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The Inside Job

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Lydia collects things.

On her darker nights she equates it to a serial killer’s impulse. Gathering and cataloguing trophies, souvenirs, the blood and bones of her victims.

The moment she wakes up as Alpha, it all suddenly made sense.

Some people are born to be predators.

But she stops collecting anyway. Stops stockpiling perfect test scores, matchbooks from dinner dates, stolen kisses from boys who should know better but don’t. She doesn’t need to anymore. She’s collected everything she needs now. She’s collected a pack.

And then Stiles goes and ruins it.

It all starts when Lydia wakes up from her coma in a hospital bed and can hear the hushed conversation in the cancer ward two floors up. She’s not an idiot. Peter told her what he was while he eviscerated her. And even then, while the sensation of her insides being pulled out made everything else feel soundproofed and faraway, like she was watching the event on mute instead of living it, she’d simply thought, almost calmly, “Well. If I live through this I’ll be a fucking god.”

And now here she is, having lived through it.

Here she is. A fucking god.

The first face she sees is Derek Hale’s and he’s pissed. But before he can so much as loom ominously she cocks an eyebrow from her hospital bed that stops him in his tracks.

Fuck.” He says. Because what else can he say? He got to be Alpha for about three whole days before she woke up and somehow mystically took it from him thanks to whatever last minute mojo Peter Hale pulled on her.

Lydia makes a sarcastic “yeah, tell me about it” sort of face. “Yep.” She says, popping the “p” with full lips.

Derek growls and makes fists with both hands. “I could just kill you right now and take it.”

And when he says “it” he means the title. The power. Lydia snorts. “Okay, Tough Guy, go right ahead. Find a way to kill me that A, won’t upset Jackson, Scott and Stiles enough to come after you later, and B, won’t make it look like the poor little high school girl just got murdered in her hospital room right after being attacked by an unknown assailant.”

Derek growls again.

Lydia chuckles. “That’s what I thought. But don’t worry, Hale. It won’t be nearly as bad as you’re thinking. Promise.”

He eyes her, appraising. “Well at least you’re smarter than the rest of them.”

Lydia rolls her eyes. “That isn’t saying much.”

From there it’s only a matter of time before everything falls into place with exactly the sort of precision that Lydia requires of all her endeavors.

Derek, Scott and Jackson are already hers. But they aren’t enough.

She comes into Allison’s room through the window one night, wakes the girl up with a whisper and a hand on her hip, kisses her once on the nose and tells her she won’t force it. Be a part of the pack or don’t. Your call. Be your father’s daughter, or...

Or let me collect you. She thinks, but doesn’t say.

Allison joins the pack but stays human. Which Lydia is a little sour about but she’ll deal. “Human” might come in handy. Derek assures her that it’s a good thing. They need some diversity in their ranks. And Lydia is smart enough to trust Derek’s judgment when it comes to these things.

Stiles is a different story. She tries the whole “sneak in through the bedroom window and wake with a whisper and a kiss” routine on him, and he ends up screaming bloody murder, flailing his limbs about like an idiot and falling off the bed onto the floor with a loud thud. She has to hightail it out of there so his dad doesn’t catch them.

She does the same thing again the next night, but this time puts a strong hand over his mouth to silence and still him, and she makes her eyes flash red in a warning for him to get over it already, yes a werewolf is in his bedroom in the middle of the night, yes she’s also a hot girl in his bedroom in the middle of the night, get over it now or face the consequences.

Stiles gets over it.

“Okay, not that I’m complaining, but what the hell?” He says in an angry stage whisper as he sits up in bed.

The dark swallows him up whole, his pale skin a lantern. Lydia regards him for a brief second, wondering if it’s worth it but knowing this is a necessity. The pack isn’t done. They need... something else. And the only thing she can think of is this boy.

“I want you to be in my pack.”

Stiles balks. “Um. That’s not... You know Peter offered me the same thing, right? And I turned him down?”

She gives him a flirtatious look, makes her voice seductive, rests a hand on his forearm. “I’m not Peter.”

Stiles gulps. But then he purses his lips into a hard frown and pulls his arm away from her. “Well my answer is the same. I don’t wanna be like you guys.”

Lydia huffs, exasperated. She mumbles up at the ceiling about how all these unimaginative little ants of human beings don’t have any god damn vision, and then tells him, “Fine. You don’t have to be like us. Allison’s in the pack and she’s human.”

Stiles furrows his brow. “Yeah, but Allison can shoot things.”

“Is this your way of asking for a crossbow?”

“No, I’m saying that Allison has a use. She has a skill. I’m...” He makes a vague hand gesture at the length of his body. “I’m me.”

Lydia sighs, annoyed. “Yes. You’re you. And my pack just happens to be short a you. So whatever your inadequacy issues are, Stilinski, tell them to your shrink. All I’m looking for is a yes or no. You in or what?”

It takes him far too long to decide in Lydia’s opinion. But finally he nods his head. “Yes.”

And that’s that.

Except that it isn’t.

Because obviously Lydia handles them all better than anyone else on the planet could have done in her place. Obviously she’s better at this new role than Derek would have been, than Scott or Jackson would have been, than fucking Chuck Norris on steroids would have been.

But there’s one thing she doesn’t count on and it ends up making her rip off a bathroom stall door in between third and fourth period.

This pack is hers, damn it. She’s collected them. She’s catalogued and labeled and fucking filed them away in the lock box that is her ability to plan ahead. She built an imaginary, fireproof safe all around these people and there is no way anyone outside of those steel-enforced, booby-trapped walls will ever get in at what’s hers. Ever.

What she doesn’t count on is the inside job.

“Wait. How old?” Stiles asks over a lunch tray that is made up entirely of carbohydrates and caffeine. Lydia isn’t really paying attention to the conversation, but registers Stiles’ surprise and starts to listen.

“Uh. Twenty... three?” Scott says, uncertain. He glances at Jackson for confirmation but Jackson just shrugs and eats his sandwich.

Stiles puts a hand to the side of his head like he’s been delivered a blow. “Seriously? I mean... Wait, seriously? That’s practically ancient.”

“Dude, you knew he was older than us. How old did you think he was?”

“I don’t know, I never really thought about... You do realize that twenty-three means he’s the one that gets screwed if we ever get into serious trouble, right? I mean that makes him the legal adult by far. That makes him...” Stiles scrunches up his features in a way that must be somehow different from how he usually scrunches them up because Scott furrows his brow and leans forward.

“Makes him what?”

Stiles performs several incomprehensible gestures and then grabs his water bottle so he has something to do with his hands. “I’m just saying, the amount of time you guys all spend running around naked in the woods... Anyone ever catches you, not only will it look bad but Hale’s ass will end up sitting in Sing Sing for a good long while as a result.”

Scott puts on his thinking face--it’s adorable that he even tries sometimes--and attempts to make sense of Stiles’ words. “Why would he go to jail for running around in the...” Then it dawns on him. Lydia almost wants to pat him on the head and give him a treat. “Oh. Shit. ‘Cause he’s an adult. And we’re...”

“And we’re sixteen.” Stiles fills in helpfully. “And naked time between a twenty-three-year-old and a sixteen-year-old in the middle of the forest at night is gonna be a hard thing to explain to the authorities, even if all you guys were really doing was ripping the throats out of bunny rabbits. Er. Not that that would look much better I guess.”

Scott has to think on this for a while, chewing his food absently.

“We’ll just have to be super careful then.” He finally decides with a shrug. Obviously Derek Hale sitting in a prison cell isn’t his top priority.

Stiles sputters a little, like he was expecting more. But before he can go off on whatever rambling nonsense he’s got stored up in him this time Scott stops eating and frowns. “Hold up. What made you even think of this?”

Stiles makes a show of groaning and rolling his eyes and being completely exasperated by his best friend’s ineptitude. “Um, hello? Because this is a potential issue and apparently the only person in this stupid pack that thinks of these things is me. You know what I am, Scott? I’ve figured it out. I’m the guy in the van. You know, like in heist movies. I’m the one on the laptop who taps into the security system and puts the cameras on a loop and saves everyone’s asses, all from the safety of a parked car across the street. I’m that guy. And that guy is apparently the only person who ever thinks about things like potential jail time for crew members.”

But it’s all just a show.

It’s the Stiles Show and it’s always on, and so even though there are two other werewolves seated at this lunch table they don’t notice that it’s any different now than it was the day before.

But Lydia gets it. Even if Stiles himself doesn’t get it, she gets it. She hears Stiles’ heart speed up and feels his skin flush, not enough to color but definitely going warmer by about half a degree, and the pitch in his voice changes ever so slightly.

Lydia grabs the sides of her chair with both hands and digs her claws into the plastic.

She tries to think about this rationally. She is a rational human being after all. A rational werewolf. There is a solution to this equation and if she keeps her cool she’ll figure it out.

“What do you mean?” Allison asks sleepily, nuzzling her pillow in the dark. At this point she doesn’t seem to find Lydia’s “middle of the night, sneak in through the window to wake her up and talk” episodes as anything but normal. Lydia is fine with this.

Lydia crouches down beside the bed and rests her chin on the edge of the mattress, her face a couple inches from Allison’s collarbone. “I just think that Stiles is overly concerned with Derek’s wellbeing.”

Allison’s eyes are half lidded. She mindlessly plays with Lydia’s hair with the tips of her long fingers. “Isn’t he supposed to be concerned?”

“He is. Yes. But I think that he... He’s not supposed to be more concerned with Derek than he is with me. That’s not how this works.”

An amused smile pulls at Allison’s half-asleep lips. “You’re jealous.” She teases.

“I’m rational.” Lydia argues.

Allison’s smile widens, all the more entertained by this answer, and she buries her face briefly in her pillow like she wants to suffocate her joy. The fingers in Lydia’s hair splay out so that Allison’s hand cradles the side of her head.

“You’re sixteen.” Allison says.

Lydia frowns at her. “Just because you’re a year older, Argent, doesn’t mean you get to--”

“Okay, okay. White flag.” Allison chuckles, raising both hands in surrender, though they just fall immediately back down onto the bed. Her eyes aren’t even half-lidded anymore, they’re closed. “I only meant that you could cut him some slack. Which I think translates into Lydia Speak as cutting yourself some slack.”

Lydia heaves a sigh.

Allison puts her hand back in Lydia’s hair. “What time is it anyway?”

“Late.”

“You should sleep more.”

Lydia smirks at her. “Sleep is for the weak.”

“Weak’s not so bad. Weak has a very high thread count.”

Lydia laughs. Then rises so that Allison’s hand falls away, and she leaves the way she came.

Confronting Stiles would be a mistake. Confronting Derek wouldn’t do any good. Lydia paces the social studies classroom the next day, debating with herself. She is not prepared to let one of her pack care too much about someone in that pack who isn’t her.

Finally she settles on Derek. The lesser of the two evils, honestly.

“I won’t lose him to you, Hale.” She says as she enters the house, and a tiny voice in the back of her mind whispers, “but did you ever really have him?”

She ignores that voice because of course she had him. Has him. He’s been in love with her for years and now he’s a member of her pack.

Just because she doesn’t love him back doesn’t mean she can’t keep him.

Derek lets himself drop down onto his feet from where he was doing pull-ups off a piece of charred-black molding. He’s shirtless and sweaty, but Lydia’s seen enough naked boys in her time not to care that much anymore. So he’s got nice abs. So what. Lydia’s got some kickass abs going lately too.

“I’m sorry, what?” He asks, brow furrowed in confusion as he approaches her. “Lose who?”

Lydia rethinks her strategy in the first half of a second and then comes up with a plan B, C and D in the second half. “Sorry. No one. I’ve been getting paranoid about all you boys bonding without me. I may be the Alpha but I’m also the only she wolf. Or whatever. Sometimes I wonder if you guys don’t have a secret clubhouse up in a tree somewhere with a ‘no girls allowed’ sign on it.”

Derek makes a face that suggests she’s being an idiot. Which is good to know. She wasn’t actually worried about not being included in all of their reindeer games but it’s nice to have it confirmed anyway.

“Alright, fair enough. Sorry I asked.” Lydia turns to leave, then spins back around. “Oh, but while I’m here, there is something else we should discuss.”

Derek crosses his arms over his chest and waits. Not a big talker, this guy.

“Your age.” Lydia says pointedly.

Derek is mildly taken aback. “My age?”

“Yes. You’re a lot older than the rest of us.”

“This isn’t the NFL, Lydia. My good years don’t end at thirty.”

“Of course not. Don’t be so droll. I just meant that Stiles brought up a good point the other day.”

“Which is?”

“That since the rest of us are all legally minors, you could get into a lot of trouble if anyone ever catches you with us in a... compromising position.”

Derek pales a little, but his expression remains as stoic as ever. “’Compromising.’ As in hunting things with our teeth.”

“As in emerging from out of the night without any clothes on. Not the best idea when you’re on your own, granted, but add in an equally unclothed minor...”

Derek raises a hand to stop her. He gets it. “We’ll be more careful. I can hunt on my own more often.”

Lydia nods. “Great. I’m sure it’ll never come to anything, but always good to be aware.” She turns and heads for the door, silently counting down as she goes. Three... Two... One...

“Stiles brought this up?” Derek asks.

Lydia pauses, but doesn’t turn around. “Yeah, at lunch the other day. He seemed really worried.”

She waits for several long seconds. Can feel Derek’s narrowed gaze, his hesitance, without having to turn around to see it. At last he replies, almost awkwardly, but his tone is too hard for that. All of him is too hard for that. Derek Hale and “awkward” do not mix.

But he manages to hit the edge of it anyway.

“...Tell him I’ll be fine.”

Lydia gives a tight smile to the wall and says brightly. “Sure thing!”

No one is going to be fine, though. Not after she’s through with them.

Allison laughs at her that night. “You don’t burn down the barn just because one of the cows is sick.”

Lydia scowls. “Did you really just use a farm metaphor?”

Allison laughs at her some more, swings one of her long arms out and uses it to pull Lydia onto the bed with her. She hugs Lydia’s middle from behind and buries her face in Lydia’s hair.

Lydia huffs, like this is just one more inconvenience from her pack that she has to put up with now. Stiles is more concerned with Derek’s wellbeing than hers. Derek is more concerned with Stiles’ concern than he should be. And Allison has decided to spoon her in mid conversation.

Her collection is falling apart.

The only ones not causing trouble are Scott and Jackson, and the mere thought is enough to tell her that something must really be wrong here. Scott and Jackson should not look like shining examples of pack dynamic in comparison to the rest of them.

“I think you’re being too hard on them.” Allison mumbles lazily into Lydia’s hair. Lydia can feel the girl’s breath seep through the thick tangles and collapse against the back of her neck, moist and warm. “Which I think just means you’re probably being too hard on yourself.”

“I have to take care of this.” Lydia says evenly. “It might not seem like anything right now, but if I don’t take preventative measures it could blow up in our faces. I’ve done the math, Allison. It needs to be all for one and one for all. Not some for all and one for Derek and maybe another for no one in particular. It’s not a game. I have to make this work.”

Allison’s breathing is already starting to even out as she falls back to sleep. She moves her fingers against Lydia’s stomach in time, like she’s pushing the code into a keypad. Like the skin there will open up with the right combination and reveal everything that Lydia hides.

“It will work. Get some sleep.”

Lydia doesn’t want to sleep. But she stays where she is anyway, until the sun rises.

“Is this a werewolf thing?” Stiles asks the next night with a groan as he sits up in bed. “Do you guys just have a natural aversion to doors? And also sleep?”

Lydia leans back against the windowsill and quirks an eyebrow at him. He probably can’t see it in the dark, but if you’re going to play the part you can’t just play it halfway. “It’s barely two AM, Stilinski. Shouldn’t you still be bouncing off the walls and starting fights on the internet?”

Stiles rubs his hands over his face several times and kicks at the blankets that are tangled around his legs until they fall into a pile on the floor. “My stamina kind of takes a hit when you freaks do this several nights in a row.”

Lydia frowns. “Who else has been popping in on you in the middle of the night?”

“Who do you think? Ever since I harbored Mr. Tall Dark and Grouchy’s ass here while he was on the lam he seems to think he can just come and go as he pleases. I swear to god I got home from school last week and he was doing his laundry here. He didn’t even need me for anything! He just didn’t wanna have to come up with quarters for the laundromat.”

And there it is. The final straw. Lydia may have come over here to make nice, as per Allison’s advice, but there’s no way she can just stand by while Derek fucking Hale takes what’s hers. Animal instinct flares up in her and she rushes the bed, eyes flashing before she’s even really aware of it.

Stiles gives a yelp as she pins him. He rambles, breathless and terrified. “Okay, not that I’m not flattered, but if you came here looking for a booty call and not just, you know, some sleep-deprived but still incredibly witty conversation, you need to give a guy a little warning.”

Lydia growls into his throat and can feel every muscle in his body tense. He’s vaguely aroused, but mostly just scared and surprised, and Lydia doesn’t even know what she’s doing suddenly.

The wolf part of her wants to claim him. To mark him up so that no matter where he goes he’ll show the scars, the scents, the signs that he belongs to her damn it.

But the human part recoils from the idea. The human part reminds her, a whisper in the back of her mind, that Stiles can care about whomever he chooses to and it doesn’t have to mean that he’s left the imaginary safety deposit box that she’s put him and all the others in, all neatly arranged and in alphabetical order.

In fact, this way is probably healthier. Better.

Well, for him. If she strings him along for too much longer he may burst, and then where would they all be? At least this way he stays safe inside her collection.

Lydia pulls her face away from his, but keeps his wrists held tight in her hands against the pillows. Stiles stares up at her, eyes wide, breathing heavily.

“I’m sorry.” She says, but she makes sure her tone of voice says something different. Says, “this is all your fault and I’m a saint for putting up with you.”

“Uh. Okay?”

“I’m not actually attracted to you.”

Stiles croaks. “Well that’s always nice to hear. Thanks for that.” He squirms a little under her. “Is there another reason you’re on top of me then?”

“Sometimes I get... territorial.”

“Ah. So I’m the bone you don’t wanna share, huh?”

“Sharing has never been my strong suit. Even when I was human.”

“Well don’t worry about it. There’s not exactly anyone lining up to try to steal your chew toy away. The only one jumping me in the middle of the night is you.”

“And Derek Hale.”

Stiles snorts. “Thankfully all Derek does is throw me up against walls and bash my head into steering wheels. He’s yet to resort to pinning me to my bed.”

“...And what if he did?”

Stiles furrows his brow like he has no idea what she’s getting at. “Uh, I’d have a harder time explaining it to my dad?”

Lydia juts out her bottom lip and huffs an exasperated breath up to blow the hair out of her face. There’s no way Stiles is this dense. Maybe she should just go back to fighting this thing instead of encouraging it, because she doesn’t seem to be getting anywhere here.

But then she thinks of Allison. Imagines the other girl would be laughing at her right now. Would maybe play with her hair and pull her in for a hug from behind and whisper into her shoulder that sometimes the math doesn’t have to add up and maybe that’s better. Let go a little, Lydia. Get some sleep.

“You’re not my chew toy, Stiles.” Lydia tells him, firm. “Or my bone. You’re not my anything really, even if you are in my pack... But I’m starting to think that you might unwittingly be Derek’s.”

Stiles stares up at her, at a loss for words. Which is a first. Lydia worries she just blew his mind to the point of no return. Is it possible to incite psychotic breaks through the stating of simple truths? She files the idea away for future use. Maybe she’ll start taking down her enemies with especially deadly wordplay.

“I’m not...” Stiles starts to argue, but seems to find the idea too absurd to repeat, even if only to deny it. His body squirms some more, desperate to move. Pace. Flail his arms. Jump on things. Make use of all his building nervous energy. “Why would you even think... So Derek likes to stop by and do his whites here occasionally. He probably just can’t stand the draft in that death trap of a house of his and doesn’t wanna admit it.”

“But you care about him too.” She says easily.

“I care about everyone!”     

“You care about him more.”

Stiles sets his jaw. “Lydia. I think that if there was something untoward going on between me and Derek Hale I would know about it. The whole idea is ridiculous! I don’t even know where you-- I mean it’s as insane a thought as you and... and Allison getting it on.”

Lydia lets go of Stiles’ wrists and sits up on his stomach. She sucks in a sharp breath.

Stiles’ eyes try to pop out of his skull. “Oh my god, are you and Allison--”

Lydia leans forward again quickly and presses her forearm into his windpipe to shut him up.

No.” She hisses. “Of course not. I’m just trying to understand how, for such a smart guy, you can be so impossibly clueless. Don’t you see what Derek’s doing? He doesn’t come over here because it’s drafty at his place, he comes over here because you’re here.

Stiles purses his lips defiantly, but she can tell his brain is working overtime trying to digest this.

At last he says, slowly, “If, and I mean if, what you’re saying about Derek were even remotely true... What makes you think I would care? I’m not gay.”

Lydia laughs out right. “So?”

So? So I like girls. It’s kind of a thing.”

“No it’s not.”

“I can’t believe this. Do we really need to have a ‘birds and the bees’ talk here? Because I’m not sure I’m gonna be much better at it than my dad was.”

“I understand what you’re trying to tell me, Stiles. And I’m telling you that you’re wrong. You don’t choose who you fall in love with. So you can go ahead and be attracted to girls all you want, but at the end of the day it’s about the person not the parts.”

Stiles makes a face and then mutters lamely. “Well the parts help.”

Lydia sighs and gets off of him.

“You’re leaving?” His voice cracks a little as she reaches the window.

Lydia turns back around to face him and shrugs one shoulder noncommittally. “Do you think Derek’s attractive? And try to answer as if that isn’t a loaded question.”

Stiles hesitates for so long that Lydia has to wonder all over again if she might have broken him. Finally he scoots forward on the bed until he’s sitting on the end, feet on the floor. He puts his elbows on his knees and steeples his hands together beneath his chin. In the dim light he looks a lot younger than he is.

“It’s not a loaded question, it’s a trick question. You’d have to be blind not to answer yes.” He says.

“Great. Now ask me the same thing.”

Stiles furrows his brow in confusion. “Uh. Okay. Do you think Derek is attractive?”

Lydia smiles sweetly. “No.”

“You’re lying.”

“I’m not, actually. Because I can see that he’s good-looking, sure, but that doesn’t mean he’s attractive. I don’t find him attractive at all. Not to me. And I’ve seen him without clothes on often enough to know that for certain.”

Stiles flounders. “Come on, you can’t seriously... Is your argument here really semantics?”

“Yes, Stiles, it is. And here’s why. Tell me honestly, right now, don’t think about it, just tell me the truth. Do you think Derek Hale is attractive or do you think he’s good-looking?”

Stiles stares at her in silence for a full minute.

Lydia finally just nods her head. “It’s okay. Sleep on it.” And then she launches out the bedroom window before he can protest.

Everything goes to shit after that.

Here she is trying to be supportive, trying to be magnanimous and not just the overlord that she knows she could be. And everyone decides to take it completely the wrong way.

Everyone except Allison, of course.

Stiles won’t even look at Lydia in school the next day. Derek was apparently already avoiding her calls and texts and she just hadn’t noticed. Scott doesn’t know what’s going on but takes Stiles’ side the moment he realizes that something is indeed going on. And Jackson approaches her in the hallway right after homeroom to tell her that he’s faking sick for the next couple of days because, “whatever the hell is going down right now, I don’t wanna be a part of it. Call me if someone dies.”

Just like that, she’s lost everything.

Lydia ends up crouching on Allison’s windowsill that night, watching the girl sleep for longer than she should. Allison Argent is comforting in a way that no one else quite gets. Allison makes Lydia feel both revered and included at the exact same time. Lydia can be the fearless leader and also the vulnerable sixteen-year-old, both at once, but only in the face of Allison’s half-asleep giggles.

She approaches the bed and kneels down beside it. “Hi.” She whispers, a breath across Allison’s nose and cheeks in the dark. She doesn’t mean to wake the other girl up necessarily, but figures that if it happens then so be it.

Allison blinks, bleary, but smiles big before she’s even certain who’s woken her. “Hey.” She says, smacking her lips, rolling her tongue, trying to make her mouth look like it’s more awake than the rest of her.

“Hey.” Lydia repeats, because she’s got nothing else.

“Are you okay?”

“I’m fine. I’m sorry I woke you.”

Allison half smirks and pulls half of her pillow up to hide half of her face. “You’re never sorry you woke me. What’s up?”

Lydia hesitates. “...I don’t know.”

Allison frowns seriously at this, as if she has any idea what Lydia is talking about. And she may be a savant with a bow and arrow but she’s as shit at catching subtext as Scott is and so Lydia understands that this is all about her now. If Allison knew what was actually going on her kind heart would overrule Lydia’s ego. But since she doesn’t, the only thing on her mind is the girl in front of her.

This is why Lydia came here. Not to talk anything out. Not to commiserate or strategize. But simply to have someone give her their undivided and unconditional attention.

Lydia sighs a little. “Would it be weird if I just wanted a hug right now?”

Allison’s frown turns into a grin. Physical affection she understands, and she immediately pulls Lydia into her on the bed. She wraps both long arms tightly around Lydia’s midsection from behind, hands linking in the soft flesh of Lydia’s stomach. She puts her chin on Lydia’s shoulder and hooks her knees around Lydia’s thighs, lanky calves tucking into the space between Lydia’s legs, as if Lydia were holding a child on her back instead of being engulfed by a girl who’s a full head taller than her.

“You’re like a freaking octopus. How many damn limbs do you have, Argent?” Lydia huffs, just to save face.

Allison breathes soft laughter into her neck in response.

There is a long, quiet moment that Lydia doesn’t ever want to leave.

“...Tell me what’s wrong.” Allison whispers.

Lydia closes her eyes. “I may have pushed Stiles into a sexual identity crisis.”

“Pushed?”

Shoved.”

Allison considers this. “Well, if he’s really freaking out about it then maybe that was a good thing? I mean, he wouldn’t be freaking out unless there was something to freak out over, right?”

“Somehow I doubt his therapist is going to be thanking me anytime soon.”

Allison pulls her in tighter, grip confidant and firm, like Lydia is her compound bow. “He’ll be alright.”

“He’s not speaking to me. And neither is Derek.”

“What did you do to Derek?”

“Nothing. But I think he finally put together the real reason why I went to see him the other day. He’s frustratingly perceptive like that.”

“And why did you go to see him?”

“To figure out if he was stealing Stiles from me or not.”

Allison bites back a chuckle. “I don’t think Stiles is really something that can be stolen, you know.”

Lydia frowns. “I know.”

“But... So is he? ‘Stealing’ him?”

“He was, but I don’t think he knew he was. And now that he does... I don’t know. Everything’s in pieces.”

“Everything’s fine.” Allison soothes. “This is a blip. You can’t keep beating yourself up every time the world doesn’t look exactly the way you think it should.”

“It’s called having vision.”

“It’s called having a neurosis, and you need to relax. I bet things will look better in the morning. Let’s just go to sleep, alright?”

Lydia makes a disgruntled noise. Allison coos at her and raises one hand up to stroke her hair.

Lydia twists and pivots so that she can lull her head back on the pillow enough to side-eye the other girl. “Argent, I don’t need a nanny. What are you doing?”

Allison smiles and acts like this is just more reason to nuzzle in. “I’m being comforting. And I’m not letting go of you until you get some sleep.”

Despite this promise, Allison passes out first. Lydia stares at her sleeping face in the dark for a long time and doesn’t untangle herself from the other girl’s limbs. She kisses the palm of Allison’s hand and when the alarm clock beside the bed goes off at six AM, she pretends to wake up with her.

Derek’s the first to get the fuck over it. But Lydia suspects this is at least half because he needed to get over it in order to call her out on her shit.

Derek’s a big fan of calling people out on their shit. It’s not his most flattering quality.

“You haven’t slept in weeks, have you?” He says, glowering at her from over top of a blue sedan in the high school parking lot. The other boys are all at lacrosse practice and Allison is making up a history test somewhere.

Lydia folds her arms across her chest and juts out her hip. “Oh, so we’re on speaking terms again now?”

“You didn’t answer my question.”

“And you didn’t answer any of my calls or texts all week. Consider us even.”

Derek growls and moves in on her. Lydia smirks. The whole death glare bit he does might have worked on her once but she’s got a death glare of her own now and it trumps Derek’s, hands down.

“I know what you’re doing.” He says, voice low and raw in a way that makes the wolf part of her jolt awake and snarl obscenities trying to get let out of its cage. “The sleep deprivation should have driven you mad or killed you by now. But your powers keep healing you, just enough to keep going, and you’re doing it on purpose. It’s not that you can’t sleep it’s that you won’t let yourself. If you think you’re fooling anyone, you’re mistaken.”

And okay, that’s enough of that.

Lydia surges forward, grabs Derek’s throat with one hand and presses him against the side of the nearest car. Her claws come out and they dig into his skin. “If you think you’re fooling anyone, Hale, than you’re the one who’s mistaken.”

Derek’s eyes flash but he doesn’t fight back. “I’ve got nothing to hide.”

Lydia scoffs. “You’re hiding everything. Look at you. Love sick over some scrawny teenage boy and you don’t even know it.”

Derek bares his teeth. “You’re delusional.”

“Then why didn’t you answer my calls?”

“I needed time to figure out the best way to confront you. You’re hurting yourself and thus hurting the pack. I was trying to come up with a battle plan.”

Lydia lets out a mean laugh. “Right. Because this conversation reeks of preparedness.”

Derek breathes in deeply through his nose several times in an attempt to calm himself. At last he says evenly, “Alright. I’ll make you a deal. The truth for the truth.”

Lydia hesitates even though she knows she shouldn’t. This is a good deal. This deal could save them all.

Or it could bring everything crashing down around her.

“...Alright.” She says. She retracts her claws and takes a step back. “But you first.”

Derek straightens, and for a moment he looks so uncomfortable it’s obscene. “I’ve avoided your calls because I needed time to gather my thoughts.”

“But they weren’t thoughts about me, were they?”

“No. Thoughts about Stiles. I’ve come to depend on him more than I should. This was a mistake, however unintentional, and I’m going to keep my distance from now on.”

Lydia cocks her head to the side and wonders what it must be like to see the world from so limited a foothold. Don’t these people have any imagination? “So you benched yourself for an entire week because you were worried that you were using up all of Stilinski’s laundry detergent and good graces? Come on, Hale. Leave the short bus position in the pack to Scott. I know you’re smarter than this.”

Derek’s hands clench into fists at his sides. “Not that it’s any of your business, Lydia, but yes. That’s exactly what I’ve been concerned with. I’ve been overstaying my welcome.”

Lydia parts her lips into a soft “oh” and stares at him. He’s several years older than her and several inches taller to boot, but she can’t help feeling suddenly a million light years ahead of him. And not just because she’s his Alpha. “Dear Lord. You’re not lying, are you? You really are worried that you’ve overstepped and that the only reason Stiles puts up with you is because you force him to. You think he only worries about you because you’ve given him no other choice.”

“I told you. I’m going to keep my distance.”

“Well what if I told you that the moron actually likes you?”

Derek frowns at her for a long moment. “I’m not sure I understand.”

Lydia rolls her eyes. “It’s simple math, Hale. You like him, he likes you, A plus B equals get the fuck over yourself already and tell him that you wanna play house.”

“Stiles has been useful to me. That doesn’t mean--“

“Ugh, listen to yourself, would you? Who was the last person you actually found ‘useful,’ huh? And more than that, who was the last person that ever told Stiles that he belonged in the ‘useful’ category? Derek, you guys fit. So just do whatever you’ve gotta do, alright? Braid each other’s hair. Bond over beers at a nudie bar. I don’t care. But stop playing coy. Own up to it. You’re a big boy, Hale. Own it.”

Derek exhales a long, loud breath. Then gives her a slight nod that seems to suggest he’ll at least think on it. “Fine. Now it’s your turn.”

Lydia steels herself. “You’re right. I haven’t slept. I... I’ve been busy.”

“You’re going to kill yourself.”

“I’ve been fine so far. Who are you to judge?”

“Lydia, listen to me. You are driving yourself into the ground and there are some things that eventually even your Alpha powers won’t bother with.”

Lydia bites her lip and hates herself for feeling suddenly vulnerable. “I’ve got it under control.” She lies.

Derek shakes his head at her. “I’ll own it if you own it. That seems fair, doesn’t it?”

It takes Lydia awhile, the beast in her chest raging forward against its chains with every beat of her heart, but finally she nods. This is a good compromise. Derek has always been fair.

“Fine. I promise to go to sleep the moment that you fix whatever’s broken in Stiles. He’s like a wind-up toy that doesn’t want to wind down.”

Derek offers her his hand. “Deal.”

Lydia shakes. Hopes she doesn’t regret it.

None of this is how she envisioned it.

She has to find out from Scott two days later that anything’s happened. Or about to happen. Same difference. He’s chugging Gatorade and fiddling with the netting on his Lacrosse stick as he tries to signal her with his eyebrows in the hallway.

Lydia scowls at him. “I may be your Alpha, McCall, but I’m not a mind reader. You trying to tell me something, Lassie? Is Timmy down another well?”

He chokes on the last of his drink and glares back at her. “I’m not sure sarcasm is the best way to win friends, Lydia.”

“And who says I want to be friends with you?”

She can see Scott put all of his energy into not shifting at that. He’s been a werewolf longer than everyone else in the pack save Derek, but he still struggles with it the most. Half the time Lydia feels sorry for him and the other half she wants to pull a Temple of Doom on his ass, see how long his heart will keep beating once she’s ripped it out of his chest with her bare hands.

It’s a damn good thing he’s cute.

“Look. All I wanted to say was that Stiles seems... better today. If you even care. I don’t know what happened and he’s not back to normal entirely yet but he actually smiled this morning for the first time in days and he even said he has plans tonight, so that’s probably a good sign.”

Lydia quirks an eyebrow and tries to appear nonchalant. “Plans?”

“Yeah, he didn’t go into detail. But I’m betting they’re a good thing? Maybe? I don’t know, I kind of stopped listening after a while, but he’s meeting someone later tonight and I just wanted to tell you that whatever’s been going on... I’m cool as long as he’s cool. Okay? I mean, I may fight this more than everyone else but I’m pretty simple when you get down to it. If Stiles is okay than I’m okay. So I just wanted to tell you that... I’m okay.”

Ugh, he’s such an earnest little puppy. Lydia can’t find it in her to mock him right now.

She thinks of Allison. She pretends that her arms are as long as the other girl’s are and she wraps them around Scott in an impromptu hug. “Thank you.” She says into his ear.

Scott flushes as she pulls away. Lydia winks at him, just because she can.

At the Stilinski place that evening, Lydia shamelessly listens in.

It’s not hard. Without even thinking about it she knows exactly the number of yards to put between herself and the house so that she can hear whatever happens inside of it but no one inside of it, werewolves included, can hear her.

“You know, if you ever...” She comes into the conversation on Stiles nervously swiveling back and forth in his desk chair with a varying squeak in its hinge depending on the direction. “Okay, I’m about to get serious for a moment here. Try not to faint. But you know you can stay here if you need to, right? Or if you don’t need to and just want to pretend that you do. That house of yours... It’s like making a home on a gravesite. A dilapidated gravesite. And that can’t be healthy, or comfortable. So if you need a place to crash, my bedroom floor has got a permanent neon vacancy sign on it, okay? Hell, everything in my life has got a vacancy sign on it. So have it, Hale. Mi casa y todo lo... son... etcetera etcetera. And if you want me to repeat that in French I might strangle myself.”

Lydia doesn’t so much hear as sense Derek’s hesitance. She can just picture him glowering over whatever is closest to him. A book. A discarded T-shirt. The most convenient exit.

But finally, softly, he says the words she least expects. “Thank you. I would like that.”

Stiles is just as surprised as Lydia is if the several seconds of subsequent silence are any indication. “...Uh. Okay. I’ll go grab you a pillow.”  He gets up from the chair to leave, but stops short so suddenly that Derek must have physically stopped him, putting himself between Stiles and the door.

“I mean that, Stiles. Thank you. I appreciate you trying to take care of everyone.”

Stiles’ voice is near trembling beneath the forced bravado. “Yeah well, lucky for me most everyone else has basically figured out how to take care of themselves by now. You’re the only sad sack in the group who seems to still need my help.”

“You don’t have to go out of your way. If it’s an inconvenience--”

“What? No! It’s totally cool, dude. Totally, completely, one hundred percent cool. I, uh, I like... uh... helping.” He clears his throat loudly. “I like helping you.”

There is the slightest rustling of movement. Lydia closes her eyes, because if she concentrates she can make it out, her enhanced hearing like a kind of supernatural sonar. If she focuses she can just see the scene. Stiles and Derek standing in the middle of Stiles’ bedroom. Derek’s hand on Stiles’ chest to keep him from leaving. That same hand moves up to rest on Stiles’ shoulder and gives it a gentle squeeze.

“I like it too.” Derek says. There’s a smirk in his tone. An affectionate teasing that he usually reserves for... well, for no one. There’s no one left in his life that he’s comfortable enough with to tease like that.

Now there is, Lydia realizes with a start.

“Why do I get the feeling you’re making fun of me right now?” Stiles does his own version of a scowl.

“Because you’ve got good instincts.”

“Oh ha ha. Does that sense of humor of yours come with a gift receipt?”

“Stiles.” Derek says.

Derek.” Stiles mocks.

“Shut up.”

And then Derek kisses him.

Stiles lets out a squeak, caught off guard, eyes probably as big as saucers as Derek pulls his face towards his own with a hand on the back of Stiles’ head.

Derek just keeps kissing him, though. Keeps holding Stiles’ head in place and their lips firmly together, like now that he’s finally gotten the kid to hold still for once he refuses to relinquish the right.

But then Stiles relaxes. Lydia can hear the shift in his clothing as his muscles unclench and he sinks into the kiss. Falls into it with a sort of slow gracelessness. He can’t even kiss someone back without being chaotically awkward about it. It’s like his body has never quite understood that the world around it won’t just shift and change with him as needed.

Derek shifts and changes with him as needed. Makes his own body a sponge to soak up each of Stiles’ movements and intentions. Those hard six-pack abs and hard jaw line and hard demeanor effortlessly bring this other body into him rather than against him. All of Derek’s chiseled lines and sharp edges become instantly malleable.

And Stiles digs in. He is all desperate, inexpert hands and premature rutting. He’s like some wild, trapped creature that sees now its escape from itself, and it’s straight through the body in front of him.

They shouldn’t work, Lydia thinks. This moment shouldn’t be happening. Derek is the immovable object and Stiles is the unstoppable force and they’ve been voiding each other out ever since they first met. They shouldn’t even physically be allowed to exist in the same universe. Eventually one of them was going to have to relent. And surprisingly, here, now, it’s Derek.

But hell, maybe they’ll take turns.

Stiles is the one to pull them down to the bed.

They bounce on the mattress, body parts colliding roughly with the impact, joints knocking together. But they don’t stop. They breathe hard breaths that are half oxygen and half the other person. They scratch and bite and suck and don’t speak a single word.

Stiles sends shaking, hungry hands beneath Derek’s shirt.

Derek lowers steady, decisive hands down to Stiles’ fly.

Stiles panics at that. He breaks away from the kiss, limbs flailing, startled noises echoing, and he’s about to ruin it, about to say something stupid... But Derek doesn’t let him.

It occurs to Lydia then that Derek’s been controlling the wolf part of himself since birth, so controlling Stiles’ more enthusiastic qualities, must come naturally. Which is good, because Lydia honestly can’t imagine a single other person who’d be able to even attempt the job.

So maybe she wasn’t just making it up as she went the other day. Maybe the two of them really do fit.

Derek kisses Stiles again, hard, not letting the boy break away. He swings one leg across both of Stiles’ legs to pin them to the bed and keep them from squirming. One of his hands continues slowly working at Stiles’ fly, but the other comes up and cradles the side of Stiles’ head, fingers spread wide to cover as much area as possible, fingertips pressed up into Stiles’ short hair.

He pulls away from the kiss just enough to whisper into Stiles’ mouth, the both of them panting against the others’ shallow breaths. “I was worried that I’d taken advantage of you.”

It’s the truth, but it’s such a ridiculous statement for Derek Hale to be saying aloud at all, but especially to Stiles Stilinski, that Stiles laughs. “Well if my dad walks in right now I'm sure he'd support you in that theory.”

Derek growls a little. “You know what I mean.”

“Yeah. And I’m deflecting because I don’t wanna have to call you an idiot to your face. You can’t be serious.”

“I didn’t want to be a burden.”

“How could you possibly-- Dude, you could never-- I’m the one who’s the burden. I’m the one who should be worried. You-- you can actually do something if it needs doing. All I’m good for is the occasional inappropriate joke and a decent Google search.”

Derek sighs and rubs the pad of his thumb lightly back and forth across Stiles’ cheekbone. “That’s not true.”

Stiles swallows, his lips brushing against Derek’s. They never move their mouths too far away, as if more comfortable speaking honestly when into skin and saliva rather than into the usual distance between them.

“...You can’t stand me.” Stiles whispers at last.

“You can’t stand me either.” Derek whispers back.

“Well then this all makes a ton of sense.”

“Just because you piss me off doesn’t mean I don’t appreciate you.”

“But... why? I’m practically useless compared to you. You... You look after everyone. You have since you got here. You look after me, even though you really don’t have to and have every reason not to... I can’t compete with that, dude.”

Derek presses a soft kiss onto Stiles’ upper lip. “We look after each other, Stiles. Just in different ways. Don’t think I haven’t noticed. You look after everyone too.”

He finally gets his hand inside Stiles’ jeans then and the noise that escapes Stiles almost makes even Lydia blush. Stiles bucks up into Derek and kisses him with a messy recklessness, his hands literally everywhere, like they can’t decide what part of Derek’s body is better. Like they don’t know which grip is going to keep him there longest.

They don’t dare pause again. Don’t dare even speak. And a heavy rightness settles over them that Lydia can feel from all the way out here and that neither can break away from now. They’ve been slotted together and welded tight and both seem to know this on one level or another. There’s no coming apart now without breaking something vital.

Lydia leaves before she has to hear either of them come. Not that the idea isn’t somewhat appealing, but she’s got a promise to keep after all. Her end of the deal to hold up.

And no idea how to do it.

She paces the empty street in front of the Argent’s house for about an hour. There’s no way she’ll ever fall asleep in her own bed, but the thought of admitting to Allison that she needs to be held in order to even have a shot at getting some rest... It feels like someone hollowed out her ribcage with an ice cream scoop.

Lydia does not do codependent. She does not do needing other people.

She doesn’t need any of them. They’re souvenirs, they’re trophies, they’re the living artifacts of all her planning. She keeps them close but she doesn’t ever let them keep her in return.

Another thirty minutes go by and she’s just about to head home and down a bottle of Nyquil--it won’t work but at least she can tell Derek she tried--when Allison appears in the doorway. “Hey.” She says.

Lydia jumps. It’s been a long time since anyone’s been able to startle her. She covers with an annoyed huff, like her distraction is all Allison’s fault. Which it kind of is. “Argent. What are you doing up?”

“Waiting for you.”

Lydia narrows her eyes. “Did Derek say something?”

“He may have mentioned that I should look out for you for the next few days. He says you haven’t been sleeping.”

“That snitch.”

“Is it true?”

“It’s... more true than not, I guess. I’m fine. But I promised him that I’d try to get some shut-eye tonight, so...”

“So you came here.”

“Try not to read too much into it. It was just... habit.”

“Okay.” Allison shrugs her dainty shoulders easily, as if this is all fine by her, no big deal.

Lydia swallows. “Okay.”

Upstairs, Lydia’s lower lip starts to tremble. She’s not even sure what terrifies her more, the idea of going to sleep for the first time in months, or the idea of actually needing someone else and being so damn naked about the fact.

Allison has no such qualms. She jumps onto the bed with the enthusiasm of a kid throwing herself into a bouncy castle, and then grabs Lydia’s wrists in her hands and pulls her in after.

Lydia tries to protest, to at least situate herself so that she feels more in control. But Allison grins into Lydia’s hair and spreads her fingers wide across Lydia’s midsection. She tsk’s, amused and loving, and traps Lydia’s feet with her own against the sheets like she’s trying to tack her down and make sure no single corner curls up.

Lydia relents and breathes a slow, soft sigh of relief. Because it is a relief. Even if she could rip Allison’s spine out through her chest with one hand and then abandon ship through the window in the space of a single second, it is such a fucking relief to let herself feel forced into this.

She can pretend that she’s stuck here, can pretend that Allison has somehow found a way to make her immobile. And this playacting will make everything easier. Of course she’ll go to sleep. What choice does she have?

“I love you.” Lydia whispers into the dark. If she’s going to be so exposed she might as well go all in.

Allison nuzzles her cheek against Lydia’s. Lydia feels like she’s the girl’s new kitten. “Aw. I love you, too.”

“But you also love Scott.”

A shrug. “I love a lot of people.”

“But you don’t sleep with a lot of people.”

Allison laughs, the sound echoing throughout her form and into Lydia’s. “No. I don’t. And, you know, I haven’t actually ‘slept’ with Scott yet.”

Lydia purses her lips. “Yet.

Allison laughs again and teases innocently, a fingertip trailing circles around Lydia’s bellybutton. “You jealous?”

“Yes.” Lydia says, leaving no room for misinterpretation. Fuck innuendo. Fuck subtext. She’s too fucking tired.

Allison stops laughing and swallows. “...Oh.”

Lydia yawns. There’s no space left in her to regret this or to feel embarrassed. “It doesn’t matter. I’m not here to do anything other than sleep.”

There is a very long quiet then, and Lydia is almost there. Almost to the point of unconsciousness. The point of finally letting go. When...

“I do love you.” Allison whispers. Her hands stop playing over Lydia’s skin and instead hold so still that they start to tremble with that stillness. She seems to be arguing with herself, and then she shakes her head and drops it so that her forehead rests on Lydia’s shoulder like she’s been defeated by her own mind.

Allison breathes in and out deeply three times, then says, as if she’s talking more to herself, “Do you ever feel like you can see your entire life laid out, whether you want to or not? I’m not talking about plans or dreams, but just... Like you already know how it’s all going to play, but you brush it off because if you didn’t, what would be the point?”

Lydia doesn’t respond. She doesn’t know how to.

“I know nothing’s set in stone.” Allison continues. “I don’t see it because any of the major decisions have already been made. But I know myself well enough to... I don’t know. I guess I just mean that sometimes I know that Scott and I won’t last past high school. And I love him, right now I really do love him, but I’m not upset about the idea of growing apart. It just seems inevitable.”

Lydia catches one of the girls wrists in her hand to stop it from shaking.

Allison sighs and keeps going. “And then sometimes I think about you. I think about the possibility of not being in your pack anymore, not being your friend, not waking up in the middle of the night because you came to see me... And that thought, that thought, is the one I can’t stand. That’s the part of my life that I can’t ever see ending. That I don’t want to see end.”

There’s a brief silence, and then Allison’s body relaxes and she moves her face into Lydia’s neck with a small smile, like this is any other night. Her tone is light. Inconsequential. “I’m sorry. I don’t know what that means. If it means anything. But there it is.”

Lydia wants to say she can’t help what happens next. But that’s not true. Lydia can always help it.

She turns over inside the circle of Allison’s arms until they’re facing each other and she kisses her.

She doesn’t give Allison the chance to protest or pull away. She assumes Allison will, and of course she’ll let her, but if she’s quick enough she can delay that moment a bit.

And so the instant that Lydia’s lips are on the other girl’s, she also has her hand in between Allison’s legs, fingers pressing up through pajama shorts to rub roughly at that warm place that makes Allison’s toes curl against Lydia’s calves. Lydia’s other hand shoves under Allison’s tank top and cups her small breast.

It’s all so sudden and rough and not at all how she would have liked it. But Lydia’s not going to let this moment pass without going for broke. What should have been, in a perfect world, an innocent, hesitant peck on the lips that would slowly lead to more, is instead ragged groping and harsh touches. She knows the firmness of her lips could bruise. The finger at Allison’s crotch tears through fabric with an easy claw that retracts the moment it reaches wet. The hand on Allison’s breast grips until it’ll leave finger-shaped marks.

Lydia immediately regrets it, but keeps going. Loves it through the regret. Possibly even more because of the regret. When she looks back on it later maybe she’ll be able to tell herself that it was her fault for going too fast and not just the fault of circumstance and youth. A falling out between her and Allison will be easier to swallow if Lydia can blame the solid reality that is herself and not the vague and unknown Rube Goldberg Device that is the universe.

For one quick second, so quick it will be entirely too easy for Allison to deny later--and Lydia will let her, but she’ll know, she’ll know it was real--for one brief instant, Allison kisses her back.

Then Allison pulls her head back, though she doesn’t actually move her body away. She doesn’t even say anything, just gives Lydia a stern look.

Lydia stops.

“I’m sorry.” She says. She’s not sorry, but she understands that an apology is warranted here.

“No you’re not.” It’s possible Allison knows her too well.

“No. I’m not. Not for kissing you. But I am sorry if you hate me now.”

Allison hugs her. Draws her in close and pulls Lydia’s face into her throat. “I don’t hate you. I... I don’t know what I think. But you probably shouldn’t do that again.”

“Okay.”

Allison smirks and presses a chaste kiss onto Lydia’s forehead. “Liar.” She whispers. “Now go to sleep.”

So Lydia sleeps.

She sleeps for two whole days. When she wakes up, sometime in the afternoon on day three, Allison is still with her, doing her English homework, her legs thrown casually across Lydia’s waist like she’s afraid Lydia will float away if she doesn’t hold her down at all times.

Lydia thinks vaguely that she just might, and is grateful for the anchor.

There is no “normal” for things to go back to, but Lydia thinks there might be a “better” that they’ve all gotten one step closer to hitting.

That doesn’t mean it’s not a struggle at school the next day to come to terms with everything.

The first time Lydia sees the bite marks on Stiles, the wolf part of her kicks in so severely, so instantaneously, that she has to pull herself into the nearest girls room to avoid a scene.

Someone’s written their name all over what’s hers.

She breathes deeply several times, in through her nose and out through her mouth, trying to get her bearings. Eventually she’s able to look at herself in the bathroom mirror and not see red. She stares at her reflection and silently reminds it that this is a good thing. Derek may have stolen her “chew toy,” but both he and Stiles are still safely tucked inside Lydia’s collection and aren’t going anywhere.

Lydia still keeps them, keeps all of them, in a tight space inside her chest. What they choose to do within that space is of no concern to her. Not really. As long as they stay where she put them.

“Rough Lacrosse practice.” She teases Stiles later, brushing a fingertip over where a bruise in the shape of teeth peeks out of his shirt collar.

Stiles flushes but fakes a familiar cockiness. “If you honestly can’t smell on me what that is then I’ve got some serious concerns about the future of this pack.”

Lydia smirks. “Lucky for you, Stiliniski, I’m the only one who can. I mean you absolutely reek of sex and werewolf, but Scott and Jackson can barely tell a locker room from a bakery.”

I do not reek of sex.” Stiles grumbles, embarrassed.

“Stiles, I could smell you from across the building. It’s like you showered in Derek Hale musk.”

Stiles looks momentarily horrified, but Lydia chucks him gently under the chin. “Ah, don’t worry, Sport. I kinda like it. Hell, if you’re ever into the idea of a third party voyeurism type of deal...”

Stiles makes a disturbed face. Then an intrigued face. Then a disturbed one again.

Lydia laughs. “Calm down, I’m kidding. You are way too easy.”

Stiles tries to brush it off, though it’s obvious the idea’s probably going to haunt him for a little while. “So, you’re not still...” He makes an awkward hand gesture and then grabs the back of his neck. “You know. Territorial?”

Lydia smiles kindly at him, and it’s the sincerest smile she’s given him since that moment at the formal when she realized he wasn’t just some loser with a crush. “No, I am. I really really am, Stiles.”

“...But?”

“But I’m learning how to share. Just don’t tell Derek I said that. I don’t think he’d like the idea that you’re as much in my pocket as his.”

“I’m not in anyone’s pocket.” Stiles argues, petulant, but he’s grinning. “And if I were, I’d be in his. I’m not the town bike. This body ain’t communal, babe.”

Lydia shakes her head at him and pushes him towards his next class. He stumbles with the force of it, then rights himself into a jog and keeps going, tossing another grin back at her on his way.

And Lydia feels suddenly certain that behind all his arguments and jokes, Stiles gets it. Gets that there are an infinite number of ways to love a person, and they’re all equally valid. Even all at once. She’s not his mother and she’s not his sister and she’s not his lover... But that doesn’t mean she can’t keep him.

There’s a place for her in his life just as much as she’s hollowed out a place for him in hers. Just as much as she’s hollowed out a place for Allison, and for Derek, and for Jackson and Scott.

It occurs to Lydia then that maybe she’s let herself get collected up right along with the rest of them and didn’t even know it. That maybe she now keeps herself locked up tight in the very same space that she keeps the others, all precisely organized and fiercely protected. And there is no way anyone outside of those steel-enforced, booby-trapped walls will ever get in at what’s hers.

Will ever get in at her.

No one. Not ever.

Of course, what she didn’t count on was the inside job.