“Check this guy out,” said Emma, peering out of the glass door to Lydia Martin’s dorm block and waggling her eyebrows suggestively.
“Is it the cute delivery guy again?” one of the other girls, Hannah, asked, jostling to get a better view of the incoming cute guy.
Lydia Martin remained at her cubby hole for her mail, shuffling through various letters from her Mom and a postcard from Scott and Malia, who’d gone to Portland for a week to visit Derek and were, according to the postcard, loving it.
She barely listened to the three girls from her dorm, although they were all good friends of hers, because they gushed over guys so often that she’d learned to tune it out. She continued shuffling her mail absentmindedly, wondering if her mother had sent her money in the envelope that smelled like her perfume.
“Nope,” Emma answered, “He’s too far away for me to recognise him properly. But you know when you just know someone’s cute? Oh, God. Please be here to invite us to a party. Please, please.”
“Don’t you have, like, a billion tests to study for?” Kristen, the third girl who’d gathered with them in the entrance to their dorm block, asked with a smile.
“I can always make time for a party,” Emma responded with a light-hearted shrug. Her attention turned back to the door. “Oh, God. He’s coming in! Quick, everybody act casual.”
The door opened.
“Do you guys think there’s money in here?” Lydia asked, with her back to the door.
She had absolutely zero interest in checking out the cute delivery guy, or whoever he was, and was more concerned with working out if there was a ten-dollar bill or twenty-dollar bill contained in the envelope she held in her right hand.
“That’s my girl,” joked a startlingly familiar voice from behind her. “Always got your priorities straight.”
Lydia spun to face the person the voice belonged to, drinking in Stiles’s messy hair, checked shirt and jeans, and soft brown eyes that were focused right on her. A hint of a smile tugged at the corners of his mouth, that half-smile she knew so well and had memorised every inch of.
Without a word, she tossed her mail right onto the floor before she practically launched herself at him, wrapping her arms around his sturdy shoulders and planting kisses all over his face.
He laughed loudly, one arm wrapping around her body, pulling her closer to him, and the other hand in her hair as he accepted the kisses.
“Lydia,” he gasped, struggling to speak, “Lydia. Not that I’m not enjoying the greeting, but – your friends are —”
“I don’t care about them,” she insisted, pulling him closer to him again so her mouth was on his. For a few seconds, she was lost in him again and could vaguely feel his hands on her, seeming like they were in ten thousand places at once.
She distantly heard her friends from behind her, either talking to each other or to her – she wasn’t sure, she wasn’t listening and didn’t want to concentrate on anything other than Stiles, standing in front of her – until she eventually forced herself to pull away from Stiles and give herself a chance to breathe.
“Well,” Emma said, sounding incredibly disappointed that the cute guy she’d been lusting over for a few seconds had turned out to be Stiles, Lydia’s long-distance boyfriend that she’d heard plenty about. “You must be Stiles.”
“I am,” Stiles answered, his arm resting around Lydia’s waist as she flushed red for what must have been one of the first times in her life. Lydia Martin didn’t get embarrassed easily, but when she realised she’d just made out with her boyfriend in front of three of her friends from college, she felt her cheeks colouring.
In previous relationships, Lydia had had no problem with public displays of affection. She’d pretty much thrived on everybody knowing she was dating Jackson, and Aiden hadn’t been a bad catch either – apart from, you know, the whole murder-y werewolf part of him that she tried her best to forget about.
But Stiles was different.
Of course he was.
Because everything was different when it came to Stiles.
“It’s nice to finally meet you,” Hannah said, sneaking a glance at Lydia. She knew she looked deliriously happy. Her lipstick had smudged from kissing Stiles – the evidence was all over his face – and she couldn’t stop touching him in some way. Right now, her fingers toyed with the tips of his fingers around her waist, as a reminder that he was there.
Physically there, and not just in her head.
“Likewise,” Stiles said smoothly. “You must be —” He glanced at Emma first, who happened to be Lydia’s room-mate and the first person Lydia had met, and subsequently become friends with, at college – “Emma? And you must be Hannah, and finally, Kristen?”
The girls all exchanged impressed glances and Lydia smiled smugly that Stiles had been correct with all of them. Of course, it didn’t mean much that he’d known the difference between them. Lydia had been tagged in numerous photos with them over the course of her freshman year at MIT and Lydia was sure that just meant Stiles had memorised their faces.
But it was still nice of him to make the effort.
“I can’t believe we’re finally meeting you,” Kristen said. “It feels like we know you so well. Lydia talks about you all the time.”
Lydia rolled her eyes. “Not all the time.” She glanced at Stiles, lowering her voice. “Not all the time.”
“Sure,” he replied, clearly not believing her. “Oh, Lydia? You might want to open that letter from your Mom.”
Lydia frowned, glancing at him. “Why?”
“Just open it.”
She untangled herself from him – begrudgingly, she had to admit – and stepped over to where she’d abandoned her mail to launch herself at her boyfriend. She picked up the letter from the floor and ripped it open, where five crisp twenty-dollar bills fell out and fluttered to the floor.
Inside the card, Natalie had written that she wanted to pay for Stiles and Lydia to go out for dinner and $100 should cover it, or at least cover most of it.
Lydia turned back to Stiles. “She knew?”
Stiles shrugged. “Obviously.”
“She gave us money?”
“Yeah, she said —” He stepped forwards, staring at the pile of bills on the floor — “Wait, a hundred dollars?”
Lydia ignored him, tilting her head as a thought occurred to her. “Did everyone know?”
He smiled. “Obviously.”
“I can’t believe nobody told me!”
“Well,” Stiles said. “it was a surprise, so I’m glad they didn’t. Although Kira nearly did many times. Honestly, it’s impossible getting her to keep a secret.”
Lydia stooped to pick up the rest of her fallen mail, gathering it in her hands and reaching out for Stiles’s hand when she stood up.
“Emma?” she began, and Emma held up her hands.
“Don’t worry,” she said quickly, “I’ll go to Kristen’s for a while. Enjoy your dinner.”
Lydia smiled at her friends, before she tugged Stiles in the direction of the staircase leading to her room. Stiles walked behind her, chatting a mile a minute as they walked along the hallway together.
She kept her fingers firmly wrapped around his as she let them into her dorm room. He glanced around, immediately heading to her side of the room and examining the photos she had decorated all over her wall.
She’d come up with the idea in her third week of college. She hated feeling homesick and unsettled, like she wasn’t quite getting university, and she needed a reminder of him – of everyone. She needed to feel like her friends were just around the corner, rather than thousands of miles away.
So, at 3 A.M. that night, she’d quietly retrieved her laptop from the end of her bed and searched through all her photos, and the camera roll on her phone, and printed out dozens and dozens of photos of the pack.
She had to admit that the wall was on the unbalanced side. Images of Allison took up roughly half – she even included photos that she wasn’t in: photos of Scott and Allison together; photos of Allison and Stiles; candids of Allison, laughing over one of Scott’s jokes and smiling off-camera at him – and images of Stiles most of the other half. Most of those she was in. Goofy photos she’d taken over Christmas and last summer; prom; graduation; Scott and Stiles with their cap and gowns on; Stiles in the Jeep; Stiles moving into his dorm on his first day of college; Stiles, Stiles, Stiles.
The more she’d selected to print, she more she remembered, and the more she rushed to print every precious memory she could.
Before she knew it, a selection of over three hundred photos had congregated and she spent a further two hours painstakingly pinning them to the wall in an arrangement that she was pleased with.
By the time Emma woke up at 8 A.M., Lydia’s wall had been magically transformed overnight and Lydia had passed out on top of her covers, still fully-dressed.
Now, Stiles looked at Lydia’s wall with admiration. She stood beside him, chewing her lip with nerves as she waited for his response.
Finally, he turned to her.
“It looks great,” he said, meaning it. His hands circled around her waist and he tugged her a little bit closer to him, just close enough so she could slide her arms around his neck and join her fingers together at the nape of his neck. “The photos really … do her justice.”
Lydia bit her lip and threw a look over at the wall. Some days, she avoided looking at the pictures of Allison altogether. Sometimes, it was too much to see pictures of Allison’s smiling face looking down at her. It hurt her when she saw how Allison used to look at Scott, and how Scott looked back at her. It hurt her to look at those photos and to know that Allison wasn’t there anymore – she’d never see Lydia in college; she’d never see Stiles and Lydia finally together; she’d never see Scott fulfilling his dream and becoming a vet. She’d never even graduated, or really started her life.
Other days, Lydia looked at the photos on her wall and drank in the sight of her, determined not to forget any detail of her best friend’s face. The day she sat her first final, she touched her favourite photo of Allison for luck. The photo was of Allison with her hand outstretched towards the camera and a wide smile on her face; it felt like she was touching Alison’s hand.
“The first time Emma asked about her,” Lydia told Stiles, tightening her fingers against his neck like he was her lifeline, “it was really hard to talk about her. She asked me about all of you.”
“Oh, yeah?” Stiles asked.
He knew it was rare that Lydia talked so openly about Allison – he’d been patient with her. He never pushed the topic with her. He knew that, despite how open Lydia was with him most of the time, she still didn’t like to talk about Allison and what had happened to her. It was still painful for all of them and Stiles didn’t like to bring it up for more than one reason.
Still, he knew Lydia well enough to know that if he didn’t prompt her just the right amount, she’d close up again and assume he didn’t want to listen. Stiles suspected that was an old habit of Lydia’s that stemmed from her relationship with Jackson and how he rarely listened to her.
Over the past nine months they’d been dating, Stiles had been learning things about Lydia Martin that he’d never known before. Every day he learned something new. She was a mystery, every day there was a new layer to unwrap – but he liked to think that he had plenty of time to uncover them all and he was more than happy to do so.
“She said that they looked really in love,” Lydia answered, blinking forcefully and smiling softly at the photos on the wall. Her gaze focused on the picture of Allison and Scott together and her breath hitched. “And I said that they were. Obviously, she asked what happened – if they broke up.”
“What did you say?”
Lydia pulled away from Stiles absentmindedly and he itched to pull her back closer to him, but he let her step away from him.
“That she died,” she said finally. She turned back to him, pulling her gaze away from the photos on the wall. “We don’t talk about her enough, do we?”
“It’s hard,” Stiles admitted. “When I think about her, I think about … everything else.”
Lydia’s jaw hardened. “It was not your fault.”
“I always think,” Stiles said, running his fingers through his already messy hair, “that if I’d been stronger, … or anything, really. Anything other than what I was. That she might still be here – I think that sometimes.”
“Well, don’t,” Lydia insisted, taking one step over to him so that she stood right beside him again. She reached for his hand, her fingers tangled up in his, wanting to tighten her grip on him but scared she’d crush his fingers if she did so. She sometimes forgot her own strength.
“Lydia …,” Stiles replied, shaking his head. He barely looked at her and she moved her hand so she was touching his face instead. She guided his face so he had no choice but to look at her as she searched his face for answers.
“You can’t seriously still think that it was your fault,” she said softly, but firmly. “Because if you did, you’d be completely wrong. Nobody blames you – you shouldn’t either.”
“I think sometimes,” Stiles began, “that Scott does. The way he looks at me sometimes …”
“He’s not thinking that,” Lydia insisted, because she knew Scott almost as well as Stiles did and she knew Scott would never pin the blame of something so monumental onto Stiles. Maybe she’d blame him for always being late to pick him up for school back in the day, or for the time they almost missed the Sheriff’s birthday party, but he wouldn’t blame Stiles for the death of Allison.
“Sorry,” Stiles said. “It’s just the photos.”
He smiled at her. It was a watery, uncertain smile but a smile, all the same, and Lydia felt herself start to relax a little bit more.
She hadn’t realised the impact the photos of Allison would have on Stiles. She’d become so used to them over the past few months, so comfortable with their presence on the wall beside her bed, that the pain she felt when she saw Allison’s face had been dulled slightly. It was more like the ache she felt a few days after an intense workout: she knew it was there, but if she didn’t think about it too much, she forgot about it.
She’d forgotten that Stiles only had two photos up in his dorm room at George Washington – one of her, and one of Scott and Stiles with the Sheriff – and he didn’t have to face Allison’s smiling, rosy-cheeked face every day of his life.
Sometimes she forgot how haunting it could feel and heart-breaking it was to look at her – actually look at her – for the first time in a long time. The photos helped, she thought, but Stiles didn’t have that and neither did Scott.
She made a promise to herself to put up more photos of Allison in her house in Beacon Hills, and to gift Scott a photo of Allison for his room. She didn’t want Allison to just disappear.
“We should probably get ready for dinner,” he suggested.
“Are you sure you’re okay?”
He nodded. “I am. I’m sorry, Lydia – I didn’t know you had those up. I didn’t think … I just didn’t expect to see her there.”
“I can take them down.”
“No way,” he said firmly, his eyes locking with hers so she knew he was being genuine. “They’re staying up. Besides, I look really good in that photo with Allison and Scott.”
He pointed to a photo of the three of them, one that Lydia hadn’t taken because she hadn’t been friends with Scott and Stiles when Stiles sported that terrible buzzcut. She’d found the photo on her phone anyway, and vaguely remembered Allison sending it to her a few years back when she’d been trying to convince Lydia to go to the formal with Stiles.
He’s cute! the text had said, Lydia remembered it so well. Look! Don’t you think he’s cute?
She’d already pointed him out at the mall, but she sent the message later that same day as a reminder. As a hint for Lydia to consider it.
“Oh, yeah,” Lydia replied, raising her eyebrows. “The buzzcut look is a great look for everybody.”
He smiled goofily at her, which pleased her because she hoped that meant he was getting back to the Stiles she knew again. The Stiles that wasn’t haunted by the past.
“Isn’t it?” Stiles agreed, either not catching her sarcasm or choosing to look past it.
Either way, Lydia grabbed her purse from beside her bed and slung it over her shoulder.
“I’m ready to go,” she announced. “There’s this great little place downtown, we can go —”
“Actually, I have somewhere else in mind.”
“But …” Lydia said. “You —”
“Planned everything out already, remember?” Stiles said, grabbing her hand. “Come on. We don’t want to be late. This place took me forever to reserve.”
“Am I dressed appropriately?”
“You always look great, you know that.”
“No, but Stiles, there’s a difference between looking great and being dressed appropriately,” she insisted, tugging back on her hand so he couldn’t drag her to the door of her dorm room.
She was wearing a simple T-shirt and plaid skirt combination with her suede high-heeled boots, her hair intricately woven into a braid that hung down her back, but if they were going somewhere fancy for dinner, she wasn’t dressed nearly formally enough.
“You look great and you’re dressed appropriately,” he said confidently, and since Stiles was wearing a plaid shirt and jeans, she figured her own dress code couldn’t be too far behind.
“Where are we going?” she asked curiously, letting him pull her out of her dorm room and shutting the door behind them.
“It’s a surprise.”
“Maybe I’ve had enough surprises,” she suggested sweetly.
“Do you trust me?” Stiles asked, turning back to look at her. He smiled at her, and she realised with a flash that she did. Completely. And she always had.
She took a deep breath and looked at him, wondering just how much trouble he was about to get them in.
But there was no point in denying it: Lydia Martin would do just about anything for Stiles Stilinski, even if that involved going along with one of his crazy, stupid schemes that was bound to get them in trouble.
“Well?” Stiles prompted.
She rolled her eyes. “Yes.”
“Then let’s go.”
“I don’t want to burst your bubble here,” Lydia said, “but we have tons of old buildings on campus that I’ve been to a billion times. If you wanted to see old buildings, we didn't have to drive out into the middle of nowhere.”
Stiles just smiled at her, keeping surprisingly quiet on the matter. On the drive over, he’d been happy to let her talk. At the time, she hadn’t thought that was weird – she’d been chatting about some of her lectures and a couple of the girls in her dorm, whom she ate dinner with every Saturday with – but she realised, maybe a little belatedly, that he’d been keeping quiet for a reason.
“Are you being purposefully quiet so you didn’t give away the surprise?” she asked suspiciously, letting Stiles pull her over to the entrance to the building they were approaching.
“I literally just complained about how bad Kira is at keeping secrets and how many times she almost gave the game away,” Stiles reminded her, “I didn’t want to be the idiot who actually gave the surprise away.”
“So your solution is to just … not talk?”
“I've been talking,” he replied, raising his eyebrows at her. “Anyway, I don’t mind listening to you. I could listen to you all day.”
“Stop it,” she said, rolling her eyes in his direction, but when he turned around she fought to suppress the giddy smile that often emerged when he said something unexpectedly romantic.
Stiles dropped her hand as he tried to open the door to the building but, unsurprisingly, it was locked. She stood behind him with her arms folded across her body, the hairs on her arms standing on end from the slight breeze in the air.
“Stiles,” she said, this time impatiently.
All she wanted to do was go to dinner; her stomach had been rumbling the entire car ride over. Stiles had promised that he had somewhere incredible in mind for their date, but he’d driven miles out of Cambridge and she’d started to wonder just how far away the restaurant he’d found was.
When he’d pulled into the empty parking lot of a museum, closed for the night, she’d assumed that he’d taken a wrong turn somewhere and had pulled in to check a map or gather his bearings. But he’d glanced over at her, smiled, and opened the door of the Jeep.
“Stiles,” Lydia had said, staying in her seat. “Where are you going?”
He’d only gestured for her to follow him, remaining oddly quiet, and she’d finally jumped out of the Jeep and scurried over to him in her heeled boots as he approached the doors to the museum.
Now, he was trying the door again, checking in through the windows and muttering to himself.
“Stiles, it’s locked,” she told him. “Look – here are the opening and closing times. It shut two hours ago.”
“Lydia,” Stiles said, “please shut up and let me carry out my plan, okay? This is all under control. I just need to find Hal.”
Lydia wondered whether she should even ask, but her inquisitive nature and infuriating curiosity that meant she needed to question everything overtook her. She wrinkled her nose, sighing, and said, “Who’s Hal?”
“Hal is —” Stiles began, before the sound of keys jangling behind them caused them both to turn around. Lydia instinctively reached for Stiles’s hand, wrapping her fingers around his, sure they were about to get kidnapped or something.
A man who looked to be in his mid-fifties stood behind them. He had greying hair and a handlebar moustache, with a huge set of keys in his hand and a borderline bored expression on his face.
Lydia thought even more that they were about to be kidnapped.
But then Stiles smiled.
“Hal is here! Hal!” he cried, stepping forwards. “Lydia, this is Hal.”
Stiles narrowed his eyes at Lydia as Hal nodded at them both, walking forwards and slotting one of the keys into the lock for the museum.
“Three hours, kid,” he said. “That was the condition.”
“Out by midnight, I remember,” Stiles answered cheerfully. He clapped his hand onto Hal’s back as the museum door swung open. “And it just locks automatically behind us at night?”
“It sure does,” the maintenance man – Hal – answered. “I’m not joking about the curfew though. Understood?”
“Loud and clear!” Stiles answered. “Thanks, man. I’ll tell Deaton that you send your … love?”
Hal shrugged, clearly indifferent about whether his love was indeed sent to Deaton or not. Stiles shrugged in response.
“I’ll tell him that he owes you,” Stiles added, and Hal’s moustache twitched with the hint of a smile that Lydia suspected didn’t appear too often.
“He knows what I need,” Hal replied ominously.
Lydia and Stiles didn’t respond for a few seconds, before Stiles said, “Okay … Great. We’ll be going inside now. Thanks again.”
Stiles placed his hand on the small of Lydia’s back and ushered her into the museum. The door shut behind them and Hal, standing on the other side of the door, watched as they headed into the shadowed museum.
“Okay, he was beyond creepy,” Lydia said, once she figured there was no way Hal could hear them – even if there was a strong possibility he was a supernatural being of some kind.
“He’s one of Deaton’s friends from way back,” Stiles explained, reaching for her fingers and sending shivers down her spine. “I was talking to Scott about my plans to whisk you away for dinner and romance the hell of you. I had an idea of what I wanted to do but I had no idea how to, uh, make it happen, let’s say. Deaton helped.”
He led them into a darkened room and flicked on the lights, where Lydia could see rows of chairs and a podium at the front, like a small lecture theatre.
At the front of the theatre, beside the theatre, there was a picnic blanket with a hamper of food placed on the top. Lydia couldn’t help it – she drew a breath in sharply, glancing at Stiles as he looked at her, waiting for her reaction.
“This … isn’t just for us?” she said with disbelief.
“You’re right,” he admitted, gently leading her down the steps they were standing in front of, to the picnic blanket. He looked at her. “It’s just for you.”
“Stiles …,” She shook her head. “This is …”
“The most romantic thing anyone’s ever done for you?” he teased, but she could only stare back at him with wonder because it was.
She was Lydia Martin. She’d dated numerous guys, all of whom had tried desperately to impress her with fancy movies or suffering through The Notebook for her, she’d been wined and dined since she’d been old enough to go out on dates and drink wine. Guys had spent most of her teen years tripping over themselves to talk to her, to get to know her.
She didn’t mean it in a boasting way, mostly because she’d always become bored with those guys. The guys who paid for dinner usually used their trust fund, or their father’s money. Those who’d suffered through The Notebook had complained most of the way through, or spent most of the movie trying to unbutton her dress – or both.
Guys had been trying to impress her for as long as she could remember.
But none of them held a torch in comparison to Stiles Stilinski, who had blown her away just by laying a picnic blanket on the floor of a planetarium theatre and told her it was all for her.
She stood on her tiptoes – even in her heels she was too small for his tall frame – and kissed him hard on the mouth. He was taken by surprise but he kissed her back, his fingers in her hair and his arms enveloping her in his embrace.
When she pulled away, he joked, “So, I’m guessing you like it?”
“I love it,” she said, not caring that she’d tried so hard to build a reputation as a girl with an unshakeably cool composure over the past four years and she’d destroyed it within minutes of being in the planetarium with Stiles.
Tears sprung to her eyes as she looked at him, understanding for the first time why people gushed so much about relationships. With older boyfriends, she’d never understood the fuss. A boyfriend was just there – someone to make out with when she was bored. A trophy, more than anything.
She understood now.
She understood what Allison had meant when she had asked if Lydia knew what it felt like to be so in love.
She understood everything.
Stiles smiled at her. “Why don’t you sit down? I’ve got work to do.”
She let herself sit on the floor, her legs were a little bit shaky anyway, and curled them underneath her. Stiles fiddled with something behind the podium and flicked the lights off in the main part of the theatre.
The ceiling of the planetarium darkened as the film came to life, before it brightened again and incredibly realistic-looking stars filled the space. Stiles fiddled with the controls a little bit more and one of Lydia’s favourite songs played through the speakers instead of the commentary that usually accompanied the displays. Lydia realised that Stiles had hooked his iPod up to the sound system and her heart thudded inside her chest even more.
He headed over to the blanket and collapsed down beside her with the elegance of a newborn giraffe with limbs it hadn’t quite learned to control yet, and reached for the hamper. He opened it up, waiting for her reaction with a smile, to reveal a large pepperoni pizza.
“You didn’t,” she said. She was practically drooling, tucking the hair that had escaped her braid behind her ears and reaching for the first slice of pizza she found.
“Oh, I did,” Stiles answered. “Isn’t this better than a Michelin-starred restaurant?”
“Way better,” Lydia agreed. “What are we going to do with the hundred dollars that my mom gave us for dinner?”
“How do you think I managed to persuade the maintenance guy to let us in here after hours?” Stiles asked, raising an eyebrow. “I paid him fifty dollars.”
“And here I was thinking you just used your wit and charm.”
“I tried,” Stiles replied drily, “it didn’t work. He does not appreciate humour. I had to resort to other methods.”
“Well,” Lydia dusted her hands from finishing her first slice of pizza and reached for her purse. “I’ll reimburse you the fifty dollars, so you broke even.”
Stiles rested his hand on hers, stopping her attempts to unzip her purse and reach for the money. “No way,” he said. “Save it for something else – a new dress or a textbook on the history of lycanthrope, or whatever floats your boat.”
“You know me so well,” she teased, leaning over to him and kissing him again. She pulled away and looked up at the ceiling, where the stars sprinkled the sky above them. “It’s beautiful.”
Stiles laid back on the floor and coaxed her into the same position, their legs stretched out in front of them and Lydia nestled in the crook of his arm. Stiles tried naming some of the constellations above them, but soon gave up when Lydia continuously corrected him, and instead their conversation trailed off to a comfortable, peaceful silence.
“You are my sun,” Stiles said after a while, clearing his throat, “my moon, and all my stars.”
Lydia lifted her head to look at him. “E.E. Cummings?”
“I was hoping I could claim it as my own poetic ingenuity, but I should have known you’d know that one,” he said with a laugh. “You know everything.”
She settled down again, smiling happily. “Yeah, I kind of do.”
“This is okay, then?” he asked. “You like it?”
She waited for a few seconds, teasing him with her hesitation. “I like you. And the stars.”
“A good combination, then?”
“A perfect combination,” she agreed wholeheartedly.