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until the moon gives you back

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The first instinct of a werewolf is pack. Gain pack, protect pack, fight for pack.

When the pack is gone, all imperatives are gone with it.

The only instinct that remains is survival. A werewolf will kill for it, or do whatever else it takes. But at the back of their head, a werewolf will always be missing a vital part.

Without a pack, a werewolf goes rabid, because there is no reason to remain human.

Human feelings can’t catch up with a wolf.

***

It doesn’t look much like a house, Lydia thinks.

There are walls, and then there is a bit of a roof, and even glass still in a window or two. The door is still there, and the only thing that’s new: a heavy padlock. On the outside, not on the inside, so put there by someone who wants to keep people out and stay out themselves. Lydia looks at it for far longer than she looks at the rest of the house in total.

She has a key, jingling cheerfully in her hand when she stumbles towards the house across what once was a lawn, and now is a clearing in the woods. She didn’t mean to come here, not at all. It’s an idea born in a split second ‒ she was listening to her mother talking about her (“…already went so far, so she deserves a bit of rest! I told her, with the right education, she can get a job that she can do from home. And I’m just glad to have her back…”) with the local vet (“Quite true, Mrs Martin. So many young people prefer to stay in the city these days. Houses stay empty, it’s a sad view. Like the old Hale house.”). Deaton had a key on him, and was going to look around the house anyway ‒ check if someone broke in, or if the recent rain washed it away completely? ‒ and Lydia found herself paying more attention (“I could do it for you. I have nothing better to do anyway. No deadlines chasing me.”). She smiled, he smiled. A deal it is, then.

The grass is tall and wet, mud clinging to Lydia’s ankle boots. She looks down when she finally gets to the porch, which is just a glorified slob of concrete, and tries to subtly wipe her shoes on the steps. She grimaces ‒ they’re far beyond repair.

The lock doesn’t give way too easily. It’s new, true, but left to the elements, and Lydia thinks it will get rusty soon. She pushes the door open, and walks inside.

Inside is pretty much like the outside, because the hall misses half of the roof. Lydia can’t see the point of locking this place up, she really can’t. There is nothing to steal here, just dust muffling her steps, and a strange heavy-stale smell that shouldn’t be here, given how much fresh, tree-scented air this place gets.

Lydia explores the ground floor, slowly and carefully. She doesn’t risk going upstairs. She knows very little about those things, but she doesn’t trust the stairs. Better have someone take a look at them first.

And why is she even planning this? She’s here just to‒ No idea why she’s here.

Once, before the fire (Lydia remembers vaguely that there was a gruesome fire, and then something else, but what? Seems like town gossip goes over her head), the house must’ve been beautiful. Big, but not excessive. No, more like big in that necessary way that suggests that a lot of people lived here; a happy family.

Lydia’s entire family is her older sister, somewhere out there in the world, her mom and her dad, each in a house of their own. Well, her mom seemed happy enough to have Lydia back. Going back, though, wasn’t Lydia’s favourite thing.

Lydia fishes out her mobile phone and idly checks reception. Nowadays, one can call from the middle of the woods, so that’s not an issue. It’s just people in horror movies who always find a dead spot.

All Lydia needs to do her job ‒ which is a sort of very obscure financial research, and she doesn’t have the time to explain it to people on daily basis ‒ are a laptop, Wi-Fi, and maybe some place to sit or sprawl comfortably. And for coffee to magically keep coming. Organic coffee, preferably.

She tries to check her e-mail on the phone, just out of curiosity. It displays a network error. No Wi-Fi, then. No surprise. But how hard can it be to get it here, anyway? How hard can it be to get someone to take a good long look at the stairs, and the foundations, and the plumbing?

Lydia tries to come up with an idea to do it all. Then she tries to come up with an idea not to.

Back home, her mom is waiting, and she wants to ask questions, because Lydia acted strangely. (“Why don’t you meet up with your friends, Lydia?” It sounds quite sad to say, because I don’t have any, and when I look back at high school, I want to roll my eyes at past-me.)

She puts her phone away, tucks it away back inside her purse. In the kitchen, she fiddles with the taps and isn’t surprised when there is no water. Outside the window, one of the two that aren’t smashed, she can see her red car outlined against the green trees.

Red, expensive car. People pay a lot for her to do things they barely even understand. (“Work your magic with numbers, Ms Martin,” her boss likes to say.)

Lydia ‒ Ms Martin, they say, but not here, not in Beacon Hills ‒ started being a grown-up differently than most do.

What do you get a girl who has everything, she thinks to herself. Some peace, maybe.

There seems to be a lot of nature going on outside the house (and inside it). Lydia isn’t big on nature. Taking hikes, going camping, it was never her thing. But the treeline around the house doesn’t look foreboding. It’s controlled somehow, because it belongs to the house. A stretch of property, like a bigger, wilder version of a garden at the back of the house.

What Lydia is good at are numbers and predictions, and as she takes another stroll around the house, she calculates in her head, and then she just imagines.

Here could be the living room. She could work here, make this wall entirely out of glass, for the light to stream inside for the entire day. She could start writing that book on economics she was thinking about.

She could do so much.

Lydia thinks of reasons not to, and comes up empty-handed.

Something she didn’t think through or planned out. New challenge. She misses those ‒ it’s almost like everything came too easy to Lydia Martin.

***

Laura never went far from the den. At first she found the smells soothing. The smell of pack, buried under the ashes, and even, in a way, the smell of Derek’s blood, and of Peter’s.

The smells go away, washed away by rains, and chased away by the wind, and finally stolen by time. Time isn’t something Laura has a concept of. How long has it been? Months, years? Hours since Derek stepped out of their flat (“I’ll see what’s going on there, and then I’ll call you.”)?

Moments of lucidity come further and further apart. Sometimes Laura dreams of the night she found Derek’s body, cut in half, and she wakes up almost human within a wolf’s body, with a mournful howl that sounds almost like crying.

Other times she dreams of the night she tore Peter to shreds in the ruins of the old house, and when she wakes up, there is only the wolf within her.

The wolf wants to survive, so it stays in the woods, and it runs, and it doesn’t remember the woman it used to be.

***

Deaton is the current owner of the Hale house, because there are no Hales left, and he was a friend of the family. The last person mentioned in somebody’s will, but still an option. He sells the house to Lydia without so much as a blink (“I’ll be glad to see someone living there again, that’s all.”)

Getting the house from a Haunted Mansion to a place Lydia pictured in her head turns out to be, first and foremost, an apparently never-ending money trap. Lydia has to reach out pretty deep into her savings, and she should be dead tired ‒ when she isn’t working, she’s talking to contractors and architects, and specialists in interior design, or making her own tentative sketches ‒ but in all honesty, she’s going at twice the usual speed. It’s like she doesn’t require any sleep any more, and even eating seems like an unforgivable waste of time, so she does it over her laptop, or hunched over her tablet in a restaurant when her mom kicks her out of their house (“Get some fresh air!”), or at least with a phone pressed to her ear.

It’s good. It’s how Lydia likes it. She needs to be busy, or she’ll‒ She doesn’t even know.

When the house is ready, it comes as a bit of a disappointment. Not because it doesn’t look like she wanted it to look, but because there is nothing more to do. Lydia can rest, and relax. She can’t remember how one does that.

Months after she first stepped into the Hale house (Martin house now?), Lydia stands outside it, in the driveway, alongside her mom and Deaton, who came to take a look.

“Have you ever been to the house before the fire?” Deaton asks.

“No,” Lydia says.

“She was too young,” her mom offers. “It was years ago.”

“Yes, years ago,” Deaton agrees. When Lydia’s mom goes to inspect the inside of the house (even though she was here every other day, so she must have more or less memorized how it looks), he adds, “It looks almost exactly like it did back then.”

Lydia thinks nothing of it. “I had it rebuilt, but the walls are where they were in the old house,” she says, and Deaton doesn’t say anything strange after that. Lydia decides he’s just a peculiar man like that.

***

It’s dangerous to get close to town, because someone may spot her and shoot her, so Laura doesn’t.

It’s dangerous to kill a random hiker passing through the woods, even though they always smell so alluring, and their meat would be warm and sweet between her teeth. But this in turn could alarm the hunters to her presence, and hunters would come and kill her, so Laura doesn’t do this, either. There is no mercy in her left, and no feeling of right or wrong. Wolves don’t know anything about bad deeds. They kill because they’re hungry, or because they’re in danger. Animals can’t sin. Can’t feel.

She dreams she used to be a human, but it’s a faraway and strange dream. She couldn’t have. The feel of soft earth beneath her paws, of cold water in the creak, of warm blood on her tongue ‒ these are the true things.

The woman who once lived in the destroyed house-den is as unattainable as the moon. There are memories, strange and alien, of having hands and a laughter that sounds nothing like a playful bark, but the morning light chases them away. When she runs, and hunts, she’s wolf and whole and safe. That’s all that matters.

Once, when she goes to look at the den ‒ it makes something strange inside her uncurl and spread, like she swallowed a rabbit that was still alive ‒ there are humans there. Laura has seen humans here before. It’s always hard to not attack them, for trespassing on her territory, but she can smell them from afar, so she’s prepared.

Can’t kill ‒ killing brings hunters.

Laura watches the humans come and go, and hurry around, and talk. They’re tearing the den down, and Laura expects this to hurt. It feels like stumbling into a patch of forest that was burned in a forest fire, but long ago. Sorrowful, yes. But under that, she can smell new things coming out of the ground. Nature taking its course, never accepting anything to stay useless, and empty.

One human keeps coming back. It’s a female, a young one. She talks in loud words and commands the other humans. Laura can’t understand speech ‒ doesn’t want to ‒ but the humans listen to the woman. She must be important. An alpha? No. Laura is an alpha, and the woman doesn’t feel like a threat.

She rebuilds the den ‒ the house, it once was a house, Laura doesn’t remember, but sometimes dreams about humans in there ‒ and makes it hers.

***

If Lydia plans it very carefully (which she does, of course), she can go for about a week, week and a half without driving to town. She doesn’t even have to resort to ordering pizza ‒ she’s just very efficient at shopping. She has it from her mother.

At first it’s‒ boring. When she isn’t working, there isn’t much she can do in the house. She stocked it with all the latest electronics, and books, and things that she takes pleasure in, but silence is pressing in when she’s all alone. It’s a curious thing about the house. Even with music blasting from cleverly hidden speakers, and Lydia dancing in her socks (the privacy is nice; Lydia was never quite as free as she’s here), silence is a tangible presence, not destroyed by all the noises, but pushed away.

At first it worries Lydia. Then it starts seeping into her, calming her overworked brain.

Lydia stretches out on a lawn chair in front of the house, with sunglasses on her nose and a book dangling from her hand. She’s just enjoying herself, and she can’t remember when was the last time that she did that. Not thinking about what she should be doing, or about what she could be doing instead of wasting her time here.

She yawns, and covers her mouth with her hand. When she opens her eyes, the sun is further west on the sky than it was when she last closed them.

The chair screeches when Lydia sits up; a weird, loud sound. It doesn’t even alarm the birds in the trees, singing loudly. They’re used to Lydia, and Lydia is used to them, even if they wake her up before the alarm in her phone (she doesn’t have to, but she likes getting up early).

Lydia’s sitting in the sun, and she looks towards the shadows cast by the trees and the shrubbery, not on the side where the road leading to town is, but where Lydia never goes. Sometimes, when she’s lucky, she gets to see a deer looking back at her with wide, kindly surprised eyes, or a rabbit, skidding across the grass. A fox, even, once. Lately, though, they’ve been keeping away, and Lydia is disappointed, because apart from the birds, there is nothing in the woods. Leaves of the undergrowth sway gently, and Lydia stretches out with pleasure before getting to her feet.

Somewhere in the back of her head, she makes some vague plan about maybe exploring the property attached to the house. She thought about it, even looked at some maps, but there never seemed to be a good time for this. Now, though, she’s already finished her latest project, the money appeared on her bank account, and no urgent e-mails popped into her inbox.

It’s stupid, to live in the middle of the woods and not even own a pair of hiking boots. Or a backpack. And isn’t it healthy for the brain, taking light, not overly extorting walks?

She should look into that, later. For now she goes back into the house, and discovers that catching a nap (a nap! Her!) in the sun will give you some unattractive sunburn across the nose. Lydia pulls a face at herself in the mirror, and then winces, because sunburn, well, burns.

When she’s rummaging through the bathroom cabinet, looking for something that could ease the stinging, she’s smiling to herself. It’s a bit wistful. Her mom always knows where those things are, or what exactly to put on peeling skin. Lydia knows a lot, but she still has to learn the things that come from simply living.

***

At first Laura is confused. Should she drive the human away? Laura watches the woman, spends hours at a time circling the clearing, until other animals recognise it for a dangerous place and keep away.

The woman doesn’t know about Laura. The woman rebuilt the den. The woman is strong.

The strongest instinct in a werewolf is pack, and Laura yearns.

The woman spends days at a time inside the house, or just outside it. From what Laura remembers, the human should smell of loneliness. Humans are made to live in packs, too ‒ in communities, families, circles of friends, with a lover ‒ but this one doesn’t. It makes Laura think that the woman must want someone, too.

But she smells of calm, silent contentment. Laura doesn’t approach. She needs a plan, but then her control over her mind slips again, and she wakes up dozens of miles away, with deer blood on her muzzle. Thinking in human terms is almost painful.

***

Light, not overly extorting walks through the woods that haven’t seen a human in years are a romantic notion. Lydia fights her way through the trees with low-hanging branches, skitters across moss-covered stones, gets her new hiking boots tested thoroughly in a green swamp that comes out of nowhere and swallows almost her from the waist down.

When she finally finds another clearing, she’s sweaty and wet from the rotten-smelling water from the swamp, her shirt is ruined, and the palms of her hands are scratched from when she fell and tried to catch her balance on a rough tree bank. At this point she’s pretty sure that the entire idea was stupid— No, not stupid. Lydia doesn’t have stupid ideas. Just not well planned, is all.

She sits down on a stone, because she can’t get any more dirty and she truly doesn’t care, and puts her backpack by her feet. There’s a bottle of water inside, some granola bars, sun lotion (she learnt her lesson), a camera.

Lydia drinks in slow sips, and then takes a few random pictures, and thinks about framing them and hanging in the sitting room. So she’s becoming one of those people. She’s going to have pictures of trees in a house that is surrounded by nothing but trees.

She spots a squirrel, a blur of movement skidding up a tree and then jumping from branch to branch, sending them swinging. At the beginning, she used to see a lot of squirrels in her backyard (which is just another patch of the woods, but she calls it that, so it is that); she wonders where they went. Maybe they hate her taste in music.

Or not. Her taste in music is great. Her taste in general is.

The woods around the house are more quiet than this part of them. Lydia isn’t sure how that makes her feel. Lonely, maybe, in a way that the absence of humans doesn’t. Humans started boring her.

She sits long enough to catch her breath, but the soreness in her legs doesn’t go away. Her muscles aren’t used to ‒ she checks the time on her phone ‒ two hours’ worth of walking. Even thinking about going all the way back makes Lydia feel like curling on the ground and going to sleep.

She eats one of her granola bars, thinks how good it is that no one can see her here, and sets off to stumble back to the house.

The house seems further than it was, and Lydia would consider the thought that maybe she’s lost; only she never gets lost. She keeps going, and she curses to herself, because the forest seem to be against her. And because there is nobody here, she curses loudly into the early afternoon.

There is no answer, and Lydia remembers a movie she once saw. A man stood on the top of the mountain, and he yelled into space. For no apparent reason, just because he could. Lydia can, so she yells, too, “Fuck!” and it’s silly, only it feels good. “Fuck, fuck, fuck!”

She’s already close to the house, close enough to see its peach-coloured walls, when her feet catches on a root and she falls. Her foot twists in a way no joint should ever twist, her knee hits something hard.

This time Lydia doesn’t curse, just hisses through her teeth and wobbles the rest of the way to the house.

***

The human goes into the woods.

She’s graceless, angry, and at the same time, strangely happy to make noise and trip around.

Laura watches her from afar. She wants to show the woman easier tracks. Lead the way, lead her pack; but she knows she’d scare the human.

She wants to bite the human. It’s a dull, remote thought. The woman would be a valuable part of the pack even without being a wolf. Humanity is helpful, too. Laura thinks ‒ or knows, more like, understands on the most basic level ‒ having a human as part of the pack would make Laura be able to remember how to be one, too.

Laura hasn’t shifted into a human in many full moons. Maybe years. It didn’t seem important, but now she thinks that to have the human, she needs to be a human.

She can’t remember how to shift. She’s a wolf, and the wolf wants.

***

“Twisted ankle,” the doctor tells her. He’s smiling kindly, like he wants to pat her curly hair. In a grandpa-way. “You will have to keep off it for at least two weeks. No more walks for you, miss!”

“She doesn’t leave that house anyway,” her mom says. She drove Lydia here when Lydia called for her, and then helped Lydia hobble inside. “You should stay with me, until you get better.”

“I can just sleep on the ground floor. It will be fine.”

Lydia must truly be a hermit now, because the thought of living in town again is worse than the raw feeling in her ankle.

She does sleep on the ground floor that night, in the small guest room. The windows are open, because the night is stifling.

In the middle of the night, Lydia hears howling. After that, she prefers to make the painful journey up the stairs every evening.

A wild dog, perhaps, she thinks. She thinks she hears it again, later, but she’s not sure, so she forgets all about it.

***

There is no rite of passage to a pack.

Some are born into it, like Laura and her family were. This is the easy way, in as much as there is an easy way to do this at all.

Others are called into a pack. Bitten, or tied to a werewolf or to a pre-existing pack of them.

The woman already feels like pack, and when she’s hurt, a stupid stumble in the forest, Laura feels it, too. The worry and the ghost pain drives Laura closer than she dared before.

When one human is hurt, others help him. They’re all like a big pack, but then they can turn against each other in a moment. It made sense to Laura, when she was one of them ‒ or so she thinks, it must’ve ‒ but doesn’t now. Another human takes the woman somewhere, and Laura thinks maybe she will never come back. Maybe Laura is all alone again.

The woman comes back, though. Something in Laura slips, relief slick over worry, and then primal fear of how easily and unwittingly the woman controls Laura’s emotions like gravel in her throat.

Desperate, lost, and alone, Laura calls for the woman in the night. She howls and howls, until she’s sure every creature on her territory heard, every human, every werewolf that might’ve gotten close.

Mine, Laura howls into the night. Mine, this one is mine.

***

It takes three weeks for Lydia’s ankle to stop feeling like it may give way under her every time she stands up. It’s good to be able to wear her favourite shoes again, after the swelling goes down.

Lydia walks outside, onto the porch, and looks ahead, into the woods. “I don’t consider you the winner,” she informs the forest. It would have felt strange, half a year ago. It doesn’t now.

She sits down on the bench on the porch, rests her cheek in the palm of her hand, and lets her thoughts wander. Everything’s good. Her leg doesn’t hurt, her book is moving along. She’s more focused than she’s ever been, so work is easier, too.

Something’s watching her from the woods.

It’s a feeling at the back of Lydia’s neck, little pinpricks. With her mind calm like that, she notices things. Things like a pair of flaming red spots between the trees, like two people holding cigarettes. They’re bright, small, and look like eyes. And they’re gone before Lydia even starts worrying about them.

She goes to investigate anyway. She has to be careful about things like forest fires.

There are no scorched marks, or even trampled grass ‒ anything that’d suggest humans. All Lydia finds is a dead squirrel, it’s neck snapped. There is no blood, just the still little body. Lydia grimaces and leaves the small animal in the grass. She isn’t going to touch it. It may have‒ worms. She doesn’t even know.

***

Laura is the alpha. It doesn’t mean much, now. An alpha without a pack may be an omega just as well. For all intents and purposes, she is an omega. The only difference is, Laura is stronger, so much stronger, and because of that, can fall that much lower.

There’s no choice left for Laura. All she has is the human in the den, and she needs to make the human realise that.

If Laura wants a pack, she needs to act like an alpha again.

The woman doesn’t seem to be in danger. She already has a den, so that’s solved, too. The only thing Laura can think of left ‒ and she tries to modify it to a human’s way of thinking as well as she can ‒ is providing the human with food.

She’s sure she does well, because she doesn’t leave the meat bloody and ragged. Humans don’t like that.

Her human doesn’t seem to like the squirrel, though.

Laura whines, unhappy, but the human doesn’t know that. The new feeling inside Laura shifts again. The human thinks Laura is an unworthy alpha, so Laura has to do better, so much better.

She needs the human to be hers, and for the human to take Laura in, too.

***

The next morning, the squirrel ‒ Lydia thinks it’s the same squirrel, but there are not many differences between one dead squirrel and the next ‒ is on the porch. Lydia wraps it in a plastic bag, making faces the whole time, and buries it behind the house, some two hundred steps from it.

Lydia washes her hands for fifteen minutes after that, and then calls Deaton to tell him about the squirrel. He’s a vet, he probably knows what it means, and if Lydia should be worried.

“I think it’s a rabid dog,” Lydia says, thoughtful.

“A rabid‒ Yes.” Something odd rings in Deaton’s voice, contemplative and calculating. Lydia recognises this tone of voice ‒ she should own the rights to it. “Have you heard it? In the forest?”

“Maybe, I mean‒ I’ve heard something. A howl, or just, what do dogs do?”

“A howl.” Lydia doesn’t like this echoing thing. She’d prefer some actual input. “There are a lot of animals in the woods, Lydia. I don’t think there’s anything you should worry about. Anything dangerous.”

“I never said I think there is,” Lydia says.

She starts thinking that, though.

***

Jackson calls Lydia one day, before the end of summer and the beginning of fall. Lydia doesn’t really bother with remembering what day of the week it is anymore, and she counts the days only in deadlines and her refrigerator becoming empty at regular intervals.

Jackson is in town for the weekend, visiting his parents. He tells Lydia they should meet for coffee (“For old times’ sake.”) and Lydia agrees. She drives to town, and doesn’t come back home till early morning the next day. She doesn’t hear from Jackson, after that, but that’s fine. It was just for old times’ sake.

She sleeps through most of the day, and gets woken up by the publisher of her book, calling to inquire after the next chapter. Her voice is scratchy and rough when she answers, and she thinks she should talk to people more. She scrolls through the contacts in her phone, and looks at the names of the people from work, and from college. She honestly can’t remember when was the last time she talked to any of them.

She stays in for the entire weekend ‒ she doesn’t want to run into Jackson. She finally runs out of milk, and that’s pretty vital, so she decides to go grocery shopping. It’s after the planned day anyway.

The tyres of her car are bitten through. Not slashed, even, but bitten. Lydia stares at the ragged edges for a long moment. She doesn’t think a dog could bite through the rubber so thoroughly, but then again, what does she know about those things?

She calls the towing company, and they aren’t too happy to drive to the old Hale house (it was a while since she’s heard her home being called that), because they remember it being hidden in the woods, with barely more than a dirt path leading to it. They finally agree to come and change the tyres when she promises them that it’s an actual road now.

The tow company guy whistles loudly when he sees the teeth marks. Then he looks towards the trees, and the shadow that crosses his face tells Lydia that he doesn’t think it’s so funny anymore.

“I’ve heard some hikers found a mauled deer in the forest,” he tells Lydia.

“I didn’t know,” Lydia says. She doesn’t go to town, she doesn’t hear any gossip. Her mom hasn’t mentioned it, either. “I’ve heard about rabid dogs, though.”

“Yeah,” the man agrees. Maybe it makes him feel better, because he starts smiling again, and even makes a bad joke, something about a woman living alone in the woods. Lydia doesn’t quite catch it. She sees two red points between the trees. This time they don’t disappear until the tow company guy drives away.

Lydia doesn’t even bother going looking for them.

***

The next day, she finds a dead rabbit on the porch. She know nothing about those things ‒ or close to nothing; she did some tentative reading on the internet ‒ but the kill appears clean, and the carcass is bloodless. Lydia looks at it for a long time, says, “No,” in the general direction of the woods, and slams the door shut.

She refuses to have any part in this.

The day after that, it’s a deer.

Lydia starts researching butchering game.

***

Wolves hunt in packs, for big prey. They seize any opportunity that appears, though, and will kill something small if it shows up, too. They don’t kill humans. No healthy wolf ever killed a human for prey.

Werewolves are not wolves. There are a lot of similarities, obviously, but then there are differences. When a werewolf hunts, they have other senses and abilities at their disposal than a wolf does.

Laura begins to regain her lucidity, so she hunts like a werewolf would. She uses her enhanced senses, but pairs them with human logic and planning. Her grip on it is still tentative and sometimes it hurts if she pulls too hard, so she gives it time, lets it come to her. The longer she spends watching her human, the more she feels like one, too. Laura needs to reach that perfect balance between a human and an animal that being a werewolf means.

She almost loses everything she achieved in the last months when her human drives away one day. This part is normal. Despite Laura’s attempts, her human still isn’t interested in any pray Laura may drag to her doorstep. It doesn’t discourage Laura. She will keep trying, again and again. Her mind is set on the single goal now: making her human turn into her pack.

No, Laura almost loses her chance after. She’s waiting for her human, half-asleep in the woods. She’s tuned in to the sound of her human’s heartbeat, and the engine of her car.

She also knows her human’s smell, though not as well as she’d like to. It’s not yet a pack smell, the mixture of them both, but it’s familiar. Comforting, even, where in lingers around the forest. Makes Laura want to curl into it, and detect all that makes it alluring, name every strand that twists together to form it.

When her human comes back this time, the smell it tainted. Not just by the lack of sleep, and yesterday’s alcohol. That would be fine, Laura could understand that. But the smell of another human ‒ close, intimate, mixed with the smell of sex and bodies too close to each other ‒ gives Laura a start, and then makes her hackles raise. Laura’s throat vibrates with a low growl, and she’s not Laura, she’s the wolf, and the wolf wants.

The wolf wants to find that other human, and rip him apart. He’s competition, and he’s unworthy, even more so than Laura felt before, after the squirrel incident. He let her human go, even though he had her. Laura can’t understand it, is stunned by her own emotions: relief that her human is back, anger at that other one, anger at herself.

She doesn’t know where the power to not run straight to town and hunt the man down comes from. It must be an outside force, something in the forest lending Laura its strength, because all she does is bite the tyres of the car to ribbons.

Don’t leave me, she wants to say with her gestures, since she doesn’t have words. You don’t even know me, but please, don’t leave me.

She runs away, deep into the forest, and hunts.

She hunts like a werewolf would, stalks her prey and corners it. She’s fast, and she’s silent, and she’s in control here. The deer’s life snapped and ended in her teeth is satisfying, but it’s only enough. It’s only temporary. I would be so much better if it was the man, would bring Laura so much more pleasure.

She brings the deer to the den’s entrance again, and deposits it there.

Look, she tries to say. I bring you a gift that you can eat, instead of that man’s head to show you my strength. I am human, deep inside. Please see this. Please guess it, somehow, impossibly. I need you to guess it.

When her human accepts the offering, Laura’s satisfaction is tinged with a dark tone of red.

***

Lydia can do anything she applies herself to, and she’s surprisingly not squeamish. She likes biology quite a lot, and a good part of it is looking inside living things.

She feels a little weak when it comes to using the bone saw, and fine, she may have to pause once or twice and just step outside, but she carries out the butchering to the end.

It feels like she’s proving something to someone, even though there’s no one here. Just red eyes in the woods, when she’s finally done and cleaned up in the evening. There’s too much meat for her to do anything with. She decides to give some of it to Deaton, but gifting her mom doesn’t appear to be worth the explaining. Instead, she takes what doesn’t fit in her impressive freezer in the basement, a nice clean piece, and places it in a bowl on her porch. Under the careful scrutiny of the red eyes, Lydia pushes the bowl a little bit further from the door, and says, “Thanks. That’s enough for now, okay? I can’t eat a whole deer, you know.”

It’s curious, but she doesn’t feel ridiculous, talking to something that may or may not be there. It feels natural, normal, or maybe even like the right thing to do. Good manners, that’s all.

Lydia never thought about getting a pet, after her dog. And Prada was a small thing, just barked and peed on things when excited. The thing in the woods is not a pet. The thought alone fits ill in Lydia’s mind.

But it’s an animal, dangerous and wild. Lydia knows enough about those things to know that wild animals don’t watch humans like that, nor do they share they prey with them.

There’s no one left to ask, but Lydia would like to know if the Hale family saw the red-eyed thing, too. She can’t say why, but she feels like the animal ‒ and she’s not so sure it’s a dog ‒ belongs to the land.

She wraps herself a bit tighter in her sweater before going back inside.

There is no howling in the night. Lydia would know. She spends the entire night wide awake, listening and waiting for‒ Something.

The birds start singing, and the morning light spills into the bedroom, and Lydia just keeps looking at the ceiling, wondering if people just get weird like that when left alone for too long.

***

Lydia stands in the doorway, her feet bare, her body frozen in place.

She considers this situation. She’s here, on the porch of her own house. Her hair is a mess of tangles and wild curls, and the wolf’s ‒ it’s not a dog, can’t be; it’s a wolf only if she generously stretches the definition of a wolf to something so big and unearthly ‒ pelt is black, shiny, and healthy. Her eyes are stinging from the lack of sleep, and the wolf’s eyes are closed, but as she watches, they open slowly, lazily. They are red, and instantly focus on Lydia in unblinking scrutiny.

“Oh,” Lydia says. She hasn’t planned for that. Nobody could ever plan for that.

The wolf raises to its paws, and yes, it’s big, but it’s also beautiful, and‒ calm. Calm is the word that comes to Lydia’s mind, even though she should probably be scared and trembling right now.

You aren’t supposed to show fear to wild animals, so that seems to be a good thing.

They stand like that, facing each other, until finally Lydia steps back, and the wolf turns around. It jumps off the porch in one graceful leap, runs across the clearing, and disappears behind the trees.

Lydia’s hands finally starts trembling when she gets back inside, and falls onto the couch. Her heart is racing, and it hurts, like she’s just seen something infinitely sad.

It’s just an animal, she tells herself. Just one wolf.

And that thought seems sad, too, for some reason.

Lydia should call Deaton, or better yet, animal control. She does neither.

In that moment, it’s very hard to believe that if she got into her car and drove, she’s be in town in less than ten minutes. Among people, and shops, and normal things, where a wolf on her porch would seem like a dream.

Right now, other people seem like a dream, and Lydia and the wolf are the only real things.

***

It’s too early to reveal herself, but Laura can’t help it.

Her human accepted the deer. She allowed Laura to provide for her, she’s in Laura’s territory, under Laura’s care. There isn’t much more her human could do to spell out loud and clear that yes, she wants to be pack. To the extent that humans can understand pack, which doesn’t run very deep, but Laura will take it. She’ll take the small steps and tentative reactions.

There is no fear in her human when she sees Laura, and Laura’s heart is beating out of her ribcage with it. She tries to appear as non-threatening as she can, but she can’t do anything with her massive body, or her foreboding red eyes. The only mean of communication with her human she has is body language, and humans interpret that differently, too. Laura remembers some of it, but much she never was able to grasp anyway. She was born and raised a werewolf, she always had a pack. And then she didn’t, and she was a wolf in the woods.

She’s not sure what she is now. A bundle of nervous energy and hope. Something cut off out of the shadows, something lingering at the back of humans’ mind. A monster, surely.

Her human doesn’t think she’s a monster. Her human can’t see Peter’s blood on Laura’s canines, and can’t read Laura’s story from her scent. She just trusts that Laura won’t hurt her, easy and simple, offers to share food and looks at Laura with awe.

It’s human awe at a wild animal, a natural thing, but Laura can’t help feeling pride and pleasure rolling inside her.

No one’s ever looked at her like that before, be it in her human or wolf form. It’s new, but it’s a good kind of novelty. Something outside of Laura’s area of expertise, so they can build it together. Laura and her human. Laura and her pack.

But she mustn’t scare her human away, so she goes back to the woods, where she now belongs very little. The den is behind her, with her human safely inside, and Laura guards the perimeter, watchful. She’d prefer to do it from up close.

Small steps, she reminds herself.

Inside her head, Laura feels almost human.

***

The wolf isn’t on Lydia’s porch every morning, but it’s there frequently enough for Lydia to get used to its presence. Sometimes it stays asleep when Lydia goes to sit on the bench and drink her coffee, other times it looks at Lydia for a few moments, and then runs towards the forest.

On this particular morning, it takes one lazy look at Lydia and drops its head back to its paws. Lydia hums in greeting, and sits down on the steps. She’s close enough the feel the warmth radiating off the animal, but not close enough to touch it. Touching is outside Lydia’s comfort zone, even if she is almost sure it doesn’t have fleas. It doesn’t scratch itself. It doesn’t seem inclined to bite her, either, so that’s nice.

Actually, it is a she. Lydia sneaked a glance once, and even if she feels uncomfortable with the fact that she did, the knowledge feels helpful. A she-wolf.

They’ve been meeting like that for a month now, and Lydia has the natural, human instinct to name the wolf. Only it’s a wolf, so naming her is almost‒ rude. Lydia knows it’s not a Disney movie, and the wolf doesn’t have her own name, and definitely isn’t going to share it.

“I can just call you ‘Wolf’,” Lydia says. Wolf is not a name, it’s just something to say ‒ not call, Lydia wouldn’t dare call Wolf ‒ so it’s fine. “It’s getting cold,” she adds after a moment. People make small talk with animals all the time. There’s nothing bad about it.

Wolf raises her head again, and then, very slowly, she deposits it in Lydia’s lap. Lydia tries not to move, or better yet, not to breathe. Wolf falls back asleep, her breathing even and deep. Lydia places her mug on the boards of the porch, and then, slowly, carefully, puts her hand on the top of Wolf’s head. She doesn’t pet her, or pat, just rests her hand in place. Wolf’s fur is warm, and just as soft as Lydia imagined.

“Okay,” she says softly. “Okay, you can stay.”

Wolf makes a soft noise, like an exhale. It’s not angry, and if Lydia were to guess, she’d say it’s agreeable. As far as an animal can agree with anything.

***

When Laura was very small, changing from human to wolf and back was an involuntarily occurrence. She couldn’t control it yet, and every time it happened, she was surprised.

Laura’s mother was the alpha back then. She was a very calm woman, nothing ever made her angry, and she tried to teach both Laura and Derek the same. Especially Laura, who was supposed to be the alpha after her. Somewhere, in the yet unknown future.

If Laura changed into the wolf and wasn’t able to turn back, running around the house and chewing on the table legs with her small, needle-sharp teeth, her mom would chase her down, and pick her up.

“Focus on me,” she’d say, patting Laura’s now furry head. “Focus on what you feel, Laura. On what feels human. Come on, you can do it, you did it the last time.”

Her fingers were always gentle when she held Laura, and soothing. Slowly, gradually, her stoicism would seep into Laura, and Laura would be able to turn back into a child.

Her mom used to repeat her name ‒ Laura, Laura, Laura ‒ and it made concentrating easier. I am Laura, Laura would think, I am a human girl who just looks like w wolf right now. It worked every time.

Her human’s touch is just as gentle as her mom’s, and Laura leans into it the same way. But her human doesn’t know her name, so she calls her Wolf. It doesn’t help Laura very much. She’d like to hear her name spoken aloud once more. She wonders if anybody even remembers it.

Her human’s name’s Lydia.

Since Laura won’t be able to hear her own name any time soon (until she figures out how to shift, and she believes she can do it. Somehow), she fills her head with Lydia’s. Wolf-thoughts are shaped differently from human-thoughts, and they certainly aren’t used to being forced to work around names. So Laura thinks Lydia, Lydia, Lydia, and feels herself become human more and more with every passing day.

Her mind is convinced. It’s just her body that refuses to comply.

***

The woods look like they’re burning when fall comes. Lydia finds herself living on an island in the middle of oranges, reds, browns, and yellows. It’s a warm fall, too, and Lydia even takes up hiking again. Taking it up again is a big phrase, seeing how her first trip ended in her spraining her ankle.

Wolf accompanies Lydia very faithfully. She knows the forest better than Lydia, and she chooses paths that are easier for Lydia to follow. They walk for hours, surrounded by the colourful leaves.

“I should’ve asked you to show me around months ago,” Lydia says. Wolf brushes against her thigh, passing her on the path. Lydia reaches out and combs her fingertips through the fur. It feels tingly.

She watches Wolf run ahead. She isn’t worried, because Wolf always comes back. Sometimes she comes back with a squirrel in her teeth, though, and Lydia doesn’t want to see another one.

They walk all the way to the creak on the edge of Lydia’s property, and then back. Wolf is great at leading the way back, too. And when Lydia stumbles, Wolf lets her lean on her strong back.

***

Memories come back slowly, but surely.

Not the ones in which she kills Peter or finds Derek’s dead body. Not memories of Laura’s mistakes.

Simple ones, of her life before, from when she was happy. Laura is happy now, too, so her past is unlocked to her.

***

Lydia wrings out her hair on the porch, under the roof above the door. They’re so wet Lydia leaves a small poodle on the ground. Her clothes are clinging to her body, and Lydia is freezing. She doesn’t think much about it when she pushes the door open and keeps it like that until Wolf pads in, also dripping.

Despite what Lydia half-expects, Wolf doesn’t shake off the water on her shiny floors or on the carpet. She follows Lydia to the bathroom, and Lydia undresses and wraps herself in a fluffy towel. Wolf watches her the whole time, but she always does that. Lydia feels like Wolf is learning her just as much as Lydia is trying to learn Wolf (she bought a book about wolves, and read dozens of webpages; none of them accounted for half the things Wolf does).

Lydia finds a towel that she won’t particularly miss, and drops it on Wolf. Wolf looks at her from under the edge of the blue towel, confusion in her red eyes. Lydia crouches and starts towelling Wolf down. Wolf lets her, patient and immobile, apart from the tip of her tail, which is swinging right and left like a pendulum in an old clock.

“You smell like a wet dog,” Lydia says, scrunching her nose. “Stink, really.”

Wolf growls. She does it sometimes, but Lydia knows it’s playful. The first time Wolf showed her yellow, long teeth, Lydia recoiled, but Wolf whined and cowed until Lydia stopped gasping for breath and backing against a tree.

Lydia goes to the bedroom in search of some clean, warm clothes, and Wolf follows her. Lydia pauses in the door.

“Apparently we’re changing rules,” Lydia says, “but I draw a line on wolves in the bedroom. So, there.”

She slams the door, and Wolf paws at it the entire time Lydia’s dressing, but finally she gives up, and goes away, or at least falls quiet. When Lydia comes out, the door isn’t scratched, which she notes with relief.

She finds Wolf on the couch in the living room. She watches her, pondering the fur she will never be able to vacuum out of the cushions, and the smell that will cling to them, and then sighs.

“Fine,” she says. “You can have the couch.”

***

The house looks different on the inside, even though on the outside it’s almost exactly like when Laura was a child.

The rooms are where they used to be, but they look nothing like in Laura’s head. Sight is not what she relies on, though. It’s the smells that truly confuse her.

Laura shouldn’t expect them to be still here, but some part of her did. It’s a different house, rebuilt and furnished by Lydia, so it’s only natural that she can’t trace Derek, her parents, her aunts and uncles. She wishes to, though. Laura tries to awake their ghosts so hard her head spins from it, but she can’t make herself see what isn’t there anymore.

Her dad isn’t sitting in the living room, reading a book and talking to aunt Jane (“I read better when I’m distracted,” he explained once. “A curse of a busy mind.”). Her mom isn’t hurrying through the house, the alpha emanating perfect confidence. Derek isn’t in his room upstairs, engulfed in some sneaky teenager business. Even Laura isn’t really Laura anymore.

All there is is Lydia, her smell surrounding Laura, clinging to everything here. Laura breathes it in, and breathes her anxiety out.

It’s the same house, but at the same time, it’s not. Laura thinks that even if she were in her fully human form, when thinking is easier, she wouldn’t be able to understand how that can be. All she knows that it’s true, and above all, it’s true that it’s her home.

***

Talking at Wolf doesn’t feel like talking to herself. At first Lydia just throws random comments around, or sort-of commands (as far as she dares to command a wolf), but one day when she’s going through the rough draft of her book, she realises she’s been talking for something like half an hour now, because her throat feels dry.

“…started doing it again after college,” she trails off. Wolf is staring at her, and Lydia finds herself blushing. “Well. At this point we have to braid each other’s hair to make it official.”

Lydia’s best friend at the moment is a semi-wild animal.

***

It gets too cold for hikes, at least in Lydia’s opinion, so she hides the hiking boots in the hall closet. She drives to town, and tries to spend some time around people. It consists mostly of her wandering idly through the local bookstore, picking up science books that are below her standards, but may provide a relaxing read. She’s looking forward to correcting all the mistakes with a red pen. She hasn’t done that in a long time.

Back at home, her hiking boots have been dragged out of the closet, and her favourite heels ‒ chewed to shreds. Wolf naps on the couch, and doesn’t have the decency to look apologetic when Lydia marches into the room.

“You ate my shoes,” Lydia says. “They were expensive, and I haven’t worn them since‒ Since that weekend when Jackson was in town.”

Saying Jackson’s name out loud makes her uncomfortable. She places her hands on her hips, and stares Wolf down. Her mom used to do that to her.

“All right. I understand the allusion. We’re still doing the walks. Fine. You win. That’s the last time, though. Understood?”

She doesn’t feel like she achieved anything. Lydia tries to sit on the couch, but Wolf doesn’t feel like giving her any space, and doesn’t react to nudging. Finally, though, she lifts her head and lets Lydia sit before dropping her head back into Lydia’s lap, which is her favourite position. Lydia tilts her own head backwards, rests it on the back of the couch, and pats Wolf absentmindedly. Wolf licks her hand, which is the closest to an apology they’ll ever get.

At night, Lydia gets woken up by the sound of the door clicking open. She always closes is, because she doesn’t want Wolf shedding fur all over her bedroom. Lydia peers into darkness, and sees a massive shape moving towards her, red eyes burning and then flickering when Wolf blinks.

“I’m not so sure about it,” Lydia says, but Wolf just hoists herself up on the bed, and rests partially on Lydia’s legs, curled around her.

Lydia makes a defeated sound. Wolf is warm, and soft, and her body moves up-down-up with her breathing. Lydia falls asleep with one arm thrown over her, fingers buried deep in the fur.

Some rules need to be put down, Lydia thinks. Wolf is slowly taking over her life.

The next day Lydia does some calculations on the laptop, and e-mails them to her boss. She answers all the other e-mails clogging her inbox, and goes through the chores that piled in the last week or so.

She’s always restless around the full moon like that. She can’t sleep for three days, but she has enough energy to do a week’s worth of work.

Wolf gets shifty, too. She usually leaves a day before the full moon, and comes back a day after. Lydia knows that, but it’s the first time when it’s happening after Wolf started sleeping in the house. Lydia lets her out through the door, and watches Wolf disappear in the night, her dark fur making her practically invisible. When she turns to look back at the house ‒ at Lydia ‒ her eyes glow red.

Lydia climbs up the stairs to her bedroom. It’s cold, but she opens the window, just a crack. She pulls the covers to her chin, and listens to howling in the night.

When it comes, long and full of longing and mournful, Lydia isn’t scared of the sound. She smiles to herself.

She feels safe.

***

Lydia hears the howling for the next night, and the night after. The full moon comes and goes, and Lydia fully expects Wolf to come back. She makes herself coffee in the morning, puts a thick cardigan on, and steps out onto the porch. Wolf should be here, sleeping next to the door.

She’s not, and Lydia looks around, as if expecting Wolf to jump out of some hideout. Then she whistles. Wolf doesn’t appear, and Lydia tries to be rational.

A wild animal, she thinks, can very well get bored of a human.

It’s sad how disappointed she is.

It’s sad how she drags a duvet from the linen closet and wraps up in it. She takes her laptop and settles to work on the porch.

Every few minutes, her eyes stray towards the woods.

When she’s cooking dinner, Lydia keeps looking outside the window. She even eats on the porch.

At night, it’s quiet. There is no howling.

Lydia remembers all kinds of trivia about wolves. They’re territorial, true, but their territories usually stretch out on great amounts of land.

Maybe Wolf is just checking some more remote corner of it.

Maybe she’s in trouble, her mind supplies treacherously.

Maybe‒

There shouldn’t be any wolves in California in the first place, should there? Wolf’s an anomaly, and anomalies get corrected. Lydia understands that. Part of her job is making sure everything fits the pattern.

***

Laura runs.

Moonlight is coursing through her veins, and moonlight is reflecting in her red eyes. Moonlight is calling her, and Laura answers, with howls and with little noises she forces out of the animals she kills.

It’s just her, no other wolf to answer her calling, but Laura doesn’t feel alone. She’s running not from something or to something, even though there is den behind her, and in the den, Lydia. Laura breathes the moonlight in, and doesn’t stop, her paws swallowing the forest’s paths in easy strides.

She lunges herself over the creak, and hears the night buzzing with life. It’s dark, but wolfs are nocturnal creatures. Laura enjoys the cold, autumn air and the owls hooting loudly as they soar overhead.

She turns and meanders, without a direction, but never lost. Those woods belong to her, and they offer her all she needs: a place to run, food, water. Her ancestors chose well when they made Beacon Hills theirs.

Far, far ahead, Laura hears an engine roaring. She doesn’t recognise it, and changes directions in an instant. Something is tearing through the undergrowth, and Laura feels a pang of worry. Not for herself ‒ she doesn’t want to hurt any human. She already went so far, and losing it because of one stupid mistake would break her.

Laura stops, and growls. Another engine sounds in the distance, and another, circling around her. Laura’s ears twitch. She needs an opening, and she jerks in that direction, makes a mad dash to tear herself away from the circle.

They’re hunting for her, and a surrounded animal makes mistakes. Moonlight is coursing through her veins quicker and quicker, driving her crazy with energy and fear. If she can’t escape them, she needs to at least draw them as far away from the house ‒ and Lydia ‒ as she can.

Protect your pack. Her heart beats to the rhythm of that thought when she jumps from between the trees and almost under the tyres of an ATV. She barks and growls, but she’s surrounded, they’re gaining in on her. There are three of them, three humans, a woman and two men.

Three hunters.

Laura howls, loud, loud, as loud as she can, but there is no one to come and help her.

The hunters are yelling something, to each other and to her, taunting her. Their voices are a meaningless noise to Laura. If she focuses, she can understand Lydia, but not them. She doesn’t want to know what they’re talking about.

The woman shoots from the crossbow she’s holding in one hand, and the bolt catches Laura on the side. She whines in pain and pounces at the woman, sudden and powerful. Surprise is enough to allow Laura to throw the woman off of her ATV, and Laura goes for her throat.

From up close, Laura can smell the woman, and she recognises the scent. It’s foul to her, and she remembers it, mixed with Derek’s scent, and then mixed with the smell of gasoline and ashes.

(“I need to be the one to go,” Derek said. “It was my fault.”)

Kate Argent.

The rage that fills Laura is feral, and nothing close to human. Her teeth snap, so close, but Kate kicks her off, rolls away and jumps to her feet. Another hunter shoots, this one with a bullet, and Laura gets distracted by the sudden flare of pain.

It makes the world around her duller, somehow, and at the same time sets her blood aflame. Wolfsbane, she thinks, but her anger is bigger than that, bigger than her wounds, and she jumps again, and again, taking the bolts and the bullets until she’s dizzy from blood loss. She falls to her side, fighting for air like it’s precious.

“It’s the Hale bitch,” she hears Kate say.

Laura’s eyes lose focus and regain it again. She makes another painful sound, and it’s not a sound a wolf would make, not at all.

It’s a human sob. Laura is crying, curled naked on the forest’s ground. Amidst the pain, and the confusion, and the primal fear there is‒

Relief. She managed to shift back after all. Too late, but it has to matter. It has to matter that she did it at all, it has to count for something, doesn’t it?

Nobody answers, and Laura feels like she’s allowed to pass out now.

She’d like to say one last word, maybe, but doesn’t have enough strength.

***

After a week, Lydia stops running to the door after hearing every imaginary noise.

She dreams of wolves. Wolves in her house, stalking down the corridors, and then talking, whispering among each other.

It’s one of those dreams that don’t appear to be scary, but Lydia wakes up spooked and breathless.

***

In the end Laura does get a chance to speak again.

Or scream, really.

When she comes to, she’s in an underground cellar, chained up and caked in blood. Most of her wounds have healed, because she was in good health when she was attacked, with enough energy. Now, though, she’s weakened and sore, and she wishes she could sleep.

But Kate is here, and so is another Argent ‒ Chris, Laura thinks was his name, but she never bothered to remember it ‒ and they have her hooked up to some electric device Laura knows can’t be anything good.

“We thought you died, after you murdered the last of your family,” Kate says. Her voice comes as if from afar, and Laura doesn’t try to focus on it. “But you’re back. Someone else you want to kill, bitch?”

It’s not an interrogation, on Kate’s part. She just enjoys causing Laura pain, and after the first time Kate turns up the voltage, Laura tunes her out.

It becomes easier the longer they’re doing it. Her own screams drown out all the other sounds.

Finally she loses consciousness again, and that’s a relief. Maybe they’ll leave her alone now.

***

Suddenly, being alone in the house doesn’t feel good anymore. It feels claustrophobic, and empty, and pointless. Lydia has a feeling of wasting time, even though there is nowhere else she should be, and nothing else she should be doing.

Lydia calls up her mom, and asks her to come and keep her company. Her mom is confused, but pleased to hear from her.

“I thought you gave up on human company altogether,” she tells Lydia jokingly when they sit at the dinner table.

“Humans are boring,” Lydia says. She even gives a small smile, which her mom doesn’t deem realistic enough.

She pushes her salad to the middle of the plate, and asks, “Did something happen, Lydia?”

I lost a pet, Lydia thinks, sounds inadequate. I lost a friend ‒ too dramatic. Her mom wouldn’t understand.

Lydia considered putting up missing dog flyers around the town, but what would that achieve? She has Wolf’s pictures, stashed away on her computer, but the pictures show clearly that Wolf isn’t a dog at all. And anyway, Lydia doubts it Wolf is in Beacon Hills. If anything, she must be roaming the woods. What are the chances of finding a wolf in the woods?

None, if said wolf doesn’t want to be found.

“I’m fine,” Lydia says. “Just tired.”

That’s true, at least. She really is. She can’t sleep at night, plagued by nightmares and sleepless nights interchangeably.

“You’re working too much,” her mom says. She told that to Lydia many times before, and they slip into the familiar template of conversation.

By the end of the evening, Lydia’s thought have calmed down. There’s no point in worrying about a wild animal after all.

There’s no point in getting attached.

***

“Laura.”

It’s not Kate’s voice, which was the only sound apart from her own hoarse screams (and sometimes howls) that Laura have heard lately. She rolls her head back on her shoulders, her long dark hair falling from her face, and opens her eyes. It’s just Chris Argent and her in the cellar.

“Do you know why you’re here, Laura?” Chris asks.

Because you’re all nuttjobs, Laura thinks, echoes of her old self fluttering inside her head. She doesn’t answer. She refuses to form any words at all.

“What about the woman?” he asks. Laura knows who he’s talking about in an instant, but she keeps her face blank. She won’t give him Lydia. “Did you bite her?”

In answer, Laura snaps her human teeth at him. He’s standing too far, and she doesn’t reach him. It doesn’t matter much.

Chris sighs, and then takes a step back, towards the door. “Rabid, then,” he says, and he sounds almost regretful.

Laura looks after him with her red eyes, the only thing that the electrical restrains are allowing her as far as shifting goes, and when he leaves, she lets her head fall forwards again.

She doesn’t even know what colour Lydia’s eyes are. From a wolf’s perspective, all humans look alike, and it’s just smell that sets them apart.

Laura muses on that, until sleep takes her.

***

Lydia doesn’t get many visitors.

She isn’t friends with almost anybody in town ‒ all her high school friends have moved out ‒ and doesn’t have extended family. Mostly it’s her mom, and on one or two peculiar occasions, Deaton. She put up a sign that says ‘private property’ at the beginning of the road leading to the house, too, which discourages any wanderers.

It’s all the stranger when one day, almost ten days after Wolf left, Lydia hears someone ringing at the door. Lydia can’t remember ordering anything. She goes to open the door with a wary expression and a mug of coffee still in her hand.

The man standing on her porch is about her father’s age, somewhat rough in the lines of his body, and very much a stranger.

“Can I help you?” Lydia asks.

She hasn’t thought about someone breaking in or hurting her before, but she does now, and she hesitates in the doorway. Then again, she can’t get paranoid.

The man smiles, and it makes his blue eyes bright with it. “Just the other way around,” he says, and catches the door before Lydia can slam it.

Lydia backs down into the hallway, and looks around for something to protect herself with. She thinks about the poker next to the fireplace in the living room, and breaks into a run, diving for it madly.

The man catches Lydia by the arm, twists her around and uses the other hand to dig his fingers into Lydia’s cheek. The mug clatters to the floor, and spills coffee everywhere. Lydia kicks the man, and he lets out a muffled, painful groan.

“Hold still for just a moment,” the man says. He’s pushing something between Lydia’s lips, and her eyes go wide and panicked.

It feels like a plant, the texture of it on her tongue. Lydia doesn’t have much choice when the man blocks her mouth, swallows it. It doesn’t taste like much of anything, but once it goes down, the man lets go of Lydia. She swirls around to face him.

“What do you think‒” she cuts herself off. “I’m calling the police!”

“Don’t,” the man says. “I had to check if you’ve been bitten.”

“Bitten!” Lydia shrieks.

Something like confusion passes over the man’s face. “Bitten, by your‒ You lost something, didn’t you.”

“You mean Wolf? You found Wolf?”

The man nods, slowly. He reaches inside his jacket’s pocket, and, without looking away from Lydia, produces a mobile phone. He flips through it, and then extends his hand so that Lydia can see the screen.

He’s showing her a picture of a woman. It’s just her face, but it looks terrifying ‒ pale and haunted, her eyes glowing red, her lips and cheeks swollen with bruises, her brow split. Most of it is obscured by dark, tangled hair. Lydia opens her mouth to ask what does it mean, but the man swipes his thumb across the screen, and then the picture is showing a black wolf. Lydia’s Wolf.

“What is this supposed to‒”

“I think you know,” the man says. “My name’s Chris Argent, and this is Laura Hale.”

Lydia thinks she may be drugged after all, because her head feels like it’s full of wool, uncooperative and light. “Hale,” she says. “Like the Hale family who lived here?”

“Exactly the same one,” Chris says. “This pet of yours, Ms Martin‒ she’s a monster. A werewolf. She killed her own family, and she will kill again, there’s nothing human in creatures like her.”

Lydia’s throat clicks when she tries to say something.

“I can protect you, I can help you, but you need‒”

“And why are you telling me that?” Lydia asks. Hears herself asking. She isn’t fully in control of her body right now.

“Because Laura Hale escaped, and we have every reason to believe she’ll come here, looking for you.”

Chris finally lowers his arm and hides his phone, but Lydia can still see the two images, connecting somehow in her mind, as if someone placed one on top of the other: a woman and a wolf, red eyes, blood around her mouth.

“Get out,” Lydia says. “Out, now, you nuttjob. This is my house and you have no right to come here and‒”

“Fine.” Chris raises his hands and holds Lydia’s eye for a moment before turning to leave. When he’s gone, Lydia turns the lock and then leans against the door.

She feels a headache coming.

***

That night Lydia manages to fall asleep, but just barely. She keeps waking up every hour or so, her heart thrumming in a memory of a headache more than an actual headache, and the sheets are tangled and sweaty.

She gives up around sunrise. She goes downstairs, still in her pyjamas. She may as well do some work before breakfast, since apparently she won’t be able to get any more rest.

Lydia pauses on the last step, leaning on the banister and listening.

Someone’s in the kitchen. Lydia hears cabinets being opened and closed, things being dragged around, something being spilled. She holds her breath, and this time she does grab the poker from the living room first. Wielding it in one hand like a sword, Lydia stalks back towards the kitchen.

She presses her back into the wall next to the kitchen door, and then tilts sideways, very slowly, to look inside.

She’s just inches from the doorframe when she hears her name.

“Lydia?” The voice is small and rough, like it’s owner left it unused for a long time.

Lydia takes a breath, and turns around, standing in the door, the poker extended in front of her. Its tip is trembling, swinging right and left, but it’s pointing more or less in the direction of the woman sitting by Lydia’s kitchen table.

Laura Hale is occupying Lydia’s chair, wolfing down cereal with the speed of someone starving for days. The poker starts trembling in Lydia’s hand even more. Laura is still dirty, and covered in blood, just like in the picture. Actually, she looks even worse in person, dressed in nothing but Lydia’s big sweater she left downstairs last evening.

“Oh my god,” Laura says. Her eyes are hazel, not red. “I haven’t had anything but meat in years. This is delicious!”

Lydia lowers the poker, very slowly. Her arm feels as if ants are running up and down it. She doesn’t stop staring. “Who are‒ Are you‒ You’re Wolf, aren’t you.”

It comes out as more of a resigned sigh than a questions. Laura swallows another mouthful of cereal, milk dripping down her chin, and smiles, wide and easy.

“Actually, it’s Laura,” Laura says. She drops the spoon into the bowl. It clatters loudly, and Lydia startles. “Green,” Laura says, out of nowhere, and then gets up.

She approaches Lydia, and her hands flutter uselessly between them. Over Lydia’s arms, Lydia’s neck, Lydia’s hair. Then she rocks forward ‒ she’s taller than Lydia, by a head or so ‒ and her nose brushed against Lydia’s cheek. Lydia tries to swallow her heart back from her throat. It doesn’t work.

“He was here,” Laura says. “Argent. Did he hurt you?”

She reaches down, and picks Lydia’s hand to eye level. Lydia’s wrist is bruised, from when Chris Argent grabbed her. She bruises easily like that. Laura’s eyes flicker to red for a moment.

“It’s just a‒ It’s nothing.” Lydia doesn’t know why she’s trying to calm Laura down ‒ or why she isn’t afraid. Her heart is racing, fluttering in her chest like a small bird fighting for freedom, but it’s not from fear, but something else. She can’t say what it is. Not yet. “He said you ran away.”

Laura squeezes her hand, and then let go. She doesn’t take a step back, though, and neither does Lydia.

This is my Wolf, she thinks. This woman is the same creature whom I talked to. Who showed me the right paths in the forest so that I didn’t get lost or hurt again. Who brought me dead deer.

Who slept in my bed.

“I didn’t,” Laura says. She sounds confused. “Kate let me go, she‒ What did Chris want from you?”

Panic settles on Laura’s face, makes her eyes wide and her skin pale under the dried blood and grime. Breath escapes her in a whoosh, and it brushed Lydia’s curls from her face.

“He said you ran away, and that you’re dangerous. That you killed your fa‒ family.” Lydia stutters over the last word. That was an insensitive thing to say, and she regrets it in a moment.

“My family was burned alive by Kate Argent,” Laura says. Her breathing is laboured, and Lydia realises Laura’s fighting for control. She’s winning, for now, but how long will that last? “The only one I killed was Peter, but he went mad after what she did. He killed my brother. I never hurt anyone. You have to believe me. If you don’t believe me, I can’t‒”

“It’s okay,” Lydia says softly, even though it’s not. “I don’t know what to believe, but certainly not Chris Argent’s words. Was he the one who caught you? With that Kate?”

Shakily, slowly, Laura nods. Her entire body language is that of Wolf’s when she was apprehensive, and Lydia does what she did back then. It’s an instinct, but she extends her hand and pats it over Laura’s tangled hair. She tries to comb through it with her fingers, but they get caught and pull at knots.

Laura lets out another loud exhale, and her forehead goes to rest on Lydia’s arm, her arms circling Lydia and holding her in place.

“You feel safe,” Laura says. “You feel like pack should.”

Pack. Lydia read about it, at some point in her research. She thought that maybe Wolf considers her part of her pack, and that’s why she keeps coming. She never thought about it like that, however. Not in terms that would encompass anything even remotely close to the half-naked woman in her kitchen.

“I never killed anybody,” Laura assures her again. “Anybody human. The hunters can’t have me if I didn’t do anything. They have a Code, and the Code says that only a werewolf who tasted blood may be‒”

“Then why did they capture you? If they know it was Kate, not you?”

“They don’t. Kate does, of course, but I bet she convinced Chris that it was all me. And he was hesitant, he even came asking questions, but it was too soon after I changed back into human after being a wolf for so long, I couldn’t answer. They need another reason, so Kate let me loose. She thought I’ll come here and kill you.”

Lydia feels herself going cold, even if Laura’s warm embrace. “Won’t you?”

Laura lets go of her, but hesitantly. “Of course not. You’re pack,” she says, like it’s the only answer that explains everything. “I couldn’t.”

“You killed Peter,” Lydia says. Then she remembers that Laura already told her why, but she has to know. To be sure.

“Yes. It had to be done. He wanted to kill me, too. He would’ve hurt many humans.”

It’s too much, and Lydia feels the old headache creeping back in. But she’s Lydia Martin, and that can’t stop her. She’s good at planning, and action.

“Then we need to show Chris that you’re in control of yourself. And that you clearly aren’t killing me.”

“Yeah,” Laura agrees. She curls her lips and it could be a smile, maybe, if she didn’t look so tired at the same time. “Thank you,” she adds. Her voice is even smaller now, even more wobbly.

Lydia just nods. This is still her Wolf, nothing’s changed. She’d have done anything to defeat Laura in her animal form, so it’d be unfair to not do it now.

Nothing’s changed. This thought makes Lydia calmer. That’s settled, then, no need to panic. Everything is like it should be.

Laura goes very still ‒ more still than she was, holding her breath and staring straight ahead ‒ and when she moves again, it’s quick and efficient. She places herself between Lydia and the window, and says, “They’re here.”

***

“Of course,” Lydia says. It doesn’t come out shaky or worried, just resolved. “They couldn’t wait any more to come and see my bloody corpse, huh?”

The sarcasm comes out weak. Laura shoots her a grin for the effort anyway. I chose well, she thinks. I chose perfectly.

“Go upstairs,” she orders. The partial shift is already taking over her, making her bones move under her skin, twisting her face into something ghastly, elongating her teeth.

“No,” Lydia says simply. She raises the poker that she’s still holding slightly as if to say, see, I’m not defenceless. “They need to see that I’m fine anyway.”

Of course. Laura shouldn’t even be surprised at this point. “Just‒ Stay out of harm’s way.”

It may be an empty order, but the sentiment behind it is real. Laura is still barely in control of herself, even if she’s getting better by the moment. If something happens to Lydia, and Laura smells the blood of someone from her pack being spilled, she will probably go crazy. And that will be the end of both Laura and Lydia.

“I’ll get the door,” Lydia says. When Laura opens her mouth to protest, she gets a hand raised in a shushing gesture for her trouble.

She watches Lydia, in her pyjamas and still smelling of sleep ‒ and of Laura, too, and that’s a grounding thought ‒ stalk towards the door. Lydia is swinging the poker back and forth with confidence Laura doesn’t sense in her. There’s a lot of resolve, though. Resolve to keep Laura safe.

An invisible, warm hand settles over Laura’s hand, and doesn’t let go.

She hears Lydia open the door, and say, “This is still private property. No change from when you were here the last time, Mr Argent.”

“Cut it off, red.” It’s Kate who answers her, not Chris. “We know the beast is here.”

“Is she?” Chris asks. Uncertainty. Good, Laura thinks. “We thought Laura will go after her, but she looks just fine.”

“Then they have an agreement,” Kate says. “What’s the difference? The Hale bitch still needs to be put down. Out of my way!”

Laura is in the hall in a split second, dropping to her hunches. Lydia swings the poker again, and Laura is sure it’s going to connect. But then Kate’s hand shoots out like a snake, and she grabs Lydia’s forearm, twists it around and pushes Lydia aside.

“There she is,” Kate says triumphantly, raising her crossbow.

“I never killed a human,” Laura says, clearly and calmly. “But I’ll make an exception for you. For what you did to my family.”

“You did it to your family,” Chris says. He’s pointing the gun at Laura, and she remembers what happened the last time he did that, but it doesn’t stop her. She takes a slow step forward, and then another, until she’s next to Lydia. She helps Lydia up and ushers her behind herself, using her own body like a shield.

“Is this how a rabid werewolf acts?” she asks, can’t help herself. A part of her mind is telling her that she doesn’t have to make excuses for a hunter’s benefit.

She barely hears Kate’s response over the sound of Lydia’s heartbeat. “Are you going to reason with a wild animal, Chris?”

“She’s not rabid,” Chris says. He lowers the gun fractionally.

“What difference does it make?” Kate asks, impatient. “She’ll finally do something against the Code. They always do. You’re just saving lives here, Chris! Isn’t this what we do? Shoot her!” Anger twists her features, but Chris doesn’t move, almost like he can’t hear her. “Or I will.”

Laura keeps still, ready to take the bolt when it comes, making sure that Lydia stays behind her. But what comes is a gunshot, and it’s not directed at her.

Kate drops the crossbow, now snapped in half. “Are you mad?”

“Answer me first. Has she really killed the Hales?”

Kate doesn’t answer. She smiles.

Laura shifts fully and jumps, letting the wolf completely take over.

The wolf wants Kate’s blood, and it wants revenge. Laura owes it so much for keeping her safe for all those years.

Distantly, as if from another room, Laura hears two gunshots, in rapid succession, and then a scream. For a moment she’s not even sure if she’s hurt, can’t feel anything at all through the adrenaline.

“Laura!”

Even through the haze of the fight, Laura recognises Lydia’s voice. It’s commanding, and Laura almost barks out a laugh ‒ Lydia thinks she can order an alpha around. Only it’s not funny, because it’s true. Laura backs down obediently, and then she forces herself to turn human.

Kate’s blood is filling her mouth, and she swallows it, pleased by the taste. Kate is motionless on the floor, and her arm is a bloody mess of torn up flesh. It’s not what made her eyes glassy, though, not what killed her.

No. There’s a gun wound in her chest, just like the one in Laura’s thigh. For a moment Laura’s too confused to piece it together, but her brain slowly adds two and two. Kate shot her on the leg in their struggle, and then Chris shot Kate.

Laura looks around, pressing her hand to the thigh wound. She plucks the bullet out distractedly with her fingernails-turned-claws, looking at Lydia. She appears to be fine, even if she seems to be in shock.

After making sure that nothing happened to Lydia, Laura turns to Chris. She has no idea what to say. His expression doesn’t help ‒ hard and guarded.

“You’re bleeding,” Lydia points out. Laura ignores her for the time being.

“The Code is there for a reason,” Chris says. Laura knows this tone of voice ‒ he sounds like he’s trying to convince himself. “Both sides need to observe it.”

Saying ‘thank you’ would be gruesome, so Laura doesn’t. She watches Chris pick Kate’s body up, and feels less satisfaction and more bone-deep weariness than she thought she would now that this is over.

“I will be watching you,” Chris promises.

“Yes,” Laura agrees. She sneaks a glance at Lydia again, and thinks how easy it is to lose control. “Please do.”

Chris nods, and then he’s gone, taking the body of his sister with him.

Laura catches herself trying to count how many people died in this house. She shakes her head, and takes a deep breath.

“We should look at that wound,” Lydia says. “And get you cleaned up.”

“Lydia‒”

Lydia doesn’t let her say anything. She shakes her head, too, and the steely resolve in her eyes keeps Laura quiet. “Later,” Lydia says. “We’ll talk later. Now let me do this, okay?”

***

This is my life, Lydia thinks. She tries to make it sink in. There are werewolves in it, and hunters. Someone got shot in my hallway, and I’m probably going to have to clean blood off the floor later.

I’m living with a werewolf. Or have been living, really. Laura has no reason to stay now. She’s free to go wherever she wants.

This is the only part of this entire morning that actually scares Lydia.

She takes Laura’s hand in hers, and leads her up the stairs, to the bathroom. Laura peels the blood-stained sweater off without any prompting, and walks under the shower. She fiddles with the taps for a moment, and Lydia hunches over the sink, trying to concentrate on washing blood off her hands ‒ and how come there is so much of it everywhere? ‒ and to not look in the mirror.

Laura is washing herself efficiently, looking strangely wild even while simply standing under the spray of water. Her hair falls to her waist, and her body is lean and strong. Laura catches her eye in the mirror, and Lydia looks down, embarrassed.

The spray of water gets turned off. “Do I get the doggy towel again?” Laura asks. Her tone is light, but under that, she sounds anxious about Lydia’s reaction.

“No, let me‒ Here.” Lydia rummages through the cabinets and produces a clean towel. She hands it over to Laura, carefully looking somewhere above her shoulder. “I should take a look at that wound now.”

“It’s gone,” Laura says softly. Lydia lets herself drop her gaze to Laura’s thigh, and the skin above the edge of the towel is pink from the shower, but smooth.

“You’re going to need some clothes, too,” Lydia says. She tries to busy herself with making task lists in her head, but she’s quickly running out of things to say and do.

Laura follows her obediently to the bedroom ‒ very much like Wolf used to ‒ and then waits for Lydia to find clothes that will fit her. Laura is taller than Lydia, but she’s thinner, so everything other than underwear and a shirt Lydia finds looks odd on her.

Laura dresses in silence, and drops the wet towel to the floor. Lydia wants to comment on that, but then remembers that Laura spent years as an animal, roaming the woods ‒ her manners may be rusty. Laura watches her, wet hair plastered to her neck and back.

“I just want to sleep,” Lydia admits honestly.

It’s a simple admission, followed by the unspoken ‘but I can’t right now’, but Laura smiles vaguely and sits on the bed. She reaches out, with her hand and with her piercing, intense gaze. Lydia’s throat goes dry, but she follows, lets Laura manoeuvre her into a lying position, with Laura curled protectively around her, warm and alive.

“So this is one of those stories,” Lydia says. “You’re going to be gone in the morning. Evening,” she corrects herself, remembering the time. “When I wake up,” she amends.

Laura’s hand doesn’t even pause where it’s stroking through her hair. “If you wake up and I’m not here, it means I’m looting your fridge.”

Lydia nods, not entirely convinced. It’s just like it used to be with Wolf, Lydia thinks. If she thinks it hard enough, it’ll become the truth.

It’s nothing like it used to be with Wolf. Laura is a very much woman-shaped weight against her, with human fingers touching Lydia, and a metric ton of issues to be discussed and resolved.

But the feeling of safety is familiar, maybe even better, and Lydia relaxes into it, lets her eyes fall closed. She feels a lot of things right now, to be honest, but first and foremost ‒ trust.

“I lost my pack once already,” Laura says quietly. “I won’t give up on it willingly.”

Her lips brush against the top of Lydia’s head when she’s speaking, and Lydia wants her to maybe do it again. It’s nice.

“Okay,” she mutters blearily.

Laura presses another kiss, this one to Lydia’s forehead, and it’s shaped into a smile.