For the record, Stiles thinks the plan sucks.
He's generally not a fan of any plan that puts Lydia in danger, especially a plan that involves her meeting face to face with a freaking witch in the middle of the woods.
"But why Lydia?" he'd asked Scott, who'd shrugged and said something about witches and banshees being supernatural fifth cousins or some bullshit and the head witch or whoever ran the freaking coven (yes, coven, because this is his life now) was a lot more comfortable working out a territory agreement with a banshee than an Alpha werewolf.
So Lydia is the negotiator, Allison her bodyguard, and Scott's the muscle in case things go south.
And Stiles? Stiles is on freaking mountain ash duty, in case the witch brings muscle of her own.
Before they split up, Lydia heading with Allison to the designated clearing where they are going to work out the first werewolf-witch territory agreement in over a hundred years, he stands on the edge of the woods with Lydia, fingers nervously twitching by his side.
"Don't worry," she assures him. "They want a deal, no one's going to get hurt. I'll see you back at Deaton's, okay?"
"Okay," he says, and then stupidly, before she walks off with Allison, "hey Lydia, l"-
"Don't." She presses a hand to his chest. "Don't say something to me that I can't say back," and right before his heart completely crumbles she tacks on a, "yet."
Allison turns around to wink at him as they walk away while Stiles stands there with his mouth hanging open.
After the others make it to clearing, as confirmed by Scott's go ahead text, Stiles sets up a large circle of mountain ash around the clearing set back in the woods where the witch can't see. Then he waits, fingers hovering over Derek's number in his phone in case everything goes to shit and they need reinforcements.
He can't hear anything, so he assumes everything goes fine, and he breaks the circle at exactly midnight according to the plan. They're supposed to split up, Scott and Stiles in the Jeep and Allison with Lydia, and rendezvous at the animal clinic.
Scott's not at the Jeep when Stiles gets there; he pulls his phone out of his pocket just as it starts to ring, Scott's number flashing on the screen.
"Where are you?" Stiles bites out, feeling that jangling nervous twitch in his body. "What's wrong?"
"Nothing's wrong. I'm going to ride back with the girls, we'll meet you at Deaton's."
"Scott, what happened?"
"Things got a little complicated."
"Complicated how? Is Lydia okay?"
"Yeah, she's not hurt, it's just, well"-
"She's fine, Stiles, she's just... just meet us at Deaton's, you'll see."
Allison and Scott are standing in the parking lot outside the animal clinic when Stiles gets there, leaning against her car. "Where's Lydia?" Stiles yells, practically falling out of the Jeep.
"Shh." Allison presses her finger to her lips. "She's sleeping."
"What happened?" he asks, wheeling around to face Scott. "You said it was complicated, which could honestly mean like fifty different things, and if one of you doesn't tell me what happened right now"-
"Stiles!" Scott's hand on his arm is warm and familiar, settling the anxiety crawling under his skin. "Listen to me, she's okay, but she's... well, she's..."
"Just show him," Allison mutters.
"Show me what?"
Allison sighs and opens the back door of her car. "See for yourself."
There's a sleeping little girl no older than four curled up in the backseat, with pale skin and long strawberry blond curls, wearing what looks like Allison's sweater.
"Allison, why is there a little kid asleep in your car who looks exactly like Lydia?"
"Um..." Allison smiles weakly. "Because she is Lydia?"
Stiles jabs a finger at her and Scott. "You two. Explain. Now."
"It wasn't our fault!" Allison exclaims. "The witch did it!"
"The witch did it?! What happened to being her bodyguard, huh?"
"I didn't know she was going to... you know!" Allison exclaims. "Everything was fine, they worked out the borders and stuff, and then the witch, she, well..."
"What!" Stiles exclaims. "For the love of god, what happened?!"
Allison shrugs uncomfortably. "She... she said she was going to do us a favor. As a sign of goodwill. She looked at Lydia and she said..."
"She said Lydia was broken," Scott says quietly. "And she was going to fix it."
"And then she like, poked her," Allison continues. "And there was this fog"-
"Mist," Scott clarifies.
"Fine, mist." Allison rolls her eyes. "And then the witch was gone, and Lydia was, well..."
"De-aged about thirteen years?"
"Yeah," Allison nods. "That."
"Okay." Stiles shoves a hand through his hair and tries not to panic. "Okay. So what do we do?"
"I called Deaton on the way over," Scott says. "He's never heard of something like this happening but he's going to look into it. He said he'll check Lydia out in the morning."
"And what about tonight?" Stiles asks. "We can't take her home like this."
Allison and Scott exchange a look. "We thought you could babysit her," Allison says.
Stiles stares at her blankly. "Babysit. Lydia. Me. Babysit."
"Yeah!" Allison says brightly.
"But...can't you take care of her?"
"Oh yes Stiles, let's bring the child to the house with more weapons than a small country's army. Great plan."
Stiles turns to Scott helplessly. "Scott?"
Scott grimaces. "Not a good idea."
Allison snorts. "Lydia saw him in werewolf form right after she turned or de-aged or whatever happened. She screamed bad doggie and threw a rock at him."
"It's not funny," Scott mutters.
Allison grins at Stiles. "Don't listen to him. It was hilarious."
Stiles drives 15/mpr the whole way back to his house with Lydia asleep in the backseat because he's pretty sure having a toddler in a car without at least a booster seat is breaking some kind of traffic law and dangerous to boot. He says a private prayer of thanks that his dad's working a night shift and pulls the jeep into the driveway.
When Stiles picks her up Lydia is warm and surprisingly heavy for being so tiny. His arms tighten around her, securing her to his chest as he lifts her out of the backseat of his car and into the house. Her bare legs dangle beneath the hem of Allison's sweater and it's frightening, how fragile she is, how easily his big flailing limbs could crush her.
Lydia lets out a sleepy little sigh and murmurs, daddy, and snuggles into his chest.
Something in Stile's heart contracts, imagining a child with his upturned nose and Lydia's curls.
"Oh my god, what are you doing to me," he mutters, carrying her up the stairs to his room and setting her down on his bed. "You're not even awake, how can you possibly be this cute?"
Lydia smacks her lips and curls over into the fetal position, looking impossibly little in the center of his bed. For a minute Stiles just stares at her in fascination. She looks exactly like the girl he remembers from elementary school. Little rosebud mouth, a riot of red-blond curls, perfect white skin.
Lydia never went through an awkward phase, she was born beautiful.
He wonders if she'll remember anything when she wake up. If she'll even know who he is, if she'll have Lydia's memories or if she'll really be like... a child.
He shakes his head. Un-freaking real.
Stiles pulls his comforter up to her chin and gets his sleeping bag out of his closet. He swipes his pillow from his bed and sets up on the floor. His phone buzzes and when he looks down it's a text from Scott.
Deaton can see her at nine AM, clinic. Mom will stop by before then w/ stuff for Lydia.
Stiles puts his phone down in relief. He has a feeling even four year old Lydia would refuse to be seen walking around in a sweater seven sizes too large.
Stiles wakes up to early morning sun shining illuminating the face of a miniature Lydia squatting on his chest.
"Hey," he rasps. "What time is it?"
Lydia's face twists into a scowl. "Who're you?"
Okay, guess the witch didn't let child Lydia keep teenager Lydia's memories.
"Um, I'm Stiles."
Lydia crinkles her nose. "What's a Stiles?"
Well, she's definitely Lydia. "Stiles is my name."
Lydia giggles. "That's a funny name."
She drops her chin to his chest and looks down at him with big eyes. "Where's my mommy?"
"Uh, your mommy is... she's..."
"Is she on a trip?"
"Yes! That's it, she's on a trip."
Lydia nods sagely. "Mommy goes on lots of trips."
"Oh," he says awkwardly. "Okay, yeah. Mommy's on a trip, and you're gonna stay here with me until she gets back. Is that okay?"
Lydia shrugs, looking around his room. "Okay."
Stiles sighs in relief, kind of shocked at how easy it was to convince her everything is okay.
Lydia suddenly scramble off of him and spins around the room. "My book!"
"My book!" Lydia cries passionately. "My Ariel book!"
"You mean The Little Mermaid?"
She stomps her foot, cheeks getting red. "Mommy always packs it for me when I go to babysitters, where is it?!"
"Hey, hey, it's okay, your stuff is getting dropped off in a little bit, okay?"
"My book," Lydia says mournfully, clutching her hands to her chest. "My book."
Great, she's been awake for two minutes and everything's already going off the rails. Stiles grabs his phone and texts Melissa, please bring The Little Mermaid (book not dvd) 911!!
"Hey, Lydia, it's gonna be okay. You hungry?"
Lydia pouts sadly at him. "I want my book."
"I know." Stiles scoops Lydia up and she surprises him by resting her cheek on his shoulder. "C'mon, I'll make you breakfast."
"Then Ariel book?"
Wow, when Lydia said she went through a Little Mermaid phase she really wasn't kidding.
"Yeah, then Ariel book." If Stiles has to go to every bookstore in town and buy it himself, Lydia will get her damn book.
Stiles has Lydia perched on a chair with a couch cushion under her at the kitchen table discovering the magic of Froot Loops when the doorbell rings. Melissa McCall is standing on the front porch, holding a huge plastic Target bag in one hand and a car seat in the other.
"Found this in the garage," she says, setting down the car seat. "Thought you might need it."
"Thanks," Stiles says gratefully. "My jeep isn't exactly child-friendly. Because I didn't know I would be driving a child around. Because I didn't know witches could do this kind of juju, it's very creative, actually-"
"Stiles." Melissa steps into the foyer and places her hand on his arm. "You alright there?"
"Sorry," he apologies. "It's been a weird night."
"Hi Mrs. McCall!" Lydia says brightly, popping up behind Stiles. "Is Scott here to play with me?"
Stiles stares at her, surprised, vaguely remembering that Scott and Lydia were in the same pre-K class while he was in the one next door, they didn't all get put together until kindergarten.
"Oh my...." Melissa stares at Lydia in shock. Her hand reaches out to touch her hair and then it drops down to her side, clearing her throat. "No, sweetheart, not today. But I heard you needed something important."
Her hand digs around in the bag and pulls out a copy of The Little Mermaid.
"Ariel!" Lydia squeals and reaches out to take the book. She runs her hand over the illustration of Ariel's face before clutching the book to her chest. "I missed you," she whispers fervently. "Did you miss me? Ariel, look, we're at a boy's house. Isn't that weird, we've never had a boy babysitter before. He doesn't even have any toys. But he has yummy cereal, it tastes like fruit but it's spelled wrong..."
Lydia skips back into the kitchen, chatting happily to her book.
Melissa sighs wistfully. "She was such a beautiful child. I always wanted a girl."
She hands the bag over to Stiles, who rifles through the contents. A five-pack of little girls underwear, a few sundresses, two pajama sets, pink glitter canvas sneakers, candy colored hairbands...
"You didn't have to do all this," Stiles says, laying everything out on the coffee table.
Melissa shrugs. "Scott said he didn't know how long Lydia was going to be... well." She shakes her head, a small hysterical giggle slipping past her lips.
"That was really nice of you."
Melissa grins. "Oh don't worry about it. Scott's going to pay me back. That's what he gets for meeting a witch without telling me."
After she finishes eating Stiles manages to pull Lydia's hair back into a sloppy ponytail and get her changed into a pale blue sundress printed with little white birds. The car seat takes an unbelievable fifteen minutes to install in the back of his Jeep, because apparently they require a freaking engineering degree.
When he finally gets all the hooks and buckles installed correctly he hikes Lydia up and deposits her into the seat, tries to buckle her in only for her to slap his hand away. "I do it myself," she says sternly.
"Alright." Stiles holds his hands up in surrender, watching her tiny hands snap the buckle together over her chest, and slams the car door shut.
"Where're we going?" Lydia asks when he pulls out of the driveway.
"Um... we're going to see a friend of mine."
"Because he wants to meet you."
"Because he thinks you're very interesting."
"Oh." Stiles watches her preen in the review mirror.
He parks outside the animal clinic when they get there and walks around to get Lydia out of the car seat. She insists on getting out of the car herself and reaches confidently for his hand to cross the parking lot. Something pinches in his chest, the way she is so trusting of him, so clearly vulnerable like this.
Lydia squeals doggie! when she sees the German Shepard in the waiting room of the animal clinic. She pulls away from Stiles, reaching out to touch the dog, who growls deeply at her. Lydia shrieks and jumps back, hiding behind his legs.
"You have to ask permission before you pet a dog, okay?" he says gently, reaching down to unwind her from his leg. "You wouldn't like it if someone pet you without asking, would you?"
Lydia giggles and shakes her head.
"Mr Stilinksi." Deaton comes through the swinging doors and stops in front of them. If he's shaken by seeing Lydia like this he doesn't show it.
"Hello Lydia," he says, crouching down before Lydia so they're eye to eye. "My name is Dr. Deaton."
Lydia offers her hand politely and Deaton shakes it, an amused smile on his face. "Lydia, I was wondering if you might like to play with me for a bit."
Lydia looks up uncertainly at Stiles. He gives her a reassuring smile and she turns back to Deaton. "Can Stiles come too?"
Deaton smiles warmly and takes Lydia's hand. "Of course."
Deaton walks Lydia to his office, Stiles trailing behind them, and puts her up on a stool in front of his desk. Stiles leans against the wall, watching as Deaton opens his desk drawer and takes out a box. "Lydia, would you like to play a game with me?"
Lydia shrugs. "What kind of game?"
"You get to play with this." Deaton picks something out of the box and holds it out for Lydia to see. It's a crystal, cut in the shape of a heart, the size of a paperweight.
Stiles opens his mouth to question - a crystal, really? - but Deaton waves a hand at him to be quiet.
Lydia already has her hands outstretched. "Is it fragile?" she asks, sounding worried.
Deaton smiles kindly. "On the contrary. It's actually quite resilient."
He places the crystal carefully in Lydia's open hands. Her eyes widen and she holds it close to her face. Stiles has to blink very rapidly - why does it look like the crystal is glowing?
Lydia stares at Deaton in awe and gives him back the crystal. "It got hot!"
Deaton nods seriously. "That it did."
Lydia smiles happily. "I liked that."
"Why is that?" Deaton asks. His hand is hovering above Lydia's head, like he's testing the air around her.
Lydia gives him a look of exuberance that makes Stiles feel astonished. He can't remember ever seeing Lydia, his Lydia, look happy like that. Not that he thinks of her as someone who is particularly unhappy but he's never seen her look like this, her face so open and joyful, no masks or pretenses.
"Because it felt happy!" she exclaims.
"Did it?" Deaton asks mildly.
Lydia nods seriously.
"Lydia, where is the origin of happiness?"
"Um, she's like four right now," Stiles interrupts. "She can't possibly"-
"The human heart," Lydia answers dutifully.
Deaton sighs. "I suspected as much. Tell me Lydia. What are you feeling right now?"
Lydia turns back over her shoulder to glance at Stiles and grins. "Happy."
Deaton chuckles. "Of course, that's only natural. What do you feel when you don't feel happy?"
To Stiles' surprise Lydia stiffens and her eyebrows pinch together. She puts a hand over her chest and lets out a shuddery sigh.
Stiles launches off the wall to get her but Deaton holds his hand up and gives him a firm look. "Lydia, can you tell me how that feels?"
"It hurts," she whispers.
Deaton gives her a sympathetic smile and pats her shoulder. "Can you tell me more about that?"
Lydia shrinks under his touch. "I don't want to play anymore."
"Of course." He shakes his head, sighing heavily. "It's quite literal for my taste but you know witches and their metaphors..."
"Uh..." Stiles holds his hand up in the air. "Do you know what's going on?"
Deaton pulls out a box of crayons and a stack of paper from a drawer in his desk. "Lydia, would you mind drawing a picture for me?"
"Okay." Lydia hops off the stool and sets up at a little table across the room, dumping the crayons out and sifting through them.
"Mr. Stilinksi," Deaton says, sitting on the edge of his desk. "Are you familiar with the concept of the inner child?"
"Archetype in Jungian psychology," Stiles answers. "The eternal child."
Deaton nods. "The thing that's so interesting about the inner child as that, while it's not literally real, it's absolutely metaphorically real. What did the witch say again?"
Stiles looks over to where Lydia is coloring, a look of intense concentration on her face. "That Lydia was broken, and she was going to help her fix it."
Deaton nods. "The commonality with ones' inner child is that it carries a wound, from which almost all dysfunctional behavior grows. We age and yet our pain from childhood stays with us, informs us, our behaviors, our emotions. It's not real, but its effects are physically, literally real."
Stiles rubs his temples. "So like... Lydia has a wound that we have to fix?"
"No, Mr. Stilinksi." Deaton nods at Lydia. "She is the wound."
"So she's like - a what?"
"Deacon explained it like... like you when your dad left, or me when my mom was sick. It's what the witch meant when she said she was fixing her. There's some - not a literal physical wound but an emotional wound - that we're supposed to fix. And then that should make her go back to the way she was."
"But Lydia's parents didn't get divorced until freshman year."
"Then something must have happened when she was younger."
"Okay, I'll ask Allison, maybe she knows something."
The little boy says something to Lydia and she shoves him, hard enough that he falls flat on his back.
"Scotty, gotta go. Lydia!"
He jogs over to her, where the little boy is crying in his mother's arms. "Lydia, why did you do that?"
The boy she pushed is wailing and his mother is glaring at Lydia with accusing eyes.
"He's mean!" she exclaims.
"That doesn't mean it's okay to hit him," Stiles says sternly, his neck hot from the mother's accusatory gaze. "Apologize."
"I won't!" she cries, stomping her foot.
"Lydia," he hisses, bending down to grab her wrist. "You are not being cool right now."
"I don't care!" she wails. "He deserved it!"
"He said I couldn't play soccer with him because I'm a girl!"
"Well, that is kind of a misogynist thing to say," Stiles mumbles.
"Unbelievable," the mother hisses, pulling the little boy away with her. She mutters something about incompetent teenage fathers under her breath and Stiles' cheeks heat.
"She's not my kid," he calls out weakly.
"I don't want to play anymore," Lydia mumbles, pressing her face into his shins.
Stiles bends over, smoothing her hair away from her face. "You hungry? It's almost lunchtime."
Lydia pouts up at him. "I want to go home. I want my mom."
Stiles sighs. "I know. She'll be back soon, okay?"
Lydia's got two fingers in her mouth, looking very small and worried. "Okay." She holds her arms up to him and Stiles picks her up, settling her on his hip to carry her back to the car. He texts Allison and she meets them outside of a cafe on Elm street, standing on the sidewalk in a burgundy tee shirt dress and brown leather jacket. She smiles brightly when she sees them, projecting friendliness for Lydia's benefit, who looks up at Allison with big eyes.
"Hey Lydia, this is my friend Allison," Stiles introduces, Lydia's tiny hand hot against his palm.
"I like your jacket," Lydia says seriously.
Allison blinks, looking startled, before crouching down in front of her. "Thank you. I like your dress."
Lydia flushes pink at the compliment from the older girl, abandoning Stiles' hand for Allison's. They walk into the cafe and get into a booth, Lydia allowing Allison to help her up and crawling right into her lap. Allison looks a little shaken, staring down in amazement at Lydia.
Wow, she mouths at Stiles, who nods in agreement.
Lydia eats the grilled cheese sandwich Allison orders for her, seemingly unaware of Allison and Stiles' mutual awe, the bizarre experience of watching the child version of their friend interact with them as if this is totally normal. When they leave Lydia is still attached to Allison, her little fingers clutching onto Allison's hand.
"Can Allison come play with me?" she asks Stiles, widening her eyes pleadingly.
He raises an eyebrow at Allison, who smiles and passes Lydia back to Stiles. "Sure, I'll follow you back to your house."
Lydia falls asleep on the drive home. Stiles glances at the review mirror as he drives, looking at her face, placid in sleep. He parks in the driveway, Allison pulling her car up behind the Jeep. He gets out, putting a finger to his lips at Allison, and walks around to get Lydia out of the car. He carries her into the house, her head pillowed on his shoulder, Allison quietly following him inside and gently shutting the door.
"Be right back," he whispers, and carries Lydia up the stairs.
He puts her down on his bed, watching as her eyelids flutter, her little body curling around his pillow. He bends down and kisses her forehead, leaving his door cracked as he leaves his room and goes downstairs. Allison's sitting on his couch, her phone in her lap.
"Have you talked to her mom?" he asks. "Do we need to be working on a cover story?"
Allison shakes her head. "I took her phone when she... changed. Her mom thinks she's staying at my house for the weekend."
"Good," he says, rubbing his temples. "That's one thing we don't have to worry about, at least. Assuming we can turn her back soon."
"I talked to Scott," she says softly. "About the wound theory."
Stiles plops down next to her, resting his head tiredly against the back of the couch. "Yeah?"
She purses her lips thoughtfully. "Lydia never mentioned anything specific to me about what happened when she was this age. And Scott couldn't think of anything."
Stiles sighs, trying to push down a vague wave of panic that they can't fix this, that Lydia, his Lydia, is gone. "Great."
"So I've been thinking," Allison says. "There has to be something right? And... well, Lydia's an only child like us."
Stiles wrinkles his forehead. "What's your point?"
Allison shrugs. "Well, you and Scott always had each other right? Even when... bad things happened," she says carefully. "You always had each other."
Allison runs her fingers through her curls. "You remember how Lydia was when we first became friends?"
"Yeah." Stiles squints at her, unsure of where she's going with this. "So?"
"Well there had to have been a reason she was like that," Allison says. "I mean... can you imagine being as smart as we know she is, and that young? Of course she pretended she wasn't, she wanted to fit it. She must have felt so, I don't know, isolated. And I know her parents weren't... they really weren't happy together, and she didn't have any siblings. She must have felt so"-
"Lonely," Stiles finishes for her.
Allison nods, looking a little sad. "Loneliness like that... feeling like you're different, like you don't belong... couldn't that be a wound?"
Stiles thinks about Lydia sophomore year, every time her intelligence slipped out and she quickly covered it up with a vacuous look or followed it up with an uncertain statement. Lydia, too afraid to be recognized for what she really was, Lydia covering her hand over her graded tests in class so no one could see yet another bright red A.
Lydia, ashamed to be seen for the brilliant creature that she is.
"Yeah," he says slowly. "That would definitely qualify."
Allison nods, playing idly with her phone. "So maybe... maybe she just needs to know that she's okay the way that she is. I mean, she's - god, this magic stuff is so confusing. But if we make this Lydia feel... I don't know, healed I guess? Like she's not alone? Then maybe she'll turn back into our Lydia."
He raises an eyebrow. "You think it's really that simple?"
She gives him a hopeful smile. "It'd be an nice change of pace, right?"
Stiles laughs dryly. "Yeah, it would be."
After an hour he hears footsteps on the landing and a little voice calls out, "Stiles?"
He walks up the stairs and finds Lydia standing on the landing, hair falling out of her ponytail, face crumpled with sleep. She blinks at him with hazy green eyes, looking uncertain, like she's not sure where she is or what's going on.
"Hey," he says, trying to keep his voice soft and warm, thinking about what Allison said, that maybe she just needs to know that's she's okay, that she's wanted, just the way she is. "Did you have a good nap?"
She shrugs minutely and then to his surprise she falls forward into him, pressing her face into his neck and winding her skinny arms around his chest. Stiles shifts around to sit on the top step, pulling Lydia into his lap and cupping the back of her head protectively. "Hey," he murmurs. "Hey, it's okay."
"Did Allison go home?" she mumbles, snuggling against him in a way that makes his heart contract.
"No," he says softly. "She's downstairs, do you want to play with her before dinner?"
Lydia nods but doesn't get out of his lap so Stiles stands up and carries her down the stairs. Allison raises an eyebrow at him and he shrugs in response, leaning down to deposit Lydia on the couch next to Allison. Lydia glances up at Allison shyly, her face lighting up when Allison smiles at her.
"Hi," Allison says kindly. "You ready to play?"
Lydia nods happily, clearly relishing the attention she's getting from the older girl. "Can you braid my hair?" she inquires. "I don't think Stiles knows how."
Allison lets out a surprised laugh. "Sure, we can do that."
Stiles retrieves the Target bag Melissa brought over earlier and hands it over to Allison, who rifles through it and pulls out a brush and a pack of elastic bands. Lydia perches on Allison's lap, looking regal as always, even at four, and allows Allison to brush out her hair before giving her two French braids.
"Now Stiles!" Lydia squeals.
"Oh no," he says playfully, covering his hair. "I don't think so."
"Please," Lydia begs, "Don't you want to be pretty like me?"
"Yeah Stiles," Allison goads, laughing so hard tears are in her eyes. "Come on, let us make you pretty."
By the time Scott shows up at his house with pizza Stiles has seven miniature braids in his hair and Allison's curls are artfully twisted up on the top of her head and secured with brightly colored plastic clips.
"Dude," Scott laughs, stepping inside. "You look beautiful."
"Don't I?" Stiles flutters his lashes at Scott. "I think Lydia missed her calling."
"How is she doing?" Scott asks, peering over into the living room where Lydia and Allison are stretched out on the floor, coloring on a stack of computer paper.
He shrugs. "As best as could be expected, I guess. Allison tell you about her theory?"
Scott nods, a strange wistful expression on his face as he watches Allison tenderly pat Lydia's back and tickle her until Lydia giggles helplessly. "It kind of makes sense, don't you think?"
"Well lets hope she's right, because I really don't want to start a war with a coven over this."
Scott frowns. "If she doesn't change back?"
Stiles nods, watching Lydia's face - how happy she looks, basking in Allison's undivided attention. Allison glances at them and whispers something at Lydia, who looks up at Stiles and then shakes her head, pressing her face shyly into Allison's shoulder. Allison bends down and sets Lydia on her feet, puts a piece of paper in her hands and pushes her gently in the boys' direction.
"I'll get plates," Scott offers, taking the pizza boxes into the kitchen.
"Hey Lydia." Stiles watches her approach him, the paper clutched in her hands. "Whatcha got there?"
"I made you something," Lydia says softly.
"Yeah?" He sinks to his knees in front of her. "Can I see?"
She holds the paper out to him shyly. She's drawn a heart, not a cartoonish Valentines' style heart but a real one, anatomically correct, each part neatly labeled in Allison's handwriting. Written at the bottom, in shaky handwriting, it says Love, Lydia in purple crayon.
"It's a heart," she says. There's something in her expression, painfully vulnerable, like she isn't sure how her picture will be received.
"I can see that," he says kindly, wrapping one arm around her back. "You did a great job."
"Allison helped," she says magnanimously. "She wrote down all the parts for me."
"But you told her what to write?"
Lydia nods seriously. "She checked the spelling for me."
"I love it," he says, watching as her face flushes in pleasure. "Thank you."
"You're welcome," she says, and skips back to Allison, who's leaning against the wall watching them.
Scott comes out with plates of pizza and Lydia startles, hiding her face in Allison's legs.
"It's okay," Allison says softly, reaching down to pick Lydia up. "This is Scott, he brought pizza for us, is that okay?"
It's strange, seeing teenage-Lydia's mannerism on her, that deep down inside teenage Lydia is this little girl, sweet and fragile. "Okay," she decides, and swings down from Allison's arms to run back to Stiles.
They set up the plates on the coffee table. Scott sits at the end of couch, Allison next to him, and Stiles on her other side, Lydia wedged in between them. Stiles finds Frozen on the Disney channel on demand feature and hits play, watching Lydia's mouth open in awe as the movie starts, instantly enraptured. She climbs into his lap when she's done eating, leaning back against his chest to watch the movie. He glances over at Scott and Allison, who are both staring at them, clearly a little shaken at the sight of Lydia (or this weird childlike representation of Lydia, god, magic really pisses him off sometimes) cuddled up against him, her fingers idly twisting in his shirt.
Lydia's half asleep when the movie finishes, body lax against him. "Okay," Stiles says, sitting up a little and stretching. "Time to say goodnight."
Lydia leans over to Allison and whispers something into her ear and Allison nods, scooping Lydia into her arms and standing up from the couch. "One second," Allison says, and carries Lydia across the room to take her into the bathroom.
"Wow," Scott says. "Wow."
"Yeah," Stiles agrees. "That seems to be the consensus."
"I don't remember her being like this," Scott says softly.
"What do you mean?"
"I don't know," Scott says uneasily. "She's like... sweet, you know?"
"She's four right now, Scott."
"No I know it's just... so you think she'll remember this when it's over?"
Stiles shrugs. "No idea."
Allison comes back with Lydia, who's been changed into the pajama set Melissa bought her, pale yellow cotton shorts and matching shirt with little ladybugs printed on it. Stiles stands up and Allison transfers Lydia to his arms. "Say goodnight to Scott and Allison," he instructs.
"Night," Lydia mumbles sleepily, and lays her head on his shoulder.
Stiles carries her up the stairs and lays her down in his bed, pulls his comforter up and tucks it tightly around her.
"Stiles?" Lydia reaches up, catching his hand in hers.
"When's Mommy coming back?"
"Soon," he promises weakly.
Lydia worries her bottom lip in between her teeth. "Can I still play with you sometime after she gets back?"
Stiles blinks at her in surprise. "Sure. Whenever you want, okay?"
Lydia smiles sleepily at him and suddenly he feels like crying. There's something about this, the way she looks at him, like she trusts him completely to take care of her. He thinks about her holding Deaton's crystal, her terrible concern that it would break. He bends down and kisses her forehead. "Goodnight, Lydia."
He shuts his light off but leaves the door cracked so light from the hallway can filter in, incapable of leaving her alone in the dark. Scott and Allison are huddled together in the foyer, his arms around her.
"Hey," Scott says quietly. "You gonna be okay for another night?"
"Yeah." Stiles reaches up, fingering one of the braids still in his hair. "I'll let you know how things are in the morning."
"You're really good with her," Allison says, leaning over Scott to give him hug. "She told me you were most favorite babysitter ever."
Stiles laughs dryly. "Not exactly the title I really want but I'll take it for now, I guess."
He locks the door behind Scott and Allison, saying a prayer in gratitude that for the second night in a row that his dad is on night shifts and hopefully will never find out about this. He turns off the lights on the first floor and goes up to his room, where Lydia is asleep on his bed, her breathing shallow and steady. He turns on his computer and loses himself to research, doing a deep dive into magic, spells, exhaling in frustration when he can't find anything relevant.
Eventually he gives up for the night. He turns off his computer and changes into sweatpants, goes into the bathroom to brush his teeth before quietly going into his room and lying down on his sleeping bag. He thinks about Lydia for a long time, wondering what they'll do if they can't fix this, remembering the tremulous look Lydia gave him when she showed him the picture she drew, how she'd snuggled up against him and Allison with the confidence of a child who knows they belong, that they're loved.
He falls asleep to the memory of Lydia walking away from him, unaware of what was waiting for her in the woods, his teenage dream disappearing into the trees.
He blinks awake, sunlight harsh on his face, neck twisted at a weird angle. "Hmm?"
"Stiles!" Lydia shrieks.
He jumps up and slips on the fabric of the sleeping bag, catching himself on the bed, where Lydia, seventeen year old Lydia, is sitting up in bed buck naked, his comforter pulled up to cover her breasts, looking absolutely baffled.
"Lydia!" he exclaims, climbing up on the bed. "Oh my god Lydia, you're back, are you okay, how do you feel?"
Lydia blinks at him and presses one fist against her chest, right over her heart, and bursts into tears.
"Lydia, hey, no, it's okay." Stiles wraps his arms around her and Lydia goes willingly, pressing her face into his shoulder, crying like her heart's been broken.
"It's okay," he whispers, manipulating her body so he can pull her into his lap, blanket and all. "I've got you, you're okay."
Lydia shudders and lifts her head, tears streaming down her face. "What happened?"
He lifts his hand to her cheek, brushing tears away with his thumb. "What do you remember?"
She blinks, tears beading on her eyelashes. "There - there was a witch and she... it hurt and then..." she trails off, looking confused. "And then it didn't. It doesn't hurt anymore."
"I'm glad," he whispers, mind reeling from this, Lydia curled up in his lap, staring at him with wide tear-filled eyes.
"You - love me," she whispers. "Right?"
He has to swallow a lump in his throat. "Right."
"And I... ?" Lydia ducks her head suddenly, resting her cheek on his shoulder, like she did so many time yesterday. "I'm sorry I don't, I don't really remember what happened."
"It's okay," he murmurs. "It's okay Lydia."
"No, wait." She lifts her head to look at him. "I didn't - I couldn't"-
"It's okay," he says firmly. "You got hit by a spell but you're fine, everything's fine now."
"I'm going to say it," she whispers. "I need you to know that."
"Okay," he says carefully. She doesn't seem to remember anything from yesterday, being a child, somehow doesn't seem perplexed that she woke up naked in his bed.
Lydia crinkles her nose suddenly and reaches up to put her hand in his hair. "Why is your hair braided?"
Stiles lets out a choked laugh. "It's a long story, I'll tell you later. Hey, are you hungry? I can call Allison, she'll bring some stuff over for you and we can all get breakfast or something, fill you in on everything."
"In a minute," Lydia says softly. "I just..." she puts her head back down on his shoulder. "Can we sit here for a minute? I need to process."
"Sure," he whispers.
They sit there on his bed, watching the sun rising in the sky out the window, the girl he loves resting her head against him. Stiles thinks of the picture she drew for him, the crystal heart glowing, and he wraps his arms tightly around her, in awe of her, this girl who healed herself and transformed back into the girl he loves.
Maybe magic isn't so bad after all.