A/N: Written for hc-bingo's prompt "loss of voice." WARNING, there is a mention of a child's death and possible abuse in this story.
Lydia hadn't quite intended her wish for a quiet weekend to be granted so literally.
She'd been waiting weeks for the chance to break free from her own hectic schedule (her recent decision to switch to a career in forensics throwing her advisers for a loop) and Stiles' hectic schedule (FBI fast-track trainee or not, he still needed several credits to complete his criminology degree) and the pack's hectic schedule (because staying out of trouble was near impossible for any of their friends, whether they were in Beacon Hills or not). So, when Thursday evening arrived, she had been determined to not let the little cold virus she'd caught keep her from packing her bag. Of course, come Friday, after a night of blissful, exhaustion-fueled sleep in their rented cabin, she began to have her doubts about the likelihood that they would have a long, relaxing weekend. Beginning with the moment she opened her mouth to comment on said-weekend and found she'd lost her voice.
Laryngitis was no laughing matter, but Stiles found it funny, anyhow. She'd immediately sent him a text to remind him that he, her bed partner, would be riding the virus out soon enough himself. He'd sobered quickly and made her breakfast, chatting non-stop about their plans for the day.
A few hours later, it was her turn to laugh at him, but she tried to stifle the impulse. She bit down a smile at Stiles' forlorn expression as he watched a trio of mechanical elves clad in tattered red and green bounce out of sync with the jolly tune playing from the speakerbox in the bushes. Each movement caused a sharp, metal-on-metal squeak that made the equally sharp pitched "voices" of the singing robots sound like they were strained in agony. They, much like everything she'd seen so far in Holiday FunLand, were in need of repair.
Stiles opened and closed his mouth, finally turning to look at Lydia. "I swear, this place was better when I was a kid."
Lydia nodded, but her sincerity must have been in question thanks to the amusement in her eyes, because Stiles sighed, put out.
"I'm so sorry, Lyds, I know you didn't even want to come here, anyway, and I hate that I've wasted half of our day on a park that obviously should have been shut down a decade ago..."
He reached up, running a hand through his hair in aspiration, and Lydia pulled his arm back down, letting her fingers slip down his sleeve until they caught his hand. She squeezed his fingers gently, mouthing, "It's fine," and jerking her chin in the direction of the entry to "Christmas Land."
"You sure?" Stiles asked. "Because we can go back to the cabin?"
Lydia popped a cough drop into her mouth and tugged him along. She didn't care that the place was a kitschy disappointment. In fact, she'd expected it to be when Stiles had made the suggestion, gushing about his childhood visit to the tiny theme park. This weekend wasn't about fantasy destinations, though. It was about spending time together, something that had been a bit of a novelty over the past year.
Stiles leaned forward, kissing the hair against her temple. Message received. "Okay," he relented, "but tomorrow, we'll backtrack to that mall we passed on the way here. Add some retail therapy to make up for the disaster that was Thanksgiving Land."
Lydia gave him a pointed glance, agreeing wholeheartedly that the Pilgrim animatronics would be giving her nightmares, then smiled smugly at the agreement. She turned her attention back to the park, trying not to roll her eyes at the candy cane poles lining the path to Santa Claus' workshop. Their red stripes were faded to a pastel pink and only half the strung lights around them were flashing. There wasn't a single person lined up in front of the glass to see the display of mechanical figures inside, building toys and stuffing teddy bears, but she'd spotted a few random customers on the small roller-coaster beyond, seemingly enjoying the ride, despite the fact that the plastic reindeer carts they were riding in seemed to be missing various parts. If she'd had any worries about spreading her cold to any children in the park's sparse crowd, they were definitely unfounded.
Stiles huffed. "Wow, they're still doing the Mr. and Mrs. Claus act," he said.
Lydia spotted the couple around the next turn, where a large covered pavilion held a throne-like chair surrounded by over-sized presents. Santa was looking bored, an equally unenthusiastic six-year-old posing on his lap, with Santa's "wife" standing to the side, rosy-cheeks beaming in a wide smile. The couple looked their parts, soft around the middle and white haired, but Lydia thought they were probably only in their late fifties, despite Stiles' comment.
"That's the owner of the park," Stiles said, his voice lower, "and I swear to God, Mrs. Claus is actually his sister, who co-owns the place. It was weird when I was seven and it's weird now."
Lydia pulled out her phone, quickly typing a message and ribbing Stiles so that he glanced down to read it: "Did you sit on his lap?"
"No comment," Stiles quickly chirped. "And if I did, there's no evidence of said event…" He turned around, as if distracted by something beside him and Lydia followed his gaze. She didn't see anything, and whatever Stiles must have noticed had disappeared, because he shook his head. "Sorry, I was just remembering something...There was this kid I met here, when I got separated from Dad. Mom wasn't here that day, because she was visiting her great aunt. Mom didn't have much in the way of relatives left, and Aunt Bet was not long for this world, hence the cross-country trip. I guess Dad accurately pegged a deathside visit as excruciatingly boring for a kid, so he took me to Holiday FunLand every day that week."
When he didn't continue, Lydia frowned. She could see the mention of a deathside visit was conjuring up unrelated memories. Seven-year-old Stiles hadn't known he'd be participating in a similar ritual for his mother a few years later.
"Who was the kid?" Lydia typed, getting his attention.
Stiles bounced a bit, trying to wipe the distant expression from his face. "No clue. I called him Apple, because, well, he was carrying an apple, like he was afraid he might need a snack at any moment. We rode the coaster and played hide and seek until Dad finally found me. And, okay, maybe his slight public meltdown was warranted, because, hello, public abduction, but at the time, I was upset, so I didn't even tell him about Apple." Stiles shrugged. "The owner, Santa, was trying to calm Dad down and gave us free tickets for the rest of our stay… So, yay? Go me? Anyhow, I saw Apple again a few times, but I was afraid I'd get him in trouble if I told Dad that's who I'd been playing with when he'd lost his shit."
Stiles gestured over his shoulder at the candy cane path. "I met him over there the first time… I hadn't thought of that in years."
Lydia typed a reply. "Maybe that's why you wanted to visit this park again?"
"Maybe, since it seems to only be entertaining with the right company," Stiles mused. "But I'll take Lydia Martin over some kid named Apple any day." He turned on his heels, all but announcing that he was ready to leave the conversation behind. Lydia tried not to find his dorky grin charming. "So, how about we skip the line to see the Christmas celebs and go straight to the only part of the park that will still look amazing in complete disarray. That's right: Halloween Land. Something tells me the spiderwebs are going to be super authentic."
He offered an arm to Lydia, and she gladly took it, not even bothering to point out that no such line to see the Claus' actually existed.
Lydia was still picking out the pieces of styrofoam stuck in her hair as she stepped into the cabin. An arch of jack-o-lanterns they'd passed under at the park had been particularly crumbly, but Stiles had been right. Halloween Land had aged better than the rest of the park. She didn't want to admit it, but she'd actually enjoyed herself today, even though Holiday FunLand was definitely not a place she'd ever recommend to someone she actually liked. She stopped just inside the main room and turned. Stiles was at the doorway, making a face.
"Uh oh?" Lydia mouthed back, forgetting her lack of a voice for a minute. She raised an inquisitive brow.
"Well, you know how you asked me to hold your scarf on the Tunnel of Scares, which brilliantly led into the Tunnel of Love. Is that reflective of our relationship or what? It's like they knew us, right? And then we were in Valentine Land, wanting to ride the Bumper Hearts, so I kept it looped around my belt for good luck when I valiantly hopped into my love bug and raced that asshole eleven-year-old who was hogging the double-seated two-heart car we wanted?"
Lydia blinked, digesting the question, then glanced down at Stiles' belt. Her scarf wasn't there. She sighed, pouting slightly.
"I'll get it back," Stiles assured, hands raised defensively.
Lydia shook her head. "It's fine," she mouthed. "Closing."
Stiles raised his hands, keys dangling from one finger. "No, okay, I have to run back that way into town to pick up our food anyway. I'll just call the park on the way. I'm sure their crew stays there to clean up after closing anyway. It won't take a minute, and I'm almost sure I an convince them to give me a bag of leftover kettle corn for free."
Lydia stepped forward to stop him, but Stiles had already stepped back out of grasp, dodging her. "I'll be back in an hour, tops. Then we can eat and break in the cabin? Sofa? Bed? Floor? Maybe? Yes? Love you."
He'd already shut the door before he could fully receive her glare. But the aggravation was only surface deep. She'd already planned to take a shower and lay out her new lingerie set, along with a few toys she'd picked up for their weekend entertainment. If things went too well, she might not get to spend much time at the mall tomorrow after all, but shopping could come later. This weekend was about them, and nothing was going to stop her from enjoying it.
Stiles was easily distracted. It was a quality that Lydia had learned to live with, and plan around. If he said an hour, he usually meant two. Maybe longer if there was research involved. If anyone could stretch out a trip for fast food, it would be Stiles.
So Lydia was fine an hour after he left.
Sure, she might be pacing the floor. And sure, she'd had far too much time alone to think about how quiet life without Stiles could be in a creepy cabin in the woods. But that didn't mean she was worrying, not at all.
She glanced down at her phone. He'd only been gone an hour and twenty minutes, but he'd ignored her text. That wasn't like him. So she called, fully aware that she wouldn't actually be able to speak if he answered, but she hoped the vibration would be enough to catch his attention. It went straight to voicemail.
Lydia disconnected, staring down at the phone. The background image was from the last time she and Stiles had been able to visit Malia and Scott outside of pack business. They'd taken a trip to the beach and enjoyed themselves. No supernatural upsets allowed. That had been nearly a year ago. She desperately wanted to call them, see if she could get in touch with someone in the pack, but none of them were nearby. It would be hours before they'd arrive, even if they did get a plane ticket. And for what? Stiles would be back soon, and Lydia would be embarrassed that she was panicking over nothing.
The phone lit, as if a call was coming in, but the face remained the same smiling background shot, littered with apps. Lydia heard it though, the sound of the line connecting, some faint buzzing through the speaker. She slowly raised the phone to her ear, listening closely. The sound was startling, a snap and a crunch, but she couldn't recognize what it was at first. It came again, the crunch lasting longer. Then chewing. Someone biting and chewing. Eating.
"Hello?" The word didn't come out. Lydia could feel it back there, stuck. Her voice, trapped in the back of her throat like a lump.
No. That wasn't quite right. It wasn't her voice back there. It was a scream, waiting, ready.
Lydia lowered the phone, feeling a chill run through her as the light on it dimmed. The connection severed. But the urge to scream stayed with her.
The name never left her lips.
Holiday FunLand's light were dimmed, the chipped, dirty paint on its scrolling sign above the gates making it look as if the theme park had been abandoned ages ago. But, there it was, parked up front, her car that she'd insisted on taking on the trip. The one Stiles had driven away. It was alone in the parking lot, and empty. She had a sudden longing to see his Jeep, Roscoe, waiting there instead, as if its presence would somehow be more comforting.
The Uber driver was nice enough not to comment on the fact that she wanted to be dropped off at a closed park at sunset, and she was nice enough to tip him generously for it.
She glanced in through her car window, but didn't bother to get inside. Instead, she circled to the back, popping the trunk open with her spare key. A worn baseball bat was waiting for her inside, along with a leather satchel filled with ingredients that would have gotten the couple labelled as occultists in a heartbeat. Something told her she didn't need wolfsbane or mountain ash here. Her fingers tightened around the grip of the bat. She hoped she wouldn't need the bat either, but she pulled it free, nevertheless.
She walked toward the gate, searching for signs of life at the ticket booth. There were none, but a shadow against the wall showed her that the wooden door labeled, "employees only," was cracked slightly. Someone hadn't closed up the park very well. That or someone had left the door open for her.
She shuddered, but stepped inside. The ticket office was more of a closet and cluttered, but she paused inside, quickly sending a text to Scott. Her location, and a warning to call the police with the address if she didn't text him back in half an hour. She knew the Alpha would have a fit when he saw the vague message. She switched the phone to silent and passed through the office, out the next door to the park.
The details that made it sad by day made it creepy by night, but she was thankful that the dated animatronics seemed to have all been powered down, the festive music silenced. She stopped, listening carefully. It was quiet, but she saw movement from across the path, close to sign post pointing to the parks' holiday themed sections. The shadow appeared and disappeared before she could get a good look at it, but it seemed too short to be a person, too tall to be an animal. A child, she thought, confused.
Without a thought, she took off down the blacktop path, her shoes clapping loudly as she crossed the park. Before she could stop at the sign, she saw it again, the shadow, darting between a pair of souvenir kiosks.
She turned, chasing after it, and found herself stopped in front of the elves, their bodies posed, mid-dance. The shadows across their plastic faces made them grotesque, their grins tight and manic. The entry to Christmas Land lay before her, but she didn't see the kid again. If there was a kid to see. The shadow had been real, she was sure, but maybe she'd been wrong. It wouldn't have been strange for a stray dog to have found its way in, sneaking around to eat spilled popcorn and tossed corn dogs.
Lydia moved to step forward and the toe of her shoe bumped into something solid, sending it rolling. She leaned forward and caught it before it could get too far. It was an apple, a single bite taken out of one side. She raised to slightly, letting the faint light hit its red skin, and realized it was growing soft in her fingers, something wiggling beneath the skin, trying to punch out. She yelped, dropping it in disgust.
She could feel her phone in her pocket, vibrating against her side insistently. And she knew she should check to see if it was Stiles trying to reach her, but she froze, listening again. Somehow she knew he wouldn't be calling her; it was the same instinct that told her that the scream burning its way through the back of her throat was anything but her imagination.
There. Somewhere up ahead, she could hear voices, one of them raised. Angry.
Lydia ran toward it. This was her life, this was what she'd picked up from Stiles and her pack. They didn't run away from danger. And that meant, she didn't run away from danger, not anymore.
The sun was gone, but the sky was still bright enough to show her where she was. She remembered the buildings from earlier, and this was somewhere behind the windows of Santa's workshop. There was probably a false wall between the window display and the rest of the small building, she realized, which would explain why there was an annoying lack of windows on this side. There was a door along the wall, though, undecorated and plain, hidden by a tall row of hedges littered with lights when the park was running. If she had to guess, it was probably for storage. Lydia stopped near the door, intending to listen through the crack, but a pained shout rang out and something shattered inside.
She raised her bat, running in swinging before any rational thought could enter her head. The wood slammed into Mrs. Claus' arm with a solid thwack. Whatever was in the older woman's hand fell, clattering to the floor, and she screamed out in agony. Lydia reared back, ready to swing again, but she stopped when she spotted Stiles.
She'd been right about the room, and it was long, cut short by the false wall, with small, cabinet like doors along the center, ways to reach in and maintainance the toy shop. This room, though, wasn't meant for visitors to see, but it was decorated nevertheless, garland and a fake mantle, an ornamented tree in one corner. It was surrounded by presents, a large wooden traveller's trunk sitting to one side, out of place but for the large bow attached atop it. There should have been two red velvet sitting chairs facing the charming scene but one was overturned.
Stiles was pinned beneath the chair, Santa kneeling on top of it to keep him trapped beneath, and the old man jerked at the interrupt, the hammer in his hand stilled mid-swing.
Lydia was thrown by the scene, confused by the oddly quaint, hidden room, but she recovered when she saw the tool raised above Stiles. Rearing back, she ran forward and shoved the nose of the bat into Santa's face. Something cracked under the blow, and the older man stumbled back off the chair, falling against the false wall.
The screech was her only warning before Mrs. Claus slammed into her side, tackling her down to the floor. Lydia winced when her shoulder hit hardwood, but her eyes opened wider when she locked eyes on Stiles. She hadn't been able to see his face from the door, but she could now, and heat rose to her eyes. There was blood dripping down his brow from a swollen knot at his hairline.
"Nice quiet weekend," Stiles gasped, breathless.
If he was trying to be funny, it wasn't working.
Lydia was sick, absolutely sick of seeing her boyfriend's blood, but she felt her whole body shake with relief when she looked into his amber eyes. He gave her a small, smart ass smile that made her want to slap him, but she managed a grin of her own in reply, before she felt Mrs. Claus' considerable weight shifting over her stomach.
Lydia held down a groan, yanking her knee up into the woman's side.
"You little bitch!" the woman snapped, trying to grab at something on the floor. "Why won't you people leave us alone!"
Her fingers tangled into Lydia's hair, yanking hard, and Lydia reached up to return the favor, pulling the woman's white wig and bonnet off. Then Lydia noticed what the woman had been grappling for, the item she'd dropped when Lydia had hit her arm. It was a screwdriver, just outside of her reach. No doubt, another accessory from the toy workshop. She could only imagine what Mrs. Clause had been planning to do with it.
Lydia opened her mouth, wanting to scream, imagining the force of the sound tossing the woman up into the air. But no sound came out. The woman only moved to try to crawl over Lydia, toward the tool rolling against the floor.
Lydia kneed her again, slipping out from under the other the woman's body and rolling into the empty gift boxes at her side, her back hitting the old trunk hard.
Lydia froze, hearing the bite, the wet sound of chewing. It was muffled, coming from her back, and she glanced over her shoulder at the trunk. She reached out, touching the brass fixture, but it was locked into place, its key no where to be found. The sound faded, gone so quickly that it could have been her imagination, if she hadn't already known.
Movement caught her eye, and she scrambled up to her feet, away from Mrs. Claus.
Stiles pushed up the chair holding him down, freeing his pinned legs and making a dive for the absent screwdriver. He looked drunk, staggering slightly, but he snatched it up smoothly enough and lunged forward, just in time to stab it into the older woman's hand. The woman squealed out in pain, scrambling back, her bleeding hand held against her apron.
Lydia saw it, as if in slow motion, Santa pushing himself up off the wall, his broken mouth spitting blood and teeth in a rage as he raised his hammer. She could picture it: the nail-puller's sharp edge hitting Stiles' skull with a wet thud, Stiles' eyes rolling back in his head, his whole body going limp as he collapsed, gone forever.
That wasn't going to happen. She opened her mouth, feeling her throat burn with the strain. Her body tensed, the pressure in her head almost unbearable. The back of her legs bumped against the trunk behind her and she knew it was coming.
The scream shifted the air around her, blowing back her hair and hitting Santa across the chest like a sledgehammer. He flew back into the wall, crashing through it and into the toy shop on the other side. His black boots hung loosely from the gaping hole in the drywall.
"You've killed him…" The older woman sat against the other chair, blood staining the front of her dress, her rosy cheeked face twisted with agony and anger. "You've killed Claude, you demon…" The oath came out as a whimper as if she'd realized it might be true at the last minute. "What are you?"
"She's the devil, here to drag you to hell. That's what you get for being naughty," Stiles answered, sounding pleased with himself. He stumbled to his feet, almost tripping on his way over to Lydia. She reached out, catching him by his shoulders and bringing him closer in a hug.
"Honestly don't care if you did kill Santa," he said into her hair, his voice slightly slurred.
Lydia reached up, cupping his cheek gently. "Idiot," she said, and it came out sounding like a scratch on a chalkboard, but he smiled happily at the sound.
"Your idiot," he corrected.
"But we didn't mean to do it!"
Lydia was almost startled by the declaration from the older woman, and when she turned, she saw that Mrs. Claus was panicked, her eyes wide in fear, as if she believed Stiles' comment entirely.
"It was an accident," she said, shaking on a sob. "We didn't mean to hurt him." She blinked, tears rolling down her cheeks. "How did you know? How could you have known about him?"
Stiles' amusement faded to something grim. "Apple," he said, quietly, and Lydia nodded, pulling him closer.
It wasn't the easiest thing to explain to the local police, but Stiles had a way of talking around the truth that Lydia sometimes envied. It helped that he'd quickly established himself as a Fed in training and mentioned his sheriff father offhandedly. By the time he'd gotten the story sorted and the Claus Siblings in cuffs, the ambulance had been ready to take him to the hospital for an exam.
Stiles had insisted on staying a bit longer though. They'd be bringing Apple out soon. Lydia sat in the ambulance at his side, holding his hand as they watched the trunk be rolled out on a table of its own, handled delicately with gloved hands and somber faces.
Lydia assumed that they were too worried about damaging the remains to remove it from the box.
"I saw him. Earlier today," Stiles said, before drifting off.
When he woke up at the hospital, Lydia made sure she was there, as was a doctor, letting him know that he'd be staying the rest of the night under observation.
"So much for awesome cabin sex tonight," Stiles noted, after the doctor left. "Better luck tomorrow."
He still sounded exhausted, but by now, both of them knew what to expect from minor concussions. Lydia hummed in agreement, grieving the loss. Then she raised a brow, waiting for Stiles to pick up where they'd left off. Her voice was still recovering, so she didn't want to waste it by telling him that the pack was probably on the next flight out to check on him and that any chance of romance for the remainder of their weekend had evaporated.
"I saw him," she tried, knowing her voice was barely above a whisper. She didn't mention the apple, hearing the chewing, or the need to scream. They'd come so close to losing tonight, but Stiles didn't need to know that. Of all the horrible things they'd seen and faced, a pair of humans dressed in costume had come so close to doing what so many monsters had failed to do.
Stiles nodded, as if he'd kind of figured she'd have met the ghost. "I called someone at the bureau, when you were getting us lemonade at the park, after I'd thought I'd seen him out of the corner of my eye. I don't know why, but…I just wanted to know if there were any missing kids from the area."
Lydia huffed. "Scarf?" she whispered.
"Okay, I actually did lose the scarf," Stiles defended. "But on my drive to the park, I got the files texted to me. There were only a couple, and the first one… Joseph Welsh, he went missing 1998. I knew his face as soon as I saw it. Which, hey, I'm realizing that would have been a good time to call you and let you know that my seven-year-old ass had befriended a ghost, so take that Jennifer Love Hewitt. But before I could really process what that meant, I looked up from where I was parked, and I saw him. I saw Apple...Joseph. He was standing just inside the gate. When I got closer, I saw that the door to the ticket booth had been left open."
"And you went in," Lydia mouthed.
"Like I do," Stiles agreed, smirking. His expression grew grim. "Apple didn't say anything, but I followed him to the toy workshop. Found the weird room, and honestly, I'm not sure if I want to know what the investigators will find out about the Claus couple's past times… I was trying to pry open the trunk with a screwdriver when Santa smacked me across the head with something. Had a nice black out. First brain damage of the season."
Lydia shook her head, frustrated that she wasn't able to voice her annoyance with him. He must have read it on her face because he reached out, resting his hand on hers.
She raised her chin, wanting him to go on.
"Maude and Claude, err, Santa and Mrs. Claus, they were talkers. Yay, right? They were getting into a pretty PG-13 argument over who was to blame for the kid dying and didn't seem to realize that I was mostly awake at the time… They used to pass out treats to kids, apples and oranges and peppermint sticks. Jonah was actually from the neighborhood next to the park, and they always let him in for free. They gave him an apple, and he choked on a bite of it. They didn't notice until it was too late…
"Apparently they were worried it would shut them down, a kid dying in the park, not to mention people getting the wrong impression about the couple having the kids over to open presents in their private Christmas room." He made a face, like he wasn't sure if there was any truth to be found there. "They hid his body, and since no one knew he had sneaked over to the park that day, the parents and authorities were busy looking for his abductor. Ironically, news of the local kidnapping apparently was the reason their seasonal numbers dropped at the park. So, yeah. Their plan didn't work so well."
Stiles leaned back against the pillows, resting his eyes a moment. "I just don't know why he came to me that day. I wonder if other kids saw him too, walking around the park."
Lydia had only see the ghost in shadows, but she could imagine Stiles as a kid, finding a friend after he'd wandered off from Noah. Stiles had probably been inquisitive from birth, so she could see how he'd have gotten away from the sheriff. He probably would have even been curious enough to look behind the row of hedges at the toy workshop, find the door to the secret room. Maybe take an orange if it was offered to him. Lydia felt sick at the thought. At what Apple might have saved him from, if he'd noticed the trunk, tried to open it all those years back. Found the Claus' dirty secret.
She choked back the theory. "Needed a friend," she whispered instead. It sounded like the truth.
Stiles nodded slightly, already falling asleep again. "My throat feels sore," he muttered. "Guess I've already caught your cold."
Lydia smiled at him fondly, and stood, sliding into the bed next to him to sleep. They'd take their quiet alone time where they could get it.