Allison trudges up the stairs cutting through rows of seats, her bag feeling heavier than it did when she walked into the room for class. She's trying to convince herself that she should be relieved, but she's so tired that all she can think about is collapsing into bed and avoiding all of her responsibilities for at least a week.
Lydia is waiting for her in the empty hallway outside of the lecture hall, leaning against a wall. She has one glove off and is examining her nails as she waits. When she sees Allison, she straightens and looks at her expectantly.
"Well?" she says. "Did you talk to her?"
"I thought you were going to be at the library all afternoon and I wasn't going to see you until tonight," Allison says, frowning.
"I was at the library. I came to see how it went with you and Dr. Whats-her-face." She looks at Allison pointedly. "So? Did you talk to her?"
Allison sighs and adjusts the book bag slung over her shoulder. "I have until 5pm tomorrow."
Lydia lights up. "That's great!"
"And she's taking 25 points off of the final grade since it's late."
Lydia winces slightly. "Okay, that part's not so great, but still. At least she's accepting it. What did you tell her?"
Allison shrugs. "The truth."
Lydia's eyebrows go up. "That your ex-boyfriend the alpha werewolf needed you on his protection detail for a meeting with a rival wolf pack, and that's why you couldn't finish your mid-term paper on time?"
Allison remembers the two of them in the backseat of Stiles' jeep last night, Lydia asleep against her shoulder, and the stomach-churning oh shit moment when she realized she wouldn't be back in time to finish the paper she'd been putting off for weeks. "I told her I had a family emergency," she says. "I didn't offer specifics."
"Aw, that's…" Allison is treated to Lydia's trademark condescending smile. "...that's really sweet that you think of us as your family, Allison."
Allison rolls her eyes. "Well, she probably thought I was lying anyway."
"If she thought you were lying, she wouldn't have given you the extension," Lydia points out. "How long does it have to be?"
"Ten to twelve pages. I have about three written so far."
"See, at least you're not starting from scratch. The first sentence is always the hardest part."
Allison shrugs, suddenly way too tired to think of a good reply. She's been running on adrenaline and anxiety for the last eighteen hours, and now it's all catching up to her.
Lydia frowns. "What's wrong?"
"What do you think?" Allison replies, a little sharper than she means to. "She's taking 25 points off. This paper is worth a quarter of my final grade, and now the best I can do is a C minus."
Lydia just looks at her. "So make this the best paper you've ever written and get your C minus," she says, as though it's obvious.
Allison just shakes her head. "It wasn't supposed to be like this."
"Like this!" Allison exclaims, willing back the tears pricking at her eyes. "This is college. I'm supposed to stay up late writing papers and cramming for tests. But everything is just like it was in high school. Playing werewolf politics and nearly getting killed for it, and then having to lie to everyone. Don't you just wish everything could be… normal, for once?"
Lydia's expression softens, and Allison is reminded of the night before their high school graduation, lying in Lydia's bed with their hair splayed out over the same pillow, making plans for their future. How Allison's heart raced when Lydia laced their fingers together and looked up at her with serious eyes. "Love you," Lydia said, squeezing twice in time with the words. "No matter what."
It feels like a lifetime ago.
Lydia seems to understand that Allison doesn't really need a response. She takes a deep breath and reaches forward to straighten the collar of Allison's shirt. "Okay, here's what we're going to do. First, we need coffee."
Allison, still distracted by her misery, echoes, "Coffee?"
Lydia nods, brushing a loose strand of hair over Allison's shoulder. "Preferably something expensive and frivolous, with lots of whipped cream."
"I don't see how coffee is going to help," Allison mutters, letting herself be fussed over. Lydia looks up at her sharply.
"Well, you've barely gotten any sleep in the last two days, so caffeine will help. And sugar will give you a boost of endorphins, which means you also need a pumpkin scone."
Allison sighs. "And then?"
Lydia pats the front of Allison's coat and lets her palms rest over Allison's collarbone. "And then we're going to go back to the dorm and I'm going to help you write the best -- wait, what is this paper about?"
"The Odyssey. The role of families, particularly the relationships between fathers and sons."
Lydia wrinkles her nose. "Okay, not my favorite topic but we can work with that. I'll read what you've written and I'll help you pull quotes for the rest. It'll be the best paper this woman has seen and she'll be cursing herself that she can only give you a C minus."
Allison doesn't say anything. She's still calculating grade point averages, trying to remember how much her final exam is worth, if it's enough that she can bring her grade back up by the end of the semester.
"No, wait," Lydia says, shaking her head. "I know what the problem is."
Allison looks at her. "What?"
"It's the cinnamon scone," Lydia says, linking her arm with Allison's and guiding her towards the door leading outside. "Definitely not enough sugar, or enough chocolate. What you need is a really thick slice of chocolate pound cake. From that place on Main, that tiny one that's open late even though it's not a viable business practice at all."
Allison starts to argue that dessert is not going to help, whether it has chocolate or not, but Lydia slides her arm down and takes Allison's hand in hers. Their knuckles are cold but Lydia's palm is warm. Lydia rubs her thumb over Allison's knuckle and squeezes her hand twice in a familiar rhythm. Love. you.
Cold wind picks up, swirling Lydia's scarf around her neck, and Allison's eyes prick with tears. She's quiet for a moment, watching a group of students goofing off by the fountain in the quad. Finally, she takes a deep breath and says, in a voice a little smaller than she would have liked, "Chocolate pound cake sounds good."
Lydia looks over at her with a self-satisfied smile. "It does, doesn't it? Maybe we'll get an extra slice as a reward for when you've finished your paper."
Allison stifles a groan. After everything, she'd actually almost forgotten about the paper. "Yeah, that's not a bad idea, although I'll probably need some actual food at some point too."
Allison looks over at Lydia, with her flushed cheeks and strawberry hair whipping around in the wind, and feels almost happy for the first time all say. She smiles and squeezes Lydia's hand twice.