It happened in the middle of a divining spell. Of course it did.
Up until then everything had been going surprisingly, unbelievably well, considering the fact that this was one of the most finicky and hard-to-conquer pieces of magic that Lydia had attempted. In her experience, this sort of thing was liable to have at least three screw-ups before you so much as started grinding your reagents, and the best you could hope for was a 60% success rate. But for the first time ever nothing had suddenly exploded or rotted in the preparation, and she’d managed to say the long and infuriatingly complex incantation without stumbling or biting her tongue.
Now all she had left was to sit in her circle and stay focused until the magic took effect, and she'd known who was going to win the Superbowl before the teams even made the playoffs. Not that she cared, really—she just wanted to see if she could do it.
Sitting and focusing her energy was generally the easiest part. Generally—when someone wasn’t kicking your door down and pointing a crossbow at your face. Especially when that someone wasn't the best friend you'd been hiding your powers from the whole time.
Lydia froze. Allison froze. There was a moment of tense silence as Lydia and Allison stared at each other, because what can you even do when your best friend breaks into your house and catches you practicing 'evil' magic? Even with the deep-set disbelief etched into Allison's face, the bolt in her crossbow stayed steadily trained between Lydia's eyes. Still, neither of them moved.
At last Lydia broke the silence. "Well. This is awkward."
And then the magical energy, which Lydia had been devoting her entire concentration to stabilizing until about two seconds ago, discharged.
At the epicenter of the blast, Lydia got the worst of it. As the pressure in the air suddenly and violently dispersed, she was thrown straight down onto the floor and pinned there. The spell roared through the air around her, a nimbus of colors her eyes shouldn’t have been able to perceive that for a single second flared up in the room like a firecracker. Like opening the airlock in space, all the power she'd been building up poured back into the universe. It felt as if there were a planet sitting on her chest, as if she was going to be ripped limb from limb then mashed back together like a lump of wet clay. But then, just as suddenly as the spell had shattered, it exhausted itself. The air was still.
For a long minute she could do nothing but just lay there and gasp for breath, her nerves white-hot and oversensitive as the power ebbed away. A groan escaped her lips as she raised her hand to her forehead. Motor functions. That was good. She felt like someone had ripped out her tendons and used them to play a guitar solo before stitching them back into her body. The air she hauled into her lungs was flat and heavy, like soda that had lost its fizz. Inch by inch, Lydia slowly pushed herself into a sitting position.
Allison hadn’t been much better off; she was sprawled across the other side of the room, rubbing her head with a grimace. Her eyes snapped open when she felt Lydia’s gaze on her. The crossbow had been knocked out of her hands, but she scrabbled over to grab it and sort of half-heartedly point it in Lydia’s direction. She didn’t react. Allison didn’t seem flush with ideas either.
Finally Lydia cleared her throat. “I guess this has been a long time coming.”
It wasn’t the right thing to say, but at least it broke the silence. Allison shifted ever so slightly so that she wasn’t drawn taut as a wire with her weapon at Lydia’s face. “Yeah. I guess it has.”
“You caught on sooner than I would have thought, actually,” Lydia said lightly. To be honest, she was actually pretty annoyed with herself. In the past her friends had shown an astounding proclivity for ignoring her right when she needed them the most, and she’d figured the trend might as well have continued. If she hadn’t underestimated them so greatly, she might have prepared some stronger wards. “Where did I mess up?”
“It wasn’t that difficult to put the pieces together, once I knew to start looking,” Allison said cautiously. “The wolves smelled something weird on you, but we didn’t think much of it. And then I found that… talisman thing in your bag yesterday, and I thought maybe you were under some kind of spell. Guess I was wrong.” Damn. Lydia had thought that had been a near miss, when Allison had pulled out one of her wards while getting Lydia’s Chem textbook for her. Apparently it hadn’t been a miss at all.
“Does the rest of the pack know yet?” she asked.
Allison shook her head. “No. I came straight here.” Her mouth twisted ruefully. “Does that mean you’re going to kill me off to protect your secret?”
Lydia couldn't help but smile at that. She got the feeling Allison was only half joking. “Well it certainly looks like you had something similar in mind for me," she said, raising an eyebrow at the crossbow still held lightly in Allison's hands.
Allison glanced down at it as if she'd forgotten it was there, before setting it down with a sigh. "No, of course not. I didn't have a plan, didn't know what you'd do…" She shook her head.
"I don't blame you. Witches are dangerous, right? But if it makes you feel better, I wouldn't have killed you either." To be honest, she wouldn’t have to kill Allison in order to silence her. There were plenty of memory spells she could have worked, but for one thing they were incredibly risky in the hands of a master, let alone a talented amateur, and for another Lydia was tired of hiding it. She’d been dancing on the edge of a knife for so long that she figured it was time to finally get cut.
Allison fell quiet for a long minute. “Why are you doing this, Lydia?” she asked quietly.
Lydia cocked her head. “Doing what?”
“This.” Allison gestured around at the room, the walls marked with sigils previously hidden by posters, the candles that lay scattered and smoking across her floor. Lydia took it all in and shrugged.
“Well everyone else seemed to be having some brand of supernatural fun. I just wanted to feel included.”
“Cute, Lydia, considering you could have easily gotten yourself killed. Or killed someone else.”
Lydia despised Allison's self-righteousness, but then again, she had sort of lost the right to take the moral high ground a while ago. “You don’t understand. You haven’t felt it. That rush of power…” Lydia couldn’t help it. She smiled. “There’s nothing like it.”
Allison’s smile was tired and frayed at the corners. “I know a little something about going on a power trip.”
“No offense, but you shot a couple people with arrows. With enough time and reagents I could level this town with a single spell. That’s the kind of power I’m talking about.”
At this point Allison had fully lowered her crossbow, her face unreadable. Something was stirring behind her eyes—curiosity? "Maybe telling me that you can kill everyone within a twenty mile radius isn't the best way to get on my good side, Lydia."
"The difference between can, and will. I thought you'd appreciate my honesty." Lydia raised an eyebrow. “So what do we do now?” she asked. “Are you going to march me down to Doc Deaton and have him lock me up?”
“I hadn’t exactly planned that far ahead.”
Lydia stared Allison down, and realized that she really didn't have a plan. She'd come here on instinct, some driving need to protect her friend or unmask her or…something. It was the potential unknown that interested Lydia now. “Why exactly are you here, Allison?”
Her jaw tightened. “To stop you.”
“If stopping me was your goal, the whole pack would be standing beside you and I’d be hog-tied in the back of your car right now.” She leaned forward, capturing Allison’s gaze and reeling her in. “So what do you really want, Allison?”
Allison’s eyes darted away, lowering to her hands as they slowly set her crossbow down on the ground.
“Answer me this: have you ever used magic on any of the pack?"
"No," Lydia said immediately.
"And what about other people?"
This time, Lydia was silent. No point in lying now. Allison's mouth twisted bitterly—probably she'd been hoping that Lydia had just been toying with insignificant enchantments. Lydia needed her to understand exactly how far she'd gone. If she had to know, she had to know everything.
"Have you ever hurt anyone?" Allison's voice was guarded.
"Never intentionally." Clearly it wasn't the answer Allison wanted, but her expression was impossible to read. She looked angry, that much was obvious, but there was a stillness in her face that Lydia wasn't used to.
"Have you ever used magic on me?"
Lydia stared into her eyes with every ounce of devotion she had. If she believed one thing, it had to be this. "No, Allison. Never you."
If her words affected Allison, she didn't let it show. "Final question," she said, and there was something strange in her voice now. She paused, as if considering what she was about to say, not meeting Lydia's eyes. "What's it like?”
“The magic?” Lydia asked, surprised by the question in spite of herself. She thought about it for a moment before answering. “It would be easier for me to just show you, but I’ll do my best. Imagine being strapped to the fuselage of a plane with nothing more than some scotch tape and rubber bands. And at the same time you have to try and fly the plane without getting ripped off the side or sucked into the engine. The plane is also on fire. That’s what magic feels like.”
“It sounds terrible.”
“Then why do you do it?”
“Because right now, I am the most powerful person in Beacon Hills. And it’s more fun than watching Pretty Little Liars.” As she spoke she expected Allison’s usual reaction to her flippancy: that she would get mad. Instead, her expression seemed to crumble into itself, her eyes calculating. Lydia didn’t like that look. It made her forget that she was the one with the power here.
Without a word Allison stood up, her weapon hanging loosely at her side. Lydia figured that she was about to be marched out the door at arrow-point and taken to whoever constituted a supernatural authority these days. But Allison didn't even meet her gaze.
“Don’t tell anyone I was here,” Allison said, her words snapping with cold before she turned and marched straight out the door.
Lydia stared after her until her back disappeared, stewing in bafflement. Out of all the possible outcomes she had predicted for Allison’s confrontations, being left sprawled on the floor without so much as an explanation hadn’t so much as crossed her mind. She was supposed to be in trouble. Allison was supposed to be angry, disappointed, asking how she hadn't noticed sooner. Not walking out as if Lydia had used the last of her conditioner without asking.
Grimacing, she slowly pushed herself off the floor and stood in the wreckage of her spell. The chalk symbols were smudged, the herbs and incense scattered along with all of her candles. She should gather them all up again, redraw the lines and settle into the spell that would wipe Allison’s memory and put everything back the way it was before.
She didn’t. Whatever was happening right now, her curiosity had won out over her self-preservation. It was never in her nature to go around closing doors that had already been forced open. Not when things were getting so very interesting.
Two days went by without so much as a word from Allison. That wasn't particularly surprising, but it still had Lydia worried. Lydia went through her routine with a smile on her lips as always, but something squirmed in the pit of her stomach when she made the mistake of thinking about the spot by her locker where Allison was usually waiting after class.
The thought that Allison would simply cut all ties with her hadn't even occurred to her. She didn't dare approach Allison in class, and the other girl's eyes never met hers. She spent the whole of World History stealing glimpses out of the corner of her eye, wondering if the circles around Allison's eyes were a little darker today, if her nails were bitten a little closer to the quick. It wasn't that Lydia wanted to see her distressed. She just wanted to know whether Allison cared at all.
It was not knowing that bothered Lydia the most: why Allison had let her go, what she was going to do, where did that leave them now. Maybe Allison would change her mind and turn Lydia in. The thought didn't particularly bother Lydia. She just wanted to be sure that Allison would speak to her again.
Then at long last, her phone rang. She managed to wait two ringtones before snatching it up and pressing it to her ear.
“Allison. Nice to hear from you again.” The words she'd rehearsed for so long still came out sounding slightly manic. There was nothing but silence on the other end of the phone for so long that Lydia wondered if she was planning on saying anything at all.
“I’m coming over,” Allison finally said, her voice taut with something brittle and uncertain."I'll be there in five minutes." Before Lydia could so much as entice her into a good round of banter, the other end of the phone clicked dead. Allison usually just showed up unannounced; this time she was probably afraid of what she might walk in on. In this case, it would have just been Lydia stalking her Facebook profile. She looked around the room dubiously, wondering if five minutes would be enough time to disappear the runes from her walls and floor, just a poster or rug away from discovery.
She decided not to try. No more secrets.
Timely as ever, Allison showed up five minutes later and stepped inside without a word. Just being around her again and having her presence acknowledged was more of a relief than Lydia would have thought, but she didn't let herself relax just yet. Allison could want anything.
"My parents are at work," Lydia said when Allison merely stood there in silence. "We can be alone as long as you want."
Allison nodded slowly. There were thoughts turning like gears behind her eyes, but what they were Lydia couldn't guess. Magic could tell her. But that was one line she wasn't willing to cross. On the others, perhaps if she needed to. But not her.
"I didn't tell anyone," she said right away.
Lydia inclined her head thoughtfully. "Interesting choice. Want to tell me why?"
For a second, it looked like Allison was going to be completely emotionally open. But then her face caved in, contorted into a frown and a grimace, and she turned away with her fingers dragging her hair away from her scalp. "I don't know, I just—I didn't want them to know, not until I knew myself what was going on, what I should do…"
"Alright, slow down," Lydia said, genuine concern mixing with the relief she felt at Allison finally reacting like a normal human. "Come on. Sit." She pulled out a chair from the kitchen table and sat down herself. Allison took it after a moment's hesitation, but when she was down she seemed to deflate.
"You can't just stop, can you?" she said, the defeat already evident in her voice.
Lydia shrugged. "I could. I don't plan on it anytime soon."
Allison looked at her with mournful eyes. "Then what do you expect me to do?"
"Who says you have to do anything?" Lydia crossed her ankles under the chair and leaned forward. "Can't we just go back to the way things were? Ignorance is bliss. Ignoring is the first step towards it."
"You know I can't do that, Lydia," Allison said as she pinched the bridge of her nose. "It's not how I operate."
"Yeah, I guess not," Lydia said. It had been worth a try, at least. "What do you want to do?"
"I want you to stop," Allison said, the anger and desperation creeping back into her voice. "I want you to stay out of this stuff before it hurts you, or turns you into something you're not. I want you to be safe."
"This is how I can be safe, Allison," Lydia said urgently. "Without the magic, what am I? I don't have an arsenal of weapons in my house like you. I can't grow claws and fangs and throw people through walls like Scott. Without this, I'm nothing."
"You aren't nothing," Allison said, and the tone in her voice almost made Lydia believe it. "You know that getting into this stuff is in the first place is the surest way of putting yourself in danger."
"I'm in this stuff either way now," Lydia said. "Everyone around me is involved. It's impossible for me to not be. Magic is just taking the last step."
Allison sighed through her teeth. Clearly she wasn't sure which she liked less: Lydia's answer, or the fact that she knew it was true. Before she'd even known that werewolves were anything more than a fairy tale she'd been attacked, and stalked, and coerced into raising the dead. Being normal wasn't a defense anymore.
"Allison," Lydia said, reaching across the table to take her friend's hands. "I know the risks. Trust me, I do. And I know that this kind of thing can go really wrong, that if I'm not careful I could end up losing myself. But I am careful." Most of the time.
Allison stared at their hands blankly. "You could have made me forget I had ever seen anything, couldn't you?" After a moment, Lydia nodded. "Why didn't you?"
"I told you. I'd never use magic on you. Not even for this."
Allison raised her eyes to meet Lydia's. "Can I trust you on that?"
"As little as it might mean to you now…yes," Lydia said.
Allison pulled her hands away and sat back in her chair. Her eyes were cast away now, thinking; but whatever was going on in her head, Lydia had no earthly clue. She was completely unreadable.
Without fanfare, she stood up. "I should go now," Allison said, receding behind that cold military persona like she always did when she was mad. "I have a lot to think about."
"Am I allowed to talk to you again?" Lydia called after her. She was already at the door, ready to leave again just like she had the last time she'd seen her—she couldn't help but feel terrified that this time it was for good.
But Allison turned back, and a small, hesitant smile touched her lips. She seemed far away, but not unreachable. "Yeah," she said before closing the door behind her. Nothing else, but it was all Lydia needed.
For the next week or so, things were much closer to whatever messed-up threshold of normal they were all currently operating on. Allison stopped ignoring her, then stopped avoiding her. They talked about classes, television, and sports like they were just becoming friends again. The only time they spoke of anything remotely supernatural was when Allison asked. She'd sprinkle a few questions here and there, asking how often Lydia used magic, where she got her reagents, what kinds of spells she knew. Lydia was happy to answer, although she still felt like she was being subtly interrogated prior to her arrest. Still, Allison wanted answers, and she wasn't going to hold back. Maybe if she understood things better she could start to forgive Lydia for lying.
They were both in Allison's room—she'd seemed less likely to want to go to Lydia's place now—and they were studying. If Lydia pretended that the silence between them didn't have that little edge of tension in it, she could almost pretend that nothing had ever happened. It was not knowing that was the worst. She could see that Allison was thinking and forming opinions and maybe even plans, but Allison wasn't sharing any of that with her anymore and she didn't think she had the right to ask. The wall between them was one that only Allison could breach. If she ever chose to.
Allison must have caught her watching her from across the room, because she looked up from the textbook cradled in her lap and met Lydia's gaze. Quickly looking down, Lydia pretended like she had been idly zoning out instead of scrutinizing her friend's face for any trace of sympathy. She could still feel Allison's own eyes boring into her.
"I've decided something," Allison said at last.
Lydia didn't look up at first, her finger trailing down a few paragraphs about the French Revolution that she'd been failing to read for the past thirty minutes. "Oh?"
"Yes." Allison said nothing else.
Hating herself for playing right into Allison's hands, Lydia couldn't help it. "What might that be?"
"You're going to teach me about magic."
There was a long moment of shocked silence, while Lydia tried to figure out whether she'd heard her right and Allison steadily met her gaze. Lydia shook her head slowly. "You can't be serious."
"I'm totally serious."
"Just a couple days ago you were breaking my door down with the express purpose of stopping me from using magic. Now you want to join the party?" Lydia snorted. "Sorry Allison, but that doesn't sound like you."
"I didn't say I wanted to use it," Allison said. "I want to understand it."
"And why on earth would you want that?" Lydia asked. She was too confused and baffled to find this whole situation funny. She still had no idea what angle Allison was working, but she had a feeling she wasn't going to like it.
Allison's face was unruffled. She crossed her legs in a businesslike way and set her jaw. "I know I'm not going to convince you to stop. I've had plenty of experience by now in trying to keep you from doing what you want, and I've learned my lesson. So you can keep on using magic. But you're going to have me right there with you, to make sure you don't step over the line."
"A chaperone?" Lydia said in disbelief. Now her confusion was starting to clear out, and in its place was anger. "No way. I won't do that."
"You said that I could trust you," Allison said quietly. "Don't you trust me?"
That quieted her for a moment as she struggled to find a reply. "Of course I do, but—"
"Then trust me to know when you need my help." She stopped herself. Took a rough breath. "I've seen what this stuff does to people, Lydia. Maybe it's inevitable; it's happening to me just as sure as it'll happen to you. And when it does, you never realize that you've gone too far, you never realized that you can't go back—not until it's too late." Lydia remembered the look on Allison's face that had stayed there for weeks after she'd shot Boyd. She could see an echo of it even now, like an afterimage pressed into her eyes. They'd all forgiven her by now. But Lydia saw she'd never forgive herself.
"That's what I'm trying to protect you from, Lydia," Allison said. She sounded drained, but resolved. "I know that you're a good person. I know you'd never want to do anything wrong. But I also know how it easy it is to slip." She smiled weakly. "Maybe a little harder when you've got someone to hold onto."
Lydia felt like something in her chest was expanding, a swell of understanding and affection and admiration, the emotions she'd always felt but always tried to bottle up bursting out like a popped water balloon. Heavily tempered with irritation, of course. It was mostly the irritation she let Allison see. "Alright. Fine. I guess we can…hold on to each other. Or something." She tossed her head primly. "But I reserve the right to be annoyed about it." She pointedly shifted positions and looked down at her textbook like she was going back to her studying. Her eyes stayed trained on one spot on the page. She wouldn't admit that she was waiting for Allison to say something else.
A creak of wood signaled that Allison was standing up. With a feeling like sliding into icy water, Lydia realized she was leaving again. Just like before. Just like that. Bitterly, Lydia wondered how she could be surprised. Everyone always left her when she wanted them, needed them, the most.
But Allison's footsteps didn't recede down the hall. They crossed the room to the bed where Lydia was lounging as casually as possible, and stopped right in front of her. Lydia didn't want to raise her eyes, didn't want to see what might be in Allison's face, but she didn't have a choice. She looked up.
Allison was smiling like she hadn't been since she found out, that warm, fond, dimple-y smile that Lydia hadn't realized she'd missed so dearly. In one fluid motion, before Lydia realized what was happening, she slid down onto the bed and wrapped her arms around Lydia like she was the only thing she'd ever need. The smell of her hair, the warmth of her skin—Lydia drank it all in like it was the first time, the last time, the only time that mattered. She'd thought she'd never get to feel Allison this way again. She hugged her tighter.
"Are you annoyed yet?" Allison whispered in her ear.
Lydia pushed her away playfully so that they were sitting face-to-face, their arms still loosely touching shoulders or waists or necks. "Very," Lydia said with feeling, but she couldn't keep the smile off her face. She knew that Allison recognized the things she was feeling and trying not-so-very-hard to hide. And in the same moment that Lydia realized that she could lean in right now and kiss her, she realized that she didn't want to. She felt imbued with the knowledge that some day, Allison would lean forward and press her lips to Lydia's, and they'd be tentative and a little scared but that wouldn't last long, and they'd fall into each other just like Lydia had hardly let herself imagine, time after time. Somehow she knew that Allison felt it too.
It would happen soon. But not now. Now she could just look into Allison's face and enjoy the understanding that they both shared. There was no magic this time, not in the literal sense. But as cheesy as it was, what Lydia had in this moment felt more magical than anything else.