The first time they meet like this, late at night when the rest of Beacon Hills is sleeping, Stiles is late. Lydia’s been sitting on a swing at the playground of their old elementary school for twenty minutes when his Jeep finally pulls up and parks; she watches him climb out of the car, head swiveling around until he sees her. He’s overdressed for a balmy June evening, jeans and his red hoodie zipped up all the way to his throat, the hood pulled over his hair.
He holds one hand up as he approaches, long pale fingers against the dark sky. “Interesting choice of meeting place,” he says, with only a trace of sarcasm.
She flips her braid over her bare shoulder and stares at the space between his thighs as he turns to drop into the swing to her right. He’s always been skinny but something is different now, even months after they got that thing out of him, like Stiles has been hollowed out.
“I was feeling nostalgic.” It’s not a lie, just not the whole truth - her choice is strategic, the playground is on a hill that gives them a vantage point of the street, the parking lot, the field behind them. A place where they can see the enemy coming.
He digs the toes of his Converses into the sand. “So. What did you want to talk about?”
“Nothing.” She kicks off the ground, leaning back with her upper body as her legs begin to pump.
After a few seconds she hears the squeak of the chains as he begins to swing next to her, moving in tandem, and like this, in the quiet, with stars shining above their heads and Stiles silently swinging next to her, she can almost pretend that they’re children again, before anything bad happened. Back when the only monsters they knew were easily vanquished with a nightlight and a kiss on the forehead.
When they were still innocent.
His hands still shake sometimes.
Lydia watches them, his fingers trembling around a video game remote, a pen, a licorice stick, a coffee cup. When it happens she wants to take his hands between her own and hold them very tightly until they stop shaking, but she’s never been that kind of person, who sees another’s pain and holds their hands out to take it.
Scott is though. That kind of person. She knows he sees it too, and as far as she knows he never says anything about it either. But sometimes she watches the two of them - at brunch, at Scott’s house during movie nights, sitting by the pool in her backyard - and sees Scott’s fingers brush against Stiles’ neck, his shoulder, his back, and wonders if black tentacles are crawling up Scott’s arms under his long sleeves, the only kind of shirt Scott wears now, like he’s always cold, even in summer.
“Do you ever wonder,” Stiles asks her one night, “who you would be if none of this had ever happened?”
Lydia stares down at her cup of coffee sitting on the ugly cracked Formica diner table. The truth is, she didn’t like the person she was before, a shallow vain girl who cared about all the wrong things.
“No,” she lies. “Do you?”
He rolls his eyes, fingers tapping frantically against the edge of the table. “Obviously.”
She thinks about it, that day when they separated his body from the Nogitsune, and swallows back a wave of nausea. He’d looked so sick back then, so fragile.
“You’re still you,” she offers softly.
He looks at Lydia like he’s disappointed in her. “I thought you and I didn’t have to pretend with each other.”
Lydia recoils, her face hot with rage at the idea that he thinks she would fake it with him, now, after everything. “I’m not,” she spits.
His eyebrows go up a little. “Okay.”
“Okay,” she parrots venomously, and drops her head down to cradle it in her hands.
“Whoa, Lydia, hey.” Stiles gets up and walks around to sit on the other side of the booth, boxing her in between his body and the glass wall that faces the street. “What is it?”
She lifts her head to glare at him. “I know you, Stiles. I’ve spent the past year and a half dealing with this shit right along with you. I know how annoying you are when you drink caffeine after you’ve taken an Adderall and I know how many curly fries you can eat in one sitting and I know what it’s like to watch you fade away and not know how to fix it but to try anyway, because you always tried for me. I know what it feels like to kiss you and I know what it feels like to dance with you and I know what it’s like to look into the eyes of someone wearing your face and see a monster looking back at me instead of you. So you don’t get to tell me that I don’t know who you are. You’re my anchor, okay? I know you. You’re you. You’re still you, Stiles.”
She doesn’t even realize she’s crying until she sees the way his face crumples and then he’s hugging her so hard she gets crushed against his chest, one of his hands cupped over the back of her head.
“Okay,” he says hoarsely. “Okay. I know, you’re right. It’s okay.”
“Of course I’m right,” she sniffs, and uses the collar of his flannel to wipe under her eyes, because she knows Stiles doesn’t care if she gets mascara on him. “I’m always right.”
It’s a long, hot summer and Lydia is restless and bored, she can’t settle, nothing calms her even when there are no monsters to catch or run from, no one trying to kill her or her friends, she has nothing to do but lie out by the pool every day and sneak nips from the bottles of Chardonnay her mother keeps in the fridge. She puts on SPF 80 and a bikini because there’s no one here to stare at her scars, she lays out for hours under the sun and tries not to think about anything but the heat of the sun and the buzz of alcohol in her veins.
When the sun goes down and it starts to get cold she goes inside. Most nights she takes a shower and changes into a pair of sweatpants, locks herself in her room and watches movies with the sound turned all the way up so her mother can’t hear her crying. But some nights she puts on a dress and goes to a party, just to get out for a little while, just to try to forget, even if it’s only for a few hours. It’s not that hard, she still might be crazy Lydia Martin to some but she’s never had a problem finding people up for a good time, all it takes is a text to find the next best place to get wasted and dance with guys she’ll never talk to when they go back to school for senior year.
Tonight’s party is at some random sophomore's huge house on the fringes of Beacon Hills. The back wall is all glass and Lydia can see into the backyard, all those trees, and she tries not to but she can’t help it, her habit of peering into the shadows and looking for monsters. She drinks too much and dances with a beautiful guy she’s never met before. She doesn’t bother telling him her name, what’s the point, she doesn’t go home with strange guys anymore. She just dances until her feet hurt and she’s coated in sweat and she isn’t thinking anymore, just moving, until it starts to feel bad, her last drink really kicking in, and then she stumbles into the first hallway she finds to call Stiles.
It isn’t the first time she’s done this. He always sounds slightly annoyed but he always says yes, no matter what he’s doing, and in the morning they never talk about it.
She goes outside to wait for him, sinking down on the front steps, shivering in her strapless black dress. By the time Stiles shows up nearly twenty minutes later she’s half-asleep, head pillowed on her knees. He parks in the driveway and jumps out of the car, long legs in those cute red pants loping across the driveway to her, the hood of his grey sweatshirt pulled over his hair.
“Hey!” he calls out, squinting at her. “You okay?”
She rubs her eyes and her hands come away covered in liquid liner, great, just what she needed. “Hey. Yeah, I’m okay. Thanks for getting me.”
His hand appears in front of her and she wraps both of her own around it so he can haul her up. She wobbles in her heels and Stiles slings one arm around her waist. “Hey, okay, I gotcha. You good?”
“Yeah, less go,” she slurs. “Less. Let’s. Let us. Shit.”
“Yeah, okay, that right there tells me exactly how drunk you are right now.”
He laughs hollowly as he opens the passenger door of the Jeep to her. “‘Whatever’, how teenage-classic of you.”
She flops into the passenger seat. “Like you had anything better to do anyway.”
“For your information I was close to beating Isaac to a pulp at Mario Kart,” Stiles informs her, leaning across her lap to buckle her seatbelt for her and she lets him. “These are the kind of sacrifices I make for you.”
He shuts her door and jogs around to get into the driver’s seat. He shifts into drive and Lydia lets her eyes drift shut, half-sleeps all the way back to her house, only waking up fully when the car jolts into park.
Stiles unlocks the doors. “You want me to walk you up?”
“Okay,” she agrees sleepily, and undoes her seatbelt, shoulders her bag and drags herself out of his car.
He walks up the driveway with her to the front door and waits on the porch while she unlocks the door. She gets it open and turns to him, drunk and weak and self-conscious. “Thanks for taking me home.”
He gives her a half-smile. “You know I never mind picking you up.”
It’s true, she does know that. It’s ridiculous, the amount of things Stiles genuinely wouldn't mind doing, if it was for her.
She leans her head against the doorway. “Aren’t you going to say goodnight?”
He steps slightly closer to her, timid. “Uh… goodnight?”
She rolls her eyes and loops her arms around his neck. Stiles goes very still, arms stuck at his sides, like they’re about to slow dance. “Hug me back,” she whines, because she’s drunk and feeling demanding.
He wraps his arms around her obediently and Lydia presses her face into that perfect spot where his neck and shoulder meet. After a moment she feels him relax against her and she rests her cheek on his shoulder, leaning more against him than she should but she’s in four inch heels and she’s extremely inebriated, okay?
“Is this better?” he asks, sounding amused.
He chuckles and twists one of her curls around his finger. “What the princess wants the princess gets.”
She yawns against him. “Are you trying to imply that I’m spoiled?”
“I’m worth it,” she says, lifting her head so she can give him an exaggerated pout.
Stiles cups her cheeks in his hands and for one thrilling moment she thinks he’s going to kiss her but he leans down and looks into her eyes instead. “Yeah,” he says, so soft, palms warm against her face. “You are.”
She goes to the gym, she runs on the treadmill and she lifts weights, she takes Pilates classes with her mother and does yoga in her bedroom when she can’t sleep. Lydia strengthens and stretches, she works on her stamina, she laces up her sneakers and runs through her neighborhood when it’s not too hot out.
She works on getting stronger, faster. The kind of girl who won’t break for anything.
She has a bad dream one night and wakes up shaking on her bedroom floor, her skin slick with sweat. There’s a bitter taste in her mouth, like dirt, and it makes her gag, hunched over her trash can on her hands and knees, spitting up bile. When it’s over she stumbles up to grab her phone and wallet, tiptoes downstairs in the dark and puts on her shoes. She takes her car keys and quietly goes outside, gets into the car and starts it without it even thinking about it, like she’s in one of her fugue states but she’s conscious right now, her hands shaking violently in some kind of a weird, post-nightmare twitch.
She drives straight to Stiles’ house, relieved when she notes the absence of the cruiser. She parks next to the Jeep and jumps out, staggers her way up to his front door while texting him that she’s outside. She leans against the doorway as she waits and after a minute the porch light flicks on and the front door opens.
“Lydia?” Stiles steps out onto the porch in plaid pajama pants and an old Beacon Hills High tee shirt with the sleeves cut off, his hair sticking up. “What’s going on?”
She blinks at him, the words caught in her throat, her head feeling too heavy. She tries to explain but she ends up just staring at him, each breath tighter and tighter.
“Hey,” he says softly, his eyes scanning her all the way down to her feet. “What’s wrong?”
She crumples forward and grips his shirt in her hands as she presses her face into his chest.
“Whoa, hey, okay. C’mere, let’s go inside.” He steers them into his house, locks the door and tries to pry her off of him but she’s not letting go. “Lydia, talk to me, what happened?”
She thinks of bones and blood and Allison’s perfect curls and she shakes her head, holding onto him so tightly it makes her fingers hurt.
“Okay,” he says softly. “I’ve got you, c’mon.”
He leads her up the stairs and into his room, kicks the door shut with his foot and leads her over to the bed. “Here, sit down.”
She toes off her shoes and sinks onto the edge of the bed, watching Stiles grab a plaid fleece blanket that’s hanging over the edge of his desk chair and bring it over to her.
“Scoot back,” he coaxes, and she crawls back until she’s sitting against the mattress.
He wraps the blanket tightly around her shoulders and eases her down against his chest, his arms coming around her. She presses her cheek against his shirt and shudders, safe and comfortably restrained, tension finally leaking out of her body.
“What happened?” he whispers, voice tinged with a weary kind of fear. She has no idea what he’s thinking right now, how many worse-case scenarios he’s running through his head.
“I’m okay,” she chokes out, trying to match her breathing to his.
“It was just a dream.”
He sighs and leans his cheek against the top of her head. “You can sleep here if you want.”
“I don’t know if I can,” she confesses.
“Yeah,” he says, his fingers trailing up and down her arm. “I get it. But we should probably try anyway, right?”
She knows he’s right, none of them have slept well since Allison, even now that they actually have the time to do it, the supernatural world has been quiet all summer, instead of spending nights running for their lives and being tortured they all sit up alone in their beds each night, drink caffeine all day to keep going, lock their windows and doors and carry mountain ash bombs they never need to use but keep on hand anyway. Just in case.
Stiles lays them down and Lydia turns into him, still burritoed up in his blanket, her legs tangling with his over his comforter.
“Hey,” he murmurs, and pats the top of her head, a little awkward and sweet and so Stiles that it almost makes her cry.
“I’m sorry,” she whispers, her voice scratchy.
His arms tighten around her. “Don’t apologize.”
She sniffs and snuggles into him. “Okay.”
“It’s okay,” Stiles whispers. “We’re okay.”
They’re not, not really, but they’re together and that’s what matters.
They fall asleep like that, on top of his covers sharing the plaid blanket, and when Lydia wakes up it’s to the Sheriff leaning in the doorway, rays of morning sunlight spilling over the floor.
“Sorry,” she starts, but he waves her off. He’s barely noticed her, she realizes, he’s too busy watching Stiles sleep, the smudge of dark eyelashes against pale skin.
“Don’t worry about it,” he says quietly. “Whatever gets him to sleep.”
He tiptoes out and gently closes the door. Lydia lays back down and Stiles cracks one eye open to look at her.
“Is he gone?” he asks.
She whacks his shoulder. “You were awake and you made me deal with your dad all by myself?”
“You had it handled! You give good parent.”
“Oh sweetheart,” she says, her voice sticky-sweet and dripping with sarcasm. “I give good everything.”
They meet Scott for breakfast before he has to start his shift at Deaton’s and then go back to Lydia’s house. It’s a sunny day and her mother is at work, Lydia lets them inside and heads straight for the kitchen, pours orange juice into two cups and tops them off with the champagne she finds hiding behind a bottle of kefir in the back of the fridge.
“Whoa, okay, drinking before noon?” Stiles squints at her. “Do we need to have a talk?”
Lydia shrugs and kicks off her shoes. “It’s summer vacation and for right now things are as close to normal as they ever get for us, excuse me for taking advantage.”
“Won’t your mom notice though?”
She snorts. “Doubt it.”
She runs upstairs to change into a swimsuit and comes back down with towels and sunscreen. Stiles carries their drinks outside along with two bottles of water and Lydia spreads towels over two deck chairs by the pool. They sit down and Lydia stretches out, taking her glass from him and sipping, warmth sliding down her throat. He’s still got his sweatshirt and jeans on, sneakers kicked off so his long pale feet dangle over the pool.
“Take your shirt off,” she says brusquely, no room for argument, and leans over him to pick up the tube of sunscreen. “I’ll do your back.”
He blinks at her but then he reaches down and pulls off his sweatshirt and the tee shirt he had on under it in one motion, and drops the bundle of fabric onto the deck. He flips over onto his stomach and turns his head sideways to give her a shy smile before burying his face in his folded arms. Lydia stands up and hovers over him before climbing onto his chair, her knees bracketing his hips as she leans above him.
She spreads sunscreen over his shoulder blades, down his spine, digs her knuckles into the lean muscles in his back, feeling it when Stiles relaxes under her touch and goes pliant. He’s still in his jeans but she decides not to push it, she swings over his body and stretches out on her side next to him, sliding her hand up his neck and into his hair.
“That felt nice,” he mumbles.
She scratches at his scalp. “Good.”
He makes a sleepy little sound and pushes up on his hands. “Want me to do you?”
She grins, raising an eyebrow at the innuendo, and he laughs, dropping his head so it rests against her shoulder. She drags her bare toes up his calves, wondering what he would say if she asked him to stay right here, on top of her, shielded by the warm weight of his body. “I’d like that.”
He lifts his head but instead of taking the tube of sunscreen from her he looks down at her, sunlight making his eyes sparkle and like this, just the two of them outside in the sunshine, he looks like the old Stiles, like the boy she’s known for years, the boy who was in love with her before she ever noticed or cared, the boy who’s always been there for her, the boy she almost lost. She can feel their connection like this, that persistent tug in her chest.
“Lydia,” he whispers.
“C’mere.” She reaches up and loops her arms around his neck, melts back against her chair and coaxes him to lay down with his head on her chest and her legs winding around his.
He shivers and presses his lips to her collarbone and he feels so fragile under her hands, the frantic beat of his heartbeat reverberating against her chest.
“Lydia,” he whispers again, right against her skin, like her name is both a question and an answer.
She holds him close, tilts her face up to the sun and shuts her eyes against the burn of grateful tears, that he’s here, with her, safe if not whole.
“It’s okay,” she whispers. “We’re okay.”