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Sunday, March 31st, 2013 09:35 pm
Hollowed Heart, Empty Eyes - Teen Wolf - Lydia Martin/Derek Hale/Isaac Lahey - Words: 13,439
Written for Beacon Hills Land Comm, Creative Bingo Prompt Card. Prompts in order answered: Family, Magic, Hurt, Risk, Anchor, Favorite, Weapon, and Free
Summary: It's been years since they'd left Beacon Hills, years since the pack had been forced to splinter and flee, and yet Lydia finds that the more things change the more they stay the same.
Content Notes: Canon typical violence, descriptions of violence that was inflicted on a child. PG-13
Author Notes: Spoilers for season 3 character announcements/casting.
On AO3: Hollowed Heart, Empty Eyes



Family


Lydia was the only one home when one of her cellphones rang. The screen displayed the number and for a long moment she stared and wondered if she should have ditched this cellphone after all. So far her mother had been good to her word about not giving Lydia's number to anyone else, but that could easily change.

"Hello," she answered, keeping her voice crisp and unaffected.

"Lydia, I was just starting to wonder if I would ever hear from you. I've left messages," her mother said.

There was a long silence, Lydia not willing to engage in small talk and also not willing to ask. If her mother had something to say then that was up to her - Lydia had never been very patient with people who couldn't help themselves.

"Did you get the messages?" her mother asked, her voice faltering in the slightest.

Lydia had noticed that she had voicemail several times over the past few days, but had deleted them without listening. No one important left her voicemail messages because they all knew she didn't listen or respond to them. If people had something they wanted to say, they could say it directly to her; she was long past the time when she was willing to let anyone get away with not telling her things she needed to know. "No," she said simply, not bothering with an explanation. Her mother knew her voicemail policy better than anyone.

"Right, of course," her mother said, her voice momentarily sharp. Lydia could picture her mother's closed eyes and the way her mouth would twist in frustration. A few years ago this would have lead to a diatribe about how selfish and unreasonable Lydia was being, but after being hung up on a few dozen times her mother had learned not to express her displeasure to Lydia directly. "I, well, Tom and I, we were wondering if you would consider visiting over the holidays."

Lydia arched an eyebrow and was momentarily impressed that her mother had gotten to the point so quickly. Usually it took a good five or ten minutes of chattering before she made it that far. "I think we both know why that's not going to happen," she said. She stood up and walked to the windows that overlooked the bustling city, watching the people below shuffle through the slushy streets. It had taken her a while to get used to the snow and every now and then she asked Derek if he couldn't possibly have picked somewhere with sunshine most of the year. Derek never answered when she asked, because Lydia knew all the reasons why they had come to New York; she'd been the one to suggest most of them.

"It doesn't have to be at Beacon Hills, it doesn't even have to be in California. We could meet at a hotel somewhere," her mother suggested.

The desperation was clear in her mother's voice and Lydia felt slightly guilty until she reminded herself that her mother was part of the reason they'd had to leave Beacon Hills. Not a big part of the reason, but enough that there was still some resentment curdling there. Of course, discovering that her mother was a power-stealing witch had created plenty of resentment all on its own.

"And give you a chance to keep me there or to find a way to follow me? You honestly thought I didn't know that your new husband Tomas is particularly gifted in skills that we generally don't mention in polite company? Has he realized yet that you only want him for his power?" She made her words as scathing as possible while keeping any hint of what they were really talking about from their conversation. If she'd learned anything from their time in Beacon Hills it was she couldn't be too paranoid or too cautious. Derek and Isaac had actually learned that lesson long before she did and it rankled a little; Lydia had always prided herself on being a quick study. It seemed some lessons could only be learned the hard way.

"Lydia, please. It's Christmas," her mother began.

"Which you so dutifully celebrate to keep up appearances, just like always," Lydia finished. "So, why don't you continue playing your role of abandoned mother? You know your lines backwards and forwards, about how your ungrateful daughter blamed you for a divorce you had no fault in and how she ran off to live in sin with some rough boys from town. You can throw in the part about how you are so worried about her and you just don't understand why she's doing this to you. If you're desperate, pull out how you think Derek and Isaac might have coerced me or threatened me - after all, that is what you told the entire town. Don't call this number again, no one will answer."

Lydia hung up and immediately turned off the phone; she knew herself well enough by now to know that if her mother called back she would do something unwise. This moment had been a long time in coming, ever since Lydia had finished her Master's degree and hadn't invited her mother to the graduation ceremony. Longer than that really, but Isaac and Derek had been the only ones with that knowledge when her mother called to express her displeasure and that meant her mother still had spies watching her. Lydia wanted to believe that her mother simply didn't know how much danger they would be in if they were found - she wanted to believe, but couldn't.

Actually, if she really thought about it, this moment had been coming ever since she had turned sixteen and started to learn the truth about the world. Up until now she had kept the phone, her last tether to Beacon Hills, because she'd believed that she was better off knowing what her mother knew. But there had been no signs of people watching them, not since the last time they'd moved, and there came a point when enough was enough. She hadn't seen her mother in person in almost five years and it was past time to sever the last tie between them.

A hand next to hers on the windowsill let her know that she wasn't alone in the apartment; Derek and Isaac must have arrived at some point during her conversation. Lydia didn't look up as she pulled the back off the phone, took out the battery, and then the sim card. She pressed the edge of card against the windowsill and moments later it snapped loudly. The phone itself she could dispose of later, but there was a finality in the broken pieces of plastic that was relieving and terrifying at the same time. She had never allowed herself the luxury of second guessing her choices, instead she focused on what she could do. She could increase their security, she could watch more closely to make sure they weren't being followed; she could do everything possible to make sure they were safe. It had been more than a year since the last time they'd been attacked but Lydia still remembered fighting and fleeing like it was yesterday.

When she looked up she found Isaac staring down at the city below like it held all of his focus - she knew most of his attention was actually on her. Sure enough, as soon as she set aside the reassembled phone - the pieces of the sim card went into her pocket - he turned to her and smiled.

"We brought home dinner," he offered. There was no judgement in his eyes, nothing in his face to indicate that he had any idea of what she'd just done even though he undoubtably did know, and he stayed exactly where he was standing without reaching for her.

"Sounds perfect," she said, silently marveling how Isaac and Derek knew exactly how to respond to her after these conversations. Two steps closed the space between them and Lydia ran her fingertips over the back of Isaac's hand, circling the welts and open wounds that hadn't quite finished healing. A small pack meant that it took Isaac and Derek longer to heal. These particular wounds were made worse by the tiny shards of metal had undoubtably become embedded under Isaac's skin through the course of the day. "You were working in the machine shop today?"

Isaac's smile became slightly brighter. "Yeah, Fedya let me bring home some scrap pieces. I'm not sure what I'm going to do with them yet, but they felt important."

Lydia couldn't help but return his smile and bumped his arm with her shoulder. "Go clean out your hands before Derek eats everything. I'll get him to set the table." She broke contact first and walked over to their small kitchen area, washing her own hands in the sink as she watched Derek set out the containers of Thai on the kitchen table. Derek looked up as he worked, his eyes meeting Lydia's for a brief moment before he refocused on his task. He wouldn't say that he was concerned but it was evident in the strain of the muscles in his forearms and the way his lips flattened. Lydia knew that more than her own personal drama was concerning him; if Lydia's mother went searching for them and actually succeeded, that could very well lead everyone else to them. She had fond, rose-colored memories of the months they'd spent on the run when they first fled Beacon Hills - in a way it had distilled them to their essentials, the absolute truth of who they were as people and who they were as a family - but she didn't care to repeat the experience if it wasn't necessary. They would have to talk later, refresh their plans just in case, but for the time being they could just sit down and have dinner like they would on any other night.

By the time Isaac returned to the kitchen the table was set. Lydia slipped into her seat and reached for the container of kai yang and sticky rice. "I'm reasonably certain Jeffery's doctoral project is about to fail completely, any day now," she said as she served herself and passed the container to Derek.

The corner of Derek's mouth twitched upward in response. "And how is that working out for him?" he asked, pushing a small cup of sauce in Isaac's direction.

Lydia smiled vindictively - she'd regaled Derek and Isaac with enough stories of the university's math lab that they were nearly as invested as she was. "He's trying to hide it but I'm anticipating a dramatic nervous break down. Hopefully in front of the whole department and the advisors." 'Dish and Dinner' was a long standing tradition in their little family and Lydia found herself relaxing as they filled the air with idle chatter.

*****


Magic


The next morning Lydia left the loft before it was properly light outside and began her three block trek to the nearest subway station. Most days in the winter she pulled the hood of her coat up and made the journey quickly without looking at anyone: no one in the city was eager to make eye contact as they walked to their destination and the majority of the foot traffic was students and workers on the early morning shift. Today Lydia left her hood down and scanned the people she passed with suspicion. It had only been twelve hours since she had destroyed the sim card, probably too soon for her mother to have someone tracking her, but it was still wise to be cautious. At the very least she would become familiar with the faces she saw, enough to know if there was suddenly someone new with a swirl of magic surrounding them.

One of the downsides of living in a big city was that it was a mecca for people who weren't quite entirely human. Derek and Isaac were on friendly terms with the local werewolf pack - they were pretending to be a pair of betas who had escaped after their pack had been destroyed by Hunters - and they were both employed in the various businesses that the pack held. There was a clan of selkies that lived near the water, several local fae that walked through the many glass walls and windows as easy as they did air, and Derek swore that gargoyles roamed the tops of the buildings at night. Lydia wasn't sure she entirely believed Derek about the gargoyles - Isaac claimed to be skeptical but had asked dozens of questions nevertheless - but she supposed that anything was possible. As a teenager she'd required proof for everything, she wanted to know how and why werewolves and magic worked and it had frustrated her endlessly when answers simply couldn't be found. As an adult she'd learned to accept what was and prepare for the worst case scenario regardless of how plausible it was.

On the subway it was a rare day when she didn't catch the swirl of magic from the corner of her eye. Those who had been using magic regularly for more than a few months tended to have a glow of magic surrounding them; it wasn't visible, more of a subtle presence than something that could be seen. Being able to detect witches and warlocks was something that most couldn't do without casting their own magic, but Lydia's particular abilities went beyond True Sight. She was one of the most powerful people in the city - at least when it came to magic - and if her preparations held no one would ever know. This particular morning the only witch on the subway was a senior in the music program and Lydia mentally marked her as a potential spy. The girl had never paid Lydia any attention but she lived close enough to use the same subway station and definitely wasn't strong enough to resist a full coven.

There was one other potential spy in her midst and this one had the ability to do a lot more harm than the young witch from the music department. Lydia had met Colin on her first day as a doctoral student at the university and the horror that had drained the color from his face had been enough for her to know that he had True Sight. She had nodded to him and then carried on with her tour of the department, letting the warlock retreat. She'd seen him in passing since then, the math lab was big enough that they could avoid each other except at mandatory department functions, and thereafter he had done a better job of keeping his horror hidden to those around them. Lydia couldn't blame him, she knew what she looked like to those who were blessed - or cursed, in her opinion - with True Sight.

She walked down the hallway that was near Colin's work space. He was already at his desk, his fingers moving rapidly over his keyboard and his headphones encompassing his ears completely. The prickle of magic coming from him was much stronger than the witch on the subway, almost as strong as Lydia remembered from Stiles' in that last year in Beacon Hills. Colin would have the opportunity to do plenty of covert surveillance on Lydia if he was asked to and Lydia didn't know that he would have reason to say no. At this point asking around might do more harm than good, Colin would be justifiably concerned if he knew that someone like Lydia was interested in him, but if she could explain that it was the people who had done this looking for her, he might be willing to stay neutral. Lydia already knew what Derek and Isaac would say if she suggested that to them - that it was an unnecessary risk - but she put aside the possibility for later in case things progressed unfavorably. Five minutes later she was at her own work space watching as her laptop and computer booted up and trying to focus on her work.

After an hour spent completely butchering an equation she shut off the monitor on her computer and sighed. It was impossible to achieve the level of concentration she needed when she kept replaying the conversation with her mother, picking at all the points where she could have defused the situation. Going back to Beacon Hills, or even meeting with her mother somewhere else, was simply impossible. Even if Lydia had wanted to go she wouldn't have left Derek and Isaac and she couldn't have brought them with her. But even though Lydia would have ultimately refused her mother's request, she could have mollified her by making promises to call and offering inconsequential details about her life. Instead she had let her temper get the best of her and she had put all of them in danger - more danger than they were already in.

Lydia didn't think that her mother would purposefully lead the Hunters to them but she wasn't as sure about that as she used to be. Either way, it would be simple for the Hunters to follow Lydia's mother to the city and then use their own contacts within to find Lydia, Derek, and Isaac before they even realized they'd been discovered. And then, there was the possibility that her mother would sell them out. Lydia was far more powerful than she should have been, ironically far more powerful than she would have been if her mother had just let her powers develop naturally. Lydia nullified magic, no one could use magic to track or manipulate her. She could walk through magical barriers, break and resist curses - like the bite of a werewolf - and even drain magic from someone. There were many very good reasons that people with True Sight avoided her and it wasn't entirely because what she could do.

Pursing her lips she looked into her dark computer monitor and stared at the shadowy reflection of herself. She knew that what she was seeing was physically accurate, but that wasn't the mental image of herself that she carried with her. Once Deaton had shown her what those with True Sight saw when they looked at her. She had spent hours at the veterinary clinic, researching and asking questions, and again and again she'd come back to why she hadn't been turned by Peter's bite. Deaton had finally offered to show her if she would come with him into the woods on the new moon. Lydia had hesitated long enough that Isaac had offered to go with her - even then Isaac had been one of the few people she was able to trust, after they'd gotten past the point where they'd been trying to kill each other. Four days later they'd walked out into a clearing in the woods, Deaton with a satchel over his shoulder and talking the entire way about how the new moon would allow them to see what they otherwise could not and how the moon phases interacted with the flow of magic in the world.

They had sat in the rough grass, Lydia thankful that she'd changed into jeans and boots for the trip, and she'd carefully watched Deaton unpack his bag while Isaac tipped his head back and stared up at the stars. "A mirror?" she'd asked when he set out an antique hand mirror.

"A Looking Glass," Deaton had corrected mildly. "Charles Dodgson, more often known as Lewis Carroll, invented and popularized the use of magic with Looking Glasses and the term came to be used exclusively in the context of magic."

"The guy who wrote Alice in Wonderland was magic?" Isaac had asked.

"He was a magician - an inventor or magical items and spells - the foremost of his generation. There are many instructions, experiments, and methods in the Alice books, which he disseminated as children's stories in order to reach warlocks and witches without being discovered. When used correctly a Looking Glass shows us what those gifted with True Sight see, it shows us what lies beneath the physical and beyond what other magics can reveal," Deaton had explained as he opened a small glass jar and took out a pinch of the silvery dust from within. "And this is residue that was collected after a Fae battle - fairy dust is an oversimplification, but the idea is the same. Among many other uses it can be used to reveal someone's true form."

Lydia and Isaac had watched entranced as Deaton had tilted his head back and blown the dust out over the clearing. As the dust settled Deaton had become a silvery outline, showing that while he could manipulate magical items he was no longer capable of producing magic. The story of how a warlock and a fae had teamed up to drain Deaton of his magic - and nearly of his life - had been whispered among the members of the pack, though none of them know how long ago that had happened. Isaac had a silver wolf superimposed over his body and he'd examined his paws curiously before peering into the Looking Glass. When he'd looked up at Lydia he had abruptly gone still as he stared.

"If you'd like to see, now would be the time," Deaton had said as he held up the Looking Glass for Lydia.

Lydia had leaned forward and peered into the Looking Glass, understanding the horror of what she had seen without having to be told. Her eyes had been gone, dark holes where they should have been, and her arms ended at her wrists with silverly particles of dust pouring down from them like sand through an hourglass. What had frightened her the most was the gaping hole in her chest that had completely repelled all of the fairy dust.

"Why?" she had asked as the silvery dust faded from sight.

Deaton had considered her for a long moment before responding. "I believe the more appropriate question is who. Someone mutilated your magical core before it was fully formed. Most often when someone wants to render a witch or a warlock impotent they drain them of their magic. By removing the centers of your magic - your eyes, hands, and heart - they've done something else entirely."

After that night Lydia had thrown herself into researching magic theory, searching for how someone could have done that to her and why. It wasn't until Isaac had come home with her one day after school and they had overheard one of the women in her mother's gardening group ask why a wolf was in the house that Lydia had started to make the connections to her own family. Her mother's gardening club had never struck Lydia as anything to be concerned about until she'd been reading one of the magic books Stiles was studying from and discovered that a true coven was made of thirteen witches - or thirteen gardeners as the case may be.

Lydia shook her head and realized that she had been sitting there staring at her murky reflection for over an hour. She couldn't afford to let down her guard, especially not now, and she pulled out a handful of dry erase markers and moved to clear a space on one of the whiteboards near her desk. She had a time honored tradition of falling deep into pure math whenever she started to think about how her hands, her eyes, and her heart were gone in the ways that mattered the most.

*****


Hurt


She was cold. When she opened her opened her eyes she realized that she was on a raised platform of some kind - not her bed where she'd fallen asleep. She was still in her nightgown, the thin pink one that had cream lace around the neckline and didn't quite fit on her shoulders, and her feet were bare. She was outside and she felt herself start to shiver as she sat up.

"Lydia, lie down," her mother said, her hand on Lydia's shoulder as she guided her back down to the table.

"Where are we?" Lydia asked. She was tired, cold, and scared.

"Shh," her mother said and wiped her finger over Lydia's lips. "No more talking. Go back to sleep."

Lydia had never been very good at following instructions unless there was a logical reason to do so. She tried to sit up again but immediately found that she couldn't. There was nothing holding her down but she couldn't lift her shoulders or even kick her feet. Her hands lay useless at her sides and she pressed her lips together as she tried not to cry.

Someone walked to her side, a figure in a long robe and it took Lydia a moment to realize that it was Mrs. Fitzgerald, one of the neighbors. Mrs. Fitzgerald always offered Lydia tea when she saw Lydia out in the neighborhood. Lydia looked up at Mrs. Fitzgerald and wanted to ask for help, but even though she could part her lips she couldn't make any sound. She felt tears start to fall out of the corner of her eyes and run hot down her face. More people gathered around her, people Lydia recognized as her mother's friends or people from the neighborhood. Her mother returned to her side, also wearing one of the odd robes, and she started to speak in a language Lydia didn't recognize.

Lydia listened carefully, trying to decipher the words. She was already mostly fluent in French and had been learning Spanish fairly quickly, and while some of what was said sounded almost like Latin she couldn't make sense of it. The words seemed the blur together, especially once the other women started chanting as well. They were still chanting when her mother pulled a dagger from the sleeve of her robe and used it to cut through the front of Lydia's nightgown. The tears came faster now as Lydia tried to get away. It felt like she'd been completely disconnected from her body, she couldn't move anything below her neck, and she squeezed her eyes closed as her mother brought the knife down over her bare chest. The pain was overwhelming and Lydia screamed silently as she jerked awake.

It was mostly dark in the bedroom but Lydia could see Isaac sleeping curled on his side in the middle of the bed, his knees almost touching his chest. Beyond Isaac was Derek, who insisted on sleeping closest to the door no matter where they were. Derek slept on his back though his head was turned the side and his shoulder pulled in as he leaned towards Isaac. Lydia waited as her heart slowed to normal and tried to stop her body from shaking. Her nightgown was sticking to her skin with sweat and when the trembling had mostly ceased she slipped out of the bed and walked to the bathroom. Once inside she shut the door and turned on the light, glancing at herself in the mirror before pulling her nightgown over her head and placing her hand just underneath her left breast.

There were no scars from what her mother and the coven had done to her, the knife had interacted with her metaphysical being rather than her physical body. The pain was still there though, a steady throb that she felt in the presence of magic, and she quickly turned away from the mirror and went to turn on the water in the shower. It was no wonder that she'd had that particular nightmare when she had spent the last two days thinking about her mother and making plans for when they had to run again. She really wanted to finish her doctorate, but she couldn't stay if the Hunters came after them. She had put off her university education multiple times in the past seven years, leaving in the middle of semesters because they'd been found. What was once more?

The water was hot now and she stepped under the spray of the shower and let it wash away the sweat clinging to her skin. There were many things from Lydia's past that haunted her nightmares, the worst nights were the ones she dreamed of Peter Hale rising from the dead, but the nightmare about her mother's coven was one that had come in bits and pieces over the years. For a while she had agonized over whether or not what she was dreaming was the truth about what had happened to her, but eventually she had decided that it hardly mattered. During her junior year of high school she managed to engineer a confrontation between her mother and father and had listened in silent horror while they fought about what Lydia's mother had done. Her father's disgust at what had been done to Lydia had paved the way to forgiveness on her part, along with the knowledge that he wasn't powerful enough to take custody of her after the divorce. A single warlock could rarely stand against a coven. It was only a month later that Lydia discovered her older sister had True Sight and that was why she had so abruptly left home and cut off contact with the family - she couldn't even look at Lydia when Lydia had driven halfway across the country to seek her sister out.

Lydia ran her hands through her now damp hair and closed her eyes as she stood under the water. Exhaustion still pulled at her body but she wasn't sure she wanted to go back to bed. She didn't trust her mind not to go back to pulling out half-remembered details about the coven's ritual. After a great deal of research - two full years after she left Beacon Hills - she finally found the ritual that the coven had likely used in a book of theoretical magic. Reading the ritual had been enough for her to realize how lucky she'd been to survive and how it was only chance that she hadn't died on that alter or been left completely brain dead. It helped her a little when she was able to detach herself and think of it as something to be studied, but whatever allowed her to do that seemed to disappear in her sleep.

There was a quick click, barely audible over the rush of water surrounding Lydia, and she didn't open her eyes as someone stepped into the shower with her. She leaned back against Isaac's chest and felt his arms wrap around her, cocooning her and creating a barrier between her and the world. Isaac always sought her out in the night when she was gone from their bed longer than a few minutes. She wasn't sure if the sound of the shower had woken him or if was just the absence of her heartbeat from right next to him. Tipping her head back she rested against his chest and shoulder, soaking up the safety that his presence promised. He had grown another few inches during high school and now stood a full foot taller than her and a few inches taller than Derek. His mouth pressed against the top of her head, a gentle kiss that said everything he needed to without words.

Isaac and Derek had nightmares as frequently as Lydia. She often woke in the night to find their eyes already open as they stared blankly at the ceiling. Occasionally their nightmares drove them from bed as well. Derek tended to disappear from the apartment entirely, leaving Isaac and Lydia awake with the knowledge that he would return before the day truly started. He didn't speak much when he returned, but he would sit on the couch and let Lydia and Isaac sit near him until it was time for everyone to get ready for work. Isaac would slip out of the bed during the night and start rigorously cleaning the apartment and then working on one of his metal sculptures when he ran out of things to scrub. Derek would wait, for what Lydia had never quite figured out, and then he would go and collect Isaac from the main room. More often than not they would disappear to the shower, the sound of their bodies moving together drifting out to where Lydia was half-dozing in bed. They would return when they were done, still damp, and Derek would tuck Isaac between them. For each of them it was a promise, an affirmation that they weren't alone and that they would never have to stand as one against the rest of the world again. Between the three of them one thing remained constant: they never talked about what woke them in the night and they never asked. Lydia could make educated guesses about the contents of Derek and Isaac's nightmares, as they probably could for her. Between the three of them she had become accustomed to functioning on frequently sleepless nights.

Lydia let Isaac hold her for another few minutes before she reached for the conditioner and handed it to him. He washed her hair, only stepping away so that she could rinse off, and they stepped out of the shower together. They dried off and Isaac neatly braided her wet hair, a skill he had picked up quickly with just a little practice. When they stepped back into the bedroom Derek immediately held up the blankets for them. Lydia slipped under the covers with Isaac right behind her and they all pressed together on one side of the king bed. The first few months after they'd left Beacon Hills they had slept together piled on a double bed or sometimes even on a pullout bed on a couch. Before then she would have never imagined that she could have fallen asleep crowded against two bodies - now she couldn't imagine sleeping away from Derek and Isaac, even as far away as another room. The safety of being surrounded by her pack along with the exhaustion from the past few days drew Lydia back into sleep. If she dreamed again, she didn't remember in the morning.

*****


Risk


When Lydia logged onto her work email she found the usual handful of messages about department functions, university-wide announcements, and a message from Danny. The body of the email was his typical short message stating that the attachment was a revised draft and asking Lydia to look it over from him. Usually Lydia would wait until she went home to read the message but it had been almost a week since she had cut off contact with her mother and she wanted to know immediately if Danny had heard that they were in danger.

She took out a sheet of notebook paper and a coverless book from her purse and opened the attachment. The attachment itself was simply a list of numbers. Their cypher was far from secure, but it would keep out anyone who was snooping in either her or Danny's email box interested in academic sabotage or plagiarism. It was magic resistant, Stiles had tried multiple times to use magic to decode the messages and even knowing the contents in advanced hadn't lent his magic the power it needed to do more than scramble the code. The Gideon's Bible was probably one of the first books people would try as soon as they realized the strings of numbers were a book cypher but eventually they'd decided to sacrifice security for the knowledge that they'd always be able to find a copy of the book even if their stripped down versions were destroyed. Even so they kept their messages non-specific and without locations or names.

The start of the message was an assurance that Danny was still safe and planned on remaining where he was for the time being. Danny was the only member of the Hale Pack who had escaped Beacon Hills without being on the Hunter's watchlist. There was something to be said for being completely human. In most of the Hunter propaganda that had been spread around by the Hunter's Council they cited the Hale Pack as being violently anti-human. Derek was listed as a war criminal and was said to have bitten children and formed them into vicious killers. Danny had stayed in Beacon Hills for another two months after everyone else had left, observing the aftermath and sending messages when he knew where the Hunters were searching. Then he had left for college like another other teenager and settled into a life as a double agent. Lydia hadn't been able to bring herself to object when Danny made connections with Hunters and wormed his way into their network, even though she knew Danny would be killed outright if any Hunter even suspected his connection to the Hale Pack.

Lydia let out a sigh of relief when she decoded that Boyd had sent a message to Danny to let him know that he was still on the road. They hadn't heard from Boyd in two months and Lydia was dreading the day when he either disappeared completely or was reported dead. The Hunters wouldn't keep quiet if they killed The Executioner, as Boyd had become known. The legend of The Executioner had grown wide and varied until traces of it even reached regular humans who had no contact with the supernatural. Lydia knew that most of the kills Boyd was credited with were impossible considering the conflicting dates and locations. Both Hunters and werewolves were reportedly victims of The Executioner and Lydia didn't doubt that part was true. Lydia hadn't met Boyd until their junior year of high school but Isaac had once told her that Boyd had once been very different from the man she knew. Boyd had spent the summer after sophomore year being held by the Alpha Pack with Erica - only Boyd had made it out alive.

The battle with the Alpha Pack was one of the reasons the Hale Pack was so notorious in the first place. When an Alpha Pack decided to put down an Alpha and either kill or reassign the pack, that was what happened. Until they'd come to Beacon Hills. It had been Boyd who had taken down the first Alpha and the only reason Boyd had survived was because Scott and Derek had dragged him away from the fight. The first kill had bolstered their spirits, before that they'd been considering the possibility of splitting up and running. It took half of their junior year but shortly after Christmas they killed the last of the Alpha Pack. Lydia could remember the relief as they'd buried the body, the sense that they had fought the impossible and had somehow survived. Only a week later the Hunter's Council showed up: a pack that could kill an entire Alpha Pack was too dangerous to be left unchecked.

For a time they had managed an uneasy truce with the Hunter's Council. Derek was given strict orders to keep his pack under control and the Hunters agreed not to attack without provocation. They joined forces with the Hunters to handle any supernatural threat that was in the area and even when they didn't agree on the methods the Hunters used they still had an almost peaceful year. It had been restrictive, the werewolves were all locked down on full moons and Stiles was constantly having his control tested. None of the Hunters seemed to realize what Lydia was and at the time she'd still been figuring that out herself.

It had been the Hunters who had broken the treaty, despite what was believed by the supernatural community at large. A lone omega had wandered into Beacon Hills, disoriented from the massacre of his pack, and they had taken him in on the full moon to protect him from the Hunter's patrolling the woods. The next day the Hunters had shown up armed to take down a pack of werewolves, claiming that the Hale Pack had taken in a fugitive. There hadn't been time for explanations, the war had started with the first bullet that hit Derek.

Years later the war wasn't over, the Hunter's had long memories and Lydia didn't expect that their pack would ever be forgotten. Not when they had killed all but one member of the Hunter's Council. Lydia had been there that day, Peter lying dead on the forest floor while Blake Nezzer swore that he wouldn't lay down arms until every member of the Hale Pack was nothing more than ashes. Scott and Boyd had managed to drive Nezzer away on that day, leaving the pack just enough time to regroup and flee Beacon Hills before he returned with an army.

Stiles and his father had moved to Montana, though Stiles traveled frequently. Danny's coded letter had a short note indicating that Stiles had sent word that he thought he was closer to developing a device that would let them know when Hunter's approached. Lydia had never been surprised that Stiles devoted his magic to creation and though she'd only seen him once in the last five years she still missed the crackle of his magic near her. Stiles had been branded as one of the most dangerous dark mages in the country and didn't dare go a single moment without keeping his appearance altered by magic, all thanks to Hunter propaganda. The last time Lydia had spoke to Stiles he had joked that he didn't remember what he looked like anymore and then laughed in the way that meant he wasn't joking at all.

Scott and Allison had changed their names, gotten married, and moved around the country regularly. Out of all of them Scott and Allison seemed to manage the masquerade as everyday humans the best, though they stayed far away from towns with established packs. Scott's mom sent family Christmas letters out to most of the pack - Danny decoding them and sending them on to everyone. Her letters benign enough to anyone who might be watching them but containing a wealth of information about their friends and packmates. Lydia suspected that Isaac and Derek still held out hope that one day they could be reunited as a pack, the last remnants of the pack bonds they carried would have fallen away long ago if it weren't for their enduring belief that they were still a pack.

Lydia finished decoding the letter and then folded the sheet of paper and tucked it into her pocket. She didn't have to look up the numbers to tell Danny that they were likely going to have to leave sooner rather than later and that he should send future communications to Isaac. They had set up a simple email account for Isaac to pretend that he was a student seeking tutoring to use when Lydia was between university email addresses. The entire system was possibly paranoid but it was something that Lydia could control. Paranoia was a way of life when there were people looking to kill her and everyone she cared about. When Isaac and Derek had read Danny's letter she would burn the page over the kitchen sink and wash the ashes down the drain. There wasn't much information there, other than the fact that everyone was still alive, but that was enough.

*****


Anchor


The days leading to the full moon were always a little rough and this month was no exception. Derek and Isaac paced and fidgeted and were generally restless, the possibility of an incoming threat leaving them volatile and on edge. They both had control over their shift and the full moon was more of an irritant than anything else, but it didn't help that in the city they had nowhere to run. Each month the local pack went to the national forest that was a few hours away but Derek and Isaac declined the invitation to join them every time. Derek had told Lydia that he was almost positive that the local Alpha knew that Derek wasn't a beta, but if the rest of the pack knew they'd probably ask Derek to leave the area. Two Alphas sharing a territory was usually a recipe for violence.

Lydia went home early when there was a full moon, not even bothering to bring anything with her to work on. The businesses the local pack held always closed early in the afternoon on the day of the full moon and then opened late the following day. Derek and Isaac were already in the loft when Lydia arrived. They still had another hour or so before sundown but Derek was already standing in front of the bay of windows with his hands tight in fists. Isaac had a scrap of metal that he was intently twisting into tortured shapes while his foot tapped against the side of the couch. Lydia walked through without saying anything and changed into jeans and a shirt that already had rips from claws in one side.

Being locked in for the full moon probably reminded Derek and Isaac of the year they had the truce with the Hunters. Each full moon they would spend the night in a warehouse, a circle of mountain ash keeping them inside. After the full moon they would emerge bloodied and exhausted. Derek had once reluctantly explained that the mountain ash weakened their control which left the betas panicked and destructive. The Hunters used those mornings as proof that Derek's pack was dangerous and would be killing humans if it wasn't for their presence to enforce the treaty.

For Lydia these nights always reminded her of the first month they'd been running from Beacon Hills. The Hunters had herded them into Baltimore, surrounding them and forcing them to lay low if they wanted to stay alive. They didn't dare leave the motel room and Lydia didn't want to suggest that they split up into separate rooms. Only a week prior a Hunter had slipped into their room in the night and Lydia knew the only reason she was still alive was because she'd been in the same bed as Derek and Isaac - sleeping alone simply wasn't an option. So they had locked the doors and windows and drawn the curtains, and Lydia had spent a very tense night watching as Derek and Isaac struggled to control themselves. Despite their glowing eyes and low growls they never once made to attack her even though they tussled with each other a handful of times.

Lydia came back out of the bedroom and went to sit on the couch next to Isaac. Without looking up Isaac reached over and placed his hand over Lydia's lap. Thinking that Isaac was seeking permission to touch she brought her hand up to meet his. A small piece of metal landed in her palm and Isaac withdrew his hand and darted away before she could respond. Lydia examined the small scrap of metal. At first it looked like purposeless points and edges until she realized there was a focal point and rolled it in a circle. From the new angle the leaves were obvious and in the center there were small flower petals that were barely joined at the edges. The outside of the leaves were rolled down so they wouldn't cut into her skin but Lydia could see a few drops of blood from where the metal had dug into Isaac's hands as he shaped it.

By the time she looked up from the gift Isaac was already in his wolf form and was sniffing along the edge of the kitchen cupboards. It had been on the same night that Deaton showed them the reflections of what was beneath their physicals selves that Isaac had asked why some werewolves were able to transform into actual wolves while he seemed stuck with claws and extra hair. Deaton had explained that with the right practice and some help from a witch or a warlock that most werewolves were able to learn to shift into a full wolf, though many omegas lost that ability even if they'd once been to do a full shift. Isaac had never explained how he had learned but shortly after the war had broken out he tore off racing through the forest on four paws instead of his hands and feet. Lydia suspected that Stiles had been helping Isaac as she noticed an increase in Stiles' power around the same time that Isaac had started to shift into a wolf, but that could have been because of their constant need for defensive spells so that they could have somewhere safe to sleep at night.

Once, after they'd been on the run for several months, Lydia had asked Derek if he would ever try to turn into a full wolf. Derek had sat in silence for long enough that Lydia hadn't thought that she would get an answer, but he finally had told her that he used to be able to and probably still could if he wanted. Lydia was still reeling from her own family issues and didn't press him further. Derek, like Lydia and Isaac, still struggled with relationships and communication. Even though she didn't like to think about it, Lydia suspected that if they hadn't been bonded so deeply in the months and years that they'd been fleeing that they would have splintered apart long ago. Instead they just had long lists of subjects that they didn't broach and dealt with any problems in their own dysfunctional ways.

Derek came to sit by Lydia on the couch and they watched together as the sky darkened and the full moon started its journey. Derek's muscles tightened and then relaxed and every so often he would close his eyes and breathe deeply until the temptation to shift had passed. For the most part Derek chose not to indulge in his wolf; Lydia wasn't sure if he was afraid of the temptation that it might bring or if he was attempting to reject part of himself. Lydia was hoping for the first but she strongly suspected the second.

"I think you might be his anchor," Derek said a few hours into the night.

Lydia looked down to where Isaac was resting at her feet, his head tipped to one side and his silvery fur glinting unnaturally in the dim light. She knew enough about anchors to know that they were deeply personal for werewolves and that they varied depending on what the person needed. She had never asked Derek about his and Derek had never volunteered the information. She had never asked about Isaac's either.

"That's a good thing," Derek said when Lydia didn't respond after a minute or so.

"Right," she said, though she wasn't sure if she agreed. She had been Jackson's anchor, for the short few months he had remained in Beacon Hills before he convinced his parents that a private school in Los Angeles would strengthen his college application. Lydia had tried to make contact with him once after he left but had received no response. He had disappeared before the Hunter's Council had arrived and she could only hope that Jackson was smart enough never to reveal who bit him or what he'd been before he'd been a werewolf. As far as the supernatural world was concerned the Hale Pack had killed the Kanima that had wrecked havoc in Beacon Hills.

Lydia knew that Jackson wasn't a good baseline as far as relationships with werewolves went, and that Allison was Scott's anchor. That particular relationship had several stormy ups and downs that Lydia had a front row seat to as Allison's best friend, but there was something beyond even the possibility of breaking up that concerned Lydia. She knew as well as any of them how dangerous their lives were. She had lived through being shot, stabbed, and clawed, and had watched Derek and Isaac be torn apart until she had been certain they were dead. It seemed to her that having a living anchor was a very risky proposition and she didn't like considering the possibilities of what might happen to Isaac if she died while she was his anchor.

Derek set his hand on her knee and Lydia leaned in so that their shoulders were resting together. She didn't want to tell Isaac that she didn't think it was a good idea for her to be his anchor and Derek didn't seem to think that it was a bad thing overall. Lydia took a quick glance at Derek's expression, but other than his eyes glowing red he was staring out the window with a slight frown like the full moon was any other night. Somehow being an anchor felt like a profound responsibility and she could only hope that she was up for the task.

*****


Favorite


Most days Lydia suffered through coffee from the coffeemaker that was in the back corner of the math department, but not on the mornings after the full moon. She waited until the equations on her whiteboard blurred before her eyes and then gathered her laptop and her bag and walked swiftly out of the building. The air outside was frozen and sharp and Lydia drew her scarf closer to her chin as she hurried across campus. There was a coffee shop just off upper campus and a twenty minute walk just for decent coffee was testing the limits of her patience.

When she reached the coffee shop she went straight to the counter without glancing over the handful of people already inside. It was fairly quiet inside - at this point in the year most undergraduate students had left campus for the holidays - and Lydia leaned against the edge of the counter watching as her coffee was made. Minutes later she had a warm cup cradled in her hands and she turned to go to one of the tables near the windows. She nearly dropped her cup and only a steadying hand cupped under hers prevented her from making a mess. She stood frozen as she stared up at Blake Nezzer, his face familiar even though she hadn't seen him for years.

"Fancy meeting you here, Lydia," Nezzer said, smiling in a way that could be mistaken for pleasant. "It's been so long."

Lydia continued to stare, hating the tremor that was shaking her hands ever so slightly and nearly sloshing the coffee over the rim of her cup. She wanted to believe that this couldn't be possible, that there should have been a warning or that they would have noticed Hunters lurking in the nearby streets. The local pack would have told Derek and Isaac if they'd seen Hunters in their territory.

"Why don't we sit and catch up." Nezzer took the cup from her hands and used the movement to lean in. "Don't run or call for help. I would kill you before you even made it to the door. Don't make me hurt these innocent humans because of you."

She wouldn't have asked for help, there was nothing anyone in the coffee shop could have done against a warlock as powerful as Nezzer, and running wasn't an option. She followed him to one of the back tables and sat down, staring at her cup of coffee when he placed it in front of her. Poison seemed like a fairly mundane method of murder for a man like Nezzer but she wouldn't put it past him. His motto, which she'd heard dozens of times during the year they held the treaty with the Hunters, was 'Whatever it takes to get the job done'. He'd been searching for them for years and she knew he wouldn't walk away until they were dead.

Nezzer sighed and reached across the table, taking a sip of the coffee and deliberately swallowing before placing the cup back in front of her. "Well?" he asked, and when Lydia arched her eyebrows in response he shook his head. "I'll have this one then. Would you like to go get a new coffee from the counter?"

"I'm fine," Lydia said, her voice cold and controlled. Her hands had stopped shaking as she'd assessed the situation. At some point in the near future, probably within the next hour or two, Nezzer would try to kill her. Lydia had two options; kill him first, or escape without leading Nezzer to Isaac and Derek. Killing him was the safer bet but Lydia wasn't sure how likely she was to succeed. If she could catch him by surprise she'd give herself a fifty perfect chance of success, but if she died she knew Derek and Isaac wouldn't flee the city. They'd hunt Nezzer until either he was dead or they were.

"You were always a mystery to me," Nezzer said casually, pausing to sip at the coffee. "You and that other human, Danny, I could never understand why you stayed with the werewolf pack even after you saw what they could do. And then, years later, I discover what you are and it makes a little more sense. Of course, I still don't understand the draw for Danny unless he's hiding powers like yours."

Lydia tried to keep the rush of fear she felt out of her expression. She had to warn Danny that the Hunters knew he was still involved in the pack. The possibility that it was too late, that Nezzer had already sent people after Danny or that Nezzer reached Isaac and Derek first, was pushed to the far back of her mind. Survival was her first priority; she could help the others if she walked away from Nezzer alive.

"Ah, Lydia. That's what I liked about you. You were always thinking three steps ahead, calculating, watching us. None of the pack ever truly trusted us, which was understandable, but you looked at everything we said and every move we made and knew that it was going to end in war," Nezzer said, his voice still pitched for casual conversation but he was watching her intently. "You were my favorite. I kept watching you and hoping I could sway you to see the world the way it is. It was understandable, you were young and got caught up in what was happening in Beacon Hills. You couldn't hope to see the bigger picture when you'd spent months just trying to stay alive from the wolves. Everyday I expected to see a spark of magic from you, a trickle of power that would ignite into a flame, and yet there was nothing. And I didn't understand why until I truly got to know your mother."

With parted lips Lydia stared at Nezzer as her mind raced to keep up. Nezzer had always been particularly hard on Stiles, pushing with magic that Stiles couldn't possibly hope to compete with, but she had never noticed Nezzer paying any particular attention to her. "Tomas," she said as the pieces fell together. Most of the people they knew had left Beacon Hills but Deaton had stayed behind and passed along information when it was important. Lydia had received an invitation to her mother's wedding, but hadn't heard until later that her mother had married a warlock. At the time Lydia hadn't thought much of it, it made sense that her mother would only marry someone with at least some magic, but now she realized that her mother likely never would have met Nezzer during his time in Beacon Hills as a member of the Hunter's Council. She wouldn't realize what Nezzer's true purpose was and Lydia had never considered the possibility that the Hunters would do anything more than follow anyone her mother sent to find her.

"How did you find me?" she asked, even though she was fairly sure she already knew the answer.

"Your voice," Nezzer explained. "It was quite the task to hold it with me until I found you, especially since it was only from overhearing your conversation with your mother, but as you've discovered I am quite good at what I do."

Lydia nodded and pursed her lips. In the future, however much more of a future she had, she needed to remember to trust her intuition. If she had followed her instincts she would have stopped talking to her mother years ago.

"It was a long shot, to be sure. I was honestly surprised when you refused the invitation to the wedding, but at that point I hadn't realized what she'd done to you," Nezzer said. His entire expression became severe, like clouds suddenly covering the sun. "When I found out I realized that you had never stood a chance. To be honest, I'm here as a favor to you. Of course, you don't realize this yet, but you were never meant to survive what she did. No one should have lived through that. It's not natural."

"Well, here I am," Lydia said, bristling slightly. She knew very well that she was different, that her abilities set her apart from anyone she'd ever met, but for the most part that had been to her advantage once she realized what she could do. It was Hunter's prejudice, she reminded herself as she squared her shoulders. "What did you do to my mother?"

Nezzer smirked and waggled his eyebrows. "I haven't done anything to her. Right now I'm merely away on a business trip. Finishing business that should have been taken care of long ago. It's time to stop running, Lydia."

*****


Weapon


Nezzer hailed a cab when they were two blocks away from the coffee shop. Lydia had left her scarf hanging untied around her neck and even though the wind was still biting she barely noticed how cold she was. When Nezzer rattled off the address of her apartment to the driver like it was his own she stared out the window at the passing streets and forced herself to consider the possibility that she was being taken home to find Isaac and Derek already dead. They had slept in, exhausted from staying in complete control during the full moon, and they'd still been curled together in bed when Lydia had left the loft. She made herself imagine walking in the door and finding them eviscerated - or worse, being forced to walk through the apartment and find them without wounds but cold and not breathing. It was difficult to imagine what her response would be, if she would fight for her own life or if she would be too lost in shock and grief to defend herself. She hoped that she'd fight - she wanted Nezzer dead.

They pulled up in front of Lydia's building faster than she would have thought possible and she considered Nezzer as he passed a few bills forward and climbed out of the cab. She could feel magic hovering around him like a blanket of static electricity - the protections he wore muffled any sense of what was underneath - and she wondered if that was what had drawn her mother to him. He practically reeked of power. In Beacon Hills she hadn't yet met enough witches and warlocks to understand how powerful Nezzer and Stiles truly were.

She stepped past Nezzer to unlock the front door of the building and walked straight to the elevator. Now that she was at the loft she had to know if Derek and Isaac were alive before she could do anything else. Nezzer stepped into the elevator with her, a small smile gracing his lips like he suspected what she was thinking and was looking forward to being entertained. Lydia ignored him; she had spent over a year ignoring Peter Hale's smug smile, ignoring anyone else was child's play in comparison.

The main area of the loft was untouched when they stepped inside. Lydia abandoned all pretenses and hurried into the bedroom. The bed had been left unmade, as it usually was when Lydia didn't make it before she went to the university, but Derek and Isaac's shoes and coats were gone. It wasn't a guarantee that they were safe but at least it wasn't definitive proof that she was the last one left. She checked the bathroom, just to be sure, and then abandoned her bag on the bed and walked back out into the main room.

"You're going to make this more difficult than it needs to be, aren't you?" Nezzer asked.

Lydia deftly unbuttoned her coat and dropped it on the couch, shaking her hair free as she turned to consider Nezzer. "Considering what's at stake, I'm going to make this as difficult as I possibly can."

Nezzer nodded. "Your mother did say that you were the most headstrong of her children. You would have been truly remarkable if she'd let you come into your power."

"I think I'm pretty remarkable already," Lydia said and then lunged at Nezzer. She was counting on him expecting to make the first move, and sure enough he didn't pull back in time to prevent her bare hands from latching onto his neck. The second he was caught off guard was all she needed to dig her fingernails into his skin. Deaton had taught her that she should avoid skin to skin contact with witches and warlocks, as well as any contact with fae if she could. When her magic had been removed it had essentially left behind a black hole that would seek to fill her magic reserves at any opportunity. Since she had no where to store the magic it rushed through her like a storm, a well that could never be filled no matter how much power she drew.

She had only done this once before - her mother and father had been careful not to touch her skin directly ever since she'd turned twelve - and she had nearly killed Stiles in the process. At the time Lydia had told herself that she wouldn't have done it if Stiles hadn't agreed, but now she wasn't sure that was entirely true. She had done it because it had been necessary, because there was too great of a chance that Peter had somehow latched onto Stiles' burgeoning magic and would use it to bring himself back again. They had gone to Deaton's clinic and Lydia had drained Stiles' magic, only stopping because Derek and Isaac had been there to pull her away from Stiles' limp body. The process had left Lydia feeling sick and dizzy for days and Stiles had been unconscious a full day before he'd finally woken. Lydia had still spent the following months waiting to catch a glimpse of Peter out of the corner of her eye or for him to speak to her from a dream.

Time passed in an eternity and an instant and Lydia wasn't sure whether it had been seconds or minutes when Nezzer managed to push her away. They both collapsed to the floor, Lydia's hands burning and her head spinning. She fought back the urge to throw up, a snide inner voice that somewhere over the years had picked up Stiles' tenor promising that she could vomit on Nezzer if she got the opportunity. It took a lot of effort to roll onto her side and she stared at where Nezzer had managed to get to his hands and knees, one hand reaching out blindly to the edge of a chair.

This was the man who had forced them all from their hometown, who had made them fugitives in the supernatural world. If it wasn't for him, Lydia still wouldn't be whole, but at least she might have had a whole pack and a chance to settle somewhere and build a life. She might get to spend more than a handful of weeks without worrying about having to run at a moment's notice.

She made herself crawl the distance between herself and Nezzer, her eyes catching on the chain around his neck. He should have known better than to count on an amulet to protect him from someone like her. There was a stone dagger clutched in his left hand but Lydia ignored that in favor of reaching for him again. With one hand wrapped around the wrist of his empty hand she reached for the opening at the throat of his shirt. It took two tries but she felt her hand close around the metal circle of the amulet and she pressed it against his chest. She felt a sharp pain in her upper arm but it was nothing compared to the magic that she was drawing through the amulet. The amulet was more powerful than any magical object she'd attempted to destroy before and the amount of magic she was pulling through it was amplified until she couldn't tell where she ended and Nezzer began.

When she opened her eyes - though she didn't remember shutting them - she found Nezzer's amulet clutched in her hand. Nezzer was silent and still on the floor next to her. There was blood running down her arm and a broken stone dagger on the floor between them. Lydia reached over and felt for a pulse even though she knew Nezzer was dead. There was no static of magic coming from him, not even the low level prickle warlocks and witches gave off in their sleep. There was nothing.

She pushed herself into a sitting position and examined the amulet she was holding. The metal was warped, the runes etched on the surface an illegible mess, but the amulet itself wasn't devoid of magic. It felt like something Lydia had never sensed before and she wondered if it was the equivalent of what had been done to her, only with an object instead of a person. Deaton would know, if anyone would, and Lydia thought she'd ask him if she ever saw him again. She looked back at Nezzer and the last few hours flashed through her mind. "Danny," she gasped and she managed to get her phone out of her pocket with her still numb fingers.

It took more effort than it should have to dial the emergency number she had memorized. Their emergency cellphone numbers weren't written down anywhere and were only used if there was no other option. Lydia had gone through three emergency cellphones since they'd left Beacon Hills but Danny still had his original. There was the possibility that Nezzer had wanted Lydia to call, to flush Danny out of hiding, but she had to take that chance. She was fairly certain Nezzer thought she'd be dead before she could warn Danny.

"Get out, now," Lydia said as soon as Danny answered the phone. "The Hunters know who you are."

"I can be out of town in twenty minutes. Where should I avoid?" Danny asked.

"Get as far away as you can from any Hunter cells you've had contact with. Don't come here," Lydia said. She wanted to lie down, the loft felt like it was spinning around her, but she wanted to be away from Nezzer's body. "Nezzer is dead. I killed him. You should tell the others when you can."

There was a brief pause on the phone line. "Lydia? Are you okay? What happened?"

"He's dead," Lydia repeated. "You have to go. I'll send more information later but you have to leave."

"I'm going," Danny said. "I'll send a message when I'm in a safe house."

"Okay," she said and then hung up. They were beyond the point of wishing for luck or safety, even for each other. She put her phone back in her pocket and tried to figure out what she should do next. Get rid of Nezzer's body, maybe, or close her eyes for a minute.

The door of the loft opened an indeterminate amount of time later and Derek and Isaac raced inside, both of them with glowing eyes and their claws already out.

"We felt," Derek said, not finishing his sentence as he rushed to her side, Isaac a half step behind. "We felt something, I don't know what."

Lydia nodded and let Derek and Isaac fuss over her. The numbness from her hands seemed to be spreading everywhere and she leaned into Derek. "He's dead," she said, because it needed to be said. "Nezzer is dead. I killed him."

Isaac and Derek were quiet for a moment, both of them holding her with clawed and careful hands.

"I killed him," she said again. It wasn't the first time she'd killed someone, it probably wouldn't be the last, but those three words reverberated into her mind until they consumed everything.

*****


Free


The next few hours passed in a blur of noise and movement as Lydia drifted in and out of awareness. She collected the handful of things that weren't already in her emergency bag and sent the departure email she'd drafted as soon as she'd been accepted into the university's doctoral program. She had hoped that she would get to finish her doctorate in a single location but hadn't expected it. It didn't really seem important at the moment, not when she could still see streaks of blood on the floor. Isaac had gently bandaged the gash on her arm and helped her wash Nezzer's blood off her hands. She had scratched Nezzer fairly deeply as she'd drained his magic, though she didn't let herself look at the bloody gouges that she'd left on Nezzer's face.

Derek took Nezzer's body from the apartment and returned an hour later. Lydia didn't ask what he'd done with it. Decapitation was standard when dealing with the body of a dead warlock or witch, though removal of the heart, the eyes, and the hands were also standard precautions. Lydia suspected that Derek would have done anything, including burning the eyes and heart, to make sure that Nezzer couldn't return or even be called on from beyond the grave to answer questions. There were a lot of disposal precautions that accidentally wound up being reported as rituals of serial killers and Lydia could only hope that the Hunter's Council would come for Nezzer's body before someone else discovered it.

"Do we have everything?" Derek asked, a bag slung over one shoulder as he looked around the apartment. They all had learned to travel light and they had very little that was irreplaceable.

Lydia kept all of her books and papers in electronic format and stored online. Other than her jacket, a gift from her father when she'd turned sixteen, pretty much everything she'd owned had been lost and replaced at one point or another when they'd had to flee unexpectedly. She checked her laptop bag and her emergency bag and glanced at where Isaac had packed up whatever food could travel with them. "Almost," she said and walked into the bedroom before Derek or Isaac could volunteer to get what she needed.

The bed was still unmade, their curtains half open and the sunset leaking onto the rumpled blankets, and Lydia tried to push aside the regret of having to move on again. She knew better than to get attached to any place or any item or even any person. Derek and Isaac had become her world, the only things she couldn't bear to lose, and it took a moment for her to refocus on Isaac's voice in the other room as he asked Derek something. The sun caught on the silvery edge of an object sitting on the nightstand and Lydia remembered what she'd come looking for. She picked up the little metal flower that Isaac had given to her only yesterday and wrapped her fingers around it. Her hands went back and forth between aching and numb but she could at least feel the weight of the flower in her hand. With a firm reminder to herself that she wouldn't want to live in a place where she'd killed someone, where she'd have to walk by that spot every day, Lydia turned and went back into the living room.

"Ready," she said as she pulled her bags over her shoulders and went to stand near the door to the loft. Derek and Isaac joined her, looking at each other like they thought she couldn't see the worry in their eyes, and they stepped out of the loft without a word. Derek locked the door behind them and dropped the key in an envelope with a short note to the landlord. That envelope went into the landlord's mailbox when they reached the lobby and they hurried to where Derek had brought the Camaro out of storage and parked in front of the building. It took less than two minutes to load the car, they were well practiced at leaving in a hurry, and Lydia settled in the backseat with most of their belongings as Derek pulled away from the curb.

"One stop and then we're out of here," Derek promised as he navigated through the busy evening streets, looking back at Lydia in the rearview mirror frequently.

Lydia nodded and settled one of the pillows behind her shoulders and head. She would try to wait until they were out of the city proper before she let herself sleep even though she wasn't sure she'd be in any condition to drive in the next day or so. She'd driven after being stabbed, when Isaac and Derek were too drugged with wolfsbane to even sit up without assistance, but she didn't care to repeat the experience if it wasn't necessary. The bandage wrapped around her arm already itched and Lydia occupied her hands with the small metal flower.

Derek pulled up in front of the building where he worked and glanced at Isaac. "Stay here," he instructed and stepped out of the car.

Isaac unbuckled his seatbelt but remained in the car. "That's the local Alpha and the Alpha's second," he told Lydia as they watched Derek approach the pair of people who were waiting in front of the building.

She kept her gaze steady as they pair of werewolves looked to the car. She had purposefully stayed away from the local pack partially because True Sight as more common among those who were already supernaturally gifted, but mainly because it would increase the chances of them realizing exactly who Derek and Isaac were and why they didn't have a pack of their own. Most werewolf packs would hesitate before they'd knowingly let any Hale on their territory and with good reason.

"They already knew who we were," Isaac said, listening to Derek's conversation without stealth or shame. He smiled when the Alpha looked toward the car and said something directly to Isaac. "He says that we should come back and bring the rest of our pack when we're ready."

Lydia doubted they'd ever get to take the local pack up on that offer but it was nice to have a place they could direct someone who might need a temporary safe haven. She watched as Derek finished the conversation by shaking hands with the Alpha and the Alpha's second. Derek returned to the car and they were merging on the freeway before anyone spoke.

"Any idea where we're going?" Isaac asked, already looking at a map on his phone.

"I thought we'd travel for a while," Derek said, glancing at Isaac and then back at Lydia, silently seeking objections.

Lydia pulled Nezzer's amulet out of her pocket and let its weight rest on her thigh. "Traveling sounds like a good idea," she offered when Isaac didn't say anything. She wouldn't be applying to another doctoral program until fall at the earliest and she wasn't particularly looking forward to the process of settling into another apartment.

"I was thinking maybe we should meet up with some of the pack," Derek continued, his hesitation more evident this time. "For a few days, at least."

"We could see Boyd?" Isaac asked, hope and worry coloring his voice.

Derek nodded. "If we can find him."

The thought of seeing everyone brought a rush of emotions to the surface and Lydia ruthlessly repressed any hope or relief that made itself known. Her hands trembled slightly and she held them against her lap - the tremors were an aftereffect of being a magic conduit, and she could tell herself that was the only reason she was shaking. Just because Nezzer was dead didn't give them a reprieve from being Hunted. It was entirely possible that his death might just give the Hunter's Council another reason to come after them. But, there was the slight possibility that without Nezzer's intense hatred of the Hale Pack driving the call to arms maybe no one would come looking for them. As they drove into the night, away from the city lights, Lydia thought that just maybe they'd been set free.

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