Lydia dreams, she dreams of fire. She dreams of burnt hands reaching for her, blackened and cracked open. She dreams of dancing with these hands on the ballroom floor, as the smell of putrid, sizzling flesh consumes them. She dreams of stepping on the skulls of those that’s hair has been singed off, of following a lantern down its course of mayhem.
She dreams of Stiles’ laugh.
Waking up that morning brought her slow movements, brought her the itch in her throat that she had known too well. Lydia went to the kitchens to collect the fruit she would eat, hurrying back to her room to paint herself pretty. Sitting on her stool, she tried to keep her strokes and applying to a minimum, knowing that effort would prove too much for her.
After the therapeutic exercise, after ensuring that no one can see her the way she is, she glances around her room. It has been hers for years, with beautiful colors painting the walls and her gowns and linens taking up her empty space. Her eyes flash down to the leather cuff, worn slightly bare on the edges.
Should she trust Stiles? Does she have a choice anymore, with the way her father would snap at her and Kali would grin at how she had lost a majority of her usefulness?
She gathered a few chests, sighing deeply at her work before her. Stiles left three months prior, and she wonders how long she could entertain the idea of staying with her family. It hasn’t felt like family since Ethan was put in the ground, she will admit.
The gowns that go in first are the thinner ones, with linens meant for the summer. Then the heavier gowns, the ones that had sleeves that dragged down. She kept every pretty thing she owned so well-kept. She didn’t know why she did, maybe it was to give her some sense of control in her life.
She didn’t cry when she packed the last gown her mother had ever wore into the chest, seeing the pretty gold flash in the lantern light. The room had the smoothest stone, the softest floor, the prettiest view, and she was going to leave it.
Did she have a choice anymore?
She waited until her family left for the spring festival, allowing her to stay too easily. Did her father still trust her to keep the kingdom? It’s the night that they would be returning from the festival that she payed off the guard, in guise of being a high prostitute, and fled.
She kept herself in the carriage, ignoring the fear she felt from the howling at night. The passing into the McCall kingdom wasn’t nearly as stressful. The guard smiled into the carriage, calling her pretty, and let them through. Everything here seemed to be much more relaxed.
The first time she stepped out of her carriage, she held the perfect grace of elegance. The busy, bright street continued to bustle around her, people crying out about goods and children laughing. It steals her breath for a minute, everything being so...alive. But it is only a minute, and then she settles her expression back into the cool indifference she had worked so hard to achieve.
The children run amok among the cobblestones, dancing and weaving through out the animals and the adults. One darts especially close, tugging her plain dress gently with their muddy digits. Lydia allows a smile, letting the infectious sunlight warm her pale skin. They dare a glance back at her, wide eyes and breathless grin.
She floats through the street, looking for a place to buy some bread and cheese. She finds a tavern shortly after, empty for the early morning, and settles into a bar stool. The wood has a warm glow on it, giving off the illusion of a later time of the day, of a much closer room.
An older woman comes bustling up to her, everything from bosom to arms full. “Hello, sweetheart. Are you waiting on your husband?”
Lydia’s careful smile tightens slightly. “No ma’am. May I have some bread and cheese?”
“Do you really think it’s wise to be alone without your father or husband?” The woman turns a disapproving look on her.
“I’m certain I can take care of myself.” Lydia lets her voice drip with frost, smile a ghost of what it was outside. “Can I also have some water with that?”
“Well, how do you suppose you’ll pay without someone here to pay for you?” The woman shifts her hip to rest against the table between them. Lydia has almost lost her patience, a tightness between her shoulder blades.
“Well, I hold enough money to purchase a little food here.” Lydia starts off coldly. “Because I am able to have a brain without a man. But if you aren’t, then please let me speak to one.”
The woman’s mouth opens and closes several times, accentuating that she has fat that creates multiple chins. Lydia examines her with an air of disinterest, wondering if she would have to find another place to eat. It would be a hassle, and set her back in time, but that doesn’t necessarily matter.
It takes a couple of seconds for her to storm off, and for a young, harried man to come out from the back, looking uncertain. He approaches her meekly, causing Lydia to straighten and flash him a confident smile.
“Hello, miss.” He says softly. “My mother seems to be under the impression that you are a ill-speaking prostitute.”
Lydia tries her best to laugh, knowing it sounds slightly off-kilter, “I’m no prostitute. I just don’t take kindly to the idea that I cannot do anything without a man.”
He ducks his head, golden hair cut short. He has an impressive jawline, she can’t help but note. “My mother is from a different time.” He shifts uncertainly. “I could take care of you.”
Lydia blinks at his suggestion, before clearing her throat. She had allowed her mind to wander into folly. “Yes, please. May I have some water, bread and cheese?”
He serves her, takes her money, and waits for her to be pleased. He reminds her of the gladiator that she would sometimes steal away to see. He reminds her of a much more placent Jackson. After she is satisfied, she calls for him, knowing he will be helpful, in the moment, as she navigates this new kingdom. “Pray tell, do you know where the Argent’s estates are?”
Lydia stayed in a inn near the estates until she was certain that Allison, Stiles’ friend, had returned. The dark haired girl listens to her namesake and took her in wordlessly, effortlessly telling her family that they had bonded at the past festival.
She wore pretty greens and expert gowns with her hair kept up and face kept pure. Lydia found her sense of style endearing, smiling when showing off her own wardrobe.
Allison had been a welcome change to her life, seeing that she spent time with Lydia as if it wasn’t a burden. They grew close in dance, art, and poetry. Lydia helped her refine her tastes and Allison helped Lydia learn a bow. She eventually meets Scott, someone that is not hard to love.
He makes her heart hurt for Stiles.
And she wonders where the boy is, the lean man she was to marry, with eyes like amber that held a darkness to them that Lydia had never seen before. And she had looked into her father’s very soul.
Allison gave her free reign of the estates, saying that she wasn’t always going to be there so it was good for Lydia to find things to occupy herself. Lydia scoffed at her, acting as if she wasn’t expecting Allison to spend all of her time with the banshee. She quickly found the library, the gardens, and the rooms that held musical instruments and drawing.
Sometimes, she would blank for a moment and come back at the end of the day or in a different room or even because Allison tugged on her. She wasn’t sure what was calling her, never hearing a voice when her mind left her, until she finally confronted the other girl on it.
“Allison, do you know what I am?” They were eating away from Allison’s parents, because they were getting ready to go on a voyage to visit others of the family.
Allison looked up from her meal, a simple piece of hide with grain, to address Lydia. “You’re a princess?” She guessed.
Lydia suppressed a sigh. “Did Stiles not tell you I’m a banshee?”
Allison’s cheeks darkened with her embarrassment. “He did, I just wasn’t sure on how you would react to talking about it.” She fidgeted in her seat, looking away momentarily. Lydia wants to laugh, just now remembering that some royals were actually human. “Stiles can be rather...blunt.”
“Open,” Lydia suggested, a smirk lighting up her features. Even if she would never fall for the Mage, he was certainly a special character. Almost as sharp as herself, very curious and cautious. “Yes, he’s something. But I don’t mind talking about it, seeing as it’s no different than being a werewolf. Does Scott shy away from talking about being a werewolf?”
Allison’s fingers tightened until her skin was stretched bloodless. Lydia felt her eyebrows climb, obviously she had hit a soft spot. “Well, if he does, then you should talk to him about it. Hating a part of yourself isn’t going to change it.” She said dismissively. “Has anyone died here?”
Her face was decorated in shock, from the way her mouth opened and her eyes blinked wide. Lydia waited, used to this response. Eventually, Allison returned to her prim and proper demeanor. “My grandfather?”
Lydia nods as if she expected as much. She wonders what the man was like, wonders how he died and wondered what he wants her to know. “What’s his name?”
And Allison winces like she didn’t want to really talk about it. “Gerard.”
Oh. Well that certainly makes sense, if Lydia did say so herself. She remembered being six and her father stumbling home blind, how much of a rage he was in. She remembered him killing her mother. Lydia couldn’t forget how he had stuck himself into her head, cut deep into her skull, to find out if this old man of deceit would be able to kill him. She couldn’t forget how he came home and held her and thanked her for helping him.
She didn’t move on her own for two weeks, dependent on Aiden and Ethan for everything. “I see.” Lydia refuses to describe her voice as breathless, refuses to notice how her voice wavers. She pushes out her chair to stand, pushing away memories of comatose days. Allison seems uncertain on what to do, but she lets Lydia sweep herself out of the room.
Lydia dreams of Stiles kissing a man. This man has his heart engulfed in fire. She dreams of the same man at his feet, but Stiles doesn’t touch him. He lays among the flames, unknowing to the heat. She sees Stiles dance around him, the flame coming from a lantern and lighting up the tapestry around them.
She dreams that Stiles tells this man that he loves him.
Allison and her discuss Stiles sometimes, when Scott is not around. The words are always dripped in worry, in cautious and quiet tones that carry across a small room and stay within the walls. Spring and summer pass and Scott sends out people to find his brother.
Lydia can’t help but think of all the people Stiles could be devoted to, at least he picked a good one. Allison and her keep silent, a unspoken promise to Stiles from her to allow him to decide what happens, to trust him. To understand why he doesn’t want Scott to know where he’s at.
The summer passes with Scott becoming obsessed with the idea that someone had decidedly stole Stiles to make him weaker, which prompts him to work to be stronger. He begins to actually tap into his werewolf side, learning off instinct. He becomes insistent that both Allison and Lydia take supernatural guards, even though Lydia was a part of that world anyway.
Allison’s guard is a werewolf, a new soldier with a permanent smirk and a mop of curls who had apparently ran from the Hale kingdom. He speaks softly, calling himself Isaac. Lydia decides, almost instantly, that he was incredibly arrogant and rather self-imposing. She liked him.
Lydia, despite being nothing besides almost-sister to Scott, receives a knight for a guard. Scott bashfully tells her it’s because Allison knew how to handle herself more than Lydia did, which meant that he wanted her to have more protection. She does her best not to treat him as if he was as stupid as she thought he was, reminding herself that he was to be King. Her knight’s name is Parrish, a beautiful man that was sure of himself and proud of his standing. He was easy to talk to, easy to want to get to know. Interesting.
As the fall goes into full swing, Allison and Lydia shift a majority of their things to the castle. Allison is engaged to Scott, is prepared to be his wife, even though they put it off for Stiles’ return. Lydia comes to the castle to await his return to, because Scott has it stuck in his head that she is here because she loves him. She certainly loved the way his eyes would flash, the way he kept up with her. But him? She didn’t think so.
Allison refused to cry when Scott had taken her aside and asked for the wedding to be postponed. She smiled gently, nodding and tucking a piece of hair behind her ear. That night, however, she came to Lydia’s chambers, sighing as she fell onto the other girl’s bed, bemoaning how she wished that this melodrama of royalty didn’t affect her so.
Lydia smiles a brittle smile, something in her chest twisting. Allison may do as Stiles wished, but she didn’t truthfully care for him. It was something Lydia was beginning to understand, as she melted into this court, that Stiles wasn’t exactly popular.
He was powerful, however, and people were scared of that.
The dreams become more frequent, seeing Lydia shifting around listlessly in her room at night. Parrish stands outside her door, never judging her for her lack of sleep. Sometimes, when she feels as if she will not cry for words, she talks to him.
“Why did you become a knight?” She asks quietly, the dawn not yet breaking through her curtains. She sits on the floor, smooth and cold against her thighs, listening for his response behind the door.
“I wanted to help people.” He shifts slightly. Lydia wants him to sleep more, but he only does so when she is with Scott and Allison. He’s vigilant. “I want to serve my King.”
“King?” She questions mockingly. “Scott is yet to be King.”
“Yet he leads like one.” Parrish insists. “Yet he holds his head high and his people higher, caring for everyone’s well being and attempts to be fair even when the people aren’t.”
Lydia sighs. “Yes, I guess I can see the charm.” She could see why Stiles would throw his life at this wolf. Stiles believes himself to be so sharp, always one step ahead, but Lydia can see right through him. She wonders idly if the same goes for her to him.
When she dreamed again, it was of Stiles. He was a flame, pure of orange and yellow mirth. She dreams he danced around their wedding altar, laughing as it caught onto the flowers. She dreams that there are bodies, burnt bodies, instead of guests here. She dreams she is there, that she falls to her knees and he sees her. She dreams she ask him why.
She dreams he turns to her, face shifting bizarrely to smile, “It’s the closest I can be to the sun.”
The fall brings the harvest, and here they celebrate. They say that Scott is a gentle sun, the King and Queen are kind in every way. Everyone keeps over half of their harvest. The streets are alive with singing, the castle swathed in color, and even Scott seems to relax some. Lydia wonders if his father will come check here soon for her. She was expecting him all summer, but he stayed away. She wonders how her family fairs.
Allison spends her time dancing, smiling, because she is certain this is the season Stiles will come home. She wants a winter wedding, with the snow looking as pure as her dress. She plans and plans, letting Lydia help with everything, but neither say anything to Scott.
It’s honestly nice to have something to occupy her hands and her mind. She tells Allison, who suggests she ask Scott to allow her to oversee the fitters of the court. It’s a wonderful idea.
So she spends time looking at beautiful cloths and wonderful designs and embroidery. She makes friends with a girl named Kira, a simple peasant who smiled often and was quite clumsy overall. But the way she stitched with the needle was nothing short of beautiful.
Allison loved her too, right off the wing. She laughed when Kira admits to once having a crush on Scott. Allison is typically roaming around, checking in on the estate and handling affairs. If Gerard ever comes looking for her, no one tells her.
She wonders if he couldn’t find her scent, before touching the band of leather that seems close to snapping. It’s worn so thin. Lydia doesn’t speak her worries or inquires out loud, instead pretending to always be busy and smiling sharply at anyone who questioned her practice of hard work and diligence with the fitters.
At night, when her hands felt sore from sampling fabric and trying different stitches, she would fall into bed and sleep. Sleep always came with dreams and she tried to forget about them.
She dreams of two girls with dark hair and that man. She dreams their tears put out the fire around them but it doesn’t save anyone, that they could cry to flood the world but the funeral they had to plan would be still need planning. She dreams the man doesn’t wake up, no matter how much he gets rained on.
She dreams of his soul charred to the floor of that hallway.
Her days are marked by how much paint she puts on her face, how rigid she holds herself to not doze off. How long she can convince Parrish, Allison, Scott, that she is alright. She worries on Stiles, wondering what he does in the name of protecting.
She dreams one more dream, and she is inside someone this time. It’s one of the women with the dark hair. It’s not a dream. It’s a reality.
Soot fills her lungs, her legs running down the tower she sleeps in. She’s calling for her sister, howling with what little air she can suck in, because her sister is closest. She took up a room near the tower to be closest. Laura stumbles out of her bedroom, sleep-hair but wide eyes and she grabs Cora. They sprint further into the castle.
The flames lick away at the way towards the family courtyard, so they howl and howl hoping the pack hears them. Laura must hear something of importance though, because she grabs her. Lydia can feel the body she’s in stumbling to keep up, can sense the swirl of confusion that drags down her steps.
The door opens to a hall that is lit in flames. Laying among them is Derek, Derek who isn’t moving. Cora’s heart stops. Lydia knows this man, distantly different than the sister. Laura screams something, and they grab him.
They drag him out. He doesn’t stir, his chest barely moving. Derek’s heart is beating so sluggishly, so terribly slow. Cora can smell the agony on him, she doesn’t understand, he isn’t hurt. He isn’t burned.
After putting him on the ground, Cora moves to return to the palace, perhaps to save others. Turning around shows that there is no entrance, that even the rocks seem to be made of parchment. Laura grabs her, pulling her down even as she fights. Her family is in there, her family is…
Her family is dying.
Lydia bolts out of her bed, a scream so full of pain, so full of force, shattering her mirror across the room. She’s vaguely aware that Parrish busts in. She’s vaguely aware that he is shaking her, but she feels as immobile as a stone. There is nothing to stop this onslaught of death.
“Get Allison,” She croaks at him, seeing through the worried guard. His eyes furrow, and he doesn’t want to let go of her, but she needs to tell Allison.
He doesn’t move, tilting his head back and howling. It’s so loud, Lydia really shouldn’t be able to be close to it. It doesn’t frighten her. She can feel herself shrinking away, moving towards that small, calm Keep that she hides inside.
The water is calm here. Why should she wait for Allison?
Her body blinks, the most movement it can handle. She feels her eyelashes brush her cheek. Allison needs to know to collect Stiles. Everything will come crashing on this kingdom if Stiles is left to be found by the living Hales.
There is a warm fog here. Her grandmother is waiting, open-armed. She smiles indulgently at Lydia, and for the first time in a while, Lydia feels safe.
“My Lady,” Parrish whispers, somewhere away. She cannot see him. She is thinking on the bath she will take and the food she will eat while staying with her grandmother. “My Lady, Lady Allison has arrived.”
This manages to make Lydia to tear her eyes away from her grandmother. She pulls back out of herself, only seeing a half fuzzy-version of Allison. She looks at Lydia with such worry. “Lydia, what is wrong? What has happened?” Her eyes search over Lydia’s blank face.
What has happened? “I think...it is near time for Stiles to come home.” Her voice grates out of her slowly, because her throat is raw and her mind is far away. Her mind is with her grandmother on the island. She closes her eyes, a few tears slipping cooly down her cheeks. There is a bare trace of feeling there.
She returns to her grandmother. The Keep is the same as always, with no castle near it, on a small island with gray water sloshing up to its stones. Lydia looks at it with mild interest, the pain of her throat, the worried glances of her friends, everything left for her body to sort through.
The inside is barely furnished, but enough for a few days of living. Her grandmother holds out open arms to her, folding her in a warm embrace. “My dear, why must you remain around the court?”
“It is the life of a noble.” Lydia says passively. She feels so at rest here, never fretting about the state of how others are viewing her, or how high she has to hold her head or how protected she must keep her back. Here she can finally allow her muscles to loosen.
Her grandmother brushes back her hair. “It is not the life of a banshee.”
“The life of a banshee is the death of those around her.” Lydia whispers, pulling closer to the only other banshee she had ever known. The words come straight from the book her grandmother left her.
She sighs. “I suppose it is my fault that you know all the right things to say.” Her grandmother pulls her back to examine her with wise eyes. “Come now, let’s rest.”
Allison brings home Stiles. Or at least, the body of Stiles. He hugs Scott, as he should, gripping his shoulders and pulling him in and clinging. But when he pulls away, Lydia sees a blankness in his eyes, and emptiness in his hands.
His father pats him on the back and tells him that he’s happy his son is home. It’s not a lie, but it’s a very, very distanced welcome. Then Stiles’ eyes roam over to Lydia.
He kisses her on the cheek, his lips cold. Lydia smiles up at him gently, trying not to shake. She wonders who this Stiles is.
They eat as a family that night, but Stiles doesn’t speak. Lydia is used to that, but it appears the other nobles are not. They fidget in their seats, prodding Stiles with questions of his health. He answers softly, eating slowly.
His hands don’t shake.
Finally, Scott asks an important question. “Where were you?” He whispers it out, as if it was a betrayal of trust. Lydia knows, Allison knows, but Scott does not.
Stiles lifts a bony shoulder, the jut clear in his tunic. “I’m not sure, brother. I remember walking, and walking, and it being cold. I remember being tired. I remember leaving the castle because I was fearful that Deucalion would try to use me against you.” He pauses, sips from his cup. His hand doesn’t waver. “I remember Allison finding me.”
Scott looks worried, but he doesn’t even question Stiles’ story. He clasps his brother’s shoulder, apologizing for allowing Stiles to ever leave their home. Lydia looks away, blinking quickly. A flash of breathlessness moves through her, as memories of Ethan flash through her mind.
Lydia doesn’t know to believe him or not, that he doesn’t remember. The voices are louder around him, but they are more twisted. It’s as if she is listening through a door, while her head is underwater. She knows it is because the voices are speaking to Stiles, attached to Stiles, and not to her.
When the food is cleared, and Scott takes Allison to the gardens, he throws a look at Stiles. “I’ll give you two some time to...catch up.”
He even bids Parrish to leave them. Lydia’s not afraid, just keenly aware that he has the upper hand when it comes to power outside the body. Scott must think they will have some sort of romantic reunion to have.
Stiles shifts in his seat, staring at her curiously. He holds no hate in his eyes, thinking that he’s carefully guarded. Lydia can see the uneasiness in his eyes. The voices grow louder.
Are there more than there were before?
“How fares Deucalion?” Stiles asks, after waving his hand. She can sense a sort of magic dancing in the air, knowing he probably made it so other’s could not hear him.
She shrugs delicately. “I wouldn’t know. I haven’t heard word of him since spring, when I left.”
A small smile curls on the edges of his mouth. The undersides of his eyes are dark, his face more narrow, his hair more wild. The facade of scared, weak, falls from him. She wills herself to not feel as if she was in the presence of a predator, berates herself for falling for the idea that this man could be a nervous boy. “You trusted me.”
“The only other alternative was to stay and hope my father didn’t kill me.”
He stands up, so Lydia does too. Her body instinctively backs away a little. Stiles tracks it, eyebrows climbing a little higher while the same smile stays in place. “I’m glad you did. I just hope I can keep trusting you.”
Lydia stays frozen as he walks towards her. He envelopes her in a hug, but she doesn’t dare move. “After all, you are such a good ally to have. It would be terrible to lose you.”
He smooths the hair from her face, and Lydia doesn’t flinch. She watches him with careful eyes. “Scott would wonder why we didn’t at least smell like we hugged each other.” He murmurs, head tilting at something the voices said. She can’t make it out. “You know how it is.”
Stiles moves away from her then, an easy grin plastered on his face. “I bet they’re waiting for us. How badly does Ally hate me for making her postpone their wedding?” Just like that, Stiles waves his hand and the magic is gone, as is the predator. He trips on his feet a little on the way out the door.
Cold terror slips down her spine.
She locks the door between the rooms that night, hearing Stiles move in his chamber. Even Parrish outside her door does nothing to ease her worry.
“He needs a healer.” Laura says, frustrated. Lydia has returned as a mere watcher of this story, hidden within Cora’s mind. She looks down at the sleeping man, his chest pushing weakly.
“And what of uncle?” She asks softly. Laura looks up and behind her. Cora can smell the burnt, acrid flesh slowly shedding off his bones and being replaced with new, smooth skin.
She doesn’t turn around to look though. She doesn’t want to cry.
Laura lets her hands spasm for a minute, eyes temporarily flashing red. She’s the Alpha now. “His wounds are made by something mortal. He can heal from it. Derek’s...Derek isn’t hurt in a way that we can fix. I don’t think his body can fix.”
“Do you think,” Cora starts softly, flinching as she said it. “Do you think this what the captive did? The spy from Deucalion?”
Her face hardens. “Yes.” Laura says. “And when we get back our strength, we’re going to pay Deucalion back, twice fold.”
The funeral invite comes around the same time that the wedding planning gets into full swing. Stiles has been back for a week, smiling around everyone and helping out and stuffing his face. Lydia can almost forget the way he looked at her, call it a trick of her eyes.
Scott comes to dinner late, and Parrish tenses behind her. Isaac does the same behind Scott. They can probably smell something off, Lydia reasons. Stiles can tell something is off as well, halfway out of his seat before words leave his mouth.
“What’s wrong, Scotty?” His eyes dart to the letter in hand. Lydia recognizes the Hale sigil almost immediately. Does Stiles?
She shares a look with Allison, full of fear, full of worry. If this doesn’t go right, then what will happen to them all?
“There was a mass murdering of the Hale family.” He states it as if it is simple to say. Lydia is almost certain that he is in denial. “They’re holding the funeral the same week we have our wedding. They were going to come to our wedding.”
“We can place a hold on the wedding,” Allison suggests gently. Lydia can see how much she hates to say it, but she is a pure, strong woman who loves this man very much.
The Queen is the one who speaks up. “Nonsense. I’m sure the remaining members will understand. Laura knows how eager you two are to be wed.”
“Survivors?” Stiles says it so, so, quietly. If Lydia hadn’t been prepared for his input, to see how he responded, she might have missed it. But the werewolves in the room certainly didn’t. He clears his throat. “I just mean, how many made it out? Are they badly hurt?”
Scott brings up the letter to his face quickly, thinking naught of Stiles’ curiosity. Perhaps he was normally like this. Perhaps Scott thinks Stiles is returning to his old self.
“The Lady Laura and her younger sister, along with Lord Peter and Lord Derek.” He recites from the letter. He looks up at Stiles, frowning. “It doesn’t say their conditions though. Are you okay?”
Stiles appears frozen, barely breathing. “That’s...not a lot of people.” He forces out. Lydia watches on curiously, wondering how Stiles was going to spin this. Her dreams told her months ago that Stiles was the one who set the castle on fire. Did he not anticipate some wolves to get out?
Did he not let Derek live?
“Do you think someone is trying to get rid of royal families?” Stiles swallows, his Adam’s apple bobbing. Lydia focuses on it, focuses on keeping her face blank. If Scott looks at her, she won’t tell him that his brother was the one trying to get rid of royals. “Do you think...they’ll do it again? To us?”
And Lydia glances at Scott, who has such a sad look on his face. He sees worry all over Stiles and thinks it’s for him. Allison’s shoulders loosen, probably because Stiles managed to hide the fact that everyone was lying to Scott. Everyone knew, everyone besides him.
She begins to pity Scott.
He bends to hug Stiles, wrapping his brother up in his arms. Lydia looks away, feeling a pang in her chest for Ethan, so she purses her lips tightly and locks her muscles. “Don’t worry, we’ll be okay. You aren’t going to lose me.” She hears Scott whisper. It feels so personal. Lydia closes her eyes.
She hears Stiles breaking things that night, pacing the floor. She wonders if he forgot to put an enchantment around his walls, or if he wanted Lydia to hear his distress. She locks her door again, sleeping and slipping back into Cora’s mind.
“He won’t wake up, not until he’s ready.” The healer shrugs helplessly. Laura cries, she cries next to Derek. Cora feels like her hands are tied, and she hates it. She hates the captive, and she hates fire and she hates this healer.
Her arms fold over her chest. She has to be strong now. “What do you mean?”
“Well, the Mage that cast the curse is dead, correct?” Cora remembers his body being found and dismembered from the ashes. She personally asked them to bury his pieces in different spots, so that he could never go into the afterlife. “I can’t take out his magic, because I can’t sense his spirit and it’s very strong magic. Lord Derek will have to fight this himself. There are not many who could break a curse this strong.”
“Send for one that is strong enough to, then.” Cora growls.
The healer holds his hands up, looking caught. Laura is holding Derek’s hand, tears staining her face. She can’t lose him, Cora knows but she doesn’t understand how powerful the connection is now that she’s an Alpha. “I don’t know any, my Lady. Please, I am sorry. I do not think you have to worry of him dying.”
Laura thanks him, before Cora can do anything else. She says it softly, dismissing him.
The Keep has three bedrooms, but they all stay in one. It helps with the feeling of pack. Cora has been handling the funeral arrangements. Laura spends her time holding onto both their brother and uncle.
This is their pack now.
Cora sends out invitations for the funeral. She sleeps with Laura and watches her uncle’s body heal. She wonders when he’ll wake up. She wonders if Derek will wake up. Laura cries more, and even though she’s the Alpha, Cora begins to protect her. Cora lets herself build up a wall that the fire can’t touch. She holds her sister and stands strong.
She won’t cry.
The wedding is beautiful. It’s everything Allison could have asked for. Her mother and father cry in their seats, the perfect picture of happy parents. Lydia stands next to her, holds her flowers, and for once admits that she is not the prettiest in the room. Stiles stands on the other side of the altar, holding the rings for Scott.
The snow filters in slowly, twisting down and dusting everything. The kingdom waits outside the courtyard, holding their breath to see the newlyweds. Allison walks down the aisle, floating as her red cheeks stretch tight from her smile.
Scott greets her gently, pulling her in for a hug. The touch is so pure, Lydia notes that Stiles looks away. She wonders how he feels about this. She wonders if he feels happy about this.
The kiss is a press of lips, soft and slow. It’s an earth shattering moment they’ve been waiting years for, a sigh of completion. Lydia waits with Stiles when they go to greet the kingdom. She clings tightly to the flowers, wondering if she would ever feel as complete as Allison did.
“Do you think our wedding would have been this beautiful?” Stiles asks quietly. He looks at her from under his eyelashes, timidly peering.
She straightens out her shoulders. “I planned the design for this one. I’m sure I could have made ours just as wonderful.” Lydia sniffs slightly. “It would have been beautiful, but our guests would have been anything but.”
Stiles snorts slightly. “That’s fair.” He sighs. “Are you happy here, Lydia?”
It’s a questions she wasn’t expecting. Why would he care how she feels? Does he care because Scott has grown soft for her? Does he want something from her?
“I’m happy with what I have, but I wish the circumstances were different.” She wished that there wasn’t a war. She wished she didn’t have to worry about how much blood her almost-husband has on his hands. She wished Ethan was still alive, that Allison wasn’t worried about lying to Scott.
She wished a lot of things.
Stiles considers her words, head tilting curiously. He shrugs his shoulder, the tunic thin in the cold and showing off his sharp bone. “I don’t.”
Word of war came a week after Scott suggested that Lydia and Stiles re-approach the topic of marriage. The bloom of spring is just starting to peak, with the sound of new life trilling right outside the castle. Love appears to be everywhere, and easy to imagine between easy friends. He had asked hesitantly; Lydia could understand why. When Stiles was in his right mind, they were electric. He held the argument and conversation effortlessly, causing Lydia to respond enthusiastically and wholly.
The Lord Peter had awaken from his coma, Scott had announced. Allison’s face drew tight with worry, her eyes darting to Lydia quickly. Lydia pressed her lips together, remembering the way she saw the shriveled man through Cora’s eyes. Has Lord Derek woken also? “He is still bound to his chair, but he has called for war. Lady Laura and Cora both have agreed to ride to battle, as the leaders of the Hale pack.”
“Have they asked for help?” Stiles questions, sitting on the throne room floor. Lydia would never stoop so low as to dirty her dress that way, but the only chairs in this room were for the King and Queen.
Scott sighs, running his hands through the mop of his hair. “No more so than Deucalion has asked for our help. He calls it pentance for the failure of the marriage between you two, and the loss of both.”
This is the first time anyone has mentioned Deucalion in front of her, of Deucalion exchanging words with the McCall kingdom. So he sees her as lost? Did he ask this kingdom if they stole her away or did he assume that it was the Hales? Did he listen to the whispers from Kali, the hatred for the Hales she held so close to her heart? “What has my father to say about me?”
Allison blinks at her in surprise, as if she didn’t expect Lydia to care anymore about the inquiries of her family. “I had hid from his kingdom that you had departed and traveled here. Would you had preferred he know the truth?”
“No, it’s better this way.” She shook her head. “I was just rather curious on why he never sought me out. Let him believe that I am truly lost.”
“Or we could stir the pot and suggest the Hales took you as captive.” Stiles mused, eliciting a gasp from Scott. He lifted one hand slowly, as if he had nothing to fear for Scott thinking that he was rooting for Deucalion. Perhaps he didn’t. “I meant, that it would get the flow of conversation between them going, and lessen the bloodshed. Both kingdoms are dwindling in terms of royalty.” He snorted. “One from a mad king, one from a mad rogue.”
Scott looked at him disapprovingly, but before he could scold the Mage, Allison cut in. “But if they realize that the Hales didn’t take her, and then Deucalion realizes you weren’t there either, the first place they will look is here.”
“And we need not two kingdoms knocking on our door for answers, in anger.” Lydia sighs. Scott nods at her words; she looks at him blankly. He is lucky to have such a strong and rounded group for advice, even if none are completely present and truthful to him.
He sat back slowly into his tall chair, a hand instinctively going up to his hair. “I think… I think I will write to both that we will stay out and see how each fairs. The call for justice is righteous, but rather mad to point fingers and to respond with banners back, instead of interchanging words, is also rather mad.” Allison scribbles down what he says, while Lydia is left to be a little shell-shocked with how eloquent he sounded.
The kingdom of the McCall’s reside in peace, while the war wages nearby. It is three to four days away by horse at any time, so whenever a tired soldier comes trotting in, Lydia holds her breath. She knows it could be from the battlefield, telling of a royal that was felled in battle, that the blood of that one royal would end the war or increase it ten-fold. The borders are held tighter, with only letting merchants travel bi-weekly, and any soldier escorted in to be escorted in as only one.
Lydia keeps this time as taut as leather, pretty and smooth but could snap with too much pressure on either side. The haze of summer bleeds into the air early, making it hot and humid. It feels as if the entire world is waiting for the break.
Scott spends a majority of time in the throne room, with Allison, hearing peasant’s pleas of their family living in a differing kingdom. They beg for a pass to see them, or to have them seek refuge under the McCall banner.
The elder Queen is often seen with Stiles’ father, a royal knight. They rarely smile anymore, never seen with a fluid easiness that Lydia was accustomed to them wearing. They often stand in small corridors, close and worried, whispering feverently.
Of everyone in the kingdom, Stiles seems the least concerned. He spends his days bored, traveling from one end of the castle to the next, and sometimes Lydia placates him by existing in the same room.
One day she wanders into the library, hoping to find a book about the relations of banshees and werewolfs, when she spots Stiles sitting in an arm chair. He leans near the fire, his face turned closer to it than the rest of it. His eyes dance as they watch the flicker, one leg pulled up close to his torso and the other dangling off the seat. He appears to almost want to jump into the flame, and at the same time curl as far away as possible from it.
She thinks on her dreams and finds herself asking, “Will you tell me something about it?”
Stiles doesn’t act surprised to see her. He pulls his face away from the fire, peering at her curiously. “About what?” He asks calmly.
“I saw, Stiles.” Lydia forced out of herself. She was never going to be one that backed down from something she wanted after beginning to pursue it. “In my dream. I saw what happened. I was witness to what you did.”
His face darkens, and his wrist twists violently. The air in the room nearly crushes her, double charms probably dancing because of his paranoia. “Why would you want to know anything about that? It’s of no importance.” He sniffed, pulling both of his legs up to cross them in the large arm chair. She sits carefully across from him, first noticing the fire. It stopped moving.
Stiles stopped time for this conversation.
“Perhaps, no.” She wants to wince for how callous she sounds about the death of those people. “But it certainly is interesting. And I know you can’t tell Scott.” Lydia scoots forward slightly, prepared to use her charm. “Share it with me.”
Stiles snorts, tilting his head back to expose his long throat. “You are very fair, Lydia, but you will never sway my heart.” He shook his head, and she felt momentarily stupid and embarrassed for attempting such a low belt thing for some information. “That being said, you are right that I do wish to share some. It sits heavy on me sometimes, the little sympathy I held actually saved that wolf.”
Lydia’s breath stops for a second, wondering what could have caused Stiles to feel sympathy, what would cause him to feel anything besides Scott. “What happened?”
“When I first arrived, they took me down to the dungeons and there one of the wolves -- Peter -- unfortunately was rather a brute towards me. That being said, his younger counterpart was nothing but kind. He brought me food, blanket, a way to wash myself, and kept me company.”
“Derek.” Lydia whispers.
Stiles looks at her for a moment, the dark of his eyes reaching out for the dark in her, before nodding. “He gave me a pass time, I quite learned how to draw.” He chuckles. Stiles sinks into silence.
“What stopped you from killing him? What happened?” Lydia prodded, after the pause lengthened.
Stiles sighed. “I let my emotions control me. And since they were so muddled, the results were muddled.”
“What do you mean?”
Stiles shoots such an evil look at her, she nearly flinches. He rips his gaze away, twirling his wrist and the flames jump back to life. She release some of the tension that was being held behind her ribcage. “As much as I usually love talking Lady Lydia, I must ask for you to give me solitary in this room.”
He says it loudly enough that if anyone frozen behind the door was listening in, they would suspect that no time had lapsed. They would hear no break in the conversation. Lydia wonders if he ever did such a thing to the royals, to her, or if her magic would counteract it.
She takes her leave.
That night she has a vivid entrance back into Cora’s life, a rather interrupted one that feels as if she had left dust where she resided before. Lydia could almost feel her inner spirit sigh, almost say that it had been too long since they had been here. It disgusted her.
She had left Laura alone at the encampment almost a full week ago, their forces marching very close to the line of Duecalion’s kingdom. Cora moves her paws as fast as they can go, tired pants heaving through her. She must report back to her uncle, but she must also get back to her sister. Laura sits on the third camp in, very little protection from a sneak attack if it should happen. Very little protection from a raid if it should happen, little protection from an array of arrows.
She shifts at the inner chamber of the Keep, sliding in as two younger boys open the doors for her form. They carefully avert their eyes, probably human and embarrassed of skin. Cora pays them no mind as she wraps a careful nightgown around her. A corset, bottom layer, and top layer is too extra when the man she is seeing can’t even get up to kiss her hand.
The stairwell is a quick affair and she is left knocking softly at the door. Her uncle answers in a rough voice for her to come in; Cora opens the door in time to see him shift his hand back onto the chair. He must be healing rather well to be able to operate his wrist.
Derek lays in a bed near the wall, pushed close to the bed that Peter will be carried to. He appears to be sleeping, his breathing even. Cora could even imagine Peter telling him a story of days past and Derek falling asleep from it.
“My dearest niece, the battles of war haven’t aged you a bit.” Peter says charmingly.
Cora presses out a small, impatient smile. “Four months and little movement besides skirmishes can do that to you.”
Peter sighs. “Has truly nothing exciting happened yet? What does Laura stall for?”
She straightens up, trying not to bare her teeth at the exasperated way that Peter disrespects their Alpha. “She has been cautious, because they have a high Mage on their side. However, we recently learned that they may have lost their banshee close to a year ago now, and Laura decided it was good enough to take action.”
“So there has been movement?” Peter’s neck cricks an inch, with his eyes sliding to look at her. “Has anyone seen the spy?”
Cora feels her spine straighten, a tenseness washing over her. “We found his body in the ashes. You know this.”
“No, I don’t trust it.” Peter face twitches, attempting to contort into the anger of his relatives repeatedly telling him that the spy is dead. “He’s too smart, smart enough to attack after gaining trust. He’s still out there.”
“Lady Laura, of the Hale kingdom, was left to man the encampments closest to Deucalion’s lines for several days while her sister reported back to the kingdom.” Scott reads out the letter with a wavering tone. Lydia wonders if they got along, or what could have motivated this sudden display of emotion. He had called for a meeting in the wee hours of the morning, resulted in a bare-faced wife and Lydia, and a tousled Stiles. Lydia wanted to bring a shawl to place over her hair and shield her face, for the morning was cool but the day still burned.
“While Lady Cora was absent, Deucalion’s forces took the chance to attack. They raided several of the front-line camps, killing many soldiers and taking supplies.” Scott closes his eyes, the year of sitting as King weighing heavy on him. Lydia could see lines marking above his brow and under his eyes. “Lady Laura took up arms in defense and…”
His gaze turns watery, and he doesn’t finish. Allison holds tight to his arm, offering support and sorrow. Blinking, with a tear rolling down his cheekbone, hands shaking, Allison finishes the letter. “Lady Laura took up arms in defense and was cut down by Deucalion's son, Lord Aiden. He cut her down the middle, too fast for her healing. Her pieces are being buried at the center of the encampments to commemorate her honor.
“Though she was felled by another wolf, the power of Alpha was transferred to her uncle, Lord Peter. He is certain that Deucalion’s men knew of Cora leaving because of the spy that killed his family, proving they’re guilty. He once again calls for a reinforcement, this time with more concrete evidence.” She clears her throat, flipping her hair back and looking concernedly towards Scott. He shudders out a breath, and Lydia looks away to give him some sense of dignity.
“So I want to re-approach the topic of giving aid to the Hales.” Scott voice is soft.
“They’re the losing side.” Stiles says, with as much force as a bull. Lydia winces at his tone, knowing he could have been more sympathetic to Scott’s pain.
Scott blinks, “We don’t know they’re on the losing side.”
“They just lost their alpha, the second time in less than two years.” Stiles points out. “Also, their current Alpha is still healing and laid up, while their other trained fighter is in some type of permanent sleep. The only person they have of the Hale line is some fifteen or sixteen year old knave.”
“I don’t think Lady Cora is a knave. She quite took to the idea of a bow, and was willing to let me train her.” Allison shrugs. “Perhaps her wolf instincts will help as well.”
Lydia pursed her lips. “But Stiles is right, their power dwindles as the number of royals dwindle. The kingdom is ruled in a pack mindset, which means it will respond to the power constantly shifting.”
Scott made a frustrated noise. “Yes, they could lose. But what if we could help? What if a few hundred soldiers added to their lines could be the difference in losing and winning?”
“But what if it isn’t?” Stiles shot back. “What if they still lose and now we have Deucalion, with double the power, knowing we didn’t choose his side?”
“He could still attack us even if we didn’t choose a side!” Scott’s shoulders got tense. Lydia watched this battle quietly, slightly awed that Stiles would challenge Scott so openly. She would have been much more subtle, not going head to head with a ruling power. “He would attack even if we offered all our men to his side; he’d probably kill them after using them just to send a statement.”
“My father is…” Lydia breathed deeply, the first time she’d open up around them about something outside of herself. The first time she thought about the cold castle with her pretty room since leaving, or thought about it with purpose. “Unbalanced. He doesn’t see longevity in any of his plans, he sees himself as highly above it all. He would have probably have already failed had it not been for the women in his life.” She finished out haughtily, thinking on herself. Perhaps if she hadn’t been so useful, this would have never come to fruition.
“Perhaps we could have a volunteer ballet?” Allison said hopefully, glancing at her husband’s face for approval. He appears to consider it.
Stiles makes a noise of discontempt, ruffling his hair in frustration. “So we send them undercover, and what? When the Hales lose, Deucalion sticks his claws in them and learns where they come from?”
“If we do nothing, it’s almost guaranteed that Deucalion will win, and then be twice the size of us. And he will come, and we will lose!” Scott paced forward, eyes lit up. “If we stand by now, there will be no one to help us when he gets power hungry. Who’s to say he would even wait? What if the day he cuts down Lord Peter is the same day he raises banners against us?”
Stiles blinked at him, leaning back. Scott had stalked over to almost tower over him; Lydia could feel the tension, Scott appearing to be more wolfish than ever. The Alpha within him roared for Stiles to submit, prodding him to show dominance. She observed it all quietly, not wanting either man to think she would side with them. The battle is a lost one, even if they win. Two of the surviving Hales must have seen Stiles -- which was probably why he’s defending her family so hard. He doesn’t want to be caught.
“We have a strong front.” Stiles whispered. “A very smart knight in charge and happy people. We could have just as many people on the frontlines as him.”
“But we don’t have the provisions for them. We don’t have nearly as much land as he does, if he wins.” Scott sighs, slumping out of his defensive stance and turning away from Stiles. “Allison has a good idea. We will send some volunteer soldiers, that Lord Peter must provide for, to him.”
Stiles looked stricken, reaching out and up to grab a hold of his brother’s arm. Lydia feels it before she sees it, a crackling that reverberates through her very soul. The entire room feels lit up with energy, fast and frantic and very, very real. Then she gets to see the effect.
Scott stumbles away from Stiles, grabbing his head and crying out. He almost drops to his knees, tears slipping down his cheeks. In less than three seconds, the frantic energy is gone, leaving her feeling breathless. Allison rushes to his side, tucking herself under him to keep him standing. “What happened, sweetheart? Are you okay?”
He coughs roughly for a second, wiping his face. “Yeah, no, I just got a really sudden pain in my head.” He stands straight, shooting her a grateful glance. “Will you write out the invitation to arms? I must write back the Hales to inform them.”
Allison nods, happy to help her husband. They begin to move from the room, her hand still clutched tightly around his arm. Lydia can’t help but notice Scott’s almost darting glance back to Stiles, following it.
He looked miserable, slumped on the floor.
There came a knock on her door that night. The inside one that opened into Stiles’ room. She cast a wishing glance at her door, that Parrish would come in and stand next to her, or that he would even ask if she was alright. She noted the faint shimmer of a hearing spell. Lydia sighed and went to the door.
Stiles wouldn’t meet her eyes. His posture screamed defeated, his hands bloody from picking at his nails and his lips bitten mostly to mushy, bloody, mess. She pulled herself aside to allow him in, acting as if she had any choice in the matter. He came in slowly, his tunic practically hanging from his body. He sat softly on her bed, waiting for her to return to him.
She came to stand before him, afraid to sit and appear defenseless, even if she was. “I didn’t mean to hurt him.”
Lydia crossed her arms, wondering if she could get away with scolding him. “Then maybe you shouldn’t have probed around in his mind.” Stiles turned his face away as if she struck him.
“It’s never happened when I’ve done it before.”
Her first response is to yell at him for doing it before, but something awash between terror and pity stopped her. He could kill her, and wipe almost every mind of her presence, or could mute her, or do anything he pleased. Lydia had no clue how far his power extended. But then she peered down at him, sitting there as helpless as could be. He looked like a little child who had been told his best friend didn’t want him anymore. She felt her heart beat a little sore.
She sat down next to him, their knees brushing softly. “Maybe it’s because you’ve been away a year?” Even as she suggested it, she felt vile for offering him a solution to entering someone’s thoughts.
Stiles shook his head harshly. “No, I saw -- or rather knew -- he was there at the spring festival with the Hales. I could reach him even from my cell, could see inside his mind even from that distance.”
While he was more preoccupied with the supposed severed connection, Lydia weighed her options. It could be beneficial to allow him to mope about this, for he would thank her for being there during it. Or she could push further into his life, to learn more, to better know her enemy -- ally -- and he would thank her for the distraction.
“What was it like?”
Stiles, still sitting glumly, stared at the floor. “Oh, the festival? It was alright, I suppose. I didn’t get to see much of it, but a lady named Erica told me much about it.” He said this piece dismissively, the rigidness that accompanied him on this topic before unapparent.
“Did she visit you often?” Lydia treaded carefully, trying to keep the same level of nonchalant as him. She didn’t want to tip her hand.
“No,” He shook his head. “She was only there to ensure I got food during the festival. But that was mostly because everyone that usually visited me had royal duties to attend to. Not that I minded Lord Peter’s absence, but it did grow rather boring without Der--”
He stopped abruptly, straightening all the way out. He cast his eyes up to her face, sizing Lydia up. Her next words were very soft. “Was he kind to you?”
Stiles laughed, albeit a little mirthlessly. “He was very kind. He treated me with every dignity imaginable for a captured man. He was an interesting being that didn’t care how much or little I spoke. He was basically the perfect knight, or prince, I suppose, up until he,” He didn’t so much as cut off his words as trail off. Lydia watched his shoulders sink in, and listened as his voice became lighter and each word longer.
“What did he do to you?” She branched slightly further out, hoping that he would trust her. Perhaps she proved well enough, staying here and speaking naught onto Lord Scott and not rushing him or denying him anything.
He looked up at her eyes, meeting her gaze directly. She watched his lip quiver, his breath coming slightly short. Stiles appeared to be on the precipice of a great telling, or a grand secret of sorts until he deflated and looked away, digging his nails into his arm. Lydia watched tonelessly as blood welled up and filled the crescent holes.
“May I stay here tonight?” He asked softly, unexpectedly. She was shocked, no already on her lips, when he turned to her and gave a washed smile. “Sometimes the voices are so loud I cannot sleep, and sometimes they such terrible things I fear I may lose my mind. It often helps to have someone there, someone real, to focus on.”
He shrugged his shoulders, turning his face to the wall. “I would usually call on Scott, but his bed is decidedly full.”
It’s still in every muscle of her to say no, to push Stiles away from her space. He sits there, probably expecting as much, probably reading her mind and knowing the answer, and he still asks. He seems so downtrodden, namely from the conversation she inflicted upon him and the events prior. Her heart, however sturdy and cold, crumbles slightly at the sight.
She would probably be dead if not for him, would probably be laying somewhere on the battlefield, or out of her mind as the back of her neck drips blood. But the war would be nonexistent if he hadn’t killed the Hales. And for what?
“You are aware your father hoped to use me, like his wife, as an instrument of magic. I couldn’t let it happen, because there’s always a chance he would have gone after Scott and I, being made nothing but a vessel for the craft, would be powerless to stop him.” Stiles interrupts her train of thought.
Lydia startles slightly, realizing she had been gazing toward her door, face slightly away from Stiles’ line of sight. She scowls before fixing him with a look. “One, I don’t appreciate the intrusion.” She takes a deep breath, urging herself not to shift away and show her fright. “And how does killing almost all of the Hales accomplish anything? Why not just flee from my father?”
“Lydia, he would have hunted me down, whether to pay pentenance for leaving or to kill me and silence me, I don’t know. He wouldn’t have let me go unless he literally could not find me. And he wouldn’t have thought to find me in the Hale kingdom.” He splays his hands, leaning into Lydia’s warmth. She can feel a vibrant pulse of energy coming off from him. “Besides, I need Deucalion gone. And I needed to keep Scott from getting hurt. How to do that? Involve another kingdom.”
“But you basically made them defenseless, killing almost all of the pack like that.” She argues back.
“Well, what did you want me to do? Let all of them live and see my face?” Stiles snorts. “No, I left plenty to achieve my goal -- kill Duecalion. If Kali lives, fine. She’s too wild tempered to control a kingdom. If Lady Jennifer lives, great. She may manage to find herself, or perhaps whatever the hell is inhabiting her will be kinder than Duecalion. If Lord Aiden lives, I do not think he will seek another war. It is Duecalion who frightens me.”
She blinks at him, surprised at the weak shred of honesty. He darts his gaze back. “Also, I didn’t peer into your mind. I can hear the beings that float around you and they are the ones who are intruding.” He waves a dismissive hand, straightening his legs as if he meant to go.
Lydia was unaware of any spirits that lingered around her that could capture a picture of her mind. It startled her, somewhat catching her off guard. Perhaps she isn’t so far away from the war as she thought, a chill running through her. She would never visit the line of those grounds again. Stiles stood.
“Stay?” She questioned, unsure as to why she was prodding him to. Perhaps it was because she could feel the cold grip of death more certainly once he brought it to her mind, or perhaps she just was as frightened as he as what surrounded her.
Stiles looked back down at her on her bed, a small smile on his lips. His eyes were soft in thankfulness.
The days bled into one and other, as preparation to send troops to the Hales started. Men floated in and out of the chamber room and meandered in the halls, some wearing the clothes of soldiers from the barracks and some not. Parrish stuck closer to her during those days than he had since Stiles had returned.
“These peasant men haven’t had their blood tested.” He said to her once, while she was taking her meal alone and had inquired why he now found in necessary to be in the same room as her at all times. The reason for a guard was to keep her safe from whatever took Stiles.
Lydia raised her brow in question, turning slightly from her chair so he could see from his position of standing behind her. He continued on. “They want the honor and spoils of war, but they have yet to go to battle. Ever. Even a slight skirmish or testing against another soldier has yet to happen. We don’t know if they’re loyal to their King or to their pockets.”
“So you think if someone offered a higher price, one of these men might be persuaded to take up a different set of arms.” She nodded her head in agreement to her own thoughts. “Very well.”
Lydia wished to talk to Parrish more about the possibility of assassins and the peasant men, or just speak in general, but he had grown distant since Stiles’ arrival in more ways than one. While it upset her slightly, she held her head with regal determination and allowed him to keep up his duty with his cold demeanor.
There were often times several people in the dining chamber at night now, instead of just the family. Merchants and foreigners to talk on the way of war, soldiers lining up the extra tables put in. A king must sit with his men when war is coming, Allison explained. Lydia pursed her lips and thought that perchance this was one thing her father had been right about that Scott was not. The bards amused Stiles to no end, leaning over to whisper in Lydia’s ear a raunchier or more witty version of their song.
“Our noble king, with strength of the wolf,
How we look to thee, raising banners
Raise your sword, all young gentlemen
Make use of yourself in all manners.”
Stiles followed along, under his breath, just for Lydia to hear. “Our gentle Scott, with face of a puppy, look at him raising friendship banners. Raise your cup, all young gentlemen, and become drunken in all manners.”
Sometimes the men would start up a chorus to slander Deucalion’s name, calling him the bearer of mutts or to say that he mounts his daughters more frequently than his wife. Lydia would grimace, ducking slightly in, but not as much to cause any to notice. She acted with cool indifference, continued to eat until her fill and would leave shortly afterwards. However, Allison, being the thoughtful queen that she was, would sometimes stop her or meet her outside the chamber.
“Does it bother you? When they sing of your family?” Allison played with the hem of her sleeve, a long, green piece that accented her collarbones. It was a rather bad habit that would ruin her dresses if she didn’t stop.
Lydia sniffed. “No, why would it? They do not know my name, nor do they sing it. And my father, the one I loved, is long gone. Why would their tone-deaf singing upset me?”
Allison would fix her with a long look, like she didn’t believe her. It didn’t matter if Allison did. The important thing was that Lydia believed herself. “Okay,” she allowed. “But if it ever does, please come to me. I’ll tell Scott to reign them in.”
Lydia nodded, before swirling her dress to turn and walk away.
They received word that Lord Peter has managed to begin walking again two months after sending the brigade. Lydia feels a certain tightness under her skin when hearing the news. A certain nervous excitement, the feel that the war is finally on the way.
Perhaps it is because they actually get news for the war now. Lord Peter makes sure to send some soldiers almost weekly to give reports, happy to keep them updated in case he needed more recruits. Each man who died from their brigade would be compiled into a list. Allison would be writing condolence letters to the families of the men, if they had any, and offering them ten gold pieces to help keep the family going.
Lydia thought it was a rather small price for a life.
Stiles became a fixture in her life, slipping into a position next to her easily. She could almost forget her dreams, almost. He appeared lively and intelligent and wonderful. He kept the jarringly thin physique, even with court food, but his face often held a touch of affection which would work to fill it out.
She allowed him her bedspace often, and Scott became even more persistent that they should re-approach marriage. They joked about it in secret, her heart warm to the idea of a comrade.
He would follow her when Scott was preoccupied, reading with her and helping her with dance lessons -- it was more often that she was helping him. Parrish watched them, from a corner in the room, his face gloomy. She felt increasingly aggravated at him for not conveying what he wanted or even asking her of her thoughts.
Lydia would broach the topic of Stiles’ stay in the Hale kingdom rarely, whenever they were away from prying eyes. She never worried about someone overhearing, his paranoia ensuring that their conversations were kept private. He never spoke on what upset him greatly on the first night he spent with her, but would tell her of other things.
“He had this way of causing me to drop my walls. There were times when he touched me and I called forth a memory and I could swear, he could see it.” Stiles would sigh, recounting how he shared his life with the Prince Derek.
She had asked him several times to show her -- let her experience a memory of his, give her some insight on him, something. But even with her palms pressed flat against his, she never saw what he tried to show her. Lydia would squeeze her eyes shut until the lights behind them went bright, and then she would laugh with him about how foolish she felt.
It was almost as if there wasn’t a war ravaging the land beyond Scott’s kingdom.
Scott recounted to memorable deaths on nights. Some were for Stiles’ father -- head of the guard, hearing how one of his young soldiers that signed up to send money home had fallen -- and some were for Lydia.
The knight they told her that Aiden had fallen to Cora’s sword was one that she wished she could have mustered up feeling for. But he wasn’t Ethan, and Ethan was already dead and Aiden had murdered a queen. Stiles left her be that night, but she knocked on his door, needing to be away from the spirits surrounding her.
Cora had retreated from the front-lines, to a small village where Peter currently stayed. Once he could walk, he picked Derek up and moved them closer to the battle -- but still far enough away for safety. Derek had twitched occasionally, but no sound drew from him and he never opened his eyes. She was losing hope, fast.
Peter heard her approach from a mile off, and was waiting for her near the door of the small home they stayed in. “My darling, how are you?”
He pulled her into a hug, his right side favoring still. “I am fine, uncle. The battle continues but the other side mourns for Lord Aiden.”
“As we mourned your sister, no doubt. At least we were in the right to cry for her.” He pulled away from her, limping toward the dining room. There was a humble spread of meat and cheese laid out, but it was enough to have her stomach demanding. Right before he got to the table, he turned sharply and fixed Cora with a stare.
“Are you quite alright?” He asked softly. Cora felt uncomfortable, his gaze piercing as if he was looking into her spirit.
“I am as fine as this bloodshed allows.” She defended, crossing her arms in a defensive stance. She desired the food on the table, but was well aware that she was closer to snapping at her uncle than having a meal with him.
He cocked his head, before dipping it slowly. “Fair enough. You just don’t seem like yourself.”
When Lydia woke up, she felt as if the words were directed at her. She shuddered heavily, wishing that she didn’t have to endure the dreams. Perhaps she saw from Cora’s eyes because she would be the only survivor on the losing side. Or maybe it was how their magics lined up. Uncertain as she was, it was no less unsettling to interact passively with the King Peter.
Stiles rolled over to touch her hip softly, as she had sat up in midst of the eerie feelings. “It is much too early to be awake. Lay back down.”
“I fear I will not sleep again.” She whispered back to him, but still scooted back underneath the blankets. He nestled his face against her shoulder, not encircling or trapping her with his harms.
“A warm body and soft bed may prove you wrong.” He yawned, laughing tiredly. “Nothing will harm you here, while I am next to you.”
In the end, she did fall back to sleep. The Stiles that had been here for months, that was here for the spring season, seemed to hold onto sanity very well. Lydia began to trust him, relax around him and the man who had come back last winter seemed to be but a vague dream.
However, the other curtain was ripped open during the summer. The first day of real heat had Scott complaining about his upcoming week of heat. He wasn’t aware Lydia was in the room at the time, ranting about how he wanted to go hunting soon to Stiles. She noticed how rigid he became at the mention of Scott’s heat. Interesting.
Clearing her throat caused Scott to whip around, blushing furiously when he saw her standing there. “Ah! Lady Lydia, I had no idea that you were here.” He straightened immediately, acting as if she was of higher ranking than him and thus deserved more formality.
“It is okay, my King. I was merely finding a book that Stiles and I wished to discuss.” The library was vast, and they had recently began discussing using her scream as a weapon, or shield of sorts, and Stiles had recommended a book on banshee defenses. Lydia had just returned with it, hoping to read it while Stiles restored the runes on the windowsills of the library.
“How interesting.” Scott smiled, failing to appear interested. Stiles still was rigid, staring at the empty fireplace. His shoulders were set hard and his eyes, though appear to be still, had a manic energy to them.
“Yes, very.” She cleared her throat, knowing she could push with Scott but propriety making her hesitant to do so. “It is pleasant to find someone to discuss common interests in. I imagine Allison is the same for you.”
“Oh yeah, we can talk about anything and everything, all day.” He got a dreamy look on his face, one that spoke volumes of his love to her.
“Well, I am sure she’d love to have one of those long, captivating conversations right about now. She probably just got back from the archery field.” Lydia straightened her back, and flipped her locks that weren’t tied up out of her face. “Now please move out of my seat.”
Scott sheepishly left, throwing a hasty farewell to them both. The prospect of seeing Allison today had him hurrying out the door and not paying heed to the fact that Stiles only gave a quiet, half-hearted response to him. Lydia studied him for a few moments, struck at the similarities of how she interacted with him with Ethan first was killed. They were also in a library, when he questioned her about her banshee powers and closeness to him.
“Stiles, would you tell me what’s wrong?” Her voice came out soft, the ability of her gentleness vast with him.
“Do you know why werewolves have heats, Lydia?” He responded with a question. It would give her a runaround, that she could piece together with just one more snippet of knowledge -- she would be on the same page as him if he told her just one more thing. “It’s a biological drive, to ensure that they mate with someone and keep the line going.
“It’s not really important -- or necessary -- anymore, because most werewolves are made better in all the ways compared to humans. Beauty, strength, speed. It’s just a barbaric part of their code to take and claim whatever they can during that week. It’s primal, and brutal, and disgusting. Whenever Scott talks about it, I feel worried for Allison. What if he pushes too far? Is he even Scott when he’s like that, so messed up on his own body telling him how to behave?”
Lydia didn’t know which direction to go in. He had given her several to ask about. Why do werewolf heats bother him so much? How could he be certain Scott changed so much during them? Was he worried for Allison or was he talking about himself using her as a metaphor?
Was he talking about himself using her as a metaphor?
“Do you think he’s going to hurt Allison?”
Stiles swung his head to look at her, and she clutched her book tightly to her chest. His eyes practically vibrated with the intensity of the glare he sent her way. “You’re missing the point, Lydia. If he was going to hurt her this time, it means he hurt already hurt her last time.” He runs his hands through his hair. “It already hurts because it already happened.”
“What do you--”
A harsh breath gets forced through his nostrils, before he stands up and strides over to her chair. She pushes herself up in it, moving as to scoot away. Stiles leans down over her. “You’re always missing the point, Lydia.”
She doesn’t see him for a few days after that. The door between their rooms stays quiet, even if she can sometimes hear him muttering to himself. Lydia does her best to sleep, and not wake up to hear him sniffling on the other side of the wooden frame. She wonders if he hasn’t cast a silencing charm, or if he has on everyone but her.
He rarely shows up for dinner, and when he does, he’s jittery. Scott notices, of course he does, but whenever he tries to breach a conversation, Stiles jumps as if he’s been shocked. Allison walks with Lydia sometimes, asking if she knows what has set him off. The entire royal ensemble -- even the high lords and ladies -- have taken noticed and are worried.
Lydia wants to scoff, because they are only worried on how it will affect them. How his mood swings could hurt them, she had heard the rumors of him murdering Scott’s father, or how he could influence the king. She tells Allison the thinnest of truths because she does not truly know what set him off.
One day, with the heat at a soaring level that Lydia never experienced in her father's’ mountains, she spots Stiles scurrying down a corridor. It opens to the outside, begging for a wind to cool it down, and he appears to be restless pacing it.
She wishes to pass him like ships in the night, because he has been half out of his mind of late, but as she gathers closer, he strikes out to a vase. It falls, the wilting flowers inside it landing among the destroyed pieces of clay. The few nobles that roam nearby look over at the noise, and Lydia can see their eyes alight with curiosity. His outburst will be talk of the castle soon enough, but it seems to be of no concern to Stiles.
His voice picks up speed when the vase breaks, the sound so jarring he flinches backwards. “Why, why did it happen? Well, no you couldn’t stop it. There was no control. Not in control. Not in control.”
He repeats the last sentence repeatedly, worrying Lydia. She can hear the click of shoes coming down this way, those filthy rats that dare say they’re nobility, and she clutches Stiles’ arm. “Stiles, you are in control, okay? Right now, right now you need to be in control.”
He looks at her, blank emptiness that she’s all too familiar with, and his words hitch. “No, I’m not in control. There was no control. I couldn’t...I couldn’t, shouldn’t he have known? I couldn’t…” Stiles starts pulling on his hair, his arm knocking out of her grasp. His back hits the wall, and Lydia doesn’t know what to do. She feels helpless here, watching him spiral, not knowing what he needed. “It was so hot, and I needed but I didn’t want it and I couldn’t, couldn’t stop it… why didn’t he? Der--”
Lydia knows the word he’s about to say before he can even utter it, and there are people literally feet away, inching closer, tittering their fake concern in pitched voices and she can’t let this happen here. She grabs hard at the flowy sleeves of his tunic and pulls his lips to her’s. Trying to force him to focus on this, on the press of her lips and the feel of her body against hers. The way her body is breathing, the way he should be breathing -- even and calm, slow. There’s a faint gasp from somewhere nearby, and propriety be damned because if Stiles had managed to spill the beans here, then she would be cursed for a lot more than unladylike behavior.
Stiles’ muscles loosen slowly, and when she finally feels him sagging against the wall, she lets him go. His breath comes out weakly, and his eyes search hers. She can’t help but notice how his well with emotions, and how his hands come up to clasp hers. “Thank you, but I must go.” His voice comes out a whisper, and he presses a kiss softly on her palm before disappearing the opposite way of the royals.
She turns to look at them, some already walking the other way as if they weren’t privy to an intimate moment. Flipping her hair over her shoulder and straightening her back, she looks at them as if they are the ones who have lost their heads. “What?” Lydia asks before marching her way through them.
Expecting to go a few days without seeing him again, she’s surprised when he turns up for dinner. It’s apparent that it wasn’t his choice however, when Scott thanks him for coming and all he returns back is a scowl.
“I wanted everyone here tonight because King Peter has sent me a letter that is… most unsettling.” Scott explains, not wasting times on pleasantries. Lydia looks over at him, knowing that Peter, having recovered enough to go to battle, has killed Kali. It was the last dream she had, one on the frontlines with Cora looking over at her uncle covered in blood, his face a distortion of a wolf and man -- a look of evil vengeance that haunted Lydia’s nightmares.
“He recently killed Lady Kali, leaving Duecalion without a royal to lead the war. I believe she was his favorite, because he has personally announced that he will be riding out to fight King Peter.” Lydia glances at Stiles, wondering who he would put his money on, and sees him looking attentive for the first time in days.
“But this is where it becomes strange -- apparently Duecalion’s new wife, Jennifer, is a Mage.” Scott’s eyes settle upon Lydia, perhaps hoping that she had some input.
She ducked her head slightly. “She was a powerful healer for one of the main cities, when my father began to show some interest in her. He courted her, or so he said, and brought her home to wed. After they were married, he… he.” Lydia purses her lips, unsure on how to describe Duecalion taking control of her. “He put his claws in the back of her neck, and she’s never been the same since.”
Furrowing his brows, Scott glances back down at the letter. He scans it quickly, probably to gain some insight, before continuing the conversation. “Why would he do that? What does it accomplish?”
Lydia felt foolish to be explaining a piece of werewolf magic to a werewolf, but continued on nevertheless. “It’s a way of seeing into their mind, or putting things inside their mind. I think he broke something in her, to make her more willing to use her abilities for him.”
“So she’s a puppet?” Allison asks, and Stiles grimaces. Lydia can’t help but share his sentiment, knowing how much easier it is to be controlled by a set of claws.
“Essentially, I guess you could refer to her like that.” Lydia responds coolly. Allison looks hurt for a moment, not used to Lydia dismissing her, but cannot say anything before Scott continues on his summary of the letter.
“Well, King Peter says that the Mage has used her powers to poison the water, and turn the birds against them. She has also taken some of their soldiers, of different units, to use a sacrifices.”
“Probably for power.” Stiles mutters, seemingly to himself. Scott’s head turns to him though, eyes bright.
“What do you mean?”
He shakes himself slightly, jolting when he realizes that Scott is talking to him. “I mean, she probably is sacrificing them as a way to gain power. It’s not just a fear tactic. Let me guess: a couple were from the drummer boys, and then there were probably some that were medics on the field and some from the higher ranks?” Before Scott can either agree or disagree, Stiles barrels on. “It’s a type of ritual to give power, based on taking it from different types of people. She’s making Duecalion stronger, is my bet.”
Scott nods, taking it and trusting it implicitly. Lydia almost wants to yell at him, not because Stiles is lying this time but because of how undeniably loyal and gullible he was. It was why he was sitting at a table with three people who probably knew the war, and the news, better than him. “Anyway, he said that he’s called for the help of a few Mages, ones that can put up runes of protection and set nature right. But he’s asking if we have any powerful ones of our own to spare.”
And then Lydia understands, and god, does she hate him for it. His eyes rise slowly to Stiles, and a thousand looks flit over his face, and Stiles is out of his chair in a second, shaking and shaking and shaking. “No.” He says, firm. “Don’t ask this of me.”
“Stiles, the Hales have always been true to their word. They won’t hurt us if we help them, and there is no greater sign of alliance than sending one of the royal family.” Scott says gently.
Lydia meets Allison’s eyes across the table, and they both are aware why Stiles won’t go. They both know it would be an end to the somewhat easy peace found here. That the life they’ve made will crumble.
“I can’t see Deucalion again, why would ask for me to face him on the battlefield?” He hugs himself tightly, casting his eyes over all three of them. Lydia flushes in shame that she does not interfere and help. “I know nothing of the art of war and cannot protect myself from the sharp weapons they use. You know that.”
“King Peter surely would let you stay far from the front lines. He requests a powerful Mage to do what Jennifer does, to give him--”
“To kill soldiers so he may be stronger?” Stiles interrupts him, sounding shrill. “You would ask me to murder for power, to destroy several lives so someone else has a chance of winning?”
“Yes!” His voice breaks, even though he only says one word. Lydia watches as a tear falls down his cheek, and is struck by how pure he feels his cause. “I ask that of you, because I ask that of my people. Every moon we send more and more and every moon more die. There are my people out there, killing and dying, and if you could do something to stop it, could make it end quicker, then yes, I would ask that of you!”
Stiles looks as if he has been struck across the face, dealt a blow of a loved one. “Last time I did something for the good of this kingdom, I was lost to myself and you for a full sun cycle. I came back emptier, and have been fighting to live as myself since. I do not think I could try again, so I will say this one more time: do not ask this of me again, King McCall.”
Scott’s shoulders drop, at the meaning behind Stiles’ words and the bitter title he threw out. He realizes, too late, always too late, that what he has asked is selfish of him. Lydia can’t help to side for Stiles -- that he has already done too much for the kingdom. Maybe if he wasn’t asked so much, the war wouldn’t be going on around them. “As you wish. I will send out a call for a Mage throughout the kingdom.”
Nodding, Stiles turns to leave. Scott bites his lip, seemingly torn, before calling out to him. “Forgive me, for I did not think about you when I asked, Stiles.”
That night, a knock resounds on her door. She opens it without thought, an apology already on her lips. The rims of his eyes are red, and his hair is a mess, the tunic he’s wearing barely covering the tops of his thighs. Yet, he grabs her tightly and pulls her in. “Thank you for today. I just was in my head too much.”
Lydia freezes for a moment, before relaxing against him. “You do that a lot.” She counts the breaths that he holds her before she continues on speaking. “I wish you would just tell me what’s going on up there.”
He pulls out of her arms, quickly after that, holding her a little bit away from him. His eyes scan across her face, appearing to judge her truthfulness. “It’s nothing but a funeral party up there. Don’t worry about it.”
And he quirks a smile, one that she hadn’t seen in awhile. Though she’s worried, she smiles back and rubs his side absently. “Are you staying the night?”
“If you’ll have me, after I monumentally destroyed your reputation today.” Stiles joked lightly, even though there was a trace of worry in his voice.
Lydia shrugs delicately. “It’s only bad if I make it seem like I care. Which I don’t. It’s a good way to get someone to stop panicking.” She moves out of his arms, headed over to the right side of the bed, her side. He follows, shutting the door behind him quietly. The buzz of the silencing charm around them is so familiar that she almost doesn’t recognize it.
“Has someone else kissed you before to test the method?”
“Perhaps,” She says softly, looking towards the wall. She thinks of the gladiator, of how he was so angry and yet so willing to help her return to her mind. To control it.
They go to sleep shortly after, or rather, Stiles falls asleep. It takes Lydia several more hours, a feeling of wrongness settled over her more sure than the blanket they share. She feels as if she is in the eye of the storm, and if she sleeps then she will wake up to the worst of it yet. Her mind circles on what Derek did to Stiles, on how it could affect him so, when the entire time he stayed within the Hale kingdom, he was behind bars.
Eventually, though, she does nod off. A blackness comes to gather at her vision, and she just feels grateful that tonight she won’t have to endure one of Peter’s too-long stares or see him drenched in blood. It feels like seconds before she feels a weight pressing down on her, too much, too heavy, too forceful.
She wrenched her eyes open, and sees Stiles above her, straddling her. “Stiles?” Lydia moves to push him off her, realizing he has her hands pinned. His eyes look so black, like there wasn’t a trace of amber in them to begin with. Like he wasn’t really human. “Get off of me.” Her voice comes out watery, terrified, and she hates it. There’s a screaming going on inside her, like it was inside her head.
Stiles head jerks slightly, a smile twisting up his face. He looks like he hasn’t had a heartbeat in a month, and everything about him screams sharp. It screams dead.
“Why? Didn’t you want to know what he did to us? What Derek did?” His voice comes out wrong, like it isn’t just his. Her breath is coming out too fast and she starts to shake her head. “We could show you, since you want to know so badly. Since you’re always begging him, begging us to be let in.” The screaming gets louder, distinguished into laughter, and she knows her ghosts, knows how she deals with them.
These aren’t her demons.
“Leave me alone. Get off of me.” Lydia starts shaking her body, trying to throw him off. “Stop! Stop!”
He grabs her with one hand, pushes her dress up and Lydia feels nothing but cold, pure terror. “Don’t you want to know?” His hand digs into her thigh, too cold, leaving bruises and he pushes it up and she -- Lydia --
She lets out an unholy scream, aiming all of it to get him away from her. It’s as if she’s taking power right out of her very chest and using it physically, and Stiles goes flying back into the wall and lands with a thud on his door. She counts the minutes, expecting someone to come rushing in and see her, see him, but then feels the buzz of the silencing charm.
He’s slumped over, a small trickle of blood coming down the side of his neck and Lydia struggles to regain her breath. He looks like Stiles but, but, it didn’t seem like him. It didn’t sound like him, or move like him. It was as if he was a puppet. A puppet. Lydia keeps staring at him, turning that word in her head over and over again, and watches the sun begin to dust across her room.
There’s a faint rise and fall in his chest, which is the only movement she sees for a few hours. Lydia doesn’t move, doesn’t even go to draw her covers up around her. The sunlight washes into the room, the morning maids rushing around outside, and he stirs.
Groaning, his hand moves up to scratch at the tacky blood on his neck. Stiles opens his eyes slowly, looking up at her. “Lydia?” His examined his nails, probably wondering what was on his neck, and she watched as his eyes widened. It was almost funny, in a hysterical sort of way. “What happened?”
“You should be telling me that.” She responded, body tight and ready to fly to her door. “You’re the one who attacked me last night.”
His face took on a confused look, searching hers for any dishonesty. “I don’t remember.”
“You climbed on top of me and you told me--you told me…” She trailed off, looking at him. His eyes were a liquid honey in the light, and his cheeks were flushed with life. He looked nothing like last night. “You really don’t remember?” She asked softly.
Stiles shook his head, a strong no, looking horror-stricken. “I am so sorry, Lydia. I’m so sorry. I don’t know what I did. I don’t remember.” He pulled in on himself. “I don’t remember.”
And though she had a bruise on her leg, and could recall it all in stark clarity, Lydia took a deep breath. “Okay, well, we’re going to fix that. No more lapses in memory.”
He looked up at her, flinching when she went to throw her feet onto the ground. “I’m sorry.” Stiles sounded like he was going to start crying. “I’m sorry.”
“Don’t be sorry, be prepared. Get dressed -- we need to visit the library.”
It took over a moon to find what they were looking for. In that time, she didn’t mention what he had told her that night. And Scott went through his heat, so she took him out to the Argent estates for that week. He acted jumpy for most of it, but she made sure he went riding every day and did everything she could to help it. For the most part, things were okay between them.
The only difference was she kept the door between their rooms locked, and never answered the knocking that came around in the late hours of the night. Stiles put a rune up around his entrance of the room, attempting to block himself in. She also paid more attention when he was caught up in conversation with himself, forcing herself to note when he used terms such as “us” or “we”.
What she found to help them was a sigil of intentions. It kept the body of the Mage using it for the Mage. It was often used when a Mage wanted to control another person, but when Lydia asked Stiles about it, he was pretty sure he could make it to control himself. It would give him a sort of key to awaken him in a sense -- so that if he ever wasn’t in control, all that was needed was a simple word to bring him back to himself.
“Excuse me?” Lydia said, looking up from the book that was arguing over whether sigils were best branded into the skin or woven into a piece of jewelry to wear.
“That’s the word.” Stiles swallowed, his throat flexing as he glanced around nervously. “The one that will make sure that what I’m doing is what I want to be doing. That it’s me.”
“Why are you telling me?”
“I almost hurt you, Lydia.” His shoulders bunched up. “I don’t want to ever do that again. I don’t want there to ever be a chance that I could harm you, just because I’m not strong enough to keep myself together.”
“I know it wasn’t really you. And if you think I am always 100 in the head, then you’ve got another thing coming to you.” She smiled, somewhat ruefully before ducking her head. “But thank you for telling me.”
“I trust you.” He said simply. And Lydia, for some reason, trusted him as well. She didn’t trust that he was always going to be around, or that his unwavering loyalty to Scott wasn’t going to get him killed, but she trusted him.
For right then, it was enough.
The fall was nearly over when Scott, looking a mere mess of himself, came rushing into one of the open ball rooms. A lot of the nobles looked quite scandalized to see their king in nothing but his sleeping tunic. He looked at all of them, spotting Lydia and Stiles sitting with Allison in the corner as a few nobles dithered around them, trying to gain favor.
“All of you, leave immediately.” His voice held a strain of worry to it, and his eyes flashed red as he whipped around to glare at all of them. Even Lydia felt a slight brush of fear, but she had known Duecalion’s empty gaze, Peter’s sneer and Stiles’ smile so she stayed still. The rest were happy to rush out of there.
Even Allison and Stiles made a move to leave, but with a raised hand from Scott, they settled back down.
“What’s the matter, my heart?” Allison asked, doing her best to placating. She could probably feel the stress coming off of Scott in waves and was responding in equal.
“Peter is dead.”
“What?” Stiles shot out of his seat, pushing past Scott to pace. He was shaking, and Lydia herself felt as if the rug was pulled out underneath her.
“Cora has asked for refuge in our kingdom, as well as her brother. I have given it to them.”
“Why?” Stiles spun around to look at him. “Give them to Duecalion as spoils and pray he doesn’t come to kill us next.”
“Even if we were to sacrifice the Hales, which is a largely selfish thing to do, he would come here anywhere. He would see you and Lydia and war is already inevitable. No, half of the Hale kingdom revolts him, and almost all know that Cora is coming here. They plan to fight with us.”
“Against a land giant as him? We are surely doomed.” Stiles bristled right back.
“We are doomed either way, but best to go down fighting with everything we have, instead of throwing half of it to the dogs in hopes we can escape their teeth!” Scott shouted back. “What is really so wrong with trying to help others -- why can you never be concerned with anyone but those you are surrounded with?”
“Because I can’t lose you, Scott! If you die, I will literally go out of my mind. Your death won’t just be yours -- it will be everyone around you, trying to figure out how we are going to survive without you. But we won’t! Because he will kill all of us -- and there will be nothing left, so yes, I want to suck up to him and hide away with Lydia and have this disgusting thing done with!” He’s almost crying at this point, voice hoarse from yelling.
Lydia doesn’t remember standing up, but she sways slightly on her feet, feeling as if her earth is changing. Scott stares at him for a moment, before rushing up to him and hugging him. She looks away, uncomfortable with how it reminds her of Ethan.
“It won’t end, not unless we stop it. We have to do this. I need you here, with me.” He grabs a hold of Stiles’ face, sounding so genuine. “I know we can do this. I don’t want to die; I don’t want anyone to die.”
Stiles laughs a little, sounding broken. “It’s a little late for that, Scott. But you know I’ll stay by your side no matter what. I’ll do whatever you need.”
In the end, they called for war before Duecalion did. Lydia knew that he would have never raised a banner, instead coming over into the kingdom to talk and killing Scott in cold blood. At least now they had a fighting chance.
Cora arrived in a nondescript carriage a few days later. When stumbling out of it, she simply shrugged and said that her uncle told her to take Derek almost a week before he was killed. She says it tightly, like a robot, and Lydia can sympathize with her just a little. After so much death, it’s easy to be on autopilot about it.
Scott helps her get Derek out of the carriage, his body slouched like he was taking a nap. Lydia cuts her eyes across the way, to see how Stiles responds to seeing him. A thousand emotions flit across his face, ranging from anger, fear, pity, and...hope?
They make themselves comfortable in the castle, with a man named Theo taking charge of the east side of the battle -- where the Hale kingdom once stood. Cora is standoffish for the most part, nothing like the friendly and mischievous girl that Allison told Lydia about. She finds out quickly that Stiles is a Mage, but doesn’t seem to know that he’s the one from those years before, and forces him to try to waken Derek.
Lydia is in the room at the time, reading something in an arm chair. She’s taken to occupying empty spaces in rooms with Stiles in them, watching the way he sometimes still winces at how his tunic draws across his chest and his sigil. He touches Derek, looking obviously shaken but Lydia would have written it off as Cora’s demanding presence before, and says he doesn’t think he can do anything for him.
“Well, then try harder!” She explodes at him. Stiles flinches back, dropping his hands from the body next to him. “You can’t be that incompetent; everyone around the castle has said that you are the most powerful of Mages. There must be something that you can learn to do.”
“I will do everything I can. I will study, and try my hardest. Why don’t you ask the Mage that put this curse on him?”
“He’s dead.” She mutters, turning away. Her hand automatically reaches behind her to touch Derek’s calf, keenly aware that he is her only kin left.
“Then I will make sure to not stop looking until I can help you.” Stiles swore, and Lydia didn’t know why she found it so funny, but she did. She snorted slightly, before burying herself into her book. But Cora was a werewolf, and could hear her mirth, probably even smell it.
“Do you think this is funny?” Her claws come out almost immediately, and Lydia shrinks back into her chair. There’s a crackle of energy in the room, and she realizes that Stiles is willing to be complicit in murder here. To protect her. However, before Cora strikes her, a look of recognition runs across her face. “Do I know you?”
Looking up into the eyes she used to look through, she wonders how aware the werewolf was. Magic that affected the inside -- magic of the Mage, of the banshee -- was vastly different than the magic of the werewolf. “The only place you would know me from is the Spring Festival all of our families attended. But the last one that I went to must have been around four sun cycles ago.”
She looks between Stiles and Lydia, darting her eyes between them and suddenly, Cora looks so much younger. “Forgive me. It’s been hard.”
“I imagine so.” Stiles says gently, pulling back in his magic. “I can’t say I know what you’re going through, but I can promise that we’re here to help in anyway we can. Scott wants to help everyone.”
Stiles shrugs his shoulders like it’s of no importance to him. “I guess I’m just along for the ride.”
Cora laughs at this, not the bitter scoff that she had used on everything else, but actually laughed at this. Her shoulders shake, and for a split second her face doesn’t look so troubled. “You could say that.”
It forms a friendship between them. Half of the time, she’s still insufferable to Lydia -- too stubborn, or fast-acting. She enjoys being around Stiles though, and Lydia is happy to see him gain a new friend, despite how it came about.
“Do you think, if things were different, he’d tell her?” Allison asks her, one night when they are out among the horses. Most of the werewolves don’t come here, hating the smell and the horses skittish around them.
“Would you? Do you think she’d ever trust him again?” Lydia shoots back, surprised that Allison would even think he would risk them like that.
Her face still holds that thoughtful, anything-is-possible, look. “I don’t know what goes on in his head half the time, but I know it messes him up a lot. I wouldn’t be surprised if half of his actions were spurred on with whatever is going on up there.”
“But would that excuse what he did?”
“No one gets angry at you for your screams, even though they mean certain death. You could travel away from people, and never set terror in someone’s heart because of your foretelling.” Allison argues, stopping in front of a white mare and brushing her hand down it’s neck idly.
Lydia leans slightly on the wooden stable next to her, trying not to crinkle her nose at the smell. “But I don’t kill anyone -- and I’ve never killed anyone. It’s not like I say someone is going to die and then go out and stab them. Even if some people see it that way, I have very little control over screaming because it’s what the spirits around say I have to do.”
“Well, what if the spirits around him tell him he has to do that? Would it make it any different?” And Lydia thinks on the sigil branded on his chest, and the word void. She doesn’t have an answer for Allison, who’s playing devil’s advocate and yet still being a saint. So she just raises her eyebrows at her and turns away.
There a very few dreams anymore. Scott doesn’t lead the banners, but Stiles’ father does and she doesn’t dream of the frontline. That isn’t to say that her sleeping hours aren’t riddled with sounds. There’s the persistent sound of a hoarse and ragged breathing that’s been driving her up the walls for the last moon.
Winter is almost well and truly over, and the bugs are all dead or hibernating, so she expected some quiet. Even the nights, though much fewer than before, that Stiles sleeps with her, she can hear it. The drag in is fast, and the exhale is slow. It sounds like someone who has been living in smoke.
It’s a new night, and it’s been a few hours of that terrible sound, when Lydia snaps. She pushes herself up in her bed, taking her head in her hands and begging whatever entities are up above to make it stop. “I can’t take it anymore, I’ll do anything if it’ll just go away.”
“Anything you say?” And it’s a voice she knows, from dreams that have long since been buried in her mind. “Did I finally get your attention, Lady Banshee?”
She turns slowly, seeing Peter sitting there in her bed. He’s got a wound through his chest, blood covering his entire torso but his eyes are lit up. They’re the coldest shade of blue that she had ever seen. “No, you’re dead. You’re not real.”
“Ah, not yet.” He holds up a finger. “On both accounts really, if we were being honest. Did you not think I would notice how you holed up in my niece like a rat?”
She flinches, which seems to be the most she can move away from him. “I wasn’t there because I wanted to be.”
“No, death draws you, doesn’t it? Sings a song that you can hear, but no one else really can.” Peter slow brings his hand up, his claws gleaming in the moonlight. He pulls a strand of hair out of Lydia’s face, and she realizes that she’s crying. “Did you know that this full moon is called the Worm moon? It’s the last one of the winter, so the ground is breaking back into soil and all the worms are waking up and pushing out of it. It’s one that wakes up all the worms, who seemingly died over the winter.”
“I don’t understand.” Her mind is whirring, and she thinks she does understand, but it wouldn’t be possible.
“I know you’re smart, and you’ve learned a lot about your kind while staying here. But there’s so much potential that you can’t just tap,” his claws press against her cheek, “into on your own. But don’t worry, I can help with that.
“Think of it as mutually beneficial. I open your eyes up to things you didn’t think were possible and you… why, you give me the ticket back to life.” He shrugs his shoulders, like it is the most sound plan he’s ever heard.
“You’ve only got to do one little thing.” He continues on, acting as if she’s agreed. “I need you to scream, Lydia.” It bubbles inside her and she could hold it down, desperately wants to hold it down like she has for the past few moons but Peter grabs her by the back of the neck and sinks his claws in. “Scream for me.”