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into that secret place where no one dares to go

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"I'm bored," Lydia said, fanning herself with a vacant manila folder. "Boys, can you wind this up?"

She was sitting in the folding camp chair she'd had Stiles bring, looking down at Stiles and Derek going through the stolen police reports they'd strewn all over the back porch of the Hale house. They'd spent the first twenty minutes having what Lydia thought was a constructive discussion and the last twenty alternately glaring and yelling at each other. Sweat was pooling in the hollow of Lydia's back and her gut was twisting with the push-pull of Stiles's desire, which, good for you, Stiles, but really?

Stiles rolled his eyes. "Hey, I'm not the one who said, clearly we should go straight to the source and ask Derek—"

"If Scott's not going to be part of my pack," Derek said, "I'm not going to—"

"Yes, we get the message," Lydia said sweetly. "We're not part of your pack, and Scott's not part of your pack, and pack development, blah blah blah. I understand that while normal people have many healthy ways for strengthening leadership and building team camaraderie, like workshops and paintball, you've chosen to use your inexperienced betas as a task force for hunting an unknown and extremely lethal supernatural predator, so you'd prefer we butt out and wait to die on our own rather than share information. Is that it?"

Derek stared at her for a moment before his eyes narrowed and his nose scrunched. "Stiles—"

"I'm a teenage boy and you're both very attractive!" Stiles said, cheeks flushing. "Stop using your werewolf senses to judge me!"

"I was going to say," Derek said slowly, "that I'll think about it."

Lydia leaned forward and put her hand on Stiles's shoulder. "Thank you," she said to Derek. "I think we're done for now."

It was Stiles's favorite bedtime story growing up. His mom told it to him about half as often as he asked, how she and Melissa grew up next door to each other, as close as sisters, and one day in middle school Melissa leaned out her window and shouted, "I think I can feel your soul." Stiles heard the story before anyone ever really explained to him what soulmates were; he thought it meant best friends, like him and Scott. He used to stay up late at night when Scott would sleep over to see if he could feel it, Scott's soul. Not everybody had a soulmate; Stiles's dad didn't. Stiles wondered what that was like, if it felt as lonely as he did sometimes, rattling around in his head.

The soulmates in Disney movies always kissed and married each other, which seemed kind of weird. They weren't like his mom and Melissa, who could finish each other's sentences but never agreed about talk show hosts or barbecue. Stiles spent a lot of time wondering what a soul was, what it felt like, how come you could feel other people's if you couldn't feel your own. No one ever really explained that to his satisfaction; when he asked his bubbe, she just took him with her to synagogue. He liked synagogue—they had crayons and coloring books you could color in, if you got bored—but it didn't answer his questions.

The first time he felt Lydia's soul, it felt like a sneeze.

"Pull off somewhere," Lydia said, about half a mile out from the Hale house. "When we're—out of range."

Stiles was driving the Jeep, both hands on the wheel, and she had one hand on his thigh, most of the way to his crotch. "I don't think we're hiding anything," he said. "I'm pretty sure he thinks we're going home to screw."

"I can't wait until we get home." Lydia squirmed against her seat.

"That's not—I have to drive, Lydia."

She wriggled her panties down to her ankles and had two fingers working inside herself before Stiles turned off the ignition. "Come on."

"Fuck," Stiles said, pulling her hand out of the way, replacing her fingers with two of his own, longer, thicker, brushing her clit with his thumb. He knew exactly how she wanted to be touched, how she liked it. "Fuck, fuck, Lydia, you're so—"

"You made me just sit there," she said into his ear as he kissed her neck. "God, I can feel how much you want to fuck him, it's so hot, you're unbelievable, I want to watch you, I want—"

"Lydia." He lined his thumb up with her clit as he pushed his fingers into her again, and that was all it took; she came, her fingernails digging into his thigh, and felt Stiles sob against her throat as he did, too, untouched.

"Ugh," Lydia said, a few minutes later, opening her eyes. It was 2pm on a Wednesday, the back of her skirt was soaked through, and she was sitting in a Jeep parked in the middle of the woods; she was a mess.

All she could see of Stiles was his shoulder, covered in plaid. "Holy crap," he said.

Lydia Martin had strawberry blonde hair that curled to her waist when she let it free, but usually she kept it up in a perpetually loosening French braid. Lydia was neat and precise about everything she could control, keeping her crayons sharpened and arrayed in a neat, 64-color rainbow in their cardboard box. Little whispy tendrils would escape from her braid over the course of the day, and Stiles, who sat one seat behind her and to the right in their third grade class, was mesmerized by the way they emerged to frame Lydia's head in a rosy halo.

One day, he felt a sneeze coming on and fumbled inside his desk for one of the little tissue packets his mom was always giving him. He had a tissue all the way up to his nose before he realized that he wasn't the one sneezing at all; it was Lydia, in front of him, into her hand. She looked disgusted. Stiles held out the rest of the tissues to her.

"Thanks," she said primly, taking the whole pack.

Stiles didn't think much about it at the time, but sometimes he would doodle her name into the margins of his notebook, Lydia, Lydia, Lydia, Lydia Stilinski, Lydia Martin-Stilinski, because he was in love with her, of course. How could he not be in love with Lydia? She was beautiful and really smart, she always had her hand up first in class whenever Mrs. Prentice had a question, and she knew it. Lydia was a queen. Lydia, Lydia, Lydia. After the day of the sneeze, though, sometimes his handwriting would mysteriously change during this litany, becoming more rounded and regular, and he could never write Lydia's full name as anything other Lydia Martin, sometimes with Dr. in a bolder print appended to the front. Dr. Lydia Martin. Stiles could see Lydia as a doctor. Maybe not one of those ones who worked with little kids, though. Lydia was brilliant, but she wasn't exactly nice.

Take, for example, the day Stiles finally got brave enough to say, "I think you're my soulmate," while they stood in line in the cafeteria on Pizza Friday. Lydia stepped on his foot, stumbled forward at the same time as he stumbled back into Scott (who was, fortunately, sturdy enough to prevent the rest of Mrs. Prentice's class falling like dominos), and covered her mouth with her hand after she righted herself, her other hand gripping tight the food tray rail.

"You don't know what you're talking about," she hissed. "Go away."

Stiles hid in the boys' bathroom until lunch was over, and after that he got his mom to start packing him lunches every day, even though he'd spent weeks convincing her last year that only the lowliest of the low would bring a bagged lunch on Taco Tuesday or Pizza Friday. His chest hurt. Stiles kept touching it, kneaded the sore place on his sternum like that would bring the reassuring sting you got when you dug into a bruise. The ache didn't get better or worse, but after a while, he noticed it less. His mom took him to the doctor, where they figured out the main reason for Stiles's focus issues; Stiles didn't tell anyone about the ache in his chest where Lydia was supposed to be.

His mom tucked Stiles into bed one night towards the end of his third grade year and kissed his forehead like she always did. "You know, baby," she said. "Most people don't find their soulmate until they're older. High school or college is the usual time, if you have one. Melissa and I have been friends so long that I don't even remember her moving in next door, and we didn't know until we were twelve. It must be scary to figure that out when you're so little, especially if you don't know there's lots of ways to be soulmates."

"I want to marry Lydia when I grow up." Stiles started to cry, but that was okay: he was home, in the dark, with his mom right here and dad downstairs, and no one was going to bother him about it. "I love her, and I can feel where she's supposed to be, and it hurts."

"I'm sorry," his mom said. She leaned over and wrapped her arms around him, and for a moment, things were okay, when all Stiles could see was the light from the hallway glancing off the curve of his mom's neck and all he could smell was the comforting mom-scent of her, cookies and old books. He couldn't imagine her without Melissa. Maybe his dad had it easier, having no soulmate at all.

"Ground rules," she said, after it happened the first time. "This doesn't mean I'm going to be Mrs. Lydia Stilinski or whatever the hell you've been doodling in your notebook for the last eight years. Or that I like you that much. God."

"You totally like me," Stiles said muzzily into the pillow. "Wow, I can't believe I just had sex. With you. Lydia. What."

Lydia sighed. "Don't you dare text Scott."

"But I promised I'd text Scott, I mean, if I ever—" Stiles made puppy eyes at her.

"Do you ever want to have sex again? I don't just mean with me."

"Okay, okay," he said. "Sorry."

Stiles's bed was firmer than Lydia's and covered in cheap microfiber sheets, but it wasn't uncomfortable. She gave herself a few minutes to acclimate. Stiles's breathing was slowing, but he wasn't asleep; she could tell with her weird sixth sense, her Stiles sense, the little window into his soul she'd always kept firmly shut. He was content and happy and he didn't feel sick anymore. "Sorry," she echoed, frowning. "I shouldn't have… done that earlier."

"Next time you want help dealing with—your lady time, maybe you should consider the magic fingers of Stiles and not the magic sympathetic pain connection with Stiles, that's all I'm saying. You could, like, ask."

"Okay," Lydia said. "I will."

Scott met his soulmate their sophomore year of high school. Her name was Allison, and she was sweet and kind, although there was the little problem where her parents wanted to kill Scott. Soulmates were definitely more complicated than Stiles had thought when he was little, even without taking the werewolf thing into account.

Speaking of werewolves: Derek Hale. Before Derek, Stiles only had eyes for Lydia. Even after Derek, actually, Stiles's eyes were pretty Lydia-directed; it took Danny gaping at Derek's manly physique for Stiles to notice it as something more than the horrifyingly toned werewolfy backdrop of his life. Man, Derek. Stiles had jerked it to porn all over the spectrum in terms of who and what and how, but he'd never felt the warm fuzzies he felt toward Lydia toward anyone else. It made him feel kind of guilty, like he was somehow betraying her, even though it was Lydia who didn't want him. Stikes was supposed to be holding a torch, right? After all, she was one true love of his soul.

But Derek was… hot. And sarcastic and funny and bossy, and wrong all the time, god, why wouldn't he just listen to—oh. Oh. Yeah.

Stiles didn't think Derek had a soulmate. Good for him. It probably made being angsty and martyred easier.

"I am very cold," Stiles said from where he was draped across Derek's chest. They'd only been in the pool for twenty minutes before Lydia had managed to get Scott on the phone, treading water all the while, but twenty minutes was a long time when you were afraid for your life and wearing multiple layers.

Lydia wrung out her hair. "How much longer is he supposed to be paralyzed? Do we have to hang out here?"

"You're not paralyzed, you can get off me now," Derek said to Stiles, who ignored him.

Scott knelt down next to them, shaking off his werewolf features. "You guys shouldn't stay here, you should go somewhere safe."

Derek glared at Scott. "Nowhere is safe."

"Let's go to my house," Lydia said, inspecting her jacket; it was probably salvageable, but her blouse was definitely ruined. "My parents are out of town for the week and the pool is equipped with flotation devices for those of us who prefer not to prune ourselves in chlorinated water."

"Okay." Stiles glanced at her quickly; she couldn't read his expression, but she didn't have to. "Derek, is that okay?"

"Fine," Derek said, in that way that meant it really wasn't, but he wasn't going to argue.

Lydia and Stiles drove to her house separately. She took Derek, pointing out that her car had more room for him to lie down in the back. This wasn't a good time to have this conversation with him, but he was immobilized and in her car, there wasn't going to be a better one. "You know that your uncle was in my head for a while," she said casually as she turned out of the parking lot.

"Stiles mentioned that," Derek said. "He's gone now?"

"That's what Ms. Morrell says." It had been a week, but that wasn't long enough to tell anything. Stiles said Lydia felt normal to him, at least. "I was seeing him around. Hallucinating him."

"Is there a point to this?"

"I know about what Kate Argent did to you," Lydia said. "Was, to you. I'm sorry."

"You don't know anything about it," Derek said.

"Did you know how old Stiles and I were, the first time we felt the bond? We were eight. I didn't want it. I spent years blocking it. It takes so much energy, it's like constantly holding your breath in, just a little bit, never filling your lungs the whole way."

Derek made an unhappy sound as they rounded a tight corner. "It doesn't seem like that's a problem for you now."

She ignored him. "Stiles likes you. Stiles would have spend all night in that pool holding onto you. While I don't mind helping him work off the sexual frustration, the moping is getting a bit old."

At the next stoplight, Lydia checked on Derek in the rearview mirror. He was glaring at her. Maybe that was progress.

After Scott and Allison started dating, Stiles got into the habit of going to Melissa's house by himself when Scott ditched him. They drank hot chocolate together and watched old movies. It wasn't like it had been when his mom was alive, but it was nice. They were comrades in arms, now: the soulmated, soulmateless duo. Melissa always vetoed Casablanca, because it was her house, her rules, but they agreed on most movies, Hitchcock, Nick and Nora, Sam Spade, all the classics. The good stuff.

"Does it happen a lot?" Stiles asked Melissa. It was while Lydia was in the hospital, still out of it; Stiles had been to see her earlier, but there was nothing he could really do. So he was at Melissa's, loading the dishwasher, waiting for Scott to come home. "When soulmates just—don't?"

Melissa was standing at the stove, whisking the milk and the crushed chocolate tablet. She glanced over at Stiles. "Not usually," she said. "Aren't they supposed to talk to you guys about that in school? Like, when they do the thing with the bananas and the condoms?"

"Oh my god, don't—I don't want to have this discussion!" Stiles said. "Like, they talk about it, but it's all, soulmates don't mean you have to do anything you don't want to, nobody has a right to your body or your time just because they're your soulmate, you can still get pregnant even if you're having sex with someone who's not your soulmate, blah blah blah."

"That's not 'blah blah blah,' that's important."

"I know." Stiles seated the last of the glasses in the top rack and shut the dishwasher. "It's just kind of vague, okay? I don't want Lydia to like me because she has to, I don't want her to do anything she doesn't want to. But what if she never wants to? What if she always—"

"It happens sometimes," Melissa said, turning off the burner and giving the cocoa one last whisk. "But usually it works out. Most of the time. Unless something really bad happens. So, buck up, kiddo. You've just got to let her do her thing."

They ended up in Lydia's bedroom. She dredged some scented candles up from the hall closet and she and Stiles mapped the perimeter together, putting the candles at the corners, while Derek watched from the bed. Dr. Deaton liked mountain ash, but Lydia wasn't training with him; Ms. Morrell understood how she felt about messes. She walked into the center of the room and closed her eyes, holding out her hands for Stiles to take when he joined her.

"Spark?" she said as Stiles's larger hands covered her smaller ones. Lydia tilted her head up toward him.

"Yes," Stiles said, leaning down and kissing her until the lights went on.

This was what Lydia had always been afraid of: that having her soul tied to someone else's would erase her, consume her, subsume her into the ecstatic bliss of their union. She'd never thought it would make her feel powerful, would make her feel more Lydia instead of less. Now she could feel their power humming beneath her skin, moving between them as Stiles's lips pressed against hers. She gasped into his mouth and felt him breathe her in, felt drunk with it.

When they came up for air, the candles were lit and Derek was still watching them, eyes appraising. "That's some trick," he said.

"We don't tell you everything," Stiles said.

"We could, though," Lydia said. "We're open to negotiation."

Derek reached above his head and stretched; good, the paralytic was wearing off. "What exactly are we negotiating?"

Lydia went to sit down next to him, pulling Stiles along with her. "You tell me," she said.

The next time Stiles felt Lydia's soul, he was out in the forest, searching for her. He didn't recognize it at first, because it had been years. It just felt like a hunch, a very specific hunch: turn left here, proceed ahead for twenty paces, hang a right, fifteen paces, hang a—whoa, that's Lydia, naked, looking away now.

"Stiles," she said. "Give me your shirt, I'd like to get out of here with as much dignity as possible, if you please."

He was so overwhelmed, he got tangled in his jacket in the process of trying to shuck off three layers at once and flailed helplessly until Lydia grabbed his elbow and steadied him. "Sorry, sorry!" Stiles slipped off the hoodie and the jacket, then fumbled at the buttons at the wrists of his overshirt until he could get himself free. "Here, you take my shirt, and the jacket, it's kind of cold. Let me call—"

Lydia put her hand over his, stopping him. "No. I need—I need a few minutes."

"Okay," Stiles said. He tilted his head back and stared at the canopy intently for a few minutes and tried not to pay attention to the sounds his clothes made as she pulled them around her. Even though he was just in a t-shirt and hoodie, he started to feel warmer, like he was standing in direct sunlight but somehow the sun was inside him.

"Where are we?" Lydia came closer to him; it was like standing next to a brazier. "How did I get here? I can't remember anything that happened after the dance."

"Um," Stiles said. "That's kind of a long story. But, uh, you got attacked by an animal, and then you were in a coma for a few weeks, and then you wandered off the unit last night and no one's been able to find you. We're in the woods behind the high school."

"I don't think that's the whole story."

Stiles risked a glance at Lydia. She looked more composed, if smaller, swallowed up by his jacket and shifting her bare feet on the cold ground. "Can it be enough of the story?"

"You can't lie to me, Stiles." Lydia said, meeting his eyes. "I'm your soulmate."

"You are not in your right mind," Stiles said, because he was extremely talented at shooting himself in the foot and also because something was wrong: he could feel it, they could both feel it, he could feel Lydia poking at it, this shadow hanging over her.

"You're right," she said. "Clearly, because I'm asking for help from you. We're going to fix this."

Stiles took a deep breath and stood up straight. He'd been preparing for this day for half his life; he could do this. "As you wi—"

Lydia glared at him. "Don't even start."

The first time she'd thought about it, she'd been an observer, a voyeur, sitting in that chair on Derek's porch with her legs demurely crossed at the ankle, and an outsider even in her own fantasy. She hadn't thought about how it would be to have them turn their attention on her, for Derek to watch as Stiles undressed her, for Stiles to coach Derek as Derek touched her, fingers soft on her sensitive skin of her inner thigh. Werewolves and their weird lack of callouses; it must be a bitch to play a stringed instrument.

"Don't go too fast." Stiles's mouth was against Derek's ear, his eyes on Lydia's. "It's super easy to get her off, but that's no fun. Go slow, that's the challenge, she likes that."

"I'm not easy, asshole," Lydia said. Derek got it after a moment, smiled at her, dark and hungry; she felt it between it her legs. "Are you just going to hang out down there all night, or—?"

"No," Derek said, ducking his head.

He did start out slow, soft licks around her clit, enough to keep her excited but not enough to really her going. Lydia whined a little, pushing up into his mouth, but he didn't get more direct, just kept teasing her, scraping his blunt human nails lightly down her thighs. Fuck, he was good. "Not fair," she panted. "Get to the point."

"She wants you to fuck her with your fingers," Stiles said. "She likes to feel full. You should do her with your tongue first, though, because that's not quite it but almost—"

"Fuck you," Lydia said, because Derek was doing that, and it was, oh my god, so good, almost there, almost right, but not quite enough, and he had one thumb pressed right up next to her clit so she kept almost hitting it but not. When she looked down she could see that his mouth was all shiny with her, and, god, if she didn't come in the next minute she might die.

"You should do that sometime." It took Lydia a moment to realize Stiles was talking to her and not Derek. "But right now, Derek's going to get you off and I'm going to try not to come in my pants for once. Fingers, Derek?"

Derek switched off, sucking on her clit and pushing two fingers inside her, and Stiles leaned over to palm Lydia's breast and that was it, that was it, she was done, she was tipping over the edge and shaking apart and maybe blacking out a little, because when she could focus again Stiles and Derek were kissing in front of her, Derek with his hand in Stiles's unzipped jeans and Stiles with his palm grinding against the front of Derek's. It didn't take that long for them to come, sagging against each other and then down against her, Stiles's sticky belly pressed against one thigh and Derek's hand on her opposite hip. Lydia petted their hair; Stiles tucked his head under her arm and Derek gazed up at her with half-lidded eyes.

"I'm so proud of you boys," Lydia said. "Working together, sharing information. I could get used to this."

"I bet you could," Stiles said, radiating affection.

"Noted," Derek said. He looked, in the candlelight, like he might be smiling.