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They’re sprinting down the hallway, trying to outrun catastrophe. Lydia feels everything crumbling in on itself, disaster like a boulder careening down a hill. The crash hasn’t happened yet, but it’s coming.

Then Stiles calls her name, collapsing against the wall, and if Lydia doesn’t do something right now someone is going to die. Time slows. Lydia closes her eyes, frantic and desperate. She doesn’t know what she can do and there’s been no time to learn but if Lydia has supernatural powers they have to be good for something more than sounding a glorified death-knell.

Lydia squeezes her eyes closed even tighter, until the darkness behind her eyelids whites out. When she opens them again she’s standing in a circle of light, surrounded by darkness. Or, not quite darkness. When Lydia looks closer she can see the fine shimmer of a thousand tiny threads, crisscrossing into the darkness like an infinitely elaborate cats’ cradle. Lydia takes a hesitant step to the edge of her circle of light. After the yarn on Stiles’ walls, she’s not eager to pluck another string, but time is short and she can feel the press of death like a weight on her shoulders.

Lydia reaches out and touches one of the strings. Just the lightest brush of her finger, but it’s enough. In the time it takes her to gasp and jerk her hand away, she’s seen a whole, desolate future laid out in front of her. It’s Allison. Maybe others as well, but Allison for sure. If that’s the future, Allison is not in it.

Her heart still pounding, Lydia reaches for another string, and jerks back from that one as well, the emptiness of that future-vision echoing in her head – different from the first but just as devastating. Lydia looks around in horror – there must be thousands, millions of strings, and there’s no time…

Lydia squares her jaw, braces herself, and starts plucking strings.

There is a world in which Lydia screams Allison’s name and feels part of her soul die with the echoes of her voice. In that world Lydia clings to an unconscious, wounded friend and sobs for the girl who left her behind.

There is another world where a small nudge to the fabric and ley-lines of reality results in Chris Argent arriving five minutes earlier, in time to see the danger, and get between Allison and the Oni’s blade. In that world, Chris Argent bleeds out on the flagstones and Allison loses the only family she had left.

In one iteration of this world, Allison is pale and silent for months. She comes back to life slowly and incomplete. After the funeral, she takes off, her lips tight, new darkness in her eyes. She takes Lydia with her, and Lydia goes willingly, guilt-wracked but not guilty enough to want to take it back.

That’s a bad world, but not as bad as the one where Allison realizes that Lydia made a choice, traded Chris for Allison. In that world when Allison leaves, she leaves alone, and the last thing she says to Lydia, in the flat, eerie tones of the not-quite-sane, is that if she ever sees Lydia again she’ll kill her.

Lydia flinches away from those futures, but even those are not as bad as the futures where Allison dies. Lydia keeps looking. She rips through the endless permutations, no time for finesse, or even to stop to think about what she’s doing. Searching for an acceptable alternative to an impending reality.

Lydia can hear herself panting, the sound of her breath and her heartbeat in her ears the only noise in this strange, surreal limbo. She’s running out of time. She knows she has been given an opportunity here, and without knowing how she knows, she is bone-deep certain that she can pick her future, but only if she picks one quickly. Lydia hits out with both hands, spinning, her fingers grazing the strings, each potential future jolting through her and leaving tingling, shooting echoes of pain it its wake.

And suddenly she’s out of time. Lydia reaches out, blind and desperate, and thinks, not Allison, not Allison, no deaths, not Allison, and when her fingers brush a string that vibrates with pain, but has only a nebulous feel of death – lurking, but uncertain, she latches on and throws herself into it.

 

* **

The courtyard is eerie-shock-silent. Muffled, like everything is underwater. Lydia watches, helpless, as an Oni runs Allison through with its sword. Watches as Allison stands, stricken, as Scott races to her side to catch her as she falls, as blood bubbles from Allison’s lips when she tries to talk. Lydia can see Scott saying something, sees Allison’s faint nod of acquiescence, and the desperation on Scott’s face when he sinks his fangs into her skin.

Lydia can’t hear what he’s saying, but she doesn’t have to. It’s the same chant thrumming through every molecule of Lydia’s being: hold on, hold on, hold on…

* **

 

Lydia opens her eyes, the vision of the courtyard, the strings and the endless web of futures a hazy, fading image at the back of her brain. She’s back in the passageway with Stiles, and she can feel Allison dying, knows who it is even with yards and yards of cold, dank, concrete tunneling between them. She feels her lungs expand, feels the scream clawing at her throat to get out. Stiles is slumped against the wall, unconscious and too pale and Lydia can feel the hint of a scream gathering itself for him too. Lydia holds her breath and forces the scream down, keeps it locked deep in her throat. She can’t let it out – if she screams it will mean Allison is gone.

Lydia presses her forehead against Stiles’ shoulder, digging her fingernails into her palms until she can feel the blood dripping onto the slimy tunnel floor. The scream is like a living thing now, a monstrous, implacable force threatening to rip out of Lydia and tear Allison away with it. It hurts, but losing Allison will hurt more, so Lydia fights. She feels the scream building, clenches her fists tighter and marshals all her pain and terror and anger and love and everything the Nogitsune said it was feeding off of and channels it like a laser, pushing the scream back.

No, she thinks. No. I won’t let you.

Next to her, Stiles stirs and his eyelids flutter open.

“Lydia?”

Lydia buries her face against his neck and shakes her head. If she opens her mouth the scream will get out.

“Lydia, what’s going on?”

Lydia draws back and presses one bloody fist to her mouth, her teeth clenched so hard it hurts.

“It’s, oh god, you’re – you’re going to scream aren’t you. Someone’s dead. Dying. Someone’s dying.”

Lydia shakes her head in violent negation. Allison is not going to die and Lydia is not going to scream. If it kills her she is Not. Going. To scream.

“Is it – is it Scott?”

Lydia shakes her head.

“Allison. It’s Allison.”

Lydia nods. Stiles still looks like death. His skin is white as cracked ice – the liveliest thing about him right now are his eyes, which are so familiar and so Stiles after the dead-eyed Nogitsune Lydia could cry. It is selfish, and unfair to ask anything of him right now; Stiles is dangerously weak, and Lydia knows asking anything more of him might very well kill him, but Lydia does it anyway. Lydia keeps her teeth clenched tight and barely moves her lips as she says, “Help me.”

Lydia watches as Stiles’ eyes go from her face to the blood dripping from her clenched fists. She can see him coming to the decision she knew he would reach even before he nods.

“Okay,” he says. “No one else is dying on my account.”

Lydia can’t speak, but she tries to make her eyes speak her gratitude for her. Stiles seems to understand because he gives her a flicker of a smile, then he reaches up and wraps both of his hands around one of hers, his fingers freezing against her own. He takes a deep breath, and closes his eyes.

“Time,” Stiles whispers, “Scott can save her, we just need some time. Hold on. Hold on hold on hold on…”

Lydia feels the pressure ease, just an incremental amount, but there’s two of them fighting it now. It will have to be enough.

“Hold on,” Stiles is saying, and Lydia chants along with him in the shrieking silence of her mind, writing the words across the darkness behind her eyelids, until her whole world narrows to that single, uncompromising goal: Not yet, hold on.

When Scott and Kira find them, Stiles is unconscious again, barely breathing, his long fingers still wrapped around one of Lydia’s fists. Lydia is clinging to him, only semi-conscious herself. Scott touches her shoulder, but Lydia hardly feels it, just huddles closer to Stiles, hearing herself murmuring, as though observing a far-away dream-Lydia, Hold on hold on hold on, not yet, not now, hold on hold on hold on…

“Lydia,” Kira’s voice, wavering, uncertain, “Lydia you can let go now, she’s okay. Allison’s going to be okay.”

Not yet, not yet, not yet…

“Shit!” Scott’s voice now, “We’re losing Stiles. Kira, help Lydia, I’ve got Stiles. Get Lydia out of here.”

Lydia feels Kira tug her to her feet. She watches blearily as Scott lifts Stiles in his arms, carrying him like a child. One of Kira’s arms is around Lydia’s waist, slender but steady as she half-drags, half-carries Lydia towards the surface.

When they reach the open air, Lydia looks around and sees Allison. Chris Argent is holding her and Isaac is drawing out her pain with both hands wrapped around one of her arms. Allison turns her head when they enter the courtyard and when her eyes meet Lydia’s they flash gold.

“Not yet,” Lydia croaks, and then she passes out.

 

***

 

When Lydia wakes up she’s sharing a semi-private hospital room with Stiles; she can only assume Melissa pulled some strings. Stiles is laid up in the bed next to hers. He’s still too pale, but he’s awake, dark eyes watching her.

“Allison’s fine,” he tells her, when she’s focused enough to catch his gaze. “Everyone is still alive. I don’t know how you did it, but you did it.”

“We did it,” Lydia says, or tries to say. Her voice comes out a hideous rasp. Her throat feels scraped raw, even though she doesn’t remember screaming. Her whole body hurts, actually; she feels like she’s been turned inside out, put through a wringer and then inexpertly put back together. Lydia winces and presses on anyway. “That could have killed you.”

Stiles shrugs as well as he can while flat on his back. “Could have killed you too.”

“Thank you,” Lydia says, and she’s never meant those two words more sincerely in her life. She couldn’t have done it without him.

“Hey, my mess. I had to try.”

 

***

 

Lydia and Stiles are sidelined for the rest of the cleanup. The Nogitsune has demonstrated a clear interest in both Lydia and Stiles, as well as a tendency to go for the throat, so Melissa McCall gets sent to sit with the invalids, while Allison guards the door with a quiver full of silver-headed arrows and a new array of senses alert for danger. Chris Argent raids his armory and spends the day after Allison almost died making silver bullets, which he shares with the Sheriff. Everyone else gets silver knives pilfered from Melissa McCall’s grandmother’s silverware and hastily sharpened. Lydia’s hands are bandaged and useless from where her nails pierced nearly to the bone, but Stiles sits next to her, fiddling with his set of knives, his expression haunted. It’s a last line of defense which is thankfully not necessary – once they have a working weapon, Mr. Argent, the Sheriff and the pack are pretty effective at implementation.

 

***

 

It takes three months for Lydia to get her voice back. She gets a lot of migraines and spends much of her time seeking out small, darkened rooms. She drinks a lot of tea, with lemon and honey, which helps a little. She tries to avoid strings and anything else that reverberates, which, as it turns out, is most things. It’s not just her throat that’s scraped raw – she feels like she’s been burned out from the inside, the hollow shell of a gutted house. Deaton says it’s magical backlash.

The werewolves take care to lay a hand on her shoulder, her arm, her knee, drawing some of it off whenever she sees them. Allison is the only one of them who can’t do it. Whenever she touches Lydia, Lydia feels the phantom pain of a sword piercing her body. The first time it happens Lydia shrieks in surprise and pain, the sound tearing at her throat. Allison goes white and yanks her hand away. For a moment they just stare at each other, then Lydia clears her throat, presses one hand against her stomach, the other to her throat and whispers, “I felt…it felt like I’d been stabbed.”

“Oh. Oh my god. Do you think – is it because…”

Lydia shakes her head. “All the stories say magic comes with a price.”

“Will it get better?”

“I don’t know.”

Allison starts wearing gloves, and making a lot of tea. Lydia does what she does best; she starts reading.

 

***

 

Lydia spends hours, days, weeks, reading everything she can find. She camps out at Deaton’s clinic and goes through every old book he has, trying not to notice the looks Scott sometimes sends her way when he thinks she’s not paying attention. She scours the internet, the library, she even asks Peter Hale for guidance, but she comes up empty. The best Deaton can offer is his “magical backlash” theory, so Lydia presses her lips together and thinks, fine, and goes back to what she knows best: science.

Lydia figures magic is just like anything else – if you don’t have the information you need, you find a field that does and reason by analogy. This is an injury, of a sort. Supernatural, but still.

“So, you can’t…touch her?” Melissa McCall is taken aback when Lydia explains her problem.

Melissa tries to hide it, but she is afraid of the banshee, Lydia can see it in her eyes and her body language. The werewolves are at least a known quantity, and Kira and Malia are the same category of accepted supernatural. Lydia, though – no one knows exactly what she is capable of doing, including Lydia.

Lydia shakes her head. It’s still painful to talk, so Lydia keeps her voice as low as possible. “Whenever her skin touches mine I feel what she felt when the Oni stabbed her.”

“Oh, god, that’s awful,” Melissa says, then frowns. “Any idea why?”

“Deaton says magical backlash. Something to do with repercussions for,” Lydia hesitates, reroutes away from changed the future. “She would have died. I felt her dying and I wanted to scream. If I had screamed, she would have died, but I didn't.” Lydia suppresses a wince at the expression Melissa isn’t fast enough to hide. “I think there’s a price to pay, for…doing something like that.”

“And you want to know if it will get better.”

“I want to know how to fix it,” Lydia corrects. “I can’t find anything in the books on magic, I thought maybe something in medicine could be helpful. Magical healing by analogy.”

“I see. Well, if you’re right, and magical…injuries… are like physical ones, it might just go away on its own.”

“It’s not.” Lydia says. “It’s been six weeks and it’s not going away.”

Melissa absorbs that, thinking. “Well, it might just take more time than you’ve given it. But maybe…maybe it just takes getting used to.”

Melissa McCall is a professional, an adult, and Scott’s mother, so Lydia forces herself not to glare. “I don’t think I’ll ever get used to feeling like I’ve been stabbed through the stomach.”

“No no, not like that. I meant like…building up a tolerance. The human body can acquire a tolerance for all sorts of things, if appropriately acclimated. Drugs, exercise, temperatures…”

“Building a tolerance,” Lydia repeats slowly, making a face. “Sounds like fun.”

Melissa shrugs, and if there’s still fear in her eyes, Lydia sees sympathy there as well. “That’s the best I can think of, but I’ll let you know if I come up with anything else.”

“No, you’ve been very helpful,” Lydia assures her, “Thank you.”

Lydia turns to go, but Melissa’s voice stops her.

“Lydia.”

“Yes?”

“Sometimes people don’t acclimate. Sometimes they develop allergies.”

Lydia grimaces. “Thanks,” she says. “I’ll keep that in mind.”

 

Lydia spends another week reading up on acquiring tolerances. On drugs and exercise regimens and other forms of acclimation, and they all point in the same direction. When you step into a hot tub, it’s scalding at first, but then you adjust. If you want to run a marathon, you start with a 5k. Lydia thinks she can work with this.

 

Allison requires some persuasion. Quite a lot of persuasion, actually.

“Lydia, it physically hurts you to touch me, I’m not going to keep doing it until you ‘build up a tolerance.’ That’s stupid.

“It’s not stupid,” Lydia retorts, tossing her hair, trying to cover her nerves. “It’s science.”

Allison gives her a look of deep skepticism. “I know you’re a genius, but I also know that you are making that up. It’s not science, it’s magic.”

“Everything has rules, magic is no exception. I’m not going to spend the rest of my life with a, a gaping magical wound.

“I don’t know…”

“It doesn’t hurt you to touch me, does it?”

“No, but, Lydia –”

“Then it’s my call,” Lydia says, holding out her hand, “and I want to try it.”

Allison is reluctant, but eventually she caves and reaches out to brush her fingers across Lydia’s. Lydia is prepared, so she doesn’t scream, but she does jerk her hand away, breathing hard, while Allison sits across from her, twisting her fingers together as she waits for Lydia to recover.

“This is a bad idea,” she says, when Lydia has regained her breath, but Lydia shakes her head.

“Again,” Lydia says. Allison hesitates, wavering, and Lydia hardens her voice, makes it a command. “Again!”

When Allison reaches out Lydia meets her partway, catching Allison’s hand in hers and holding on, her fingers tightening convulsively. Lydia maintains the connection for a full three seconds before she pulls away again.

Released, Allison puts her hands behind her back and watches Lydia with concern. Lydia takes a few deep breaths, and then looks up, forcing a smile, to meet Allison’s eyes.

“It’s working,” she says. “It wasn’t as bad the second time. We can beat this.”

It’s a lie, but Lydia is hoping it won’t be for long.

“Are you sure?”

“I’m sure.”

The doubtful expression on Allison’s face eases. Lydia sees a spark of hope and presses her advantage. “We can take it slow. Just a little at a time. I think Melissa was right, I just need…to build up a tolerance. Or maybe it’s like a battery, and each time it gets a little less powerful until –”

“Until it’s depleted.”

“Yes, exactly.”

“Let’s hope it doesn’t recharge, then.”

Lydia winces. “Hopefully not unless I do something else like…what I did before. We’ll see.”

 

It takes several weeks, and it’s hard on both of them, but Lydia’s theory bears out. On prolonged exposure the pain of contact decreases by degrees until it’s just a dull ache, then a tingle, then an itch, and finally, nothing. Allison stops wearing her gloves, but she still makes tea whenever she’s anxious or at loose ends.

 

***

 

When she’s not with Allison, Lydia spends a lot of time with Stiles. Stiles still isn’t sleeping well – he says he doesn’t trust himself, doesn’t want to wake up with more blood on his hands. When everything hurts and nothing makes it better Lydia asks herself if she’d trade for the bags under Stiles’ eyes, the way he jumps at shadows and watches everyone like they might disappear any moment.

Stiles carries no grudges, but Scott watches her with wary eyes. The accumulation of deaths and near misses has changed him. Boyd and Erica were hard, but nearly losing Stiles and Allison, on the same day, has shaken Scott badly. Scott knows what Lydia did, and what she asked of Stiles, even knowing it might have killed him. When Scott looks at Lydia now she can see in his eyes that his trust in her is tempered, categorized. With Allison, Lydia can be trusted implicitly, but not with Stiles. It is an uncomfortable truth that when it came down to it, Lydia was willing to risk Stiles to save Allison.

“I wanted to,” Stiles tells her with a shrug, when she asks him about it. “I knew what I was doing, and I wanted to. We were on the same page, don’t worry about it.”

Stiles has guilt too. Lydia sees it in the pauses between his words, the darkness in his eyes when she catches him staring into the middle-distance. Lydia understands; she has her own guilt. Stiles’ guilt is for actions taken when he was not in control, for what he was made to do and powerless to stop. Lydia’s guilt is more personal in some ways, because there is nothing and no one to hide behind; her choices were hers alone.

“Scott looks at me sometimes like he thinks I’m going to push you off a cliff,” Lydia confesses once, and she wants to be hurt but she’s not sure Scott’s wrong. She had pressed for more when Stiles had next to nothing left to give; she could easily have drained him dry.

“You had options, you had to make a choice. The more power you have, the more difficult the choices you have to make.”

“With great power comes great responsibility?”

“Hey, yeah!” Stiles says, his face lighting up in a grin, and Lydia sniffs.

“Don’t look so surprised, I read.”

“You really are my dream girl,” Stiles tells her, lips quirking in a fond smile, but there’s no weight behind it.

Lydia smiles back, “Careful, werewolf hearing.”

“Psssh, Derek’s at the loft.”

“Speaking of,” Lydia says, serious again, “Do I need to worry about Derek?”

“Nah,” Stiles says, then pauses. “At least, not unless you do push me off a cliff. Then I’d worry.”

“Good to know,” Lydia says, and makes a mental note to keep an eye on Derek anyway.

 

***

 

While Lydia is healing, Allison is coming to terms with her new identity.

“You need an anchor,” Scott tells her, and Allison looks over at Lydia.

“No.” Scott and Lydia shake their heads at the same time.

“Not Lydia.” Scott says. “It can’t be Lydia.”

“No one is permanent,” Lydia tells her, “It can’t be a person.”

“I learned this the hard way, Allison. It has to be something else, something internal. You have to be your own anchor.”

Allison sighs in frustration. “I don’t even know who I am anymore, how can I be my own anchor?”

Scott looks sympathetic, but says nothing. Lydia narrows her eyes and says, “Don’t be stupid Allison, you know who you are. You’re the girl who risks her life for her friends. You’re a fighter. Being a werewolf doesn’t change who you are, it’s just another set of tools. You’re the bridge, Allison.”

“Hunter and werewolf,” Scott is nodding. “She’s right, Allison. You know who you are, you just need to learn control, like any other skill.”

Allison looks back and forth between them, uncertainty morphing into determination, and nods. “Control. I can do that.”

“Good,” Scott says, grinning. “We’ll help. You can spar with me and the rest of the pack, and we’ll make sure you don’t lose control the first couple of full moons. You’ll get the hang of it.”

 

Allison does get the hang of it, but in the end it’s still too much.

Allison is now both a hunter and a werewolf, and she’s not prepared to be anyone’s beta. Scott makes his own path, and he’s never been interested in doing things any way but his own, but the dynamics have all changed and it’s just…too strange.

“Guess you’re really part of my pack now,” Scott had said, the day after he turned Allison. It was an awkward comment, and it fell flat. Allison was pack before he bit her, just as Stiles and Lydia were pack. But there was an extra weight to it now, and Allison winced.

“I’m sorry,” Scott said at once, “I didn’t…I’m just not sure what to say. I know you didn’t really want this, I just –”

“It was the only way,” Allison told him. “It’s not your fault. I asked you to. It’s just…weird. You know?”

“I know,” Scott said. “Believe me, I know. Are you okay?”

“I don’t know. I’ll be fine, I think. I think I just need time to adjust.”

“Whatever you need,” Scott had told her, with his easy, affectionate smile. “We’re all here for you.”

 

But Allison doesn’t adjust. She learns to control the wolf, of course, but she and Scott start fighting. Little things, mostly. While it’s true that Allison has always been part of Scott’s pack, her role has changed and now she’s constantly just a little off-balance. Before she was an attaché, an independent contractor. She had been of the pack, but not subject to it, and all her loyalties were hers to give or withhold freely. Scott has never been interested in throwing his weight around as the Alpha, but it doesn’t matter. Werewolf biology isn’t necessarily determinative – Scott proved that when he attained Alpha status on sheer willpower – but just because the instincts towards pack hierarchy can be overcome doesn’t mean they aren’t still present.

If there’s anything Allison hates it’s not being in control, and the whole thing puts her on edge. The added stress of occupying conflicting roles in the shadow of the Argent family name and history (both recent and ancient) doesn’t help.

 

Six months after the Nogitsune, Allison and Scott have an argument about Lydia. Lydia has always been Allison’s, first and foremost, and it’s a recurring point of contention. The argument is nothing that hasn’t happened before, but this time it ends badly. There’s a shapeshifter in town and since something about Stiles and his spark means that he’s the only one it can’t mimic, Stiles is central to the plan he and Lydia come up with. Like most of their plans, this one is dangerous. It involves Stiles essentially acting as bait for this latest iteration of supernatural serial-killer. Stiles and Lydia swear up and down that they have taken all the risk factors into account andthat the plan is solid.

Scott and Derek disagree and are adamantly opposed to the whole idea. Lydia and Stiles argue their case, while Allison, Isaac, and Kira try to stay out of it. Or, Allison stays out of it until Derek glares at Lydia and says, “Just because you’re willing to sacrifice Stiles doesn’t mean the rest of us are.”

Lydia feels herself go white, then red, and takes a deep breath, but before she can respond Allison is up off the couch and standing at Lydia’s side, her expression steely.

“Watch it, Derek.”

“Hey,” Stiles says, holding up both hands in a placating gesture, “Come on you guys, calm down. We came up with this together.”

“I’m not being careless with Stiles’ life,” Lydia snaps, but her mouth is dry and she has to clench her fingers in the fabric of her skirt to hide the tremors. Next to her, Allison shifts to stand a little closer, and Lydia plows ahead. “Every time we face a threat there’s a risk, we all know that. This is the lowest-risk plan.”

“No, but Derek has a point,” Scott says, looking from Lydia to Stiles. “It’s not that I don’t trust your intentions, Lydia, it’s just…”

“It’s just you’re willing to tolerate more risk than we are,” Derek finishes, crossing his arms.

“That’s not fair,” Stiles says, “Also, I’m sitting right here.

Scott gives Stiles a sympathetic look. “No offense Stiles, but we don’t exactly trust your judgment either.”

“That’s stupid,” Stiles says, “Like any of you are any better!”

“Stiles can make his own decisions,” Allison says, “we all do, every day. And if Lydia says this plan has the best odds of success, then this plan has the best odds of success!”

“Only if she’s weighing her variables right,” Derek points out.

Scott waves at Derek to back off and tries again. “It’s just the last time Lydia was making the plans she – ”

“She what?” Allison’s voice is arctic cold, “Last time Lydia was making the plans she what?”

Scott looks away for a moment, then back at Allison. “She nearly got Stiles killed.”

“Lydia and Stiles nearly got themselves killed.”

“Yes, but it was Lydia’s idea. Her call. Just because Stiles has an occasional deathwish doesn’t mean we should indulge him!”

“And?” Allison’s whole body is tensed, her anger backed with werewolf instincts and hunter training. She looks lethal.

“And…” Scott hesitates, “Sometimes it’s just hard to be certain where her priorities are.”

Allison snarls at Scott and Scott flashes his eyes back at her. For a moment, Allison cringes, and Derek and Isaac both hunch their shoulders against the instinctive impulse to defer to Alpha authority. Then Scott realizes what he’s done and his eyes dull to their normal brown. Allison straightens up and Lydia lets out the breath she’d been holding.

“Allison…”

“I can’t,” Allison says. “I can’t do this. I was trained to be a leader, I can’t be controlled by this stupid werewolf pecking order BS. I just can’t.”

“Allison, wait – ”

Lydia feels Allison’s hand slide down her arm to grip her hand, tugging Lydia to her feet. Allison stopped wearing gloves a month ago when the last aftereffects of re-weaving reality faded away, and her fingers are icy against Lydia’s. “We’re taking a walk,” Allison says, “Don’t try to follow us. We’ll be in touch.”

Lydia reaches out and gives Stiles’ shoulder a squeeze, and then follows Allison out of the room.

 

* * *

 

After a few hours Stiles talks Scott and Derek around and everyone comes back together to deal with the shapeshifter, but the damage has been done.

Lydia spends the night at Allison’s place; it’s become something of a regular occurrence. When the lights are out, Allison rolls over to face Lydia and says, “I can’t stay here.”

Lydia leans forward, closing the few inches between them and kisses Allison. “I know. I’m coming with you.”

 

Allison and Lydia stay just long enough to make travel plans. Chris arranges for a school transfer – a good school, one with honors programs in science and math – and they relocate to just outside San Francisco. Lydia tells her mother – who remains blissfully unaware of the supernatural presence in Beacon Hills – she’s been accepted to a prestigious college prep program and they take off.

It’s bittersweet. Allison still talks to Scott on the phone all the time, and Stiles and Lydia email and text. They still communicate, and trade resources and ideas and help each other strategize. They even head back to Beacon Hills whenever something extreme happens and the old crew needs more firepower, but for the most part they stay away.

 

Lydia gets into every school she applies to, of course. She thinks hard about MIT, but she likes California, and anyway, Allison got in to Berkeley on an archery scholarship and Berkeley hasactually produced more Fields Medals than MIT.

Lydia misses being the first woman to win the Fields Medal, but only because Maryam Mirzakhani at Stanford beats her to it in 2014. Lydia cultivates mentors (including Ms. Mirzakhani, via email and a summer internship) and compensates by being the youngest person to win the award at twenty-three.

In a show of solidarity and support, the whole pack flies down to Rio to attend the awards ceremony. Lydia can’t see them in the dark of the conference room audience seating, but she knows they’re there. When they call her name, Lydia steps out on stage, blinded by the flash of cameras. She accepts her medal graciously, spots in her vision, and gives the speech she’d practiced with Allison in the days before the ceremony.

“Lydia Martin, you’re a frickin’ genius,” Stiles says, raising a glass of sparkling wine at the after party. “I knew you’d do it.”

Lydia smirks and touches her glass to his. “I told you I would.”

“So, what’s next?” Kira asks.

Lydia exchanges glances with Allison, who says, “Scott, didn’t you say you wanted to go big? Organize the packs?”

Scott tilts his head and smiles. “That’s the goal.”

“I’m going to teach,” Lydia says. “I’m going to get tenure at Berkeley. I’ll be perfectly situated to travel. Visiting professorships, lectures, the works.”

“We can’t maintain the status quo. Infighting between the packs, corruption in the hunting community. It has to change. We’ll start small, state-wide, lay the groundwork. We can see how it goes from there.” Allison finishes, linking her arm through Lydia’s.

“Ambassadors for the pack.” Derek raises his eyebrows. “Could be useful.”

Scott smiles. “I like it.”

Allison smiles back, and Lydia thinks they might have found a balance after all.

 

***

It takes Lydia a little longer than planned to get tenure, which she probably should have expected. Theory is always neater than practice and San Francisco is a patchwork quilt of packs to integrate with and coordinate among. Allison has to fight the same battles a million times, proving that the combination of werewolf and hunter more than makes up for the color of her eyes. Lydia is always there to back her up. She learns to control the banshee, how to keep it on a tight leash. She prefers mathematics to psychic powers anyway, and there’s enough death in San Francisco and the Bay Area to require a certain amount of filtering just to stay sane.

They use the years in San Francisco to hone their skills, establish themselves both professionally and as advocates, emissaries, bridge-builders. By the time they move on, they’ve both learned to settle into themselves; Allison with her hybrid identity, Lydia with her powers and her choices.

It’s not always (or ever) easy. Lydia is a woman of science, and whenever she thinks about what she did, the hugeness of it has a tendency to be overwhelming. Scott was right: Lydia’s first priority is and always will be Allison. She’s not opposed to taking on other causes, but Allison will always come first. It still scares Lydia, when she thinks about it, what she has been and would be willing to do for Allison. They lead dangerous lives, and there are always new choices to be made. Lydia loses herself sometimes, comes back with a start, vibrating like a plucked string when Allison touches her shoulder.

It no longer hurts when Allison touches her, but sometimes Lydia feels an emptiness in her gut, like a phantom blade has been ripped out of her and the hole has never quite healed. Sometimes she thinks she got off easy, other times she thinks maybe it was too easy, maybe the ripples of consequences haven’t finished rebounding.

It’s worth it, though. Worth it for the light in Allison’s eyes, the taste of her lips, the way she smiles, mischievous and bright and alive. Every time they face down another threat, another foe, send death and its minions back into the howling darkness, Lydia closes her eyes and breathes a sigh of relief for another reprieve granted. Afterwards, when they’re safe, Lydia pulls Allison close, tugs her down to meet Lydia’s lips and kisses her, and every breath sings, not yet, not yet, not yet.