chiiyo86 (chiiyo86) wrote,
chiiyo86
chiiyo86

Imagine Death, part six


After the van had stopped, they were left inside for what felt like hours, waiting. Stiles' usual restlessness was coupled with his anxiety over what was going to happen, and his leg was twitching uncontrollably, making the chain that linked the shackles on his wrists and feet jiggle. Sad to say, but the last few months had gotten them used to a sort of routine: when they were brought to a new location, they were sent to the cell awaiting them and only fought the next morning. This time the routine was disturbed and Stiles didn't like it one bit. Since he didn't foresee things getting easier for them anytime soon, change could only be for the worse. The fact that they were still blindfolded, depriving Stiles of the stimulation usually provided by sight, made it even worse, and he was this close to losing it.

“For god's sake, Stiles, stop it with that noise!” Allison snapped, making him jump.

Stiles open his mouth to protest—Allison knew how hard it was for him to stay still, and that it wasn't always possible for him to keep it down—but he heard the tense note in her voice and remained silent. She was just as nervous as he was, and if they started arguing now there was a risk it would affect their teamwork on the field.

“What do you think's going on?” Scott said.

Stiles cursed his friend's need to voice out his fears. He didn't want to say what he was really thinking for fear of making it true, but it was impossible to lie to Scott.

“Nothing good,” Allison said in his place.

“God, I hate this waiting,” Stiles complained, unable to hold it anymore. “I'd really rather be out there fighting.”

“Don't say that,” Scott said in a strained voice. “Anything's better than having to kill again.”

Stiles bit his tongue on his retort, feeling something that might have been shame burn inside his chest. How Scott, even after everything, could still be so damn good confounded Stiles—although maybe not that much. This was exactly what made him Scott McCall, True Alpha extraordinaire. How long before Scott got disgusted by the way Stiles had embraced their new life and let—no, not let him get killed, Scott would never do that, but became indifferent to him living or dying?

The door at the back of the van squeaked and cooler air wafted inside, bringing noises with it, voices, and something like a roar. They were dragged out of the van and pushed along, tripping over their chains. The air smelled like forest ground and Stiles could feel the sun on his skin for the first time in months, his face instinctively turning to it. The roar he had perceived when he got out of the van progressively became more distinct, until it exploded suddenly.

“Is that a crowd?” Allison whispered.

It sounded exactly like a crowd welcoming their favorite band. Their fights had always happened in front of an excited and bloodthirsty audience, but from the sound of it there were way more people than they were used to.

“What the hell—” he murmured, his stomach clenching in apprehension.

They were unchained, and Stiles rubbed at his raw wrists while someone relieved him of his blindfold. Light dazzled him and he had to blink a few times before he could make sense of the blurry spots of colors he could see.

“Oh, god.”

The breathed out curse had come from Scott, but Stiles was too taken by the scene in front of him to look in his friend's direction: they were standing in an honest-to-god stadium, small by stadium standards, but still a larger stretch of ground than he'd seen in months. Faced with that much space, Stiles felt almost dizzy from it, and it wasn't helped by all the fresh air they were getting after being locked up for so long. The benches looked dark with people, although it was hard to see much because of the blinding white light coming from the floodlights posted at each corner of the stadium. The crowd's cries were a living, breathing thing, and Stiles could feel the way it made the air around them vibrate. Where the hell did all those people come from?

“Look,” Allison hissed, tugging on his sleeve, pointing to the other end of the field, where men were moving out bodies. “There was another fight just now.”

It made sense that theirs wouldn't be the only fights, but they'd never seen any evidence of it before. Stiles' brain worked feverishly as he tried to figure out how to make all the pieces of the puzzle fit together.

Allison and Stiles were given knives as usual, and the three of them were led to the center of the field. The crowd's excitement went up a notch, and Stiles noticed at that moment that a screen was set on one end of the stadium, and that it broadcast an oversized, HD image of the three of them. The camera did a close up on each of them and Stiles looked at his own haggard face like it was the face of a stranger: he looked sharper than before, older somehow, and there were bruises on his face that he didn't even remember getting. His hair was too long and his beard had the aspect of some untreated skin disease. He looked like a hobo and a fucking junkie.

“Ladies and gentlemen!” The voice was familiar, but it boomed above them like God's own voice, coming from everywhere and anywhere at once. “This is going to be our last fight—” The crowd booed, but the voice went on blithely, “—last but not least! Some of you may have already recognized them, but for our newcomers, let me introduce our trio: the True Alpha! The most ferocious werewolf this side of the Atlantic, his power is beyond measure!”

Stiles exchanged a look with Allison, and they both rolled their eyes in unison—the description had really escalated since the first time they'd gotten nicknames, and this was so remote from the Scott McCall they both knew as to become laughable. Underneath his amusement, though, Stiles' discomfort was only growing. The way they were building up this fight, the fact that there was no one on the field but them, no opponents, and the bodies they'd seen be evacuated, all this led him to the conclusion that all their hypotheses were now colluding into one: something had alerted the powers that be, and now they were going out with a bang and getting rid of the evidence at the same time.

The voice said, “—and tonight they will fight each other to the death! Only one of them will survive!” and Stiles shut his eyes. Just what he'd thought, but it didn't make it easier to hear.

“What? No!” Scott exclaimed.

Stiles caught him by the arm. “Don't, Scott—look.” He showed his friend the armed men posted at every corner of the field. “If we don't do what they want, they'll kill all of us.”

“I'm not killing any of you! I'm not!”

Stiles tried for a smile. “Nice to see that you think Allison and I don't hold a chance against you.”

“This isn't a joke!”

Stiles dropped the smile. “Believe me, I know.”

He looked around them—the faceless crowd, the men with the guns, looking ready to shoot them. They didn't have much time to figure this out before they decided that the audience would settle for an execution. After all, this had been a favorite pastime for people, back when there was no TV. Come on, Stiles. Focus, goddamn it.

Fact: something had their captors spooked, and this might mean that rescue was coming for them, but they needed to be alive for it. Also fact: not all three of them could walk out of this alive; the mob needed its pound of flesh. Scott wouldn't hurt any of them, that was another fact, but he also wouldn't need to if he could pass for dead. Allison—Stiles didn't think she'd want to hurt him, but to protect Scott, maybe—

Stiles took a deep breath. “Don't worry,” he told Scott, and patted him, spreading his fingers over the back of Scott's shoulder. “I have a plan.”

“Really?”

“Yeah.”

Stiles looked at Allison and she looked back at him, wide-eyed but trusting. She trusted that he would figure it out, because that was what he did—or so Lydia had said. He was a bit surprised by how calm he felt about this, his mind quiet and smooth like the surface of a frozen lake, with a clarity of purpose that he had never experienced before. He had been waiting for something like this to happen, and now that it was happening he couldn't find it in himself to fret over it. The only false note was, deep down, a nagging regret that he wouldn't be able to say goodbye to his dad. Or to Lydia, or Mrs. McCall. Hell, even to Derek, and Isaac and Cora, wherever they were now. But if there was a cause worth dying for, then Scott and Allison had to be it. It was a long shot—Stiles wasn't sure they were going to let Allison live, even if she won—but if they had a chance at survival, Stiles was going to do his utmost so they could take it. Maybe they'd be able to go back home, and start their meant-to-be romance anew, and maybe they would sometimes remember him fondly.

The bell rang, clear and resonant in the cool air. They didn't move. One of the armed men marched on them, shouting, “Hey! Start fighting or I'll shoot!” There was no time to explain his plan and deal with the arguing it would bring; they needed to move fast.

He still had his hand on Scott's shoulder, and used it to draw him closer. Scott let a little surprised huff escape him.

Pretend,” Stiles murmured almost inaudibly to his ear. “You need to pretend. Like we practiced, okay?”

Then, so impulsively that he was almost as surprised as everyone else when it happened, he kissed Scott on the mouth. Scott opened up to him instinctively, parting his lips with an indistinct moan, and Stiles kissed him deeply, thoroughly like they never had during the handful of kisses they'd exchanged before. He tried to commit it all to memory: the way Scott tasted, the surprising softness of his lips, the scratch of his stubble on Stiles' skin. They'd only ever done this within the secrecy of their cell, and now they were projected on a giant screen watched by maybe a hundred of people. Who cared, though—Stiles was going to die and this was goodbye, so he poured years and years of loyalty and laughter, shared secrets and trials into the kiss, hoping Scott could decipher the message inscribed in it. Thank you. Thank you for sticking with me through hell and back.

“Stiles?” Allison said, sounding confused—she probably had caught on the way he was holding his knife. “What—”

Stiles stabbed Scott in the stomach, wrenching a quiet humph out of him. He could feel Scott's blood warm his knuckles. The elated crowd cheered and hollered.

Scott!”

Stiles had been looking straight at Scott when he did it, so there was no missing the startled, then slightly betrayed widening of his eyes.

“Remember!” Stiles hissed, but he wasn't sure Scott was processing what he was saying.

The wound wasn't lethal and it shouldn't take Scott long to recover from it. This wouldn't do—Stiles needed to hurt him worse if he was going to pass for dead, so he took out the knife and planted it into Scott's chest, as close to the heart as he dared. Scott coughed wetly and specks of blood splattered his lips.

Stiles didn't have the time to figure what to do next, because he was pushed off Scott and thrown down to the ground. He'd been expecting it—damn, it was a major part of his half-assed plan—but the breath was still kicked out of him and he was dazed from the shock.

“What the hell, Stiles?”

Allison towered over him, not trying to pin him to the ground like she would have in any other fight. Angry, confused, but not yet up to killing levels. Stiles needed to remedy to that. He swiped at her ankles to trip her off, and took advantage of the seconds she wasted trying not to lose her balance to jump back to his feet. Then, not giving her any time to recover, he threw a punch that grazed at her jaw. She tried to dodge, but couldn't completely keep him from connecting. Took a step back, blocked his next punch. She was still only defending herself, stumbling backwards against his blows, and it gave him a little thrill to be dominating the fight in a way he never had when they were sparring before, even though he knew it was only because she wasn't fighting him for real. He progressively got more aggressive, using his knees and elbows the way she'd taught him, aiming for low blows. He needed to get her to fight back, and, also, if he was going to die, he wanted to make it look good on screen.

“Stiles! What are you doing?”

“What does it look like I'm doing? I'm giving the people what they want!”

She clenched her jaws and he thought, finally, but was distracted by the sound of his name being called: “Stiles!”

It was Scott, already getting on his feet, and when Stiles turned his head to follow the sound of his voice—

“Umph!”

Allison's punch made him see stars. He rubbed at his cheek where he could feel the bruise forming and grinned at her.

“You getting your fire back, Allison? Are you—”

Sudden screams from the crowd interrupted him, and they were not of the happy, 'kill him!' kind. A string of men in black, geared up to the teeth, burst into the stadium yelling something indistinct. Hope made Stiles' pulse race. This was it, what he'd been waiting for, and even earlier than he'd thought. It didn't feel quite real.

“They're a SWAT team,” Allison murmured. “It's the police!”

Scott and Allison exchanged an excited look. Stiles felt a stab at the fact that they were excluding him, but he buried it deep when he saw that one of the guards was running to them, his gun out.

“Down!” he yelled, hurling himself to the ground just as the man started shooting.

Face pressed in the dirt, arms thrown over his head, he couldn't see what was going on, could only hear disjointed sounds of screams and gunshots. When he didn't feel pain anywhere and could reasonably conclude that he hadn't been hit, he cautiously lifted his head to take a peak.

“Scott? Allison?”

Scott and Allison looked okay, both of them flat on the ground like he was. Scott had put an arm around Allison, half-shielding her, and she was pushing him away to get back up. The stadium looked like a war zone: people were running around in a panic, trying to escape both the police and the armed men, guns were being fired left and right, a few bodies were falling.

“We need to get out of here,” Scott said.

Stiles looked for the exits, but unfortunately everyone else had the same idea and they were rushing towards them. They could have dropped their weapons and surrendered to the policemen, since they probably were there to rescue them, after all, but the mere thought of doing this made Stiles physically ill. It went against all his newly acquired instincts to trust men with guns.

“We make a run for it,” Allison said, and contracted her jaws resolutely. She hadn't looked in Stiles' direction even once since their fight, and he tried to ignore the way it made his insides tie themselves into knots. “On the count of three—one, two...”

Three! They ran like hell.

---

The last seventy-two hours were a blur. It had taken them well into the next morning until they were able to convince Agent McCall that Lydia's powers were real, and more importantly, reliable. In the end Lydia thought that what did the trick wasn't her force of persuasion, but the fact that, just like everyone else, he was sustaining himself on raw hope.

After that, Lydia went to get some much needed sleep, and let the adults working in law enforcement take care the details involved in the rescue mission. She woke up feeling a little more like herself, but unfortunately, her renewed clearness of mind also meant that she could worry about whether she would be able to replicate what she'd done the night before.

Chris Argent occupied the passenger seat in her car—the other parents were crammed in the Sheriff's car, parked behind Lydia and waiting for her to get started. Mr. Argent glanced at her, and there was probably no missing how nervous she was about this, how afraid she felt that it wouldn't work, but he didn't try to reassert how important it was that she get this right.

He simply said, “Thank you.”

Lydia's hands were clamped on her wheel so hard that the strain on her knuckles made the skin bloodless. “What? Why?” she asked.

“For how hard you've worked for this. To find them. It hasn't always been easy for Allison, moving around as much as we did. I'm glad she got to make such a good friend.”

Lydia gave him a wan smile, and she closed her eyes, breathed in and out, and worked on emptying her mind. For so long she'd been obsessed with wanting to control her power, but she knew now that it wouldn't work if she focused too much on it. It was about letting it happen, but on her terms.

Turn left.

“Did you hear that?” she asked Chris Argent.

“I didn’t hear anything.”

“Excellent. Let's go, then.”

The trip was long, made that much nerve-wracking by the fact that they didn't know exactly how long it was going to be. When they passed the border to Oregon, it became obvious they weren't looking to a short road trip. They had to make a couple of bathroom and gas breaks, and when they got to their destination—which turned out to be the city of Estacada, Oregon—Lydia's head was throbbing from the effort she'd made for close to twelve hours. The area was woody, high conifers competing for the sky, and the weather was cooler and damper than in California, which made Lydia instantly regret her choice of clothing when she got out of the car. Everything in her burned to get further into the woods, but they were getting into enemy territory and they needed back-up for this.

Her part had been played, and now it was Agent McCall's turn to work his magic with the local authorities. Estacada contracted with a neighboring city, Sandy, for law enforcement, but both towns were too small to have the manpower they needed, so Agent McCall spent hours on the phone to get a SWAT team from Portland, the closest big city, while the rest of them rested at a motel for the night.

It wasn't until the next afternoon that they were ready to intervene, and it took some persuading from Agent McCall to let Lydia join the operation so she could lead them. While Chris Argent and Sheriff Stilinski managed to justify their presence, Melissa McCall was told to stay behind. There was probably a bit of sexism at play there, but none of them wanted to get into an argument about it at the moment.

“We'll call you,” the Sheriff assured her. They were clasping hands, holding onto each other like to a lifeline. “As soon as we have them safe with us, we'll call you.”

The Sheriff from Sandy, Sheriff Griffin, and a handful of his deputies were invited to join them, probably more as a courtesy than for the added manpower. It was decided that they wouldn't use the cars and vans for their foray into the wood, in case they might alert their target to their arrival, and at first Lydia was a bit concerned she wouldn't be able to use her power anymore, having relied until now on her phantom GPS to guide them. She shouldn't have worried though, and remembered how adaptable her power was: as soon as they stepped into the wood, she could hear the faint rumble of a crowd, and once she'd confirmed that no one else could hear it, she followed the sound down the twists and turns of the forest path. It demanded a lot more focus that her GPS instructions, and several times Agent McCall—who she kept close to, unsure what the SWAT team thought about her involvement—had to keep her from twisting her ankle or tripping over a piece of rock or a root.

Eventually they ended up in a clearing, and found a small structure built there, a stadium of sorts. The crowd was now audible to everyone.

“What the hell,” said Sheriff Griffin. “What's this doing here?”

“What's going on?” Agent McCall murmured.

Lydia's memory of the cry kill, kill, kill! mixed with the excited cheering they could hear right now.

“Fights,” she said. “I think they're making them participate in death matches.”

Agent McCall's lips pressed into a thin line. “Those bastards.”

Now that she'd guided the party to its final destination, Lydia had fulfilled her role. She was completely excluded from the rest of the proceedings, kept apart with Sheriff Stilinski, Chris Argent, and a few deputies from Sandy for her protection. She didn't exactly mind, as she knew better than try to interfere with a police operation, but the wait was unbearable. She sat on the forest ground, too tired to stay on her feet, bundled into Sheriff Stilinski's jacket, and passed the time by solving math problems in her head.

The operation took a very long time to get started, or maybe it just seemed that way to Lydia. There was a lot of reconnaissance and planning and conferring to do beforehand. When the first gunshot rang out in the air, she startled, closing the jacket tighter around herself.

“I'm sure it's okay,” Sheriff Stilinski said, though it might have been more for his own benefit than Lydia's, or maybe for Mr. Argent's, whose hand had instinctively gone to his gun.

“I know,” she said. No cry bubbling inside her chest, so at least she knew no one had died.

They waited a little longer. Sounds of panic carried to them, barked orders from the SWAT team, a few more gunshots. Obviously, some people at least weren't going down without a fight. Sheriff Stilinski and Chris Argent were both taut as bow strings, seemingly restraining themselves from joining in the fight, which was probably why they didn't notice Lydia getting up and walking away from them.

“Maybe we should—” Chris Argent was saying to Sheriff Stilinski, when one of the deputies called, “Hey, miss! Get back here!”

“Lydia!” Sheriff Stilinski shouted. “What're you doing?”

Lydia ignored him and started jogging, pulled along by an instinct that she could not explain. The shoes she was wearing were definitely not made for this kind of ground, but she miraculously managed not to fall on her face or hurt her ankles. Her friends were there, she knew it, there was no rhyme nor reason to it, and she couldn't stay away any more than she could have stopped herself from breathing.

She saw Allison first, standing among a chaotic crowd: she was dressed in a dark long-sleeved t-shirt, dark pants, and she was holding a knife. Her hair was loose and tangled, longer than it had been the last time Lydia had seen her.

“Allison!”

Allison spun around and reflexively raised her knife in front of her. When she saw Lydia she slowly lowered her weapon, wide-eyed with shock. “Lydia?” she mouthed. Lydia ran to her friend and collided into her, throwing her arms around her neck. Allison dropped her knife and recoiled a bit from the shock. She held herself stiffly at first, until Lydia buried her face into her neck, whispering, “Allison, Allison, Allison,” and then she relaxed, melting against Lydia and hugging her back.

“You're here,” Allison murmured dazedly. “You've come for us.”

“Of course I did.” Lydia felt tears run down her face and wet the collar of Allison's shirt, and her voice was muffled into the crook of Allison's neck. “I tried, and tried, and now I finally found you. Oh, Allison.”

“It's okay.”

Allison started stroking her hair and Lydia pulled away a little to be able to look at her face. Allison was pale like someone who hadn't seen the sun in a while, and her face was thinner than before. Her cheeks had lost some of her sweet roundness and her eyes were hollow. Bruises at various healing stages marred her forehead, cheeks, and chin.

“What did they do to you?” Lydia murmured. When she tried to comb her fingers through Allison's hair they got stuck on a knot. “Your hair looks terrible.”

Allison chuckled, patting self-consciously at her dull strands. “I didn't exactly have access to conditioner, or to a comb.”

“It doesn't matter.”

Lydia kissed one of her friend's cheeks, then the other. Then she kissed her forehead, and her chin, and, finally, saving it for last and making it light as a feather, she kissed Allison on the mouth. Allison's lips were dry and chafed—obviously, she hadn't had access to lip balm either. Her hands were scraped and bruised and Lydia took them into hers, wishing she had a werewolf's ability to seep pain.

“I'll take care of you. I've got you now, and I'm not letting you go.”

Allison ducked her head, blushing. “How did you—”

“It's a long story. Where are Scott and Stiles? They're—”

A sudden pulse of dread cut through Lydia, dissipating the warmth from her reunion with Allison: what if Scott and Stiles weren't held with Allison? What if they had died? Allison frowned and pushed Lydia away, looking around her with a watchfulness that looked out of place on her. This wasn't the Allison Lydia had held in her heart all those months; this was someone new, transformed by her months in captivity. How deep the transformation ran was yet to be determined.

“Allison?” Lydia asked, her voice high with anxiety. “Where are they? They're alive, right?”

“They should be,” Allison said in a clipped voice. “We got separated.” She grabbed Lydia's hand and started marching toward the crowd of policemen and people getting arrested, dragging Lydia behind her. “Come on, we need to find them.”

Around them it looked like all hell had broken loose and the woods were brimming with agitation: most armed men had been taken down, arrested and cuffed, but some people were still trying to get away; others were arguing with the police, asking loudly what this was all about, demanding their lawyer's presence. A blond woman, tall and sharp and with a distinct air of authority, was the loudest of them. When Lydia glanced at Allison, she saw her friend look in the woman's direction with such burning hatred in her eyes that Lydia silently promised herself to tell Agent McCall he should pay special attention to that woman.

They found Scott and Stiles with the Sheriff and Mr. Argent. Stiles was buried into his father's embrace and didn't look ready to come out. Scott was on the phone, presumably with his mother, and Allison's dad was looking around him with a frowning face. The moment he caught sight of them, his expression lit up with intense relief and he yelled, “Allison!” before he started jogging toward them.

Lydia had to reluctantly let Allison go so she could reunite with her father. Scott was saying on the phone, “See you soon, Mom. I know, love you too,” his voice low and rough. When he hung up, Lydia ran into his arms and he welcomed her in his strong embrace. He felt warm, and solid in a way she hadn't known she needed; she hadn't realized how adrift she was without him, not just because he was her friend but also because he was her Alpha, whether she liked to admit it or not. She hadn't started to untangle what exactly it meant, but when he said, “Lydia,” and she felt her name rumble in his chest, something loose fell back into place in her heart and she closed her eyes in bliss.

They stayed like this for a moment, until Stiles was let go by his father—who nevertheless kept hovering at their backs—and could take his turn at hugging her.

“Did you get my message?” he said into her hair.

“Cara Robinson—it really was you, then. Yes, yes, I got it.”

“Of course you did—and you found us. You're so smart.”

He sounded awed when he said it, as he always did when he talked about her intelligence, and she had to squeeze her eyes tightly so she wouldn't start crying again. She'd missed him so much, she'd missed all of them, and although she'd spent months missing them and had just found them again, it felt like the pain of their absence was only culminating now and that her heart was going to split in two from it.

Eventually, everyone retreated into their personal space, and Lydia seized the opportunity to examine Scott and Stiles as she had Allison: they were dressed similarly with dark pants and shirts, and Stiles' face was also bruised. Scott didn't look hurt, until Lydia took a closer look at his shirt, and realized that there were tears in it, and that it glistened with what looked like blood—when Lydia looked down on herself she saw bloody smears on the front of her blouse. They both had shaggy hair and enough stubble that it could decently be called beards, although it was a little patchy on Stiles. They showed signs of malnourishment and extreme exhaustion, even Scott. They also looked nervous, befuddled, like they didn't fully realize yet that they were free and thought they might be dragged back at any moment.

“Hey, Allison!” Stiles called over Lydia's shoulder. The Argents had joined their group, locked arm in arm with each other. “Allison, you got out okay.”

Allison had been smiling at her father, but the sound of Stiles' voice made her shut down abruptly, eyes narrowed. “You,” she said. “You asshole.”

Lydia was taken aback by the sheer hostility in her voice. She looked to Scott for an explanation, but he looked a bit puzzled too. Stiles, though, seemed to know exactly what Allison's problem was.

“Come on, Allison,” he said. “It was the only way.”

Obviously, this was the wrong thing to say. Allison tore herself from her father's grasp, and, before anyone could do anything to stop her, launched herself at Stiles with an unarticulated cry of fury. She threw him down on his back and straddled him, holding him down to the ground. She punched him hard, yelling, “You. Made me try to kill you!” She grabbed his shirt and started shaking him, banging his head on the ground. “How dare you! How—”

“Hey!” the Sheriff protested, making a move to stop her, but Scott got between him and Allison.

“No, Sheriff,” he said. “Let me handle it.”

Allison was still shaking Stiles, and Stiles was trying to get a garbled explanation out: “No—listen—they were going to kill all of us—and—”

“You knew Scott could never kill you!”

Scott had kneeled by her side, and he gave a startled sound at the mention of his name.

“Well—” Stiles said.

“And you thought I could?”

She raised her fist as if to throw another punch, but Scott caught her hand and gently folded her arm against her chest. “Calm down, Allison. You don't want to hurt him.”

“He wants me to hurt him!”

“Uh,” Stiles said, “that's not exactly why—”

“Shut up! I hate you.” Scott was restraining her with both hands on her shoulders and she was trembling in his arms. “I hate you so much.”

“Well, if you hate me that much—” Stiles started, and Lydia recognized the look on his face, the one he wore when he was about to blurt something very stupid and couldn't stop it.

Allison didn't let him the time to speak, though: she used the hand she still had fisted on his shirt to haul him up and clash their mouths together. Mr. Argent made an indignant sound; the Sheriff looked puzzled and commented, “That doesn't look like hate to me...”

The kiss barely lasted a few seconds before Allison let Stiles go. She was sobbing, shallow, exhausted sobs that nevertheless broke Lydia's heart to hear. Scott hugged her against his chest, drawing Stiles in the embrace too, and the three of them sat on the ground, tangled in each other, while Allison cried and Stiles murmured broken apologies into her shoulder. Lydia watched them with a sense of helplessness: she had no idea what had just unfolded there, and it brought home how much they had been through and how little she could understand it. She had just gotten them back and yet she felt like an abyss stood between them. No matter how badly she wanted to reach out to them and offer comfort, she couldn't make herself move.

Then, unexpectedly, Scott detached himself from Allison and Stiles and held an arm out to Lydia. “Come here,” he said. His eyes were red and he looked pleading, like her refusal would break him. “Please, Lydia.”

She didn't need to be told twice and she joined them on the forest ground, pressed against Allison's back and feeling her shake, with Scott's arm around her shoulders and her own arm around Stiles' neck. She started crying again but this time it felt cathartic, like with each tear a bit more of the weight on her shoulders was slipping off. She cried because she hurt for them, and for herself, but also because they were alive, and the happiness she got from it brought its own hurt.

---

Derek raised his head from his coffee when he saw Lydia come in. She slid on the booth across the table from him and he said, “What're you having?”

“Derek,” Lydia said, pursing her lips. “I can buy my own coffee.”

“Never said you couldn't. But I'm the one who asked you to come, so it's natural that I buy.”

Lydia folded her hands over each other on the table. “Alright, then. I'll have a grande, iced, sugar-free, vanilla latte. With soy milk.” He arched an eyebrow and she said sweetly, “Did you think I had simple tastes?”

He chuckled, shaking his head. “The thought never crossed my mind.”

When he came back with her coffee they both sipped their drinks in silence for a few minutes. Lydia was pretty sure she knew why Derek had called her, but she wanted to let him process it at his own pace.

“So,” he finally said, putting down his cup. “How are they doing?”

Lydia breathed in deeply, thinking over what she wanted to tell him. It had been close to a month since they'd found Allison, Scott, and Stiles, and Lydia had taken to visiting them almost every day.

“As well as can be expected,” she said.

“That bad?”

“Well, it's tough. Tough to readapt to a normal life. Tough to come to terms with what they had to do to survive.”

Allison was the one who did best on that front, maybe because of her father's support, or maybe because she'd already had to face the darkest part of herself before. Scott was drowning himself in self-loathing, and Stiles flat out refused to talk about it.

“Are they... getting the help they need?”

“Scott's mom is making him see someone, but I don't know how much actual help they are since he can't tell them everything about what happened. Allison's dad is looking into finding someone who's aware of the supernatural, and then he'll give their name to Scott and Stiles too.”

“I can look into it too,” Derek said, and Lydia refrained from saying that he could probably have used that kind of help himself in the past, and maybe still could.

“It's awfully nice of you. Thank you, Derek.”

He looked away, obviously embarrassed. “I wish I could do more.”

“We all do. But I think they'll be alright, eventually.”

She wasn't telling Derek about how it had taken her days to wear Stiles down so he would finally accept to see her and stop hiding in his room. Or about watching Scott break down crying as he told her some of what had happened. Or how Allison had to ask her to stay over most nights, because she couldn't sleep on her own anymore, and asking her dad too often was humiliating. All three of them had barely gotten out of the house since they'd been back, Scott and Allison mostly to see each other. Stiles refused to even see them, although they texted and talked on the phone, and Lydia had yet to get to the bottom of why.

But Lydia was determined to see the good as well as the bad: after all, Stiles eventually had opened his door. Scott at least was talking about what he'd been through. As for Allison... Lydia got lost for a moment in her most recent memories of Allison: cuddling with her in bed, kissing sometimes, feeling Allison's hair on her face as she listened to her breathe deeply in her sleep. They were rewriting their relationship anew, taking advantage of their second chance, but for now nothing heavily sexual had happened between them. Because Allison wasn't ready for that, and because she'd told Lydia about some of the stuff that had happened with Scott and Stiles and about how it did matter, wasn't just some situational sex. There was a discussion to be had about their situation, but it would have to wait until they were a bit less messed up.

“I talked to Sheriff Stilinski,” Derek said. He wasn't looking at her, frowning instead into his empty coffee cup at something that seemed to both puzzle and disturb him. “Apparently there was a whole network involved, using the dark net to let like-minded people know about the fights.” His lips curled into an almost wolf-like grimace of disgust. “They keep finding these... hybrid kids, locked up as they wait to be taken out for a fight...”

Lydia clicked her tongue to get him to stop talking. She had talked to Sheriff Stilinski too, and to Agent McCall, and she knew all this already. She didn't want to think about those poor kids, and even less about her friends being put in the same position. She didn't want to dwell on the fact that, for all that the network had been dismantled, the person, or people, at the head of it were still running free.

“Tell me, Derek,” she said, preferring to turn the conversation around on her companion. “Why couldn't you check on them yourself? You didn't have to ask me.”

“I didn't want to overwhelm them. I know they don't get many visitors. And I'm leaving soon. I've left Cora and Isaac alone long enough, and now that I know that Scott and the others aren't in danger anymore, it's time to go back.”

“Without saying goodbye to them?”

“Do they even know I'm back?”

“Yes, they know—I told them. Go see them before you leave, Derek. The more people show them they care about them, the better. They need to see—that it doesn't matter what they had to do for survival, we're glad to have them back.”

He looked at her for a moment, an indecipherable look on his face, but eventually nodded. “Okay,” he said. “I will. Thanks for the update, Lydia.”

“Thank you for the coffee.”

Derek left but Lydia stayed for a while, slowly sipping her coffee, deep in thought. For months she had stopped living, stopped caring about anything but getting her friends back. Even once they'd been found, she had been mainly focused on their recovery. They still had a long way to go, obviously, but for the first time in forever, Lydia could see a future lie in front of all of them.

When she left the coffee shop, Lydia was humming under her breath.

Master Post
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