Stiles missed his murder board. He realized that, as the thought entered his head, that was probably a disturbing thing to wish for considering all the things he could be wishing for. Like curly fries. Since he'd been wandering what appeared to be endless woodland for what he guessed to be hours and he had barely managed to snag two slices of pizza at dinner the night before, curly fries were an understandable wish.
Still, he would sacrifice even the almighty curly fry to the alter of knowledge right about now...Or, well, any means of putting his too-fast thoughts in order, since he didn't have so much as a pen on him.
Okay, big list of things he knew: The forest wasn't normal. Not that anything in Beacon Hills was actually normal, but now that he wasn't being chased by a slimy, murderous horse, he was able to process the fact that time wasn't moving here (still twilight, hours later, and there was a joke about glitter-vampire nightmares somewhere in that), and while the preserve was large, he knew he should have hit familiar territory by now. He hadn't.
So, this wasn't his forest.
Also, another big clue, it was full of, well, mythological creatures. Not werewolves (so far) because that would have been too easy. Nope. Just strange, small beings that seemed to disappear if he tried to get a good look. Some with wings and pointy ears. Some with antennas.
And for five seconds he'd thought the terrifying horse had found him again, only to discover centaurs were a thing here, apparently. Honestly, he had about a million things he needed to ask a sentient race of beings, maybe the only one here in friggin' Middle Earth or Avalon or whereverthehell. But he just couldn't bring himself to disturb the, uh, couple. Or look at what they were doing, because there were just some things internet porn hadn't prepared him for.
Stiles brought a fist up to his mouth, holding back a gag. "Yea-no," he muttered, to himself, tromping onward. "So, what I know," he continued, to himself, "is that I'm not alone, wherever I am, but I'm not exactly blending in with the locals, and oh my god, is there actually just more forest past this forest?"
He thudded his forehead against a tree in frustration, remembered his ass-pinching encounter, and quickly stepped away from said-tree. "Apologies," he said, stumbling off.
He came to a dead stop when he noticed the lights in the distance, where the woods seemed to thicken, casting a dark shadow over the land.
He swallowed hard, deciding to take a chance. "Hello? Anyone out there?"
The lights moved slightly, darting between trees. They were too far away, and he couldn't see what was holding them up. Or if they were giant non-blinking carnivorous fireflies planning to lead him to his doom.
"Oh, the Will-o-the-Wisp aren't meat-eaters, but they will lead you to your doom. Nasty bastards don't have anything better to do, I suppose."
Stiles tried and failed not to jump at the sound of the voice. When he turned, a creature half his height was leaning against a tree, using one pointed nail to peel a sliver of skin a small purple fruit.
"Didn't realize I'd said that aloud," Stiles excused, and managed to not run in the other direction. He was rather proud of himself, because, wow, the creature was ten types of ugly. Big dollish eyes contrasted with a lumpy nose the size of a fist and Snooki-orange skin was highlighted with yellow-green moss growing at his cheeks and chin. Or maybe that was hair? Stiles wasn't sure. It did help that the little guy was wearing clothes (unlike the centaurs), specifically muddy green cloth boots and pants with a brown, leathery vest buttoned over his wide chest.
"You're a funny looking one," the creature said, his voice gruff, as if he were over-compensating.
Stiles snorted at that. "Yeah, everyone says I have a weird nose," he agreed, sarcastically.
The creature narrowed his eyes, taking a moment to loudly chew a chunk of fruit, its silvery juice dripping down over his moss goatee. Because it was a complete traitor, Stiles' stomach growled at the somewhat disgusting sight.
"Not from these parts, are you?" the creature said, finally. "Came across a fairy ring, I'd wager? Illegal in the eyes of the court, those are, but some of these fae can't keep it in their pants when they get a hankering for mortal flesh."
Stiles made a face at the comment. "I can't tell if that means Tinkerbell wants to have sex with me or eat me. Or both..."
"Who's Tinkerbell?" it asked. Then shrugged off the question. "They call me the Boggle, funny nose."
Stiles tried not to smirk. He was officially labeling this thing as a goblin. "Hoggle?"
"Boggle," it corrected, huffing. "Those pixie-ears of yours no good for hearing?" The goblin shook his head, heaving the small cloth sack at his side up onto his shoulder. "Well, ugly, if you know what's good for you, you'll steer clear of the lights. They'll lead you straight into the bog. Though, I suppose your kind enjoys running toward your death...your choice really."
Stiles took a quick step forward. "Whoa, wait up, uh, Boggle? I'm Stiles." Boggle kept walking and Stiles followed after. "Dude, come on. You're the first person I've run into here who's willing to talk to me, okay? I was here five seconds and a horse tried to trample me to death, and then this mermaid thing tried to...honestly I don't know what her plans were, but they didn't involve a polite chat, so if you could just stop and give a guy directions to the closest fairy ring exit, that would be great."
Boggle chuckled. "Exit," he said, then laughed again.
That didn't sound good.
The goblin finally stopped, looking the young man over again. Stiles didn't know what he was looking at until he remembered the scratches at his neck, the shredded shirt he was wearing...Yeah, he supposed he didn't look exactly like he had it together.
"Horse?" Boggle asked, nodding to himself. "That'll be the local Kelpie. Poor thing is starved. Too bad it didn't catch up with you. Would've have been in a better mood after a good meal. You're a lucky worm, aren't ya?"
Stiles' eyes widened. "Lucky isn't the word I would have used."
"Oh, of course it is. That Glaistig you met scared off the Kelpie trying to drown you. And if you'd been a bit nicer, she probably would have traded you a bit of sweetness for a drink of your blood." The goblin lifted his hands in front of his chest, crudely squeezing imaginary breasts as he chuckled. "And sweet it is indeed, above the waist, at least...Any-who, you're as fortunate as a mortal can be in this realm. And, err, perhaps I can further your good fortune."
Then the goblin looked down at the sneaker in Stiles' hand. Stiles had almost forgotten he was carrying the shoe, and, really, it didn't serve much of a purpose without its lost mate. He'd held onto it with flashbacks to an episode of Survivor Man (that guy would probably be able to make a rabbit snare out of shoelace or something). Stiles was just planning to use it to hit the next meat-eating fairy to try and take a chunk from him.
Boggle reached up, scratching at his beard. "You look as if you could use a favor, but favors won't do here, you see. I wouldn't mind a trade, though. But it won't come cheap. I've got no taste for that disgusting man-flesh of yours." He jutted his chin at the shoe. "Your bobble there though..."
Stiles held up the shoe. "This? Seriously? Uh, okay. What do you want to trade for?"
Boggle frowned, looking down at his cloth bag and muttering under his breath, as if upset with the idea of parting with his trade. He finally yanked free a netted sack of round, purple fruits. They looked fuzzy, like peaches.
"What do they taste like?" Beggars couldn't be choosers, but Stiles couldn't help but ask. There was a thought niggling at the back of his head. Something he'd read in a book once. Or maybe seen in a movie. Something about goblin fruit.
"Oh, anything you wish it to taste like." Boggle reached into the sack, holding out a fresh one. "Here, take a taste. It's better than anything else you'll find in these parts."
Stiles took it. Up close its fuzz had a silver shine to it. It felt soft in his hand, ripe, and it had a sweet, strange smell to it. He licked his lip, but hesitated.
"Well, go on then," Boggle insisted. "Take a bite, boy."
Stiles' brow wrinkled in thought. "I swear, there's a story about fairy rings, one I read in a book one night. Something about bleeding..." He trailed off, his expression hardening as it hit him. "And 'if he ate and he drank and he bled in the land of the fae, he would be trapped there for eternity'. Am I quoting that right?"
Boggle seemed nonplussed. "And? I already told you, ugly nose, you've fell into a ring. There's no easy out. This place isn't so bad. Stay here or starve trying to get there." He shrugged. "I'd eat if I were you."
Stiles let the fruit drop from his fingertips. "You were trying to trap me here."
Boggle rolled his eyes. "Mortals. So dramatic. You've bled, you've drank...it's only a matter of time before you eat. Might as well get it over with."
"I'm getting out of here," Stiles said. "You can keep your poison apples, thanks. I plan to be home for supper."
"The trade - "
"Info for the shoe, Hoggle."
"Boggle," the goblin corrected. "Fine."
"How do I get home?" Stiles asked.
Boggle chuckled. "Oh, because I look like a wizard to you? How would I know?"
"Fine. Which way to Beacon Hills?" Stiles asked.
Boggle raised a brow. "Never heard of a beacon that wasn't on a hill..."
"The town. The human town," Stiles snapped.
"Wrong realm, boy. I knew those ears were broken. If you seek civilization though, perhaps you mean to travel to the city of ruin? Well..." He pointed right. "That way to Night, so I'd say - " He pointed past Stiles' shoulder. "I'd say the city is that way."
Stiles didn't know what he hoped to find there, but if there were more of the fae there, maybe he could find one who knew a way into the mortal world. He turned away, trying to ignore the goblin calling after him.
"But I wouldn't go there, ugly nose. Not everyone there is as nice as me!"
The lighting from the hallway behind left her staring at the faintest form of her own reflection in the glass wall. Sitting prim in her blue dress with flowing red locks of hair over one shoulder, legs crossed at the ankles, she looked out of place on the folding metal chair she'd been provided. Lydia couldn't help but feel she was staring at a ghost. It was hard to look past it, to see what she was there to see. Who she was there to see.
The man moved slightly behind the wall, making her pay attention to him. She pursed her lips, readying herself. It had taken more than a little talking to get Deaton to let her make this visit, and then he'd had to pull strings to actually get her in here. Keeping him quiet had been equally as difficult; she still hadn't told Scott where she was going, because the pack wouldn't be okay with this. They would have tried to protect her. She didn't need protection, though. She needed answers.
The man finally leaned forward, letting his forehead touch the glass. A white jacket kept his arms restrained around his body. She'd ask how they kept him from slicing it to shreds with his claws, but she already knew. Wolfsbane poison. Just enough to keep him from shifting.
"Hello, Peter," she said.
There was a lavender tinge to the whites of his eyes, but his smarmy smile made it abundantly clear that he was sane enough to recognize her.
"If it's not Lydia Martin," he said, slowly. "To what do I owe the pleasure?"
"I need information," she said.
Peter sat up straight, silent a long moment before he replied. "And what are you going to give me in return."
Lydia tilted her head slightly, watching him as he took a step back and sat down. He was already settling in. There was no way he'd pass up a chance to listen to her. Whether he was actually helpful was another point altogether.
"You get to hear the sound of your own voice. We all know how much you enjoy that," she said.
His eyes flashed dangerously in her direction. "How about," he started, "we start simple? I'll trade you a visit. This time, you get to ask the questions. Next time, I get to ask them."
"And what if I just decide to never see you again?" Lydia asked.
"I trust you." His expression was playful, teasing, but she knew that, even from in here, Peter might find a way to ensure she needed to see him again.
She sighed. "Fine. We'll skip the Hannibal Lecter routine, and I'll start. How did you know...When you bit me, you formed a connection with me so that I could bring you back. How did you know how to do that?"
"Maybe a little birdy told me?" Peter replied.
Lydia tried to hide the reaction on her face, but Peter must have seen it. He smiled slowly.
"I didn't know what would happen," he finally confessed. "Before the fire..." He trailed off, looking distant for a moment before tuning back in. "I used to study the supernatural. Somewhat obsessively. I think I've made it clear how I felt about the steps Talia was taking to protect our pack?"
"You didn't think it was enough," she said, nodding. "You seemed to be aware of most of the supernaturals in this town. That's how you let the Benefactor know about them."
"Yes and no," Peter said. "She put in the leg work for some of that, I'm sure, but as far as the family bloodlines, I studied those carefully. You know, we really shouldn't discuss this here. The wrong sort might hear about your little affliction. Trust me, there are plenty here interested in finding out how you tick."
Lydia raised a brow. "Talk, Peter."
"Very well. That night on the lacrosse field...Well, I needed to sink my teeth into someone, and you were there. I knew your name. I knew that you 'might' be more. My guess was that when I bit you I'd either end up with a lovely new beta who was decidedly more intelligent than my first choice or I'd tie myself to your magic. Either way was a win, especially when the action itself would force valiant young Stiles to cooperate. What was that?"
Lydia blinked. "What was what?"
Peter leaned closer to the glass. "That look on your face, when I mentioned Stiles." He frowned. "What's happened to Stiles?"
Lydia considered lying. She couldn't tell the difference between a sincere Peter and a mocking Peter.
"He's the reason I'm here," she said. It hurt to admit it, but Peter wasn't going to tell anyone. Not here. "He's been taken by something that wants my attention. It put him in a different place, a fae realm, I think."
Peter raised a brow. "He was trapped in a fairy ring? Don't give me that look, Lydia. I told you I studied the old stories. If the being after you used a fairy ring to trap him, you have a very serious problem."
Lydia's brow wrinkled. "You almost sound like you care."
Peter snorted. "Oh, but I do, Lydia. You're useful. Stiles is useful. So many others are just soft bodies waiting to be ripped apart, but the two of you have...potential."
Lydia made a mental note; Peter's therapy definitely wasn't taking. She repressed a shiver. "Back to me. How did you know what to do? There was a ritual to it, the poisoning, the blood, the worm moon. How did you know to do those things?"
Peter chuckled. "Oh, sweetheart...That was all you. I didn't know the bite had actually worked until I was dead and in the grave. Then I felt it, that connection, calling me back to you. I'd read about it, about tying a banshee's power, but I didn't know I'd succeeded until then. And I didn't know how to use that tie to pull me from the other side. No, it was your power, Lydia. You knew, your blood knew, how the spell worked. I only pushed the answer out of you."
"You murdered me." She looked away from him, refusing to see if he smiled at the revelation. "The bite killed me. I had to look in my medical records to be sure. No one had told me, or maybe they didn't know. They'd lost me for a few seconds, in the hospital. Allergic reaction, that's what they'd thought had happened. Whether you meant to or not, you murdered me, and made a banshee. I think...I think I'm more of a ghost than a person. And it's your fault."
Peter didn't look or sound very surprised by the revelation. She closed her eyes, fighting off tears of frustration. "What?"
"You're not tied to Stiles. If he's...if he's in one of the Between places, you can't pull him back through a ritual."
Lydia finally looked at him, angry at the reminder. "I know that, Peter."
Peter cocked his head in thought. "You're not tied to anyone the way you're tied to me, but you've just said it, haven't you, where that connection lies." He paused, smiling slowly. "In death. You're tied to the world of the dead, forever. Maybe you can't bring someone out of that place again, but you can communicate to someone who's already there. When supernatural creatures die...well, there's a belief that we're given a choice to move on or not move on. Those who don't move on stay in a world that's between life and death. I think that's where the fairy ring would have taken Stiles. Find someone else who's trapped there, someone who's already dead, and you'll find a way to speak to Stiles."
Lydia cupped a hand over her mouth, considering the idea. "I can get a message to him," she said quietly. Then she narrowed her eyes at Peter. "Why are you helping me? I didn't ask for this."
Peter jutted his chin out slightly. She didn't trust the gleam in his eye, but she trusted the logic. It made a sort of sense, what he was saying. And at the moment, she didn't care if he'd want something in return later. She cared about getting her friend back.
"It's the least I can do, for the girl I murdered," he finally said. Then he smirked. "I've missed your fire, Lydia."
David Bowie had ruined him when it came to goblin cities.
Stiles had expected something more when he topped the hill, but instead the overlook gave him a view of what appeared to be the remains of a small town. A small, deserted, 'human' town, at least from the shape of the buildings, the size of the doors, the fact that the tallest structure looked an awful lot like a collapsed parking structure. From what he could tell, fairy people didn't even have cars.
"That's...different." Stiles shook his head at himself. The weird-o-meter didn't really work here, considering the complete absence of normal. He toyed with the idea of waiting here a while, staking the place out to see if there was any movement below, and quickly decided his curiosity wouldn't allow that.
It was a long walk into The City of Ruin, but the closer he got to the structures, the more familiar they seemed. If he wasn't entirely mistaken, this place was once a complete duplicate of the old downtown strip of Beacon Hills. Only post-apocalyptic looking with its ceiling-less open-walled stores, some of the places stripped down to to their rafters...But their was something off about their shape. He closed in on the first line of buildings, stepping right up to its brick wall. The sidewalk beneath his feet was soft and he bent down, giving it a curious touch. It was somehow soggy, like a thick, mossy bank. So not concrete, and now that he was closer to the building, it looked even more off. He put a hand to one wall of brick and knocked gently. The hollow thud wasn't what he was expecting at all. It sounded more like wood than rock.
He took a quick step back when heard something behind the wall move. It was a scurrying sound, like he'd just woken a family of mice.
"Someone's home," he muttered.
He heard footsteps behind him and spun around, staring at the line of storefronts across the non-existent street. Something moved in the shadows behind its absent windows. There was the faintest yellow gleam of tiny eyes watching him. Dozens of tiny eyes.
"Well, this isn't good," he said, and gave his shadow-veiled observers a short wave. The eyes moved, their owners shuffling around in the darkness. "Hey, there, uh, just stopped by to see if there was a coffee shop in town. No? Too bad. I'll just be heading back now..."
Before he could stumble back, he was pushed face-first into the not-brick wall, an arm pinning him across the shoulders.
Before he could react, a body pressed against his back, destroying all sense of personal space.
"Still getting into trouble, Stiles?"
"You don't have to keep doing this."
Lydia didn't know why she bothered to say it. They'd performed this song and dance a few times now, so she knew how Malia would respond. Or wouldn't respond, as had mostly been the case. But this time the girl looked up and actually stared at her. Lydia couldn't help but tighten her grip on the pillow under her arm. Malia had a way of making her feel like prey, which used to be a somewhat foreign feeling for Lydia.
Malia shrugged one shoulder. "Neither do you."
Technically that was true. Lydia still wasn't sure how communicating with Stiles would help them bring him back. And, since her meeting with Peter, she'd been throwing every waking minute into researching the fairy realms, the Morrigan...She hadn't liked what she'd learned. She hadn't liked finding the truth, that there was no good solution to this problem, and she'd kept herself from telling Scott and the rest of the pack everything she'd learned. Stiles should be the first to know, if she couldn't find a better way around this.
And they weren't completely out of options. Fea hadn't appeared to her again yet. But she would, and when she did, Lydia hoped the creature would find her worthy of receiving an answer.
"I know what you're thinking," Lydia said, trudging after the other girl as she slipped through the back entry, guarding her folded blanket and pillow against the cobwebs. "You're thinking that Peter's taken me for a fool. He does have a habit of lying about, well, everything. But this is going to work."
Unlike the last few attempts. She'd hoped...no, she'd been certain that Aidan was going to be the one to speak to her. She still wasn't sure if he was silent because he'd moved on and was too far to hear her, or if it was because he was ignoring her. She wouldn't have blamed him for that, not considering what she was going to ask him. But she was running out of options to choose from.
"Haven't you already tried to communicate with this one?"
"Yes, which is why I know she's out there. She hasn't moved on yet, but I...she was too distant. I didn't have a real connection with her."
Malia hesitated inside the wide open foyer of the building. The flashlight she was holding for Lydia's benefit was downcast, the light bleaching out the symbol built into the floor. Lydia couldn't help but grasp onto her own wrist at the sight, touch the tender skin there, imagining a bruise that had long since faded.
Malia was scenting the air. She glanced back over her shoulder, eyes wide. "For the record, I already hate this place."
"You should. Pack was tortured here. Killed. That's why this is going to work."
Malia turned slightly, glancing at the opening to the safe. Her nose wrinkled in distaste. "This is where she died."
It wasn't a question, so Lydia didn't answer. She stepped past her into the vault. Before she'd even stepped in, she could feel it, the sense of death pushing down on her. Even without a werewolf's keen sense of smell, she could pick up on a hint of decayed blood. This was a bad place. An awful place. And she was going to spend the night here, with a watchful werecoyote looking after her. Maybe she was crazy, and Peter was going to get the last laugh when she was put in a cell next to his.
Lydia laid out a thick blanket. She planned to never use it again once it touched the vault floor. She sat down at its center, holding the pillow behind her head as she laid back onto it. She sensed Malia as the other girl plopped down on her right side and blinked up at the ceiling above her, suddenly feeling even more awkward. Malia hadn't joined her the other times, or at least, she hadn't sat this close.
"So, if you do get in touch with this girl, what are you going to have her say to Stiles?" Malia asked.
Lydia crossed her fingers over her stomach, trying to relax. "I'm not sure...He needs to know we're trying to find a way to get to him. And maybe Erica and Stiles can do something from their end."
"Can you - " Malia cut off sharply and let out a heavy breath. "Can you tell him I'm sorry?"
Relaxation wasn't happening. Lydia sat back up onto her elbows, glaring at the girl. "What exactly are you apologizing for?"
Malia was sitting cross-legged, staring down at her hands. "The fight we had...If I hadn't left like that, he wouldn't have come after me. He wouldn't have been caught out there alone."
Lydia huffed in annoyance. "The thing that arranged for this to happen is described in mythology as being part of a goddess entity. If you'd been with him, she would have separated the two of you or taken both of you, then where would we be? And if she hadn't taken him that night, she would have found him some other time. This isn't your fault."
"So she was after him, specifically?" Malia asked. She shook her head, as if answering her own question. "Because of what he means to you, right?"
Lydia blinked, trying not to react. "He's a good friend."
"Yeah." Malia's cheek twitched with a small smile. "He really is. I didn't realize what it meant to have a friend like him. That's why I'm tired of pretending there's more there. I chose the wrong way to tell him that, but it's true."
Lydia's voice caught in her throat. She tried again. "What's that supposed to mean?"
"It means I know how much he cares about me, but that I know he'll never look at me the way he looks at you."
Lydia opened and closed her mouth. "He used to have a crush on me... But he doesn't look at me like that anymore."
"Maybe not when you're paying attention." Malia shook her head. "And I've seen the way you're looking back at him...Just do me a favor and get him back, and then quit pretending like you don't know what I'm talking about."
Lydia laid back down, not wanting to look at Malia, to see her hurt expression. "I'll get him back." That part, she'd agree to.
Erica's grin was blinding. Without warning she yanked him forward by the front of his torn shirt and into a breath-taking, sexual-orientation-affirming hug. Stile found himself smiling like a mad-man at her little squeal of delight. She pushed off of him, still holding his arms, as if to assure her that he wouldn't run away. And now that the initial giddiness of seeing a familiar face and being attack-hugged was over, reality was sinking in, and he found his stomach souring.
Stiles opened and closed his mouth, somewhat thrown as to what he could say. "Are you...Actually real?" he finally managed.
Erica raised a brow, amused. "It's me. Really here."
Stiles swallowed hard. "Then does that mean I'm..." When she didn't catch on, he continued. "Oh my god, am I dead?"
Erica looked confused. "Uh, no."
"Really?" He waved a hand at her. "Because, and I hate to bring this up, you are, Erica. So if you're dead and you're touching me right now..."
"Slow down, Stiles." Erica shook her head, still smiling. "You're in one of the realms Between. If you want to put it in a way that'll get your ass kicked in a goblin pub, you're in a 'Fairy Realm'. It's not the great hereafter or whatever, but it's not the moral world either. When the supernatural die, their spirits can roam these realms instead of moving on."
"You're haunting this place?"
"I'm totally haunting this place." Erica's smirk slipped slightly. "Which is cool with the locals, because they're used to ghosts. You, on the other hand, are kind of a shining beacon of the still-alive, so maybe we should get you somewhere safer. I think the Red Caps inside are taking bets on who gets to wash their hat in your blood, which is, like, their only hobby." Her hand slipped down his arm, grabbing his fingertips. "Come on."
Stiles didn't budge, despite the slightly terrifying imagery. "Erica, stop...We're not going anywhere until I get some answers."
She released a put-upon sigh. "Fine. But since you seem to be taking forever to ask the right questions, let me do you a favor and skip to the good stuff."
"There's good stuff?" Stiles asked.
"Sure. I mean, hello, you have me to protect you, so that's good." She made a face, as if she'd been sucking a lemon. "And I guess you might consider it good that I only managed to find you because someone sent me a psychic message to be on the lookout for you. And that someone was Lydia Martin, who, apparently, is a Banshee. Who knew?"
"Yeah, you missed that," Stiles muttered. "Wait. So, you've heard from Lydia? She and the gang already know I'm missing?" He fist pumped the air. "Score one for the McCall pack."
"McCall pack?" Erica snorted. "Wow. You're going to need to tell me how the hell that happened...And, of course they noticed you missing by now. Oh, wait, you don't know about the time thing...Days move a little differently here. You might have figured out it's been twilight here so long that the locals actually call this place Twilight? Yeah. I don't know the specifics, since I'm not on the mortal plane to make a comparison, but your Banshee said something about you being gone for over a week, last time we talked."
"What? How? You know what, I don't really care. Rewind to the part about Lydia."
Erica snorted. "Of course that's what you're interested in. Lydia Freakin' Martin." She let out a slow sigh. "None of the rest of us ever had a chance, did we? Whatever, Batman. Lydia gave me a message. She wants you to know that the pack is looking for a way to get you out, so you need to stay alive until they do. Also, there was something about not bleeding on the land, drinking the water, or eating the fairy fruit. Apparently it's an old rule for mortals visiting this realm."
"Yeah, about that..."
With the hand she wasn't holding hostage, Stiles gestured at the cut on his neck. "It's not as if I had a choice in the matter! And then a Kelpie chased me into the water, so I'm pretty sure some of it went down my throat. I kind of put two and two together before I ate anything though."
"Stiles, whatever you do, no matter how hungry you are, you can't eat anything from this realm."
Stiles swallowed hard. "I'm pretty sure I already know the answer to this question, but I have to ask. What exactly happens if I do?"
Erica frowned. "Then you never get to leave."
"Of course that's the part the fairy tale gets right..."
"It's been a month."
Fea didn't reply to the comment, and Lydia didn't really expect her to, not after she'd walked into her bedroom to find the being sitting on the stool at her vanity, staring into the tall mirror, as if studying Allison Argent's face for the first time.
Lydia had told the pack everything she knew, except for this part, the part where the thing that had taken Stiles dared to wear Allison's face. She couldn't force herself to mention that to Scott or the newly returned Mr. Argent. And maybe if they saw "Fea", she wouldn't look this way to them. Lydia wasn't sure if the being had actually taken this form or just warped Lydia's reality a touch for proper effect. Either way it hurt, seeing Allison, even if she knew it wasn't her.
"It's been a month since you took him." Lydia's hands curled into fists at her side. "How long do you plan on playing this little game of yours?"
Fea watched her through the reflection in the mirror. "You've been speaking to a spirit on the other side. Well done, sister. You're growing stronger with every day."
Lydia slowly reached behind her, pulling her bedroom door closed. Not that it would help if one of the pack showed up, but it gave her a sense of control.
"Fea. I've been used in the past. That's how my powers came into being, so if you think I'm just going to eat my Wheaties and prepare myself for whatever task you want me to perform, you can forget about it. I'm not Peter Hale's tool anymore, and I'll never be yours. If you have something you want, you tell me what it is. Or leave. It's up to you. We'll get Stiles back with or without your help."
Fea's dark eyes looked tired, and Lydia found herself losing some of her heat when she saw the being's expression.
"You won't be able to," she assured Lydia. "You won't be able to get him out without the will of The Morrigan."
No. That was absolutely not what Lydia wanted to hear, but she she had a feeling it was the truth.
"Or," Fea proposed, "you can always wait. The spell of the fairy ring. You've studied it by now, I'm sure? Most of the stories about it are simply that, stories, but there's one aspect that has always been worked into the spell. The fairy ring will release its captive after a year and a day."
"Yes, I've read a myth like that," Lydia admitted. "I've also read that when the captive is returned, they turn to dust the first time they touch iron or keel over during their first human meal."
Fea only blinked owlishly at her.
"But that's only if he eats, drinks, and bleeds while in that realm, isn't it?" Lydia shook her head. "That's not going to happen."
"Maybe it already has," Fea said. "Humans are hungry, always starving for more. Do you really think your Stiles can last that long? A mortal like him? But hush, Sister Lydia, for all is not lost. I told you, the will of the Morrigan may save him still."
Lydia took a quick step forward, barely resisting the urge to shake Fea. The being held up a hand to stop her from speaking.
"You wanted to know why I needed you strong, why I chose your heart's desire to take, what it is I want from you? It's quite simple, Lydia. I need you to take my place."
Lydia's brow wrinkled in confusion. "I don't know what that means."
"I've been watching you." Fea stood up, stepping closer. "I've been watching you since your death. You've developed so quickly. You show so such promise. I've listen to your wail, seen you march with your warriors. Even now, I hold back old enemies who are salivating for the chance to begin a battle over this land. You already wear my title, Havoc of War...The Morrigan, we are the goddess three, but we were not always. I once had a face, a name, and I became power, for my warriors, for their victory. But I grow tired of my role. I've been searching for my replacement, and I have found the one who can take my place. You, Lydia, can be one of us."
"And all I have to give is everything I am?" Lydia huffed. "No thanks."
"All you have to gain is everything you may become," Fea corrected. "I saw your stubbornness. I knew it would be easiest to reach you, to push you toward your strength if one you loved was threatened."
"Newsflash, kidnapping the people I care about isn't a very good way of recruiting me for your cause."
"Consider it. Take the power and save him. Or, if he's too far gone, you can take the power and keep him. He'll be forever yours in that realm. Forever young and beautiful, a consort to a goddess."
Fea grinned knowingly at her baffled expression. "Perhaps I'm wrong. Perhaps he means nothing to you. I've given you my proposal and the knowledge you sought. It's up to you to give me your answer."
"So you for real didn't notice that the buildings aren't buildings? That they're literally growing out of the ground?" Erica chuckled. "Okay, maybe calling you The Great Detective was a stretch after all."
Stiles stepped a bit faster to keep up with her. As if to flaunt the fact that he was woefully unable to do that, she turned around, walking backwards so he could see her wide smile. It was becoming a welcome, and common, sight for him, even if he was currently rolling his eyes at her. He wasn't sure how long they'd been hanging out, considering the lack of day and night, but he'd taken the time to sleep a few times, in the hollowed out tree Erica had found and claimed for him (apparently spirits, no matter how solid they felt, didn't actually require things like sleep). And they'd had time to explore all of the City of Ruin, which was why he was pissed that she'd laughed at him every time he asked who'd built it and why it looked so much like Beacon Hills.
"Fine, oh wise one, can you at least explain to me 'why' it's growing out of the ground," he asked, annoyed. He felt his heart give a little jump and he slowed down to lean against the side of a building (tree?) that vaguely resembled the spot where his old barber shop was located. After a moment he slid the rest of the way down, sitting.
Erica's grin wavered when she realized how tired he was. She slouched down beside him, patting his knee, but he was certain that she wasn't going to bring up the reason why he was so tired. Mentioning food, or the lack of, was not the best way to put him in a good mood.
"I'll take mercy on you. I happened to run across this old hag who told me about, well, 'the ruin'. Apparently that's what the fae call it when more of our world bleeds into theirs. It's like the ground can feel it and it starts to duplicate what's there. It only happens in hot spots. Apparently if you travel far enough into the land of Night, there's another 'city of ruin' that closely resembles Los Angeles. Who knew it had so much of a magic vibe?"
"Huh." Stiles gave her a side glance. "Want to go?"
Erica shook her head, laughing. "You'd be dead in seconds. Plenty of uglies who'd want to pick the flesh off your bones in the Night."
"So you've been?"
"Let's just say I was bored post-death and crossed the border...This place is so big though. I've run across a few supernatural spirits, but no one important."
Stiles bit his lip to keep from replying, but that didn't work very long. Actually it just reminded him that he wished he had something, anything he could eat. Erica had let him drink as much water as he could stand, but eating was another manner. They knew the fairy fruit would trap him here, but they weren't sure about flesh. (They had a long, thought-out and somewhat morbid conversation about the type of fae he could possibly kill, cook, and consume...They'd decided against murder in the end.)
"So Boyd moved on," he finally said. He'd been wanting to mention it for a while now.
Erica didn't so much as twitch, staring straight up at the sky, as if she'd never see another sunset. The way the constant coral glow caught her hair made her look vibrant, alive. It was easy for Stiles to forget she wasn't. No, he was the one still alive, still needing to eat and sleep and pee. The guy who, according to the talking reflection in the creek, looked like the walking undead.
Erica let her head loll over, her hair pressing into Stiles' shoulder. "I guess. I mean, he has a sister on the other side, so I guess he was in a hurry to see her."
"But you're not. In a hurry, I mean."
"I wasn't finished," she said, quietly. "I couldn't just let that be the last adventure I ever had."
'That'. Stiles could guess 'that' referred to being kidnapped, tortured, and murdered...He could understand her wanting to stay somewhere, anywhere long enough to forget. He slipped an arm behind her neck, wrapping it around her. The movement made his stomach growl. Erica didn't even laugh at it this time, which let him know she was beginning to worry about his lack of food.
"So how long do you think you'll stay here?"
Erica was quiet too long, and Stiles craned his neck, trying to get a good look at her face. He could see the tears in her lashes catching the light.
She hushed him, gripping his knee a bit tighter. "Lydia's with us. She's...she's telling me something. Oh..." She sat up a bit straighter, out of his grasp, and looked at him over her shoulder. "She wants to try something, okay? It'll work, I think."
He could see it, the moment when something in her expression changed, and he wasn't exactly sure what had happened until she opened her mouth again.
"Stiles, it's you..."
His eyes widened. "Lydia? How are-"
Erica shook her head. "Erica's letting me see through her eyes, speak through her mouth. It's bizarre, because I know I'm dreaming, but I know this is real too...Erica didn't want to give you my message herself."
Stiles frowned. "That's only a tad worrisome."
Erica lifted a hand, touching his cheek. Or, he supposed, Lydia did. He could feel her fingertips slide down, over the small scar on his neck, touch the rough material from the green shirt Erica had "found" for him while he was sleeping. He was sure he looked pitiful at this point, but he couldn't bring himself to care.
"Lydia, what's wrong?"
She closed her eyes tightly, failing to stop a tear from rolling down her face. "There's a way I can get you out."
It was. It was very bad. Lydia told him about Fea's proposal, how the fairy ring spell worked, what it meant to be part of The Morrigan, rambling on so quickly he could barely keep up. He wondered if this was what he sounded like to other people, when he went off on a tangent.
"-I promised to get you out, Stiles, and I will."
"No," he said, cutting her off. "No, you absolutely will not. Did you miss the part where you, a teenage girl, are going to basically lose your life, your identity, so some supposedly higher being gets to take early retirement? No way are you doing this, Lyd. Not for me."
"Stiles, I've tried everything else. This is the only way."
"Look me in the eye and tell me you'd say yes to Fea's offer if I wasn't in danger? Would you really want that future for yourself?"
She shook her head. "It doesn't matter. This is the only way."
"It's not." He grabbed her by the shoulders, holding her still. "Look at me, Lydia. You tell that thing no. You tell it that I'm waiting out my time here."
Her eyes widened. "Stiles, you can't do that! You're in a place filled with things that want to kill you, and if they don't get to you, starvation will!"
"You said a year, Lyd. Your time or mine?"
"Mine," she admitted, "but we don't know how this time difference actually works. I've tried keeping up with it, but it seems to fluctuate. Even if a year of our time is only a month in this place, you'll still-"
"I can make it, Lydia. We don't know anything about the magic in this place or what it does to a living person. If there's any way to survive here, I can. I will." Stiles' hands slid up, cupping her face. "This is me being selfish, okay. If you were to come here and get me and lose everything, I wouldn't be able to live with myself. I literally wouldn't be able to live with myself. Understood?"
She slowly nodded. "Okay," she said. "Okay."
"And you'll take care of my dad, right? No bacon or curly fries for him. And look after Scott. He's going to need help with Liam. He's not exactly out of his whole Teen-Dad experience yet. And Malia..." Stiles cut off. "Malia will actually be okay. Just don't let her disappear. She needs people."
"I know." Her voice cracked at the words. She hesitated before leaning into him. "Stiles, I'm sorry. You're going to lose a year of your life, and it's my fault."
"Don't be. Don't be sorry. Just be waiting, okay? Not romantically or anything, just...Just be there, when I come back, okay? And, yeah, that sounds cheesy. And, I know it puts a lot of pressure on you to visit Beacon Hills right as you're supposed to be running off to become Superwoman and cure cancer. I just...You're important to me, okay? You're my friend, and...you're you. If I know the great Lydia Martin is waiting at the finish line, I'll - "
She closed the gap between them, pressing her lips to his. He forgot. He forgot the reason why he was tiptoeing around telling Lydia how much she meant to him. He forgot that he hadn't said it. He knew he should be the one confused over why Lydia was kissing him right now, but he couldn't manage. All he could do was fight to kiss her back.
When they finally pulled apart, his lips were still open, his eyes still closed. He could imagine, for a moment longer, that the hair tangled around his fingers was strawberry blond hair and that Lydia Martin was only inches away instead of a world apart.
Erica. Erica using Erica's voice.
He blinked at her, feeling ashamed for using her in the moment, but she was grinning back like a madwoman. "Who knew you could kiss?"
"You were, uh, there for that?"
Erica raised a suggestive brow. "For every bit of it. I got to feel what she was feeling...Stiles, just in case you're wondering, that wasn't a guilt kiss. That was Lydia Martin kissing you because she's been too stupid not to take proper advantage of your manhood while the two of you were on the same plane of existence."
Stiles felt the blush at his cheeks. "Did you just call Lydia stupid? Because she will resurrect your ass and kill you again if she finds out."
Erica laughed, but she sobered back up quickly. "I 'did' hear everything...I'm sorry, Stiles. I'm sorry you're stuck here. I'm sorry you're losing so much time."
She scooted back beside him, and they curled up next to each other, watching the unchanging sky. "Well, at least I'm in good company," he noted.
"So says you. I have a feeling that keeping you alive is going to be a full time job." But the jab was full of warmth, and Stiles wrapped his arm around her a little tighter.
A year. A year in this place. A year of his life gone. If he managed to stay away from kelpies and mystical junk food. What was his life even?
"Can't wait to write my 'What I did on Summer Vacation' essay," he said, and closed his eyes, hoping she didn't notice the tears clouding his voice.
A year. Her time, not his.
A year and a day.
Some of them had lost faith.
It was easier for her, speaking to him through Erica when she could manage to contact the spirit. But the others had to take it at her word. Had to deal with the absence he left in their lives.
They'd faced so much over the past year; they'd been separated, been drawn back together, been deceived by the power-hungry. They'd taken a beating from a Beast that should have been long destroyed. They'd lost a few people, gained a few more. And now it was time.
Lydia stepped carefully through the forest, a heavy canvas bag of supplies at her side and a flashlight in her hand. A part of her had expected to be alone tonight, but she'd been pleased when she'd stopped by the Stilinski household to find Stiles' father waiting for her, Melissa standing at the doorway as they left, reminding them that she'd be at the hospital, waiting for them to bring Stiles in.
Lydia had nearly cried at their confidence. When they'd arrived, just after sunset, to the spot where Stiles had disappeared, Scott was already waiting, sitting cross-legged on the ground, chin resting in his hand as if he were a bored child instead of an Alpha werewolf.
"I wish he'd hurry up," Scott muttered.
Lydia hadn't been able to stop the small burst of laughter that left her lips. She fell to her knees and into his arms, the hug worth ruining her dress.
"The others?" she asked.
Scott shook his head against her shoulder. "Kira is at Freshman orientation, and Liam is still on vacation with his parents. Derek said it should just be us."
And Malia was two miles away, sitting in her bedroom. Lydia already knew that part, even if neither of them said it. Lydia had spoken to her on the phone a few nights ago.
"I can't, Lydia. I can't be there if he doesn't come back."
Lydia couldn't even find it in herself to be mad. She understood that sentiment completely.
For a whole year, she'd been communicating with Stiles and Erica through her nightly trances. But if this didn't work, if something went wrong...Lydia wasn't sure if she'd be able to handle telling them that this wait had all been for nothing.
"I've been thinking," Scott began. "If he comes through, and...If it looks like he's not going to make it." His eyes flashed red. It wasn't a threat, but an explanation.
Lydia hoped it wouldn't come to that. But given the option between that and him not surviving...
Her thought was cut off by a burst of pink light out of the corner of her eye. Her shout of alarm was interrupted by a grunt as the sheriff toppled over, his son's lanky form sprawled over him and slipping in the damp dirt beneath as he tried to simultaneously get off of his dad and hug him to death.
Lydia let out a short, breathless laugh, relief bringing tears to her eyes. Of course. Of course Stiles would return like this.
She barely had time to catch her footing as Scott leaped up, forcing her to stand with him, and then dove into the Stilinskis just as they made it to their feet.
"Stiles, you're alive!"
Lydia did laugh then, wiping at her eyes when she heard Scott's declaration. "Of course he is," she said. "I never doubted it."
The words drew his attention. She finally got a good look at him, his gaunt cheeks, the way the rags that used to be clothes hung lose on him. Time had definitely passed there. She didn't know how much, just that he was standing...She reached out for him, taking her turn, and felt his breath against her neck as he let his head rest against her.
"I think my five year plan is working," he muttered. "Please tell me you brought me curly fries?"
"Hospital, then fries," she promised. "This was the longest year."
"Felt that way," he assured her, and pulled back. He was trembling slightly, and the other two stepped up behind him to keep him upright.
The sheriff leaned into him, kissing the back of his son's head, seemingly unashamed of the wetness glistening on his cheeks. "Hospital, then talking," he corrected, for all of their benefits.
Lydia stepped out of their way, holding out her flashlight to guide them, but hesitated when her eye caught movement in the tree branches overhead.
She glared up at them. "You should pray I'm not as powerful as you think I am," she said.
Something feathered lifted off from the bottom branch and flew off, a shadow on the night sky.