Warnings: Explicit Sexuality; Graphic Fantasy Violence; Coarse Language.

Setting: Sequel to Close Enough. Read that first or you'll be confused. Takes place senior year. The pack is down to Derek, Isaac, Scott, Stiles, Allison, and Peter. At the beginning of this fic, Lydia is more pack adjacent. Jackson never came back from London.

This version of the story is censored due to the content rules on this site. The uncensored version is available on AO3.


A Step Too Far

It started with blood.

Well, more precisely, it started with Lydia coming home from an all day shopping trip with Allison to find Derek Hale lying on her bedroom floor. But Derek was lying face down in a pool of blood, and the blood was what made Lydia gasp and drop her bags and dash to his side, so it was the blood that was the real beginning.

Hands shaking, she took two deep breaths, then leaned over to reach for Derek's wrist. Before she could find a pulse, he twitched under her hands, muscles spasming and a weak growl coming out of his throat.

Lydia knelt in the bloody pool and put her hand on the back of Derek's neck, shushing him. "It's me. It's me. It's Lydia," she told him soothingly, drawing her thumb down the wispy hairs on his nape. Blood soaked through her leggings, tacky against her knees, but she shoved away her revulsion, focusing instead on drawing Derek closer, on turning him over to rest his head in her lap.

The river of blood rippled and broke, like tomato soup with a skin on top, and Lydia knew she would never eat tomato soup again. But then Derek was groaning, and she had him on his back, and she could see the wounds tearing tracks up his arms, the slashes of a knife that had painted a grisly picture on his chest.

He was shirtless, caked in red, his jeans blackened with the stuff still leaking from his veins. Where it had dried on his skin he was the color of rust – and it looked like rust, cracking and flaking, and Lydia could almost pretend that he was made of metal, that this wasn't torn flesh and exposed bone, but merely an advanced robotic automaton that had malfunctioned.

But Derek wasn't a robot. He was hers, for good or ill, and she would heal him and help him find whoever, whatever, had done this, and then she would tear them into little bite-sized pieces and feed them to a swarm of flies. She was Lydia Martin, and no one interfered with her and hers. Not again.

Never again.

Lydia held Derek gently, humming nonsense because she sure as hell didn't know any lullabies, stroking his hair back from his face. She kept her eyes on his wounds, expecting them to scab over, expecting the flesh to knit and the blood to stop and Derek's breathing to get better.

But it didn't.

When half an hour had passed (or maybe it was less, she couldn't be sure), she knew something was wrong.

"Derek," she said, bending close to his ear. She spoke softly, mindful of werewolf hearing. When he didn't stir, she said his name again. And then again, louder and louder, until her voice was strident, forceful, a pitch that should have had him clapping his hands to his face in protest.

He laid still, blood dripping sluggishly from his arms.

Lydia could feel a scream building in her chest. Panic pulling at her gut, fluttering in her lungs. She allowed it for a few seconds, felt herself get dizzy, felt the room squeeze in and everything get too bright…

And then she forced it back and down, because she was Lydia Martin. She recited complicated mathematical equations, the kind that had always soothed her, drawing on the strength and order of numbers. The numbers never changed unless she willed them to. She was in charge of the numbers, of the world, of the universe, because numbers were the building blocks. She could do this.

She could do this.

Lydia slid a hand beneath Derek's head and squeezed his neck. Then she made her voice as commanding as she ever had, and imagined her eyes were flashing red. She might never be a wolf, but she had survived the Bite, and she had made an alpha submit. She was dominant, and Derek would listen, even if she was calling him back from the grave.

It wasn't as if she hadn't raised the dead before.

"Derek," she said, strong and clear, a queen calling on a knight, a goddess to a mortal.

An alpha to her mate.

Derek opened his eyes, a whine parting his lips. "Lydia…"

Lydia looked down at his face, locking her gaze with his like she could keep him awake through sheer force of will, so long as she didn't blink. "You're not healing. Why?"

"Imp," Derek croaked. "Silver. Wolfsbane. Scott – Scott…"

"Ssshh," Lydia placed a finger on his lips. He couldn't afford to get worked up, for his heart to start pumping any faster.

She gently lifted Derek's head out of her lap, laying him back down in the pool of congealing blood. Then she leaned over him, inspecting the lines of bright red on his body where his wounds were still open. Now that she was looking more closely, she could see grit trapped inside the ruined flesh. Putting her face close to one of the gashes on the inside of Derek's elbow, she inhaled, thinking that maybe she'd smell wolfsbane.

But all she smelled was blood. It was heavy in the hair, coating her tongue, filling her lungs, a fine red mist that she might drown in.

She shook herself and rose to her feet, not noticing that the ends of her hair dripped, that her legs and arms were streaked, that she looked like an extra from a horror movie. All that mattered was finding a way to help Derek.

She fished a black lacquered chopstick – the sort used as hair decoration – from a drawer in her vanity, and then she was back by Derek. She had more scientific equipment in the rooms she had converted into an office and laboratory, but she didn't want to take the time to retrieve them.

Didn't want to leave Derek alone.

Refusing to flinch, she inserted the chopstick into one of Derek's lacerations and dragged it along the inside of the sundered muscle, ignoring Derek's grunts of pain and the tears leaving tracks on his face. Happy with sample of grit on the end of the chopstick, she returned to her vanity table. The flowers Isaac had brought her just a week and a half ago for Christmas were sitting by the mirror. Lydia plucked the wilting bouquet out of the vase and tossed it in the general direction of the door, then stuck the chopstick in the water, dissolving the grit.

Lifting the vase, she held it up to the light and shook it, observing swirls of metallic particles winking at her like a school of fish.

"Silver dust," she said aloud. "Maybe some wolfsbane, but not enough to discolor the water. But that is definitely silver dust. You're not healing because there's aconite coated silver dust in your wounds."

Lydia allowed a small feeling of hope and accomplishment to bubble up, to buoy her, but didn't pause to bask in her own deductive skills. Identifying the problem was only the first step, and even a werewolf couldn't regenerate blood indefinitely.

Lydia turned her attention to the collection of poisons and chemicals on her vanity, disguised in various perfume bottles. Hydrochloric acid? No, no… that would just result in silver chloride, and most likely kill Derek. What she needed was… ah, yes. Nitric acid. It would form silver nitrate, and she'd have to quickly flush Derek's wounds with water before it could be absorbed into his bloodstream, but if she put him in the shower before she did it… yes, that would work.

To form the plan was to act, so Lydia kicked off her shoes, grabbed Derek by the ankles, and started dragging him toward her en suite bathroom. He whined in pain, barely conscious.

"Sorry, no time to be gentle," she apologized, even though she wasn't sorry at all since she was busy saving his life and he owed her a new everything. And she was determinedly not thinking of the last time she had dragged Derek somewhere. At least this time she was doing it of her own free will.

They left a macabre trail of blood, and Lydia had to choke back the mad urge to laugh, because how had her life become this? Then she was at the tub edge, and heaving Derek over the side one limb at a time, not even bothering to be delicate or trying to cushion the blows because he was heavy and this was nothing to what she was about to do.

Once she had him arranged on his back, she aimed the shower head for maximum efficiency and fetched the nitric acid from her vanity. A search of the medicine cabinet yielded an eye dropper from an old bottle of antibiotics, which Lydia flushed with water until it ran clear, and then several more times just to be sure. She didn't want to risk any unknown chemical reactions.

Then she took a deep breath, hunched over Derek, and said, "This is going to hurt like a bitch."

She dribbled nitric acid into Derek's wounds, and it foamed and spat as it reacted with the silver. Derek howled, thrashing, the porcelain tub cracking when he jerked his head back. He swiped at her, silver nitrate turning his veins black, and Lydia leaned back, wrenching on the cold water tap. Carefully putting the bottle of nitric acid on the bathroom counter, she took up the cup she used when she brushed her teeth, filling it up and flushing Derek's wounds.

"Nitric acid dissolves silver," she found herself saying to Derek as he quieted, or passed out. She wasn't sure which, and at this point she didn't care. "Most acids react with and dissolve metal, but nitric acid when combined with silver forms silver nitrate, which is soluble in water. You should heal now. The chemical reaction should be enough to disrupt the effects of the wolfsbane, and the silver is gone."

As soon as she was done speaking, she leaned over the toilet and threw up everything she'd eaten that day, and then she gave a bloodcurdling scream, just because it made her feel better.

-l-

After brushing her teeth twice, Lydia left Derek under the shower spray and returned to her bedroom to retrieve her cell phone from her purse.

The blood looked worse somehow, without Derek in the middle of it. Ominous.

She blinked, averting her gaze, locking her eyes on the outside pocket of her purse where she knew her cell phone to be.

After a moment of thought, and another moment of catatonic staring, she dialed Isaac.

"Pack your things, and Derek's," she told him as soon as he answered. "Then come to my house. You're staying with me. Peter will stay in the loft. Let him know that if he disobeys, I will make our last disagreement look like a day at the spa."

"Lydia? What's – "

"No time for questions now. Just do it."

She hung up, then brought up her contact list, dithering. Derek was worried about Scott. It was possible he was hurt in the same way.

Well, simple enough.

Lydia called Scott first.

He didn't pick up, which was just typical. Lydia left a message in which she told him he'd better be actually injured, because if he was fine and just wasn't answering his phone she was going to have Deaton fit him with a microchip so she could track him like a dog.

Then she hung up, and stared at Allison's name in her contact list. Allison was the best suited to looking for Scott. Derek was down, Peter was untrustworthy, Isaac was busy, and Stiles wasn't trained to be death on two feet like Allison was. But if Allison knew how injured Derek was… Well, Allison had learned the truth about her mother, but some things just weren't rational.

Lydia didn't know if she would hurt Allison to protect Derek. She decided she didn't want to find out.

She called Stiles.

"What? Do you need a sample of the wolfsbane? Was it hunters? Is Scott there? He hasn't been answering his phone, and we were supposed to hang out today, but I figured he'd just forgotten and ditched me for Allison or Isaac like usual, even though he's been better about that – "

"Stiles!"

"Sorry."

"Derek is out of commission for the time being, but I've taken care of it. But no one knows where Scott is. I need you to go find him. Peter and Allison are both available to help, but I'm putting you in charge of this." She paused. "Don't tell either of them where Derek is."

"…Yeah. Yeah, I got it." There was a short awkward silence, and then Stiles snorted into the phone. "Somehow I'm not surprised that you seem to be Acting Alpha."

She rolled her eyes, smiling in spite of herself, just as Stiles had no doubt intended. "I've always been an alpha."

-l-

Derek was still unconscious when Lydia returned to the bathroom, and the cold water of the shower had lowered his temperature enough that his skin was cool to the touch. She turned the water off and checked Derek's pulse, happy to see that his wounds had finally sealed themselves shut, though there were faint pinkish scars, likely the result of the acid. They would probably fade soon, but if they didn't… well, the important thing was that Derek was still alive.

Taking a deep breath, Lydia cast about for what to do next, finally noticing that she was filthy. Almost as filthy as Derek.

That was something she could fix.

She eyed Derek's wet jeans for a few seconds before deciding to give them up as a lost cause. Derek was too heavy for her to keep moving him, and the wet fabric was more than she wanted to deal with. Getting the pair of scissors she kept in her vanity to cut tags off new clothes, she cut down the front of the legs of Derek's pants, then yanked the ruined fabric out from under him. They dripped red-tinted water onto the bathroom tile.

Lydia tossed them into her bedroom, onto the blood stains, and did the same with Derek's briefs and her own ruined clothes. Naked, she adjusted the taps and started filling the bathtub with lukewarm water. She thought she remembered reading somewhere that it was dangerous to raise someone's body temperature too quickly. Once satisfied with the temperature of the water, she heaved Derek into a sitting position, his head lolling, and slipped into the tub behind him, one leg on either side of his waist.

She'd be really pissed if she'd gone through all of this only for him to drown in the bathtub, so she'd better do what she could to keep his head above the water. And if she wept into the back of his neck and sank her teeth into his throat, reasserting their relationship, no one would know but her.

Once the tub was full to the brim, Lydia turned the tap off with her foot. The water was already turning dark red-brown. Lydia wrinkled her nose, groped for her bodywash, and started scrubbing with a vengeance, determined to eliminate every speck of blood on their skin. She had to change the bath water twice. It would have been easier if they could have showered before soaking in the tub, but Lydia doubted she'd be able to hold Derek up and wash him, so multiple baths it was.

There was something soothing, almost tender, about caring for him this way. Everyone always said people looked younger when they were sleeping, but Derek didn't. Less tense, yes, but rarely younger. But now? With his face pale and muscles loose, he was completely at Lydia's mercy. It ignited a cold fire in Lydia's gut, something not exactly comfortable but infinitely precious. She chose not to put words to it, expressing it in numbers instead.

They were a smooth linear partial differential without solution.

Lydia pressed a kiss to Derek's temple and shifted him forward to fill the bath with fresh water for the last time, this time adding some of her favorite bath salts to the water, the ones that were supposed to promote relaxation. She'd earned it, dammit.

When the bath was full, she shut the water off, settled back with Derek pillowed on her breast and her arms draped over his shoulders, and shut her eyes, just for a minute.

-l-

That was how Isaac found them.

Lydia jerked awake, churning the bath water, heart pounding. For a second all she registered was someone kneeling by the tub, and she could feel her chest seizing with a scream.

Then her mind caught up with her body, and she recognized Isaac.

His eyes were wide, his curls in disarray, and he had one hand on her shoulder and the other on Derek's chest, as if checking to make sure they were alive. A soft growl, higher pitched than Derek's, filled the air.

Lydia reminded herself that she was fine, that Derek was fine, and that things would be easier now that Isaac was here. Then she did a deep breathing exercise while Isaac laid his cheek against Derek's arm.

"Please carry him to the guest room where you slept the other night," she said once she could be sure that her voice wouldn't break. "There are towels in the linen closet at the end of the hall. I'll be right behind you."

Isaac blinked at her, his lips parting, and then he nodded, moving to heft Derek over his shoulder in a fireman's carry. It looked ridiculous, a lean boy like Isaac lifting a man like Derek as if he weighed nothing. He didn't weigh nothing. He was damn heavy, Lydia could attest to that.

Isaac carried Derek through the door, and Lydia forced herself to get up, dry off, walk around the massive blood stain in her room, put on her rattiest pajamas, and meet Isaac in the guest room. When she looked through the doorway, Isaac was holding Derek's hand, the black veins standing out in his forearm revealing that he was taking Derek's pain.

"How bad is it?" she asked, sitting on the edge of the bed. Isaac had put Derek under the covers, whether to preserve his modesty or keep him warm, Lydia didn't know. She stroked Derek's stubbled cheek.

Isaac released Derek's hand. "For a normal person? Pretty bad. For Derek? He's had worse."

Isaac was pale, but he hadn't even flinched when he took Derek's pain into himself.

He's had worse.

"Lydia?"

"Yes?"

"What do I do now?"

Lydia had been waiting for this moment. It was clear that Derek couldn't be trusted not to get himself or the rest of the pack killed, so she'd need to manage him more closely in the future. She'd pictured it going a bit more dramatically, with Isaac kneeling and calling her 'Alpha Lydia,' but she was exhausted, so this would do.

"Pick a bedroom and unpack your things. You and Derek live here now."

Isaac smiled at her. "Because Derek's yours."

"Yes."

"And the pack is Derek's."

Lydia nodded approvingly. "Yes. Now, I'm going to get some much needed sleep. I expect you to be on guard for the imp or whatever it is that's trying to kill us all now. Wake me up if you hear from the others. We'll worry about everything else after Derek's up."

With that, she crawled under the covers and plastered herself to Derek's back. She was out before Isaac had turned off the light.

-l-

Lydia didn't wake again until mid-morning, and then it was only because Derek's body had gone tense. Sometime in the night he'd rolled over, so that they slept front to front. Blue-green eyes stared down at Lydia, a muscle in Derek's jaw jumping.

Lydia turned her head to bite Derek's neck, and this time didn't know which one of them she was doing it for.

Derek relaxed and Lydia thought Safe now, safe now, but didn't say it.

"Isaac is here. He's making breakfast," Derek said.

"You're moving in," Lydia informed Derek. "I should have made you do it sooner."

Derek raised a brow, and Lydia felt her bones turn to water at the spark in his eye. Somehow this was the moment that she knew he would live. She let out a breath she hadn't known she was holding.

Derek smelled it or heard it or sensed it in some other wolfy way, and he pulled Lydia close, rubbing his cheeks over her face and shoulders, nuzzling into her throat. "I knew you would know what to do," he breathed into her skin, and Lydia fisted her hands in his hair, gritting her teeth against the weight of responsibility, against the power of Derek's knowing. It wasn't trust, not quite, because Derek Hale trusted no one, but it was knowing.

Derek knew that Lydia would do her duty by him.

And it was time she did. She'd put this off long enough, telling herself that she was in high school, that this thing between them was nothing but sex and opportunity. But she knew better. Maybe she hadn't meant it, the first time she'd courted Derek's submission and been shocked when he gave it, but in the times since? Every time he bared his neck to her teeth and went limp beneath her, he was taking an oath. Pledging fealty. Derek would die for Lydia, she knew that down to her marrow, just as he knew that she would care for his injuries.

"You are going to propose to me," Lydia informed Derek. "It will be romantic. There will be dinner reservations and a tasteful ring. You will wear a suit, with a red tie to match your eyes and my lipstick. If you have a family heirloom, you can use that. Otherwise, I will forward a selection of band styles and gem cuts that appeal to me to your phone."

Derek blinked at her, his cheeks pinking. He opened his mouth, and Lydia lifted a hand, halting whatever he might say. "Ah, ah. I'm not finished, and I don't want to hear your arguments. Yes, I'm young. We both are. Yes, marriage is a big step, but what there is between us is already more permanent than walking down the aisle. Yes, I'm still in high school, but only for another semester. But I plan on going to MIT, and if that's going to happen when need to get our territory into shape."

Derek's brows rose to meet his hairline. "Our territory?"

There was a hint of red in his eyes, so Lydia squeezed his neck to stop the alpha bitch fit before it could start. "You're mine. That means the pack is mine too." She grinned, a thing of sharp edges and curling lips. "It's my territory, baby. You just live in it."

Derek barked a laugh, and promptly looked shocked at himself.

"Now," Lydia continued. "As I was saying: We are going to get engaged. Then you will have me added to all of your accounts as the future Mrs. Hale. I will be taking over managing your trust fund. Stock market trends are reasonably simple to predict if you know the right formulas and happen to be a genius. We'll get married after I've finished my undergraduate degree. I anticipate completing the course early, barring supernatural upheaval."

"What about your parents?" Derek asked, his brow furrowed, though at this point Lydia suspected he was arguing for the sake of it. Arguing so that when everyone accused him of robbing the cradle, when Stiles flipped and asked what the hell was going on, Derek would be able to say, I tried to talk her out of it, but it's Lydia.

Lydia scoffed, sitting up and letting the bed sheet bunch around her waist. "Mother will be ecstatic that I've managed to land a handsome young man who comes from old money, and that he's not making me sign a pre-nup. I'll suggest to father that he sign the house and cars into my name as an engagement gift and he'll be happy enough not to have to think of anything himself. In fact, he'll probably start dropping the Hale name every chance he gets."

"What about Dorotea?" Derek asked, and now Lydia knew he was grasping at straws, because Dorotea was her housekeeper.

"Dorotea is allowed to pick one purse and one pair of shoes out of my closet every month so long as she continues to have no idea what I do with my time. It's a pleasant arrangement."

Derek's next question was tentative. Almost vulnerable. "Don't you want to meet someone? Someone who… who… isn't me? Have a normal life?"

Lydia snarled, turning her back on Derek. "I haven't been normal for a very long time. You know as well as I do that there's no going back. I can't forget and pretend and no one will ever think I'm crazy again. I won't allow it. And I had my great love. My fairy tale. I turned my Beast back into a Prince with True Love's Kiss, only the story kept going after the credits rolled and he left, and I'm done. I don't want another man on a white horse. I want someone who gets shit done, someone with fangs and claws as nasty as what's out there, and most importantly, someone who will never leave me."

When the silence fell, it was so loud that it made Lydia's ears ring. She held herself rigid, as still as possible, her breath shallow and quick.

The bed shifted, and she could hear Derek's feet against the carpet. She wanted to look, because he was so delicious, because she knew he was naked and she would be able to watch his muscles slide and flex. She wanted to look to see him whole and unmarked, to somehow erase the sight of him covered in blood, wounds foaming with acid.

She didn't look.

He had to come to her. This moment was his choice. It was a gift she was giving him, and something she had to do. She could make him come, could order it, could demand that he submit again and accept all her plans for the future. But she didn't.

She wanted to be wanted.

Derek stepped into her line of sight. His eyes were red, his face unsure.

"I know what a burden it is, to be the one who's supposed to have the answers. To be the alpha," he said.

Lydia waited. Derek stepped closer.

"I was never supposed to be the alpha."

Derek knelt.

"This isn't a love story."

"I don't think either of us want that."

Derek bowed his head. "I'll never leave."

Lydia rested her hand on Derek's neck, and he burrowed into her thighs, scenting her and sighing.

-l-

"Congrats," Isaac smirked at her when she padded into the kitchen in her stocking feet. Belatedly, Lydia realized that he'd been able to hear her entire conversation with Derek. She narrowed her eyes at Isaac.

"Forget what I said about picking a room. From now on, the basement rec room is your room. It's soundproofed."

Isaac shrugged and put a plate of bacon and eggs on the table in the breakfast nook. Normally Lydia would insist on fruit and yogurt, but after dragging Derek's carcass around and dealing with all the blood, she deserved protein. And besides, Isaac had gone to the trouble of cooking without being asked, and Lydia wanted to reinforce that behavior.

"Cool," Isaac said. "There's a big screen down there. Can I have an Xbox?"

Lydia pursed her lips and batted her eyes, the image of a ditzy popular girl. "What's an Xbox?"

Isaac snorted, and Lydia smiled.

"There's already an Xbox in the cupboard next to the big screen. Don't use the pink controller. It's mine."

Isaac laughed around a mouthful of egg, and was still shaking his head to himself when Derek wandered into the kitchen. He was clad in a pair of sweatpants and thumbing through screens on his phone.

"They found Scott," he said, absently spooning eggs onto his plate. "The imp strung him up with wolfsbane rope and hung him in a tree. Upside down. He was fine after Stiles and Allison got the rope off of him, but they took him to Deaton to make sure."

Lydia held her breath to keep from choking on her orange juice. Scott McCall was either incredibly unlucky or incredibly lucky. She never could decide which.

"This is the same imp that we couldn't trap with an iron circle, even though that's what the book says to do?"

Derek nodded.

"Why did you go after it last night?"

Derek frowned, his lip curling. "It's been stalking this pregnant woman. She went into labor last night, and it tried to get into the hospital. Scott was there to pick up his mom, and he called me. We kept it away from the hospital."

And nearly bled to death on my floor, Lydia finished.

Isaac's cell phone beeped. "Peter says congratulations. And he wants to know if he gets an allowance and if he can redecorate the loft."

Lydia rolled her eyes. "Tell him I'll be in touch and I don't care where he lives so long as it isn't here."

Derek squeezed her thigh under the table.

After Lydia finished her breakfast, she took a moment to think, and then issued the day's orders.

"Derek, tell the others to meet us here for dinner, and then go buy me an engagement ring and plan a romantic evening. There's only a few days of winter break left, and I want to be engaged before school starts again." Derek smirked at her and rolled his eyes. Lydia flipped her hair. "Isaac, please put your werewolf strength to good use and rip out the bloodstained section of my carpet. We'll burn it in the backyard. I'll call my contractor and get someone in here to replace the carpet, and fix the crack in the tub. If either of you want any changes made to the house, let me know by the end of the day."

When neither of the wolves had anything to add, Lydia nodded to herself and carried her dishes to the sink. She was halfway to the stairs when Derek caught her and backed her up to one of the patio doors, his erection prominent against her stomach.

"Love it when you're bossy," he rumbled in her ear, making her shiver. Then, more sincerely, "That's how a pack should be run."

He sucked on her neck, and Lydia tried not to be disturbed that Derek was turned on because she reminded him of his mother. He probably didn't even realize that was what he was responding to – a female alpha calmly giving out orders over breakfast. Who else could that be but his mother or his sister?

Lydia decided not to point it out to him. Instead, she sank to her knees, making sure that he could feel her every curve, and licked at Derek's cock through his pants. He let out a strangled noise of approval and she grinned to herself, raising one hand to fondle his balls. They were full and heavy, and hanging freely, letting Lydia know that Derek had foregone his usual briefs.

[Scene redacted]

Derek tipped forward, his forehead against the patio door, his breath making a fog on the glass. Lydia wiped her face on his forgotten sweatpants.

"Do you want me to…?"

"Later," Lydia shook her head. "We have things to do."

Derek gave her one of his small genuine smiles. "I'll look forward to it."

-l-

Informing the rest of the pack of Lydia and Derek's true relationship (well, true in a sense: She never explicitly stated that she was the dominant in their pair) went… predictably.

Allison's expression settled somewhere between hurt and confused, Scott smiled guilelessly and offered congratulations, and Stiles made a high pitched squawking noise and flailed his arms at Lydia, and then at Derek, and then at the air between them.

"You knew about this?!" he demanded of Scott.

Scott nodded calmly. "Well, yeah. Derek and Lydia have been together since like. Ever."

"And you didn't tell me?!"

Scott shrugged. "Wasn't really my business."

Stiles rounded on Lydia, eyes blazing. Oh, he was pissed, and he didn't have any right to be. Having a crush on her did not mean he got to pass judgment on her choices, or that she owed him anything. Somewhat cruelly, Lydia said, "It's actually all thanks to you, Stiles. We'd have never gotten together if you hadn't sent Derek to pick me up last August."

And now Stiles looked betrayed and downtrodden. "I – what?"

They were sitting in the informal living room on the first floor of the house, Derek beside Lydia on the sofa. He pressed closer to her now, his body a strong line of warmth against her side. "When you needed me to translate something for you. You sent Derek to get me, and had him stay with me so I wouldn't be alone with Peter. That's when our," she cast about for a word, "relationship began."

Now the blazing eyes were back, but they were fixed on Derek. "She deserves better."

Lydia tensed, incensed at being discussed as if she wasn't in the room, as if her thoughts on the matter had no merit. She was all the more frustrated by the fact that Stiles had been a good friend to her the past two years, and she knew he spoke out of concern. It wasn't often that people actually cared for her, more than for what her brains and beauty could do for them.

But she still hated the interference.

"I know," was all Derek said in his defense.

Abruptly, all the fight went out of Stiles. He scrubbed a hand over his face, then stroked it back through his hair. "If anyone was going to be Mrs. Alpha, Lydia makes the most sense," he muttered. Then he slumped back in his seat, looking thoroughly miserable, but resigned. Lydia was satisfied with that, for now. He would pull himself together after he'd had time to think.

Allison's reaction was much quieter, and all the more intense for it. She searched Lydia's eyes, and Lydia stared straight back. "Why?" she asked, at length.

"Survival."

Allison nodded.

"Okay."

-l-

The next four days passed by in a blur. Lydia put Stiles and Peter on research detail, to try to discover anything specific about the imp and its methods, and in particular any ways it could be kept out of their homes. Derek brought out the mishmash of papers that were his finances, and Lydia spent four hours getting them in order and consulting an attorney. Peter made a compelling case for being given an allowance and allowed to do what he wanted with the loft, as that would mean Lydia would have less direct contact with him.

Lydia happily acquiesced to that plan, but had the attorney set up the accounts so that Lydia would receive an itemized statement at the end of every month so she could keep track of what Peter was buying, and made sure any purchases over a thousand dollars had to be cleared with her and Derek. Peter complained loudly at that, but Lydia replied that he was lucky she let him keep an arcane library at all. That of course led to Peter lamenting that Derek was a much more laid back alpha, and Stiles confusedly asking if marrying Derek made Lydia co-alpha.

Peter had been only too happy to explain. "Lydia is Derek's alpha."

Lydia banished the both of them from her presence before she could get a headache.

-l-

On the last day of winter break, Derek dressed in a charcoal grey suit with a red silk tie and took Lydia out to a local privately owned restaurant. The prices were exorbitant and they wouldn't let Lydia order wine, but the food was divine. Derek had a rare steak (Lydia teased him for being stereotypical) and Lydia had the scallops.

When they were waiting for their dessert, Derek slid a black velvet box across the table. Lydia opened it to find an engagement ring with a large princess cut diamond in the center, flanked by two small emeralds on each side. It was understated and elegant, but not one of the rings Lydia had picked out.

She raised her brows in question.

"They reminded me of your eyes," Derek said, blank faced. Lydia looked up from the ring to study him. "Your eyes are green and when I saw the emeralds…" he shrugged.

That was inexplicably sweet. A promising beginning for their partnership. Even if Derek hadn't followed her instructions, he'd done better – he'd exceeded expectations. It set a hopeful tone for what the rest of their lives together would be like.

But Derek wasn't finished. "You don't have to do what you're doing. Even though we are… what we are, you don't have to marry me or take on the pack. You could give me the bare minimum, or deny me completely, but you're not. I wanted to show… Thanks."

It was heartfelt and true and better than any of the declarations of love Lydia had ever had tossed in her direction because of that honesty. "Are you going to get down on bended knee?" she asked.

Derek looked like he'd swallowed glass and simultaneously had someone kick him in the ass. "Do you want me to?"

Lydia tittered a laugh and shook her hair prettily in a move designed to draw the attention of the room. "No. It's overdone, don't you think? Just put the ring on my finger."

Derek did, while the room watched them, and Lydia pretended not to notice his fingers trembled. The room burst into applause.

Later, when they'd paid their check and were exiting the restaurant, Lydia asked, "What are they whispering?"

"That we're a handsome couple," Derek's voice caressed her ears. "That I'm too old for you, too damaged, that you don't know what you're getting into. That you're probably pregnant. That I want you for your looks and you want me for my money. That…" He hesitated, and Lydia elbowed him. "That you're that crazy girl who ran through the woods and I'm that nutjob who probably killed his sister, and we deserve each other."

Lydia's smile never wavered. "They're wrong."

Derek shrugged. "They're wrong, and they're not."

-l-

The reactions of the rest of the students at Beacon Hills High once classes resumed were overwhelmingly positive and envious, at least to Lydia's face. Behind her back, there were bets placed on whether she was pregnant or being married off because she had some kind of debilitating disease.

Not that it mattered, as Lydia didn't care about any of them. A few teachers expressed concern, and Lydia was sent to the guidance counselor, but otherwise there were no problems. Lydia was self-possessed, a legal adult, and the only ones who had the potential to stand in her way were her parents, and they had both reacted exactly as Lydia had predicted. Mother had even gone so far as to ask for a shirtless picture.

Lydia had sent one, because she wasn't above bragging and Derek was infinitely more attractive than her mother's current pool boy.

There was a moment of excitement among the students when Derek took to openly picking Lydia up from school in the Camaro, but all in all it was all rather boring.

The reaction of the supernatural community was much more interesting. Other wolf packs Derek hadn't heard from since the fire started sending cards and acknowledgements, ranging from congratulations on properly reestablishing the pack, to overtures of renewing alliances. A few were clearly testing for weakness, but Lydia was confident that the Hale pack could hold their own.

Things were going so well, that when she woke up in the middle of the night to find the imp in her bedroom watching her with glinting eyes, she was honestly surprised.

-l-

He was sitting in the armchair in the corner. Lydia and Derek were still sleeping in the guest room. Lydia had decided to have her entire suite redecorated with Derek in mind, and it still wasn't ready.

She sat up, her heart rabbiting in her chest as she took in the man – creature? – sitting less than six feet away. He was long and spindly, with fingers like twigs, bringing to mind a willow tree that had decided to become a person. His hair hung around his face in a silken white mop, his black eyes gleaming through the tangle. His nose was long, and when he smiled, his teeth were filed into points. His clothes were in shades of plum and bronze, and were styled in a way that was timeless – evocative of centuries gone by, and yet they wouldn't be out of place walking down the street.

"Lydia," the imp drew out the syllables of her name, making it sound like a siren's call.

She didn't have any weapons at hand. She'd – stupidly, she saw that now – expected Derek to be able to defend her from anything that might attack while they were sleeping. But where Derek would normally be shielding her body and growling for all he was worth, he was instead lying still and peaceful on the bed. If it weren't for the steady rise and fall of his chest, Lydia would think he was dead.

"You know my name, but I don't know yours." Her voice came out high pitched and panicky. She cleared her throat and licked her lips, telling herself that if the creature were here to kill her, he could have done so while she was sleeping.

The imp inclined his head at her, a wicked smile stretching his lips inhumanly wide. It was quite literally ear to ear. "I am Rumplestiltskin. I am the Pied Piper. I am Oberon and Puck and every trickster you know."

Lydia took a deep breath. Those are all Fae names. He's giving you a clue. He's a Fae, and words have a lot of power with them. Pull yourself together.

"None of those are your True Name," she said, mostly to buy herself some time to think.

"No. But you haven't given me yours either, darling," Oberon countered.

"You know my name. You just said it."

Oberon waved his hand dismissively, and Lydia tensed, almost expecting flames to leap from his fingers. "Don't play coy with me, sweetheart. It's never suited you."

"I'm not," she grit out between her teeth, decidedly on edge. Her eyes darted to her cell phone, sitting on the bedside table. She could reach it but… she looked at Derek. He slept on, unaware. Lydia had held his life in her hands before, and now it was resting there again.

"You really aren't, are you?" Oberon leaned forward, black eyes opened wide. She couldn't see his pupils, they were the same color as his irises. He giggled, a mad laugh that reminded her of hyenas and the squeaky wheel of a shopping cart. It should have been ridiculous, but instead it was terrifying. "Oh, how interesting, and delightful! You don't know!" He cackled again.

"What have you done to him?" Lydia demanded, trying to get control of the encounter. She placed her hand on Derek's bare chest, feeling his heartbeat. "He'd never have let you get this close without warning. Isaac too."

Oberon made a face at her that suggested she was being tiresome. "Just a little dream dust. All the little wolves will sleep through the night. It was the only way I could ever get close enough to have a… chat." He bit off that last word with a click of his pointed teeth, a menacing motion that promised only pain.

"And what do we have to chat about?" She needed something to do with her hands. Something that wasn't fidgeting. She'd give anything for a weapon to hold. Numbers, Lydia. Think of the numbers. Calculate the probable angle of attack from his position, and the best trajectory for throwing yourself out of the way.

"You're setting up your Court here. It's only polite that we meet. I'd have done it sooner if I'd known." He smirked. "But then, you didn't know, so how could I?"

Lydia frowned and flipped a strand of hair back over her shoulder in a show of unconcern. "You're boring me. Get to the point." What the hell?

Oberon stopped smiling. "I want you to call off your dogs. I have come to claim something of mine, and they're keeping me from it."

"The pregnant women."

"Not the women. The babies. They're mine. Those girls gave them up fair and square. Beauty, power, wealth, they all agreed to the price. I gave them what they wanted, and they promised me their first born. I've come to collect." Somehow the light in the room seemed to diminish, until all she could see was Oberon's teeth. She refused to shiver.

She doubted that any children that found their way to Oberon lived for very long afterwards. Whether he ate them or bathed in their blood or sacrificed them in a spell that kept him alive or whatever, Lydia couldn't let it continue. Not in her territory.

"And if I refuse?"

She tried to sound regal. She pictured herself with alpha-eyes and the strength to back it up, dressed to kill with a manicure to match.

Oberon's expression turned sly. Or rather, it went disinterested – too disinterested. "I suppose we could strike a deal. Offer me something to leave them alone. Maybe your first child by that brute there," he pointed one long finger at Derek, a sneer on his lips. "That would be worth, oh, at least five human infants."

A cold stone dropped into Lydia's gut at the very same moment that her face burned hot. "No. Never," she said immediately, and didn't know if she was saying she'd never have children or if she'd never give them up. She hadn't thought of it in concrete terms.

She'd considered that she might have children. Knew that as things stood now, her children would also be Derek's children. But they existed off in some hazy some day that was barely more than a dream. What Oberon proposed made the idea suddenly very real.

"Then I suppose we are enemies yet again, my darling," Oberon was saying. Lydia was hardly listening to him. "It seems we are always at cross purposes." He stood, and Lydia jerked, prepared for anything.

But Oberon simply bowed. "I came in peace, and I will leave in peace, but when next our paths cross, enemies shall we be."

"I have heard your warning, and bid you to depart," Lydia answered. The words tripped over her tongue of their own volition, a throb of fear sinking claws into her chest as she spoke them. No. Not again. She couldn't lose control of herself again.

With that, Oberon vanished in a plume of smoke that smelled like wolfsbane, and left a pile of silver dust on the floor, a reminder of what he had done to Derek.

And that? That was a step too far.

Derek was under a spell, Lydia's home had been invaded, and her patience sorely tested by riddling words and second rate dramatics. But this, this reminder of what Oberon had done to Derek, this stink in her nose that recalled all too well the blood and the panic and the bile lingering at the back of her throat, this threat..!

Oberon had thrown down a gauntlet, and Lydia was going to pick it up and use it to slap the shit out of him.

Snatching up her cell phone, she dialed Peter.

-l-

Peter arrived with an armful of books and his precious laptop and worked through the early morning. Sunrise came and went, and still Derek and Isaac slept on. Lydia was glad to see that Peter didn't fall asleep as soon as he came in the house, because that at least meant that whatever Oberon had done wasn't tied to the location.

That was one of the reasons she'd called Peter. She didn't care about risking him, because he wouldn't care, he hadn't cared about her.

So Peter paced in front of the patio doors on the first floor, mumbling to himself as he researched, and Isaac slept in his bed in the rec room in the basement, and Derek lay in the bed he shared with Lydia like a corpse. A breathing corpse. Oxymoron.

Or just moron.

She was nervous when noon passed, and they were still asleep. So she called Stiles and told him everything, things she hadn't told Peter about Oberon's visit and the things he'd said, but he would hear now. She could picture him, standing still in the informal living room, listening. He wouldn't cock his head, Peter was more subtle than all the others, but there would be an intensity about him that revealed his focus. If Lydia were to put Peter in numbers, he would be a fraction with a denominator to the power of ten.

Stiles promised to start researching right away, and made a bad joke about waking Derek with a kiss. Lydia laughed because she was supposed to and Peter could hear, and she wouldn't show him weakness. Not when Derek was so vulnerable. Part of her would always be waiting for Peter to turn on them, to try to kill Derek and take back the power of the alpha.

Stiles said he would call Scott and Allison (Allison had accepted Lydia's decision and wouldn't hurt Derek now, so there was no harm) and then he hung up, leaving Lydia sitting on the bed next to Derek's prone form.

She watched him, cataloging him, telling herself it was observational. It was for science, and therefore wasn't creepy. Anything she noticed could be useful, important to the cure. And the reason she didn't study Isaac as intensely? She didn't know him well enough. She'd never held his head to her breast or listened to him snuffle into his pillow, never had him between her thighs or felt his hair against her face.

Derek had a thick growth of stubble that he never let become a true beard. It highlighted his cheekbones, made him look older. More dangerous. If he shaved every day, he would still be beautiful, but infinitely more accessible. Softer. Younger. It was deliberate, she knew that. Maybe not when he first came back to Beacon Hills and was living like an outlaw, but now? He'd had a year in the loft, and then moved in with her. He could shave whenever he wanted, he just didn't.

Lydia ran her knuckles over the scruff on his chin, and then the pads of her fingers over his lips.

This is not a love story, she mouthed the words, mindful that Peter could hear. It was a reminder. To her. To Derek. To both of them, maybe.

This was not a love story.

But it couldn't hurt to try.

Lydia bent, strands of red hair streaming down from her head to dance over Derek's face, tickle at his shoulders. She braced her hands on the bed, one on either side of Derek's face, and she kissed him. It was a sweet kiss. Tender. Entirely unlike them.

He didn't respond, and she sighed against his lips. They were soft, pliant under hers. Even now, months after their first fuck, Lydia was surprised by just how soft his lips were when the rest of him was so hard.

She swiped her thumb over the base of her ring finger, a habit she'd picked up after Derek put her engagement ring there. She could feel the band, the metal circle warm from her skin. She hadn't taken the ring off since he gave it to her.

"Derek," she breathed, pressing a kiss to his forehead. And then to his cheeks, over both eyes, his chin, his neck. Shoulders, chest, the dip of his hip, she pulled the covers back so that she could brush dozens of tiny butterfly kisses over his legs, to the tops of his feet. "Derek, Derek, Derek," she said, over and over, as she had not so long ago when he was covered in blood and filled with silver.

Derek slept in the nude, at least when he was with her, and she traced her fingers over the contours of his thighs, dragging them up along the taut swell of his abdominals. Lying atop him, she nuzzled him, as he so often did to her, and bit at his throat, something that had become a comfort.

"Derek," she demanded in the alpha voice, the tone that was getting easier and easier the more she practiced. (Was there something supernatural about it, as Oberon had hinted? Was she more than human, with her strange immunities and genius? Was this why she could dominate an alpha werewolf? Had Derek ever had a choice at all?)

Derek opened his eyes.

Lydia experienced a microsecond of relief mixed with bliss, and then her world went topsy turvy as Derek rolled them so he was huddled over her protectively, wolfing out in an instant. "The imp," he growled, one clawed hand raised. "He's been here."

Lydia slapped him, because he was an ass. "No shit!"

Derek went from murderous to confused. He didn't even have the decency to pretend the slap had hurt him.

Lydia wrapped a hand around the back of his head and pulled him down for a kiss. She wanted to plunder his mouth, bite his lips, roll him over and suck him until he was hard and then ride him, use him, make him howl and whine and worship her. But instead she found herself sliding her tongue gently past his, rubbing his back in a soothing pattern. She undulated her hips, feeling his growing hardness, but it wasn't urgent. A gentle lapping. Waves on the sand.

Derek took her lead, picking up on the mood. He didn't tear her clothes, even though it would be so easy. He just pulled them off of her, kissing each inch of skin that was revealed. He ran his hands through her hair, his claw tips prickling deliciously against her scalp, and cradled her beneath him, bracing himself on his knees and elbows so that he wouldn't crush her with his bulk (when usually, oh usually, he pressed her into the mattress, pounded her into the floor, every part of him burning).

When he finally used a hand to align himself at her entrance, to open her up and push himself in, it was slow. Languid. An easy slide, as if they had all the time in the world, and that they were the world. They were creating it, or unmaking it, and it was... Simple. Ineffable. Exquisite.

It was a prime number, indivisible without having pieces left over.

This wasn't fucking. Lydia didn't want to say what it was, didn't want to think it, but it wasn't fucking.

She'd never done this before.

Her orgasm came like a car crash, unexpected. A cry was wrung from her throat, her whole body clenching. Derek grunted and followed after her a few moments later, his thrusts turning rough and uncoordinated as his muscles tensed in ecstasy.

He touched Lydia's face, concern written in the shape of his eyebrows, and she realized she was crying.

"I'm glad you're awake," she told him.

-l-

Bells. The answer was bells. As soon as Stiles said it, Lydia knew. It was so clear, like the last pieces of an equation balancing, and she could kick herself for not seeing it.

According to all the research, the sound of bells kept Fae away. They just had to hang bells on every entrance, and drape them on the cribs of the endangered infants, and it was like an instant force field.

Bells.

"That's why it didn't work. The book – the pages I translated for you. A ring of Cold Iron beneath the crescent moon will signal the Imp's defeat. It's not talking about a circle of metal. We have to ring a bell made of iron where Oberon can hear it during the crescent moon. A ring. It's so obvious now that I know about the bells."

Everyone started talking at once.

"Oh that's lucky, most bells are made from iron and brass," Stiles said, looking up from Peter's laptop, where he'd no doubt just Googled.

"Why couldn't they just say 'ring an iron bell'?" Scott complained.

Isaac – who had been awakened by Derek calling his name in the alpha voice, as Lydia had done for Derek – wanted to know where all of Lydia's Christmas decorations were stored because surely there had to be some bells in there. Lydia had no idea, as she had people to do those sorts of things. She told Isaac to try the shelves in the garage.

Eventually Scott and Stiles were sent out to retrieve as many bells as they could lay their hands on. Lydia wanted Stiles to stay to help plan the trap for Oberon, but he had the Jeep, and no one was willing to let Scott drive their car. That left Lydia, Derek, Peter, and Allison sitting at the table in the dining room planning strategy, as Isaac was still in the garage.

Lydia idly considered having one of the guest rooms converted into a war room, with maps and other useful things. If this house was going to become the power base of the Hale pack, it would only be practical.

"Who's going to talk to the families? The ones with the children Oberon is after?" Allison asked.

"I'm alpha," Derek said, like he thought that was actually an argument, the poor thing.

"No," Lydia interrupted, before Derek could start his usual repetitive shouting that he tried to pass for debate. "You're a horrible choice, Derek. You're imposing in more than one way, and they might remember you being arrested. You'd never get past the front door without making a scene. I'll go. With Allison. I'm an alpha in the pack, and Allison is…" Lydia paused, gauging Allison with a look. "Allison is the head of the Argent family now. Aren't you? Ever since you turned eighteen."

Allison looked surprised, but she nodded, not denying it. "Why else do you think they started acting like reasonable adults?" Allison giggled, and Lydia found herself joining her.

"Then it's decided," Lydia swept a hand across the table top, pointedly ignoring the way Derek had pursed his lips and started glowering at the wall. "Allison and I will go. If these people are in the know, they'll realize who they're dealing with once we introduce ourselves. And if they aren't, then we're just two sweet girls who couldn't be more harmless."

Peter snorted. "Please. You're easily the most dangerous thing in the room."

Lydia favored him with an icy smile. "Which you learned the hard way."

-l-

Derek was pouting, and it was unbearable. Lydia was seriously contemplating pushing him out the window.

He would heal.

"Would you stop?" she spat at him for the fifth time. She was standing on a chair and winding a string of Christmas bells around the curtain rod of the drapes in her father's study as that was the best way to keep them over the window. Once Stiles and Scott had returned with every bell they could find (fortunately quite a lot, as Christmas had only been a month or so ago) everyone had scattered to use them to protect their homes from Oberon. Isaac was doing the downstairs of Lydia's house while Lydia and Derek worked on the upper floor, mostly because Derek refused to be more than a few feet from Lydia.

"I should be with you when you confront those people," he growled out.

"Did you just flash your eyes at me?" Lydia demanded, turning to look over her shoulder. Derek made his pouting-constipation-just-sucked-a-lemon face again and turned his back to her. She huffed at him. Really, Jackson had sometimes been just as idiotic, but at least he'd had the excuse of being a teenage boy.

Maybe Derek had never progressed mentally and emotionally after the fire. It was something Lydia would have to look into, because she was not putting up with this for the rest of her life. Derek would learn some sense if she had to kill him. She'd just browbeat Peter into bringing him back to life afterwards.

"I should be with you," Derek said again.

"The definition of insanity is repeating the same action and expecting different results," Lydia informed him primly.

His eyebrows bunched in confusion. "What?"

"Stop repeating yourself. Beating your chest and telling me over and over that you want to go with me is not going to change my mind. It didn't the first time, and it hasn't this time, and if you keep doing it I will drug you and push you out the window."

Derek tilted his head. "You're not lying. Your heart didn't skip a beat."

Lydia winked at him and returned to hanging the bells.

Two strong arms wrapped around her waist, lifting her down off the chair. Derek buried his nose in Lydia's hair, holding her in place against his body. He inhaled once, breathing her in, and when he exhaled it sounded like defeat.

"I'm not any good at this," he said, so quietly that Lydia wasn't sure she was meant to hear.

"What?" she asked anyway.

"This. I." Another frustrated huff. "I need to protect you. I have to protect you. And I have to be near you to do that. I don't know any other…You make it look so easy."

"What?" Lydia asked again.

"Being a leader. You just figure everything out and explain and everyone listens because you're right and we all know it. I don't. I don't know how to do that."

Lydia turned in Derek's arms, brushing her hair out of the way so she could stare up at him. "And since you know I'm right, you know that Allison and I are the ones that should go. And when it's time to hunt Oberon in the woods, we're going to send the wolves and the humans will stay behind, ready and willing to provide backup, but keeping out of the way unless we're needed. Because that is what makes sense, given the strengths of the pack."

Derek pressed a kiss to her forehead, holding her so close that she had to turn her face lest her nose be smashed into his chest. He clung to her like a man terrified of loss, a man who had just found an anchor and was terrified of having it snatched away.

Struck by an idea, Lydia let Derek hold her until he seemed calmer, and then she walked over to her father's desk and pulled out the little box where he kept the business cards people gave him at various events. Locating the one she wanted, she grabbed up the desk phone and dialed.

"Oh, hello, Mr. Wayne?" she asked in a sugary voice, simpering. Derek blinked at her. "This is Lydia Martin. Yes, that's right, Charlie's little girl!" She gave an insipid giggle. "Do you still own a private security company? Oh good. I was hoping you'd consider doing me a favor. You see, my new husband – oh yes, thank you, he's very handsome and very rich, mother is very excited – you see he's very protective of me. He'd like to go through the training program you use for your employees, both the physical and the tactical. I'm sure he'd be so grateful afterwards. Probably even invest in the company… Wonderful! I'll send him over on the first of the month!"

Lydia hung up, dropped the society wife act, and looked at Derek. "There. Now you'll know how to protect me."

Derek was staring at her, shock and something that looked like worship in his eyes. Which, really, was exactly how he should look at her. Satisfied, Lydia stalked from the room.

-l-

The nights of the crescent moon approached, and Lydia spent the time she wasn't at school or managing the Hale money feeling like she was den mother of a madhouse. She wasn't sure motherhood was a good look on her.

The men were fighting over how to trap Oberon. Never mind that they were all idiots, and Allison had already presented Lydia with a wonderfully competent power point presentation that outlined her plan and everyone's part in it. Not that any of them had thought to ask, and only Derek seemed disturbed by the fact that Allison and Lydia didn't join in the arguments. He kept shooting Lydia looks, resembling nothing more than a big puppy that knew it had done something wrong, but wasn't sure what. Lydia was used to being the recipient of this expression, so ignored it.

But finally, she couldn't take it anymore. She couldn't take Stiles' babbling protests, Scott's self righteousness, Derek's growling, Isaac's wish-washing, or Peter's pointed barbs. She snapped.

"Stiles! If you want to be with the wolves, then I'll make Derek give you the Bite. If you don't want to be a wolf, shut up and realize that you don't have to prove anything and there's nothing wrong with being human and you are still part of the pack. Wanting to be on the front line when we have four werewolves to do the fighting is moronic. Even Allison is going to be hanging back."

The room was quiet, everyone staring at her. Stiles had turned an angry red. Lydia addressed Scott, Derek, and Isaac next. "Allison has already come up with a plan. She'll show you the power point. Also, I am making the unilateral decision to declare Allison second in command. Because instead of arguing and stomping and growling to get her way, she came up with a cohesive argument as to why her plan would work, and calmly presented it to me with attractive background images."

Scott and Isaac looked cowed, and Peter intrigued, but Derek was murderous. Red eyes bored into Lydia's forehead. "I am alpha here," he snarled.

"We are the alphas," Lydia corrected, not blinking. Derek would gut himself before he hurt her, and they both knew it. "And Allison is our second now. Deal."

Derek didn't submit – he wouldn't, not in front of the pack – but he didn't say anything else.

"Peter," Lydia said, without taking her eyes off of Derek. "Go away. Be elsewhere."

"Is that all?" Peter asked in a droll voice. And yet, he was obediently gathering up his things. It made Lydia nervous, that Peter was always the quickest to listen to her.

"Allison will email all of you the power point. Study it. Send her any questions," Lydia instructed as Peter headed toward the door. Then she stood. "I'll be in my lab."

Ah, her lab. The place where no one would disturb her, on pain of explosion.

-l-

When Lydia returned to the room she shared with Derek, the first thing she did was check her phone. Allison had sent an email report confirming that all of the pack understood their roles in Operation Crazy Fae (Stiles' moniker. Allison had called it Plan 15021-Gamma) and an attached photo that showed Allison wearing a tacky plastic crown and a sash that said 'Second in Command.' Apparently Scott had made it for her, to celebrate her 'promotion.' Lydia felt her eyebrows quirk up, but she made a comment about it being cute and sweet, because that was what Allison wanted.

She'd put the phone down and was sitting up in bed, reading, when Derek came in. As was usual, he immediately undressed because he preferred being naked when he felt safe, and climbed into bed. Lydia counted to three before he gave up all pretense and shoved his head in her lap. She started stroking his hair.

"You were in the lab all afternoon."

"I was tired of all of you."

A grunt. Lydia rested her hand on Derek's neck and he let out a much happier sigh. "What are you reading?"

"Zero: The Biography of a Dangerous Idea."

"How is the number zero a dangerous idea?"

"It's actually a fascinating construct. Some mathematicians don't accept it as a number at all, and the concept of zero evolved much later than you think. It's much harder to accept the idea of nothing, than it is of something."

Derek was quiet for a minute, and then she felt him nod against her belly. "Yeah," he agreed. "It is."

-l-

Allison's plan to have the werewolves surround Oberon in an ever tightening circle of shaking bells on the crescent moon was simple and direct. There were several contingencies in place, and each wolf was wearing a Kevlar vest. Apparently hunters wore them under their coats all the time, and Allison had several in men's sizes lying around her house.

The wolves cornered Oberon near the creek that ran behind the Hale property, just as Allison had predicted (apparently Fae had trouble crossing moving water). The shaking bells were making Oberon wail and clutch his head, Allison was standing back, though in bow range, as back up, and Lydia and Stiles were each manning a get away car, with some of Lydia's home made explosives in the trunk, in case everything went horribly wrong and they had to resort to Plan C: Blow Shit Up and Get the Hell Out. They kept in touch via handheld radios (also provided by Allison).

Everything was going perfectly, until Lydia stiffened in her seat. She was driving the Camaro, but suddenly she couldn't see the dashboard in front of her anymore. No, she stood next to Oberon in the clearing, the bells all around, feeling them shake her apart. She screamed, and screamed, and screamed, but no one seemed to hear. No one even looked at her.

No one save Oberon. He looked her right in the eye, and then he reached, pulling something out of her, shredding something metaphysical that left her raw and bleeding.

"If I'm done, I'll take you with me!" Oberon screeched.

And then… oh then….

Lydia saw everything. She could see the numbers, streams of numbers, beautiful equations that made up everything that ever was and would be. It was all so clear, so simple, to just see. She wanted to be in the clearing by the creek, wanted to protect her wolves from Oberon's foolish thrashing, and so she was. She simply grabbed onto the proper equation and rewrote a variable with her finger in the air, and she was where she wanted to be.

"Lydia?!" her wolves gaped at her.

"Quiet," Lydia told them softly. She turned to Oberon. "Our paths have crossed again. Enemies we be."

Oberon hissed at her, screwing up his long face. It was a pity. He'd always been so beautiful when he smiled. "As I have said. Enemies we be." He flinched away from the bells, the bells that did not hurt Lydia, because she was clever and had learned her lessons well.

This vessel was not yet mature enough to hold all that there was of her – not all of the time – so she kept most of herself partitioned away, where it would not overwhelm her soft human mind. But Oberon had reached in and ripped out the equation that kept her locked inside, and done it crudely because he wanted to hurt her, and because he had never been as good as she was at manipulating reality. She would have to deal with him before she tucked herself away again.

"Still up to your tricks, I see. Do you never try to learn, to change?"

Oberon sank to the ground, folding in on himself, his hands tugging at his hair. "The bells don't hurt you… how…"

Lydia wasn't listening. Instead she was looking, observing the numbers that made up Oberon. Reading his True Name, where it was written on his heart. That was all she needed. Fill in that variable, and she could alter his equation at will. It was so easy – one change in the pattern, and the solution was different. A dead body became live again. A human became a werewolf, or a kanima, or a donkey.

With swift flicks of her hands, Lydia disrupted the balance of Oberon's integers.

His limbs shrunk, growing less spindly at the same time they filled out. His irises turned a human shade of brown. He whimpered, hunching further into himself until he lie in the fetal position on the ground, though the bells could no longer hurt him. The ringing, however, was beginning to annoy Lydia. With a wave of her hand, the bells vanished, converted into oxygen.

"Death before this. Have mercy," Oberon begged. "Please, please, Titania, one more time, have mercy."

"Death has nothing to teach you. You have overstepped, old friend. Gone too far for leniency."

One more tweak of Lydia's fingers, and she sent the now human Oberon away, to another point in the forest. He'd find his way out eventually.

"Lydia…?"

Ah, Derek. The wolf she had claimed. His numbers were horrifically beautiful, twisting and turning and unbalanced as they were. Lydia could spend the rest of this lifetime unraveling that particular problem. She held out a hand in invitation, and Derek came to her, falling to his knees and nuzzling his face into the softness of her waist. She caressed his shoulders.

"Um… that guy called you Titania?" That was Scott, his tone turning a statement into a question. Scott's numbers were boring, obvious, no negative integers or missing matrices. There was a nexus of tantalizing chaos near the variable that made him a werewolf, but Lydia was inclined to leave it alone, as Scott was more useful this way.

"Yes," Lydia confirmed. "I have been Titania. But now I am Lydia."

"Uh… Okay."

Lydia looked at Isaac and found his numbers to be almost as interesting as Derek's. She beckoned him closer, and he came, kneeling next to Derek and allowing Lydia to rest a hand on top of his head. He trembled, and Lydia shushed him. "I would not hurt you, Isaac. You are a member of my Court."

A throat cleared, and Lydia turned to see Peter, a scowl twisting her lips. She disliked Peter for the same reasons she admired him: his cleverness, his tenacity, his ruthlessness. He had seen through the disguise that hid her even from herself, and used her willful ignorance to bend her power to his advantage. It was a trespass she would not forgive lightly, and yet she could not bring herself to punish him with a return to the grave.

Peter knelt where he stood, gazing at her in open delight. "I offer my blood and service to the Court of Lydia, the Queen of Air and Darkness, Lady of the Lake, Banshee of O'Brien, Titania, Mab, Athena, Cassandra."

Lydia smiled at him, her eyes glittering. "Are you so sure that all those names are mine?"

Peter returned her smile. "Fairly."

"Oh, clever Peter," she said with an edge. "How you vex me. I accept your oath of fealty and offer you protection and shelter in return."

With that, Lydia pulled Derek up, making him stand. "Now kiss me, and send me gently back to sleep. It is not yet time for my awakening."

Derek kissed her, and Lydia sank into the night's velvet embrace.

-l-

Lydia came to with a start, jolting into a sitting position, her breath hitching, eyes wide. She was in bed with Derek, and there was sunlight streaming through the window.

No. No no no no no. Not again. This couldn't be happening again! She couldn't keep losing time this way!

"Lydia?" Derek's voice was heavy with sleep.

"The last thing I remember is sitting in the Camaro. It was dark." She tried to keep her voice flat. Unemotional.

She didn't succeed.

Derek nodded, running a warm hand up and down her back. "That was last night. Oberon is gone. We're safe."

"What happened?"

Hesitance. Then, "I can't tell you."

"But you know."

"Yes."

"Why can't you tell me?"

"You made me promise not to."

"Oh."

Derek pulled her down to lie on his chest, and Lydia let him, feeling as if he was the only thing that kept her from shattering into a million pieces. She ached all over, and yet she didn't. It was a phantom ache, a mental ache, like something inside her mind had been stretched and was trying to return to the correct shape. An emptiness, like tooth decay, that throbbed with a sense of wrongness.

She was a zero, a mathematical nothing waiting for something to make her real.

Parting her lips, she licked along Derek's jaw and lightly bit his throat.


Notes: As a responsible author aware that this work may be read by teenagers, I want to make it clear that I am not advocating getting engaged/married straight out of high school. That's just how this particular story goes, due to the specific circumstances of Lydia's life as depicted herein. You will also note that Lydia is electing for a long engagement, waiting to actually tie the knot until after she gets her college degree. While not explicitly stated in the fic, Lydia's reasons for wanting the engagement are a) to provide a united front for the Hale pack b) to make it easier for her and Derek to merge their assets and c) because part of her is terrified of being left by another person – her parents left, Jackson left, etc. etc. This reason is not one she acknowledges to herself, and is also a terrible reason to get married. All that being said, the decision to get married is one that everyone has to make for themselves, and being ready for marriage has nothing to do with age. I wasn't much older than Lydia is here when I got married, and I'm still married (to the same person, even). So. There you go then.