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once more with feeling

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I was meant for more than this, Lydia thinks, dying, dyeing the grass dark, growing cooler, growing empty. I wasn't meant to be the footnote in someone else's story. I am smart I am scared I am cold I

I

*

The next time Lydia does not quite remember what happened. She knows there is something wrong with this man she meets, who smiles at her like they have a secret, like he has a right to smile at her like this, like he knows what she looks like under her clothes, but she doesn't know all of it. She knows he is dangerous, but men are dangerous.

This time, a wolf chases her through the woods, and puts a clawed hand through her ribcage, and she dies thinking, more than this.

*

The third time she knows straight away he is wrong, he is something blighted, he is connected to the things that are happening. The third time she runs straight away. Leaves her house, stays at Allison's. He climbs through a window. This time she is so torn up there is no miraculous recovery fast enough: they put her in the ground.

Peter digs her up and takes her to his hotel room.

*

The fourth time she's too traumatized to do much but cry, which annoys him so much he strangles her with a lamp cord. Barely a fraction of his werewolf strength.

*

The fifth time--she wakes up with a scratchy voice. She remembers his name, and hers. He's standing there, and she says, "Peter?" and he roars at her, so she stays meek and silent. Eventually he even brings food, which hurts going down her throat. Lydia will come to learn that something of her death will stay with her. For two days he comes and goes, and on the third he comes back to find her with his stolen cell phone, and he throws her out the window, reasoning that well, they're going to have to move on now, anyway. The next life she has red lines, all over her skin.

*

That's how the next few go: failed escape attempts. Lydia's very smart, but she's only human, and very young. The--eighth time? Ninth? She tries suicide, and wakes up in the trunk of a car.

The worst part of it is, she can't even really cry about it, because the tears annoy his sensitive werewolf ears, and it turns out you can fear pain even when you don't necessarily have to fear death.

*

Peter is not mindlessly brutal. He explains this, because sometimes she needs reminding. Experimentation, shouldn't your fine scientific mind appreciate that? There are worse ways to die than drowning in a bathtub, so maybe just lie back before he thinks of some.

*

They aren't in Beacon Hills anymore, and trying to contact Beacon Hills never really ends well. Lydia tells herself she's biding her time, especially since now she seems to have so much of it.

More than this, she thinks, that night, after two weeks of silent cohabitation, when he comes in angry, and well, Lydia's there, isn't she? And not going anywhere.

*

After that time, Lydia has a little bit of an episode. It's because she can't remember how many times she's died. Because she hasn't read a book except bits of Gideon's Bible and an old Western she stole from the front desk of the Super 8 in a really long time. Looks fade and pain fades and even death spits her back up, but her rock was her brain. Brilliant Lydia Martin, who has lost count.

She cracks open Gideon's to a random page and takes a pen and starts writing on the wall. Translating into every language she knows, which is more than a few, until the ink runs out and she's gouging words into the plaster

therefore I urge you brothers in view of God’s mercy to offer your bodies as living sacrifices heilig und Gott wohlgefällig sei aceptable a Dios

which Peter really overreacts to and assumes is a spell and that is the end of that. Her head slams against the wall and it all goes dark and she wakes up cold.

"Humans don't catch colds from actually being cold," she explains, when he admits his reasoning. "It's from spending greater time indoors among other people, who carry disease."

"Well, that isn't going to happen until I can trust you not to act out," Peter says, and pats her hand.

"Many of our worst diseases are zoonotic," Lydia says. "Maybe you'll get lucky."

He laughs at that, which feels like a victory. Lydia is smart enough to know that she is in a situation where her own mind is lying to her, desperately and shamelessly, to try to keep her alive. It still feels like a victory.

It still feels like failure, when he finally frightens her again and she screams and he presses his thumb into her throat until the airway collapses.

So it starts like this, she thinks as she dies.

*

It continues like this: Peter has learned what sort of Chinese food Lydia likes. Lydia has learned what is looks like when he has a headache. Lydia sits on the floor when he switches the tv on, because she like to stretch her legs. Lydia knows his moods like, well, like everything in her life depends on his happiness.

One bite into her beef and broccoli she knows it's poison, but keeps eating it anyway. It takes days to die from, and Peter carries her to the bathroom to vomit out the last few hours, rubbing her back.

She dies thinking, that feels nice, at the coolness of his hand pushing her hair back.

"Maybe not that one again," Peter proposes, when she wakes up. Her hair's wet, and her brain reminds her how nasty she was, and that he didn't have to bathe her, and the voice that tries to keep count of how many days it's been since she spoke to someone else is quieter and quieter.


*

It continues like this: Memphis, Tennessee, and Peter has found a pack that will take him in, but her smell is all over him. He can't hide Lydia from wolves, but she's shy shy shy, she doesn't have to see them much. Lying is perfectly possible to werewolves, anyway, when your heartbeat is already elevated, and Peter can be so charming when he insists it's just she's afraid of other wolves.

She gets books and she gets to talk to cashiers and she's thinking of helping the boy at the library with his math homework when she sees one of the other wolves out and about, and she messes everything up. They got four peaceful months and Lydia messed it all up by acting too scared, and why? He hasn't done anything in four months. She's got books.

But they have to leave again. Lydia makes no sound in the passenger seat, sitting on a pile of towels and tarp, holding her stomach together until things go black. Sorry, Peter. Sorry.


*

Peter doesn't like other werewolves that much anyway. They settle into a little condo in Florida, where the salt sea could drag her body far, far away from him, if she messes up again, but she won't.

Four months go by--Lydia spends the fifth regrowing a leg, not sure if the timing is intentional, he doesn't care about numbers the way she does. She can't sit on the floor like this, so they curl up on the couch together, and Peter trails his claws across her pristine neck, and her heartbeat doesn't jump at all.

On the tv some woman says, I couldn't live without you! and they both laugh.