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Strawberry Blonde

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Early September in California is like a sparkling wine.  It’s still bubbly and refreshing enough to be summer, but tart enough to leave the impression of fall upon your tongue.  The sunrises are rosy seafoam, the sunsets are indigo and sand. And for the group of friends currently sunbathing in the last vestiges of warmth, early September marks the week before the start of senior year.  Kira and Malia are dreading it because it means there won’t be much time to relax once classes pick up again. They’re both struggling through the most difficult courses in their degrees (History and English, respectively), and this beach trip is their last chance to soak up the sun before they trade their tans for the blue glow of their MacBooks.  Meanwhile, Erica and Tracy are looking forward to their first twelve credit semesters after three brutal years of engineering school, and are relaxing on their towels so deeply that brain cells can almost be seen escaping through their ears.

A cool breeze drifts in from the ocean, and after a moment, Malia checks her watch and leaps to her feet.  “Hey! Guys, it’s time! Gifts first, and then we gotta go.”

“Now?” asks Tracy, but it comes out muffled because she’s face down on her towel.

“Yes, now, the date’s in three hours and she needs to get ready.”

“Wow, today flew by,” Kira sighs, already pulling on her billowy red cover-up dress over her bikini.  She’s probably the most alert of the bunch, because despite the girls’ usual “summer means no schoolwork at the beach” rule, she’s snuck in some of her assigned reading to highlight, hidden under the most recent issue of Cosmo.

Everyone rouses themselves, brushing sand from sticky skin and sliding sunglasses up sunscreened noses.  This is important, Malia’s right. All the girls turn their heads to the lone figure reclining in a deck chair at the top of the sand dunes, where the afternoon shadows are longer and palm trees provide shelter from the sun.  

“Lydia’s gonna love this,” Tracy says, watching Malia rummage in her satchel for the little wrapped box and envelope.  

A buzz of cheerful anticipation charges the air.  The girls share a special bond with each other, and with the girl in the shade.  Because their sorority isn’t the Greek kind. It’s the pack kind. And Lydia Martin is their beloved Alpha.  

Having a banshee as an Alpha is, to their knowledge, unprecedented.  But Lydia was always the clear leader, and their pack isn’t exactly conventional.  Nobody has ever heard of a werewolf, a werecoyote, a kitsune, a kanima, and a banshee being part of a pack together before, but they make it work.  They’ve ruled their campus ever since they met during a particularly bloody lacrosse game freshman year and managed to survive unscathed.  Next year, they might be splitting up to go their own ways, but right now, they’re at the height of their power.

As her friends approach, Lydia sits up and props her sunglasses up on her forehead, where they push back a few shiny strands of her strawberry blonde hair.  Her Papillon, Prada, barks cheerfully in greeting from a cuddled up position on Lydia’s lap. “What’s up?” she asks, noticing the gift Malia is clutching in her hands.

“This is for you! To say good luck!  And congratulations on your engagement,” Malia beams, passing them to her.

“We all signed it,” says Erica.  “Mine’s in red.”

“My pen leaked, so there might be some ink smudges on the inside,” Tracy blushes apologetically.

“At least it’s not your venom,” Erica smirks.

Her eyes turning curious, Lydia runs a seafoam green polished nail under the envelope fold, and pulls out the card.  Sure enough, there’s Tracy’s blotchy scrawl, Erica’s cherry red lipstick kiss, Malia’s no-nonsense print (it’s really improved since she returned from living in the woods as a coyote) and Kira’s little fox doodle curled up within a calligraphy signature.

Congratulations, L!  Go get that ring! We love you!

Lydia tilts it so Prada can read it too.  After reveling in the affection, she opens the wrapped box to find a gold necklace with a delicately balanced infinity symbol.  She puts it on immediately, sets Prada down on her towel, and jumps up to hug all of them.

“You guys are so sweet!” she cries.  “I love it.”

“We wanted you to have something special for tonight,” says Kira.

A small cloud of worry passes over Lydia’s face.  “The ring’s not a guarantee though, he hasn’t proposed yet.  But I’m like, ninety nine percent sure it’s going to be tonight.”

“I don’t know why he wouldn’t,” assures Erica, digging her toes into the sand.  “Jackson’s only ever had eyes for you.”

Lydia crosses her fingers and holds them up, the pack follows suit.  “Let’s not jinx it.”

The sun dips a little lower as they gush about Jackson, and soon enough, Erica picks up her keys with a little jingle.  “We’ve gotta get going, princess,” she tilts her head at Lydia. “Everybody pile in.”

The ride in Erica’s Prius is a cramped one, but the pack is used to being close, so it doesn’t bother them.  The whole way there, Lydia scrolls through an app that has the complete digitized contents of her closet, and shows potential outfits to the girls (and Prada).  

“What do you think of this one?”

Malia wrinkles her nose.  “It’s too fancy. It’ll look like you’re expecting him to pull out the ring.  Leave him some pride.”

“This one?”

Kira speaks up this time, “Too understated, you’ll want him to remember what you were wearing tonight.”

Lydia frowns, a tiny crease forming between her eyes.  Jackson loves it when she does that, especially when they study together.  “It looks like you’re thinking too hard,” he likes to say. “It makes me want to distract you.”

“You do distract me,” Lydia usually replies, “I can’t study differential equations or theoretical calculus when you do that.”

“It’s not like you’ll need that stuff anyway.  You’re majoring in philosophy or something.”

This is the one lie she’s ever told Jackson; her major actually is mathematics, but he never really asked what it was, and she never really corrected him when he assumes.  

“Just kiss me already,” is her go-to, and it always works.

The fact that Lydia is extremely smart isn’t something Jackson cares about.  It sounds bad when put that way, but Lydia knows it’s a good thing. He loves her no matter what, and she doesn’t have to prove herself to him (even though she totally could).  The plan after college was always to get married and pursue their dreams of being a senator and a professor, respectively. So, the fact that she can solve proofs upside down and blindfolded, or convert to polar coordinates in her sleep?  Purely incidental. Her goal to become the second woman ever to win a Fields Medal? Only makes her more of a catch. It’s not really relevant, seeing as she’s already won his heart without him knowing this one secret.

Jackson even knows she’s a banshee.  It was kind of hard to avoid after the lacrosse game debacle, when Lydia (new to banshee-ness at that point) had a premonition, followed a trail of blood away from the panicking crowd, and accidentally found out her boyfriend was the rampaging kanima causing all the carnage.  

He’s doing much better now.

The pack is almost home before Lydia finds the perfect dress.  Muted florals, the shades of color just enough to balance with the red tones in her hair without clashing.  She shows the girls, and describes it for Erica’s benefit, since she’s currently making a wild left turn into the cracked driveway of their rented white stucco house.  Malia chiseled a small infinity symbol into the door frame when they moved in – the symbol of their pack. At first, Lydia was furious. She worried over losing their safety deposit for a few days, but eventually came to appreciate it.  Every once in a while, one of them will catch her running her finger over it when she leaves the house, as if reminding herself this is her family. Forever.

“Well?” Lydia asks.

“Perfect,” Kira gushes.  “I love it.”  Tracy nods in agreement.

“It’s a winner for me,” says Malia.

“And me,” chimes in Erica, leaning over to look at the screen once she’s thrown the car into park.

“Thanks for all the support today, you guys,” Lydia blushes.  “I’m just…nervous.”

“Go bring out your inner goddess,” Erica orders.  “You have nothing to be nervous about.”

And with glimmering eyes that shine red just for a moment in the light, Lydia flips her sun-ignited hair over one shoulder.  She gives them all a smile so genuine it’s the kind that stops someone in their tracks. The kind that could ensnare any heart or move anyone to compassion.  It’s the kind that makes her such a great alpha, a great girlfriend, and…dare she say, a terrific fiancé.

 

By the time Jackson pulls up in his silver, bullet-shaped Porsche (an endless joke among the pack), the crescent moon is rising and the night is chilly.  Lydia feels her skin prickle with goosebumps, but she’s set on this outfit and decides it’s not a problem. He walks her down to the car, bracing her arm against his so her heels don’t get caught on the flagstone walkway.  She breathes in his cologne; there’s something cool and mechanical about it, like if they bottled moonlight and snow and steel. She shudders with delight.

“Hey, handsome,” she says once they take off down the street.  “I missed you.”

“Hi,” he says, and his face is illuminated by the passing streetlights in flashes of yellow.  “You look beautiful.”

“Thank you,” she says, and puts her left hand on the armrest between them, imagining the princess cut diamond ring that is about to be nestled there.  She is counting down the minutes, and her stomach is fluttering like she’s had a glass of Prosecco on an empty stomach.

But here’s the thing.  

The drawback to being a banshee is that, while Lydia sometimes knows about things before they happen, it’s mainly restricted to life or death scenarios.  This means that she can’t foresee everything, as much as she’d like to.

It also means that if Lydia knew how tonight was going to end, she wouldn’t have been so excited.  She also would have worn more comfortable shoes.

Chapter Text

When Lydia and Jackson get to the restaurant, a bustling upscale place called Limón, their table for two is situated by the window, and just far enough from the live guitarist that they can hear the music without having to shout over it.  The two of them get through the same old “how was your day” starter topics as they nibble on warm roasted corn biscuits and slices of queso fresco. Lydia barely tastes anything.

They’re a glass of champagne in when Jackson starts to shift in his seat and pick at the knot in his silver tie.  He does this thing where his eyes shift around when he’s nervous, like a comic book villain. Lydia regards him with sappy affection.  He’s anxious. It’s so adorable.

“Look, there’s something I think we should discuss,” he starts.

Lydia places her hands neatly on the table.  It’s happening! “Okay.” She tries to keep her voice steady, but it upturns like a beaming smile.

“I know the last four years have been amazing, and I need you to know that I love us together.”

“Me too.”

“But…Um, I’m trying to figure out where to start…So, I know the plan’s always been law school for me.  After graduation. It’s the next logical step if I want to be a senator.”

“You know I’m totally supportive of that.”  The words feel rehearsed when she says them, but they’re true.

“And I found out this week that I have a spot at Harvard next year.”

“Already?  Early applications aren’t even due until later this fall.”

Jackson ducks his head in what could be modesty but is probably just discretion.  He fumbles clumsily through an answer. “My...parents have some connections.”

“Oh.”  This kind of thing isn’t unheard of.  Jackson’s family has money and lots of sway on the east coast.  But it does kind of bother her, sitting in her stomach like a piece of moldy queso fresco.  Did he even earn it? She files this away for a later discussion; she doesn’t want to ruin the moment.

“And since I’m going to Harvard, I need to be focused on my future; I can’t waste this year messing around, you know?”

Lydia nods.  This is it, she knows it.  She licks her lips and picks up her water glass with an elegant gesture, trying to seem like she’s not expecting it.  “I agree. It’s time to focus on us. Our futures.”

“Which is why…Lydia, I…think we should-”

“Me too,” she murmurs, her eyes wide and hopeful.  She swirls her water in the glass with an anxious flick of the wrist.

“-break up.”

The glass in her hand falls from her grip and shatters on the floor.  There’s a whooping gasp from the other restaurant patrons, and a vacuous silence echoes outward from it.  Then someone at the other end of the room laughs, and conversation resumes as if nothing happened. But Lydia is frozen, as if moving at all will make this real.   Break up break up break up break up-

A blond server rushes over, sweeps the glass shards into a dustpan, mops up the water with a towel and disappears again.  Lydia watches, detached, and thanks him robotically. Once he’s gone, she turns back to Jackson, her movements stiff and shocked.

“What?” she finally whispers.  She chooses that option over yelling at him, since the last thing she knows she should do right now is scream.  Not only because it wouldn’t be very classy, but because, well, banshee .

“Lydia, don’t make me repeat it, it’s already hard enough-”

“I thought you were proposing.”  All of a sudden, she can’t get enough air.  This is really happening. They’re splitting up.

“No,” Jackson says, but he looks strained, as if this wasn’t the reaction he was expecting.   Come on, Lydia thinks.   After four years, it can’t be a surprise that I’d be upset.  “But think about it, L.  I’m going to Harvard Law.  I’m going to have to work twice as hard as I already do and I can’t spend all my time gallivanting on the beach with some beautiful babe.  I need to be with someone more serious, who can keep up and understand .”

“Understand what?” she asks icily.  She is conscious now of the effort it is taking not to let her eyes go red in public.   Keep it together.

“How difficult it’s going to be there.  Face it, Lydia, it’s not like you were going to go to Harvard with me, you’re not going to study law.”

“You never asked me to.  But I assumed I’d go wherever you went.”

“You?  At Harvard?”  He gives what is probably an unintentional little laugh.

Anger ruptures in her chest like a perforated balloon full of acid.  “What is that supposed to mean?”

“Come on, L,” he starts, but she cuts him off.

“Is this because you think I’m not smart enough to get into Harvard?  Or that I wouldn’t be good for your image?”

“Well, I mean-”

“Oh, so it’s both ?  It’s not like I’m dumb, Jackson.  In fact, I’m a freaking genius , but you just never asked.  I see now it was wrong of me never to mention it, because clearly you think I’m only good as some kind of trophy girlfriend.  But now I know how much you think I’m worth!”

Her voice rises and Jackson’s water glass cracks at the lip with a tiny ting .  Lydia goes silent, and they meet eyes.  They both know it’s not a good idea to let her voice shatter anything in public. It raises too many questions.  But instead of apologizing, she glares at him and lifts her eyebrow. Try me .

“Let’s not make a scene,” he placates quietly.  “I picked tonight because I wanted to be considerate.  It’s not the full moon, it’s not during school, it’s a Friday, we had champagne. I even took you here because I knew it’s one of your favorites.  I am trying to do this gently, I swear.”

Her gaze turns murderous.

“C-check please,” Jackson signals the nearest waiter.

Lydia slaps her napkin onto the table and stands with a toss of her glossy hair.  “Unbelievable.”

Without another word, she grabs her purse from the back of the chair and beelines for the door.  She doesn’t stop walking until she’s two blocks away, and she only pauses to pluck a shard of glass out of the skin above her right ankle.  It doesn’t even hurt.

She limps the whole way home in her heels, and it takes her almost an hour.  Her shoes are ruined and she’s freezing, but she doesn’t fully go to pieces yet.  When she’s finally inside the apartment again, the girls are waiting up, but she walks past them with a completely blank expression and promptly locks herself in the bathroom without a word.  She’s not capable of anything else right now.

With a dissociated manic energy, she washes the blood off her right ankle, puts band-aids over her blisters, and washes her makeup off.  With the adrenaline subsiding now, the cut from the glass really does ache, and a spot of red is already seeping through the bandage.

She may be an alpha, but alphas still bleed.  And unlike the other members of her pack, Lydia’s the only one who doesn’t heal right away.  She’s the fragile one, and she’s pretty sure tonight broke her.

She stares at her reflection in the mirror, at a loss now that there’s nothing else for her to do. And after a moment, she sits on the bathroom floor, props herself up against the bathtub, and cries.

Chapter Text

Lydia’s still sitting on the bathroom floor at one in the morning when a Kit-Kat bar slides under the door and brushes her left shoe.  She stares at it, uncomprehending.

“Lydia, we’re here when you’re ready to talk.  If you want,” says Kira. “I know Kit-Kats aren’t your favorite, but it’s the biggest thing of chocolate we have in the house.”

There’s a tinkling sound of Prada’s collar jingling as she approaches the door.  “Prada misses you,” Kira adds, and there’s the unmistakable dull scratching sound of Prada’s tiny paw against the closed door.

It’s a truth universally acknowledged that any wounded girl must be reunited with her dog, so Lydia picks up the Kit-Kat, pries herself off the bathroom floor, and unlocks the door.  Prada sprints in and runs happy circles around her ankles. Something in Lydia’s heart clicks back into place. She lifts her swollen eyes to meet Kira’s. “Thanks,” she says, and pulls her friend into a hug.

“I’m not going to ask if you’re okay,” Kira breathes into her shoulder.  “Because you’re not. But you have us, and if one of us needs to go eviscerate Jackson, Tracy’s already volunteered.”

She pulls back to survey Lydia for a reaction, but Lydia’s still catching up to speed.  Her eyes drift past Kira, to where Erica, Tracy, and Malia are dozing in a haphazard pile on the couch, and the room is lit only by the dim lamp in the corner and the light-polluted sky.  Eventually, her brain kicks in and she understands.

“That’s not necessary.  I mean,” she amends, “As angry as I am at him, it wouldn’t be a good idea.”  Lydia unwraps the Kit-Kat, and with a snap, hands half to Kira. “Jackson broke up with me.”

“I figured.  I’m sorry.”

“He said he didn’t expect me to follow him to Harvard Law.  He pretty much assumed I wasn’t smart enough to keep up with his lifestyle or his future.”  The words come out of her mouth in a calm, dry voice, but Lydia still doesn’t half believe them herself.  It’s like the last few hours were some kind of nightmare she just woke up from.

“That’s idiotic, you’re so much smarter than him,” Kira scoffs and bites vindictively into the chocolate.  “Like, you could probably teach him his classes.”

“I know,” she sighs miserably.  It sounds arrogant, but it’s true.

“So did you tell him that?”

“No, but I don’t know how much good it would’ve done.  And I was trying not to have a total freak out in the middle of the restaurant, so I just left.  And it still hasn’t fully sunk in. I just never expected he’d just assume all of that without even asking me.”  A tear falls down her cheek, and Lydia smacks at it like it’s a fly. She stares at the sheen on her palm, betrayed.  She doesn’t want to cry anymore.

She tries some of the chocolate, hoping it’ll distract her, but it’s so good, and she’s overwhelmed by how grateful she is that her pack cares so much - how much Kira is already helping her.  So, she bursts back into tears, and that’s when the other girls wake up.

Lydia’s in no shape to explain the situation again, so Kira relays it while Lydia finishes her chocolate and blows her nose and weeps into one of the couch throw pillows.  It’s green and has a design of a wolf on it. Erica picked it out because she enjoys being on the nose.

Eventually, the girls convince Lydia to pour herself into bed, deciding they’ll figure out what to do in the morning.  And thankfully, she’s so tired from crying that she sleeps through the whole night, finally waking after nine the following morning.

The smell of pancakes is the first thing she notices, and the sound of the coffee grinder eventually jolts her back into a more awake state.  There’s a moment where she feels really good; well rested, more emotionally stable, pleased to see the sun streaming through her curtains. But then the memory of last night hits, and her mood crashes and burns.  She pulls on a fluffy pink robe, not caring if it clashes with her hair color, steps into slippers, rubs the sleep from her eyes, and shuffles into the kitchen. She takes a seat in one of the barstools at the counter.

Erica is standing in front of the stove, her blonde hair pulled into a messy bun.  She’s wearing workout clothes, and still has a flush on her cheeks from her morning run.  She spins around and points the spatula at Lydia. The gesture looks menacing, but it’s not.  Erica just has one of those faces. “Good, you’re awake. Pancakes will be ready soon.”

“Um, thanks,” she says, marveling at how embarrassed she suddenly feels.  Erica doesn’t make pancakes unless it’s serious; like if someone’s died or someone is moving away.  “Sorry.”

“You have nothing to apologize for.  Jackson, however,” Erica pauses to heatedly blow a stray piece of hair out of her eyes, “if I had it my way, I’d shove my claws so far up his-”

“-Morning!” Malia announces, coming into the kitchen dressed in her pajamas.  She’s clearly just woken up too. Her short hair is mussed and parted onto one side in a heap.  “Erica, put your claws away, you’re bending the spatula.”

Erica looks down at her sharp claws and they retract.  “Sorry, this just makes me so angry,” she growls, and turns back to flip a few more pancakes.

Malia grabs the coffee pot and pours two mugs, handing one to Lydia and taking the barstool beside her. “It’s a good thing you know how to cook, Erica.”

“Yeah, the rest of us are hopeless without you,” Lydia adds gratefully as she stares longingly at their breakfast.  Erica looks over her shoulder and winks at them. Lydia lifts her mug in a salute and takes a sip, letting the coffee seep into her senses.

“I’m glad you appreciate it,” Erica continues.  “Between Kira frying every appliance she touches, you getting distracted by some math lecture on YouTube and burning everything, and Malia’s inability to make a peanut butter and jelly sandwich-”

“Hey, at least I can make toast now,” Malia interrupts defensively.  “I’m getting better! And I don’t eat stuff raw anymore.”

They all remember the Rabbit Incident and shudder.  Malia spent so much time as a coyote that sometimes her instincts are harder to keep at bay.  College has been good for her, but she still missed out on a lot of educational moments. Like the fact that you shouldn’t eat meat raw if you’re a human…or even mostly human.

“-anyway,” Erica says, pulling down plates from the cupboard and dividing the finished pancakes into steaming stacks, “you guys would be lost without me.”

“That’s true,” agrees Kira, who sweeps in and takes the seat beside Malia.  She’s already dressed for the day in a high collared sleeveless dress. “Thanks, Erica.”

“Where’s Tracy?” Lydia asks, scanning the room for their missing friend.

“She stepped out,” Kira says vaguely.  “We can save her a plate for later, though.”

Erica shrugs and wraps one of the plates in tin foil, then shoves it into the fridge.

Lydia frowns.  “She didn’t actually do anything to Jackson, right?”

Kira looks at her with wide eyes.  “No.”

Malia is halfway through a slurp of coffee when her head snaps up.  “Hey. You’re lying, your heartbeat’s elevated.”

The girls stare at Kira, who crumbles under the pressure and spills.  “Ugh, fine. She’s not doing anything to Jackson. But his car…well…”

Far away from the sunny pancake breakfast, a girl with blue scales on her arms and long, venomous talons races down a shadowy alley, clutching a lot of important-looking mechanical stuff that originated from a very expensive Porsche.  She chucks it in the nearest dumpster, and lurks only long enough to hear Jackson attempt to start his car and utter a string of curses when it proceeds to splutter and die. Tracy then shifts back into her normal appearance and walks through the alley onto the next street over, the ghost of a satisfied smile on her face as she makes her way home.

“She did what ?” Lydia demands.  Erica shoves a plate in front of her and orders her to eat.  It isn’t enough of a distraction, though.

“There’s nothing you can do about it now, don’t worry about it,” Kira assures her.  “You have deniability, and you know Tracy, she never gets caught.”

“Still…”

“What he did to you is unacceptable and vile.  We agreed he shouldn’t come through this without being made aware that he’s a worm.” Kira points to Lydia’s plate.  “Go on, eat.”

Lydia stares at her pancakes, suddenly ravenous.  “Fine,” she concedes, pointing at the girls with her fork, “but keep in mind that we’re a pack and I’m responsible for you. I don’t want you doing stuff I don’t know about because then I can’t protect you if you get in trouble.”

“Aw!  Thanks, mom,” Malia jokes, and puts her arms around her in a sloppy hug.  Lydia is glad her face is hidden in Malia’s arm so no one can see her smile.


Later that day, Lydia has retreated back into her room.  After the pancake high has worn off, her grief rolls back in like an afternoon thunderstorm, and she loses the will to do anything else that day.  Tracy eventually returns with a huge Target bag of chocolate (Reese’s and Junior Mints, her favorites), so Lydia makes a little bowl of them and curls up under her covers to watch every sappy romance movie she can find on Netflix.  

Ordinarily she’d never do this, but in some kind of weird, self-punishing way, watching these happy endings is her way of reliving the moments she shared with Jackson where she really did love him, then feeling suddenly betrayed that the actors never got dumped at the end.  It’s a repeated roller coaster of emotional nostalgia and self-destruction, where each plummet feels like she’s losing Jackson all over again. She knows it’s not the healthiest coping mechanism, but sometimes people wallow a little when they’re working through stuff.

During the last twenty minutes of Pride and Prejudice, Darcy is confessing his love to Elizabeth for the last time before she accepts his proposal of marriage.  “My affections and wishes are unchanged,” he’s saying, giving Elizabeth those iconic heart-eyes, and in that moment Lydia becomes so enraged she chucks a peanut butter cup at the TV.

“LIAR!”

The peanut butter cup sticks to the screen right over Darcy’s eye, and slowly slides down until it hits the floor with a pitiful thud.  It’s enough to wake her from her stupor.

This is it, she realizes.  This is what rock bottom looks like for Lydia Martin.

“What am I doing?” she mutters, and flips off the TV in horror.  It takes a few minutes to clean off the TV screen and destroy all evidence of her episode. When she’s finished, a plan is forming in her mind; she’s shocked she didn’t think of it before.  She’s passed the denial stage of grief, and the anger stage...probably. Might come back to that one later.

But as of right now, she’s up for some acceptance and wants to take action.

It takes a few hours of research, and a few email exchanges with her parents and Malcom, her school counselor (Lydia’s on a first name basis with him, which is to be expected after three years of ensuring her schedule can accommodate her advanced classes).

She announces the plan later that night when the pack assembles for dinner (Erica made chicken fettuccini), once she’s consolidated all her information into a decision matrix.

“Girls,” she starts, brimming with excitement, “I have a completely brilliant plan.  I’m going to Harvard Law.”

Chapter Text

Everyone says getting into Harvard is going to be hard.  It’s common knowledge. But Lydia knows what she wants.

“It’s like the caviar of schools,” Malia gapes when she first hears about The Plan.

“You’ll have to take a ton of standardized tests,” Kira agrees sympathetically.  “I’ve heard the LSAT is brutal.”

“LSAT?  What is that, a disease?” scoffs Malia.

“No, it’s one of the tests you have to take to prove you’ll be able to handle the curriculum,” Lydia explains.  “Like you had to take the SAT to get into college.”

“But worse,” Kira adds with wide eyes.  “Then again, if anyone I know can do this, it’s Lydia.”

“Wow, dude, yeah,” Malia agrees.  “Whatever you need, we can help you.”

“Good luck,” Erica tells her while the two of them wash the dishes after dinner.  “My cousin goes to MIT, and he says it’s tough, but I think you’re smart enough and I think you can do it.  It’s worth a shot, even if the odds aren’t great.”

“Thanks,” Lydia smiles.  It’s reassuring that the pack supports her; she knows the next year is going to be critical if she wants to prove her worth to Jackson, and she’s motivated.  She’s accustomed to being underestimated, even if it was partially her own fault. She’d been hiding her true intelligence since high school, back when it was easier to be secretly smart because everyone set the bar low for her.  It was easier for her to surpass expectations when there weren’t any.

But the breakup has turned her previous method on its head.  She’s trying something new, abandoning all pretense of playing dumb, except where Jackson might see.  She wants this to be a surprise. And she doesn’t want him to know just yet, in case she fails. She’s reasonably confident she can get in, but still, this is Harvard .

The weeks that follow are interesting.  Now that Lydia’s single, she has so much more time to study and work on her application.  It’s honestly shocking to her how glorious it is to have more time on her hands. If she wasn’t still so heartbroken, she would have been overjoyed.  So, she settles for mildly pleased, and gets to work.

She checks out every LSAT prep book in the library and runs through every single practice test while Kira times her.  Erica, who’s always been the best writer out of all of them, proofreads her personal essay. Then, Lydia enlists the help of the English majors on the lacrosse team (Liam and Hayden) to help her polish the grammar.  She makes them swear not to tell Jackson, of course. In fact, she barely sees Jackson at all. Since the breakup, she hasn’t been to any of his lacrosse games, and he’s been radio silent. No calls, no texts, no “hey can I pick up my stuff” messages.  He even takes other routes across campus so they don’t cross paths unless it’s an accident, and even then, he avoids eye contact.

Tracy seems most relieved by Jackson’s avoidance, since this means he either hasn’t connected the dots between her and his car, or he has and is choosing not to make it into a Big Deal.

There are a few reasons why he might avoid calling Tracy or Lydia out on the car debacle.  One potential explanation is that Jackson is (justifiably) afraid of Tracy, who is a very lethal, very angry kanima.  Like the Hulk, her secret is that she’s always got some rage built up somewhere, ready to be channeled into her venomous talons. 

Another reason is that Jackson used to be a kanima himself, and perhaps avoids Tracy because he does not like being reminded of this.  Lydia and Erica were the ones who eventually rescued him (a story for another time) and severed the control between Jackson and his “master”.  Though Tracy is a kanima, she isn’t controlled by anyone, making her somewhat of an oddity in the supernatural world. Lydia likes to think it is because Tracy has a good command over herself and her judgement, but it might also have something to do with some of the highly illegal experiments performed on her before she escaped and joined Lydia’s pack.

In short, Jackson went back to normal (or as normal as a werewolf can be) after the kanima debacle, to everyone’s relief, but still carries some bad memories involving paralytic venom and reptiles.  Thankfully, Lydia never had to give Jackson a supernatural crash course; he already knew everything by the time they started dating, which was tremendously convenient. Telling someone you see dead people on a first date is really a drag, but Jackson didn’t really seem to mind.  He’d seen much worse in his time as a kanima. He might see even more weird stuff in the future. That’s the thing about the supernatural, it follows you everywhere. Even to college.

Now that Jackson’s less of a fixture in her life, Lydia finds she can focus better on her new mission.  He always was somewhat of a distraction for her; it was impossible to concentrate on anything if he was sitting beside her, or whispering into her ear, or stealing her notebooks out from under her pens so that she’d have to look at him instead.  But the only thing she has her eyes on now is Harvard. After she gets in, she can look at Jackson as much as she wants.

In October, she takes the LSAT.  The night before her exam is the lacrosse semi-formal, and the pack decides to go so Lydia can have the house to study and go to sleep early without disruption.  Which is great, and Lydia is incredibly thankful for the alone time, but it’s one of the first times she feels a rift forming between her and who she used to be.

The old Lydia would be the belle of that ball, wearing a fabulous dress and laughing with her friends.  She’d be sitting at Jackson’s side and they’d be the gorgeous couple, the ones everyone loved. She’d be wearing perfume, probably, and very high heels, because why not?  With music and dancing and lights and drinks, the night would eventually devolve from posturing to endearing debauchery, and Lydia would wind down with the lights swaying like dizzy stars, Jackson’s arms wrapped around her in a protective slow dance embrace.  The engagement ring on her finger would glitter like a fallen comet, and-

She shakes her head like an Etch-A-Sketch and refocuses on the book in front of her. She isn’t there. She is here in her room, wearing gray sweatpants and a hoodie, her hair mashed into a studying bun, licking peanut butter off an Oreo while she answered practice questions about “Jason and his logical bicycle race placement given the (scant) clues in the text.”  It’s miserable, and she’s so tired at this point, but she pushes through. She ignores the fact that her friends are all out having fun. She ignores the fact that her senior year is not at all what she expected. She even ignores the thought that Jackson could be slow dancing with some studious looking brunette. Or at least, she does her best.

The next morning, she takes the test, and doesn’t feel like it went terribly.  She gets home, her brain a drained battery, and falls asleep to Friends reruns.  Reinventing yourself is exhausting work.

Eventually, though, it starts to pay off.  Her results from the LSAT arrive, and they’re so high that Lydia initially thinks it’s a mistake.  She insists the pack take a look to confirm she’s not crazy, and by the high pitched yelling and whooping, it’s clear the scores are real.  They’re well within Harvard’s acceptable criteria. All she has to do now is submit her application and wait.

The waiting is the worst part.  Lydia distracts herself with barre classes and massages and kickboxing, and even asks Erica to teach her how to cook so she won’t be hopeless on her own next year.  Malia watches from the barstool at the counter, doing her homework and perking up every time a tasting opportunity presents itself. By March, Lydia can make her own spaghetti and sauce, a lovely lemon chicken with rice, and an ambitious baked salmon.  Malia can now make a peanut butter and jelly sandwich.

It seems like things are falling into place, and then the email from Harvard arrives.

Her phone chimes with the notification at 2:53 pm on a Friday in late March, right as her last class of the day is ending.  She hears it go off and ignores it, staying for a moment to chat with Kira about their volunteer work at the animal shelter tomorrow, and once she’s strolling down the hallway from the classroom, she opens her phone and sees the unread message in her inbox.

Her heart clenches, and she looks away, afraid of finding out.  This is it…this is the moment everything changes. Her nebulous future is in the palm of her hand, dependent on two little words.  Either “We’re pleased…”, where she jets off to Cambridge and wins Jackson’s heart with her wicked smart mind…or “We regret…” and her life is basically over.

Well, that might be an exaggeration.  But Lydia isn't sure if she is ready to be disappointed.  Not after all she’s done to get here.

With trembling hands and cold fingers, she lifts her phone again and the screen brightens.  She opens the email with bated breath, and reads.

She lets out a little yelp when she finishes scanning the words, and it echoes around the mostly empty corridor.  The next class has started by this point, and only a few people have lingered to see her outburst. She looks up from her phone with a smile so wide it hurts.

“I’m going to Harvard!” she shouts, and one guy at the far end of the hall humors her by giving her a confused thumbs up.

She pushes herself through the doors, where California sun is streaming down through palm fronds.  She throws her arms out at her sides and takes a deep breath in. This day, this perfect day, is the first one of the rest of her life.

Chapter Text

When Stiles was a kid, he imagined coffee tasted like hot chocolate.

To him, it was a grown-up hot chocolate that had superpowers; one that could make you think clearly and wake you up when you were sleepy. And he assumed, as all kids do, that if adults drank it, and they wouldn’t let you try any, it must be good.

He was wrong on all accounts, really, when he thought about it.

Coffee, it turns out, is disgusting, and messes with his brain. Instead of waking him up, it fastens him onto one track of focus and keeps him pinned under that one fixation until it’s six hours later and he’s inexplicably learned everything there is to know about fireflies. Lampyridae .  Invertebrates. They emit light to find mates. They’re carnivores. Sometimes they eat each other; the genus photuris mimics the flashes of females of another similar species in order to attract and devour the males. Terrifying.

Anyway.  Coffee.

It does wake him up when he is tired. Stiles will concede that one truth, but it’s still only because the bitterness of coffee is so jarring that his brain essentially generates a fight or flight response to get him as far away from the stuff as possible.

He knows some people like coffee. Like Scott, his new roommate. Like his dad. Like 90% of his new classmates at Harvard. But he’s one of the few who is rather taken with tea. Specifically, a warm, silky decaf chai with some milk stirred in, a caramel galaxy that doesn’t make his taste buds or his brain recoil in horror. He used to drink regular chai, not decaf, but after the events of last year, his nerves aren’t what they used to be and he knows better than to get back on the caffeine bus just yet. He’s hoping he can handle his criminology and justice classes without it.

All summer, he’d been living at home in California, interning under his dad, who works as a sheriff in a small town up north. It had been rather quiet; most of his friends from college were either doing research, getting married, sauntering down paths of degeneracy, or on opposite ends of the country plying their trades with their shiny new degrees. But not Stiles.

His plan has always been Harvard for grad school, and he’s been working so hard to get to this very moment in his life. Including shadowing his dad for literal years, even back in high school when he wasn’t supposed to. After the seventh time his dad caught him stowing away in a cruiser to snoop on a case, the response wasn’t even anger, it was resigned acceptance.

“Might as well make it official. You’re interning, starting next week,” he said with his trademark guess this is unavoidable tone he assumed whenever Stiles got into mischief. Which was…always.

“Do I get to help solve the crimes? If you remember, I solved the one last week with the weird cult. I’m an asset,” he remembered telling his father.

“Okay, no. A, they weren’t a cult, they were druids. B, you’re a child and a liability. And C, of course not. Only paperwork and filing for you. No fifteen year-old is going out into the field. We don’t even send adults out without education, training, and an earned detective badge. Do you have a death wish, Stiles?”

And that was the beginning of Stiles’ career in law enforcement. One he desperately hopes to continue now. When you’ve had a dream for that long, there’s no chance of it fading over time. It is embedded in your DNA. Like phosphorescence. Like someone’s preference for coffee, or in Stiles’ case, tea. 

And so, last week, he endured a super long flight, unpacked his boxes, and spread a navy blue comforter over his new bed. One week in, it’s sort of surreal. Harvard, at last.

It’s back to the on-campus housing life (a stipulation of his scholarship), which means a dorm-style apartment…and a roommate. And Scott McCall doesn’t seem all that bad. He’s just…a little strange.

Scott’s room is decorated in muted shades of brown and red, like a kindly lumberjack went camping in a meadow after purchasing the contents of a flannel store. Not that there’s anything wrong with flannel; it comprises the majority of Stiles’ wardrobe too. He is from California, after all.

But Scott gives off the vibe of a really nice, very gentle, and overall soft person with nothing to hide. Which is completely at odds with some of the things Stiles has seen him do in the one week they’ve been living together.

When the two girls who live in the apartment next to them were making a racket, Scott went over to the wall and banged on it, and Stiles was pretty sure the guy dented the drywall. With his bare hand. He wasn’t even trying that hard. 

Observation one: Scott is strong and channels his rage. They’re also not getting their security deposit back.

On Sunday, Stiles woke too early, when it was still dark, only to stumble into the kitchen at five am to find Scott making breakfast in the complete and total darkness. Not flashlight, no phone light, no open blinds. Nothing. Who does that?

Observation two: Scott is able to see in the dark and is possibly nocturnal.

And neither of these observations hold a candle to what happened the night before the first day of classes.  As is the custom, someone threw a massive party in their building, so naturally Scott and Stiles went. They weren’t at Harvard just for the academics, after all. And if you’re already living on campus, why not indulge a little in the comprehensive experience?

This part is the part Stiles’ brain ruminates on even now. It’s just…what happened at the party was frankly bizarre and that frustrates him into a fixation that’s going to span days, maybe weeks.

Obviously, there had been beer at the party. And loud music. And dancing. Obviously mistakes were made, snaps taken, new friends made, ridiculous outfits worn.

Stiles has never really been one to party or drink, and he has good reasons for both. Good, private reasons. Thankfully, he’s always made a point of surrounding himself with people who tactfully never ask what those reasons are. Regardless, he accompanied Scott, because he wanted to get to know his roommate, and meet his classmates in an environment that wasn’t a stiff lecture hall.

Scott drank. Stiles had a coke. If anyone asked, he said there was rum in it. He was a rather good liar. But here was the rub – Scott was not at all affected by the alcohol, even though he should’ve been.

“This is a great party,” he said very clearly, after what might have been his sixth drink. Nobody else was still sitting as straight in their chairs. Nobody else pronounced all their consonants. And yet, Scott continued to wax poetic, articulately, about his excitement over finally being here at Harvard.

“It’s so picturesque,” he enthused. “all the buildings, just like in the movies. And the ivy, and the leaves just starting to turn gold? It’s like a fairy tale. Like Hans Christian Andersen. I went to his birthplace this summer when we were on vacation. Odense, it’s in Denmark.”

“Right,” Stiles agreed, bewildered. “Yeah.”

The next morning, at seven, the two of them sat at the kitchen table in their small apartment before class, staring sleepily at their cereal. Stiles put on a pot of coffee (not for him, it was a test), and poured Scott a cup. He watched for the telltale signs of the hangover Scott should’ve had but…didn’t.

Instead, Scott took the coffee with a semi-alert grin. He looked tired, but apparently only because it was early. “Thanks.”

“Hair of the dog?” Stiles joked, a little thrown off.

Scott gave him an alarmed look. “What?”

“You know, after yesterday? You seem…surprisingly not um, hungover.”

Scott regarded him suspiciously. “I’m good, dude.”

“Okay, buddy.” There was no point in asking further. 

Observation three: Scott can’t get drunk.

Here’s the thing.

Stile’s dad is a sheriff. His hometown is riddled with all kinds of weird crimes. Strange characters, odd animal behavior, a concerning amount of serial killers. And cults. Why was it always cults? But…Stiles is used to mysteries he and his dad can’t figure out at first.  He is used to having to dig deep into a mystery, and is used to feeling like an idiot at all times, before and usually even after figuring out what actually happened.

But – eventually, Stiles always figures things out. Always. That’s why he’s here, at Harvard. Working toward being a detective.

But the infuriating thing is that Scott defies all logic. Unlike anything Stiles has come across before, at least so far. He has his theories, of course, but it’s too early, and it’s wrong to speculate. Besides, all the solutions he’s come up with so far are maddeningly impossible. To a logical, pretty smart guy who is definitely not crazy, those wacky theories derail him more than any cup of coffee ever could.

Because most of them presume that Scott isn’t human. And that's impossible. Right?

Chapter Text

As if Scott McCall isn’t enough to deal with, there is a second issue Stiles is ruminating on as he sips his chai. It’s Friday, and he’s early. The professor hasn’t arrived yet.

Okay, perhaps issue is the wrong word for Lydia Martin. He’s not sure yet.

She might be more of a distraction. A good one, but a distraction nonetheless. Stiles is here to learn, without question. He worked two jobs (interning with his dad is unpaid, so he picked up shifts at both the animal clinic and a local ice cream shop to compensate) to scrape together enough for tuition. And that was even after financial aid grants and an academic scholarship were taken into account. He’s not going to let anything get in the way of how hard he worked to be here.

That being said…flash back to the first day of class.


Set the scene. Everyone in criminal law pulls out their laptops. The lecture hall is packed and rustling like a theater before the curtain goes up. And then one girl a few rows down pulls out a pen, a notebook, and a graphing calculator. Even the professor stares.

“Wrong class,” mutters another girl, the dark haired one next to Stiles. She has monogrammed notebooks. A necklace at her throat that says London on it. “This is criminal law, not math class.”

The guy sitting next to her, a jock who probably models for Ralph Lauren in his free time and has Very Important Parents, puts his arm around London and laughs. Stiles dubs him Model Behavior.

Calculator Girl hasn’t turned around. All Stiles can see is a silken curtain of not-quite red hair. Not auburn, or brown, or blonde.  He wants to ask what that’s called, he can’t think of it. But then, she turns around in her seat, looks up at the rest of the class, and her light eyes blaze with instant recognition. Not at him. At Model Behavior.

She grins and flashes him a proud wave. London shifts territorially in her seat, but Model Boy is frozen in place, as if this girl is a ghost who has followed him, Hamlet-style.

But even if the girl’s smile wasn’t meant for Stiles, something about it pierces him. He wants to see it again, he realizes. The girl tosses her hair in a shimmery, siren-like gesture, then turns back around to answer a question about Aristotle. When her face disappears from view, it’s like a cloud goes behind the sun in Stiles’ brain.

He tries to meet her officially after class, but she has already found Model Behavior and is giving him a giant hug by the time Stiles manages to pack up his clunky Dell laptop and make it out into the tree-lined quad.

He notes, with interest, that Model Behavior squirms out of the hug as London approaches. Stiles can’t hear anything that’s said, but he doesn’t have to. There’s a moment when Model Behavior says something, and Calculator Girl’s expression goes from adoration to something tight and fixed. London puts a possessive hand on Model Behavior’s shoulder. So that’s what it is. A girlfriend warding off a too-friendly ex.

Stiles takes a seat on one of the tree-lined benches. He can’t watch anymore. It’s more than just trying to avoid eavesdropping on what has clearly become a moment that’s none of his business. It’s also that it looks like Calculator Girl might cry, and he doesn’t want to see that. Instead, he pulls out his phone and texts Scott.

Stiles: Study tonight for quiz Friday afternoon?

The response is instant.

Scott: Yeah dude

Stiles: Ok great. This guy I met today wants to get a study group together. Then dinner after?

Scott: Sorry I can’t

Stiles: Why?

Scott: Busy Friday night

Stiles: What

Scott pauses for a while before typing back. Stiles watches the typing icon in minor suspense.

Scott: full moon on Friday haha [moon emoji] [dog emoji]

Stiles sits back on the bench. He can’t tell if Scott’s kidding.

Stiles: what lol

Scott: nah dude I have a date

Stiles: haha already?

Scott almost had him for a minute there. He almost thought the unthinkable. But that was irrational. And Harvard Law students don’t pursue irrational solutions to logically explainable problems. Right?

Stiles is jarred from his thoughts by the sound of someone huffily throwing themselves onto the bench beside him. A few leaves fall from the tree shading them, as if the branches are expressing irritation at the disturbance.

Startled, he clicks his phone off and looks up, right into the face of Calculator Girl, and suddenly the metaphorical sun comes through the clouds again. So it wasn’t a fluke.

“Uh, are you okay?” he asks.

“I’m fine,” she sniffs. She makes another huffing noise, or maybe it’s a scoff. A sob?

“Nobody is ever telling the truth when they say ‘I’m fine’,” Stiles says. “Are you sure you want to go with that?”

“It doesn’t matter.”

“Yeah, it does. You look like you’re gonna cry. Or murder someone? Or scream? Not good, seriously. Um. Do you need anything?”

Try as he might to suppress it, he starts waving his hands as he talks, getting fidgety. He manages to cut off his ramble, but it’s hard for him not to keep talking and talking when he gets nervous.

She leans back on the bench and crosses her ankles. She is wearing a pair of what might be lethal red heels. Who wears heels to class? He’ll come back to that.

“I’m okay,” she assures him. She looks at her shoes. “Just…disappointed. I worked so hard to get here but I don’t feel like it’s enough. Is Harvard going to be like this the whole time?”

“Like…what?” Stiles’ phone buzzes but he ignores it.

“Just…bleak. Lonely. Stressful.”

“Well, it’s law school. Law can be bleak. And it’s Harvard. It’s gonna be stressful, but you already knew that. I mean, I’ve heard rumors Professor Hale can be a little intense, but it’s not like he’s killed anyone.  And, uh, it doesn’t have to be lonely. Harvard, I mean. It seems like you already know some people.” He gestures vaguely to the quad, but Model Behavior and London are gone.

“I don’t really, not anymore.”

“Well, now you know me. And I’m guessing you have a roommate. And it’s only the first day. You’ll meet more people.”

She tilts her head up at him as if seeing him for the first time. He wishes he’d done something nice with his hair. Worn something other than a gray Henley shirt and jeans. He hadn’t prepared for her to scrutinize him.

“What’s your name?” she asks.

He tells her his real name, but instantly regrets it. She looks unsure, the way everyone does. Like she’s afraid to say it back in case she butchers the pronunciation. Which is…fair. Growing up, not even Stiles could pronounce it right.

“Stiles, just call me Stiles, everyone does.”

“I’m Lydia.” She holds out a beautifully manicured hand, and Stiles shakes it reverently.

“Nice to meet you.”

“You too.” She hugs her arms around her waist, not seeming to care if it wrinkles the pressed blazer she was wearing over her blue lace dress. She doesn’t leave, though, even though Stiles expects her to. The conversation seems over.

“Actually, I do have a question,” she finally says.

“Yeah?”

His phone buzzes again but he ignores it. Later.

“Where’s the nearest mall? I need some retail therapy.”

“The mall,” Stiles drums his fingers against his knee. “I’m not from here, but I know someone who might have a suggestion. Let me text him.”

He unlocks his phone, ignoring two texts from Scott about some girl named Allison (he’ll read them later), and texts Danny.

Danny is the guy in his nine a.m. Ethics class;they just met this morning. Danny’s from Boston, gives the impression that he knows everything, and also comes across as a guy who knows exactly where to get some good retail therapy. The guy’s wardrobe is impeccable.

Moments later, Stiles has an address.

“I can drive, if you want. I have a car on campus.” Even if driving in Boston is a terrible idea. It makes Stiles feel like he’s going to die, but life wouldn’t be the same without his car. It’s a piece of home.

Lydia gazes at him with an unreadable expression, like she’s internally realizing something.

“I hadn’t even thought about that. I don’t have a car…Are you sure you wouldn’t mind? I don’t want to derail your day. I’m sure there’s a bus or the subway or something.”

“I have no plans. And I wouldn’t have offered otherwise.”

Yeah, he would’ve. He probably would restructure his whole day around her if he needed to.  It’s scaring him, the things he’d do for someone he barely knows.

“I’ll pay you for gas,” she offers guardedly; a strategic sentence. Clear. This is not a date. Stiles is pretty sure he’s fine with that, he’d frankly be happy with friends. Maybe more, someday. But not now.  That would be slightly opportunistic of him, seeing she’s clearly pining for Model Behavior.

His phone buzzes in his hand and he sees the text before he can answer Lydia. Once he reads it, he laughs. “Danny’s got it covered, don’t worry.”  He holds it up for her to read.

Danny: Take me with you!!!! pick me up in 10? i’ll buy you and this girl pretzels. or gas. or whatever. I’m desperate to get out of this apartment my roommate’s driving me nuts. SAVE ME please you’re my only hope

“Is this okay?” Stiles asks her.

Lydia raises an eyebrow. The sun catches against her eyelashes as she blinks, reading the message.

“Okay,” she sighs, sounding more comfortable. Then, she furrows her brow again and looks up at him. “You just met this guy today?”

“Yeah, I make friends fast.”

“Right, but what if he’s actually an axe murderer? What if I am? You’re just going to let two strangers get into your car with you?”

“Not strangers,” Stiles corrects, standing and firing off an affirmative text to Danny. “Acquaintances.”

“What makes us acquaintances?”

He shoves his phone in his pocket and turns to her. “We know each other’s names. Come on, Lydia. Just let me do something nice, okay? It seems like you need it.”

She considers him, and her expression changes from guarded to acquiescent. “Fine.”


 They’re already rocketing down the road in Stiles’ death-trap (read: beloved) Jeep before Lydia says, “Thank you.” 

It feels like a piece of her mask shifts to reveal some deeply buried softness she’s kept hidden. But then she slips a pair of oversized sunglasses on to cover her eyes, and the mask goes back on.

Chapter Text

They pick up Danny, and Lydia gives him a tight, distant greeting over her shoulder when he climbs into the backseat. 

The first time she actually smiles again for real is once they’re helping her pick out a pair of pumps inside the mall. She ends up choosing a pair with a “no-break guarantee”. She reads aloud the little blurb strung onto the shoebox with elastic. It has something to do with how the company engineered a heel design that wouldn’t break off from the rest of the shoe, unless a certain force was applied in just the right way, which would never happen during everyday wear.

They don’t look any different to Stiles; they just look like shoes. But they’re very, very expensive.

Lydia pays for them with a bit of a wince. “This is my whole shoe fund for the next six months, but I don’t know when I’ll get the chance to shop again, I’m going to be so busy studying. It’s worth it.”

They finally park themselves at a small bistro table outside of Nordstrom, eating ice cream cones. Cake batter for Danny, butter pecan for Stiles, and fat free lemon sorbet for Lydia.

That’s when the topic comes up.

“Who was that guy you were hugging?” Stiles asks. “Earlier. I um…I don’t want to pry, but I kind of want to know if I should be nice to him or not. It seems like he did something that made you-” He sees her frown and amends, “-totally fine.”

They eat ice cream in silence for a while. Some store around the corner is blasting pop music, and Stiles gets distracted for a moment. When he blinks back into attention, Danny is idly watching people walk by their table, and Lydia is staring glumly into her sorbet. “He’s my ex,” she finally says without prompting.

“Oh,” Danny leans in. “That’s interesting. How’d you both end up at Harvard?”

“Long story.”

“I bet. Can we help? You know? Help you win him back? Or help you beat him up?”

“Um, actually,” Stiles says, “I don’t think violence is-”

“My friends already took care of retribution, but thanks,” Lydia winks.

“Not gonna ask,” Stiles looks down at his ice cream. 

“Don’t, it was messy,” she grins innocently.

Danny laughs. “But stealing him back…that’s an excellent idea.”

“It is?” Stiles asks.

“It is!” Lydia exclaims. “That’s been my plan for a while, even before I knew he was with someone new, but I could absolutely use your advice.”

Danny pulls out his phone and opens the notes app. “There are lots of ways to go about this. But making him jealous could work really well.”

Lydia tilts her head. “That’s...true.”

Stiles realizes he’s nodding along and stops. What is he doing. He should not draw attention to himself here. Some dark part of his inner monologue is ranting about how she shouldn’t get back together with this guy.

“Okay,” Danny laughs. “But you’d need someone willing to pretend to date you or at least go along with it. And it can’t be me, as much as I want to volunteer, I'm definitely not your type.”

Lydia seems to understand exactly what he means. “You’re right, it wouldn't be believable.” She swoops her head to look appraisingly at Stiles, who freezes under her hopeful stare like a deer in the middle of a dark two-lane road, high beams trapping it in a spotlight. “But…maybe Stiles is willing?”

It takes Stiles a moment to recover. He compensates with bravado. It’s his only defense. “Well, yeah, I’m single, but we only just met. You don’t know what charm I have at my disposal. Fake dating will only work if you don’t actually fall in love with me. It’ll be hard, but...I think you can resist.”

They all giggle, high on sugar and nerves and bad ideas. It’s a funny prospect in theory; actually doing it seems nebulous and improbable, so Stiles feels safe.  That is, until Lydia comes down from the happiness, her expression melting into thoughtfulness. 

“I’m only like ten percent kidding,” she says. “If you’re okay with it, Stiles, I honestly think it could work.”

“Uh…” He isn’t sure if he’s thrilled or crushed. He takes a moment to think. The mall seems crushingly loud now, full of bustling couples and blaring music and oppressive cologne. He’s panicking. His judgement has taken a vacation. So he says, “Yeah. Okay.”

“Thank you,” she gushes, and launches herself out of her seat to give him a hug. He tries not to inhale, but when she pulls back he still catches the faintest scent of lilac perfume anyway. He’s doomed.

Lydia’s still talking. “If it makes you more comfortable, when we spend time together on ‘dates’” – she uses finger quotes – “we can just be studying or something. We don’t have to do anything that makes you feel weird about the whole thing. And if you want to stop, we’ll stop. No matter what.”

“Cool, yeah,” his autopilot brain supplies. He’s been nodding constantly for several minutes now.

“How can I repay you?” she asks. “Like, seriously. I only just met you and I’m kind of taking over your life.  Can I buy you coffee before class every day or something?”

“Don’t worry about it,” he says. He thinks, don’t make me fall for you. He knows it’s already too late.

Danny is watching this whole exchange like it’s a soap opera or an MTV drama. He’s finished his ice cream and stares intently between the two of them, phone forgotten on the table.

Lydia tosses her hair behind her shoulder. “No really, I insist, there’s got to be something I can do.”

“I don’t drink coffee,” Stiles finally answers, surprised at how level his voice is. “But if you make it a decaf chai-.”

“Deal,” Lydia beams. They shake on it.

“And a bunch of fanfiction writers just punched the air,” Danny mutters, amused.

Stiles laughs. “Shut up.”

The only thing that would make this even more tropey is the addition of some cliche supernatural element. Like vampires.

Or werewolves.


 

It’s dark when they leave the mall.  Stiles drives Danny back to his dorm, and then it occurs to him that he doesn’t know where Lydia lives.

“Mass Ave,” she says when he asks.

He almost slams on the brakes in the middle of an intersection. “What? Me too.”

“No way.”

“Way.” He tries to sound nonchalant and fails.

Once he parks (a gruelling affair), they walk up the steps together and he holds the door open for her. The rush of detergenty air ruffles her hair like a wind and he smells lilac again. 

He keeps expecting her to say her goodbyes and go down a different hallway, but they walk together up the polished wood stairs. Stiles grounds himself by running his hands along the bannister.

After they have been going the same direction for a concerningly long time, Lydia makes a tinkling laugh. “I promise I’m not following you.  This is me,” she says, and points to the door they’re approaching.

“I’m that one,” Stiles blurts, pointing to the next one. These coincidences are getting scary.

They fumble through an awkward goodbye. It’s stretched and uncomfortable, because their friendship has had to grow a lot very fast. They do the halting handshake vs. hug thing, they both blush, and then Lydia’s door shuts in front of his face with a light snap.

Once Stiles is back in his apartment (it’s empty, Scott left no note or text or sign of life), he does a mental tally of what is happening here and is again grateful he doesn’t drink caffeine.

In the span of less than a week, he has a possibly inhuman roommate, a detailed plot against a hated classmate, and a gorgeous neighbor who also happens to be his fake girlfriend.

This year just might kill him.

His mind is practically buzzing, so he can’t go to sleep yet. He decides to unpack his corkboard, and sets up his thumbtacks and color coded string. His father has always referred to it as the thinking board, because that’s exactly what it is. He’s solved every mystery on this thing.

Eventually his mind returns to Scott, and the puzzle of his odd behavior. He needs something to distract him from thinking about Lydia. And her perfume. And her hair.

Ordinarily, he’d pin up pieces of evidence, newspaper clippings, photos, and testimonials, connecting each one with string. But when it comes to Scott, he has nothing factual, no evidence he can hold in his hands.

So, he eventually leaves the board blank, crawls into bed, and falls asleep.


 

He wakes only once around midnight to hear Scott let himself back in.  In the morning, the kitchen has dirt on the floor in the vague shape of bare footprints, and there is a thumbprint smudge of something that looks like blood dried onto the wall under where Scott hangs his keys.

Now this , Stiles thinks as he takes some photos on this phone, is evidence.

But of what?

He prints the photos and hangs them on the board, feeling incredibly dumb for doing so. Who gets up this early just to investigate a logical fallacy? He hides the board under his bed, and tries to assure himself he’s better than the crackpot conspiracy theorists who chart lunar cycles, read cryptid bestiaries on Wikipedia, and think Supernatural is a documentary.

He walks to class like the sane, logical, law student he is.  Lydia is already waiting on a sunlit bench with a chai for him, looking like an ignited angel.

Which brings him to now. Friday. He sits in class, with Lydia in the seat beside him now. He drinks his tea and tries not to think too much.

When Model Behavior and London come in, they avoid yesterday’s seats in favor of ones on the other side of the lecture hall. But as they walk past, Stiles puts an arm around Lydia, holds up his chai, and at a calculated volume says to her, “Thanks for the chai, babe.”

“Anything for you, love,” she says, looking him directly in the eye.

Model Behavior walks into the side of a desk with a loud bang and shakes it off, looking embarrassed. There is triumph in Lydia’s eyes, but she holds Stiles’ gaze. They both can’t help but crack a smile.

When the moment has passed, Stiles takes his arm away and pulls out his laptop.  He’s gotta keep busy. Because he is trying very, very hard not to wonder what it would be like to hear her say that to him again...and mean it.