Consciousness returned in drug-addled drips, and Derek opened his eyes to nothing—to profound darkness that made his heart jolt. Fuzzy, indistinct sounds resolved into agonized gasping and the beatbeatbeatbeatbeat of a too rapid heart.
The high, sharp scent of terror slammed into his senses and he flinched away from it.
“Stiles?” his voice came out a croak.
Gasp. Gasp. “I can’t”—gasp—“I can’t . . .”
A bolt of alarm had Derek fighting his leaden limbs to sit upright, and he strained, peering at the black.
“Can’t what?” His own pulse started to race. Mouth went dry. If he could just see.
“Can’t . . . f-feel my . . . legs.” Stiles wheezed and let out an aborted cry. Something heavy hit the floor.
Derek’s heart leapt. “Stiles!” He crawled toward the sound, his hands splayed on the cold concrete, searching.
It got worse. Stiles’s breaths came shorter, faster, and with a whine of fear.
Derek’s fingers touched fabric. He traced his hands up to a shoulder, his own confusion and fear making him shake.
“Stiles. What is this, what’s wrong?”
“Cah”—gasp—“feeh. Muh. Fay.” Pant. And then he keened, high and terrified. His whole body rocked with effort.
Derek ran his hands down, following Stiles’s arm. His elbow was bent and tucked toward his chest. Derek frowned as his hand wrapped around long fingers rigid and tightly bundled like sticks. “What—” He searched and found the other hand the same way. “Stiles, your hands!” His own chest heaved with panic.
Impossibly, the smell of terror intensified and the boy’s heart sounded like it might explode.
“Tell me what to do. I don’t know what to do!” Derek gripped him by the wrists for lack of any other ideas.
And Stiles gaspgaspgasped, and then went slack. Pulse dropped, breathing evened. Passed out.
Derek swallowed hard and felt again the strange geometry of Stiles’s hands and fingers. They felt cold. He skimmed a hand down until he could reach an ankle, and skin was equally chill there. Lifeless. Bloodless.
He shifted until he could grab him under the arms and then hauled them both backward until he hit a wall. He pulled Stiles back against his body, resting his head against his chest, and held him in place with the cage of his knees. The rhythm of his normalized heartbeat gave him something to focus on, and he started working Stiles’s arms out of the jacket and hoodie, painstaking and awkward because of the way his arms clamped in so tight. But Derek could be methodical. Press and pull the fabric, rearrange their bodies to make space, let his hands find where they needed to be.
When he finally got Stiles free, he set the shirt aside and started on the left bicep. It felt heavier in his hand than he had expected. More defined than Stiles’s layers let on. Derek concentrated on the cramped muscles, pressing in and drawing down with his thumbs. If he could get some blood flowing, the arm might unwind. In theory.
For this, it didn’t matter if he could see. This was all touch and intuition. He kneaded gently, trying to coax, and worked his way down toward the elbow. Slow. Purposeful. Time measured in breaths. He tried lifting Stiles’s arm from where it pressed to his heart and it flexed more than before. Encouraged, Derek set his thumb in the soft inner joint and rolled, circled, circled. He held Stiles’s forearm in both hands and swept with even pressure, elbow to wrist. Each stroke, he added a little more pressure, and the cramped muscles began to give.
He felt Stiles come to, felt the shift in his breathing like a wave between them and then the way he held himself pristinely still. Derek had Stiles's wrist in one hand. He waited a moment, giving him time to ask questions or ask him to stop. His pulse quickened. Derek became aware, suddenly, that their bodies pressed together—that Stiles had weight, heat. And that he hadn’t said no. A frisson of energy shot through Derek’s chest and spread. He swallowed hard and concentrated on bringing his attention back. He slid his thumbs up into Stiles's palm and worked around with large, slow, gentle circles. His fingers rubbed at the smooth surface of the back of his hand, and one by one he stretched those long fingers open, gripping each one and tugging so they slid through his hand. When he was done, he nudged a closed fist against Stiles's palm and told him, "Squeeze."
Stiles did, and though it was weaker than it should have been, he had movement. Derek let himself grin and breathe a little in relief. Then he leaned back and urged Stiles to pillow his head to the other side of his chest. The other arm was looser than the first had been, regular blood flow restoring itself on its own. Still. He felt better helping it along, and concentrating on the body beneath his hands meant not having to concentrate on the darkness or being kidnapped or what lay ahead.
Stiles didn't say anything, but perhaps all he needed to say came in the miniscule tremors that shook a little more every time he breathed. It felt like—
"Are you cold?" Derek murmured, keeping his voice low.
Stiles shook his head, rubbing it against Derek's shirt.
He made a few more passes on the right forearm and then moved into the hand massage.
Stiles let out a puff of air, and Derek took it as a good sign.
"Squeeze," he said, resting his fist under the curve of Stiles's fingers.
It felt strong, almost normal, and Derek let out a sigh of his own. The muscles in Stiles's back still shook with phantom cold. Residual fear perhaps? The ghost of terror.
Some nights, he woke up haunted, cold with sweat, and too fragile for the world. On those nights, he could only imagine a kind touch, a warm embrace; sometimes the memory of them helped. Maybe . . .
Stiles leaned forward, moving away. “Um . . . thanks.” He sounded breathless.
Derek dropped his knees to the floor, and Stiles crawled over him. They ended up seated next to one another.
Derek leaned his head back against the hard wall.
"I thought you were having a seizure," he admitted.
Stiles huffed. "It's never been that bad before. Not—not even close. I just . . . the crash and then kidnapped. And then I couldn't see. I thought . . ."
Derek turned to face him in the darkness. "They blinded you."
”Yeah.” The word carried the shudder of shivers. Derek scowled and shifted a little closer. Either Stiles was cold and being an idiot, or he wasn’t cold and an even bigger idiot. He moved again, and their shoulders and arms touched. It was enough to feel the tremors. Stiles leaned. Derek let him. The small tremors slowly diminished, until it was just them, breathing in unison. Stiles smelled like lightly floral shampoo, cinnamon, and . . . safety. The thought made Derek's heart pound a little harder, because he wasn't sure quite when that had happened. It was difficult to tell how time passed with only breaths and heartbeats to go by. Eventually Stiles asked, "Why am I here?"
Derek angled his head toward him. "Is that an existential question?" he rumbled.
Stiles nudged him with an elbow. "No, furball, it's a practical one. You told me they only hunt supernatural things, right? They make magic out of your powers."
"Out of our bodies." It might not sound like a difference to Stiles, but it made a difference to him.
"Right. But I'm just a human. 100% Grade B human. What—why would they want that?"
Truth be told, he'd been too intent on making sure Stiles was okay to question why he'd been there at all. The hekaloi should have left him in the car.
"I don't know," Derek said.
Stiles grunted. "It worries me." He wobbled his knee, bouncing it lightly off Derek’s.
Derek touched his knee to make him stop. "We've been kidnapped and tossed in an earthen pit. You should already be worried."
"I was. Did you miss the panic attack? And now I'm more worried. Thank you." He elbowed Derek lightly in the ribs again and then settled. He left their knees touching. Derek stared hard at the point of contact, invisible, and then looked over to where he should have been able to see a constellation of freckles on pale skin. Search for a telling hint of a smile—a clue.
Derek curled his fingers away.
Stiles was right. There were no scenarios in which being trapped in here with him didn't end badly.
"How are you doing?" Derek asked, after the silence got too heavy.
He felt Stiles shrug. "This day could have gone better."
Derek scowled pointlessly into the black. "I meant from earlier."
And Stiles turned away. "I know what you meant."
Aiden stalked into the office again, and Lydia paused, holding her pen just above the surface of her notebook. Irritation pressed her lips together a little tighter, and she waited. He would come around the side of the desk, put his hand on the back of her chair, and lean over slightly to see what she had written. She knew this, because he’d done it once every fifteen minutes or so.
As his hand went for the back of her chair, she spun suddenly to face him and flung out her hand. “Out!”
He blinked. “What?”
“Get. Out. How am I supposed to concentrate!”
“You’re pacing.” She jabbed her finger toward the door. “Do it somewhere else.”
Aiden frowned and took a step back. “We shouldn’t even be here,” he said as he turned away.
She gave him an unimpressed look. “I come here all the time,” she said absently and turned her attention back to her writing.
“I meant we should be halfway to San Francisco by now!”
Again, she stopped and didn’t look at him. “I know what you meant,” she said quietly.
He rushed back toward the desk, bracing himself against it. “Then why are we still here!”
Slowly, she lifted her head, her perfectly painted face both fierce and deadly calm. “Because I’m not going to let him die.” She stood and leaned across the desk toward Aiden, red lips shining. “Because I will not just find bodies,” she said, slow and distinct, and held his gaze.
Aiden’s eyes flashed red, but he looked away first and pushed away from the desk.
“You don’t know,” he said, as Lydia seated herself again and smoothed her hair.
His tone caught her a little off-guard, and suddenly a sentence about black linen bindings didn’t seem quite as intriguing as it had a second ago. She narrowed her eyes at his back.
“Don’t know what?”
His shoulders rose and fell a few times with heavy breaths. And then he turned around.
“How do you think we ended up omegas?” he asked, a surprising vulnerability in his eyes.
It sounded like a real question instead of an accusation. But . . . “I thought you were alphas.”
“Now. We weren’t always.”
Lydia set her pen down and watched him with interest.
“And we weren’t always omegas either,” Aiden went on. “The hekaloi come, and they ruin everything. Take everyone. I had a family. Parents, grandparents. They don’t care how young or how old. Werewolf, that’s what they care about.”
“They killed your family,” Lydia said, feeling a hollow open behind her breastbone.
Despair passed unguarded across his face, and Lydia felt her blood jump at the rare display.
Aiden turned for the door. “Everyone but Ethan.”
Lydia frowned a little at him as she fit this new piece of information into place. "But . . . shouldn’t that have made you alphas? If you were the last?" That's how it'd worked with the Hales, anyway. Derek's sister certainly didn't kill their mother.
Aiden’s body lifted and fell in a sigh. "We were pack, but we weren't blood."
That, she thought as she stared at him, was a lot of families to lose. “This time will be different,” Lydia told him, but he didn’t react, just walked back out in the apartment to pace out of sight.
She stared after him and whispered to herself, “It'll be different.” Because she was done playing bloodhound for the dead. Done watching corpses through a veil of tears. And very much done playing damsel.
She set her shoulders straighter and scanned the line about the black linen again. Restraining . . .
Binding . . .
She tilted her head and pressed her lips together.
Scott got back into the car and gave Allison a small smile as he set his backpack carefully between his knees.
"Good?" she asked.
"Good. Mom says she kept enough to do a real test on Danny and will send him the results on Thursday." He thought for a moment and then looked at her sadly. "Still feels like we're lying to him, though."
Her eyes were sympathetic. "We are."
"Would it have been better," Scott asked, "if I'd told you sooner? About all this?"
Allison's face grew still with serious contemplation and she gazed out the windshield at the hospital building.
Scott had always wondered if he'd made the right choice. If somehow telling her on their first date would have been a better option, no matter how crazy that might sound.
"I don't think so," she said finally. "When I found out, a lot of things made more sense. The worldmade more sense, not less. You know? Like it was solving a puzzle?" She glanced over at him. "Telling me earlier wouldn't have solved anything."
Scott nodded and buckled his seat belt. "Guess we should head back."
On the way, he got another call from the Sheriff. "We just got finished clearing the wrecks off the road, so I need you to tell me what I can do, because I cannot sit behind a desk right now filling out paperwork."
Scott checked the clock on the car stereo. Almost noon. "We're just heading back to the Argents'. Can you . . . pick up some food and meet us there?" Pick up some food? God he was the worst leader ever.
Sheriff Stilinski sighed. "You want me to—Scott, I should be putting together a search party, and you want me to swing by McDonald's?"
Scott scrubbed a hand down his face. "We're pretty sure we know where they are. We just don't know how to find it yet. Mr. Argent is working on it. I'm sorry, but if you want to help us, this is all I've got."
He could practically feel Stiles's dad counting to ten in his head, and he could definitely hear his heart rate calming down.
"Burgers or pizza?" John asked, sounding defeated.
Scott shot Allison a questioning look. "Do you want burgers or pizza for lunch?" he whispered.
She gave him a queer smile and mouthed pizza.
Back into the phone Scott said, "Uh, pizza? Their address is—"
"Scott. I'm the police. If I didn't know it, I could get it."
And then he hung up.
Scott sighed so deeply it touched the ache of worry inside and he spent the rest of the ride staring out the window in silence.
Isaac followed Chris back into the apartment still cradling his arm to his chest. He wasn't a step into the living room before—
"Oh my God." Allison.
They fluttered to his side, all wide troubled eyes and soft tones.
"What's all over your hands?" Allison said, urging him toward the kitchen sink.
Scott's face scrunched. "It smells like blood, but worse."
He eased his busted arm open enough to get it under the running water and then let himself be ushered to the couch.
"What happened?" Scott asked and looked up at Allison's dad who unpacked some bags on the dining room table.
Isaac winced when he took a breath to speak. "One of them found us."
Allison slid a hand around the back of his neck and squeezed lightly, then looked over her shoulder at her father. "Dad!" Her voice was heavy with accusation.
"I'd be dead if he hadn't been there," Isaac told her and exchanged a look with Chris.
Scott very carefully touched his fingers to the bruise on Isaac's cheek, still blue and ugly. At the time, Isaac hadn't thought anything had been broken, but he might have been wrong given the swelling. Scott moved his fingers delicately, like a caress, assessing, and Isaac couldn't help but shiver. Scott moved his thumb over the worst part, and Isaac gasped.
Whispered sorrys fell from Scott lips.
The sudden breath broke a shower of pain in Isaac's lungs, and Scott cocked his head at the sound of wet rattling.
"I think my chest is worse," Isaac told him.
Scott's eyes went wide, and in one motion he swept his hand up and under Isaac's shirt, pulling it up to reveal a starburst of blue, green, and purple bruising. The jostling moved Isaac’s broken arm, and a small pained cry escaped him before he could stop it. Scott froze and seemed to notice for the first time the way Isaac cradled his forearm, fingers curled protectively to his chest.
“Your arm too?” he asked, sounding so worried.
Isaac swallowed down his guilt and nodded. “Broken.”
Scott pressed his eyes shut for a second and then with light gentleness touched his palm to the center of Isaac’s chest and let the shirt fall back down. He took the wrist of the broken arm in his other hand. A look of concentration chased the concern from Scott's face, and all of a sudden cool clear relief washed through Isaac's body. It tickled the top of his head and brushed the soles of his feet. He arched with a gasp. The pain from his crushed bones vanished, flowing in thick black threads into Scott instead.
"Better?" Scott asked.
Isaac stared at him, unsure what words could quite capture the sense of being lifted and held. Of feeling safe enough to relax. To let go and enjoy a small respite from pain and worry. He stared, wondering how long something like this could possibly last. How long before Scott would refuse to take the pains away. How long before he’d replace them with new ones of his own.
But here. Now. Nameless emotion tightened in his throat and then burst, leaving tears in the corners of his eyes.
Scott looked stricken. "What, does it still hurt?"
Isaac sucked in a breath and struggled to pull the tears back, battling the urge to laugh or sob.
“Isaac?” Scott uttered his name low and urgent.
He blinked, getting himself under control, and swallowed down the feeling. Gratitude, he thought. “Better," he rasped. He let his head fall back against the cushions and closed his eyes.
Allison traced cool fingertips across his forehead. “How long can you do that?” she asked Scott.
“Awhile,” was the reply. “But he needs to eat something.”
Her fingers traced a line down his cheek that made him shiver, and then the couch bounced as she got up.
Isaac cracked his eyes open. “You know you don’t have to do this.”
Scott gave him a slight shrug and small, fond grin. “I want to.”
“I won’t heal faster.”
For some reason that brought a sad smile to Scott’s face. “I know.” He rubbed his thumb over Isaac's pulse and didn't look bothered when he must have felt it jump.
They both looked over as Allison returned with a sandwich on a small plate.
Scott laughed softly. “Peanut butter and jelly?”
Isaac pouted at him. “I like peanut butter and jelly.”
Scott gave them both a dopey grin and a slight shake of the head. “Okay, but he’s gonna need more protein than that.”
Allison made a face and started to get up, but both wolves turned suddenly toward the door making her halt. “What?”
Isaac sniffed, slowly grinning. “Pizza.”
“Stiles’s dad is here.”
The smell of food brought Aiden and Lydia out from the office, and for a few minutes the pack was silent, eating quickly as time and worry drew their patience thin.
“Tell me everything,” the Sheriff said, leaning against the wall near the kitchen. He looked at Scott, but Lydia cleared her throat.
“They’re Ancient Egyptian from the time of Ptolemy, which also makes them a bit Ancient Greek. Thus ‘heka,’ Coptic for spells and ‘loi’ a Greek plural suffix. They collect the flesh of supernatural creatures and use it to make potions. Or . . . to do grafts.”
The wolves all turned to her looking distinctly disgusted.
"They . . . do what?" Isaac said, setting his pizza down.
"Grafts," Lydia replied with clinical detachment. "Like skin grafts for burn victims, only it's for everything. That lavender you keep smelling? It's the ointment that keeps it all from”—she twirled her hand in the air—“falling off."
John made a face and nodded at her.
“And these things look like . . .”
Scott swallowed his food. “That’s one of the problems. They have a glamor. It’s like Ms. Blake making herself look pretty, except it’s more than that. It’s like a whole fake body that’s not even really them.”
Lydia sucked in a sharp breath. “That’s what the medallion’s for.” She gave Scott a wide-eyed looked. “It kept saying ‘front body,’ which didn’t make any sense. I thought I must have had it wrong, except I don’t get things like that wrong. So, that must be what it means.”
Allison looked at her. “That the glamor is caused by a medallion.”
“Yes. Destroy the medallion”—Lydia snapped her fingers—“break the spell.”
Scott narrowed his eyes. “Okay . . . but how do we destroy it if it’s behind the glamor that we can’t break through?”
Lydia opened her mouth to reply, then snapped her jaw shut.
Scott looked to the two adults in the room, and then both shrugged. His shoulders sagged. He thought for a second and then got up, taking out his phone.
The Sheriff watched him and then turned back to Lydia. “Anything else?”
She pursed her lips. “They look like black mummies? I mean—mummies in black bandages. Also, they probably won’t kill them until midnight.”
Allison straightened. “Why midnight?”
Isaac gazed down at his plate when he answered. “Because that’s when the full moon will be at its highest.” He look at her. “When Derek will be strongest,” he said quietly.
Allison gave him a long look and then glanced at Lydia. “Is that all?”
She shrugged. “So far.”
Scott came back in the room and slipped into his seat. “Deaton says he didn’t know about the medallion but he may have an idea of something he can try.”
“That’s kinda vague, isn’t it?” The Sheriff said.
Scott shrugged and huffed. “Actually, for him that’s pretty specific.”
Chris finished plugging together one of the radio-pedal setups and shot Scott a worried look. “Tell him to hurry. We’re not going to want to wait until exactly midnight to get them out of there.”
Scott pulled out his phone again and typed out a message.
“Out of . . . where, exactly?” John peered at the audio equipment with confused interest.
Chris ran through an explanation of the agora skotadi, showing John the vial of blood they had to gain entry and the equipment they were going to use to narrow down its location.
“So we find it, we go in and do some recon—” John started to say, but Chris smiled, shaking his head.
“Oh, no. You”—he laughed—“you can’t go in.”
The Sheriff drew himself up and pushed off the wall. “And why the hell not? If you think I can’t handle—”
“I think”—Chris raised his hands in a placating gesture—“that you’re not . . . dark enough for the part.”
John’s look hardened.
“You’re too much of a cop,” Scott offered, and it came out sounding fond. John turned to look at him. “Seriously. No one would believe it.”
The Sheriff sagged and rubbed at his forehead. “I can’t do nothing, Scott.”
“You won’t. I promise.”
Chris lifted the two sets of detectors. “But right now, we don’t even know where we’re going. So . . .” He looked around the table expectantly.
Chris took Isaac, again, over Scott's pouting and insistence that he shouldn't be put in any more danger. He'd only backed down because Isaac had leaned into his ear and told him that it was okay, that he wanted to go. Scott had listened for a lie and not found one. He couldn't afford another hole in chest, another ache that resonated with the absence of someone he cared about. Two was enough. Two was plenty, even if Derek didn't know that he was being counted. But he couldn't strip Isaac of the right to choose, either.
And he'd heal. In a couple of hours, the bruises and fractures would be gone. Scott knew it, and still the instinct to hover and shelter itched in his blood.
Isaac could put on a good front. He'd had a lifetime of putting on fronts. But sometimes, when Scott said the right thing or touched with an open palm, he saw the boy beneath. They'd hold it between them like a secret. And it would last until the sharp edges of the world intruded, and Isaac's heart would close like a snapping locket, and Scott would have search again for the key. Sometimes Allison joined him, and they searched together.
Since Isaac was riding with Chris, Scott, of course, went with Allison.
He plugged the output from the bandpass filter pedal into the aux in on the car stereo, then turned the small FM radio connected to the pedal on. Allison's dad had set the pedal to full gain, so what they needed now was the right channel on the radio. Scott turned up the car stereo and started cycling up the radio stations on the hand held set. He concentrated, listening for something regular and buzzing in the empty static or beneath the sound of voices. The music stations were the hardest, and sometimes they spent several minutes just waiting for a song to end so he could listen to a moment of dead air, just to be sure.
They were running out of stations, and Scott started to shake his head, wondering if he'd been listening for the wrong thing or set up the equipment wrong.
Nothing through the 105s.
He moved the needle toward 106.5, and a Sacramento station, KBZC, started playing Imagine Dragons. Scott's attention drifted for a second, and he started singing quietly along.
"Scott," Allison said, trying not to smile.
He looked over at her, still singing, and lifted his eyebrows in question.
She laughed a little despite herself. "You're supposed to be—"
"Oh! Right. I got a little—"
He smiled down at the radio. "I love this song." They had danced to it once. They'd made love to it once. But he wasn't sure if she'd remember that.
Allison gave him a small, cheeky smile. "It's a good song." Her inflection told him that she did, and it made his face heat a little. "But . . ."
This was a time to be serious, and Scott shoved his smile away, stopped singing along, and just listened. During a part of the bridge, a part of the song he knew well, he heard something different. Something like a chord where there shouldn't have been. His eyes popped open, and he turned the volume up higher.
"Scott?" Allison asked, sounding excited.
He held a finger to his lips and closed his eyes again.
Something in the tone wavered, like it wasn't quite perfect, making the chord he'd heard appear and vanish until the song ended. But then, in the gap of silence, it played on.
"I got it," he said. "I got it!"
Allison tapped on her phone. "Isaac, channel 106.5."
They were all still sitting in the parking lot of the apartment building in their separate cars.
"Can you hear it?" Scott asked. Allison didn't bother to turn on speakerphone.
"Hold on," Isaac said, then a few seconds later, "It changes a little."
"Yeah, I heard that, too."
"All right, let's go," Scott heard Chris say. Across the lot, his SUV backed out of its space.
The plan, crude as it was, was to start at opposite corners of town and work their way toward the center. The signal should get louder the closer they got. Allison and Scott headed for Industry Bridge, to start at the south western edge of town, while Chris and Isaac headed up toward Commerce and Falls St. in the north east.
The Argents had more than just a bestiary in their collection, and Lydia might have fallen just a little bit in love. Her ancient Greek was nowhere near as good as her archaic Latin, but it was passable for rough translations. No one was asking for poetry. They had transcribed diaries from hunters dating back millennia, whole compendiums of alternative histories and folklore than stayed, as it were, within the family. These must have been the source of the agora skotadi name for the hekaloi's bazaar. Highly unoriginal, if you asked her.
Lydia scanned down the page for keywords like φονεύω, to kill, or βλάπτω, to hurt. The hunters didn't seem any more interested in things like that back then than they did now. But if she wanted a recommendation on a strength enhancing potion or something to sap a werewolf's endurance, well, there was that in detail. Had seriously no one in the history of ever tried to stop one of these things?
She sighed and stared at the wall in thought. Her vision lost focus, and something tugged at the back of her mind. Like a memory. Like a dream.
It started with a crackling and made her think of chill weather and sitting by the fireplace.
Then, lightly, the smell of smoke.
Something hot touched her hand, and she flinched with a shriek, blinked—
Flames roared up the bookcases, red and liquid. Heat blasted back toward Lydia's face, stinging her eyes. And when she took a breath, the ash made her choke. It tasted thick and bitter, and she dropped to the floor to try to get a clear gulp of air as the fire spread, shelf to shelf. It splashed up toward the ceiling, charring the paint black. Her eyes watered from the heat, and she started to crawl out from behind the desk, aiming for the door. She heaved a breath and coughed painfully, but kept moving, arm over arm, scrabbling.
But her voice wouldn't work, so she scurried out into the hallway just hoping he would follow.
She emerged, shaking, into clean, cool air and pressed herself up against the far wall. Her mascara ran in black lines down her cheeks, and she heaved, trembling, as she stared back into the office.
"Lydia?" Aiden crouched at her side and touched her shoulder cautiously.
She whipped her head over to stare at him, blinking out a few tears, and lifted a hand to point back into the room.
Sheriff Stilinski appeared over both of them wearing his professionally concerned expression. "What's wrong, what's going on?"
Aiden shrugged up at him. "I don't know, she just—"
"Fire," Lydia said, her lip quivering until she made a conscious effort to stop it.
The Sheriff darted into the room but came back a second later, frowning.
"What?" she looked up at him, and his frown took on a cast of apology.
"Lydia, there's no fire."
"No, b-but I saw it. The bookcases. The ceiling!" She wiped at her tears, smudging her makeup further, and sniffed as she pulled herself together. "I saw it."
The Sheriff and Aiden exchanged a look, and Aiden stood to help her to her feet.
"Okay," John said gently. "But . . ." He motioned toward the office, inviting her to look for herself.
She dropped Aiden's hand and forced herself to walk back in on her own. Fear flexed its heavy muscles, but she was a survivor, and not as easily cowed as she once had been. She stood in the middle of the room and made a slow sweep all the way around, pressing her lips together hard to keep them from shaking. The books were pristine. The ceiling untouched. And the air as cool and clean as it should have been. Lydia's fine brows knit together in a frown. She had felt the heat, the way it dried her skin. Ash and smoke had burned her throat.
The Sheriff stepped closer. "Was it maybe, you know, your thing?" he asked, trying to be sympathetic.
Lydia turned slowly and arched an eyebrow. "My thing?"
John deadpanned. "Yes, your thing. Stiles told me you have, you know, an ability. Was it that?"
Her gaze traveled to the nearest bookcase. "I don't know."
"Well how does it work?"
"I don't know!" she said louder and wheeled on him. "I was in here, trying to find out how to kill one . . ." She motioned at the room helplessly.
John's eyes narrowed. "So . . . you wanted to see how one died."
"Yes! I—" Lydia stopped and stared at him then flicked her gaze over to Aiden. "Fire," she said. Then she hurried back behind the desk to make notes. "It makes sense. They were sorcerers, witches. How do you kill a witch? Fire. How do you make sure someone is really dead and not coming back? Also fire." She thought for a second and then flipped a few pages in one of the diaries.
"What does that look mean?" the Sheriff asked coming to stand on the other side of the desk.
Still frowning, Lydia looked up at him. "I think it's the bandages."
His eyebrows lifted in reply.
"It holds them together, right? But bandages don't just keep something in. They keep the rest of the world out."
He nodded at that. "So, the fire destroys the bandages, makes them vulnerable."
Lydia shrugged one shoulder. "That's my working theory."
John grimaced. "I'd rather not bet my son's life on a theory."
She didn't have a reply to that and sank onto the office chair quietly.
"Better than nothing," Aiden said. He circled around the desk and put a hand on Lydia's shoulder.
She blinked up at him and then flipped her notebook to a blank page and tore it out. "I need you to go to the school and get some supplies," she said, and started listing out the makings of the molotov cocktails. She held the list up toward Aiden, but the Sheriff snatched it out of her fingers. He frowned down at it.
"And what is this for?"
Lydia shrugged with nonchalance. "Self-igniting molotov cocktail."
"Fire bombs?" John managed to look appalled. "You expect me to let teenagers assemble fire bombs with stolen property?"
Lydia stood up slowly, gripped the list between two manicured fingers, and slid it out of his grasp. "Actually, I was expecting you to help."
Aiden took the list and got out his phone. "Ethan's already there. I'll have him grab what we need."