Lying on his back on his bed, Scott stared at his ceiling as he waited for his phone to go off. He'd texted Lydia on a whim, alone on a Saturday night, with no set plans or places to be. The animal clinic was closed while Deaton was out of town, Stiles was grounded, and Allison was doing something with her dad. Even his mom and Isaac were otherwise occupied, one with work and the other with a nap.
Bored and alone, with nothing to do, he'd tried to watch a movie, digging out his well-worn copy of Die Hard and settling in. That endeavour lasted about twenty minutes, before his thoughts started to wander, going to a subject that had been on his mind for days, a persistent thought sticking in the back of his head, a little voice prodding and poking at his conscience.
A week since he'd called on his Alpha power to force her to shift back, drew her human again after eight years as a coyote. At first, he'd felt good about his actions. He'd done what few could do, helped return a girl to her grieving father, basically resurrecting her from the dead. She'd gone from living the brutal life of a wild animal to having a home and a bed and the kind of security only human life could promise. That was a good thing, it had to be.
But that feeling hadn't lasted. Thoughts began to creep in, pushing the hard questions, the ones he hadn't bothered to ask himself before he intervened. Could somebody who'd lived that animal life since she was a child re-adjust to a human life? Could she have a normal relationship with a father she hadn't interacted with in years? He'd done what he had to do, had saved a life, but did that mean he'd done the right thing? Or had he just doomed a girl to a life she didn't want, a life she couldn't handle?
During the day, when he was in school, or with his friends, it was easier to ignore his thoughts and pretend like they weren't weighing on him. But at night, when it was just him, with no distractions, nothing else to focus on, he couldn't help but wonder if maybe he'd made a mistake, maybe he had more still to do. If he accepted that the results of his actions weren't as clean-cut good as he'd originally believed, did that mean he had a responsibility to do what he could to help make things better?
Fed up with his own mind and the thoughts constantly swirling around there, he'd impulsively grabbed his phone off his dresser and scrolled to Lydia's number. She'd specifically mentioned not having any plans over the weekend, and he really didn't want to do this on his own, so he sent her a quick text, hoping she'd decided to stay in after all.
— hey, you busy tonight?
Prompt as ever, it didn't take long for her to get back to him. Maybe a minute elapsed as he counted the patterned dots on his ceiling tiles before he felt his phone go off and held it up to read.
— Nope. Just watching a movie. Why?
— feel like giving me a ride somewhere?
— Did your bike break down again?
— lol no, i just need some back-up if you're up for it
This time, she responded immediately, his phone vibrating in his hand before he could drop it on the bed next to him. His face lit up in a grin when he read her succinct response.
— On my way.
Rolling off his bed, he grabbed his jacket out of his chair and headed for the door. The stairs creaked loudly under his feet, joining Isaac's soft snores as the only sounds in the quiet, nearly-empty house. He paused briefly to leave a note for his friend, just in case he woke up while Scott was still out. Then it was outside to wait, sitting on the steps outside the house, and watching the street for approaching headlights.
It wasn't a long wait. Minutes after he stepped outside, Lydia pulled into the driveway. He slowly rose to his feet as she got out of her car and stepped toward him. "All right," she said, as they walked toward one another, "what's going on, Scott?" Her expression was one of polite curiosity, but there was something deeper burning behind her eyes. This wasn't usual, and in their lives, that typically didn't mean anything good. "I'm not usually the one you call for back-up," she said, a hint of amusement colouring her tone.
He shrugged, hands in his pockets. "I was thinking."
"About?" she prompted when he fell silent.
At that, she froze, her lips twisting into a frown. Turning, she smoothed her skirt under her, then perched herself on the step. "You're worried about her." Her voice was soft, barely above a whisper.
"I'm... concerned," he replied, taking a seat next to her, leaning back and bracing himself with both hands. Turning eyes up to the sliver of moon hanging in the sky, he shook his head slowly, lips pursed. "I didn't take the time to think things through."
"We didn't have a lot of time."
He nodded, then breathed out a heavy sigh. "You're right. But still. Did I do the right thing? Or did I make a mistake?"
She was silent for a moment, and he didn't need to look to know she was carefully considering her words. He wasn't sure if that was a good thing or not, but that was Lydia. "You made the only choice you could, Scott. We made that choice." Her pronounced emphasis on 'we' drew a small smile from him. "If we'd waited around and really gone through all the possible repercussions, Malia would probably be dead now, killed by her own father." She let that sink in for a second, then added, "Do you know what paralysis by analysis is?"
He frowned, brow furrowed. "No."
"Okay, essentially it's when you have to make a decision, but instead you just get lost in considering all the possible outcomes, all the possible consequences, good or bad. You spend so much time going over all that, you never actually make a choice. No decision gets made, nothing gets done."
He considered that for a second. "So, like, over-thinking things?"
"Yeah," she said, flashing him a small smile. "We could have done that. We could have laid out all the pros and cons of bringing Malia back to humanity. We could have taken the time to weigh them out and decide whether or not to act. I mean, you know me. I like to have as solid of a grasp on what's happening around me as I can get. With all the crazy stuff happening in this town, it's the only way to stay sane. But sometimes you don't have that luxury." Reaching out, she squeezed his arm softly, comfortingly. "Sometimes, you have to act and worry about what's going to come of it later. Because if you don't, you lose all control, and what actually happens will be something you can't take back, you can't fix."
Scott couldn't argue with that logic. It helped that he wanted to believe it. He wanted, needed to believe he'd done the right thing, made the only call that made sense. Not just because it would eat him up inside if the opposite was true, but also because it would allow the doubts to creep in, empower the little voice inside him that kept telling him he wasn't a real leader. He might have an Alpha's eyes now, but he was still just Scott McCall. He didn't feel much different than he had before, when he was a simple Beta, or before that even, back when he was just another regular kid.
The first major decision he'd made as an Alpha was to help Malia. He couldn't let that be a mistake.
The silence stretched between the two friends as they sat there, surrounding by the still air and darkness of night. Scott was lost in his own thoughts, oblivious to the close attention Lydia was paying to his face as she watched him process her words.
"So," she eventually said, drawing out the word until he turned to face her. "You want to check up on her?"
"I do," he replied, nodding decisively despite his internal reluctance. "I—I think I have to. I need to know she's doing all right, see that things are working out. I want to know, even if they aren't. And I—" He stopped abruptly, eyes narrowing, suspicious at the way she suddenly shifted and looked away from him. "You already checked, didn't you?"
Lydia shrugged and let out a non-committal hum. "I may have driven by her house once or twice this week."
"And?" He leaned toward her, eyes wide, searching.
She let out a sigh, her shoulder slumping. "And I didn't see anything," she admitted, frowning at her lack of success. "I can't see through walls yet, and I didn't want to actually go up and knock on the door. Just in case things were going well. I didn't want to disturb them."
As she trailed off, Scott's face hardened, jaw set as he nodded once, curtly. "So we go together then." Conviction rang in his tone, the decision made, set in stone. Rising, he held out a hand and pulled her to her feet. "Let's go."
The Tate house was mostly dark as Lydia pulled to a stop at the end of the driveway, the only light inside coming from what looked like the kitchen window. Neither of them moved to leave the car, staring up at the house, both eager to see if they're choices had paid off, but reluctant to confirm if they hadn't.
Scott made the first move when the silence, the stillness stretched just a little too long. Taking a deep, steadying breath, he opened his door and got out. She met him at the nose of the car, and they paused there, side by side, eyes drawn to the single lit window before them. Then, by some unspoken agreement, they both squared their shoulders and started up the drive, heading for the front porch. When they reached the door, he didn't hesitate, reaching out and rapping his knuckles hard on the frame. Behind him, he heard her swallow nervously and extended his other hand behind him. She latched onto him hard, her small hand clutching his with surprising force as they waited for someone to open the door.
A second later, it swung open to reveal Henry Tate, mouth twisted in a frown. He studied each of them closely, suspiciously, no recognition in his eyes. "Can I help you?"
"Mr. Tate, my name is Scott. This is Lydia. We, uh, we're friends with Sheriff Stilinski's son," he said, thinking on his feet and internally cursing himself for not coming up with a good excuse for why they were there before they arrived. "We, um, we met your daughter when they had her at the police station, and we thought we'd visit and she how she was doing." He forced himself to smile as charmingly as he could as Lydia shifted next to him, nodding along with his hasty cover story. "Is Malia home?"
For a moment, the man just continued to look at them, his own expression giving nothing away. For a brief second, Scott thought they might get turned away, but then his expression abruptly softened and he nodded. "She's out back," he said softly, stepping aside and gesturing for them to come in. "She spends a lot of time out there." There was a profound sadness in his voice as he pointed out where they needed to go.
"Is she... doing all right?" Lydia asked, words slow, halting.
"She's surviving," he replied. "She's a survivor." The sadness was replaced by unmistakable pride then, and a genuine smile twisted his lips. "Eight years she lasted out there, my little girl, all on her own." Then, softer, "It's going to take a little while to adjust, that's all. It's to be expected, right?"
"That's right." Lydia kept her voice just as soft his, fully aware his words weren't really meant for her.
Silence descended then as the man stared unseeing toward the rear of his house. Scott shifted nervously, uneasy at the awkward quiet, until he couldn't help it any longer and cleared his throat. The sudden sounded snapped Henry out of his thoughts, and again he pointed toward the hall that led to the back rooms.
"Just through there," he said briskly, burying whatever emotions he was struggling with for the moment. Scott nodded his thanks and started to move forward, only to stop short when Henry's hand closed around his arm. He looked back at the man, who stepped closer and lowered his voice to just slightly above a whisper. "Just—don't startle her, all right? She gets..." He cleared his throat. "Well, just don't startle her. Please." He held his gaze until he got a nod of understanding, then released him and stepped back.
Scott shared a look with Lydia before they followed the hallway into the back of the house. Having been inside the house before, he led the way, guiding her to the back door, overlooking the back yard. Pausing when they reached it, he peered out through the screen, searching for the former coyote. It was dark out there, but the moon was bright, and it only took him a second to spot Malia, sitting on a lawn chair near the edge of the yard, staring off into the woods behind the house.
"There," he whispered, pointing her out.
The second they stepped outside, Malia went completely still in her chair. If it wasn't for the sound of her heart beating, he might have thought she was a statue. He kept his eyes focused on her back as they approached, slowly, cautiously. The closer they got, the faster her heart beat, and unsure of what that meant exactly, and of her reaction, he stopped about ten feet away and extended his arm to keep Lydia behind him.
"Malia," he called, keeping his voice as soft, as placid as he could. "Malia, it's Scott. Scott McCall." He wasn't sure exactly what to say. Her heart was racing a mile a minute, and yet she sat perfectly still, like she wasn't even aware they were there. That didn't strike him as particularly promising.
"And Lydia." She peered around him at the stationary girl. "We just wanted to check in with you, see how you're doing."
No response, and at that point, the hairs started standing up on the back of his neck. Something didn't feel right to him. He wasn't sure what it was exactly, but there was something in the air, almost like a scent but not quite, a vibe, something unpleasant, pressuring, overwhelming. He shifted nervously, and as he did, he felt Lydia's hand fall on his arm. He quickly glanced back at her, and found she looked just as uncomfortable as he felt.
"Scott," she whispered, dropping her voice so low it was barely audible, "I think we should leave." She paused, mouth twisting into a sad frown. "I don't think she wants to see us right now."
"I can hear you, you know?"
They both turned back toward Malia when she spoke, her voice flat. After a second's hesitation, during which he shot Lydia a questioning glance and got a shrug back in return, he took another step toward the werecoyote. When she didn't react, he kept going, circling wide around her chair until he was facing her. Lydia stayed slightly behind him, keeping his body between them, just in case.
For a second, the three stared at each other, silence reigning in the dark night. Malia's face was blank, giving nothing away as she looked Scott right in the eye. He wasn't sure what that meant, if it was a good thing or not. She wasn't screaming at him, or growling, or showing any kind of negative reaction, which was probably good. But there was nothing positive there either. Just an empty mask, as her heart tried to hammer its way out of her chest.
"Hey," he said, forcing a smile onto his face. "How are you doing?" The question sounded awkward, stilted, but he didn't know what else to say. This wasn't exactly a common situation. He had no idea what he was doing. What do you say to the girl-turned-coyote who you turned back into a girl again? "You, uh, you're looking better," he offered, cringing at his own painful attempt.
"I'm cold," she stated, eyes briefly flickering to Lydia, then back to him. As she spoke, she shifted in her chair, pulling the heavy sweater she was wearing tighter around her. "I'm always cold."
He didn't know how to respond to that. It wasn't a particularly cold night, hadn't been a particularly cold October. Throwing on his jacket as he'd left the house had been more about habit than necessity.
"Fur," Lydia murmured.
"She said fur." Malia arched an eyebrow as she caught his eye. "I used to have a fur coat. You remember. When I was a coyote."
It wasn't much, just the slightest slip of her mask as she brought up her past, but suddenly Scott saw what she was trying to hide. It was something in her eyes, just the briefest flash of some emotion, some feeling, something she was working to keep restrained. Anger. Resentment. Towards them. Towards him. It was gone just as quick as it appeared, buried back down deep inside, but it didn't matter now. He had his answer. He'd made the wrong call, and that sudden insight left him with a sick feeling in the pit of his stomach.
Dropping his head, he closed his eyes and let out a shuddering breath. "I'm sorry." The words were barely whispered, so low even Lydia couldn't hear them, standing as close as she was. But he knew Malia would.
"You should be. You ruined my life."
The game was up, and with it went the control she'd been exerting to keep herself in check. Her words were harsh, full of accusation and a bone-deep rage that hit Scott like a punch to the gut. But worse than that was the sadness he could hear in them, the loss, the theft of the life she'd known for the last eight years.
"I was fine. I was surviving. I didn't have to deal with..." Her face twisted in anger as she sat forward, suddenly animated, spreading her arms to encompass the world around them. "This! I didn't have to deal with any of this! I was free!" Her eyes flared blue for a second as she got everything she'd been bottling up around her father off her chest. "Now I have to wake up every morning and pretend I didn't kill my mom and my sister! I have to look my dad in the eye and lie to him, pretend their blood isn't on my hands!"
Face flushed, she glared at him, chest heaving and hands clenched in a white-knuckle grip on the arms of her chair, like she was trying not to jump up and attack him. He almost wished she would. He could deal with physical pain, preferred it to the much deeper sting of the emotional. But she didn't, and Scott did the only thing he could do. He stood there and accepted it, let her words, her fury wash over him. She needed to let it out. He was strong. He could take it. And in his mind, he deserved it. He'd made the call, and she was suffering for it. So he looked her in the eye and didn't blink as her rage erupted like a volcano.
When it was all over, and everything had been said, Malia went limp in her chair, drained. She didn't cry. She just stared off into the distance, into the dark woods, completely spent, the silence of the night hanging between them. It stretched on for what felt like an eternity as he searched for the right words to say. He knew it was pointless. There were no words that were going to fix this. But he had to try, for her sake, and for his own peace of mind.
Before he could figure it out, she spoke again, voice soft, more like she was talking to herself than them. "Sometimes, I wake up in my bed, in my room, and I feel like I'm trapped, like the walls are closing in. So I get out and I just run. I run until this body hurts and bleeds, and then I run some more." She lifted one hand and looked at it pensively, lips pursed. "I'm trapped in here and in there." She jerked her head back toward the house as she refocused on his face. "I just want to be free again."
"What can we do?"
The question brought a change to Malia's face, but it wasn't a pretty one. It was a mockery of a smile, completely devoid of any humour or real emotion, more of a baring of her teeth than anything else. "Change me back."
"I can't do that."
Lydia's hand fell on his arm then, a second before she said, "Scott, maybe you should. If she's this unhappy—"
"No." There was no hesitation in his voice, just conviction, even as Malia perked up slightly in her chair, her gaze locking on his. "I'm sorry, but I'm not going to do that. I'm not going to take you away from your dad. I've already messed up one life. I'm not gonna ruin another."
He could do it, he was certain. Peter had forced his shift, and so had Deucalion. He'd proven he had that same power within him when he'd triggered her change back to human. But he remembered the toll that unwanted change took on him, the loss of control, the feelings of helplessness. He'd put her through that once, and look how it turned out. He wasn't going to do it again.
"So that's it then?" Her voice was small, lost, sounding more like a little girl than the teenager she was. "I just get on with my life? Suck it up and figure out how to be human again?"
"Yes." From the sudden widening of her eyes, he figured she hadn't been expecting that. Behind him, Lydia gasped, but he ignored her for a moment as he locked eyes with the distraught girl before him. Moving forward suddenly, he dropped to a knee next to her chair and looked up into her face. "It won't be easy, I know. But that's what you have to do. That's what we all have to do. Something bad happens, something huge, and our lives changes. All we can do is go on. Believe me, I know."
The amount of pain in that one word was enough to make Scott flinch, but he didn't draw away. Instead, he extended his arm, offering her his hand, palm up, a lifeline for her to take or leave. She hesitated for a moment, staring at it, then slowly reached out, barely breathing as she pressed her hand into his. He smiled then, small but genuine, and squeezed gently.
"By letting us help. You're not alone now. We can help. We want to help." Behind him, Lydia moved forward and put her hand on his shoulder. Taking strength from his friend's support, he squeezed Malia's hand again, eyes boring into hers, neither of them blinking. "You're not trapped, not really. I won't change you back, but I can help you learn how to control your power." Pausing, he glowed his eyes and flicked out the claws on his free hand. Her gaze flitted to his hand, then back to his face, and it eased his guilt just the slightest bit to see what looked like hope beginning to burn in her eyes. "It won't be the same, but it's something." Seizing on a sudden thought, he rose to his feet, gently tugging on her hand. She allowed him to pull her out of the chair but no further, looking at him questioningly. "I want to you show something. Will you come with us?"
She froze, hesitated, reluctance flashing across her face. "I don't really want to... be around people, y'know? I'm having enough trouble just being here with my dad."
"No other people," he said softly. "Just us." She hesitated for a second, eyes searching his face, looking for what, he wasn't sure. But she must have found it because she slowly nodded, and he smiled. "Come on. It won't take long."
Turning, Malia started back toward the house, Scott staying a step behind her. Lydia moved beside him, catching his arm and giving it an insistent tug. When he looked down at her, she arched an eyebrow in question. He motioned for her to just let it play for now, and after a second, she gave him a little shrug and nodded.
Back inside, Henry met the little group as they approached the front door. His eyes widened when Malia told him she was going out, and he couldn't keep the hopeful smile off his face. The grateful look that formed on his face gave Scott another little mental boost. At least somebody was benefiting from his decisions.
It was only once they were all in Lydia's car and moving that Scott leaned forward in his seat and said, "My house. That's where we're going." She caught his eye in the rear-view mirror, and he could see the curiosity on her face, but she didn't argue or ask why. Beside her, Malia didn't react to the information, too busy fiddling with the radio and adjusting her seat.
The ride went by mostly in silence, the radio turned off after Malia pushed Lydia's patience just a little too far and got her hand slapped away for her efforts. "Driver gets to pick the station," she said, getting a sheepish grin back in return.
When they pulled to a stop by the curb in front of Scott's house, he leaned forward again and pointed to it. "That's my house. Now you've seen it, so you know where it is. And you've got my scent, right?" Malia nodded, eyes locked on the house. "When you're feeling trapped, or freaking out, or if you just don't want to be alone, come and get me, and I'll help. Day, night, it doesn't matter. I won't pretend to understand everything you're going through right now, and I can't guarantee I'll make it better, but I'll try, all right?"
"Yeah," Lydia chimed in, flashing a brilliant smile at the girl sitting next to her. "And I'll leave you my number. Just call or whatever and we can hang out some time. I've got a few ideas about the best way to get you... sort of, acclimated to being around people again."
When Malia remained silent, staring out the window at the house, Scott tentatively reached out and laid a hand on her shoulder. She started slightly, and half-turned in her seat to look back at him. When their eyes met, he smiled crookedly. "Like I said, you don't have to be alone. Things are probably going to be hard, but if you let us, we'll be there for you."
The silence lasted another second, her eyes frozen on him, studying, assessing. And then, for the first time, a genuine smile finally made an appeared on her face. It wasn't much, just a slight uptick at the corners of her mouth, but it was something. More than he'd expected.
"I'm still pissed at you," she finally said, and he could hear the sincerity in her tone, despite her expression.
"I know. You have every right to be," he said solemnly, expression serious. Then, slowly, he dropped his hand off her shoulder, his own lips twisting in a friendly smile. "We're still gonna help you."
It was quiet, short, almost lost in the sound of her clothes rustling as she turned back around, but his sharp ears caught it all the same. And suddenly, Scott couldn't help but grin. He didn't know how things would turn out. He wasn't anticipating having an easy time of things going forward. But he'd made a mistake, and now he was doing everything he could to make up for it. The guilt was still there, and it probably always would be, but it eased it a bit to offer help, and to have that offer accepted.
Things might get worse before they got better, but Malia had friends now, if she wanted them. She had him, she had Lydia, and she'd have the rest of the pack, eventually. It wasn't what she'd lost, but it was something.