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"To cast protection on a newborn child? " Lydia says, voice cool and disinterested. Outside the slow evening light is fading to grey. "Eggshell. Young oak leaves. Nitric acid. Snake bone. Thyme."

Ms Morell looks at her silently. Her gaze is flat, just barely mocking. Barely visible in the darkening room.

"- And mountain ash," Lydia finishes, around the edge of a smirk, before her teacher can chide her for the mistake. It comes out cocky, an arrogant challenge - too obvious. She's not supposed to care like this.

"Good," Ms Morell says, and Lydia doesn't smile at the praise. She doesn't care. "And a charm to create lying truths and living dead...?"

Lydia stares at her. Words clog in her throat (thick and sickly-sweet, like flowers, like decaying meat...)

She's stronger than this.

"Rosemary, cobwebs, salt water. Morning glory, honey. Raw horse meat. Human blood." This time the words come out easy and bored, the casual tone just right. Lydia smiles a little, drawing out the stretch of her lips. She knows what it looks like, the practised red curve of her mouth in the mirror.

"You didn't think I'd forgotten, did you? Already?" Lydia's voice is honey-sweet. Like the taste she still remembers, sticky sweet-salt on her tongue. She hadn't really meant to take the drug herself, but after a while there'd been no way to stop the purple dust drifting onto her lips. And she'd been in no state to care. She remembers -

She remembers things that don't matter. She's here now, she's safe. She's in control.

"No, I didn't, Lydia," Ms Morell's tone is caught between impatience and kindness. "I wanted to know if you let yourself remember. After what happened to you..."

Lydia swallows, hard. She's not - she will not listen to this.

"If I wanted psychoanalysis, I would have come to you during school hours. I really don't feel like this is a valuable use of our time."

In the dim classroom Ms Morell's smile is a knife-thin curve.

"Whatever you like, Lydia," she says, and it's patronizing, pitying - that's all Lydia can hear. 

 

 

"You, me, my credit card, clothes," Lydia says into Allison's ear, and drags her up out of her chair. Allison comes easily, grinning a little.

(Her eyes are puffy, her clothes look slept in, the half-assed ponytail she's pulled her hair into looks terrible - but they're not talking about that. They're not.)

"Not going to say no to that," she says, while Lydia smiles to herself. Allison's so easy sometimes. "Any particular reason?"

Lydia bites her tongue. Smiles red and wide. "Being this fabulous comes naturally to us, of course, but we do need to put effort in occasionally, Allison," she says, tossing her hair. "That cute red dress I bought last week needs sandals."

And right now, Allison needs a lot more than just sandals - but that's where they'll start. A new outfit will make her feel better - make both of them feel better.

If they go to the mall now she'll miss her lesson with Ms Morell, of course. But that's not really a factor Lydia cares to consider.

 

 

Ms Morell came to her first. Not the other way around. That's something that Lydia is proud of, sometimes. No matter what happened, what she's been through. She didn't ever run for help.

She doesn't need anyone.

Ms Morell found Lydia in the library, reading books so old their spines have cracked, loose pages taped back in place so long ago they've started to work their way free all over again.

"You won't find what you're looking for there," Ms Morell had said quietly, and Lydia had looked at her and known - known that she knew.

Knew about werewolves, magic, pain. The dead walk, and Lydia is helpless, only prey.

"I can help you," she'd said. Her voice came out husky, almost cracking with emotion - and Lydia couldn't understand why she'd feel that way, about Lydia. Couldn't understand how it could be real.

I can help you, she'd said. And Lydia didn't believe her; but she listened to her anyway.

 

 

It's not like class is ever actually difficult, but it's still hard to pay attention, these days. Sometimes it feels like Lydia's still sleepwalking, still caught under someone's (Peter's) spell. When she looks back, there are holes in her memory, gaping spaces; and she moves through her days as if she is separated from the rest of the world by a sheet of ice.

She's cold all the time. She stocks up on jackets, blazers, cute little cardigans - doesn't pay attention to the people who stare at her, in school, on the hot summer days. She looks good. It's none of their fucking business.

The only part that feels real are her lessons with Ms Morell. Late in the afternoon, while the athletes run and shout on the field outside. While the light fades.

The alchemy is her favourite, action and reaction, precise measurement, memory. She's good at it - both the spells themselves and the tricks she needs to find ingredients. It's not as if she can just step over to the supermarket for for fox fur or fresh crow feathers from a living bird. (Or horse meat. Blood.) But other nights are for history, psychology, law and lore. She's good at that too - well, of course. She's Lydia Martin, and she's good at everything. It's not like it's a surprise, or anything.

(Sometimes, she says something clever - remembers something Ms Morell doesn't expect her to, makes a connection even Ms Morell hadn't thought of - and Ms Morell will smile at her, wide and unexpectedly pleased. As if, in that moment, she feels nothing but happiness for Lydia, nothing but praise.

It's to be expected, of course. Lydia knows she is brilliant. There's no real reason for her to pay attention to those smiles.)

Ms Morell has tried to teach her weapons, a few times. How to run, how to intimidate, how to defend herself - but Lydia won't. She's no action hero - no Allison, no fucking warrior princess with a secret history, no powers written (rewritten) into her genes. That isn't her.

Lydia's changed, of course. Been changed. But no more.

She won't lose any more of herself.

 

 

"That's a nice dress," Ms Morell says, and Lydia smiles. One thing for her teacher - she's got style. Of course she recognises the most expensive piece in Lydia's wardrobe.

"Any particular reason you're wearing it today? Is it a special occasion?"

Lydia doesn't let her smile slip, doesn't falter. "It's my birthday," she says coyly, looking down for a second. "Who doesn't want to feel pretty on their birthday?"

Lydia's been seventeen for months. Maybe Ms Morell knows that, knows she's lying - it's likely, she's read Lydia's file more than once.

She doesn't care anymore. She just - she doesn't care.

 

 

She'd told Allison she was coming over, the night before, but she hadn't really been surprised when Allison had forgotten about it again.

"Missed me?" she'd said brightly at Allison's door, ignoring Allison's pajamas, her puffy face. "We're going clubbing. Get dressed - actually, no, come upstairs with me so I can pick something out for you. We are not having a repeat of last Sunday, Allison, I am not wasting this dress if you're just going for jeans and a t-shirt."

Allison had blinked at her, sleepy and slow. "Oh - oh, sorry, I forgot about tonight. I'm sorry, Lydia." She took a slow breath. "Do - Someone else is staying with me, at the moment. Do you mind if I bring her too?"

Lydia felt her eyes widen, for a second - Allison, making new friends? Now? But it didn't really matter, it was probably good for her.

It wasn't like anyone would replace Lydia.  

"Of course not," she said lightly. "Provided, of course, that she can dress herself appropriately - but I have faith in your..."

Lydia's voice trailed off, stopped. Fear and surprise, and it was so obvious, she was so obvious, and she couldn't help herself at all.

Erica Reyes was standing behind Allison.

"I don't really think that will be a problem," Erica said, with a sneer, a smile. Short, short miniskirt, high, high, heels, black lipstick, black leather jacket - appropriate for some clubs, Lydia supposed, but not her style at all. Just too obvious.

Lydia looked at the jacket, forced herself to take it in. Thinking of the clothes and nothing else. Cheap, scuffed, trashy, of course... It didn't help. Her heart was still pounding.

It was all pointless, all Lydia's masks, all her pathetic attempts at control. Erica was one of them. From the way she was smiling, she knew exactly how Lydia felt right now. Knew everything.

"No," Lydia said. Her voice wasn't thin, or weak, or shaking, but what the hell did it matter? Erica could probably smell her fear. "Changed my mind. Another night, Allison."

She walked away.

Allison followed her,  of course.

"Lydia? I know what you're thinking, but she's not so bad. She's just..."

"She tried to kill me. She almost succeeded." Lydia's voice hadn't sounded like her own. So hard, so cold.

So scared.

"And I tried to kill her, Lydia. I almost succeeded, too. It's not... She's not what you're thinking. You don't know how hard it is, when you've been weak for so long, been scared for so long... And then suddenly you're strong, you're powerful, you can do anything, and so you do. She understands what that's like."

Lydia had felt - nothing, for a moment. Nothing. And then the words had hit her, low and sharp. Not like a punch, like a blade going into her side.

Like teeth. Like claws.

"But I don't understand that," Lydia said, through sudden tears. Could this really be her? Lydia Martin? Crying? "I'm not like you. I'm not powerful. I'm not special. I'm fucking immune, and I'm weak, and I have nothing. I'm nothing."

And she knew, knows, Allison didn't mean it like that, and she knows Allison is horrified. She knows Allison believes in her.

It's just that sometimes - sometimes Lydia can't believe in herself anymore.

 

 

(Except - "It's a gorgeous dress," Ms Morell says, low and warm. "And you know how to wear it. I don't know anyone else in this school who could pull it off.

Lydia smiles, just a little. "Well, obviously I'm special that way." But the compliment feels so good. And if some of that pleasure is slipping into her tone, her voice - she doesn't really mind.

"You're more than just pretty - you're gorgeous."

"Thank you," Lydia says, and meets Ms Morell's eyes. Almost looks away again, at the warmth in them, honest and sincere. But instead she holds them, and smiles at Ms Morell's growing smile.

She holds it inside herself, all the rest of that day. Lydia is clever, and stylish, and always knows what to say.

Lydia is beautiful.)

 

 

"I assume you've been thinking about college," Ms Morell says. They're sitting in the library together, sprawled out on the low sofas in the corner. No-one around to see their ungainly slouching, to see a student and a teacher relaxing together.

"I'm almost a senior, that's a pretty safe assumption," Lydia says, without real heat. "I've been thinking Boston, maybe, or New York. Somewhere on the east coast. Allison's trying for NYU, and if I went for somewhere in New York too we could maybe get an apartment together."

Ms Morell nods. "Or you could even go overseas - London, maybe, or even Cambridge if you felt inclined that way. You've got the grades for it, and your parents have the money."

Lydia sighs and stretches. There is a sweet sharp smell in the air from their latest experiment, honeysuckle and acetone.

"I've thought about Paris," she says, at last. "Maybe."

"Your French is pretty good," Ms Morell answers, flat-voiced, sly.

"Excuse me? My French is perfect. One of us sounds like a Canadian, and it isn't me."

"My accent is flawless," Ms Morell says in French, in her thickest Quebecois.

"You're so full of shit," Lydia says, in English. They smile at each other, for a moment.

"Going to be sad for you when I leave, isn't it? You're going to have to speak English all the time."

"It's sweet how you think I'm going to stick around here, Lydia. Counselling a bunch of fucked-up Californian kids isn't exactly my long-term life dream."

"Pity," Lydia says. "You're pretty good at it."

Ms Morell smiles, a brief twitch of her lips.

"Pretty good at that other thing," Lydia says, in the same light voice, same casual tone. Part of her can't believe that the words are coming out of her this easily. "All that werewolf drama. You're pretty good at sorting that out."

Lydia doesn't stumble over the word werewolf at all.

Ms Morell smiles, just a little. "Practice. And it's not like I was acting alone. I had help from an old - friend."

"Is that a friend, or a significant pause, friend?" And Lydia meant that to sound teasing, but it comes out wrong - too  accusing, too serious. As if she cares.

Ms Morell smiles, slowly. Like Lydia's caught.

"Really, Lydia?"

"You know me," Lydia says, as lightly as she can. "Other people's business is my favourite."

Ms Morell's still smiling, lazy, slow. "Pretty sure you've figured out already that Alan Deaton isn't exactly my type."

Lydia looks over at her. Ms Morell is leaning back against the bookcase, feet propped up on a crate of books waiting for reshelving. She looks relaxed, casual. And young - as if she is Lydia's age, another student, hopeful and fresh and shiny-new.

Sometimes it feels like Lydia is the older one. Damaged and scarred.  

Ms Morell is beautiful. Lydia can't stop looking at her.

"Ms Morell..." she begins, but her voice trails off. Ms Morell's smile fades.

Her teacher's name rises up like a wall between them - her teacher.

It would be too much of a cliche, Lydia supposes. A teacher and a student, a special connection, special lessons at night... Even the lesbian twist isn't enough to freshen up this story.

She swallows, smiles. Meets Ms Morell's eyes.

"I better head home. Mom will be cross if I miss dinner again." And it's a lie, her mother won't care, won't notice - they both know it, but Ms Morell just smiles, and lets it slide.

"See you tomorrow, Lydia," she says. Her tone is soft and understanding. Thankful.

 

 

Lydia sees her tomorrow, and the next day, and the day after that. They have a year, and a month after that.

Ms Morell is there the day she graduates, smiling at her in the cloudy light.

And then Lydia's going, going, flying across an ocean to study mathematics in France - but Ms Morell is already gone.

 

 

Lydia is brilliant, of course. Her grades are impeccable, and her pronunciation is unmistakably American, but perfect nevertheless. She dates pretty French girls who listen to obscure punk bands in seedy bars, who collect old jazz records, who shave their heads and perform spoken poetry in French and English and Arabic.

In her spare time, between tutorials and problem sets, she sits in on lectures - on history, on folklore, on provincial literature. Here in Europe it is easier to read the stories in the margins, around the edges of the printed words. There are patterns Lydia can put together, networks of connections.

And sometimes, she will look at a stranger in her classes, on the train, picking up a loaf of bread from a bakery in the mornings, and she'll know.

Sometimes, the strangers look back at her.

 

 

The problem with her research, the problem that she really, really should have seen coming - her subjects are sentient human beings. They know they are being watched. And then, after a while, they start watching her.

 

 

Lydia makes it to New York before she breaks down. They underestimated her, they weren't expecting her to know the things she did. (Pine needles. Flaxseed. Fur from a black cat. Gunpower. New milk.) She's escaped, alive, she's fine -

And there's probably no-one in JFK who can recognise what she's going through. Who could recognise what her slow, deliberate actions mean. She sits down, orders herself a coffee, adjusts her lipstick like there's nothing wrong. Her hands aren't shaking. Her hands never shake. Not even after Peter -

After a while, she pulls herself together, enough that she is able to remember that her flight to California leaves in thirty minutes. She takes a deep breath, and then another -

She can't make herself move.

She doesn't want to go home, is the thing. Lydia knows that if she calls, the moment she calls, Allison will be there for her. Allison will pick her up with a motherfucking crossbow on the back seat of her car, and Allison will take care of her.

Allison is an Argent, and she's got Lydia's back. And Lydia understands what that means, now. She understands everything that means.

 

 

The thing is - Allison lives with a pack of werewolves. And they're not werewolves, Lydia knows - they're Scott, and Erica, and Boyd, and Isaac, and Jackson; and they're Stiles and Danny, who aren't werewolves at all.

It doesn't matter. Lydia wishes she could get past it, but right now she can't.

She doesn't want to go home, because running from the werewolves means running to them and Lydia just - can't. She can't.

 

 

She looks at her phone, watches the minutes change. They page her, eventually. Lydia doesn't move.

 

 

It takes a while, but Lydia is good at Google, and Facebook, and figuring out chains of mutual friends. Lydia is good at research.

Ms Morell picks up the phone on the third ring. She answers in French, and for a moment Lydia can't breathe, just from the sound of her voice. It's been years, but in this moment it doesn't feel like it.

"It's - it's Lydia," she says, finally. "I'm in New York City. I'm kind of - I think I need somewhere safe to go. I thought you might know someone - "

There's silence on the other end of the phone. Lydia swallows, hard. It's fine, it will be fine, she will get a goddamn hotel room in this city if she has to. She can take care of herself. She's learned that much.

"The next plane to Montreal leaves in twenty minutes, Lydia," Ms Morell says. "I'll pick you up at the airport. Can you make it?"

Lydia swallows, hard. Her eyes are stinging - she will not, will not cry.

She can hear voices in the background, tinny and distant over the line. Someone shouts an unintelligible question, and Ms Morell yells back something that Lydia can't quite make out, too fast, too much dialect. They're half laughing, half exasperated - it sounds like family. Like home.

"I'll be there," Lydia says. Imagining Ms Morell smiling four hundred miles away - almost close enough to touch.

 

 

Ms Morell hasn't really changed. Her hair is shorter, framing her face differently from the old weave,  and she's wearing a bottle-green coat Lydia doesn't remember at all - but her smile is the same, the expression in her eyes.

"Lydia," she says, staring.

Lydia's breath catches in her throat, almost a sob - but she's not crying. She doesn't cry.

"Good to see you again," she says, friendly and casual, like it doesn't matter. There's a pause. And she doesn't know who moves first, but then they're hugging, fierce and tight. 

Maybe she does cry a little, into Ms Morell's shoulder. Neither of them will ever tell.

"Come on," Ms Morell says at last, voice thick. "You should come home with me. Meet my family."

"I'd like that." They're still standing so close. "You're living with your family now? Will they mind?"

Ms Morell laughs. "You're kidding, right? Another person round the table to eat Maman's chicken and listen to them both tell embarrassing stories about my childhood? And you speak French. My sister and her family are here too, it will be a party. They'll love you."

Lydia breathes in, breathes out. "They're going to assume I'm your girlfriend, aren't they?" It comes out low, and more teasing than she consciously intended.

Ms Morell smiles. "That's not going to bother you, is it?"

"I think we both know that it won't."

Lydia looks at her, can't stop looking at her. "I really missed you," she says, and Ms Morell smiles.

"I missed you, too."

Lydia's twenty-two, she's not in high school anymore - she takes Ms Morell's hand as they walk towards the doors together.

"By the way," Ms Morell says, casually. Still holding Lydia's hand. "I'm not your teacher anymore. You should call me Nathalie."

"Nathalie," Lydia says slowly. Tasting the words. She's smiling, red and bright. "Nathalie. Take me home?"