Author's Note: You may have noticed that the word count in this chapter is a little longer than the other chapters, and maybe you've guessed why. This is the ending, folks. I will have a huge and emotional Author's Note at the end of this chapter to really sum this up, but for now, I hope with all my heart that you enjoy the final chapter of this story as much as I loved writing it. Also, if any of you would like to know the incredibly emotional and powerful song I used to write these final words, it's called Switzerland by Daughter.

Allison had dropped Lydia off at the school after their little girls' hang out - which Lydia had found extremely refreshing and therapeutic - with only a few minutes to spare before students were to come piling out of the building.

She had no idea what she was doing if she was being truthful to herself. She didn't know what she would say to Stiles, only that she would help him today - before the awful darkness inside of him swallowed him whole. And she wouldn't let him do that "I have to go" bullshit before he turned his back on her and ran away like nothing was wrong.

Not today.

And she had felt quite confident in those few minutes that she stood outside the school with her arms crossed, staring at the doors with unbreakable determination. But when the bell rang and she waited for the familiar duo to make their way out the doors, her heart sank when her eyes were greeted with only one boy. The wrong one.

When Scott made his way down the front steps, Lydia blocked his way before he could step into the parking lot. His nose was buried in his phone, and he bumped right into her.

"What the-" he began, looking up from his phone and stumbling back, his backpack sliding down his arm. "Lydia."

"Scott," she said dismissively, standing on her tippy toes to look over Scott's shoulder as if Stiles would materialize behind him. She looked back to Scott and splayed out her hands, raising her eyebrows at the werewolf. "Where's Stiles?"

"He uh," Scott began, hiking his bag back on to his shoulder and shoving his phone in his pocket. "He got called out of class."

"Why?" Lydia asked.

"If it was serious, he would've told me," Scott said, but Lydia wasn't so sure about that. Stiles didn't seem like he would want to talk to anybody right now even if he knew he was staring into the face of death.

"Well, do you know where he's going at least?" Lydia asked, impatience drawing a thin disguise over the worry in her voice.

"Like I said..." Scott trailed off, shrugging.

Lydia nodded her head slowly, looking around as if she still had some hope that Stiles would appear. She ran a hand through her hair. "Okay, well...thanks."

"Yeah, sure," Scott said kindly. Lydia turned to leave, but Scott grabbed her arm.

"Lydia, you know he'll be okay, right?" Scott said.

He was trying to reassure her, and yet the look in his eyes suggested that he was the one who wanted reassurance. Lydia wasn't sure if she could give him that just yet, as much as she wanted to believe otherwise.

But a hopeful lie was a lot better than the truth at this point.

She gave him a tight-lipped smile and a small nod. "Yeah. He'll be fine."

She arrived home just as the sun sank beneath the horizon. She was occupying herself with looking everywhere that Stiles might be, and then going on pointless errands to keep her mind off of calling him again.

She lost count of how many times she'd called Stiles since her encounter with Scott after school. And the more she called him, the more she felt like a clingy and overprotective mother.

Stiles could take care of himself. Or, at least, that was what she was supposed to think, but Allison's words at the coffee shop had said otherwise, and Lydia had to act on the small chance that there was a part of Stiles that really couldn't take care of himself. The self-destructive part of him - the part that was slowly taking over him.

And she wanted to slap herself in the face because she was so done with trying to justify her protectiveness toward Stiles, even to herself, and it was time for that stupid, shallow and analytical part of her brain to just shut up and realize that. Lydia Martin, who'd always trusted her brain rather than her gut - with the harshest collateral damage imaginable - was going to let her heart decide for once.

After her short encounter with Scott, she had entered her home with her phone still in hand. The device had almost become an extra appendage on her, and soon she didn't even realize she was still holding it.

Unbelievably, her mom had already started nagging on her before she even slid her shoes off.

"Lydia? Is that you?" her mother called when Lydia shut the door behind her.

"Yes, mom," Lydia deadpanned. Who the hell else would it be?

"Listen, honey, I need you to go back out and get some milk," her mom continued. "It's been a long day, and I've already poured my wine."

Lydia gave an irritated sigh. "Do we really need milk right now, mom? I was considering going on a dairy-free diet anyways."

"Lydia," her mom warned. They were still having their conversation by yelling across the house, but it wasn't hard to imagine her mom laying her feet up on her ottoman with her glass of wine and watching her cheesy soap opera.

"Fine," Lydia sighed, turning around on her heel dramatically and opening the door once more.

She stood in her drive way, hand on the door handle of her car. She spared a moment to glance at her phone once more, even though the volume was full blast and if Stiles tried to call or text, there was no possible way that she could miss it.

She leaned her forehead against her car window, her breath fogging up the glass.

The only comfort she had right now was that the Sheriff was nowhere to be found either. Meaning, there was a great possibility that he was with his son, and if something happened to them, at least they were together.

But that was stupid. Nothing happened to them. And she knew that she should be coming up with rational possibilities of where they could be right now, but instead, her judgment was absolutely clouded by the gruesome, the terrifying and the supernatural.

She couldn't cut an apple anymore for god's sake.

She closed her eyes for a moment, calming herself before stepping into her car and driving off.

Lydia was in such a state of undoing that she didn't even realize her car was blasting some awful metal music in her ears, and when she finally changed the station, she was sure she was partially deaf. She tried to concentrate on getting to the convenience store, picking up a bag of milk and driving straight back home to continue staring at the glowing screen of her mobile.

But then came along the squirrel.

It was the biggest squirrel she'd ever seen, so it managed to grab her attention when it ran right in front of her car and caused her to swerve to the side of the road in order to not be the cause of death of another living thing ever again.

Lydia had pulled over to the side of the road, right in front of a playground fit with a tennis court. She put her head on the steering wheel and laughed at herself for a few moments before leaning back and taking a deep breath, staring out the driver's side window.

She noticed the tennis court was lit up, florescent lights shining down on someone moving around in the court. It was about 300 meters away, passed the park. She squinted, and perhaps she was being delusional, but she figured she'd spent enough time with Stiles Stilinski to recognize his silhouette. That must have been him.

"Stiles," she breathed, pushing her car door open and stepping onto shaking limbs. She fast-walked through the playground rather ungracefully, staring at the tennis court ahead. The closer she got, the surer she became that it was, indeed, Stiles who was hitting balls around aggressively.

"Stiles!" she called, unlocking the gate. He hit one more ball with his tennis racket, and it flew across the net and hit the other side of the court's fence. He turned to face her, and she saw the sweat shining on his face in the light of the court.

"Lydia?" he asked, his breathing labored.

"What are you doing?" she asked, and Stiles gave a short laugh.

"Jesus, I'm starting to think you put a tracking device in my shoe when I wasn't looking," Stiles commented, turning back to pick up one of the many balls scattered around the court.

"Stiles," Lydia said solemnly. She moved toward him as he walked back to his spot with the ball. "Why are you here?"

Stiles froze in his steps and held out the racket and the ball. "I'm playing tennis."

Lydia stepped forward cautiously, and spoke with a furtiveness she wished she could hide. "No, you're not."

Stiles rolled his eyes and turned around to hit another ball, hard and angry. "Lydia, what do you want?"

Her mouth fell open slightly, and she couldn't prevent the wrinkle in her brow at his words. She spoke quietly. "I've been looking for you all day."

"Well, you found me," Stiles said flippantly, still not looking at her.

Okay. Lydia still wasn't sure what Scott meant by Stiles becoming 'bad' in hard situations, but the boy she was looking at right now was not who she knew Stiles to be. She let her brain go through the motions of deciding how to act toward him right now, but she came up empty-handed. She didn't know what was happening to him right now, but there was a feeling in her stomach that told her it was the few moments before the climax of something hideous.

When she spoke, her voice came out harder this time. "Why were you called out of class today?"

Stiles let the racket fall to his side and he rolled his neck before turning around to face her. She looked at him closely now, and the shadows under his eyes were so deep and so intense, it looked as if he'd been victim to a bad makeup artist. She hoped maybe that the madness and delirium weighing down on his face was only being intensified by the light of the tennis court and the sweat on his body.

"My dad decided it was time to pick me up some drugs," Stiles replied.

"Sleeping pills?" Lydia asked.

Stiles made his fingers look like a gun and pointed it at her, like a game show host would do to a contestant when they got the answer right. He turned on his heel and hit yet another ball, and Lydia found herself flinching at the harsh sound of racket hitting rubber.

"You shouldn't be doing this right now, Stiles. You're exhausting yourself," Lydia said, moving forward a little more. She found she had her hands held out in a placating manner, like she was approaching a wild animal.

Stiles sighed and put his head down for a moment before looking back up to stare at the ball in his hand. "That's the point, Lydia."

"You know that's not how it works," Lydia continued. "You're not going to fall asleep, Stiles, you're going to end up in the hospital."

He wasn't listening to her, though, and she had a feeling that he wasn't just trying to make himself tired by hitting all these balls. He was doing it to relieve his anger.

She also knew that it probably wasn't working.

"Stiles, would you just listen to me for a second?" she said, louder this time. She stepped in front of him, right into his line of sight.

He closed his eyes and sighed, stepping back. "Could you just...just leave me alone? Please?"

Lydia sucked in her bottom lip and shook her head sadly. "You know I can't do that."

She was breaking through the anger and defeat that was plaguing him right now, bringing down his final walls until maybe...maybe he would finally open up.

"You can't be around me right now," Stiles warned.

"Don't give me that, Stiles," Lydia said, stepping closer to him until her breath was brushing his face. "Don't."

"I don't know what you're trying to do-"

"You know exactly what I'm trying to do. You know me, Stiles - you've always said so. So don't act like you think your mental health is just another inconsequential thing to me. You can't do that to me."

Stiles looked scared now, his eyes looking less vacant and angry.

He shook his head slowly, only managing to speak in a whisper. "I can fix this."

"No, you can't," Lydia said simply, grabbing his wrists. She looked him dead in the eye, silently pleading with him. She shook her head, insistent. "You can't."

His eyes were flicking back and forth between hers, and she watched his face slowly twisting into something pained and worn and hard to look at so close. "I can try."

"But you don't have to," she said softly, reaching up to stroke his cheekbone with her thumb.

That was it. Lydia watched, almost mesmerized as Stiles closed his eyes against her touch and a tear fell, sliding over her thumb. She silently wondered if that was the first time he'd let himself cry since they'd gotten themselves into this mess, or if it was only the first time she'd actually seen it.

But something told her that even in the confines of his bedroom, Stiles kept himself sealed, like the walls themselves would judge him.

"Come on," Lydia said quietly, pulling at Stiles wrist, and he let himself collapse to the ground with her.

She kept him close, looking at his profile. She would be patient with him now, and she waited as he stared off ahead of him, more tears forming in his eyes. She felt as if she couldn't get close enough, like something was widening between them and she was still running to keep him in sight. But she tried her best, holding him, keeping one hand around his abdomen to steady him and another on the back of his head to comfort him.

For a moment, it was hard to remember that he was so much taller than her - that sometimes he could look so big in her eyes that he blocked out everything else around them. But now, he was small, and soon they would be equals again but for now she would keep herself wrapped around him, whispering soothing words into his ear.

Lydia kissed his temple and moved to hug him now, and he buried his face in her shoulder, and let out a sob. She held him tight, letting him cry.

She squeezed her eyes shut, fighting against the painful lump in her throat as he wrapped his hand into the material of her shirt, holding her like she was the only thing left for him, and she thought that that action in itself would add another burden to her back.

But instead, she had to smile, because for so long he had been pushing her away and it was the most heart-warming feeling in the world to have him let her in.

He pulled back a little bit, letting his forehead rest on her shoulder instead. His breath came in shutters.

"I miss my mom," he whispered.

The words, and the way he said them like something shattered inside him, sent goose bumps along her arms. She pushed him back gently to look at him, but he was looking at his knees, his forehead furrowed in pain.

She waited for him to look up at her, and when he did, she nodded. She wouldn't tell him that she knows because that wasn't what he wanted to hear. But she gave him the reassurance that he could go on, that she accepted him and she understood.

"And I'm..." he whispered again, trying to swallow."I'm tired."

He took a deep, trembling breath. His mouth was being pulled down at the corners, keeping him from crying. "I'm so tired."

She moved to his side and pulled him in again, rubbing circles on his back and pressing her ear to his shoulder.

"Where do you want to go?" Lydia whispered after a while.

"Home," Stiles replied, his voice not entirely whole again.

"I can take you back there," Lydia said.

She felt Stiles tense a little at that, and she looked up at him. He was looking down at her face with wide eyes. "Stay with me. Please."

Lydia pushed a hand through his hair and gave him a smile that sprang tears to her eyes. "Okay."

She had taken him home. The Sheriff had been prepared with questions and concerns, asking what was wrong and what had happened and where Stiles had gone but Lydia told him she would explain. And she would. But the Sheriff needed to understand that right now, she needed to be with Stiles if he was ever going to be alright again.

And, eventually, the Sheriff had nodded, his eyes worn and worried as he looked at his son. Lydia gave him a reassuring smile and she walked with Stiles up the stairs to his room.

"It's okay, just sit down," Lydia said softly, shutting the door behind them.

And Stiles did, walking to his bed looking more like a zombie by the second. His body was swaying slightly as he sat on his bed. Lydia did the same.

She sat beside him, and bit her lip in concern, wrapping her arm around his back.

"You okay?" she asked quietly. She knew the answer was no, of course, but Stiles understood. He was fine, for now.

He nodded, and Lydia's heart lurched when his blinking became heavier. He was going to sleep now, she knew it.

He must have known it too, because he squeezed her knee before lying down on his bed and she followed, curling up next to him. They didn't need the covers, they didn't need pajamas, they didn't need anything but each other right now, and that was fine by her.

"Lydia," Stiles said after a while, half-conscious.


"Will you come visit my mom with me tomorrow?"

Lydia felt like her heart had been lit on fire. Her eyes searched the back of his head before she gave a watery laugh and a tear slid from her eye and onto the pillow beneath her.

"Yeah, Stiles," she answered. "Of course."

It had started with a dark figure looming in her bedroom, and it ended with her killing it. That was what any bystander could say about the last two weeks or so that would surely be the most traumatizing days of Lydia's life.

But, in truth and in depth, it was so much more than that. The dark figure she'd seen and dreamt about wasn't just the Darach - it was a nightmare that she had gradually passed on to Stiles. A nightmare that she and him had lived through and conquered together, but that would still linger in their minds and keep them as casualties.

They could be boyfriend-girlfriend. They could have sex. They could get married for god's sake because Lydia knew that whatever society deemed them to be, it wouldn't change the fact that Lydia had fought off monsters - real and figment alike - with this boy. It wouldn't change the fact that fate had sent them a squirrel to run across the road, just so they could find each other again.

And a realization came to Lydia when Stiles fell asleep beside her with the lights still on and his shoes still on his feet. After what seemed like a century of wondering and questioning what they were and how they felt, Lydia knew now that what they had really wasn't as complex as they made it out to be.

It was love, but it was a love that they'd labeled with their own definition. That they were each others' shelter. That they would keep each other as safe and stable as they could and hang on as close as their bodies allowed. That they brought out the best and worst of each other and accepted it all the same.

So, yes, they were casualties. They were horribly damaged and disturbed casualties.

But for once, that was okay. At least they would be casualties together.

Author's Note: There are no words to describe what it's like ending a story this long. This came to a grand total of 103 Microsoft word pages (the longest thing I've ever written) and I must have rewritten and reviewed these last few paragraphs a hundred thousand times, so if you really didn't like it, just know that there was no lack of effort and care put into it. Though I really hope you did like it, because your satisfaction means the world to me after everything you've said to me down there in that little Reviews box. My gratitude is endless. I know there is such thing as disappointment out there, but trust me when I say that this was most definitely the right place to end this story. I know it.

So thank you all so much, for everything, and if you'd ever like to chat about anything (or to let me know what you thought of the final chapter), just hit me up in the Reviews or PM box. I will have so much more Stydia for you soon enough, so don't say goodbye to me just yet! I love you all.

- Alex