

“Thanks,” she said. “Fancy car.”

 

“You like it?” He put his foot down on the gas. “It was my first ever big purchase.”

 

“What’s its name?”

 

He looked at her, his smile faltering. “Doesn’t … have one, actually.”

 

“No?”

 

“Nope,” he replied. “Scott sold Roscoe a few years ago.”

 

“He told me,” she recalled, then added, “he was sad to see it go.”

 

“Yeah, well,” Stiles answered, shrugging. “Roscoe got us through some pretty tough times.” 

 

Lydia was quiet for a while and Stiles wondered what she was thinking about — if the same memories that had appeared in his mind when he’d driven across town earlier had just occurred to her too. 

 

Then she said, “It broke all the time. If anything, Roscoe placed us in those pretty tough times.”

 

“Hey now, Lydia, don’t hate on Roscoe. You know I loved that Jeep more than anything.”

 

She smiled. “More than anything?”

 

Stiles cleared his throat. “More than … most things.”

 

Again, she fell quiet. He would have given anything to know what was on her mind in that moment, as she looked out of the window at the town passing by them, but he didn’t know how to figure her out anymore. She was a closed book.

 

“You should wear a white rose,” she said, turning to look at him again. “I know it’s a wedding tradition anyway, but it symbolises purity and spirituality. And it’ll look great with the tux.”

 

He tried to figure out if she was being serious, giving him wedding day advice, but he guessed she had to be serious. Her expression was neutral, calm and collected. There wasn’t even a hint of anger or jealousy there.

 

“I will,” he told her. “A white rose. I’ll remember that.”

 

“It’ll look great,” she repeated gently. “When did you meet her? Grace, I mean. Obviously.”

 

“Four years ago,” he told her, “I just got transferred to the LA office. She works in admin there, so she took me on my very first tour of the building.”

 

“And it was love at first sight?”

 

“Uh,” Stiles looked at her, wondering why she even wanted to know. He wouldn’t want any details about who she was with. He’d prefer him to be a nameless silhouette with no back story. Why did she want to know about him and Grace?

 

“It’s okay,” Lydia assured him. “It’s been seven years, Stiles. I’m going to your wedding, remember?”

 

“I know,” he answered, too quickly. He sighed.

 

“So,” Lydia prompted. “Love at first sight?”

 

“Truth be told,” he said, pulling up outside her mom’s house and stopping the car, “when I met her, I wasn’t over you. So, no, Lydia. It wasn’t love at first sight. Is that what you wanted to know? Are you happy now?”

 

“Stiles, that wasn’t what I was—”

 

“When I met my fiancée, I was still in love with you,” he finished, pulling on the handbrake and looking at her. “But you’re right, that was seven years ago and now I’m getting married. Things are different now.”

 

Lydia nodded. “Yeah, they are. That’s for sure.”

 

They looked at each other, their breathing the only audible sound surrounding them. The streets were completely silent and Stiles had stopped the car, leaving them in darkness too. He could smell her perfume, something different to what she’d worn when they were together, but still somehow so familiar.

 

“Thanks for the ride, Stiles,” Lydia said after a pause. She opened the car door and hopped out, shutting it behind her. She didn’t say another word, and Stiles watched her walk up the pathway to the house and let herself in through the front door.

 

She hadn’t needed to say another word. The look on her face — and his face, a mirror image of hers — spoke a thousand words, and every single one of them broke his heart all over again.

Chapter Text

Lydia woke up at 7:30 a.m. the next morning to the sound of insistent and persistent knocking — or even hammering — at the front door of her mom’s house.

 

As it was a Sunday and Mrs. Martin was still the principal of the high school, she’d demanded a lie-in for the morning. Lydia had agreed at the time, thinking nothing of it, but unfortunately that meant it was Lydia’s responsibility to deal with the clearly pissed person knocking at the door.

 

She dragged herself out of her warm, comfortable bed and pulled on an old George Washington sweatshirt over her pajamas. It used to belong to Stiles, but it had been in her possession for so long that it smelled like her, not him, anymore. And she barely thought of him when she did wear it.

 

Padding over to the front door, she opened it, expecting an agitated delivery guy or newspaper boy to be standing there, but instead she came face-to-face with Kira and Malia.

 

They were both glaring at her.

 

“Oh,” Lydia said, grimacing.

 

“Oh is right!” Malia answered, folding her arms across her woollen sweater. “You think you can just come back to Beacon Hills and we wouldn’t find out? That we won’t notice? I’m a werecoyote, Lydia, I can smell your scent everywhere.”

 

“What?” Lydia frowned. “No, you can’t.”

 

Malia rolled her eyes. “Okay, fine. Scott and I drove out to the woods on patrol this morning and I could smell you in his car, so I figured that you’d been around recently. That isn’t the point though. What the hell is your problem?”

 

“What Malia means to say,” Kira cut in, shaking her head disapprovingly, “is that you didn’t want to let us know you’re back in town? I mean … we knew you were coming back next week, but not before then.”

 

“It was a last-minute decision and I promise I was going to tell you both today,” Lydia said with a wince. She knew her friends had every right to be upset with her. It wasn’t often she found herself back in Beacon Hills and she knew she should have told them.

 

“We’re going out to breakfast,” Malia announced. “We’ll wait for you get dressed and everything.”

 

Lydia barely needed to consider the offer. She nodded firmly.

 

“Give me fifteen minutes.”

 

______________________________________________________

 

The three friends sat in a small, chic cafe that Lydia hadn’t even known existed until twenty minutes earlier, when they’d pulled up in Kira’s car outside it, but it seemed like the new trendy place to go in Beacon Hills.

 

Lydia had known she would need to grovel just slightly for their forgiveness, and so she did. At first, their faces were unforgiving and unimpressed. Once their coffees and breakfast bagels arrived, they were more willing to hear her out and try to understand what had happened.

 

Once Lydia explained the situation thoroughly — recapping the previous night, the ride back to her mom’s house that Stiles had given her, for the full effect on the chaotic situation — they were both listening, captivated by Lydia’s story, their anger long forgotten.

 

“Stiles is an idiot and everyone knows it,” Malia said knowingly, “most of the time he just says stuff. He doesn’t even know what he’s saying or why — he just says it to talk. He probably didn’t even know what he was saying.”

 

“It wasn’t like that,” Lydia replied, because Malia thought everyone talked just to talk.

 

Her conversation with Stiles in his car hadn’t been like that at all — he hadn’t just been making idle chit-chat, or asking her what her job was like or why she’d come back to Beacon Hills so early, he’d been saying real things to her. She knew she was partially to blame for bringing up Grace. Maybe she should have just left the topic of his wedding and not mentioned it — but then again, she’d been invited. She was in town because of it, wouldn’t it be weird if she hadn’t mentioned it in some way?

 

All she’d asked him was if it had been love at first sight, and she’d been joking a little bit anyway. She hadn’t expected him to answer in that way. He’d seemed angry with her for bringing up their past relationship, even though at the time she’d felt like it needed to be addressed.

 

It had been like the giant elephant in the room, and she hadn’t wanted to keep running into him and him thinking it wasn’t okay to talk about his new life and his wife-to-be. Because she’d been honest when she’d said to him that it was okay. It had been seven years since they’d broken up and she was trying to reassure him that she was okay with him getting married. She wouldn’t be there if she wasn’t, no matter what everybody else seemed to think.

 

The last thing she’d expected was for him to tell her that he’d still been in love with her when he’d met Grace. Especially because he’d met Grace four years earlier, which had been three whole years after their breakup. Had he really pined after her for that long? Or had he just been heartbroken and trying to pull himself together?

 

She had to admit that although she’d been heartbroken too, it hadn’t taken her three years to get back out on the dating scene and meet new people. She’d dated a few guys in her senior year at college — nothing serious, a few flings here and there to move on and get on with her life — and some guys while she’d been in New York, but then again, he was engaged to someone else.

 

She’d moved on quicker, but he’d moved on further.

 

She couldn’t stop thinking about the look on his face after he’d told her. It had reminded her so vividly of when they’d broken up and she’d let go of his hand to go through security at the airport. He’d been so torn apart then, and she could see it again in his face even in the darkness of his car.

 

Then, the final blow: But it’s different now.

 

That had been his definitive, solid way of telling her that those feelings were long gone. He probably didn’t even like her anymore, not as a friend or even as a person. He probably hadn’t forgiven her for how things had ended between them but, being Stiles, had tried not to let it show.

 

Until the car ride home, when he couldn’t help but lay it all out on the table.

 

She’d walked away because for once, she’d had no idea what to say.

 

And now she was sick of going round in circles.

 

“What was it like?” Kira prompted carefully.

 

“He was upset and pissed at me too,” Lydia told them, “it was like all these emotions coming out at once.”

 

“It has been seven years since you last talked to him,” Kira reminded her. “He probably had a lot to say.”

 

“Seven years is a long time to hold in feelings for,” Malia added. “Especially for Stiles, who gets caught up in any commercial with puppies in it.”

 

“He says they remind him of Scott,” Lydia replied distantly. “And that’s why he gets emotional. Apparently.”

 

“Scott was never a golden retriever,” Malia pointed out, which Lydia could only agree with.

 

“I think that he’s been holding in these emotions for the past seven years and he’s finally seen you. The poor guy probably has no idea what’s going on — he loves Grace but he loved you for so long, Lydia,” Kira said, bringing them back on topic and clicking her tongue sympathetically.

 

They were all thinking about Stiles, confused and filled with emotions he couldn’t understand.

 

“I think he will always love you a little bit,” Malia said. “Even when we were dating, there was a part of me that knew … that he still loved you. Nothing could come close to the connection you two had.”

 

“But that doesn’t mean he doesn’t love and want to marry Grace,” Kira replied, nodding. She was trying as hard as she could to play Scott’s peacemaker role and constantly consider both sides, as she loved both Lydia and Stiles.

 

“I know that,” Lydia answered. All of a sudden she didn’t want to talk about Stiles anymore. “Enough about me, though. How are you two?”

 

“I know that you’re just avoiding talking about all of this,” Malia said plainly, “but I don’t mind. I’m tired. Do you know how tiring it is getting up at six a.m., every morning, for early morning patrols? Scott thinks we still need to making sure Beacon Hills is safe, but I’m not convinced it needs to be at six a.m. Why not lunchtime?”

 

The door to the cafe chimed and a slender, blonde woman walked inside, her face softening as the warmth of the cafe hit her. She was wearing a beige peacoat with a checked scarf, and her hair looked effortless but windswept. She looked familiar but Lydia couldn’t place her.

 

She caught Lydia looking at her and Lydia smiled smoothly, before she turned back to her friends and the conversation at the table. Malia was still loudly discussing the problem with 6 a.m. patrols when someone stopped at their table.

 

“Sorry to interrupt,” The woman who Lydia had watched walk into the cafe stood beside their table, smiling at them — but mostly at Kira and Malia. “I just thought I’d come over and say hi.”

 

Kira’s face broke out into a smile. “Grace! Hi!”

 

Lydia felt like everything came to a standstill as she watched her friends enthusiastically — but also somewhat awkwardly, conscious of her sitting there — greet her ex-boyfriend’s fiancée like she was an old friend.

 

“We heard that you guys got here yesterday,” Kira said cheerfully. She was purposefully avoiding eye contact with Lydia, who sat calmly and composed as she waited for Grace to look at her, or for her friends to introduce her.

 

“Uh-huh, yeah, we wanted to get in a week or so before the wedding so we can really figure out the last little details,” she said. Lydia watched her carefully, trying to figure out what she was like and why Stiles was marrying her.

 

Her smile looked forced, Lydia noted.

 

“Oh! Grace,” Kira said, her eyes darting nervously over to Lydia, “this is our friend from high school, Lydia. Lydia, this is Grace.”

 

Grace looked at Lydia and smiled warmly. “Hi, it’s nice to meet you. Lydia Martin, is it?”

 

Lydia nodded. “Yeah, that’s me.”

 

“I remember your RSVP,” Grace replied. Lydia detected something in her voice but she couldn’t quite figure out what it was. “Stiles was so happy that you could make it to the wedding — he really didn’t think you’d be able to. I know he’s so glad to have all his favourite people in the same place.”

 

Lydia swallowed and smiled back at Grace. She felt awful for even considering that there might be something strange about Grace, or hoping that she’d be unpleasant in any way.

 

“I’m just happy to have been invited,” she told her. “It means a lot to me.”

 

“I’ve heard the others mention you before,” Grace continued, “I’m sure everyone is thrilled to see you back in Beacon Hills.”

 

Lydia kind of wanted Grace to stop speaking to her. She was sweet and she seemed genuinely happy that one of Stiles’s friends had come back for the wedding. There seemed to be no malicious undertone to her voice, or any kind of jealousy in her pretty face.

 

Was it wrong of Lydia to feel almost … hurt that Grace didn’t know who she was? What she had once meant to Stiles? Was it weird that Stiles hadn’t told her about Lydia, or would it be weirder if Grace knew exactly who she was and had been okay with Stiles inviting her?

 

She should have realised Grace wouldn’t know her.

 

She wouldn’t want her future husband’s ex-girlfriend to be invited to her wedding, and she didn’t think any woman would.

 

Just in case Lydia needed any other reason for her head to be a chaotic mess, Grace’s appearance in the cafe where she’d innocuously grabbed breakfast with her friends had done exactly that. She knew now that Grace looked so familiar because of Stiles’s Facebook page that she tried so hard to avoid but couldn’t help but look at every now and then.

 

Before, there was a chance she could dislike the woman behind the profile who, as far as Lydia was concerned, had no personality and might not even be right for Stiles anyway. But the evidence was standing right in front of her, wearing an outfit Lydia thought was cute and a smile that was kind. She was not someone that Lydia could dislike.

 

“Anyway,” Grace said, grinning at the other two as well. “I should go. I just came in to get his coffee and my tea, we have a big day of decoration prepping ahead.”

 

“Stiles is with you?” Malia asked.

 

Grace nodded. “He’s out in the parking lot, probably getting impatient.” She laughed. “I’ll see you guys later, okay? We’ll do something as a group soon to get everyone together. How does that sound?”

 

“I’m here the whole week, so ... sounds great,” Lydia told her and Grace beamed even more. Lydia felt like every smile was a punch to her stomach. If only Grace had been awful and dismissive. If only she’d known who Lydia was and had acted rude, then maybe Lydia would be able to dislike her back.

 

But she couldn’t, and she had no reason to either.

 

“Great! We’ll arrange something!” Grace promised enthusiastically. “See you guys later.”

 

The three women at the table uttered goodbyes as Grace stepped up to the counter and ordered two drinks to go. Lydia tore her gaze away from the woman Stiles was marrying and met her friends’ gazes, knowing they’d be quietly wondering if she was okay.

 

“Before you say anything, I’m fine,” Lydia said, keeping her voice low so Grace wouldn’t overhear. “Don’t worry. It had to happen eventually, right? And she’s nice! I like her.”

 

“You do?”

 

“I do,” Lydia said firmly. She didn’t want any more discussion about it. There was nothing to dislike about Grace, and nothing to dislike her for either. Lydia had broken up with Stiles seven years ago and no bitterness remained.

 

She was back for his wedding, after all. There was no way she still had feelings for him.

 

Why did she feel distantly like she was convincing herself?

 

Grace collected the drinks she’d ordered and managed to wave goodbye with her hands full before she left the cafe. Lydia watched her jog across the gravel parking lot and jump into the car that was waiting for her, that Lydia recognised at the Stiles’s car. The early morning sun reflected off the windows, making it impossible to see inside the vehicle. Before she could get a better look, it moved away from the cafe and joined the road, disappearing from sight.

 

“There’s always the possibility of standing up and saying something when the pastor asks if anyone has any reasons why the wedding shouldn’t go ahead,” Malia suggested helpfully.

 

“Or maybe he’ll say your name at the altar,” Kira joked, “you know, like Ross?”

 

Malia said, “Who’s Ross? Do we know Ross?”

 

Lydia smiled at her friends. “I don’t want him to say my name at the altar. She’s too nice.”

 

“She is nice,” Kira replied, relieved that Lydia didn’t seem to require her peacemaking attempts. She wasn’t quite as talented as Scott was at remaining neutral. He had a knack for it after all these years.

 

After the conversation moved on, Lydia listened to her friends’ anecdotes about the last few years in Beacon Hills that she’d missed — including a story about the Christmas party that Scott had hosted last year and had gone horribly, horribly wrong — and laughed in all the right places.

 

She felt more content than she had in months.

 

Her life in New York felt more like a dream than anything. It didn’t even feel like some distant reality; it didn’t feel like her life. Like there was some other Lydia Martin in New York right then, running around with her phone clamped to her ear and gulping down coffee as fast as she could, while the other Lydia Martin sat in a quiet cafe in Beacon Hills with her friends. Thinking about it felt like she’d just woken up from an alternate reality and had come back to the real world, her real life.

 

After they’d sat in those seats for an hour, Kira announced that her shift at the hospital was starting in less than forty minutes and she needed to get home to get ready. Kira had become a doctor after she’d worked tirelessly to control her kitsune abilities with the skinwalkers. She’d wanted to help people after feeling like she’d caused so much pain and damage. She still felt like she was to blame for things that had happened in Beacon Hills, but every shift at the hospital she felt like she came closer to easing the guilt she felt by helping others. Although her friends had explained to her so many times that she wasn’t to blame for anything that happened in Beacon Hills, none of them were, she still felt good about helping people everyday.

 

Lydia sat in the passenger seat of Kira’s car as they drove home, tapping her fingers against her knee.

 

“Kira?”

 

Kira glanced over at her. “What?”

 

“Do you think you could drop me somewhere? There’s someone I need to see.”

 

Kira didn’t ask any questions. She suspected she knew exactly who Lydia needed to visit. “Sure.”

 

______________________________________________________

 

Lydia brushed her fingers against the wilting daisies beside the stone marked Argent.

 

She wondered how long the flowers had been there for — not long, judging by their appearance, as they had only just started to wilt — but she at least knew who had placed them there.

 

She hadn’t thought that after all these years, Scott would still be placing fresh flowers — not just any flowers, but Allison’s favourite flowers — on her grave every week, but there they were.

 

The ground was cold and a little damp, but Lydia sat cross-legged in front of the stone anyway and smiled with a level of uncertainty. She’d never been entirely comfortable talking to Allison’s grave, it had never really meant anything to her before, but she needed Allison now more than ever and it had been too long since she’d visited the cemetery.

 

“So,” she began, pulling out a handful of grass from the ground to keep her hands busy. “You probably know what’s been going on recently, both here in Beacon Hills and New York, with me. I like to think you’re keeping an eye on all of us, maybe Scott in particular, but I’m sorry I haven’t visited more often … I think you would understand more than anyone how this place can be though and why I haven’t come back often. This entire town is filled with the ghosts of people we’ve lost and the ghosts of the people we used to be. Who we were before all this mess. Remember when things used to be easy? I guess you never knew Scott before he became a werewolf, and I suppose I didn’t either. Him and Stiles were both like tiny blips on my radar. I think I sat beside Stiles in English in eighth grade but I never talked to him. That bite changed all of our lives, didn’t it? This long, complicated chain of events waiting to happen from the second Peter bit Scott.

 

“I guess recently I’ve been thinking about what would have happened if Scott had never been bitten. All the people who would still be here — I’d list them all, but the list is endless. Maybe you’d still be here. Stiles and I wouldn’t have dated, at least I don’t think so. Sometimes I think that might be a good thing, other days I can’t imagine never having lived through that chapter in my life. Although, if I’d never dated Stiles, I never would have lost him either.”

 

She cleared her throat and watched the grass fall through the gaps in her fingers, onto the ground below her.

 

“So, speaking of Stiles. You know all about his fiancée? What do you think of her? Allison, you know me. I’d love to hate her. It would make things easier if I did hate her, but I met her this morning and I don’t think I can. He was waiting for her in the car and she took his coffee out to him, although she had tea. Who prefers tea to coffee?”

 

She shuddered, then sighed.

 

“I know now that he still had feelings for me when he met her,” she continued, “and I thought that complicated things. I thought it meant more than it did, but I guess … it doesn’t. It took him a while to move on, but now he has. Isn’t that what matters? He’s moved onto someone else, they’re getting married and she’s perfect for him.

 

“And I think it’s time for me to let him go. I don’t mean that I’ve been hung up on him all these years, but I still think of him as being part of me. It’s time for me to realise that he’s with somebody else now and that’s forever. We just … weren’t.”

 

Lydia frowned, wishing that Allison could give her some kind of a sign to indicate that she was listening. She didn’t believe in ghosts, but not long ago she hadn’t believed in the supernatural either. Over the years, she’d needed to broaden her beliefs and what she knew to be true or false, but she wasn’t convinced about ghosts. Sometimes she wished her banshee abilities stretched to being able to connect with the dead, rather than just predict death.

 

“I wish you could tell me what you think,” she continued, “because I know you’d have an opinion on all of this. Can’t you tell me? Can’t you just give me a little bit of advice? I won’t tell anyone if you do.”

 

“I’ve tried that,” said a voice from behind her, and Lydia glanced around until her eyes landed on Scott, standing a couple yards away from the grave and carrying a bunch of blue forget-me-nots in his hands.

 

“Bargaining?” Lydia asked.

 

Scott crossed over to her, placing the flowers down in front of the grave and collecting the old ones. He held them close to his chest.

 

“Pretty much everything,” he answered. “Sometimes I think she does answer, you know? Not always. Maybe that’s just me actually making decisions and thinking it’s her, but I always think it helps. Talking to her.”

 

“Scott,” Lydia said, “I wish I could come here more often, but …”

 

“It’s okay. She knows.”

 

“You think?”

 

“Definitely,” he answered firmly. “Who am I to say that ghosts don’t exist? I’m a freaking werewolf. Kira is a kitsune, Malia’s a werecoyote. You’re a banshee. Stiles is a federal agent — trust me, ghosts aren’t impossible.”

 

She cracked a smile. “Stiles was always supposed to be in law enforcement. It’s in his nature.”

 

“Yeah, it is. I just wanted to make you smile.” He smiled at her. “Mind if I sit down?”

 

She shrugged, gesturing to the space beside her. “Go for it.”

 

He took his place, his fingers brushing away some moss that crept over Allison’s headstone. “So, did she help? Do you know the answer to your problem?”

 

“Which one?” she asked.

 

“I think we both know,” Scott answered, his eyes on Allison’s name carved into the stone. He’d been sitting by her grave for over ten years now and part of him still hadn’t ever come to terms with it being Allison’s grave.

 

Lydia looked over at Scott. “Since Allison isn’t answering, what do you think I should do?”

 

“About what?”

 

“Didn’t you hear the whole conversation?”

 

She frowned at the word conversation, but didn’t correct herself.

 

“Most of it,” he confessed, shrugging, “but only because of the werewolf hearing. I spoke as soon as I was close enough for you to hear me.”

 

“It’s about Stiles,” she told him, figuring that he’d already guessed the topic of her problems.

 

“He told me about the car ride home last night,” Scott confessed. “He didn’t mean to tell you that stuff, but you need to remember that Stiles had held a lot of these feelings in for the last seven years. Seeing you again has freaked him out completely.”

 

Lydia felt a small amount of satisfaction that Stiles didn’t seem to be handling the current situation any better than she was.

 

“I need to talk to him, don’t I?”

 

“Yes,” Scott answered. At least it was a definitive answer. “You do. But if you still want an answer to your question, I don’t think there’s anything you can do. You guys were great together when you were together, but that’s over and things are different now. Stiles is with Grace and he’s marrying her. He’s finally happy. He’s finally in a good place.”

 

She hadn’t wanted to ask Scott up until that moment just how badly Stiles had handled their break-up. She thought she knew — she hadn’t exactly coped well either — but she’d been too afraid to know for sure.

 

“Was it bad?” she asked. “At first, I mean.”

 

“Yeah,” he replied, nodding sincerely. “Yeah, it was bad. I’ve never seen him like it before. It’s all ancient history now, but it really messed him up for a little while.”

 

Lydia nodded. She wasn’t surprised, only because she’d gone back to Boston and cried in her dorm room for two days straight. After that, she’d picked herself up and tried to resume her life like normal, even though being without Stiles wasn’t normal. She had a degree to complete and life went on, so she forced her emotions to the back of her mind and concentrated on work instead.

 

She supposed that hadn’t really stopped. Work had been her escape at first, now she didn’t know how to function without it.

 

“I had to go to Washington D.C. a couple of times to get him out of the state he was in,” Scott told her. “Maybe you should talk to him about it all.”

 

“What good will that do? He was pissed last night, Scott. He was angry with me for asking if he loved Grace from the moment he met her, like it was my fault he was still hung up on me three years after we broke up. If I bring it up again, it just brings back old memories. He doesn’t want that, trust me — he can barely look at me.”

 

“We both know that isn’t true,” Scott said gently. He was interrupted by his phone ringing, the ringtone he’d saved specifically for Stiles blaring out from his jeans pocket.

 

“Answer it,” Lydia told him wearily, frowning at Allison’s grave, deep in thought.

 

Scott answered Stiles’s call. “Hey, Stiles. No, I’m not busy. Just with Lydia and Allison — at her grave. That’s all.” He listened for a few seconds. “Yeah, I am with her.”

 

Lydia looked at him, wondering what Stiles had said about her.

 

“Uh,” Scott answered, his eyes on Lydia. “Yeah, sure. That sounds great. I’ll let her know. All right, see you later. Bye.”

 

“What did he want?” she asked. She no longer needed to pretend that she wasn’t curious what Stiles said to Scott. She was right there. Stiles had asked something about her. This time, it was totally normal to ask what he’d said. She was relieved that she didn’t need to pretend to care what Stiles asked about her anymore.

 

“Dinner,” Scott told her. “Tonight. At the Stilinskis’ house. Grace’s idea.”

 

“Dinner?”

 

He nodded. “And you’re coming, so you better figure out what you’re going to say to him because dinner is at six.”

 

“Tonight?” Lydia repeated, apparently unable to understand even the simplest statement.

 

“Yep,” Scott answered. “Come on. I’ll give you a ride home.”

 

“I hate dinner parties,” Lydia said as the two of them got to their feet. Scott touched Allison’s grave and smiled at the headstone, before he slung his arm around Lydia’s shoulders.

 

“So do I,” he replied, “but this one might actually be kind of interesting.”

Chapter Text

“Look at how cute you look in this yearbook photo.”

 

Stiles crossed his father’s living room over to where Grace searched through a pile of high school yearbooks, scouting for photos of him. Stiles had successfully managed to hide those yearbooks from her for the entire time they’d been dating, but it seemed like his dad had dug them out of the archives to innocently provide her with some entertainment.

 

What Noah didn’t know was that Stiles had kept them from Grace for a very specific reason, and he didn’t want Grace finding out now — not just an hour before the dinner party they were supposed to be hosting was due to start.

 

“We should get ready,” he said, attempting to coax the yearbook — junior year: she was getting dangerously close — out of her hands. She just smiled at him.

 

“I’m ready, honey.”

 

“But …” Stiles knew he could get himself in serious trouble if he wasn’t careful. Either way, he could see Grace overreacting and getting upset if he implied Grace didn’t look like she was ready.

 

“You don’t want to look through your yearbook pictures with me?”

 

“Well, you know, I was there … I have the memories, I don’t need to look through photos. Why don’t we do something else?”

 

“You were so cute in high school,” Grace cried, ignoring him. She pointed a finger at a photo of Scott and Stiles, sitting on the benches at lunch with Allison and Lydia. The photo was innocent enough: the four of them had been sitting together, laughing over something as a group. They all looked happy. Scott and Stiles were on one side of the bench, with Allison and Lydia sitting beside each other across from them.

 

“Let’s … not look at those photos,” he said, but he knew his attempts to digress Grace from the yearbook now would be futile.

 

Despite the photo being of all four of them, with Stiles and Lydia at the forefront of the photo it was easy to look at them, instead of Scott and Allison. Grace didn’t look away from the two figures in the front of the photo, and a feeling of dread filled Stiles’s stomach.

 

“This is Lydia?” she asked, pointing a finger at Lydia.

 

It had been taken in their junior year, a calm day among the storm of all that happened that year, around about fall time. In the photo, Stiles was laughing at something, but his eyes were on Lydia.

 

Anyone looking at that photo could see that Stiles was in love with the girl he was looking at. He’d seen the photo a thousand times before, but he’d never looked at it with the eyes Grace looked at it now. He could see, plain as day, the love he’d had for Lydia written all over his face.

 

“Yeah,” he said, clearing his throat. “And there’s Allison too, see?”

 

“Hmm,” Grace answered. “She was pretty. Both of them.”

 

“Well,” he replied, then fell quiet.

 

“You’re looking at Lydia like you’re in love with her or something,” Grace commented. “Isn’t that strange?”

 

“Uh-huh,” he said, cocking his head. “Strange.”

 

“I’m going to look at your senior yearbook now,” she told him carefully, closing the yearbook she held in her hands and picking up the one laying by her feet. She opened it, slowly flicking through until she reached the candid photos.

 

A photo of Scott, Malia, Lydia and Stiles sitting together. Innocent enough.

 

A photo of Malia and Lydia, their arms around each other as they beamed into the camera. Definitely innocent enough.

 

A photo of Stiles and Lydia, with Stiles’s arm around Lydia’s waist and Lydia’s arm casually over his shoulder, her fingers brushing against his collarbone. It had been taken shortly after they’d started dating, but their comfort with each other was reminiscent of a long-term couple. Stiles’s right hand held Lydia’s hand in place, his touch light and tender, filled with love at the gentle way his fingertips brushed hers. Lydia was smiling right at the camera, but the Stiles in the photograph only had eyes for her.

 

“Grace,” he began.

 

It was too late.

 

Grace snapped the yearbook shut and got to her feet, shooting Stiles a look before she left the room without a word. The silent treatment. That would get him in the party mood. He could just imagine how awkward their dinner party would be now, especially because Lydia was attending.

 

He was torn between following Grace and attempting to explain the yearbook situation or checking on the dinner she’d been cooking in the kitchen. Eventually, he chose the food. He didn’t want their guests to arrive to Grace’s silent treatment and a burnt-down house.

 

Grace would have to wait ten minutes.

 

As he checked on the chicken, roasting perfectly in the oven, his dad walked in. Noah Stilinski wore a sports jacket and tie, his hand smoothing it down awkwardly and self-consciously.

 

“You look great, Dad,” Stiles said.

 

“Thanks, son,” Noah answered. “Now, are you sure it’s a good idea having everyone over tonight? Including Lydia.”

 

“They’re my friends.”

 

“I know that,” Noah replied, “but Lydia has always meant more to you than just a friend.”

 

“She’s just my friend now,” Stiles told him, but there was a seed of doubt inside his mind. How could he claim that Lydia was just a friend after everything they’d been through together? How could he minimise their entire relationship into friendly terms?

 

“If you think that tonight is a good idea, I believe you,” Noah said, “you know Lydia better than I do.”

 

“We’re all adults now and I’m hoping it’ll be fine,” Stiles replied, but he couldn’t help but wince when the doorbell sounded from the hallway. The Sheriff pulled on his tie, looking nervous, and glanced over at him.

 

“Now that your friends are here, I should probably go,” he said, “I told my date I’d pick her up at six-fifteen.”

 

The two Stilinski men walked through the house to the front door. Stiles called out Grace’s name before Noah opened the front door, smiling easily at Stiles’s guests. They had all apparently arrived together, crowded on the front step with uncomfortable smiles. Stiles wished that they’d just ordered pizza or gone out to dinner like regular people — he’d said that a dinner party would be a bad idea, too weird and formal for his very informal group of friends, but Grace thought it sounded great.

 

So, a dinner party it was.

 

She’d sat beside Stiles as he painstakingly made those calls to his friends, but he was just relieved that Lydia happened to be with Scott when he’d invited him. That saved him from making an awkward phone call just to Lydia, especially since he hadn’t yet had a chance to apologise to her for his behaviour in the car the night before.

 

Stiles’s friends all greeted the Sheriff before he slipped out of the door, past the group, and walked towards his car. Next, they smiled at Stiles.

 

“Come on in, everyone,” he said, feeling oddly formal and out of place. Scott walked in first, slapping his hand onto Stiles’s back and smiling at someone standing behind Stiles.

 

“Hey, Grace,” Scott said, causing Stiles to glance back and see his fiancée standing just behind him. She looked fine. Happy, even. Stiles hoped it would stay that way.

 

As Scott greeted Grace, their other friends stepped into the house. Kira hugged Stiles and kissed him lightly on the cheek, probably leaving a lipstick mark, and Malia greeted him by wrapping her arms around him a huge hug, squeezing him tight.

 

Then Lydia stepped up to him, wearing a simple sweater with jeans and thigh-high boots. His chest tightened and he felt like he held his breath — or forgot how to breathe, one of the two — as she smiled at him softly. She lightly touched his upper arm in greeting and brushed her lips against his cheek, pulling back before he’d even really acknowledged what had happened.

 

With the greetings over, he shut the front door.

 

Malia looped her arm through Lydia’s — a gesture of support, Stiles thought — and took her through into the living room. Stiles hung back and smiled hopefully at Grace, who stood rigidly in front of him.

 

“Grace—,” he began.

 

“We’ll talk later,” she interrupted him, but her tone didn’t indicate anger. She reached for his hand and squeezed it lightly, before the two of them walked into the living room after his friends.

 

His eyes were automatically drawn to Lydia, sitting on the couch, gazing around the living room like she’d been taken back in time. The house looked exactly the same as it had done when they’d been in high school and she’d spent a lot of time in it back then. He caught her eye and smiled at her, hoping to convey some kind of telepathic agreement that he knew this was totally weird for everyone involved.

 

“Listen,” Grace said, clapping her hands together and beaming, “I really want to thank you all for coming tonight. I know it’s short notice, so we appreciate that you could be here.”

 

Stiles’s friends all smiled politely, unsure how to react to Grace’s little speech.

 

Were they supposed to clap? Malia’s hands were poised in position, like she was ready to start clapping if it was needed, but luckily Grace smiled and they all relaxed, suspecting a follow-up was to come.

 

“I’m going to check on the chicken,” she announced to the room, touching Stiles’s arm as she passed him and left the room.

 

Once she’d gone, Stiles felt like he could breathe properly. He took a seat beside Scott as Kira began talking about her shift at the hospital, which had only ended forty minutes ago. She talked about a patient who’d been in the emergency room earlier, while Stiles took her story as a time to relax and just listen. He shut his eyes, letting Kira’s words wash over him.

 

“Stiles,” Scott, sitting beside him, frowned at him as though he’d been trying to get his attention for a while. Stiles looked at Scott, then realised everybody was staring right at him. “Dude. You fell asleep.”

 

“I did?”

 

“Yeah,” Lydia answered. Stiles could see her sitting across from him, pursing her lips. “You did. You still snore just a little.”

 

Stiles cracked a smile. “I do not.”

 

“We all heard you,” she replied.

 

“I never snored.”

 

Lydia’s pursed lips spread into a small, smile. A smile just aimed at him. A smile he felt like only he could understand. They stared at each other from across the room, challenging each other silently.

 

“Trust me,” she said, “you did.”

 

Stiles opened his mouth to reply — some quick, witty, possibly even flirtatious reply — but the door to the living room burst open and Grace walked through, an apron tied around her waist and a smudge of flour on her cheek. It was like she’d purposefully dressed up as the perfect hostess part, complete with an artfully placed smudge of flour.

 

Stiles tore his eyes away from Lydia and jumped to his feet, offering his chair to Grace. “How’s dinner coming along?”

 

“Great!” she answered, taking the seat and smiling at him softly. Stiles felt like he was forgiven for the yearbook scenario, but she had told him they’d talk later. Maybe she was just trying not to make a scene and the real silent treatment would come later.

 

“It should be ready in fifteen minutes,” she continued brightly. “There’s room for you on here, Stiles, honey. Sit down.”

 

Grace made room for Stiles — just enough for him to edge himself in beside her — and she placed a hand on his knee.

 

“So,” Grace said, apparently not letting the conversation naturally progress but instead taking it by the horns and steering it purposefully in a particular direction. She turned to Lydia. “Lydia, I feel like I know everyone apart from you. Tell me about yourself — what do you do?”

 

Lydia was always cool and composed. Stiles had always envied that about her. She never acted like she’d been put on the spot, she always oozed confidence and the vibe that she knew the exact moment she’d be addressed in a conversation. She was so smart, she probably did know.

 

She smiled, but Stiles could see — wasn’t it obvious to everyone? Perhaps not — that Lydia’s smile was tight-lipped and forced. Was it possible that she was just acting cool and composed? Was she freaking out as much as he was? He wished he could ask her. Just a moment alone with her and he thought he could figure it out.

 

Figure her out.

 

No, that was next to impossible.

 

He could spend a lifetime trying to figure Lydia Martin out and he’d never succeed. There had been a time when he’d wanted to spend a lifetime trying to figure her out.

 

“I work at a research centre in Manhattan,” Lydia explained. “I’m one of the mathematicians.”

 

“One of the best mathematicians,” Malia chimed in, a hint of pride in her voice. “She’s one of the best.”

 

“The field involves a great deal of extremely talented mathematicians,” Lydia acknowledged, but she still smiled appreciatively at Malia.

 

“And your boss gave you the entire week off work so you could visit home?” Grace asked.

 

Lydia nodded slowly. “Yeah,” she answered. “I don’t visit home as often as I should and he insisted that I take the week off. How could I refuse?”

 

“Well, you just couldn’t,” Grace agreed. “I’m curious, though. Why did you choose New York? There are research centres everywhere and if you wanted to be home with your family and these guys more often, surely there were jobs closer to home you could take.”

 

“New York seemed like the best fit at the time,” Lydia replied carefully, avoiding looking at Stiles. Despite her steadfast refusal to acknowledge him, Stiles still looked at her, bewildered. At the time? What did she mean by that? “And then I got settled there.”

 

“Did you go to college in New York?”

 

“Grace,” Stiles said, laughing nervously. “Enough with the interrogation. We’re not at work.”

 

“That’s your job, honey,” Grace answered flatly, not even bothering to look at Stiles. Her eyes were focused on Lydia like finding out which college she’d attended was her mission for the night. “I’m just trying to get to know Lydia.”

 

“MIT,” Lydia replied, her eyes levelling Grace’s coolly.

 

Grace stared at her for an uncomfortable few seconds, before she got to her feet. “I’m going to check on the dinner. Why don’t you all make your way through to the dining room?”

 

Once she’d left the room, the group exchanged unsure looks. Stiles felt a wave of embarrassment — he didn’t know why Grace was acting how she was acting. He guessed that she’d come to a conclusion from the photos in the yearbook. It was very possible that she’d figured out Stiles and Lydia’s history and was pissed that Lydia had come back for the wedding and that Stiles would invite her to the wedding, but he didn’t understand her interrogation about Lydia’s college.

 

What did Lydia’s college have to do with anything?

 

Scott, Kira and Malia awkwardly joined forces and headed through to the living room, while Stiles and Lydia automatically hung back.

 

“Listen, Lydia,” Stiles began, keeping his voice low. He felt like he was committing some kind of felony inside his own house, like talking to Lydia was somehow wrong or cruel. He hadn’t been the one to insist she was invited to dinner. He had to apologise. For everything.

 

“Stiles—,”

 

“Wait, just listen,” he said urgently. “I’m sorry about what I said to you last night in the car. It wasn’t fair and I didn’t mean to say … what I said. It was stupid and I regretted it as soon as you left.”

 

“Okay, but—”

 

“And I’m sorry about Grace as well,” Stiles continued, shaking his head. “She was looking through some yearbooks photos earlier, I think she may have … figured it out. That it’s possible we were together in high school.”

 

“Stiles,” Lydia interrupted him, narrowing her eyes.

 

“What?”

 

She sighed. “Do you have my sweatshirt still? The one I gave you when you stayed with me in our freshmen year of college? Because it was really cold in my dorm room and neither of us were hugely prepared for winter.”

 

“What?” He frowned, unable to work out how reminiscing on a weekend he’d spent in Cambridge, Massachusetts years ago had any relevance to the conversation. “Yeah, I do. It’s back home — Los Angeles home, that is.”

 

“Do you happen to remember what the sweatshirt says on the front?”

 

Realisation dawned on him, embarrassingly slowly considering his chosen profession.

 

He nodded, throwing up his hands in exasperation. “MIT,” he said. “You gave me your MIT sweatshirt and I kept it.”

 

“Then we broke up,” Lydia reminded him. “And I never got it back. I still have your George Washington sweatshirt, you know.”

 

“It’s in my closet at home,” Stiles said, “I’ve worn it on weekends.”

 

They both looked at each other, frowning. If Grace hadn’t figured it out before, she certainly had now.

 

______________________________________________________

 

 

Cutlery clattered against plates and Malia glanced around the table, attempting to come up with some enlightening conversation topic that would dispel the silence in the room.

 

She came up with nothing, nudging Scott underneath the table in the hopes that he would be able to steer them in the right direction. Scott glanced at her, his eyes widening, and she nodded urgently in the direction of the table.

 

He sighed, clearing his throat. “This chicken is delicious.”

 

“Thanks,” Grace said, “it’s an old family recipe.”

 

“Does anyone want any wine?” Stiles blurted out. “There’s a bottle in the kitchen.”

 

“Yes,” Lydia answered automatically, nodding. “Yes, wine, please.”

 

Stiles nodded and got to his feet, his eyes catching Lydia’s from across the table — their formation meant that Lydia ended up sitting beside Grace and straight across from him — before he left the room in a hurry. He hoped Scott might follow him so he could panic about the entire situation, but nobody arrived in the kitchen after him.

 

They’d been eating in silence for ten minutes. Once the food had been served and everyone took their places, conversation had died down. Normally, Stiles wouldn’t mind that and would happily create a conversation for everyone, but he had no idea what to say to make things better. He’d made a mess and everyone around the table knew it.

 

He carried the bottle of wine back through, wishing the evening could just be over already, and offered it to his guests. Lydia accepted gratefully, clasping the wine glass in her hands almost as soon as Stiles finished pouring. He didn’t blame her. She was sitting right next to the woman who was furious with both of them for the situation they’d put her in. For what she’d discovered that evening, and not through Stiles’s honesty with her.

 

He should have just told her.

 

He shouldn’t have invited Lydia.

 

He had absolutely no idea what he should, or shouldn’t, have done. It seemed like either way, whatever he’d chosen, he’d be in trouble with a woman he cared deeply about.

 

Grace shook her head when he offered her the wine, of course. He placed the bottle down in the middle of the table and forced a smile.

 

“So,” Grace began, just as Stiles was ready to initiate conversation. She looked up from her plate, which she’d been staring at for most of the meal thus far. It seemed like she was finally ready to talk. “When was the last time you were all together?”

 

“Um,” Stiles replied, “graduation, right?”

 

“I wasn’t at graduation,” Kira reminded him.

 

“How come?” Grace asked.

 

Kira smiled. “I transferred.”

 

Stiles had considered telling Grace all about the pack — the real pack, not just “the pack” as some strange nickname for his high school friends — but it had all seemed so complicated. He remembered years ago, when he’d only been at the LA office for a few months, listening to his partner — Agent Woods — and Grace talk about their boring, run-of-the-mill high school experiences.

 

In comparison, his high school experience seemed unbelievable. Woods and Grace’s biggest concerns had been the SATs and or whether they’d finished all their homework due in on Monday. By senior year, the pack had already buried one of their own, dealt with ancient spirits, fought alpha packs and saved the town from ghost riders. 

 

In that moment, he’d realised that he could never talk to anyone about the supernatural. Grace would think he was crazy. She’d laugh him right out of the FBI, and so would Woods, who was no nonsense and believed in solid, factual evidence above anything else. That was their job. They believed in the possible. They believed in the facts and the statistics.

 

So, as a result, she knew nothing about that side of his life. Since moving away from Beacon Hills, the supernatural occurrences felt like a lifetime ago anyhow. He didn’t think about werewolves and kanimas anymore.

 

He still thought about banshees, but in an entirely different sense.

 

His friends smiled secretively around the table to each other, but Grace didn’t notice.

 

“That’s a shame,” she replied to Kira, “so you missed out on senior year with your friends?”

 

“It was okay,” Kira said, “we kind of kept in touch. And now I’m back anyway, so there’s nothing to be sad about.”

 

“Yes, but Stiles and Lydia don’t live in Beacon Hills now,” Grace said. It sounded strange hearing Lydia’s name alongside his off Grace’s tongue. He was used to it from Scott, from his other friends — StilesandLydia are coming, StilesandLydia are busy tonight, StilesandLydia are driving back to Beacon Hills in the morning — but from Grace it sounded jarring and alien.

 

“No,” Kira agreed, “but we still talk.”

 

“That’s lovely, Kira,” Grace agreed. Stiles smiled at his fiancée as the conversation thankfully continued around them. He reached for her hand across the table, his eyes catching Lydia’s for a split second as he did so, but he forced himself to look straight past her at Grace.

 

She seemed fine. He began to think about the possibility that she really was okay with what she’d discovered earlier. Even if she was weird about it at first, maybe it was for the best that she knew. They could talk about it. He wouldn’t feel like he was lying to her all the time.

 

Stiles began to relax, feeling like the evening had improved considerably, and listened to his friends chatter around him.

 

After an hour, the conversation began to wind down as Stiles’s friends debated heading home. It was Sunday evening and most of them had work the next day; it was dark and gloomy outside, and none of them wanted to leave the warmth or comfort of the Stilinski house. But it was time to call it a night. They all headed to the front door and Stiles opened it for them, hugging each one of his friends in turn as they left the house.

 

Lydia was last.

 

He barely faltered this time. He pulled her in just as he had done so with the others, casually and in a friendly gesture. Only, his heart hadn’t pounded beneath his checked shirt when he’d hugged his other friends, and he knew deep down that the hug felt nothing like the others had done.

 

He let her go, his hand catching hers, and he felt his fingers wrapping around hers in an intimate gesture he hadn’t anticipated.

 

Lydia said to him, her voice low and balanced, “We need to talk. Properly.”

 

“Of course,” he murmured gently, squeezing her hand and wishing he didn’t have to let her go. He forced himself to, wringing his own hands together, and watched as Lydia turned around and hurried up the driveway. She caught up with her friends, nudging her hip against Malia’s in an announcement of her arrival, before he shut the door behind them.

 


A wave of exhaustion — from hosting and from the events of the evening — hit him as he headed into the living room, where Grace sat with the yearbooks surrounding her. The senior year yearbook lay open on her lap, with a different photo of Stiles and Lydia displayed in the centre of the page.

 

Of course they were on the centre page. Nobody cared about him, but Lydia had always been the most popular girl in school. The yearbook photographers had practically followed her around for weeks, waiting for photo opportunities.

 

“Grace,” he said softly, “don’t look at those. They’re just—”

 

She looked up from the yearbook with watery eyes. Stiles instinctively took a step towards her, immediately assuming something was wrong. She was in pain. She was sick. But he soon realised she wasn’t crying because she’d been hurt, at least not physically.

 

“Just tell me one thing, Stiles,” she said, blinking away the tears. Stiles almost wished for the silent treatment instead of this. He wanted to go to her, but he’d never been the cause of her hurt before and he felt frozen on the spot.

 

“Grace—,”

 

“Please, just answer me. Just be honest,” she said. “Was she your girlfriend?”

 

No. She wasn’t just my girlfriend. She was so much more than that.

 

The thought entered his brain unexpectedly and he fought to expel it. It was not the time to be feeling sentimental over his relationship with Lydia.

 

“Yeah,” he answered, “she was. But she was also one of my best friends — I couldn’t not invite her, Grace. I didn’t even think she’d say yes, it’s been so long since we last spoke to each other. It was a difficult decision, trust me.”

 

“A decision that you didn’t think to involve me in?” she asked. She shook her head, the hurt written all over her face. Stiles hated that he was the reason for that pain. “How could you do this to me? How could you invite your ex-girlfriend to our wedding and not tell me? Not even think to warn me?”

 

“I should have told you,” he said, “I just didn’t know how. I’m sorry, Grace.”

 

She shook her head, glancing back down at the yearbook. “How could you invite her to our wedding? The ex-girlfriend that you looked at like this …” She flipped back to the photo that she’d been looking at earlier, the one where Stiles looked at Lydia like she was the only person in the entire world. “The one you still look at like this—”

 

“Grace!”

 

She looked at him, her eyes meeting his. “How could you do this to me, Stiles?” She placed a hand on her stomach, where Stiles could just about make out the shape of her small bump, only just visible through her loose-fitting sweater.

 

“How could you do this to us?”

Chapter Text

Natalie Martin entered the kitchen to her house to find her daughter sitting at the island counter, a glass of red wine in her hand, lost in thought.

 

It was a rare occurrence to see Lydia still, since Natalie had grown used to the active, almost flighty version of her daughter that emerged after Lydia had moved to New York. She’d started to think about Lydia in terms of the location attributing to her personality.

 

New York Lydia was constantly moving, working, thinking, writing, typing, calling somebody on the phone, rushing from place to place with a full schedule for any given day.

 

Beacon Hills Lydia was sitting in front of her, sipping slowly at the glass of wine and staring off into the distance. Of course, her daughter had always been extremely focused, but a sense of calm seemed to have swept over Lydia since her return to the town and the reunion with her friends.

 

For the first time in a long time, Natalie felt like her daughter was actually there.

 

“Good evening, sweetheart,” Natalie stopped in front of the island counter, interrupting Lydia’s thoughts. Lydia looked up and smiled distantly. “How was the dinner party?”

 

“Interesting.”

 

“Interesting?” Natalie asked. “That isn’t the typical reaction to dinner parties. What happened?”

 

“This morning, Stiles’s fiancée liked me, now ... maybe not so much,” Lydia told her mother. She added, “There was an incident. She found out about my history with Stiles.”

 

“And Stiles hadn’t told her?”

 

Lydia shook her head. “Should I talk to her?”

 

“No, honey, this is between them and you shouldn’t involve yourself in someone’s marriage.”

 

“Engagement,” she corrected Natalie, though she wasn’t sure if the distinction mattered. “They aren’t married.”

 

“Don’t be pedantic, Lydia. You know what I mean,” her mother replied, raising her eyebrows. “It isn’t your fault that Stiles didn’t tell her that the two of you dated, or explained your history. Everybody in this whole town knew what you meant to each other and he should have known the truth wouldn’t stay hidden for long.”

 

Lydia nodded. She knew that her mother was right, but she still couldn’t get rid of that nagging feeling that she was in the wrong. She knew that if she was in Grace’s position, she’d want to speak to her about it.

 

“She looked upset,” Lydia told her, thinking back to the look on Grace’s face for most of the evening. Lydia had quietly sat back and let the conversation surround her, observing as opposed to participating, cautious that if she spoke up she might bring about Grace’s unwanted attention. Stiles had mostly acted the same, and because of that their friends had done most of the talking.

 

She thought about Stiles and Grace, and wondered if they were arguing or if they’d made up. Maybe Grace had just been processing the situation and she wasn’t angry. Maybe she understood — she had to have some kind of understanding. It was a complex situation, everybody knew that.

 

“Of course she was upset. She just found out that her fiancé invited his ex to their wedding without warning her first — she probably feels embarrassed that she didn’t know.”

 

Again, Natalie was right.

 

Lydia cocked her head and looked at her mother. “When did you become so knowledgeable?”

 

“I’ve always been this wise,” Natalie told her with a smile, “you’ve just never needed my advice like this before.”

 

“And what is your advice, exactly?”

 

“Give them space,” Natalie said, after a pause to consider Lydia’s question. “They’re getting married in a week but this will have completely thrown their relationship off balance. If you show up to talk to either of them, it may be misinterpreted as meddling.”

 

“But I need to talk to Stiles.”

 

“About what?”

 

She didn’t know, exactly. She’d been thinking it through the entire evening. The same words running through her head: I need to talk to him. I just need to talk to him. Once she was faced with him, she’d know. The words would come naturally to her, she was sure.

 

Maybe she’d tell him that she didn’t think she was over him. Maybe she’d be brave and tell him the truth. That coming back to Beacon Hills and seeing him again had shifted things for her. It was like the world had come back into focus and everything, for the first time in a long time, made sense.

 

Maybe she’d tell him that she’d never had the heart to throw out a sweatshirt of a college she’d never even attended because it reminded her of him. Maybe she’d tell him that there were many times after they’d broken up that she considered picking up the phone and suggesting they attempt to work things out. Maybe she’d tell him that their break-up had been a singular moment when she’d freaked out about college, the distance, about how they’d make it work and she’d ended it because it seemed easier at the time.

 

Maybe she’d tell him that if she could, she’d go back and she’d never leave him.

 

Maybe she’d tell him that she didn’t regret much in life, but she regretted breaking up with him more than anything.

 

Or, maybe she’d tell him that she was happy for him, and that she couldn’t wait for his wedding.

 

“About …” She faltered, shaking her head. “I don’t know. I don’t know the answer.”

 

“Well, I’ve never seen this before,” Natalie said. “But I believe in you, I trust you’ll figure it out — I just think that if you need to speak to him, to either of them, you need to wait first. You need to wait until they come to you.”

 

It didn’t take long.

 

The next morning, Lydia watched from the living room window — nursing a wine-hangover (the worst kind of hangover) with a strong cup of coffee — as a car pulled up outside the house and Grace got out.

 

The visitor shut the car door behind her and shivered against the cool January air. She tucked her hands under her arms and hurried to the front door. The doorbell rang loudly, and Lydia waited fifteen seconds before she walked over to answer it.

 

Grace smiled at her from over the threshold, clearly unsure about where they stood. So was Lydia — she hadn’t expected Grace to be there, the next morning, and she certainly hadn’t expected her to be smiling like they were friends.

 

“Hey,” Lydia said.

 

“Hey,” Grace answered. “Can I come inside?”

 

Lydia opened the door wider and stepped aside so Grace could walk in. She led her through to the kitchen, where she silently made a mug of tea for her — having noticed her strange aversion to coffee — and handed it over.

 

“Thanks,” Grace said, accepting the tea. She didn’t appear to want to wait around. Launching straight into it, she continued with: “Do you think we could talk? About you and Stiles?”

 

“What do you want to know?”

 

“He won’t tell me much,” Grace admitted. “Or anything. We had a huge fight last night about it …”

 

Lydia felt sympathy for the woman sitting in front of her, but she didn’t show it. Her expression remained neutral. She was Staying Out Of It.

 

She calmly collected her thoughts, before she said, “I really don’t want to get involved. When I came back here, I came back because an old friend of mine invited me to his wedding and I thought that attending was the right thing to do.”

 

“But you two were together?” Grace pressed. “You were a couple?”

 

“Yeah,” Lydia replied simply. She appreciated that Grace needed the truth and she didn’t want to lie to her, but she was also extremely aware that it wasn’t her place to be giving the information.

 

There was a reason why Stiles hadn’t told her about Lydia. She didn’t know that reason, but she had to respect it.

 

“In love?” Grace asked.

 

Lydia nodded. “Yes.”

 

“Why didn’t he just tell me?” Grace asked, tapping the mug in her hand thoughtfully.

 

“It ended badly,” Lydia told her, “it ended abruptly and badly. I stayed with him in Washington for a weekend and I had no idea it would be the end of our relationship and that that would be the last time I’d see him for seven years. But when I got there, I freaked out about everything, mostly the long-distance and stresses of college, and I told him I couldn’t do it anymore.

 

“It was as simple as that. There was no build-up, no fight, no breaking point. I’d gone to his, intending to spend a romantic weekend with him, and by Sunday afternoon I was back on a plane to Boston and I didn’t look back. He didn’t call, and I didn’t either. That was it.”

 

“That’s it?” Grace seemed disbelieving. “But that’s so ... anticlimactic. I … I saw the way he looked at you in those yearbook photos, Lydia. It’s weird for me to say this, because Stiles is my fiancé, but he was so in love with you. Anybody can see that! Why didn’t he fight for it? Why didn’t you?”

 

“I don’t know,” Lydia shrugged. “You’d have to ask him that. I was embarrassed. I wanted to pick up the phone and call him — I almost did so many times. But every time I almost did, I thought about how long it had been and how he probably already hated me. The thing is, I knew it would be killing him, I just couldn’t bring myself to call him and hear the way he spoke to me. I didn’t want to be hated by him.”

 

“So you never called?”

 

“Never,” Lydia said. She averted her eyes. It wasn’t often that Lydia felt embarrassed or ashamed of her actions — she was a strong believer in owning her past and recognising mistakes — but she tried not to think about the decisions she’d made when she broke up with Stiles.

 

The second she’d dropped his hand at the airport and walked away, she’d known she was making a huge mistake, but she also knew the damage had already been done. It had been unforgivable, he’d never be able to see her in the same way, he’d always remember her as the person who hurt him like that over a small insecurity that lasted all of a few hours.

 

It had been easier at the time to pretend it never happened. She didn’t talk about it with anyone, she stopped speaking to her friends at home for a while. She threw herself into work to distract her mind from Stiles Stilinski, only it had never really worked.

 

After all, she was there in Beacon Hills because of him.

 

“And he never called?” Grace confirmed.

 

“Never,” Lydia repeated.

 

“That just doesn’t sound like him.”

 

“I hurt him so much, Grace,” Lydia told her, because she knew it was true. Without a doubt. She’d walked away from the one guy who’d loved her unconditionally, and he’d never been able to forgive her for it. She’d crushed him, and she’d crushed herself.

 

“And that’s why,” Lydia continued, smiling at Grace, “I’m so glad he’s found you. You love him as he deserves to be loved and you shouldn’t let this whole situation get in the way of that. Trust me, if he didn’t tell you, it’s because he saw no reason to tell you about this awful person from his past who broke his heart.”

 

“If there’s one thing I know for sure, it’s that Stiles doesn’t think you’re awful,” Grace said. She rolled her eyes ever so slightly, which made Lydia smile a little. “Come on, he thinks you’re incredible. Everyone does! And they’re right to. You’re intimidatingly gorgeous, you’re a genius, but you’re also kind. I can see why Stiles is in love with you. It makes total sense.”

 

Lydia sighed, beginning to become frustrated. “If he’s so in love with me, please tell me why he’s marrying you, Grace. Stiles is marrying you. We don’t have feelings for each other anymore, we’ve both moved on.”

 

Grace sighed. “He’s marrying me because he feels like he doesn’t have a choice.”

 

“Grace, I’m sure that’s not true—”

 

But she nodded. “It is true. He thinks it’s the right thing to do. I think he genuinely believed it until we got back here and he saw you again.”

 

“I don’t understand,” Lydia said, shaking her head. “What do you mean?”

 

Grace looked at her, then took a long sip of her tea.

 

“Lydia,” Grade said, smiling nervously, “I thought you were supposed to be a genius.”

 

Lydia stared at Grace, the confusion still resting on her face. She noticed Grace’s hand twitch, from where it had been positioned casually in front of her stomach. Her stomach, Lydia noticed, which looked a little swollen.

 

As soon as she noticed the bulge beneath Grace’s grey sweater, she couldn’t take her eyes off it — in that way she knew was rude. Like when you drove past a car accident and couldn’t look away, even though you knew it was wrong and an invasion of privacy. Grace was tall and slender; the swelling beneath her sweater wasn’t due to a food baby from the night before.

 

It was because of a real baby.

 

Grace’s baby.

 

Stiles’s baby.

 

“You’re pregnant,” Lydia said matter-of-factly, bluntly.

 

It wasn’t a question. It all made sense now — the tea instead of coffee, the way she moved slowly and carefully, the wedding being so fast, how she’d avoided the bottle of wine at the dinner party.

 

“Five months,” Grace told her. She wasn’t smiling. Weren’t most women happy about being pregnant? Maybe she’d had terrible morning sickness, or maybe it hadn’t been planned. Or maybe she was trying to be respectful and not celebrate her pregnancy loudly in front of Lydia, while knowing that Lydia had once been in love with her fiancé.

 

“Wow,” Lydia said, then gulped down her coffee. She felt like she needed that caffeine kick to muster up the enthusiasm she knew she needed. “Does everybody know?”

 

“I believe Stiles told Scott,” Grace said, “because there isn’t much they don’t share with each other, apparently. Apart from that, no. Nobody knows. We didn’t want people attending the wedding thinking it was some kind of shotgun wedding — it isn’t. We wanted to get married as soon as possible, before I’m too big to fit in my mom’s dress. I always wanted to wear it.”

 

Lydia swallowed. “I see.”

 

Grace still wasn’t smiling — in fact, there was a sadness to her expression. Lydia couldn’t quite place it. She was sitting there, talking about her upcoming wedding and baby, but she wasn’t smiling.

 

“Grace,” Lydia said gently. “Is everything … okay?”

 

“He’s in love with you,” Grace said simply, her voice catching, “and you’re in love with him. I can see it written all over both your faces. But you’re scared of it, aren’t you? You’re scared of your feelings for him — you didn’t think you’d still feel this way about him after all these years apart.”

 

“Okay,” Lydia answered, “that’s enough, Grace. Stop being so ridiculous.”

 

To Lydia’s surprise, Grace lowered her head and said nothing. She wondered briefly if Grace had completely lost it, but then she heard a sob and realised — with blind panic, because she’d never been great at comforting people — that Grace was crying.

 

“Sorry. Are you okay?” Lydia said, grimacing. “I didn’t mean to upset you.”

 

She knew she shouldn’t be speaking so frustratedly to Grace, who was clearly confused and irritated over the whole situation, but she didn’t appreciate Grace coming into her house and speaking to her like this. She knew her own feelings for Stiles were complicated, but it was disconcerting, a woman she barely knew, telling her about her apparent feelings for someone like they were blindingly obvious.

 

She reached for her phone, wondering whether to call Stiles. She wanted to help, she really did, but this just didn’t seem like something she could solve. It seemed like this entire issue went far, far deeper than Lydia’s arrival in town.

 

“Please, don’t call Stiles,” Grace said, looking up and swiping furiously underneath her eyes. “It’s the hormones, I’m not usually this emotional. It’s the stress of the wedding and everything as well … I just want everything to be perfect.”

 

“Of course,” Lydia answered. She could understand that, at least.

 

“I’m probably just being stupid,” Grace continued, looking right at Lydia. “There’s nothing going on between you two, is there? Everything is so complicated already, I just …”

 

“Nothing is going on between us,” Lydia told her firmly. Part of her wondered what Grace could possibly mean when she said everything was already so complicated, but she reminded herself of her mother’s advice — don’t get involved — and held back her questions. It wasn’t her business.

 

“I can’t believe he didn’t tell me,” the other woman said, her voice quiet. “I mean, I can believe it. Why would he want me to know about you? I’d drive myself crazy with jealousy if I’d known about you before.”

 

Lydia pursed her lips. She didn’t appreciate self-pitying people. She had a feeling Grace wanted more reassurance, which she’d already given, but she nodded sympathetically.

 

“I understand, I really do. Exes are always intimidating,” Lydia said, though she couldn’t remember the last time she’d been intimidated by a guy’s ex-girlfriend. Jackson had had too many exes to count — there was no point in being jealous of half the student body population — while Aidan had such a mysterious past, she didn’t know anything about his exes. Stiles’s ex-girlfriend was Malia and Malia wasn’t just one of her closest friends, but she also wasn’t scary in the slightest. 

 

The guys she’d dated after college she hadn’t cared about enough to even think about their ex-girlfriends. It hadn’t even crossed her mind once that they might have loved someone else, might still even have been in love with someone else. Why did it matter? She didn’t care about them. She didn’t love them, so she didn’t care if they didn’t love her.

 

“Right. Like you’re ever intimidated by anyone,” Grace snorted. “Look at you.”

 

She shifted with discomfort.

 

“Grace, please,” she said eventually, sighing. “Stiles didn’t tell you because it was over so long ago, it wasn’t even relevant. We were just kids, we didn’t know what we were doing. I ... I’m worried about you, so I’m calling Stiles to collect you, okay?”

 

“No, it’s okay, I drove here in his car,” she quickly replied. Lydia realised that Stiles didn’t know Grace was at hers. He didn’t know what she was doing — though Lydia wasn’t even sure she knew herself what Grace was doing.

 

“Sorry,” she continued. “I don’t mean to compare myself to you or anything. It’s just hard not to, when my fiancé’s ex-girlfriend is sitting right in front of me. You’re right, I know you’re right. Stiles loves me and you two … You were over a long time ago. I don’t need to worry about anything. Right?”

 

Hiding her exasperation at the repetitive nature of the conversation, Lydia smiled and said, “I told you, we were over a really long time ago.”

 

Grace smiled a watery, weak smile. “Thanks. And Lydia, I’m sorry about my behaviour at the dinner party — I was rude to you because I was pissed at Stiles for keeping your entire relationship a secret, when it wasn’t your fault at all. I shouldn’t have taken it out on you.”

 

Lydia waved her hand. “It’s all forgotten.”

 

She got to her feet. “Thanks for the tea.”

 

“You’re leaving?”

 

“I just wanted to … apologise,” Grace said, her hand resting on her small bump. “I always wondered why Stiles had a sweatshirt from MIT at home and as soon as I figured out you two were together in high school and some of college, I needed to know if it had been your sweatshirt. I don’t even know why — it was stupid. Knowing the truth didn’t make me feel any better.”

 

Lydia wondered if it meant anything that Stiles still wore her MIT sweatshirt. If he’d hated her that much, wouldn’t he have thrown it out? Why would he have kept it if it reminded him of her? Was it because of the same reason why Lydia had kept his George Washington sweatshirt? She’d kept it because part of her didn’t want to let go of him and what they’d had.

 

“It’s okay,” she said finally, after realising with a start that Grace was waiting for some kind of response.

 

“Great,” Grace said. “I should get going. I told Stiles I was going to the grocery store.”

 

“Right,” Lydia answered neutrally.

 

It wasn’t any of her business, she reminded herself firmly. It wasn’t her business why Grace was lying to Stiles. Would Stiles mind if Grace had just told him the truth? If she’d simply explained she was going to Lydia’s house to apologise for her behaviour from the night before, she doubted Stiles would disapprove. He’d probably be impressed by her, if anything.

 

“I’ll see you around this week, probably,” Grace said. “It’s only five days until the wedding now.”

 

“It’s come around so fast,” agreed Lydia, as she walked the woman over to the front door and opened it for her. Grace hesitated on the front step, before she smiled at Lydia.

 

“Thanks for understanding,” she said, her hand cupping her stomach again. Lydia tore her eyes away from the bump and forced herself to look at Grace’s eyes. Stiles’s baby was inside her stomach. She fought the bile taste in her mouth back down at the thought of it.

 

“Of course,” Lydia said.

 

Grace turned away and headed up the pathway, climbing into the car and pulling away from the sidewalk after a few seconds. Lydia watched her go, before she shut the door carefully.

 

It’s a tragedy, she thought to herself, an odd calm settling over her. Just a plain tragedy.

 

Because she knew how she felt about Stiles — how she’d always felt about Stiles — now, but it didn’t matter anymore. Grace’s surprise baby announcement sent any plans to speak to him completely spiralling.

 

She could never tell him how she felt now — he was getting married in less than a week to a woman who was carrying his child. There was no going back from that. She couldn’t ruin a family — a child’s parents’ marriage — because she’d realised she made a mistake in breaking up with him years ago.

 

Equally, it was unfair to even present him with that decision to make, especially since she’d been the one to break his heart seven years ago and he didn’t owe her anything. She couldn’t do that to him again. She couldn’t risk everything he’d built up in the last few years without her. It wasn’t fair to come back to town for one week and turn his life upside down.

 

She couldn’t be that selfish.

 

She knew the answer now.

 

It was decided.

 

She still loved Stiles Stilinski — but she would never tell anyone. She would take it to the grave.

Chapter Text

Stiles heard the front door open and close just as he gave up looking for his car keys.

 

Grace stepped into the living room, her bump covered by a chunky knit sweater, with his car keys in her hand.

 

“Oh,” he said. “I was just looking for those. Where have you been?”

 

He had a feeling that he knew. He’d known the moment Grace claimed she was going the grocery store, despite being a guest at the Sheriff’s house. There was no way his father would allow Grace to buy groceries — he’d stocked up the house for their arrival a week earlier and had enough food to feed a small army.

 

But he’d left her to it and hadn’t questioned her. She obviously needed to speak to Lydia about their relationship and understand from her point-of-view what had happened too, despite Stiles telling her a simple version of the story that he’d hoped would suffice.

 

We were together at the end of high school, he’d told her, We went to college in different states, the long-distance didn’t quite work out. She broke up with me and we haven’t seen each other since.

 

He’d told her over and over, but she was convinced there was something else. He briefly wondered if she was right. After all, he couldn’t deny that feeling in his gut when he saw Lydia — but could he really trust some weird feeling in his stomach to tell him that his relationship with Grace was somehow worth less than what he had with Lydia?

 

He had a future with Grace. He couldn’t just throw all that away because of a feeling somewhere, deep inside of him that may or may not mean something.

 

“Just for a walk,” she told him. “Nowhere important.”

 

He looked at her face carefully, attempting to detect any signs of dishonesty. She raised her chin to look him in the eye and smiled softly, sadly. She took a few steps towards him and held out her hands, reaching for his.

 

“I’m sorry that we argued last night,” she said, her thumbs moving in circular motions over his. It was something she did to comfort him, and he had to admit that it worked.

 

“I shouldn’t have spoken to you the way that I did — it isn’t your fault you’re on good terms with your ex-girlfriend. I was just … thrown by her. She’s perfect and I saw how you looked at her in those photos. It just threw me.”

 

“Lydia is great,” he told her, “but so are you. And I love you. I want to make this work between us — I want you to forget about the fact that Lydia and I were together. It doesn’t matter anymore.”

 

“I know,” Grace answered, appearing thoughtful. “But you can see why I’m concerned, right? You should have just told me, Stiles. And you were so hesitant to give me the details I wanted last night …”

 

“That’s because you were pissed at me and you only wanted the details to make yourself feel worse about it. I didn’t want to give that to you to upset you more,” he said simply. “I want to protect your feelings. I’m worried that this isn’t doing you or the baby any good.”

 

Grace sighed and dropped his hands, taking a seat on the couch and running a hand through her blonde hair.

 

“What? Did I say something wrong?”

 

“No, no,” she answered, shaking her head. She looked at him. “It’s just ... I went to Lydia’s. I had to see her and talk to her.”

 

Stiles smiled. “I know.”

 

“I just — you know?” She was surprised at first, but then she rolled her eyes. “How did you figure it out?”

 

“You hate grocery shopping most days, I didn’t think you’d voluntarily go when my dad already bought enough food for us to live here for weeks on end,” he said, smiling.

 

“And you didn’t say anything?”

 

“I figured it was something you needed to do,” he replied. Then, “So, what did she tell you?”

 

Grace thought about it. “We just talked.”

 

“Just talked?” he repeated.

 

She nodded. “It was interesting to hear it from her perspective. About your relationship, but mostly why you broke up.”

 

His interest increased, but he tried to appear casual. “She told you about that? About why she … why she broke up with me?”

 

It was difficult to keep his voice calm and level, like he didn’t mind that Lydia had easily confessed to his fiancée why she’d broken up with him, but she’d never told him.

 

“She did,” Grace answered, narrowing her eyes at him ever so slightly.

 

“Oh,” Stiles understood clearly that it was not the time to be asking Grace — just out of curiosity — what Lydia’s explanation for that was.

 

He’d always wondered. She’d been fine the weekend it had happened, then it just seemed to unravel out of nowhere. She’d freaked out over something and told him she didn’t think it was a good idea for their relationship to continue. He hadn’t been able to convince her to stay, no matter he how hard he’d tried.

 

Please, he remembered saying, even as she shoved her belongings into the car and opened the car door. Let’s just talk about this — we can work through this. She’d sat in the passenger seat and he’d had no choice but to drive her to the airport, wondering what he could say to make it better — to fix it — but he’d hopelessly tried to think of something the entire ride to the airport, and came up with nothing.

 

He never wanted her to leave. The second she’d dropped his hand at that airport, he’d wanted to curl up on the floor and cry. But he’d got back into the car and driven straight back to his room, unable to process anything for hours. At least.

 

“Do you know?” Grace asked.

 

He shook his head. It seemed ridiculous to lie to her now. He had no idea what Lydia could have told her.

 

“No, I have no idea. We hadn’t spoken in years — since the day we broke up — until this weekend,” he told her. “She told Scott the reason why, but he would never tell me what happened.”

 

“Maybe you two … should talk,” she said, shaking her head. “I can’t believe I’m even saying this — but the thing is, I like her. I think she’s nice. She’s somebody I would be friends with if I wasn’t so indescribably envious of her.”

 

Stiles didn’t know what to say. He just wanted to know why Lydia had broken up with him — it had haunted him for years. He didn’t know if he’d done something wrong. He didn’t know if it was his fault. Had she met someone else? Had she fallen out of love with him? Or had she just decided the relationship had run its course? He had no idea.

 

“Grace …”

 

“It’s okay,” she said. “Please. I want you to speak to her at some point. I feel like … we can’t get married until you get this closure, and Lydia will give that to you. Just talk to her.”

 

She sounded tired and winced visibly.

 

“Are you okay?” he asked her immediately. “Do you need to rest?”

 

“Maybe,” she admitted. She got to her feet and laid a hand on his shoulder. “She’s here for you, Stiles. She’s back in Beacon Hills — here for our wedding — because she cares about you. Maybe more than you think.”

 

Grace left the room, the stairs creaking under her feet as she headed up to Stiles’s old bedroom. Stiles took a deep breath and thought about calling Lydia, thought about resolving the things they needed to resolve and have the conversation they should have had days ago. He wanted nothing more than to go to her house and talk to her.

 

But part of him still held back, wondering if going to her house was crossing the line. He imagined Lydia wouldn’t be thrilled with him for putting her in that awkward position at the dinner party, and if she wanted to talk to him he thought she’d initiate the conversation.

 

Without a clue what to do, he picked up his phone and did what he usually chose to do in an emergency.

 

He called Scott.

 

“Don’t worry,” Scott said when he picked up the phone, “I picked up my tux like you asked me to. It’s all under control — and I told you it wouldn’t be too late to collect it today.”

 

“Good to hear,” Stiles replied. “But that isn’t why I called.”

 

“Is everything okay?”

 

“Not really. Are you busy?” Stiles asked.

 

“No — I’ll come over.”

 

“I’ll come to you,” Stiles said quickly, thinking of Grace upstairs. “I need to get out of the house.”

 

“I just got home,” Scott said. “You want to come over now?”

 

Stiles grabbed his keys from the table. “I’m on my way.”

 

______________________________________________________

 

 

“Let me get this straight: Grace went over to Lydia’s house to ask Lydia for the details on your relationship that you purposefully didn’t tell her?”

 

Stiles nodded glumly. “She did.”

 

“Why didn’t you just tell her?”

 

“Are you kidding me, Scott?” Stiles rolled his eyes. “She’s pregnant and every little thing sends her emotions rocketing sky-high — I wasn’t going to tell her all about Lydia, knowing it would upset her. I was sparing her the details so that she didn’t get even more upset … But she spoke to Lydia anyway because she’s incredibly stubborn like that.”

 

“And you have no idea what Lydia told her?”

 

He shook his head, running his fingers through his hair. “No idea at all, apart from the reason why Lydia broke up with me.”

 

“And what did Grace say?” Scott seemed to be trying to work his head around the whole thing, since Stiles had entered his house twenty minutes earlier, a tornado of panic and anxiety. 

 

“She said I need to speak to Lydia before the wedding,” Stiles told him, pressing the balls of his hands to his temples. “Honestly, at this rate, I’m not even sure there’s going to be a wedding. Grace can barely look at me — she said that it’s okay and she seems better about the situation but I know her well enough to know she’s still upset.”

 

“Stiles, I hate to play devil’s advocate here but you did lie to her about some of the most important years of your life,” Scott said, grimacing. 

 

“Lying is such a strong word,” Stiles said, narrowing his eyes at his best friend, “I prefer … withholding the truth.”

 

“Stiles.”

 

“Okay, fine. Look, when I met Grace, I was still hung up on Lydia and I didn’t feel the need to shout that from the rooftops — it was kind of pathetic to be hung up on a girl who’d broken up with me over a year earlier. By the time things became serious with Grace, there didn’t seem like any point in telling her about those years with Lydia. I tried my best to forget about them and didn’t think it would ever come back to bite me — guess who was completely wrong about that.”

 

“You never had the ex conversation?”

 

Stiles squinted. “Vaguely.”

 

He distantly remembered Grace asking him in the first few months of their relationship about his ex-girlfriends. He’d awkwardly blundered through a half-hearted explanation of a few kisses in the basement of a party with a girl who later died, and hesitated before telling Grace about his relationship with Malia, but he had eventually confessed to that … then he’d stopped.

 

For some reason, he couldn’t bring himself to talk about Lydia out loud. The pain — although so distant in regards to time — was still present emotionally. He’d avoided talking about her for so long and he’d never explained their relationship aloud. He discovered that he still couldn’t. Looking back, he knew he should’ve told Grace in that moment.

 

It was obvious now — but he’d got himself into this whole mess because he couldn’t talk about Lydia without it being evident through his voice that he still cared about her and missed her deeply.

 

“Vaguely?” Scott repeated flatly. “What does that mean?”

 

“It means, Scott, that I majorly screwed up,” Stiles answered, “and I have no idea what to do.”

 

“Stiles, you know I love Lydia and the connection you guys had, but you’ve been with Grace for three years now and I know how much you love her. You guys are getting married, you’re going to have a baby. Maybe you should let Lydia go.”

 

Stiles lowered his gaze, thinking about Scott’s words, You’re getting married. You’re going to have a baby. It was all so complicated.

 

“Yeah,” he said slowly, “that’s the thing. It isn’t that simple.”

 

Scott frowned, confused. “What do you mean?”

 

“I love Grace, I do,” Stiles said. He could hardly admit the words out loud. It felt like he was betraying Grace. He was betraying her and it felt awful. But he needed to voice his feelings, just once. “But Lydia … I can’t let her go, Scott. I just can’t.”

 

For once, Scott didn’t attempt to offer Stiles advice. Stiles needed to make his own decision and they both knew it, but that didn’t stop Stiles from wishing Scott could tell him exactly what he should do.

 

“What are you going to do?” Scott asked.

 

“I’ll figure something out,” Stiles replied with a lack of conviction. “I should get going. I don’t want to keep Grace waiting for too long. I’ll see you later.”

 

Scott nodded, smiling sadly at his friend. He hadn’t seen Stiles look so beaten down in a long time.

 

“Stiles,” he said as Stiles got to his feet. His friend turned back expectantly. “Look, it isn’t ideal … not by a long shot, but it is possible to love two people at once. You were in love with Lydia for so long, she was your first true love, just like Allison was mine. You can’t let go of that easily.”

 

“It’s not the same, Scott,” Stiles reminded him, though he appreciated what Scott was trying to do. “Nobody blamed you for still loving Allison, she was taken from you — from all of us — before she was supposed to go. But these women are both here, alive, and their feelings could get seriously hurt because of me.”

 

“Maybe it isn’t as different as you think. You lost Lydia just like I lost Allison — unexpectedly and painfully. The difference is that Lydia is back and you can tell her how you feel. If you don’t want to lose her again, you don’t have to.”

 

“Dude, you just told me that I should be with Grace,” Stiles said, rolling his eyes. “Make up your freaking mind, Scott.”

 

“At least you still have your sense of humour,” Scott replied dryly, raising his eyebrows at Stiles’s attempt at a joke.

 

Stiles shot Scott a brief smile, but his thoughts were distracted. He was thinking about the woman waiting for him back at the Stilinskis’ house.

 

He remembered the look on her face when he’d asked her out on a date three years ago (for the record: she’d been completely calm and maybe a little bemused about the whole thing, taking her sweet time to answer just to tease him), and the look on her face when he’d proposed to her last year (which had been slightly less calm). He remembered when they’d found out about the baby, just a few days after he’d come home from an out-of-town job. It had been the greatest welcome home gift from a busy few months at work. They’d both cried in the doctor’s surgery. They’d been through so much together already and he’d been so excited to start their life together.

 

“You love her?”

 

“Of course I do, man, I wouldn’t be marrying her if I didn’t love her,” Stiles answered. He hated the thought of anybody doubting the love he had for Grace Freeman. “But Lydia coming back has completely thrown me — I can’t stop thinking about how much I loved her and how I still feel about her.”

 

The thought hadn’t only just occurred to him. He had realised that he’d been thinking about Lydia non-stop since returning to Beacon Hills for a reason, but he hadn’t wanted to admit that reason to himself. It seemed so unfair, all of it. He’d finally seen her again — after seven years apart — and his heart ached because he knew he still loved her, but he’d committed himself to Grace and their baby, their future.

 

“You need to talk to Lydia,” Scott told him. 

 

“Why? Do you know something I don’t?”

 

“I’m not getting involved,” Scott said firmly. “But I will say that there’s part of the story that you don’t know. Maybe it’s time for you to both sit down and talk about your relationship like adults.”

 

“Scott! Come on, don’t be so cryptic!” Stiles complained. “I’m dying here. This is torture.”

 

“Uh-huh, torture,” Scott said, his expression unimpressed, “you’re stuck between two great women. What a pain for you.”

 

Stiles narrowed his eyes at Scott. “You’re no help. If you’re going to be like this, I really am leaving this time.”

 

Stiles left Scott’s house — hearing Scott’s laughter in the background — and got into his car. He sat at the steering wheel for five minutes, not wanting to go home just yet, before he began driving.

 

He was thinking about Lydia. Of course. He thought about the moment Lydia left him at the airport to go back to Boston; Scott had said there was part of the story that he didn’t know, and his mind immediately focused on that awful day. He wondered if he should be thinking about that awful memory in a different light. He’d always thought she’d walked away without looking back because she didn’t care enough to — being angry at her dulled some of the pain, made it easier to deal with — but maybe she’d been just as confused as him.

 

He’d always thought she needed to be the one to call him first, but maybe he should have called her to ask for a better explanation.

 

Why hadn’t he fought for her?

 

He’d waited so long for her — waited while she’d dated assholes who didn’t deserve her, waited patiently and hoped that she might someday return his feelings, waited for that second kiss for three years — but he had let her go so easily.

 

Perhaps he wouldn’t be in this position if he’d fought for her, called her, tried to change her mind, followed her to Boston and shown her how much he loved her and that he’d do anything to make it work.

 

But he hadn’t.

 

He’d let her go, and he’d met Grace.

 

And he was glad he’d met Grace: she’d saved him, she’d brought him back from the dark place he’d been stuck in for so long after Lydia left him. But what if his relationship with Lydia could have been saved with a simple phone call? What if he’d accepted that it was over when he shouldn’t have?

 

A feeling of dread settled in his stomach. He knew what his answer should be. He was with Grace now, it didn’t matter why things were over with Lydia. He should just accept that they were. He’d built a life with his fiancée and it didn’t matter how he felt about Lydia, he could never tell her how he felt. He needed to stay by Grace’s side and marry her.

 

It was the right thing to do.

 

Without thinking about where he was going, too lost in thought about everything else, he realised he’d driven in the direction of the high school. It was late afternoon, school had finished over an hour earlier, and the school’s parking lot was mostly empty of cars. He braked and pulled into the school’s driveway, parking the car in one of the bays and turning off the engine.

 

He wasn’t sure what had brought him to the school, or why he’d even been driving that route home in the first place, but part of him felt like he needed to be there. Like something was pulling him toward the high school. 

 

He sat idle for five minutes, not even thinking about anything in particular, before sudden knocking at the window interrupted his scattered thoughts and simultaneously scared him half to death. With a hand placed over his pounding heart, he looked out of the window and found himself looking right at Lydia. 

 

Without a word, she walked around the car and opened the passenger seat door, sliding in and pulling the door shut behind her.

 

“You scared me,” Stiles commented, “I thought you were some kind of werewolf or something.”

 

“Knocking at the window of your car?” Lydia asked. “I don’t think that’s how they attack, Stiles.”

 

“Maybe the polite ones do. Next time, give me some warning,” he muttered, knowing that she was right. “What are you doing here?”

 

“I just needed to think,” she answered. “I’m parked over there. I saw you come in.”

 

He followed her gaze, noticing one of the Martin family’s cars parked just a couple away from his. A moment of clarity settled over him as he understood the pull to the high school now. The emotional tether worked in mysterious ways and it had drawn them both to the high school at the same time.

 

“Why the high school?” he asked her, knowing that she could redirect the question right back to him if she wanted to.

 

Luckily, she didn’t.

 

“I don’t know,” she replied. She toyed with the intricate braid her hair had been styled into. He’d always loved her braids. “It’s important to us, isn’t it? To everyone. We spent so much time here, we went through so much here. We fell in love here.”

 

He shook his head. “That’s where you’re wrong.”

 

“What do you mean?” Lydia asked, frowning at him. “Of course we did. We spent most of our teenage years here — I kissed you in the girls’ locker room. We sat next to each other in almost every class. We were in this parking lot when you told me you loved me for the first time, right before the ghost riders took you. We had prom here, graduation, all those library dates …”

 

But he shook his head, a faint smile dancing around his face. He’d promised himself that he wouldn’t give away how he felt because he didn’t want to hurt anybody — least of all the woman sitting beside him in the car — but he couldn’t resist correcting her.

 

“You know that I had a crush on you in elementary school ... but I didn’t just fall in love with you in high school. The truth is that I fell in love with you in the Jeep, driving around town working on investigations together, on the stands at the lacrosse games, in my room, in your room, at the animal clinic, at that motel when you saved my life, even freaking Mexico. Everyday, Lydia. I fell in love with you all over again every single day.”

 

“Stiles,” she said, pulling her gaze away from his and looking purposefully out through the front of the car. She looked distressed, which wasn’t the reaction he’d been hoping for. He didn’t know what he had hoped for, but it wasn’t that. She sighed and looked at him. “I am so sorry, but ... we really need to talk.”

Chapter Text

Stiles looked at her expectantly, a shared level of understanding between them.

 

They both knew they needed to talk. They needed this conversation — it was long overdue now.

 

He also looked disappointed, like he’d hoped she might react differently to his speech. Her heart was pounding thinking about his confession — I fell in love with you all over again every single day — but she didn’t allow her emotions to show, knowing it would only make the next part harder.

 

“I know,” he answered, twisting his hands in his lap. She watched his fingers, long, bony and shaking just a little. “I just wanted to say I’m sorry — for all of it. I feel like such an asshole for putting you in that position at the dinner party last night. It wasn’t fair that you got caught in the crossfire. I shouldn’t even have let it get to that point; I should have told Grace.”

 

“She came to speak to me today,” Lydia told him, “and it’s okay, we talked it all through. I think she understands it more now. I explained to her that … we’ve both moved on and there’s nothing for her to worry about.”

 

Every word was like a punch to her gut, but she fought on, even smiling because she didn’t want him to think that she was annoyed with him for the dinner party. Of course, it would have been preferable to eat her chicken without Grace’s fury radiating off her, but she didn’t blame Stiles for not telling anyone about their relationship. 

 

It almost hurt that he hadn’t, but she understood how hurt he’d been over their break-up. Maybe he’d never felt ready to talk about it, just like she’d never really been ready either. She’d struggled to explain what had happened to her friends at college, who had innocuously asked when she’d next be seeing Stiles a few weeks after they’d broken up, and she’d awkwardly had to explain what had happened. She hadn’t told anyone for a long time.

 

She understood. Maybe it was slightly different because Grace was Stiles’s fiancée, but she understood.

 

He looked at her, his left eye squinting just a little. Once, she’d have known exactly what that look meant. Now, she couldn’t remember.

 

“Yeah,” he answered slowly, his words careful, “you’re right. We have. And we’re both happy now. Right?”

 

She forced herself to look at him, to make eye contact so it would be more convincing. But she didn’t even believe herself when she nodded and said, “We are.”

 

______________________________________________________

 

 

Stiles stared back at Lydia, hearing the words leave her mouth and watching the way she looked at him. She looked completely serious. We’re both happy now. Was he happy? Was she happy?

 

He realised he knew almost nothing about her life in New York. He’d been so hurt that he hadn’t ever wanted to know and had pretty much ignored Scott’s attempts to tell him. He’d always thought it would be easier to know minimal information about what she was doing, who she was with. He wondered if she was dating anyone now. He hadn’t even considered the possibility that she might be — quite possibly could be dating someone else — but the thought occurred to him suddenly.

 

She was Lydia freaking Martin — he had no doubt she was dating someone. He knew it shouldn’t bother him, considering he was marrying someone else, but the thought hurt him more than he would have liked to admit.

 

Of course, he knew now the reason why the thought of her being with someone else hurt him. He still loved her. She was sitting right in front of him, her forehead creased with unhappiness, and all he wanted to do was fix any of her worries.

 

He still loved her.

 

But he couldn’t tell her.

 

He shook his head, trying to shake the distracting thoughts of Lydia’s love life — and his own feelings for her — from his head. It wasn’t important, he reminded himself. She could date whoever she wanted because he was getting married in less than a week. He had absolutely no right to ask her about that part of her life, to feel confusion or sadness about that part of her life, when he was engaged to another woman.

 

“Listen,” he said to her, forcing himself to push past his thoughts of her and think, instead, of Grace. “Thank you for talking to Grace this morning. I appreciate that you explained things to her — she wouldn’t listen to me and we had this huge fight last night about it all. At least if you talked to her, she’ll realise that I wasn’t lying to her about our relationship. That is ... always preferable.”

 

“Of course,” Lydia answered, smiling.

 

Then, a strange expression took over Lydia’s face. She frowned and he couldn’t work out what the look meant on her. He didn’t think he’d ever seen it before.

 

Worry? No. He’d seen her worried too many times to count. That was what spending their teenage years in Beacon Hills meant: constant worry. Maybe it was concern for him? No, that couldn’t be it either. Why would she be concerned for him? He was supposed to be deliriously happy.

 

He couldn’t figure it out.

 

“Look, Stiles, I actually didn’t want to talk to you about Grace or that ... incredibly awkward dinner party. I need to talk to you about something else,” she said, shaking her head. “I owe you an apology — probably the biggest apology of them all. The thing is … I never explained what happened that weekend in Cambridge. And I really should have done, and I should have said sorry too.”

 

He felt — and probably looked — physically pained as she brought up the weekend she had broken up with him. Despite his earlier revelation about that weekend, wondering if perhaps it hadn’t been as easy for her as he first thought, he still didn’t want to be reminded of it.

 

Despite his reluctance to discuss that weekend, the fact she’d brought it up in conversation led to a realisation dawning on him. Regret. She regretted it. She regretted that weekend. That was why he didn’t recognise that emotion on her face. He knew Lydia was logical enough to not need regret much in life. She usually chose the correct option, usually acted in the most sensible, logical way.

 

But she regretted it.

 

And suddenly, he felt awful.

 

He felt awful for all those years he’d felt bitterness when hearing her name. He felt awful for all those times he’d claimed he’d been too busy to attend group reunions on the rare occasion Lydia had come back to town, avoiding her as much as he could. He felt awful for all the years of anger toward her for what she’d apparently done so heartlessly, when he should have known Lydia couldn’t have acted that way without a reason.

 

She’d broken his heart and she knew it, but he’d been stupid to think it was as simple as that.

 

“Lydia,” he protested, shaking his head. “I don’t even need to know any—”

 

“I was young,” she continued, ignoring him. He didn’t object because it was so typical of her that it made him smile, more than anything. “And I freaked out about our relationship when I should have just talked to you about it. There was so much pressure on us to make it work, my head was all over the place — you know how I hate not being in control.”

 

He smiled softly. “Yeah, rings a bell.”

 

______________________________________________________

 

 

Lydia allowed herself to smile at Stiles, even though she knew he was gently making fun of her. It felt more like old times between them. 

 

She forced herself to continue, knowing she needed to keep going before it became too difficult to articulate herself.

 

“It was stupid and I wished I could take it back the second after I did it,” she persevered, looking at him. He looked back at her, his hand twitching like he wanted to reach out to her. She wanted him to, but knew he wouldn’t.

 

She sighed, continuing, “It was all my fault, Stiles. And I never dared pick up the phone to call you because I thought you’d hate me and I didn’t think you’d even want to hear my explanation or listen to anything I had to say.

 

“And then, after a while, it was too late. I waited too long. I threw myself into my degree because it made sense to me, whereas what I’d done to you — and to our relationship — didn’t make any sense to me. So I preferred not to think about it. But I shouldn’t have been such a coward. I should’ve called. I should have just called. But you probably remember my stubbornness.”

 

Maybe if she had just called, it would be their wedding they were planning and not Stiles’s to somebody else. She fought the thought away, like she needed another reason to regret that life-changing moment.

 

“Oh,” he said, raising an eyebrow, “you know, vaguely.”

 

“I’m sorry,” she finished, breathing a sigh of relief. She’d waited so long to explain to him why she’d ended their relationship. It felt like a weight had been lifted from her. “I’m sorry that I ruined what we had. I never meant to, Stiles.”

 

Stiles was quiet for a while. Lydia’s nerves began to get to her again. She didn’t know how he would react to her confession. There was every chance he wouldn’t accept — or care about — her explanation; she knew it wasn’t exactly the most believable excuse.

 

After seven years apart, if he’d come to her and told her he’d ended their relationship because he freaked out over long-distance, she’d laugh him right out of the car and all the way home.

 

“It’s okay,” Stiles said, meeting her gaze.

 

She felt a rush of relief hearing his words and she wanted nothing more than to reach out and grab his hand, feel the touch of his smooth skin beneath her fingers and run her fingers through his hair. She held back, twisting her fingers together so she didn’t reach out to him accidentally.

 

“It is?”

 

“I spent so long feeling hurt and confused over what happened and I never thought about how hard it must have been for you to do that,” Stiles said, frowning, “I wanted to fix it but I didn’t know how. I’m not going to let you take all the blame for the end of our relationship, Lydia, because it wasn’t your fault. I was there too and I should have done more. I should have fought for it. For you — trust me, I wanted to.”

 

“I guess we were both to blame,” Lydia replied.

 

She couldn’t describe the relief she felt that Stiles hadn’t pinpointed the blame entirely on her; it was comforting to know that they were both to blame for the downfall of their relationship. She no longer needed to carry that weight around with her — thinking she was solely responsible for breaking the love of her life’s heart — and she felt better than she had in weeks, years, even.

 

“We didn’t fight for each other,” Stiles said, shaking his head. “We were so stupid, weren’t we? All of this — I mean, all of this could have been different.”

 

“But you wouldn’t want it to be different,” Lydia said. She almost needed to keep repeating the idea that Stiles was happy with Grace to cement it into her own brain. “If it was, you wouldn’t have met Grace and you wouldn’t be … having a baby.”

 

It was difficult to get the words out.

 

“Right,” Stiles said. He looked embarrassed. She wondered if she shouldn’t have reminded him about the wedding and the baby — just like her mistake in the car on her first night back in town, which already seemed like a lifetime ago, when she’d brought up Grace and he’d been angry — but she pushed through it.

 

“I’m happy for you,” she said. She smiled at him. “All of it. I mean that, Stiles.”

 

“Thanks, Lydia,” he answered. She detected something ... off about him — he was holding back. He was holding something in. Just like Grace, he didn’t seem particularly happy about his upcoming wedding or the baby in his fiancée’s womb.

 

“So, there is something else we should talk about it. Look, I’ve been thinking,” Lydia continued, “that maybe it’s for the best that I head back to New York sooner than I planned.”

 

He looked at her, clearly surprised. It was like they’d both forgotten that their real lives — their lives outside of Beacon Hills — existed, that Lydia would be going back to New York at the end of the week and Stiles would be going back to LA with his new wife.

 

“Sooner than you planned?”

 

“Maybe Wednesday,” she told him.

 

“This Wednesday?” he asked. “Am I missing something? You’ll miss the wedding if you leave on Wednesday.”

 

“I know,” she answered. God, she couldn’t even look at him. She could feel the confusion surrounding him, wondering how things had been going so well and now, suddenly, weren’t. “I’m sorry, I want to stay. I just … need to go back to New York. I need to be there instead of here.”

 

He turned in his seat to face her properly. “Lydia,” he said, shaking his head. “What’s going on? Are you okay?”

 

She wished they could have this conversation out in the open rather than inside his car. Not-Roscoe. But she couldn’t hold it in any longer.

 

“I’m fine, Stiles,” she replied, nodding. I just can’t sit back and watch you marry somebody else. “I just don’t think that I should be here — coming back has only caused problems for everybody. I’m starting to think that the best thing for me to do is to go back to New York where I belong. At least I won’t be causing any relationship problems back there. Well, hopefully not, anyway.”

 

He frowned at her.

 

“I’m sorry. I just ... I can’t get my head around this. New York? Where you belong?” he repeated.

 

“Yes,” she answered firmly. “Where my job is, my home is and everything else I know. Where I belong, Stiles.”

 

“But we’re here,” Stiles said to her, “we’re all here.”

 

“You’re going back to LA after this is over, Stiles,” she reminded him. “It’s all very well telling me that I need to stay in Beacon Hills because I belong here, because we all belong here, but you’re going back to LA. You’re leaving too. We’re both leaving and things will go back to how they were before. Come on, we both know that.”

 

“How they were before?” he asked, confused. “Lydia, I don't want things to go back to how they were before. I know that things haven’t been easy since we both came back here, but I can’t go back to not speaking to you again. You have to stay! You can't leave now — we were just starting to reconnect ...”

 

She tried to work out if he meant something else by that, but it just sounded like he just wanted her at his wedding and that he valued her friendship. It was important to him that she attended, and she knew she should be the bigger person and put her own feelings aside to support her friend. It was Stiles’s wedding, he’d been her best friend so long — years before they’d given into their feelings for each other — and she knew it would be strange not to be there for his big day.

 

But she also felt like throwing up at the thought of him marrying somebody else.

 

“I can’t,” she told him firmly. “I can’t stay. I’m sorry, Stiles.”

 

______________________________________________________

 

 

“Lydia,” Stiles shook his head. He refused to accept what she was saying and he refused to accept that she could be gone from Beacon Hills — from his life, again — in a matter of days. “I invited you to my wedding because I want you to be there and Grace doesn’t have a problem with it anymore, we talked it through. You talked it through with her as well! She gets it, trust me. Or I can talk to her again ...”

 

He was trying to convince her to stay for completely selfish reasons, he knew that. She wanted to leave because Beacon Hills didn’t feel like home anymore and because she thought Grace disliked her, but he wanted her to stay because he couldn’t bear to see her leave him again. He couldn’t bear to say goodbye.

 

“I don’t think any woman would understand why her fiancé wants his ex-girlfriend at their wedding,” she answered with a small smile. He stared at her, confused, wondering why she was smiling when she was ripping holes in his heart all over again. “I don’t want to be here if it’s going to cause more problems.”

 

He shook his head, desperate now.

 

“You are not causing problems,” he told her forcefully. His jaw clenched and he reached for her hand — he couldn’t stop himself anymore. His fingers curled over hers, holding onto her. “This is all my fault and I’m working on Grace. You’re my — you’re one of my best friends. I need you here — for my wedding. I need you here for my wedding.”

 

He didn’t know how to tell her how badly he wanted her to stay without telling her everything. He knew there was no conceivable way he could tell her, but that didn’t stop him from aching for it. 

 

He felt a jolt of guilt. Intense, deep guilt that he was pleading for Lydia to stay so he could at least see her, when his fiancée was sitting at home, waiting for him.

 

Even in their junior year, when he’d been dating Malia but still harboured feelings for Lydia, he hadn’t felt this guilty. His love for Lydia back then had been this constant feeling at the back of his mind, something he’d just grown used to over time, but he hadn’t realised that feeling was still present — it had just been waiting to be discovered again. It had been waiting to resurface all this time.

 

He pushed the guilt away.

 

“Lydia,” he said, frowning at her. “Come on. Just ... stay.”

 

______________________________________________________

 

 

Lydia thought distantly about some of the things Grace had said to her earlier that day. The other woman had been so sure that Stiles was still in love with Lydia, so completely sure, and she didn’t want to be the person to place doubt in Grace’s mind.

 

But part of her could see the way Stiles was looking at her, the way his hands touched hers like nothing had ever changed between them, and she wondered for a brief, hopeful second if maybe Grace hadn’t been so wrong after all.

 

Then he said, “We all want you to be here, Lydia. Scott, Kira, Malia … they’re all happier with you being back here. Your mom looks happier than I’ve seen her in years. She always seemed like she was missing something while you were gone, but everyone is so much happier with you back. Trust me.”

 

What about you? she wanted to ask, but didn’t.

 

______________________________________________________

 

 

Especially me, he wanted to add, but didn’t.

 

“I understand if you feel like you need to go back to New York,” he said. Although he did understand that her life in New York was important too, he still wanted to beg her to stay. “But I wish you would stay for the rest of the week — not just for me, but for all of us. For the entire pack. We need our banshee.”

 

But I need you more than anyone.

 

She looked back at him, smiling. He held his breath, his fingers still over hers protectively, lovingly. He wondered if his love for her had spread through his fingertips. Could she feel it? Could she sense it, even though he couldn’t say it?

 

“I need to go back,” she answered. “My boss has been emailing me like crazy all week. Even being back here, I haven’t been able to catch a break from work, but I feel useless here. I should be back there with them, helping them. They need me, too.”

 

“We need you more,” he replied as persuasively as he could, his eyes searching hers. “You can’t help them next week instead? They can’t cope for just a few days? For the love of — not even three days?”

 

“I just can’t,” she told him softly.

 

______________________________________________________

 

 

I can’t do it, she finished inside her head. She couldn’t watch him marry Grace because she loved him but she liked Grace. She liked the woman he was marrying. She was nice. She had similar qualities to Malia, Kira, even Ella, her assistant.

 

Grace was the girl she just couldn’t dislike. Stiles had fallen for her, he was completely in love with her, there had to be a reason for that and Lydia understood it. She knew why, because Grace was everything Stiles needed.

 

She thought of the baby in Grace’s womb. It was due in just a few months — she’d said that she was five months along. In four months’ time, there’d be a mini-Stiles in the world. How could Lydia be so selfish and take that away from him?

 

But if she didn’t attend the wedding, there was absolutely zero risk of her affecting it in any way.

 

Being in Beacon Hills had been a positive experience for her, but it wasn’t working out for anybody else. Except for her mother, who loved having her around again, which only made Lydia feel more guilty that she was considering leaving Beacon Hills after only arriving two days earlier. She was sure Natalie would understand why Lydia couldn’t be around.

 

It seemed like Stiles was struggling to understand, but he didn’t know that Lydia was still in love with him. Of course he was having trouble wrapping his head around the fact that she’d rather go back to New York and return to mathematical research than attend his wedding. She had no doubt he was incredibly offended she’d choose the former option.

 

“I …” She shook her head. She wanted to tell him — just once. Even if she had to pass it off at something else, as a platonic moment, she had to tell him. “I will always love you, Stiles. You’re one of my best friends, you have been for years, and these last few days have been perfect. Just seeing you and speaking to you again, I didn’t think we’d ever get back to this point.”

 

His face softened at her words. He cocked his head just slightly and it was vividly reminiscent of the first time he’d told her he loved her, seconds before he’d been taken by the ghost riders.

 

The truth was that she’d seen it a thousand times before — not in his words, but in the way he looked at her after she first kissed him; the way he protected her; the way he reached for her hand or placed his hand on the small of her back so absentmindedly — but hearing it for the first time was what made it special.

 

That moment was remarkably similar to the moment they were sharing right now. They’d been in a car then as well; they’d been sitting in the same places — him in the driver’s seat, her in the passenger’s seat, in the school’s parking lot; he’d been holding her hand in that moment too; he’d hesitated before telling her — Just remember, remember I love you — and cocked his head just slightly.

 

She remembered thinking that he looked happy to finally be telling her, even with the knowledge that he’d be taken at any second. The softening of his face now, the slight smile, the look in his eyes, reminded her exactly of that moment.

 

She clung onto that look.

 

She hadn’t thought she’d ever see it again, up until now.

 

______________________________________________________

 

 

“I will always love you too,” he told her, meaning every word more than he let on.

 

Maybe it was the only way he could confess how he felt without hurting somebody. He loved her, he had and would always love her, but he had to be with Grace.

 

“And I’m so glad that you’re happy,” Lydia said, squeezing his hands.

 

“Just promise me you’ll think about staying,” he said to her. “Come on, Lydia. We’ve barely spent any time together since you’ve been back — mostly because I had no idea you’d be coming back and I felt too weird about the whole situation to speak to you — and there’s still so much we need to talk about. I want to know about your life in New York, I want to know about your job, your apartment. I want to know everything, but I feel like I know nothing.”

 

She pulled her hands back from his, leaning back in her seat. He found himself mirroring her as the moment passed between them and they resumed back to feeling like they were miles apart and almost embarrassed of their behaviour.

 

“I’ll think about it,” she said. She sounded distant, but he nodded, taking it, accepting that Lydia didn’t back down easily. Swiftly changing the subject, she said, “Shouldn’t you be checking on Grace soon? She’s probably still confused about this whole thing still, you shouldn’t be here with me, Stiles. You should be with her.”

 

He stared at her, before nodding and fumbling for his phone in the back pocket of his jeans. It had been on silent the entire time and he had one missed call and a voicemail from Grace, sent fifteen minutes earlier.

 

“I have a missed call from her …”

 

“Take it,” she insisted, “go home to her. Tell her you’re sorry for everything and you can’t wait to marry her on Saturday. I’ll see you soon, okay?”

 

He felt distracted now, thinking of Grace. “Please—” He managed to force out as she opened the passenger seat door — “please don’t leave Beacon Hills. Not just yet. New York can wait, but Beacon Hills needs you.”

 

She pursed her lips — an indication that she was in deep thought — and nodded, hopping out of the car. She smoothed down her skirt with both hands.

 

“Bye, Stiles,” she said, shutting the door and waving as she headed across the parking lot. She hadn’t even given him a chance to say goodbye. 

 

He watched her cross the parking lot and climb into Natalie’s car, leaving a few seconds after. He watched her go, feeling strangely like he spent half of his life watching Lydia Martin either walk or drive away from him. His heart still twisted a little as he watched her leave, before he pressed play on Grace’s voicemail message and heard his fiancée’s voice fill the car.

 

“Hi, honey, just wondering where you are and what you’re doing?” Grace in the voicemail asked.

 

She sounded sweet and caring, like she was concerned about him. He hadn’t thought he’d been gone for that long, but he supposed he hadn’t told her where he was going. He imagined her heading downstairs after her rest and finding the house empty, wondering where he was. He was relieved that she sounded so well-rested and happier. Maybe she’d feel much better when he got home, and things might go back to normal between them. As normal as possible, anyway.

 

“I need to talk to you — please,” Grace’s message continued. She sighed. “Call me when you get this, okay? I love you.”

 

The message ended and he tossed his phone onto the passenger seat, feeling guilty that he’d left the house without even telling her that he was leaving. He imagined her feeling worried that he’d just left with no explanation. He felt even guiltier when he thought about where he had been. Who he’d been with.

 

It was just another apology he owed her.

 

There was no point in calling her back — his old childhood home was a ten minute drive from the school.

 

He put the car in gear and left the school’s parking lot, heading home to his fiancée.

Chapter Text

Lydia had been expecting her friends to show up, so the next day when she opened the door to find Scott, Kira and Malia all standing on her doorstep, she wasn’t surprised.

 

“News travels fast around here,” she said. “You know, one of my favourite things about New York is the invisibility. Don’t get me wrong, I’m a fan of attention, but sometimes a little privacy wouldn’t be the worst thing in the world.”

 

Scott frowned, choosing to ignore Lydia’s sarcasm that was incredibly reminiscent of Stiles’s dry humour. He had enough of that on a daily basis with his best friend, and had pretty much learned to ignore it with him too. “Stiles told us what happened — what you said to him yesterday. You’re going back to New York? Now?”

 

“Tomorrow,” she said, though she still wasn’t fully convinced on the idea. She wanted to go, she knew it would be the easiest thing to do, but something was holding her back. Deep down, she knew that if she’d been 100% sure on the idea, she could have booked a flight for the same night she’d told Stiles of her plans.

 

“You can’t go back,” Malia told her, bursting into the house and looking at her with wide eyes. “I’m sick of the pack being separated and I won’t let you go back to New York again — at least, not right now. I know that your job is there and everything. I’ll let you go back to work, obviously, eventually, but—”

 

“Malia,” Lydia interrupted, her eyebrows raised.

 

“My point is,” Malia concluded, crossing her arms over her chest. “You can’t leave. Just forget whatever stupid thing Stiles told you and come to the wedding.”

 

“It isn’t that easy, Malia.”

 

“Yes it is! You put on the new dress you bought, you get in the car and you drive to the church. There’s nothing difficult about that.

 

“You know what I mean,” Lydia told her, narrowing her eyes.

 

“Lydia,” Scott said seriously. He seemed concerned, but that was Scott. “You’re only hurting Stiles if you leave now. Maybe it’s easier for you, but he invited you even though he knew it would be weird for both of you. He just wanted you to be there.”

 

“I have too much work to do,” Lydia told them, “I need to go back to New York.”

 

“Then why is your heart beating so fast?” Malia asked. “Oh, right. It’s because you’re lying.”

 

“Stop doing that,” Lydia told her, covering her heart with her hand like the gesture might muffle the sound of her heartbeat. “God — maybe I just … don’t want to see my ex-boyfriend marry someone else. That isn’t completely insane.”

 

“Or maybe you still have feelings for Stiles,” Kira suggested. When Lydia looked at her, she backed off. “Or maybe not. It was just a suggestion.”

 

“All of you, stop it,” Lydia turned around and marched into the living room. Her suitcase lay on the floor in the middle and clothes spilled out of it. This, alone, was unlike her. Maybe the jumbled contents of her suitcase — when usually her packing was meticulous and methodic — meant something about her life, or the fact that usually she could pack within minutes for a trip, but she’d been struggling for over an hour.

 

The dress she’d been planning on wearing for the wedding hung on the doorframe, so it didn’t crease. There was nothing sentimental about that, she thought sternly, she just hadn’t paid $300 for a creased dress.

 

Her friends followed her into the room.

 

“Wait, are you being serious?” Kira asked. “You’re actually thinking of leaving? I thought you were just being dramatic!”

 

“There’s nothing for me here anymore.”

 

“There’s us,” Scott told her. “There’s Stiles. Your mom is here, the Sheriff is here. My mom is here. We’re all your family, Lydia.”

 

Lydia lifted her favourite suede jacket and packed it into the suitcase. She bit her lip and stared down at the suitcase so her friends couldn’t see her emotions.

 

“I can’t stay,” she said, finally looking up and meeting the eyes of her friends. “I can’t watch him marry somebody else, okay?”

 

Scott, Kira and Malia all stared at her for three long seconds — right before they let out a collective sigh, all appearing to relax as they exchanged looks. Kira and Malia both headed to the couch and took their seats, while Scott chose to remain standing at the end of the room.

 

“What?” Lydia asked. None of them answered; they just smiled at her knowingly. “What?”

 

“It’s just,” Kira said, “thank God you finally figured it out. We’ve been waiting for ages.”

 

“You guys knew?” Lydia asked. “You all knew? Does Stiles know?”

 

“Stiles, as usual, is pretty much clueless,” Scott said, “but it’s been obvious since you came back into town that there was still something between you two. When you were at mine for dinner on your first night back in town, and Stiles stopped by with his tux, it was like watching everything fall into place again. I’ve listened to the both of you for the past seven years and I can tell how lost you both felt without each other. But it was all so natural; I don’t think that the connection you guys have has been broken, even after all these years.”

 

Lydia shook her head in disbelief. “I can’t believe you all knew.”

 

“We talk about it everyday — all the time,” Malia informed her casually, shrugging. “We thought you knew.”

 

“Only … recently,” Lydia confessed.

 

“So,” Scott said, “now that everybody knows, this is why you need to stay.”

 

“Yeah, you’re going to have to explain that logic to me, Scott,” Lydia said, after a few seconds spent trying to work it out.

 

“We all love him too,” Scott said. “Not quite in the same way that you do, but it’s there. And we all need to be there to support him. He only has his dad, it’s our job to be there as the rest of his family. And you’re included in that, whether you like it or not. But now we all know how you feel about him, we can help you get through it.”

 

“Scott …”

 

“You’re part of the pack, Lydia. You saved his life countless times, you’ve saved all of us! If you love him, you should be there for him. I understand that it’s going to be difficult, but that’s what we’re here for. We’re a pack and we do things together. Not separately — not anymore. I know that we lost each other for a while after you and Stiles broke up, but I won’t let that happen to either of you again.”

 

“We’re Stiles’s support system, but we’re yours too,” Kira said. “We’re here for you just as much as we’re here for Stiles.”

 

“Even if I wish you two idiots would just work this out between you,” Malia said, “like regular people. But, you know, the same as what they said. We’re not letting you go through this alone. You’re stuck with us.”

 

“Look, I already told him I’m leaving,” Lydia said, “I already said goodbye.”

 

“Then un-say goodbye,” Malia replied. “It can be undone.”

 

“And Stiles will be happy if you’re stay,” Scott reassured her. “He seemed pretty confused about all of it when I talked to him. He thought things were finally better between you two.”

 

“They are,” Lydia murmured in agreement.

 

Stiles flashed into her mind, confused about why she was leaving. She’d come back for the wedding, she’d come back because she’d told herself she could do it. Admittedly, that was before her feelings for Stiles had come rushing back to her, but she still didn’t know if she could just leave without seeing it through. Maybe if she saw it happen right in front of her, she’d be able to go back to New York and move on properly.

 

“You need to be here — for Stiles,” Scott said firmly, “this isn’t about you, Lydia. Although I know you wish it was.”

 

She rolled her eyes. “I do not wish that.”

 

“You totally do,” Malia told her. “But I can see why — Stiles and Grace were fine before you came back to Beacon Hills and Stiles saw you again. You’d be crazy to think you didn’t play some kind of a part in that. We all think that.”

 

“Malia!” Lydia groaned. “What Stiles does has nothing to do with me. If he’s had any doubts about the wedding, it hasn’t been anything to do with me.”

 

“Maybe not directly,” Kira said, but shrugged and mimed zipping her mouth shut when Lydia looked her way.

 

They were all being far too secretive. Her brows were furrowed, deep in thought, as she tried to work out what they all knew but weren’t telling her. In the end, she sighed, giving up.

 

“So,” Scott urged, “you think you can stick it out for another few days? Saturday isn’t that far away.”

 

“And I heard you’ve got a pretty good-looking date coming,” Kira added.

 

“How do you even know about that?”

 

“Your assistant — Ella? — emailed us. She wanted to make sure you were still in town and to tell you that you aren’t to even consider going back to New York until you’ve finished up here. And you definitely haven’t finished up here.”

 

“Why didn’t she just email me?” Lydia asked, removing her phone from the back pocket of her jeans and scanning through her emails. She’d been lying when she’d told Stiles that work had been emailing her like crazy; she hadn’t heard a thing from them all week so far. Not even one email! She refreshed her emails three times, before accepting that the inbox was still empty.

 

“She said you’d lie,” Malia answered, “and tell her that everything was fine.”

 

Lydia scowled at the thought of Ella going behind her back to email both Malia and Kira about her personal life, but she had to admire the girl’s tenacity to find ways to contact Malia and Kira. Lydia didn’t even like to think about how Ella had obtained that information; she could tell that Ella cared about her, and it was comforting knowing that she’d be there to explain the entire situation to when she got back to New York …

 

… on Sunday afternoon, as originally planned.

 

“Okay, okay,” she said, holding up her hands as if she was surrendering. “I’ll stay — but only because Stiles is my friend and it’s the right thing to do.”

 

“Of course,” Scott answered, grinning like a Cheshire cat.

 

She had known all along that she wouldn’t be able to run. Running was exactly what she’d done the last time she’d ruined things between her and Stiles; running away from her problems and fears had caused all this mess and she wouldn’t do it again. She had to stick it out.

 

For Stiles, sure, but mainly for herself.

 

She needed to know that she could do it. She could put aside her own feelings, she could stomach her pride and she could stand up and clap when Stiles and Grace walked down the aisle, happily married. She might even throw some confetti and buy them a blender as a wedding gift.

 

She’d do it all, because that was what friends were for.

 

Even if she did happen to be in love with him.

 

Besides, now that they’d had that awkward conversation about their relationship and subsequent break-up, she needed to be there for him in the way she had intended to be from the beginning. It was the reason why she’d come back to town. If she did go back to New York and miss his wedding, there was a real risk Stiles wouldn’t understand why and would never speak to her again, for real this time.

 

She couldn’t let him down — not again.

 

“I should probably call him,” Lydia said, “and tell him that I’m staying.”

 

“You should definitely do that,” Scott encouraged her, still grinning. “We’ll make coffee.” He placed his hands on Malia and Kira’s backs and guided them — some may say gently pushed them — out of the room, leaving Lydia in peace.

 

She called Stiles and he picked up quickly, like he always used to do whenever she’d called him for something. She couldn’t describe the feeling of warmth and comfort she felt that she could just pick up the phone and call him if she wanted to now. It was something she hadn’t experienced in seven years, and it was only after they’d broken up in college that she’d realised how much she did call him just to chat to him.

 

Sometimes, they hadn’t even talked to each other. She’d call him while she was in the library, studying, and she knew he’d be in the library at George Washington, studying too. They’d plug their earphones into their phones and study together, but apart, in silence. She could hear him turning the pages of his book and taking a sip of coffee every now and then. They didn’t need to talk to each other to be there for each other, and she’d missed that.

 

She’d missed the freedom to pick up the phone and speak to him whenever she wanted to.

 

Which was why she smiled when he picked up the phone.

 

“Hey, Lydia, you okay?”

 

“I’m okay,” she said, pursing her lips thoughtfully. “I just wanted to let you know I changed my mind — again. I changed my mind again and I’ve decided to stay in Beacon Hills for the wedding.”

 

“You are?”

 

She nodded. “Yep — work can wait. I want to stay to support you and Grace on your big day.”

 

“Wow,” Stiles replied. “That’s great. Thanks for … changing your mind. Work can cope without you for another few days?”

 

“It, uh, looks like they can handle things,” she told him. “And my boss did tell me to take the week off work, so I really should honour that.”

 

“Of course,” Stiles agreed, his tone humorous and back to the Stiles she knew and loved, “it’s only right.”

 

“Exactly,” she said. “Anyway, I’m sure you’re busy. I’ll let you get back to—”

 

“Actually,” Stiles interrupted, “I wanted to talk to you about something. It’s nothing … serious, don’t worry. It’s kind of … Well, I was wondering how you might feel about bachelor parties?”

 

She frowned, confused about how the conversation had taken a turn so abruptly. “Um, I can’t say a have an opinion on them ... considering I’ve never been invited to one. It tends to be a guy thing.”

 

Stiles said, “Yeah, that’s what I thought. So, how would you feel if I asked you to come to mine?”

 

It wasn’t often Lydia was stunned into silence.

 

“Listen,” Stiles continued, interpreting her silence as a no. “Is Scott with you? I’m assuming he is, because I’m assuming he — plus Malia and Kira — went straight to yours after I told him you were planning on leaving. So, where are you guys?”

 

“My house,” Lydia told him automatically.

 

“Great,” Stiles answered. She heard the jangling of keys in the background. “I’ll be there in ten.”

 

He hung up the phone, leaving Lydia confused beyond explanation. She walked through to the kitchen with the phone still in her hand. Her friends were crowded around the island counter, deep in conversation. They looked up when they heard her approach and she frowned at them, ignoring the fact that she was pretty sure they’d been discussing her. Or her and Stiles.

 

“Stiles is on his way over,” she informed them.

 

Scott’s brow creased with confusion. “Why? Did something happen?”

 

“Kind of,” Lydia said. She briefly explained what Stiles had said to her on the phone.

 

“He asked you to his bachelor party?” Scott asked, his mouth dropping open. “He didn’t ask me to plan a bachelor party! Is there a party that I don’t know about? I’m his best man — it’s my job to plan the party and I didn’t even get invited?”

 

“I’m not invited either,” Malia cut in. “If I’m not invited, Stiles has got some serious explaining to do. I can’t believe he’d invite Lydia but not me!”

 

“Hey,” Lydia narrowed her eyes at Malia. “Watch it.”

 

“I’m just saying that it’s unfair that one of us should get an invite but nobody else,” Malia replied.

 

“Everyone knows I throw the best parties in town,” Lydia reminded them, shrugging, “maybe he just wanted some expertise.”

 

“I can’t believe I’m his best man and I’m not even invited to the bachelor party,” Scott murmured again.

 

“I’m sure there’s an explanation for all of this,” Kira suggested hopefully. “And we’ll all be invited. Right, Lydia?”

 

“Don’t count on it,” Lydia said, “this is Stiles we’re talking about here.”

 

Fifteen minutes later, someone knocked on the front door. They all exchanged looks, before Lydia headed to open it. Stiles stood on the other side, breathing heavily.

 

“Did you … run here?” she asked.

 

“Only from my car to the door,” Stiles explained, glancing back to where his car was parked in the driveway to the house. Lydia rolled her eyes and opened the door wider, letting him inside. He headed straight for the kitchen and she felt another wave of warmth that he knew exactly where to go, even after all this time.

 

She followed him into the kitchen just as their friends all started talking over each other at once.

 

“Bachelor party, Stiles? Really?” Scott asked.

 

“Without me?” Malia spoke over him.

 

“Without any of us?” Kira asked thoughtfully. “I mean, I wasn’t invited either.”

 

“None of us were,” Malia told her. “Only Lydia!”

 

“Jesus Christ,” Stiles said, turning around to look at Lydia. “Did you do this?”

 

“I just told them what you told me on the phone — which wasn’t much,” she said, “so I didn’t have a lot to go on. There’s some, uh, conflicting opinions.”

 

“I don’t think we’re conflicting at all,” Malia argued. “We’re all pretty much in agreement that it’s bullshit we haven’t been invited to your bachelor party.”

 

Scott frowned. “When were you planning on telling us, Stiles?”

 

“Okay, firstly, thank you Lydia for all of this, it’s really great,” Stiles said, glancing at Lydia.

 

She barely batted an eyelid in response, but on the inside she was secretly glad Stiles no longer seemed to be tiptoeing around her. It felt more like how they used to be: their playful, teasing relationship where they argued like best friends.

 

That conversation in the car had worked miracles for them. It was like all the awkwardness had been completely shifted and she no longer needed to worry about bumping into him, or seeing him around. She still didn’t want to go to the wedding at all, but she felt better about just standing in the same room as him. That, at least, was a start.

 

“Secondly,” Stiles continued, “I wasn’t planning on having a bachelor party until about twenty minutes ago. So you can all stop with the yelling now, okay? Scott, I just hadn’t told you yet. Malia, I hadn’t invited you because nobody was invited. And Kira, you’re all invited. Everyone clear on that update?”

 

The three of them were quiet.

 

Lydia said, “So why the sudden change of plans?”

 

“We were originally going to boycott the bachelor-bachelorette party idea because Grace doesn’t know anyone in town and it seemed unfair for me to have one when she … couldn’t,” Stiles said, avoiding looking at Lydia. She knew the real reason why Grace couldn’t have one: she couldn’t drink. “But it turns out that her mom and sister are arriving in Beacon Hills on Friday and they’ve decided to take Grace out for the day and evening ... Meaning I will have nothing to do the night before my wedding.”

 

“So, you’re having one as well?”

 

“I mean, it’s less of a bachelor party than a … bachelor dinner at my dad’s house … that my dad will also be attending,” Stiles said, wrinkling his nose. “But don’t worry — it’ll be fun. And you’re all invited, so you can all stop with the glaring. Seriously.”

 

“It’s like we’re second thought to Lydia,” Malia complained.

 

“Malia, come on,” Stiles rolled his eyes. He looked at Lydia. “Lydia, stop enjoying this so much. I’m blaming all of this on you, you know.”

 

Lydia suppressed the smile on her face. Part of it had been because she was enjoying the new relationship between her and Stiles. It wasn’t the same as it had been when they were together, obviously, but maybe they could be friends like before.

 

“I didn’t realise it was a secret,” she told him, “maybe your instructions should have been clearer.”

 

“Yeah, well,” Stiles said, pausing. “I don’t … have an answer for that.”

 

“I didn’t think so,” Lydia replied.

 

“My point is,” Stiles opened his arms wide as a gesture to include everybody in the room, “you’re all invited to my house, seven o’clock Friday night. Be there or … don’t. You know what? You’d better all be there after you’ve complained so much about not being invited to the damn thing. No excuses.”

 

“Maybe we have better things to do,” Malia suggested.

 

“Looks like it’ll just be Pops and me, then,” Stiles said, shrugging, “that’s still a party. But for the last time, Malia, I didn’t only invite Lydia on purpose. She was just the person I happened to speak to first, okay?”

 

“Suspicious,” Malia replied shortly, jutting her chin out defiantly. Her arms were folded across her chest and Lydia wondered for a second if she really was offended Stiles had apparently only invited Lydia to the bachelor party. Sometimes she couldn’t tell with Malia, but she was pretty sure Malia was mostly joking. Mostly.

 

“Wait a second,” Scott said, shaking his head in disbelief. “Stiles, I don’t get to plan any of your bachelor party? None of it at all?”

 

“You can bring a cake,” Stiles suggested.

 

“Do bachelor parties have … cake?” Lydia asked, frowning. “I don’t think that they do.”

 

“Well, mine will. It isn’t a party if there’s no cake,” Stiles said, like this was obvious. “The rest has been carefully and meticulously planned in the last twenty minutes, so you guys don’t need to worry about a thing.”

 

He smiled at them all and Lydia found herself smiling back, her grin biggest of all.

 

“And this party —”

 

“Party of the year,” Stiles cut in.

 

She rolled her eyes, but didn’t bother commenting on his interruption — the act or the content — before continuing. “It’s on Friday? As in … three days from now?”

 

“Yeah,” Stiles grimaced, scratching his head thoughtfully. “It’s kind of late notice, but it’s just dinner. We can pull it off. Easy.”

 

“Are you sure it’s a good idea to have your bachelor party the night before the wedding?” Kira asked, frowning. “Isn’t that kind of risky?”

 

“I’m really enjoying all the positivity in the room right now,” Stiles said sarcastically, then added, “Come on, guys. It’ll be great!”

 

Lydia felt bad for him while he was trying desperately to lift the spirit in the room. “It sounds fun,” she said finally, but couldn’t resist adding, “Besides, I have nothing else to do.”

 

“Thanks for the support, Lydia,” Stiles said, his tone sarcastic. Then, he smiled at her to let her know he was just kidding. “I appreciate it.”

 

“Sure,” Malia said eventually, “why not? I’m in.”

 

“Love that enthusiasm, Malia,” Stiles said. He turned to Scott and Kira. “Guys?”

 

“Of course,” Kira nodded.

 

“Wouldn’t miss it for the world,” Scott told him, and Lydia smiled at her two friends she’d known for what felt like a lifetime as they clapped each other on the back in true, male celebratory style.

 

Scott and Stiles pulled apart just as Lydia thought about how much planning there needed to be done for the bachelor party. Just because the party would be at the Sheriff’s house, that didn’t mean it just had to be a dinner party. They could do other things — party things. Lydia hosted the best parties in Beacon Hills and she wouldn’t let Stiles’s bachelor party ruin her reputation for that. She was going to help.

 

“Stiles,” she said, beckoning him over. He stepped over to her just as Scott turned to Kira and started speaking to her, leaving just Stiles and Lydia alone in the corner of the kitchen. She felt a burst of nerves at the prospect of speaking to him one-on-one for the first time since being in the high school parking lot. He still had that strange effect on her.

 

“You okay?” he asked her, his forehead creasing. She loved that. She knew it meant he cared about her and was concerned about her.

 

“Yeah,” she said, “I was just thinking — I’ll help with the party. If you want me to, of course.”

 

“Seriously?”

 

“I’ll just be sitting around for the next few days if not,” she reminded him, “I need something to keep me busy.”

 

“Right,” He smiled. “You haven’t been working for, what, four whole days now?”

 

She rolled her eyes. “You have no idea how difficult this has been for me.”

 

“Oh, I can imagine. You always were a hard-worker,” he replied, then frowned a little. “You were really thinking of leaving?”

 

“For about a day,” she confessed, “and then I realised I can’t leave. Not before your wedding.”

 

“For the record, I’m glad you changed your mind,” he said, nodding. “It would have sucked to see you go so early. Especially because it feels … this feels good, doesn’t it? It feels good between us.”

 

She nodded, allowing a smile. “Yeah, it does.”

 

“I just wanted to tell you that I’m grateful you’re staying. It means a lot to me,” he said, then added, “and Grace. The both of us. We’re both super grateful. Like, both very grateful—”

 

“I get it, Stiles,” she interrupted, but she smiled and he smiled back. “Was everything okay with Grace yesterday? You said you had a missed call from her.”

 

“She was just wondering where I was,” Stiles told her, then shook his head with a faint smile on his face, “although actually, when I got home and went to find her, she was completely confused. I told her she’d left a message on my voicemail asking where I was and she said that she’d gone for a nap and must have been half-asleep when she’d left it.”

 

Lydia forced a tight smile. “Weird.”

 

“I know,” he answered, “but you know, everything was fine.”

 

“Good,” she replied. “I didn’t know if something happened with the …”

 

“Nope,” he cut in quickly, shaking his head. “Honestly. Nothing to worry about.”

 

“I’m glad to hear that,” she said quietly. “As long as everything is okay.”

 

He nodded. He seemed distracted again — the same distant look on his face he’d got when she’d mentioned the baby in the car yesterday. Like he was thinking deeply about something and she didn’t know whether to ask about it.

 

Eventually, after a long silence, she said, “A few more things to plan in the next few days then, if we’re going to pull off this party in time.”

 

He smiled at her unexpectedly, like she’d caught him by surprise. She supposed — thinking back to what she’d said — that her inclusive use of we helped him realise that she was really was going to stick around, and, more than just that, she was actively getting involved.

 

Stiles said, “I’m not worried about the planning. I mean, I know I’ve got the best party-planner in the entire town on my side, so it’ll be great.”

 

“I hope you’re talking about me,” Scott said, tuning into their conversation from the other side of the room.

 

Kira and Malia swivelled to face them too and Lydia wondered what they’d been discussing — they looked suspicious, like they’d been plotting something. At this point, she didn’t even want to know.

 

“You know, Scott, I’m really not. I’m talking about Lydia,” Stiles said, “reigning queen of the Beacon Hills parties.”

 

“Firstly, you seriously need to lower your expectations,” Lydia reminded him, “and secondly, just how many people are you expecting for this party?”

 

“Oh,” Stiles said, “just us and my dad. I have a small circle, some may say.”

 

“Others may say you have no friends,” Malia suggested. When Stiles looked at her, she shrugged. “What? It’s true.”

 

“I don’t need anyone else,” Stiles said, his eyes — for some reason — falling on Lydia. She looked back at him, getting lost for just a second as he smiled at her. For some reason, it felt like he was speaking only to her.

 

His eyes were focused on her, his mouth turning into that funny half-smile he always did, his face softening.

 

A sudden thought ran through Lydia’s head: Do you feel it too? Do you feel the same?

 

She knew it was unlikely, otherwise he wouldn’t have come into the house so excitedly planning a bachelor party, but something inside her sparked as she saw the way he looked right at her.

 

He’d looked at her like that before — many times before — and it was like they’d been pulled straight back to their high school days.

 

Then he said, “I have you guys,” and she thought perhaps she’d imagined it.

Chapter Text

Stiles knew he shouldn’t be thinking about Lydia while he was at his bachelor party, but he couldn’t help but look across the table at her and feel immense pride and happiness that she was there, she’d planned the whole party from start to finish, and it was the best party he’d been to in a long time.

 

She’d been a real force of nature in the last few days. Eventually, he’d stopped trying to help (and essentially just getting in her way) and stepped back, letting Lydia do what she did second best to math: throw a damn good party.

 

The party screamed Lydia Martin, from the handwritten place names at the small table in the Stilinskis’ dining room, to the huge balloons that took up all almost the entire hallway, all of which displayed various positive messages like, Congratulations! So happy for you! Well done!

 

(Lydia had told him that she couldn’t order in any personalised balloons last-minute, so she’d had to make do with whatever had been at the store. “Well done,” she’d suggested thoughtfully, when telling Stiles, “for proposing?”. He hadn’t been able to hide his smile.)

 

It was lavish but classy, over-the-top but perfect. Everything Stiles never knew he wanted for his bachelor party; of course Lydia had hit the bullseye spot on. Allison would have been proud at her aim. He was proud.

 

His dad had cooked an incredible meal, one of his mom’s old recipes, and everyone at the table had been extremely complimentary, making the Sheriff blush with pride into his wine glass.

 

Lydia had organised a bunch of things for them to do after the meal, but mostly Stiles was just looking forward to spending the evening with his favourite people. They were all in the room — minus Grace, of course — and he couldn’t hide his smile when he looked around the table.

 

Noah reached for the wine bottle and poured more into Stiles’s glass. Stiles was more of a beer guy, but appreciated that wine was pretty much a necessity at a dinner party, and Lydia had promised him he could drink as much beer as he wanted afterwards.

 

“So,” Noah said, offering the bottle to everyone else before filling up his own glass, “I just wanted to make a toast — another toast — to Stiles and Grace. I know that Grace isn’t here right now, so I’ll direct this one to you, son. I’m proud of you and I’m happy for you. I know that you will be a fantastic husband and I hope you will be very happy together.”

 

“Thanks, Dad,” Stiles said, smiling at his dad.

 

He caught Lydia’s eye from across the table. He raised his own glass, keeping his eyes on her. She looked back at him, smiling softly.

 

“And to Lydia,” he said, “for arranging all of this. It would have just been another disastrous dinner party without all her help.”

 

She dipped her head in acknowledgement of the praise, lifting her wine glass to her lips. She was so smooth, elegant and slightly sensual in everything she did. He couldn’t take his eyes off her.

 

“And to everyone else,” he added, noticing the lull in the room, “thank you all for your clearing your incredibly busy schedules to be here tonight. Despite totally not being invited in the first place.”

 

Pretty much everybody rolled his eyes, which always caused a sense of accomplishment inside of Stiles. They clinked glasses again — it must have been the fourth or fifth toast by now — and drank.

 

“There’s plenty more to come,” Lydia promised, looking away from him and smiling at everybody else. “We’ve got a lot planned for—”

 

She was interrupted by the doorbell. Everybody exchanged looks, wondering who could be at the door. If it was Grace, she would just let herself in, and everyone else Stiles talked to was sitting in the room.

 

“I’ll get it,” he said eventually, pushing back his chair and excusing himself from the room. He walked through the hallway to the front door, opening it up and staring at the familiar person standing on the other side of the threshold.

 

“Woods?” he asked, scratching his chin thoughtfully. He wondered if he was seeing things — how many glasses of wine had he actually had? — when the man standing in front of him smiled tentatively.

 

“Hey, Stilinski,” he said.

 

There was no mistaking the man at the door. Stiles’s partner from the LA office stood right in front of him, wearing a blue button-down and jeans. In LA, Stiles was close friends with Woods, they did things together some weekends. They went to baseball games together and for a beer in the evenings; they mostly talked about work, as it was something very obvious they had in common, but sometimes their conversation stretched to other topics. Stiles talked about his friends from home and Woods told him about his college baseball team, who were still some of his closest friends. Woods came to dinner sometimes and Grace always talked about setting him up with one of her friends, whom she insisted was perfect for him.

 

Woods was invited to the wedding, of course, but Stiles had no idea why he was standing at his old childhood home at 8 p.m. the night before the wedding. There was something extremely odd and jarring about seeing someone from his life in LA in Beacon Hills. Like he was a piece of a puzzle that didn’t quite fit, no matter how hard you tried to jam the damn thing into the space.

 

“Is everything okay?” Stiles asked, frowning.

 

“Yeah,” Woods nodded, “everything’s fine. I just — I managed to get off work early for the weekend and thought I’d come down to surprise you and Grace. Is she here too?”

 

Stiles shook his head. “No, she’s with her family.”

 

“Right,” Woods answered, “of course.”

 

“So, you just came down to surprise us?” Stiles asked. He was still confused about Woods’s sudden appearance, but it did seem like the kind of strange thing his partner would do. He was an odd guy, and Stiles suddenly felt bad for not inviting him in and, instead, regarding him like he’d done something wrong.

 

“Yeah!” Woods answered. “It isn’t everyday two of your best friends from work get married. Now, I know you guys probably have plans together tonight, so I got a hotel room downtown somewhere. I just thought I’d stop by and say hi.”

 

“We don’t have plans, actually,” Stiles said. He opened the door wider. “Grace is with her family, like I said, and I’m having a … Well, it’s kind of a small bachelor party.”

 

“A bachelor party?” Woods asked, raising his eyebrows. “Really? I thought …”

 

“It was kind of a last-minute thing,” Stiles explained quickly, hoping that Woods wasn’t offended. “You want to join us?”

 

“It’s fine, Stilinski,” Woods said, shaking his head. “Wouldn’t want to intrude.”

 

“No, come on, man,” Stiles stepped aside to make room for Woods. “Join us. There’s plenty of food, we’ve got tons of alcohol. There’s some games or something later. You came all this way to see us, I can’t let you go back to a hotel room.

 

“Are you sure?” Woods asked, frowning. “Honestly, Stilinski, I only dropped by to say hi. I don’t want to invite myself in.”

 

“You aren’t, I am,” Stiles told him.

 

He beckoned Woods through and eventually, his partner accepted the offer. He stepped into the house and Stiles shut the front door behind him.

 

“Nice place you got here,” Woods said.

 

“Thanks,” Stiles said, leading the way through to the dining room. “How’d you find my dad’s address, anyway?”

 

“I’m an FBI agent, Stilinski,” Woods reminded him, “you really think it’s difficult to find a Mieczysław Stilinski’s registered home address?”

 

Stiles nodded. “Good point.”

 

They entered the dining room and his friends’ chatter and laughter died down as they all looked up expectantly, their eyes falling on the stranger in the doorway behind Stiles.

 

“Everyone, this is my partner from work, Agent James Woods,” Stiles said, “Woods, this is … everyone.”

 

He ran through a quick list of names, pointing at each person in turn.

 

“Sorry to just barge in,” Woods said, holding up his hands. “I just wanted to drop by and see Stilinski — sorry, Stiles — and Grace before the big day.”

 

“You drove all this way just to say hi?” Scott asked, frowning. “That’s friendship, man.”

 

“Stilinski means a lot to me,” Woods answered with a shrug. “And I got off early from work. I was going to be driving down pretty early tomorrow morning for the ceremony anyway, so figured I’d avoid the early start and come down tonight instead. It made sense.”

 

Scott was still frowning, but Stiles put it down to his difficulty in trusting new people. Scott always tried not to be on edge when he met new people, but Stiles noticed that shift in him every time. A defensive shift. His walls were immediately built up and his natural easiness and calm demeanour dissolved slightly.

 

It had come over time. It had developed from people trying to tear their pack apart on more than one occasion, it came from the dangers that seemed to lurk around most corners in Beacon Hills. It came from years of trusting people, sometimes the wrong people, and those decisions sometimes coming back to haunt him.

 

Stiles understood the change in Scott, it was just another way that Scott had changed since the threat of Monroe and her army of hunters. He was on guard now, still welcoming but only to an extent. Although he tried not to show this new wariness to the rest of the pack, for fear of worrying them, Stiles noticed.

 

“Woods has been my partner in the LA office ever since I first transferred there,” Stiles announced, trying to ease his best friend’s defensiveness. “We’ve worked tons of cases together over the years, haven’t we, Woods?”

 

“We have,” Woods confirmed, nodding.

 

Scott still frowned at him, until Lydia said, “Take a seat! There’s plenty of food to go around.”

 

Stiles pulled out a chair for Woods and sat down in his chair afterwards. The room was quiet for a few seconds with the equilibrium rocked momentarily by the arrival of their unexpected guest.

 

“So,” Lydia said, leaning forward and flashing Woods a smile across the table. “What is Stiles like at work? Does he still use red thread for unsolved cases?”

 

Woods frowned. “Yeah, he does. How … how do you know about that?”

 

Lydia smiled, but before she could say anything, Stiles said, “Lydia was my first partner. Uh, investigation partner, not … any other kind of partner. Although … uh, never mind. We worked cases together before it became my job.”

 

“I thought you guys were high school friends,” Woods said, his brow furrowing. “Why were you solving cases together?”

 

The group fell silent and Stiles wrinkled his nose, trying to think of a reason. He hadn’t even been thinking about what he’d been saying, he was so desperate to let Lydia know that he counted her as his first partner. The person — second to his father — who had inspired him to work in law enforcement. Solving those cases together moved him forward in his career and he owed so much to her. 

 

“We don’t mean real cases,” Lydia said, laughing. “There’s nothing to do around here really —”

 

“Just a boring little town,” Stiles added in.

 

“So we used to ask the Sheriff here if we could look through some old, closed cases and attempt to solve them together,” she said. Stiles stared at her, amazed by the spontaneity and persuasiveness of her lie. It seemed to come so naturally to her. 

 

“Is that … allowed?” Woods asked.

 

“Maybe, maybe not,” Lydia shrugged, sitting back in her chair and sipping from her wine glass. “But it was our little secret. Isn’t that right, Sheriff?”

 

“Absolutely,” Noah agreed, smiling at Lydia knowingly.

 

“But the red thread?” Lydia prompted.

 

“Every case,” Woods answered. “Man, I can’t believe you used to do that when you were, what, seventeen?”

 

Stiles nodded, glancing over at Lydia. Whenever he hung up the red thread on the board at work, winding it slowly around a pin and guiding it with his thumb over to the second point, he thought of her. After that night in his room, after getting in trouble because Lydia’s banshee instincts told that her Barrow was in the school, he associated the red thread with her, as he’d unwrapped it from her fingers and touched her wrist, reassuring her that he believed in her, even if nobody else did.

 

It was, in some ways, why he still used the thread. He didn’t always need it anymore. The cases in the FBI, although they were complex, didn’t often involve as many nonsensical elements as the supernatural mysteries of Beacon Hills had. He used it for the reassurance, as a reminder of how he’d first fallen in love with the job. Through the long, tiring weeks and difficult days, he kept a ball of yarn by the side of his desk to remind him of those days solving cases with Lydia. 

 

“Yeah,” he answered eventually. “I did.”

 

“How long are you in town for, James?” Scott asked from the other side of the table. Stiles narrowed his eyes at Scott. Be cool, he wanted to say to him. He tried to communicate it telepathically across the table, but Scott was refusing to make eye contact.

 

“I’ll probably head back to LA after the wedding — maybe tomorrow afternoon?” Woods explained. “I’m not planning on staying long.”

 

“I appreciate you coming all this way, man,” Stiles said to his partner. “I’ll call Grace and let her know you’re here. Maybe she can come back from dinner with her family early see you before you go to the hotel.”

 

“Sure,” Woods nodded. “Sounds good.”

 

“But this is your bachelor party, Stiles,” Lydia said, narrowing her eyes at him. “I mean, Grace can’t really join us.”

 

“It’s just dinner, Lydia,” Stiles said, his words more harsh than he intended. He watched as her face fell and he knew that he’d diminished her party planning with just four words. He scrabbled to find the words to apologise to her, but she got to her feet and began quickly clearing away plates.

 

He helped. She marched into the kitchen and he followed her, desperate to make it up to her.

 

“Sorry, Lydia,” he said, putting the plates in the sink and running a hand through his hair. “I didn’t mean to say it like that … I know how much time and effort you’ve put into this dinner, and it’s great. I love it. I just meant … I didn’t know my partner was going to show up and if he’s here to see both me and Grace, I could at least try to get her to come home early.”

 

“Of course I understand,” she replied, her eyes flashing. “But it’s not just a dinner, Stiles.”

 

“I know,” He reached for her hand, squeezing it gently. “I’m sorry. Really.”

 

She took a tiny step towards him — almost falling towards him — and looked up at him. “Stiles,” she said, slightly breathlessly, “I think we should talk about something. And I know that the timing is bad, but—”

 

“Hey, chief,” said Woods as he stepped into the kitchen, carrying the empty bottle of wine in his hand. Stiles hastily dropped Lydia’s hand and twisted it with his own, stepping away from her like he’d been caught doing something wrong.

 

Luckily, Woods hadn’t appeared to notice. Lydia stepped back too, more subtly, but a movement that was blindingly obvious to Stiles, who had been particularly in tune to Lydia’s movements for as long as he could remember.

 

“Where should I put this bottle?” Woods asked, holding up the wine bottle.

 

“Just over there is fine, thanks,” Stiles said, pointing to the kitchen counter and trying to sound casual.

 

His heart pounded beneath his T-shirt, knowing — hoping — Woods would outright say something if he’d noticed them holding hands. Unless he was just polite enough not to say it in front of Lydia. Stiles wasn’t sure. He liked Woods, he did, he was a great partner and a decent guy — but he lacked some ideas on social cues and didn’t always seem to know what was appropriate to say, or not to say. He hoped that this would be the first time Woods would know exactly what was appropriate. 

 

“This is a great party,” Woods said, stepping closer to them. He tucked his hands into his pockets and smiled. “Who planned it?”

 

“Lydia,” Stiles said immediately, smiling at the woman standing beside him. Lydia cocked her head.

 

“It was a collaborative effort.”

 

“No way,” Stiles shook his head, “it absolutely was not. I stepped back — I was just getting in your way.”

 

“Lydia,” Woods said, and Lydia glanced over at him expectantly. “Sorry — I, uh — I’m just trying to remember everyone’s names. Think about if I’ve ever heard Stilinski mention you before.”

 

The smile on Lydia’s face faltered just a little.

 

“I talked about everybody equally,” Stiles said quickly, before Woods could get a word in. He noticed his colleague frowning at him, clearly wondering why Stiles was lying, but he said nothing. That was what Stiles appreciated the most about Woods: he was loyal. He didn’t question Stiles’s words, even though Stiles was pretty sure he’d avoided mentioning Lydia completely. For obvious reasons, he thought, but reasons that clearly were not so transparent to Woods.

 

“Of course,” Woods said smoothly, “your name came up, Lydia, but I think Scott’s came up the most.”

 

Lydia appeared to let out a relieved sigh; Stiles wondered what it was for. “That doesn’t come as a surprise,” she said.

 

“Hey,” Stiles said, “nothing can come between us.”

 

“Oh, we all know that,” Lydia said, patting Stiles on his upper arm a few times. He glanced at her, surprised by the sudden contact, and smiled. “We should probably go back to the party. You have no idea what I’ve got planned for you.”

 

“Do I want to know?”

 

Lydia laughed, then said, “No. Probably not.”

 

______________________________________________________

 

Stiles spotted the cards in Lydia’s hands just as the party started to wind down; she was flipping through them, studying each one carefully.

 

He walked over to her, nodding at the multi-coloured flashcards. “What are those?”

 

She looked up and smiled, handing them over to him. “I made them for the party — games I thought we could play. Your, uh, surprise guest meant that we couldn’t … really play all of them.”

 

“Too inappropriate?” he asked, raising an eyebrow.

 

She stifled a smile. “Too supernatural.”

 

He flicked through the cards, that were just big enough for Lydia to have jotted down a question on one side and an answer on the other. He smiled as he read a few of them.

 

 

 

QUESTION: What is Stiles afraid of? (More than one answer is acceptable.)

ANSWER: Needles, being blind, probably a lot of other things (see: the following question).

 

QUESTION: Who did Stiles think was responsible for the human sacrifices?

ANSWER: Derek x2, Mr. Harris, Cora, Deaton … and me (thanks, Stiles).

 

QUESTION: Which math does Stiles find most difficult?

ANSWER: Riemann Hypothesis, non-trivial zeros and zeta functions.

 

QUESTION: How did Stiles regain the ability to read after sacrificing himself for the Nemeton?

ANSWER: He saved me from the animal trap in the woods.

 

There were more, some more general that weren’t just about some of his most precious memories involving Lydia, and he flicked through most of them, shaking his head the entire time.

 

“You don’t like them?” Lydia asked, sounding surprised. “I mean, it’s not a big deal if you don’t, but it took me a long time … I never knew you thought I was the one doing those—” She lowered her voice, fully aware that Woods hadn’t left the house yet and was only a couple metres away from Stiles and Lydia — “human sacrifices, by the way.”

 

“I was just spitballing,” Stiles protested. “Scott was pretty much on my list of suspects at that point.”

 

“You expect me to believe that?” she asked, incredulous. Stiles smiled in response.

 

“I, uh …” He held the cards close to him, reluctant to hand them back to her. “I love them. I’ve never had someone make a quiz about me before.”

 

“First time for everything, I guess,” she said. “You can keep them. Test yourself.”

 

“I will definitely fail,” he said, glancing at the cards again. “Did you pass?”

 

“Stiles,” Lydia said, “I’ve never failed a test.”

 

“How could I forget?” he answered, laughing.

 

“I try my best to remind you whenever I can,” she said, then added, “I’m glad you like them.”

 

“Not just these, but the whole party,” he insisted sincerely.

 

It had been an incredible night from start to finish; Lydia had taken everything that Stiles loved and seamlessly woven it into the plans for the night. She’d used all of his favourite songs in a playlist, which had been playing on loop all night. She’d bought his favourite beers for them all to drink. She’d handwritten quizzes and other games for them to play, all about Stiles.

 

She had proven over and over during the night that she knew him better than anybody, in so many different ways.

 

The night had started to wind down about thirty minutes earlier. It was getting close to midnight and Stiles realised that he was getting married in around about thirteen hours.

 

The thought panicked him, of course, but he was in a good place with Grace now. He’d started to really believe it was the right decision, no matter how much Lydia had made him laugh at the party or shown how much she cared about him. He knew that she had only helped with the party platonically, but he’d enjoyed spending time with her — and his other friends — so much that he’d almost … forgotten his plans for the next day.

 

He had to keep reminding himself that it was his bachelor party. He was getting married to Grace in less than a day.

 

“It’s no big deal,” Lydia answered, but she smiled with pride.

 

“Best party ever,” he continued, “beats all of your others.”

 

“You haven’t been to one of my New York parties yet,” she reminded him, and his smile faded just a little at the thought of her going back to New York.

 

Almost as quickly as it had faded, he attempted to rearrange it back onto his face, nodding. “Maybe someday I can.”

 

“You all can,” Lydia replied. She seemed serious.

 

His heart ached because he wanted nothing more than to make plans to visit Lydia in New York, but he knew how unfair that would be on Grace and … and the baby. The baby he had a responsibility for. The baby who needed his or her father. He couldn’t just go to New York whenever he felt like it to visit Lydia. Being married to Grace and having the baby would change things. He would need to fully dedicate his life, all his time, to his family.

 

He hadn’t considered Lydia’s words properly when she’d said to him in the parking lot of the high school that things would change when they returned to their real lives. She was always one step ahead of him, he knew that, but he’d stupidly thought they wouldn’t have to change.

 

He’d thought he could be with Grace, but still see Lydia and things could almost be normal with her too. They wouldn’t be together obviously, but they could be friends like before.

 

He realised that couldn’t — and wouldn’t — be the case.

 

He couldn’t be friends with Lydia. Not now Grace knew about their relationship. Not now he was going to be a dad.

 

There was no room for Lydia in his new life. Not with how he felt about her still.

 

“That sounds great,” he said, lowering his eyes from her gaze.

 

She took a step towards him. “Stiles, if you think that—”

 

“Hey, Stilinski,” Woods’s voice boomed across the room, cutting into their conversation for the second time that evening. Lydia took a step back hastily, turning her attention to Woods.

 

“What’s up?” Stiles asked his partner.

 

“I think I’m going to head to my hotel,” Woods told them, “but thanks for the great party. Lydia, it was a great night. You did a good job.”

 

“Dude, it was my party!”

 

Woods laughed. He seemed to have loosened up during the party and Stiles actually found himself feeling glad that he had him there. Scott had even warmed up to him more, once the two of them had bonded both being alumni of U.C. Davis. It turned out that they’d lived within 100 yards of each other during college, and had graduated just one year apart from each other.

 

“We both know Lydia was the mastermind behind the entire thing,” Woods said, and Stiles shrugged.

 

“Can’t argue with that,” he replied, shooting Lydia a proud smile. He turned to Woods. “I’ll walk you to the door.”

 

Woods said goodbye to Lydia and the other guests, before the two men walked through the front door of the house together. Stiles opened it up and faced his old friend.

 

“Sorry I couldn’t get hold of Grace for you,” he said suddenly. “We just missed each other.”

 

Stiles had left a message on Grace’s phone telling her that Woods was in town and eager to see both of them before the wedding. He’d told her that they’d both be at the house for most of the evening because he’d invited Woods to stay for the party. An hour later, he’d checked his phone to find he had a missed call and a message from Grace, who told him to pass on a message to Woods that she was sorry she wouldn’t be able to make it back in time. Apparently, her mom and sister had booked a day at the spa for her bachelorette party and booked a room in the hotel for the night.

 

Since it was unusual for the bride and groom to spend the night before the wedding anyway, and Grace was big on tradition, he understood why she might jump at her mom’s offer and told her to have fun.

 

“No problem,” Woods said, shifting from one foot to the other and awkwardly smiling at him. “It doesn’t matter. I’ll see you both tomorrow anyway, right?”

 

“Right!” Stiles answered. He checked the time on his watch. “Twelve hours to go.”

 

“See you at the church,” Woods said, slapping his hand onto Stiles’s shoulder and turning away. Stiles shut the door behind his friend, and returned to his best friends for the rest of the party.

 

They stayed for another half-hour, before really beginning to realise that the wedding was in less than twelve hours. If they didn’t head home and get some sleep soon, they’d be hungover and/or exhausted the next day.

 

Stiles didn’t think that Grace would appreciate some of their guests in the pews, wincing every time someone raised their voice or refusing to drink any of the alcohol at the open bar they’d paid a lot of money for because they couldn’t stomach any alcohol.

 

Malia and Kira left first. Kira planted a sloppy, drunken kiss on Stiles’s cheek before she left, while Malia rolled her eyes, looped an arm around her waist and helped her through the door. Scott came through next, hugging Stiles.

 

“You looking forward to tomorrow?” Scott asked Stiles, his voice low and serious. Lydia appeared behind them, carrying a leather jacket over her arm and tucking her hair absentmindedly behind her ears. She didn’t even realise Stiles was looking at her.

 

“Yeah,” Stiles answered. He pulled his attention back to his best friend, away from Lydia, but he couldn’t quite meet Scott’s eye. “It’s going to be great. I’ll see you at—”

 

“Eleven o’clock at the church,” Scott nodded. “I remember.”

 

Stiles pulled him in for another hug, needing Scott’s reassuring words more than anything, but not knowing how to ask. Scott waited outside for Lydia, since he was giving her a ride home, so as to give the two of them some privacy.

 

“Thanks for everything tonight, Lydia,” Stiles said, smiling down at the redheaded woman in front of him. Lydia lifted her chin to look at him, her eyes bright with happiness.

 

“You had fun?”

 

“Of course I did. It was perfect,” he said. “Did you?”

 

She nodded. “Yeah, I did.”

 

“Lydia, I, uh —” Stiles began, then stopped. He cleared his throat.

 

I’m sorry.

 

I love you.

 

I wish things could be different.

 

A million thoughts ran through his head, but he knew he couldn’t say any of them. He searched for an appropriate one, racking his brain for something that wouldn’t totally freak her out. 

 

“I’m really happy you decided to stay in Beacon Hills,” he finished finally, “it hasn’t been the same around here without you. Without all of us being together again.”

 

“Being back here feels right,” she replied. “And I’m happy I stayed too. I’m so … excited for tomorrow, Stiles.”

 

He forced a smile. Why did he feel like he needed to force a smile whenever someone mentioned his wedding? It was almost a natural reaction now.

 

“Lydia,” he said, a memory rushing through his head, “this party has been one of the best nights I’ve had in a long time. You’re so good at party planning, I could kiss you right now.”

 

She smiled. A real smile — and because of that, he smiled too.

 

“Do not kiss me.”

 

He lifted a hand to her face, his fingers softly brushing the smooth skin of her cheek. He leaned forwards, his lips brushing her other cheek. Just once, he could kiss her. Not on the lips, not physically any different to how he might greet Kira, Malia or Scott’s mom, even, but his feelings were very different.

 

He knew that. He hoped she might know that, too.

 

His voice was barely above a whisper as he leaned back from her, dropping his hand from her face. She knew what was coming, he knew she knew, but he said it regardless. He hoped that it might subtly jog a memory somewhere inside of her. He hoped it could be just another way he could tell her he loved her without telling her. Just like the first time he said these exact same words to her, nine years ago now. 

 

He looked at her, his eyes on hers. She smiled back at him.

 

“Did it anyway.”

Chapter Text

It took Lydia exactly three minutes to remember what the day was when she woke up.

 

She had to admit that she was, just maybe, a little bit hungover.

 

At eighteen in college, she’d woken up from a night with a few drinks with a slight headache, which usually disappeared after drinking her first cup of coffee of the day.

 

At twenty-seven, it was no longer that easy.

 

She woke up, her head throbbing and her mouth dry, and reached for the glass of water by the side of her bed. She finished the entire glass in one gulp, before she stared at the ceiling for two and a half minutes, her mind blank.

 

At that moment, she sat bolt upright.

 

It was the day of the wedding.

 

It was the day of Stiles’s wedding.

 

She checked her phone and saw she had a few messages from her friends, checking in on her. She had a message from her date too, confirming what time he needed to be at her house for. She replied to his message first, before quickly sending a few, slightly vague, smiley emojis to her friends. She hoped that might placate for them a little while, or at least provide her with enough time to work out how she was feeling about the day.

 

She threw the covers off her body and hurried downstairs, where she could hear her mom in the kitchen, up early for the wedding.

 

“Good morning, sweetheart,” Natalie Martin said cheerfully, right as Lydia slunk into the kitchen and hopped up onto one of the bar stools at the island. She held her head in her hands as Natalie filled up another glass of water and placed it, as well as some aspirin, onto the counter in front of her.

 

“Late night?” she asked.

 

“Yes,” Lydia mumbled, “and please stop … shouting. And sounding so happy.”

 

“Oh, honey,” Natalie said. “That bad?”

 

“I got caught up in the celebrations,” Lydia told her, “but it was a fun night. We had a lot to drink, but it felt like old times.”

 

“I hope Stiles is feeling okay this morning.”

 

Lydia thought of how he’d kissed her on the cheek just before she left his the night before. Lydia had spent the entire car ride home thinking about how it must have meant something — his words, the way he gently cupped her face with his hand, the soft way he’d kissed her cheek — but in reality, she’d woken up on the day of his wedding.

 

She knew that even if that kiss had meant something in the heat of the moment, it had probably been nostalgia combined with how appreciative Stiles had been of her party planning, all wrapped up in an alcohol induced spontaneous moment.

 

She tried not to think about it because she knew — she knew — it meant nothing. It couldn’t. It was his wedding day. He would be getting married in five hours. She would be at the church in four and a half hours, ready to see him get married. There was no forgetting that, or getting around it.

 

It was happening, whether she liked it or not.

 

“Me too,” she replied distantly.

 

“Do you need help getting ready for the wedding?” Natalie asked. “I can do your hair.”

 

“Sure,” Lydia couldn’t remember the last time her mom had done her hair for her. She felt like she needed that kind of support today, and she was grateful Natalie would be there for her. “I’ll get dressed soon, I just … Maybe I just shouldn’t go?”

 

“Lydia,” Natalie’s voice was stern, but also a little tired. “I’m not going through this with you again. You’re going to that wedding even if I have to put you in the backseat of the car and drive you there myself.”

 

“Mom, I—”

 

“Honey, just listen to me for a second, okay?” Natalie said, and Lydia nodded obediently. “Seven years ago, I watched and I listened to you as you walked away from Stiles. I bit my tongue as you ran away from your problems and you threw yourself into work, thinking it would solve everything and fix that huge hole in your heart that Stiles left. I know how much you love him, sweetheart, and I wish I could help fix things for you this time and give you advice that will heal your broken heart, but trust me when I say that today, you need to be there for Stiles.

 

“You ran away from him once before and do you see what happened? You drove a huge wedge between the two of you, and you can’t do that again. He needs you today, he needs all of us to be there for him. It hurts me to see you in so much pain, but I will not let you run away instead of facing your problems again. So, you’re going to go upstairs, you’re going to put on that pretty dress, and we’re going to do your hair. Okay?”

 

“Okay, Mom. You know, it won’t be easy,” Lydia told Natalie, “but I’m glad I’m home. And I’m glad that I’ve had the chance to repair what I broke with Stiles all those years ago. If I don’t go today, he’ll never forgive me, will he?”

 

Natalie shook her head. “You know Stiles better than I do, darling, but I think you’re right. I think it’s taken a lot for him to forgive you for leaving the first time round, more than you know.”

 

“It was bad, I know.”

 

“The first few times I saw Stiles in Beacon Hills after you broke up, he completely avoided me,” Natalie said, smiling softly. “I would see him across the street and he would genuinely see me, stop, and run away. I’m not kidding — he used to run away from me.”

 

Lydia cracked a smile. “That sounds like Stiles.”

 

“It took a while for him to be able to see me and speak to me,” Natalie said, “for him to stop and say hi. I never talked about you, I always thought it would make him uncomfortable again, but he used to ask.”

 

“He did?” Lydia asked. “You never told me that.”

 

“Honey, I felt like I was right in the middle of the two of you,” her mother told her, rolling her eyes. “I didn’t know what I could and couldn’t say to either of you! So I chose to stay silent.”

 

“What did he ask?”

 

“He asked how you were,” Natalie said. “Occasionally. Not all the time, I think he was worried that I’d tell you, but every now and then he would ask if you were okay, if you liked New York.”

 

“That’s it?”

 

“He was mad at you,” Natalie told her, “I know that’s not what you want to hear, but it’s true. I saw it whenever I looked at him — he was heartbroken for a long time. He loved you for so long, Lydia. For longer than you know.”

 

She couldn’t take it anymore. She’d worked things out with Stiles, she’d apologised, she’d hoped that might fix things, but an apology that was seven years too late didn’t erase the heartbreak she’d caused him.

 

“Okay, Mom,” she said. “That’s enough.”

 

“I’m not telling you this to upset you, sweetheart. I’m telling you because I need you to know how Stiles felt when you broke up with him, I’m telling you because he handled it and he forgave you, which was extremely kind of him. And I’m not saying you didn’t deserve that forgiveness, I know how you beat yourself up over how things ended between you two, but if you run away again … It might be even more difficult for him to understand.”

 

Lydia nodded, swallowing the lump in her throat that formed when she thought about Stiles hating her. Really hating her this time. She slipped off the bar stool and walked around the island to hug her mother.

 

“Okay,” she said, then added, “Thanks, Mom.”

 

“I love you, honey,” Natalie said.

 

“Love you too,” Lydia answered. She turned around and walked up the stairs, heading into her room and reaching for the beautiful strapless, dusky pink mid-length dress. She loved the dress. The moment she’d seen it in the store, she’d had to have it, knowing it would be perfect for a wedding.

 

It was just a shame that she would never be able to wear it again after the wedding. It would forever remind her of this day, the day she watched Stiles marry someone else. It was a memory she knew she wouldn’t want to keep reminding herself of.

 

Lydia undressed from her pajamas and unzipped the dress as delicately as she could. She stepped into it, pulling the material into place, and zipped it up easily. Stepping over to the mirror, she admired her reflection, the way the dress grazed the shins of her legs, falling like a waterfall around her body. She smoothed it down, turning this way, then that, to look at the dress in full.

 

Lydia checked the time and sat down at her vanity desk. It was almost 9 a.m. The wedding started in just four hours, and she supposed she should probably start getting ready.

 

______________________________________________________

 

 

Natalie finished brushing out her daughter’s hair and looked at her reflection in the mirror, smiling, even though Lydia seemed distracted.

 

“I think we’re just about finished here,” Natalie told her, letting her strawberry blonde hair drop from her fingers and stepping back to admire her handiwork. “You look beautiful, honey.”

 

“Thanks, Mom,” Lydia said, smiling at her mom through the mirror. “What’s the time?”

 

“Almost noon,” Natalie said. She brushed out her own hair, wiping at the corners of her mouth delicately to remove any smudged lipstick. Lydia stared at her reflection flatly, not feeling any of the usual excitement she felt when she was getting ready for an event. She felt nothing.

 

“The others will arrive soon,” Lydia said, turning her phone over from where it had been sitting, face-down, on her vanity desk. She had a few messages from Malia and Kira, who were busy arranging when they were stopping by Lydia’s house to pick her up, and one from Scott making sure she was okay.

 

Her date was due to arrive at the Martins’ house at 12 o’clock, giving them just enough time to awkwardly introduce themselves to each other in person and for Lydia to thank him profusely for accompanying her to the most uncomfortable event of her life. Then, Malia and Kira would stop by on their way to the church to collect Lydia and her date.

 

Safety in numbers, they’d figured.

 

Scott was, of course, already at the church. The fact that he’d messaged Lydia half an hour earlier to ask she was okay, and hadn’t mentioned anything about the wedding itself, filled Lydia with a frustration she couldn’t describe.

 

Cruelly, she’d been hoping that Scott might text her to say that the wedding was cancelled and she could tell Stiles how she really felt after all. She replied to the message, telling Scott that she was absolutely fine and looking forward to the ceremony (she even added several exclamation marks at the end, just in case Stiles happened to see the message over Scott’s shoulder) and sent it.

 

Her mom, wearing a sapphire blue dress with a diamond necklace, stood behind her still. They were both ready to go, but neither of them moved.

 

“Oh, honey,” Natalie said, shaking her head. She bit her lip as she looked at the expression on Lydia’s face — more forlorn and melancholy than she’d seen in a while, and definitely not the Lydia Natalie had grown used to seeing over the past week — in the mirror.

 

“Mom, I’m fine,” Lydia insisted. “Don’t worry.”

 

“This probably won’t help, sweetheart, but I just … I always thought it was going to be you,” Natalie told her. “Today, walking up the aisle to Stiles, I always thought you two would find your way back to each other.”

 

Lydia swallowed, fighting the lump in the back of her throat.

 

“I always thought so too.”

 

“I’m proud of you,” Natalie said, turning Lydia’s chair around so she could speak to her face-to-face, rather than through her reflection in the mirror. She laid her hand on Lydia’s shoulder, admiring the dress her daughter wore and the way her long hair fell in beautiful, soft waves past her shoulders.

 

Lydia frowned. “Why?”

 

“Because you’re here,” Natalie told her, “for Stiles. You’re supporting him and putting your own feelings aside to be there for one of your friends, for someone you love. I’m so proud of you for just being here today.”

 

“Thanks, Mom.”

 

“Don’t get me wrong though, Lydia, I have always been proud of you. Since you met those boys, since you met Allison, you’ve become the person I always knew you could be. You’re my daughter and I love you more than anything. I’m happy you’re back home, things really haven’t been the same around here without you.”

 

Lydia stood up and smoothed down her dress, wrapping her arms around her mother and breathing in the smell of her familiar perfume. She held back her tears, knowing it would ruin the makeup she’d just spent an hour perfecting, and Natalie hugged her back.

 

The two broke apart when the doorbell rang from downstairs.

 

“That’ll be my date,” Lydia said, wiping quickly underneath her eyes and reaching for her lipstick, just to add the finishing touches to her look.

 

“I’ll get it,” Natalie said. “You make sure you’ve got everything.”

 

After her mom left the room, Lydia spent the next few minutes collecting everything she needed for the wedding — her phone, purse, money — before she heard the sound of her mom and her date talking downstairs. She knew she needed to join them, needed to put on a smile and pretend she was enthused about attending one of her closest friends’ weddings.

 

The entire day would be about faking a smile, and she knew that.

 

She had to start by going downstairs and introducing herself properly to Jacob, her date. She grabbed her things and walked down the stairs, walking slowly in her heels, and arranged a smile onto her face when he came into view.

 

Immediately, she recognised how attractive he was. He was tall with short, messy blond hair. He was wearing a classic black tuxedo — she thanked God that he hadn’t opted for a more unique outfit, like a tartan suit, and had instead chosen to blend into the crowd — and, it should be noted, he filled it out well.

 

“Hi!” she said, joining them in the hallway. “You must be Jacob.”

 

“And you must be Lydia,” Jacob said, reaching his hand out to her. He had a pleasant smile with extremely white teeth. She shook his hand, smiling back at him. “It’s great to finally meet you. The big day is finally here!”

 

She nodded. “I know. It’s been a long time coming.”

 

“It has, I’m looking forward to it. So, are we waiting for your friends? You mentioned in your last message that they were going to come by and we’d all head over to the church together?”

 

“Yeah,” She checked the time on her phone. “They should be here soon. Do you want … a cup of coffee, or anything?”

 

Jacob smiled again. He really was incredibly good-looking, she thought, looking at him. If she’d met him in New York, or at college, things might be different. In another world, they might have ended up together and been perfectly happy with each other.

 

Looking at him though, all Lydia could think was that he was perfect, but he wasn’t Stiles.

 

“Coffee would be great,” he said. “Thanks.”

 

Thirty minutes later, rapid, excessive knocking on the front door. Lydia had been hovering in the kitchen, not wanting to sit down and get comfortable for fear of creasing her dress, and she smiled apologetically at Jacob — who, in all fairness, was extremely good at making small-talk — before shooting off to answer the door.

 

Kira and Malia both looked beautiful, standing ready at Lydia’s door. Kira’s dress was a strapless, peach-coloured midi dress, her dark hair falling in shiny curls around her shoulders, and Malia wore a shorter, emerald-green dress with a gold necklace. She’d pinned her hair back on one side, behind her ear.

 

“Thank God you guys are here.”

 

“We’re on time,” Kira protested.

 

“I know,” Lydia hissed, “but my date is here and I don’t know him.”

 

“But he’s good-looking, right?” Malia asked, craning her neck to see past Lydia, hoping to catch a glimpse of her mystery date.

 

Lydia rolled her eyes, then nodded. “Yeah, he is. Are we leaving now?”

 

“Pretty much,” Kira answered.

 

Lydia ducked back into the house, smoothing her clammy hands on her dress as she found Jacob in the kitchen.

 

“Jacob?” she said, clearing her throat. He looked up expectantly. “I think we’re heading out now. You ready?”

 

“Definitely!” Jacob answered, following her as she walked back to the front door, where her friends were waiting. Jacob introduced himself to Malia and Kira, whose mouths both dropped open just a little when they laid eyes on Jacob, before the four of them headed over to Kira’s car.

 

“Isn’t your mom coming with us, Lydia?” Kira asked.

 

“She’s meeting us there.”

 

“Are you ready for this?” Malia said, turning around to look at Lydia. She was sitting in the backseat, beside Jacob, with her heart pounding inside her chest. She’d never been this nervous before over anything.

 

“Ready as I’ll ever be,” she replied. Kira put the car in gear and they headed to the church.

 

______________________________________________________

 

“It’s just a few hours to get through, Lydia,” Malia reassured her, as the four of them got out of Kira’s car and looked up at the church in front of them. “You can do this — I believe in you.”

 

Lydia shot her a grateful smile, just as Jacob joined her on her left and beamed at her.

 

“You okay?” he asked her.

 

“Yeah,” she answered, looking up at him. He offered the crook of his arm out to her as Kira and Malia walked into the church ahead of them, alongside the other guests heading inside. “Why wouldn’t I be?”

 

“Well,” Jacob shrugged, “this is a wedding, but you don’t seem like you’re looking forward to it. I thought … Ella said that the groom is one of your closest friends. I thought you’d be excited for it.”

 

“I am,” she insisted, accepting his arm after a slight hesitation. They began to walk in together, their steps in sync with one another, following after Kira and Malia. “I’m sorry — it’s just … I used to date the groom.”

 

“Wow,” Jacob replied, glancing at her. “Seriously? And you’re going to his wedding?”

 

“We were close friends for a long time before we dated,” she explained, wincing. “But this week is the first time we’ve been in even the same area code for the past seven years. So, you know, going to his wedding is a little …”

 

“Uncomfortable?” Jacob guessed.

 

She nodded. “Just a little.”

 

“It’s starting to make more sense why you felt like you needed a date — even someone you don’t know,” Jacob replied. He smiled at her, reassuring Lydia that he wasn’t offended she was using him for some kind of support system.

 

“I know I have my friends, but … I just didn’t want to show up alone.”

 

“Makes sense,” he repeated. “I’ll do my best to help make today as painless as possible, then.”

 

She smiled over at him. “Thanks — look, I’m sorry that you’ve been roped into this. I know you’re just doing this to help out Ella and I do appreciate it, I promise you.”

 

“Are you kidding?” Jacob smiled. “I’m not just doing this to help Ella out.”

 

“You’re not?”

 

He grinned. “I was told there would be a buffet at the reception as well.”

 

Lydia laughed. She couldn’t help it — she hadn’t thought she’d laugh at all doing the day and she appreciated that Jacob, though she barely knew him, was trying his hardest to cheer her up.

 

“As long as there’s something we’re both looking forward to,” she said to him.

 

They walked into the church together, Jacob holding the door open for her like a gentleman, and followed Lydia’s friends over to a pew near to the back of the church.

 

The church was already packed with people Lydia recognised, as well as Grace’s friends and family on the bride’s side, none of whom she recognised for obvious reasons. She spotted Mason, Corey and Liam a couple of rows ahead of them and waved. They waved back, the church abuzz with conversation and excitement.

 

Lydia sat down, her heart thudding inside her chest, between Malia and Jacob, who gave her a reassuring smile. She could see her mom sitting over with Melissa and the Sheriff, and even Argent made his way up the aisle to sit with them. He lifted his hand as he passed the pew Lydia sat in as a silent greeting. She nodded back, not expecting much else from Argent in terms of conversation.

 

“See,” Malia said easily from beside Lydia, “this isn’t so bad, is it?”

 

“Nothing has even happened yet, Malia,” Lydia replied, snapping more than she meant to. She watched as Malia raised her eyebrow.

 

“Jesus,” she said, “calm down.”

 

“Sorry,” Lydia answered. “I’m just agitated.”

 

“No kidding,” Malia replied flatly.

 

Lydia craned her neck, attempting to see if Stiles was anywhere in the church. She couldn’t see him — they were early to the church, it wasn’t even 12:30 yet. He would probably appear in the next fifteen minutes or so and Lydia thought her stomach might flip over with nerves, waiting for him to arrive.

 

“Oh God,” Lydia muttered to herself, placing a hand over her pounding heart.

 

“Lydia,” Jacob said, “is everything okay?”

 

“I’m fine.”

 

She tried to smile, but she thought she might throw up instead. Jacob looked alarmed and Kira leaned across Malia to get Lydia’s attention.

 

“Lydia,” she whispered, “do you need to step outside for some fresh air?”

 

“I think I might just —” She shook her head, trying to work out how she could successfully escape the church — and leave the wedding — without everyone complaining at her. “I think I need some fresh air.”

 

“Should I come with you?” Jacob asked.

 

“No,” she answered sharply, then flashed him an apologetic smile. She got to her feet, squeezing past. “I’ll be fine. It’s just warm in here.”

 

“Are you going to be okay?” Kira asked. “Don’t be too long, it’ll start soon.”

 

“I know, I know,” Lydia nodded distractedly. She clutched her purse to her hip as she hurried out of the church and burst outside, pressing a hand to her hot forehead. She rooted around in her purse for her phone and called the number of the first cab company she found on Google.

 

“Hi,” she said breathlessly into the phone, “I need a ride, please.”

 

“Where to, ma’am?”

 

She glanced back at the church, wondering if Stiles had appeared in the church yesterday. He might be looking for her, searching his side of guests, wondering why he could see the others but couldn’t see her.

 

She closed her eyes, knowing how disappointed she was with herself, knowing how many people would be letting down. But she still heard the words as they left her mouth. She still said it. And she hated every word.

 

“San Francisco airport.”

Chapter Text

Stiles studied his reflection in the mirror, smoothing his bow-tie into place and nervously checking that his hair didn’t stick up on one end, which it had an irritating habit of doing when he least wanted it to.

 

Scott stood just behind him, cramped together in a small room at the back of the church where they’d been instructed to get ready for the big day. Stiles had no doubt that Grace had the bigger room, where her mom and sister would be getting ready with her and preparing themselves for the event. He didn’t mind so much, though. It was the bride’s day, after all.

 

“You look great, Stiles,” Scott said.

 

Stiles turned around, patting his pockets awkwardly, nervously. “You think? You don’t think my hair is too fluffy?”

 

“It’s the … perfect amount of fluff,” Scott promised him with a smile. “I can’t believe you’re getting married, man. This is crazy.”

 

“I know,” Stiles grinned at his best friend. “Thanks for being my best man.”

 

“Thanks for asking me,” Scott said to him. They pulled each other in for a hug, slapping each other on the back while both filled with emotions. When they pulled away from one another, Stiles shook his head vigorously to clear the tears.

 

“How are you feeling for it?” Scott asked, his gaze levelling with Stiles’s. Stiles knew he could interpret the question innocently — maybe reel off some answer about he was nervous but couldn’t wait to see Grace walking down the aisle towards him — but he knew that Scott’s words had a deeper, different meaning.

 

Stiles suspected that Scott had been in contact with Lydia already that morning, but he hadn’t dared ask what he’d talked to her about. He’d caught Scott staring at his phone, frowning slightly, before typing out a reply quickly and shoving his phone into his pocket like he was worried Stiles might look over his shoulder.

 

Stiles hoped the look on Scott’s face didn’t mean Lydia wasn’t going to show up to the wedding. He hoped she was there in the pews, sitting with their friends and waiting. Part of him wanted to go out there early, just to catch a glimpse of her before the day started, but he knew that was crossing the line.

 

“Okay,” Stiles answered eventually, nodding. His forehead was creased, his eyebrows furrowed, deep in thought. Scott waited patiently, knowing that Stiles sometimes needed a few extra seconds to sift through his complex feelings for Lydia before answering.

 

“I miss her,” Stiles said finally, glancing towards the door, like he was checking nobody had walked in without his knowledge. He was almost afraid to talk about Lydia — and his feelings for her — aloud, in a church, where he was going to commit himself to someone else forever in front of a hundred witnesses in just thirty-five minutes’ time.

 

But he had to.

 

“You literally saw her yesterday,” Scott reminded him with a smile.

 

But he knew. He’d felt the same way about Allison, years ago.

 

“Not like that,” Stiles answered. He sat down in one of the chairs in the small room, burying his head in his hands for a few seconds to gather his thoughts. When he looked up, Scott was waiting, looking anxious. “I miss her all the freaking time, Scott. I don’t want — I can’t—”

 

“Stiles, if you don’t want to get married today, then don’t,” Scott told him severely. “I’ve been biting my tongue knowing that you’re the only person who can make this decision, but I’m not sure if you want to marry Grace. Not today, maybe not at all.”

 

“Scott,” Stiles shook his head, grimacing. He hated hearing the words aloud, even though they’d been circling in his mind for the last week. “Don’t.”

 

“How do you feel about Lydia?”

 

“You can’t ask me this,” Stiles said, “firstly, because you know how I feel about her. Secondly, it doesn’t even matter.”

 

Scott groaned loudly.

 

“What?” Stiles asked. “What’s going on with you? You’ve been so weird the last few days. And I know you’ve been texting Lydia this morning — I don’t know what about, but I’m not stupid, Scott. It’s pretty obvious.”

 

“I’ve been so weird because you two are driving me crazy,” Scott complained, “I feel like we’re back in high school again and you’re asking me to find out if she likes you. Jesus Christ, Stiles.”

 

“Wait, what have I done?”

 

“I just wish you two could actually have an adult conversation,” Scott told him. “Just for once.”

 

“Hey, we did,” Stiles reminded him. “Remember? In the high school’s—”

 

“Parking lot, yeah, I know,” Scott finished. “The conversation that almost sent Lydia running away again.”

 

“You’re making no sense, Scotty.”

 

“I know, I know. You have no idea how difficult it is to have a conversation with you — with either of you — right now, without giving anything away.”

 

Stiles narrowed his eyes at Scott, just as someone knocked on the door to the room. “I don’t know what you’re talking about, but you’re wrong, okay? I do want to marry Grace. I love her, I’m just …”

 

Scott raised his eyebrows.

 

I’m not in love with her.

 

Stiles didn’t even know if that was the truth. He’d been going round in circles for so long now, he had no idea what was real and what wasn’t. All he knew was that Grace was out there, waiting to walk up the aisle to him, and he didn’t want to let her down.

 

“I need to get that,” he said, as the knocking came again. “It’s probably my dad, telling us to hurry up.”

 

“I got it,” Scott volunteered, heading over to the door. “Best man duties.”

 

He opened the door, the smile on his face disappearing when he saw who stood on the other side. Stiles checked back in the mirror, straightening his bow tie one last time and jumping down on the spot at the same time, trying to calm his nerves. Anything to calm the giant moths in his stomach. It was as serious as that — they weren’t even butterflies, but gigantic moths flapping around inside him.

 

“Uh …” Scott said from over by the door, looking confused. “You’re … not supposed to be here.”

 

“Who is it?” Stiles asked curiously, turning around as he tried to figure out why Scott seemed so puzzled.

 

For a second, he wondered if it was Lydia and his heartbeat quickened at the prospect of seeing her, but then Scott stepped aside and Grace entered the room.

 

The first thing that Stiles noticed about her was that she wasn’t wearing her wedding dress. Instead, she was wearing the clothes she’d obviously travelled to the church in — a sweater Stiles bought her last Christmas and dark jeans. Her hair and makeup were both finished and Stiles couldn’t help but smile at her. She looked great.

 

But she wasn’t wearing her wedding dress.

 

“Grace,” Stiles said, frowning as he stepped over to her. “What are you doing in here? You know that this is extremely bad luck, right? And you’re not dressed either.”

 

“Scott,” Grace said, turning to face Stiles’s best man, instead of answering him. “Could you give us a moment?”

 

Scott nodded, shooting Stiles a look, before he exited the room and left them alone. The room was quiet. Stiles could hear the clock ticking loudly on the wall, the only thing breaking the silence.

 

“Grace,” Stiles said finally. “Are you okay?”

 

Grace looked at him, then began pacing the room. He watched as she walked back and forth, her hand cradling the bump beneath her sweater, until she finally stopped and looked at him.

 

“I can’t do it, Stiles.”

 

He knew.

 

He immediately knew.

 

But for some reason, he asked anyway.

 

“You can’t do what?”

 

Grace cocked her head at him, shooting him that look he knew meant Are you kidding me? They both knew, but he kind of wanted her to say it.

 

“We can’t go through with this wedding — we’re kidding ourselves if we think we can.”

 

His jaw immediately clenched. “Grace …”

 

“No, Stiles, we both know it’s true,” Grace cut in, shaking her head. “I can’t go through with it and neither can you.”

 

“Why not?”

 

She looked at him, stopped moving completely for a second. It was like a moment of clarity where she could finally say — and he could finally hear it being said — the truth. A moment of calm swept over them and Stiles felt his heart, which had been pounding inside his chest, slow down. 

 

“Because you’re in love with someone else.”

 

“I’m—” He stopped himself from denying it again. He was sick of denying it. “Grace, I …”

 

“But the truth is, I’ve known from the moment we arrived in Beacon Hills that this wasn’t going to work out,” Grace told him, “I knew from the moment you saw Lydia again and something changed about you, but I still pushed it. I still forced it onto you and I shouldn’t have done that. I thought we could work it out, but I was being unfair on you as well.”

 

“No, no, you weren’t,” Stiles insisted. He stepped towards her. “This is all my fault. This is all my—”

 

“Please … just listen to me,” Grace was close to tears. At first, Stiles assumed it was because she was so heartbroken by the realisation that Stiles was still in love with Lydia, but he soon realised it was more than that. This was something else; something he couldn’t quite interpret.

 

She shook her head, biting her lip so hard that he watched as she punctured the skin and drew a small amount of blood.

 

“What’s going on?”

 

“Stiles, I’m not angry with you for still being in love with Lydia,” Grace said, meeting his eyes. “In fact, I’m not angry at all. Trust me. Part of me is relieved — part of me is so relieved that you’re … you’re not perfect either.”

 

“I don’t understand,” Stiles replied, narrowing his eyes at his fiancée, who, he realised with a jolt, wasn’t his fiancée anymore at all. That was what this conversation was. A break-up.

 

“Stiles,” Grace’s eyes started to water more obviously and Stiles wanted to step over to her and comfort her, but he couldn’t bring himself to do it. He stared at her, horrified, unable to recognise the person in front of him. “Stiles — I’m so sorry. I’m so sorry. I can’t—”

 

“Grace, what’s going—”

 

He was interrupted by the door to the room opening a little. Woods peered around the door, his forehead creased with concern, and Stiles frowned at his partner.

 

“Woods, what are you—?” he began, cutting himself off mid-sentence to frown disapprovingly at his partner. It was so typical of Woods to just walk in, unannounced and unexpectedly, without even knocking or apologising. “We’re kind of … in the middle of something here. Could you give us a moment?”

 

But Stiles ended up watching in horror as Woods completely ignored him and walked purposefully over to Grace. He wrapped his arms around her and she turned into him, sobbing loudly onto his shirt and maroon-coloured tie. Woods refused to make eye contact with Stiles as he rubbed Grace’s back in circles, or maybe he didn’t care that Stiles was standing there, watching the entire thing.

 

Maybe he was more concerned with comforting Grace, and Stiles suddenly realised why Grace had been crying.

 

Not heartbreak. 

 

Guilt.

 

“I’m sorry,” Stiles interrupted the moment, “what the hell is going on?”

 

The pair in front of him broke apart. Grace’s mascara had smudged underneath her eyes, giving her a watery-eyed racoon look. She lifted her hands to her face, even more alarmed when she’d realised what had just happened. What she’d just done right in front of Stiles.

 

“Stiles — Stiles, I’m so …” She shook her head. She stepped towards him and he instinctively took a step back. Maybe he wanted to hurt her, hurt her as much as he could, and he could see by the expression on her face as she reached out for him that it had worked.

 

“Someone better explain what’s going on right now,” he commanded, his voice trembling. “Woods, what the hell is going on?”

 

“Stilinski,” Woods cocked his head, his eyes regretful as he looked across the room at his partner. “I’m so sorry, man. We didn’t want you to find out like this.”

 

“Find out like this? You mean, on our wedding day?” Stiles asked. “You didn’t want me to find out on our wedding day? So, instead, you wanted me to find out the day before, didn’t you? That’s — that’s why you came round last night. You weren’t looking for me at all. You were looking for her.

 

Grace sobbed loudly. “Stiles, please!”

 

“How long has this been going on for?” Stiles asked. Part of him needed to confirm just what was going on, hoping maybe he’d jumped to conclusions and Woods was just being a good friend to Grace at a wildly inappropriate time, but he knew he’d be naive if he thought that. It was pretty clear what was in front of him.

 

Grace and Woods were standing together in front of him, presenting themselves as a united front: a couple.

 

It was pretty easy to work out the rest.

 

It was part of his job, after all, and he felt completely stupid for being so unaware until now.

 

“Stiles, please,” Grace repeated, shaking her head.

 

“You —” He looked at her. He was so angry with her. “You … you made me hate myself for the way I felt about Lydia, you made me question my entire friendship with her and my entire relationship with you, just because I invited her to the wedding.”

 

“I know, I know!” Grace said, sobbing loudly again.

 

“How long has this been going on for?” Stiles repeated, his stomach twisting at her tears but also noticing how Woods’s hand disappeared behind her back. He knew that Woods was still touching her, still comforting her, and he didn’t feel as bad about the tears.

 

They were both silent. Grace looked down at her feet.

 

“I’ll make it easy,” Stiles said, “has it been weeks? Months?”

 

They were both still silent.

 

Stiles felt like a balloon that someone just had popped unexpectedly, deflating slowly and pathetically.

 

“How long?” he asked. He was afraid to know the answer. He almost wished he hadn’t asked.

 

“Years,” Woods answered eventually, clearing his threat as he attempted to sound nonchalant and confident. Like it didn’t matter at all. Like his words weren’t slowly destroying everything Stiles thought he knew.

 

“Years?” Stiles repeated.

 

“It’s been on-off,” Grace told him helplessly, “since before you transferred to the office. It ended before you and I got together, but … we couldn’t help it. We never meant to hurt you — never. It was an accident, it was just … It just happened.”

 

“It just happened for three years?” Stiles asked. “You just accidentally had an affair for three years?”

 

“Stiles,” Grace said, looking at him. Her hand cupped her bump, a movement that caused a reaction inside of Stiles. He felt like he’d been punched in the stomach and he felt himself staggering back. He hadn’t even considered the most important thing yet, and asking the question terrified him.

 

“The baby?”

 

The looks on their faces said it all.

 

“We’re not one hundred percent sure,” Woods told him carefully. “But we think it might be ...”

 

“You think so?”

 

“We’re doing a paternity test as soon as he or she is born,” Woods said.

 

“But the dates ...” Grace began, lifting her eyes to meet Stiles’s. “I’m so sorry, Stiles. The dates point to James.”

 

Stiles watched them both, feeling sick. Feeling like he might throw up at any second.

 

“You made me feel so guilty for even talking to Lydia, for dating her seven years ago, and all this time you were sleeping with my partner,” Stiles said to Grace.

 

“You love her,” she said to him, her voice level. “You’re in love with her and we both know it.”

 

“But I was trying to do the right thing!”

 

“Marrying me even though you’re in love with someone else?” Grace asked. “Is that the right thing?”

 

“Don’t you dare,” Stiles replied. He felt like she’d slapped him. “Don’t you dare turn this around so I’m the bad guy. Nothing happened with Lydia — nothing happened! You made me feel like a terrible person the entire time she’s been back in town, making me feel like I was betraying you, when the entire time you were the one with a guilty conscience.”

 

“Neither of us made the best decisions,” Grace told him, “I should have told you about James. I shouldn’t have forced you into the wedding — I shouldn’t have …”

 

“You shouldn’t have let me think I was going to be a dad?”

 

“Stiles … It might be yours.”

 

“That isn’t good enough,” He shook his head. “That just isn’t good enough.”

 

Woods looked at Grace, then back at Stiles. “We’re leaving the LA office, Stilinski. We’ll make it easy for you. We don’t want to disrupt your life any more.”

 

“No,” Stiles shook his head again, unable to compute any of this. “I don’t ever want to go back there. I’ll only be reminded of this … this whole mess. I don’t want anything to do with either of you.”

 

“Stiles …”

 

“Let me know the results of the paternity test, won’t you?” Stiles asked, pushing past them both. He was done there. He was finished with the both of them. He didn’t want to look at either of them.

 

He could hear the sound of Grace’s voice, calling after him, but he left the small room and bumped straight into Scott. From the look on Scott’s face, he knew he’d overheard the necessary parts.

 

“Stiles—”

 

“I really don’t want to talk about it,” Stiles interrupted Scott.

 

“I should have said something,” Scott told him, shaking his head. When Stiles frowned at him, Scott elaborated. “At the party last night, when Woods first came into the dining room and said that he dropping by to say hi to both you and Grace, his heart was beating too fast.”

 

“And you didn’t think to say anything?”

 

“You trusted him, Stiles. I was trying to trust him too — I gave him the benefit of the doubt and figured he might be nervous, or something. I never thought …” He shook his head. “Stiles, I’m so sorry.”

 

Stiles appreciated what Scott was trying to do, but he needed a moment to wrap his head around what had just happened.

 

“I need to go outside,” he managed to say, feeling a magnetic pull to the outside of the church. He staggered over to the door to the church and found himself standing outside. He walked down the steps, tugging at his bow tie until it came loose in his hands. He sat down on the bottom step, burying his head in his hands, waiting for the tears to come.

 

But they didn’t.

 

All he felt — besides simmering anger — was relief.

 

Relief that, despite her questionable timing and methods, Grace had had the guts to do exactly what he hadn’t been brave enough to do: admit that it wasn’t working. Say the words aloud — You’re in love with someone else — and quit before things got too complicated. 

 

Sure, they’d spent thousands of dollars on a wedding that they’d never attend. Grace’s family had travelled from all over the country to the ceremony, which Stiles had fought for to be in Beacon Hills, and they’d no doubt be incredibly annoyed to go all that way for nothing.

 

They had a hotel room booked at the most luxurious hotel in Beacon County that night, they were supposed to be going to a reception after the wedding and celebrating their marriage with some of their closest friends and family. He’d spent over $200 on the tuxedo he was wearing.

 

He’d spent three years loving a woman, who had been in love with his partner — and closest friend at work — the entire time.

 

He’d spent four months thinking he was going to be a father, only to find out that it was more likely to be his partner’s.

 

And he’d pushed Lydia — the only person he’d ever truly been in love with — away because he’d been too scared to hurt someone he cared about. He’d pretended that he didn’t love her to spare Grace’s feelings, even though his fiancée knew the entire time and had thrown it back in his face to excuse her own behaviour .

 

He pushed himself up to standing position and walked out onto the sidewalk, staring up at the sky and wishing he was anywhere else in the world. He knew that the guests would be leaving the church soon — gossiping, most likely; some confused, some trying to find him — if Scott, or perhaps even Grace, had announced that there wasn’t going to be a wedding.

 

He wondered how Lydia might react when she found out.

 

And strangely, the second that Lydia crossed his mind, he saw her.

 

______________________________________________________

 

Stiles didn’t know how long she’d been there, or why she was there, but she hadn’t seen him. She was on the phone, standing just a few yards away from him. He hadn’t been able to see her before because a row of tall shrubbery had blocked his view from where he’d been sitting on the church steps.

 

The second he’d stepped over to the sidewalk, he was standing in almost the exact same spot as her, just further along the path.

 

He caught some of her words as she talked furiously into her phone.

 

“ … No, I said ASAP, that means right now, preferably. Not in twenty minutes — what do you mean there are no cabs available?”

 

She sounded exasperated, pacing back and forth in a pink dress that reached the pale shins of her legs. He watched her, mesmerised by her actions, not meaning to eavesdrop, but not making a move to go.

 

“I need one as soon as possible,” she said again. “Yes, to the airport.”

 

The airport?

 

He still said nothing, like he was frozen on the spot. He could only stand there and watch as she called for a cab, apparently desperate to get away.

 

“Ten minutes?” she asked, breathing a sigh of what sounded like relief. He watched as she smiled, her shoulders relaxing, and realised that she’d looked tense before. “Okay. I’ll be outside the church. Thank you.”

 

She hung up the phone and slipped it into her small purse, which she clutched in her right hand. Reaching up to brush a few stray strands of hair from her face, her eyes happened to land on Stiles, who hadn’t taken his eyes off her.

 

Lydia frowned at him. “Stiles?”

 

“Hi,” he said.

 

He was tired. So tired. He knew that it was completely out of the ordinary for them to both be there at the exact same time, especially when they were both supposed to be in the church, but maybe it was that emotional tether again — working in mysterious ways. Forcing them to be in the same place at the same time, just when they needed each other the most.

 

Lydia switched her purse from one hand to the other, taking a few steps towards him. “Don’t you have somewhere to be?”

 

He glanced back up at the church. He was sure he could hear the whispers of the guests already, maybe as they checked their watches impatiently. If nobody had announced it yet, of course. For now, though, the street was peaceful. They were the only ones around.

 

“Not really,” he replied. “Are you leaving?”

 

She said, “I have to go back to New York, Stiles.”

 

“Why?”

 

It was her turn to look up at the church, a strange expression on her face. She looked back at him. “You’re supposed to be in there, getting married.”

 

“Why are you leaving again?” he asked her.

 

For some reason, they couldn’t quite align their answers. It was like they were having two completely separate conversations, but Stiles’s head was all over the place. All he knew was that he needed to know why Lydia was leaving for the airport.

 

“It was a mistake for me to come back,” she told him eventually. “It was a mistake for me to think that I could come to your wedding.”

 

He shook his head at her, his head clearing for the first time in a week — possibly more than that, the more he thought about it. He was no longer with Grace. He was no longer committed to someone else. He loved Grace, but she’d granted him a huge favour. He felt relief that he wasn’t getting married to her because he wasn’t in love with her.

 

Not like he was in love with Lydia.

 

A moment of clarity swept over him, spreading through him, as he realised what he had to do.

 

“You can’t go back to New York,” he told her, shrugging. “You just can’t. You can’t leave again.”

 

“Stiles, we’ve been through this,” she said to him, sighing. “There’s nothing for me here anymore. Everybody’s moved on. Kira’s at the hospital most of the time, Malia and Scott are in control of the patrols. They don’t need me. You ... you know, you’re going to have a family. You’re going to get married ... which, by the way, is something that you should probably be inside for right now.”

 

“No, I’m not,” He shook his head. “Don’t you see, Lydia? I’m out here. I’m not in there — I’m not getting married.”

 

He watched as realisation slowly dawned on her.

 

“You’re not?”

 

Stiles released a breath he hadn’t realised he’d been holding.

 

“No.”

 

“Why not?”

 

“It’s, uh, a long story,” he said, though Grace and Woods had managed to recap the entire thing in just a few sentences and some tears. He pushed them to the back of his mind — this wasn’t about them. This was no longer their story. However, he did owe her some kind of an explanation. “Woods and Grace.”

 

“What?”

 

He grimaced. “Yeah.”

 

“No,” Lydia replied, her eyes widening. “You’re kidding.”

 

“Unfortunately not,” he replied, managing a weak smile.

 

“And the baby?”

 

He didn’t need to say anything this time. She seemed to understand from the look on his face — a face he hadn’t even realised he’d been making — what the answer was.

 

“Oh, Stiles,” she said, shaking her head. “I’m so sorry. I know how excited you were about the baby — and, of course, I’m sorry about Grace too.”

 

“I’m starting to think she did me a favour,” Stiles confessed. “She did what I was too scared to do. She called off the wedding because it didn’t feel right. The truth is, we both knew it didn’t feel right.”

 

“It didn’t?”

 

He shook his head. He kept his eyes on her as he took a step closer to her. If she noticed, she didn’t show it.

 

“If I’m being completely honest,” he continued, “I’d tell you that it hasn’t felt right between us since you got back into town. Seeing you again changed things for me, Lydia, and I tried to push it away and not think about it, but I … couldn’t.”

 

She said nothing.

 

He’d expected her to say something — Lydia always had a response for everything — but she said nothing.

 

So he continued.

 

“I love Grace,” he said, “I do, she’s great. And … this thing with Woods aside, I know she’s a good person. I should have been happy with her — but I haven’t been. Not for the past week, maybe even longer. We both knew that. There was something missing between us ... Maybe that’s why she went back to Woods, I don’t know.”

 

“Don’t blame yourself, Stiles,” she said to him. “It isn’t your fault that your fiancée has been having an affair this entire time — God, I knew there was something weird about him. Who travels from Los Angeles to Beacon Hills the night before someone’s wedding and drops in at their house to say hi? There’s nothing normal about that.”

 

“Lydia,” he said, suppressing a smile. “I’m trying to tell you something.”

 

“Right,” she answered. “Sorry.”

 

“The truth is that from the moment I saw you at Scott’s house on the day you came back to Beacon Hills, everything seemed to fall into place for me again. I’d been holding onto this anger towards you for years, thinking about how you broke my heart, but it melted away when I saw you again. I guess I realised that I was only angry all that time as a coping thing ... it was easier to be mad at you rather than admit the truth. And that is I knew that, despite the seven years we’d been apart, I hadn’t stopped loving you. I never stopped loving you.”

 

Her mouth fell open. “Stiles … I don’t—”

 

“I know, I know — this is terrible timing and I should have told you before the wedding. I should have left Grace and been brave myself, but I thought I was doing the right thing by marrying Grace. I thought I would be doing the right thing for my baby. My family.”

 

He shook his head. He tasted a bitterness in his mouth when he thought about the baby — the baby he’d loved from the second Grace had told him about it, then even more when he’d heard the heartbeat for the first time. It hadn’t even crossed his mind that Grace was about a month pregnant when she’d taken the pregnancy test, when she’d first told him, and he’d worked away from home — without Woods — for almost a full week, four weeks earlier.

 

He’d just been so deliriously happy about the baby that he hadn’t stopped to consider that the dates didn’t add up. How had he been so stupid?

 

“Please don’t go back to New York,” Stiles said, “or, if you do, let me come with you. I mean, I don’t even know how you feel ... and if you’ve moved on then that’s completely fine and I’m just … making a total idiot of myself.”

 

He winced. Did it even matter that he was now free to be with Lydia? This wasn’t just his decision. It wasn’t like she’d been waiting around for him to stop being engaged so she could be with him. He’d known all this time that she no longer felt that way about him, yet here he was blabbering on about how he’d go to New York with her so they could be together.

 

“I’m sorry,” he said, shaking his head. Colour flooded his cheeks from embarrassment. “I’ve just …”

 

“The cab,” she began, blurting out the first words that she seemed to be able to think of, “the cab is to take me to the airport. I’m going to the airport because I didn’t want to sit there and watch you marry someone else — I couldn’t. No matter how much I like Grace, the thought of that … I just couldn’t do it. I had to get out of there.”

 

“Why not?”

 

“I thought I could come back to Beacon Hills and watch you get married — everyone kept telling me that I had to do it, I had to be there for you and support you. I had to be your friend, your family … I had to put my own personal feelings aside, forget about them, and celebrate with you.”

 

“But you couldn’t?”

 

She shook her head, just as they heard the hum of an engine and the cab Lydia had called for pulled up beside the church. The driver signalled to her and she threw Stiles a desperate look, before she took a step towards it.

 

He tossed aside any qualms he’d had about embarrassing himself. He should have fought for her the first time she’d run away from him, he wouldn’t go down without a fight this time — even if it meant making a total fool of himself in front of the girl he loved.

 

“Lydia,” he said, rushing over to the cab and placing himself in front of the door to the backseat, physically barricading it. “Please, listen to me. Don’t go back to New York — don’t leave again.”

 

“Stiles—”

 

“I still love you,” he told her, “I never stopped — so, please don’t go. I can’t … I can’t just stand here and watch you walk away again, Lydia, and I shouldn’t have let you the first time either. Just remember … remember how much I love you, how much I always loved you, how I will always love you.”

 

Something changed inside of her. It was like those words had a magical effect on her.

 

“Stiles,” she said again, but her tone was different. She reached up to his face, her hand brushing his cheek. “Listen, I love you too.”

 

For the second time that day, he couldn’t believe his ears. He stared back at her, open-mouthed. “You do?”

 

“Yeah,” She nodded. “I do — I tried not to, I tried not to for seven years. But I still love you. Of course I do.”

 

He opened his mouth, happiness seeping through him. This was it. This was the moment where everything was going to fall into place, when everything slotted together beautifully, like the last piece of the jigsaw puzzle.

 

“But,” she began, and his happiness decreased considerably.

 

But. That was never a good sign.

 

Her hand reached for his neck and he could feel her thumb moving in circular motions at the nape of it, as her eyes searched his. “But I still live in New York.”

 

“I meant what I said,” he said to her.

 

His hands reached for her — he’d been wanting to hold her for so long — automatically, like one of the many times before they’d even started dating. Back when he’d often reached for the small of her back when they were walking together, or curled his fingers in hers as she dragged him away somewhere. He’d loved and lived for those moments when he could just touch her. Not always sexually or even romantically, he’d just loved how her fingers intuitively reached for his, how she moved closer to him when a threat was nearby. He’d often wondered if she’d moved closer to him to be protected, or to give protection.

 

He thought that, most of the time, it was probably the latter.

 

He’d never minded.

 

“What?” she asked.

 

“I meant what I said,” he repeated, “I’m finished with LA. And I don’t want to be back in Beacon Hills if you’re not here, so I’ll come to New York with you and we’ll build a life together there. The life we should have had.”

 

“Stiles … Your work is in California,” she said, “your apartment, your friends, everything. I can’t ask you to give that up.”

 

“Are you kidding me, Lydia? I’m not going back to the office where my fiancée and partner continuously fooled around my back for three years. I can’t go back to the apartment Grace and I rented together. As for friends? Woods was my friend in LA. I don’t need any of that anymore.”

 

“But what about Scott? Kira, Malia, Liam … What about your dad?”

 

“New York isn’t another world,” Stiles reminded her, “and if you can open a rift to bring me back from the land of the forgotten, you can sure as hell buy a plane ticket and come back to Beacon Hills with me every now and then. We can visit them — they can visit us.”

 

“Your job?”

 

“There are FBI offices everywhere,” he told her. “I’ll transfer.”

 

She opened her mouth to say something else — not that it mattered: he was ready with any counter-argument, determined to fight harder this time — but then closed it again and smiled.

 

“Really?” she asked.

 

“I’d go anywhere with you,” he told her. 

 

“It won’t be easy,” she reminded him, always practical. “It’s a big step.”

 

“Lydia, we’re practically soulmates,” he murmured, leaning closer to her. He smiled. “You’re my anchor, we’re emotionally tethered, our love for each other opened a rift in space and time. Me moving to New York so we can be together is probably the smallest step we’ve ever taken.”

 

“Are you sure?”

 

“We’ll figure it out,” he promised her. “We always figure it out. That’s why we make such a good team.”

 

“We’re not going to screw this up,” Lydia said firmly. She inched closer to him, teasing him just a little. “Not again.”

 

He shook his head.

 

“Never again,” he whispered, just before he — finally — kissed her, and everything clicked neatly into place.

Chapter Text

THREE YEARS LATER.

 

Lydia’s photo collection on one of the shelves in her office was her favourite part of the room.

 

Each photo — she had six in total, though she was always looking for an opportunity to expand the collection — had been positioned carefully and with the utmost precision.

 

From left to right, each photo told a story. A story that she wanted to remember.

 

The first one was, of course, a photo of her and Allison. It had been taken in their junior year, on one of the calmer days, and Allison was in the middle of laughing at something out loud. Her head was tipped back, one hand pressed to her stomach and the other reaching out to Lydia, who smiled back at her.

 

Beside that photo was a photo from their graduation day. Allison hadn’t been there physically, but Lydia could feel her all around them. Scott, Malia, Lydia and Stiles posed with their arms around each other, grinning into the camera. She could see her mom standing off to one side, looking on proudly with her own camera hanging around her neck.

 

Next came a picture of Lydia and Ella; it had been taken on Lydia’s last day at the office. Ella had spent most of the day crying (“Whose coffee am I going to get now? I know your order like the back of my hand, Lydia, what am I supposed to do with that knowledge now?”) and hugging her. Lydia hadn’t realised how upset she would be too, though she’d been happy to move on, she still missed the office from time-to-time. Now, she could relax in her new job. It was still at a research center, where she worked as a mathematical analyst, but San Francisco had a slower pace than New York. Lydia found herself enjoying work again.

 

The fourth photo along was one of her more recent favourites: Kira, Malia and Lydia looped their arms around each other, each holding a glass of champagne, wearing spa bathrobes and slippers. It had been taken a year earlier on one of Lydia’s trips home to Beacon Hills, where she’d spent most of the weekend with her friends.

 

The penultimate photo on her shelf had been snapped the day they had moved into their new home. Stiles had moved back to New York with her as he’d promised (much to the chagrin of Scott, though he’d tried his best to pretend he was 100% happy for them) and they’d lived in the city for eighteen months in Lydia’s apartment.

 

They were both happy there — more than happy there — but the time had come for them to move on from New York. It had started to feel like home with Stiles there beside her, but they both wanted to move closer to home. Stiles claimed that he needed to move back home to help out with his dad, who had retired from the Sheriff’s position and was slowly adjusting to his changed life, but Lydia suspected it had more to do with being away from Scott for so long.

 

They didn’t move back to Beacon Hills, and they certainly didn’t move back to LA (despite reconciling with Grace and Woods six months after the wedding debacle, Stiles still shuddered whenever LA was mentioned in conversation). They moved to a small town near San Francisco, where they were still close enough to go home whenever they liked, but they had their own life.

 

They’d become homeowners. It was a modest suburban house with a large garage, three bedrooms, a huge wraparound porch and a spacious back yard where their future children could play. Lydia liked to sit out on the back porch at night with a cup of coffee and a book — usually a textbook about linear algebra; sometimes a fable about werewolves — with her feet propped up against Stiles’s legs.

 

In the photo, they were both carrying boxes packed with their belongings, grinning into the camera. Stiles held the car keys for the Jeep in his hand and Lydia held the keys for the house in hers.

 

The sixth — and final — photo on her shelf was a photo of Stiles on one knee, lifting a black box with a diamond ring inside it up to her. Scott had snapped the photo with perfect timing, capturing the exact moment Lydia had gasped loudly, her hands flying to her face.

 

She’d said yes, obviously.

 

Six photos that perfectly captured the important moments and people in her life. Six moments that she never wanted to forget.

 

“We can add another one soon,” Stiles’s voice came from behind her as he stood in the doorway to her office. She turned around and smiled at him, her heart fluttering inside her chest.

 

“Very soon,” she corrected him. “Are you almost ready?”

 

“I think so,” Stiles said. He walked over to her, his hands winding around her waist, and planted a kiss on her forehead. “I can’t wait. Why can’t we just get married now?”

 

“Stiles,” She laughed, pushing against his chest so she could look him in the eyes. “It’s tomorrow. You can’t wait until then?”

 

“I wanted to marry you ten years ago, Lydia,” Stiles said, then shook his head. “No, wait. Twenty. I’ve been wanting to marry you for twenty years now — I can’t wait another second.”

 

“Stop it,” she told him, “that makes me feel old.”

 

“Can you believe how stupid we’ve been?” Stiles murmured. She clutched at the corners of his plaid shirt, feeling the soft material beneath her fingertips. “How long we’ve loved each other compared with how many years we’ve actually spent together.”

 

“Incredibly stupid,” she agreed, “but it doesn’t matter. We found our way back to each other.”

 

“And we haven’t looked back since,” he said. Then, “We need to get on the road by one, otherwise we’ll never beat the weekend traffic. You’re ready, right?”

 

“I was ready two hours ago,” she told him. He patted her waist gently, before breaking away from her. “I was just waiting for you.”

 

Although she’d meant her words simply as the few hours she’d been waiting for Stiles to get home from work and pack a couple of things he needed for the weekend, she realised that her words could also take on a deeper meaning.

 

I was just waiting for you.

 

She felt like they’d been waiting for each other for years. Stiles had waited for her while she’d dated Jackson, way back when werewolves were only the topic of supernatural young adult novels (she was somewhat surprised they’d never come across a vampire in Beacon Hills), then she’d waited while he’d dated Malia. He’d waited for her to realise her feelings for him, which had still been so confused and jumbled in those days, and she’d waited until she knew for sure.

 

Then, of course, they’d spent seven years apart. Those days felt like a lost memory now. Lydia didn’t like to think about it so much, knowing how much she could have saved between them if she hadn’t stupidly walked away from him at the airport when they were in college, but also acknowledged that those days were part of their story.

 

And she didn’t think that they would be where they were — as strong as they were — without having faced all those obstacles first. She’d learned a lot while they’d been apart and she knew Stiles had too. They’d learned to live without each other; they’d learned that they didn’t want to.

 

Now, if she ever felt freaked out about cohabiting and being engaged, all she had to do was look over at Stiles when he was on the phone to his dad or Scott, laughing, and she could feel herself calm down.

 

If commitment was the problem, Stiles was the antidote.

 

Lydia looked around the office that she’d be leaving for the weekend, her eyes falling on the shelf of photos again. Stiles followed her gaze.

 

“You know that she’s going to be there with us tomorrow, right?” he said gently. “Allison, I mean.”

 

Lydia smiled at him. “Yeah, I know.”

 

“I like to think she’d be cheering,” Stiles continued, “along with Scott.”

 

“You think they’d still be together?” Lydia asked. It was a question she asked herself often.

 

“Maybe,” Stiles said. “I don’t know. All I know is that he’ll always love her.”

 

She nodded. This, she knew for sure. Scott would always love Allison, just as she would. She also knew that Stiles was right: Allison would be there with them on their wedding day. Just like graduation, Lydia would be able to feel her rather than see her.

 

She reached out to Stiles, needing his comfort and support, and he pulled her in close to him. With her head tucked under his chin and her cheek pressed up against his chest, she could hear the steady beat of his heart and feel his arms enveloping her. She felt safe.

 

With Stiles, she always felt safe.

 

“Come on,” Stiles said eventually, his vocal chords reverberating through his body. She pulled away and looked up at him. “We don’t want to be late for our own wedding.”

 

______________________________________________________

 

It had taken them a while to decide on the location for and style of the wedding.

 

Although Stiles wasn’t incredibly enthused about the idea of a church wedding, he insisted he would be happy with one if it was what she wanted. Luckily, Lydia agreed that she didn’t want a church wedding. If they were to have one, it would have to be in Beacon Hills, and that felt too weird.

 

They both wanted it to be simple, elegant, classy. They didn’t want a huge white wedding, they just wanted something where their closest friends and family could see them express their love for each other.

 

They’d trawled through bridal magazines and visited countless venues in search of the perfect one, but when they’d been sitting out on their back porch six months ago, Lydia had been struck with inspiration.

 

“The beach,” she announced.

 

She looked up at Stiles, who raised his eyebrows. “The beach?”

 

“Let’s get married on the beach,” she continued. She tucked her hair behind her ears and leaned forward, even placing the book she’d been in the middle of reading down beside her.

 

“The beach,” Stiles repeated. The repetition of their conversation was almost comical. “Yes.”

 

“Yes?”

 

“Yes,” he confirmed. “One hundred percent yes.”

 

“Seriously?”

 

“Lydia, I just want to marry you,” he said. “As soon as we can. If we book a venue, a proper venue, we’ll only have to wait another year — or more! The beach means we can get married as soon as we want.”

 

She smiled. “We can.”

 

“How’s this weekend for you?”

 

She reached for his hand and rolled her eyes. “Stiles.”

 

“No, you’re right,” he said, “that would never work. Scott’s visiting this weekend.”

 

Lydia thought about that conversation as they pulled up outside the small, quaint bed and breakfast where they’d booked a room for the night before the wedding. They’d wait until sunset the next day, when the tourists and sunbathers had gone home, before they exchanged vows in front of just a few of their friends and family.

 

It was a no-fuss wedding, which Lydia had never imagined herself wanting, but it seemed perfect for them.

 

She didn’t want it any other way.

 

They dropped their bags and belongings off in their room at the bed and breakfast, and Stiles grabbed her by the wrist as she walked past him, intending on heading downstairs. He pulled her in close, sliding his hand to the back of her neck and kissing her. She kissed him back — urgently, deeply, like it was their first kiss — before she pulled away gently, placing her hands against his chest.

 

“What was that for?” she asked, her voice only just above a whisper.

 

“Because I love you,” he said, “and I can’t wait to marry you.”

 

“I can’t wait to marry you either.”

 

Scott, Kira, Malia, Natalie and the Sheriff (Lydia couldn’t think of Noah as anything other than “the Sheriff,” despite his retirement) had also booked rooms at the bed and breakfast for the night. After kissing a few more times — and hastily pulling apart when they realised the time — Stiles and Lydia headed downstairs to meet everyone.

 

It was evening and the sun started to set outside, casting an orange and pink-coloured glow through the communal area of the bed and breakfast. The owners made them cups of tea and coffee and laid out slices of cake for them.

 

After they had eaten a sufficient amount of food for the evening, they all relaxed. Stiles and Lydia curled up on one of the couches together, Lydia’s legs draped over Stiles’s and Stiles’s arm tucked casually around her. They listened to their friends talking, laughing, and reflected on how everything had changed so much in the last three years.

 

“I would make a toast,” Scott announced, reaching for his cup of hot cocoa. “But I didn’t plan anything, so Stiles, just think about whatever I said to you when you and Grace were getting married and change the name to Lydia.”

 

Stiles tossed a cushion at him, which Scott caught easily and tucked under his arms.


“You think you’re so funny, don’t you?”

 

“I have my moments,” Scott replied, grinning to himself. He nodded at them. “I love you both, you know that. You guys deserve this more than anybody.”

 

“Thanks, Scott,” Lydia replied with a soft, relaxed smile. She didn’t think she’d ever been so relaxed in her life.

 

“In all seriousness,” the Sheriff added, lifting his own cup of coffee up, “I’m happy you kids made it in the end.”

 

Stiles looked at Lydia. She turned her head, meeting his eyes. As the others in the group moved on, laughing over something loudly, Stiles only spoke to Lydia.

 

“More than happy,” he commented.

 

She nodded. She brushed her fingers underneath his chin, pulling him closer and planting a kiss on his lips.

 

“Ecstatic,” she finished.

 

______________________________________________________

 

They refused to be superstitious.

 

“What could possibly go wrong?” Stiles asked Lydia that morning as they laid in bed beside each other. “Last time, I followed all the rules and superstitions I was supposed to and look how that worked out.”

 

“Hey, you ended up with me,” Lydia reminded him, “so I’m pretty sure it worked out fairly well for you.”

 

“You’re right,” Stiles agreed, because it was true. Grace leaving him had been the best thing that could have happened to him on his first wedding day.

 

Now he knew what it was like to wake up on his wedding day without giant moths fluttering inside of him, or to feel like he might throw up at any given moment. He wasn’t nervous at all; everything felt so right.

 

When he looked at Lydia, he could see his future. And he liked what he saw.

 

That evening, they headed down to the beach together. It was only a short walk and they could see the small group of people crowding, waiting for them. Stiles went ahead, greeting Liam, Mason, Corey, Parrish and others along the way.

 

He stopped beside Woods and Grace, ruffling their son’s hair as he passed. Elliot looked more and more like his father everyday; he was the spitting image of Woods and Stiles always found himself doing a double-take every time he saw them together. Which, admittedly, wasn’t much. Maybe they’d let bygones be bygones and Stiles had forgiven them almost as soon as baby Elliot had been born — though by that point, he was relieved to find out that Elliot wasn’t his — but he still distanced himself from them and their family. They no longer worked for the FBI, so they didn’t even run in the same circles anymore; Stiles had written a recommendation for Woods to apply to be a police officer just last year.

 

He stood beside Scott — his best man for the second time — in front of the group of people and waited for Lydia.

 

She approached him slowly, with her mother walking her down the “aisle” (a parting between the group of people), smiling at him the whole way. She was wearing a simple white sundress, her hair braided back from her face.

 

She kissed Kira and Malia on her way past them and stopped momentarily to hug Ella and her date, Jacob. Stiles didn’t know how he felt about Lydia’s date to his first wedding being in attendance, but Jacob had been dating Ella for almost two years now.

 

Natalie kissed Lydia’s cheek, then kissed Stiles’s, before Lydia stepped over to him.

 

“You look beautiful,” Stiles told her.

 

“And you look very handsome,” she said, then threw a pointed look over to where Grace, Woods and Elliot were standing. “I can’t believe you invited your ex to our wedding.”

 

He grinned at her. He’d expected some quip about Grace being at the wedding, even though Lydia had been completely fine with it and had, in actual fact, suggested it.

 

“Which one?” he teased.

 

Lydia glanced over at Malia, rolling her eyes back at him. “Take your pick,” she whispered back to him.

 

“Um,” the Sheriff, standing just in front of them, cleared his throat. “If you two are ready, we’ll begin.”

 

Stiles reached for Lydia’s hands and grinned at his dad. “Sorry, Pops. Go on.”

 

“Sorry, Sheriff,” Lydia said, but she was still smiling at Stiles. She didn’t think she’d stopped smiling yet.

 

“Okay, everyone,” the Sheriff said loudly, smiling at the small group of people. Stiles would have glanced out into the crowd to see who was there — they hadn’t stressed over RSVPs — but he didn’t think he could take his eyes off Lydia, who radiated in front of him.

 

“Dear friends and family, we are gathered here today to celebrate the marriage of my son, Stiles, and Lydia. With love and commitment, they have finally decided to live their lives together as husband and wife, and I couldn’t be happier for them.”

 

Stiles winked at his dad. “Thanks, Dad.”

 

“You’re welcome, son,” Noah stage-whispered in response. To the rest of the gathering, he continued. “Now, when Stiles and Lydia asked me to be the minister today, I decided not to recite a traditional reading. These two have never been traditional, so I figured something else might be more apt.”

 

“Oh God,” Stiles replied, “you’re not going to sing, are you?”

 

“Stiles, stop interrupting,” Noah answered, sighing. “No, I’m not going to sing. I just wanted to tell you both — and everybody here — that it’s been a pleasure watching you both grow in the last twelve or so years. Years ago, I watched my son literally fall over himself trying to rescue a girl he’d had a crush on since forever, and I waited and watched as Lydia slowly put her trust in him. They became friends, a friendship that didn’t seem to make sense to outsiders, but it was one of the strongest friendships I knew. They worked together as a team everyday. They supported each other, they loved one another from afar. And eventually, they figured out that they were supposed to be together.”

 

Lydia wiped under her eyes quickly, blinking back the tears that threatened to fall. She had no idea Noah had had it in him.

 

“It’s been an honour watching the two of you find each other over and over again,” Noah concluded. He smiled at them both — a proud smile. A smile filled with love. “And now, before I start crying, I believe you two have prepared your own vows. Stiles, why don’t you go first?”

 

“Thanks, Dad,” Stiles said, turning to face Lydia. The sun was setting behind them, setting Lydia’s hair alight and casting a light orange hue across her face. She looked beautiful and he couldn’t believe he was finally marrying her.

 

“Lydia,” he began, “I have loved you since I was eight years old. I knew from the moment I laid eyes on you that I would slightly obsess over you for years to come, but what I didn’t expect — what took me by surprise — was that I didn’t just fall in love with your beauty, but everything about you. You’ve saved my life countless times, in more ways than one, and I’ll spend my whole life following you anywhere you want to go. Remember that I will always love you, no matter what happens, and I have always loved you.”

 

Lydia breathed out slowly, trying to stop the tears that were almost ready to ruin her makeup. She smiled shakily.

 

“Stiles,” she started, “you showed me what it was like to love — to really love — and to be loved in return. Before you, I didn’t know what unconditional support, belief, trust or love was. You’ve been there for me for as long as I can remember. You saved my life, but you saved me in other ways too. In more ways than I can think of. You always believed in me, you always trusted me, even when everybody else thought I was crazy. You made me realise that I wasn’t alone, and I wouldn’t ever be alone as long as I had you by my side. I will love you forever, and I don’t even think forever is long enough. Thank you for being you, but most of all, thank you for loving me as much as you do, for as long as you have, unconditionally.”

 

Stiles squeezed her hands, smiling through his watery vision.

 

The Sheriff ran through the vows — the answers were, of course, I do — and Scott stepped forward with the rings. Stiles slid the gold band onto Lydia’s finger, and she followed suit.

 

“It is my greatest honour to now pronounce you husband and wife,” Noah Stilinski announced gleefully. “Son, you may finally kiss your bride.”

 

Stiles took a step closer to Lydia and wrapped his arms around her, kissing her softly. When they pulled apart, they could hear the distant sounds of their friends and family clapping — plus a couple of whoops from Malia — but it all sounded like a million miles away.

 

“Hi, Mrs. Stilinski,” Stiles whispered, so only she could hear.

 

Lydia narrowed her eyes at him. “Hi, Mr. Martin.”

 

“Maybe we should have talked about this before …” Stiles said, but then he landed a kiss on her forehead. “I’ll be whatever you want me to be, Lydia Martin-Stilinski.”

 

“And you’d follow me anywhere?” Lydia asked.

 

“Absolutely anywhere, for the rest of my life.”

 

She narrowed her eyes up at him, pretending to consider it. Pretending to think about it. “I like the sound of that.”

 

She leaned up to him and kissed him, before they joined hands and walked to the small crowd of people gathered in front of them. Their friends and family congratulated them, hugging them, kissing them, crying over them.

 

While Natalie hugged her daughter, Scott pulled Stiles aside.

 

“So,” Scott said, grinning, “it kind of feels like everything’s the same, right? You two have been together for so long that this is just inevitable.”

 

Time seemed to slow down as Stiles looked over at Lydia, who hugged Malia, Kira and then Grace, reaching for Elliot’s chubby little fingers. He watched as his wife — his beautiful, talented, genius wife — smiled and laughed with their friends and family.

 

He thought about how he got to go home with her, back to their house, and wake up together everyday. He thought about how they would eventually have children together and raise them in their house. He would chase them around the backyard while Lydia read books that were far too intellectual for him, but he would try to understand for her sake. They would be together, everyday, for the rest of their lives.

 

He had no doubts at all.

 

Lydia turned to look at him, catching his eye, and smiled at him. It was a smile that lifted his heart.

 

“No,” he said to Scott, shaking his head. 

 

Years ago, he had been in love with the most popular, unattainable girl in school, with no real belief that she would ever return his feelings. But somewhere along the way, his ten year plan started to work.

 

Amazingly, that strawberry-blonde haired, unobtainable girl became his friend, then his best friend, his partner-in-crime, his girlfriend, and eventually — after some obstacles along the way — his wife.

 

Lydia freaking Martin was his wife now.

 

It was only up from here.

 

“Everything’s changed.”