Something is changing.
Things change in the wild, of course. The seasons change, from hot to cool to cold and back to warm again.
Food sources change. The air changes, dry or wet, charred with smoke in autumn and sweet in the spring.
Her home changed. First a house, with a mommy and a daddy and a sister. Then her den, her little animal body curled up in the dirt.
After Scott and Stiles found her, got her to change back into her human form (her body a stranger to herself, long, long legs, breasts and hips that made the boys at school stare) it was back to the house.
But her daddy wasn't her real daddy anymore, and her mommy and sister were ghosts.
So Malia's familiar with change. She gets it. Likes to think that out of everyone she's the most comfortable with it, the most in tune with how nature ebbs and flows.
But this time the thing that's changing is inside of her.
She's not quite sure how she ends up going home with Scott.
Braeden's long gone, the rest of the pack dispersed to their own homes.
But Scott is still there, one hand hovering over her shoulder. She makes the mistake of looking at him-no words needed, she sees his face go from worry to sadness to understanding in the span of a second.
There's a buzzing in her head, like the reverberation of a shotgun going off at close range. She's pliable under Scott's hand, lets herself be led to his house and up the stairs to his bedroom.
"Um..." Scott's nose wrinkles. "Do you want to take a shower?"
She looks down, noticing for the first time the blood stain on her shirt. She peels the hem up, stares at dried blood crusting over freshly healed pink skin.
"Oh," she whispers, like she's surprised at what she sees.
Like it was just a dream, the rage on her mother's face, the way she pulled the trigger with no hesitation. Pushed her boot down into the wound until the scream tore out of Malia's throat like a living, raging thing.
In the shower she turns the water on all the way to scalding. Her legs start to shake, like when she was a coyote and she'd have a close call with another predator.
She squats down on the tiled floor, head bowed, letting the Desert Wolf's (her mother's) words come back to her, accusations flying like spears.
You. You took everything from me.
When she walks back into Scott's room, water beading down her bare skin, she doesn't realize her mistake until Scott flushes and turns away, holding out a clean shirt for her to take.
Stiles explained nudity to her. Told her that parts of her body were private, only to be seen by family or a lover.
But why, she'd asked. Under all those clothes people all had the same parts. What did it matter?
It just did, he said, cheeks pink with embarrassment, trying to coax her into a bra Lydia had purchased for her. It's just the way things are.
Being human again meant following the rules, no matter how inane she found them.
The bra had a wire sewn into the cloth. It poked her ribs, make her skin itch. It made her want to rip everything off, run naked through the woods again, feel the dirt between her toes.
"Malia." Scott's still not looking at her, arm stretched out in pleading. "You'll get cold."
She takes the shirt from him, slips it over her head. It's warm, smells like Scott and lavender laundry detergent.
Sometime goes sideways, inside her head.
A memory flash-a blue laundry basket, a pink fleece blanket warm from the dryer grasped between chubby little girl fingers. A soft voice, smells better now, right baby?
"Malia!" Scott's voice cuts through the chaos. "You okay?"
"I'm fine." The words sound funny, like she has a cold.
"Come on." Scott leads her to his bed, pulls the covers up to her chest when she slides under the sheet.
"Scott?" There's definitely something wrong with her voice, it's gone all crackly.
"Just a second." He strips down to boxers (why do girls have to cover their chests but not boys, she'd complained to Stiles, it's not fair) before turning the light off and getting in next to her.
He lies down on his side facing her. She feels a little shaky still, fingers curled tight against the sheets.
"Hey," he says, so gentle. "Do you want to talk about it?"
Teeth clenched, she shakes her head against the roaring in her skull. "I'm fine."
"Malia," Scott whispers. "You don't have to be strong all the time."
She shakes her head again, insistent. "Weak things die."
Like weak little girls who steal their mother's power.
"In nature," Scott corrects her, easily slipping into his role as teacher. "But out here, in the human world..."
Her throat hurts, raw from screaming. Scott's fingers find hers, unfurls them one by one until they're not longer strangling the sheets but curled up in his palm.
"What happens?" she whispers back. It seems important suddenly, something she really needs to know.
Scott smiles faintly and runs his thumb over the back of her hand. "We nurture them until they become strong again."
He scoots closer to her, one arm going over her back to pull her against him. "Like this."
She presses her face into his chest. He smells like Scott, like teenage boy and leather and soap. His hand moves in circles over her back, rising and falling like the screaming in her head.
"Relax," he whispers, feeling all her muscles rigid against him. "You don't have to be strong right now, okay?"
"I can't," she grits out. There's something clawing at her chest, trying to force its way out of her body. "Scott, Scott, I can't."
Something's happening to her, inside of her. Something like pain, and pressure, the sick feeling she had when she saw her mother.
Saw how she hated her. How she looked at her as prey.
Malia makes a sound, like a wounded animal. Keening.
She pushes against Scott but he pushes harder, pinning her down on the bed. She bares her teeth at him, muscle memory, go away, can't you see how scary I am, and his eyes flash red.
She roars like a wild thing, fighting the memory, warm, soft, mother, cuddled up with sister-
The night Max wore his wolf suit-
She screams at Scott, no no stop-
We'll eat you up, we love you so-
"Give it to me." Scott growls. Submit. "I can take it, give it to me. Let it go, Malia."
Goes boneless against him, great heaving sobs that make her gasp for air, Mommy, Mommy, Mommy, please don't, no!
She gives Scott her tears the way she gave him her loyalty-wholly, completely, empties herself until there's nothing left but a pounding ache in her temples.
"Good girl," he murmurs, when it's over, using the sheet to wipe her clean. "I'm proud of you."
She hides from him, turning her face into the pillow, humiliated. "Why?"
He noses the top of her head, shifting so she's tucked under his chin. "That was brave."
"Crying's not brave," she argues. "It's weak."
"No." Scott's firm, cupping her cheek and looking down at her. "It's vulnerable."
She mouths the word back to him, mind stretching back toward her and Stiles on a bed, hours and hours of vocabulary flash cards, so she wouldn't get kicked back down a grade or three.
"That one means..." she whispers, fumbling for the definition. "Exposed?"
Scott catches a stray tear with his thumb. "Brave," he says stubbornly.
She doesn't know why she does it, tilts her head up for a kiss.
"Malia," he sighs, like she's disappointed him.
"Why not?" It comes out childish, a little girl's plea. Hold me, love me, take care of me.
"You know why not," he says patiently.
"Because of Kira?"
"Because she's my girlfriend," he affirms. "You know that."
He doesn't say, because you dated my best friend, and she thinks she might love Scott the most.
"Oh," she whispers back. "So you can't kiss anyone else."
Human relationships have so many rules, it gets confusing. She can't keep them straight, what's allowed and what's not, the meanings often illogical or downright silly.
"I don't want to kiss anyone else," Scott clarifies.
"Because you and Kira are...?"
There's a word for this, she knows, when two people are together like that, but she can't seem to come up with it.
"Monogamous," he supplies.
She frowns, confused. "I thought that meant for sex."
Scott chuckles. "I guess it depends on the couple."
"So I can't kiss you?"
He shakes his head. "No."
"Okay." This doesn't really bother her, she hears no all the time.
No Malia, you may not eat in the middle of math class, even though you're hungry.
No Malia, you have to wear shoes even though they're stupid and harder to walk in.
No Malia, you do not deserve to live, you bad bad girl.
"She tried to kill me." It comes out flat, her eyes trained on Scott's chest.
He pushes her hair off her cheek, one hand going down to press against her stomach like he's not sure she's really healed. "I know."
Malia closes her eyes, lets it come back to her: the gun, the screaming, the fear. The realization that she'd been wrong, she wasn't ready, wasn't strong enough.
Was going to die.
"She hates me," she whimpers. "My mother hates me."
"She's not your mother."
Her eyes go wide. "I don't understand."
"Sorry," Scott says softly. "I didn't mean to confuse you. I mean, she's your biological mother, sure, but she's not...do you remember your mother? From before?"
A pink blanket. Laughter. Soft hands. Time for bed, my wild thing!
"He wanted to be where someone loved him best of all," she croaks.
Scott blinks in surprise. "That's a book, right?"
"My mom used to read it to me."
"So you do remember."
Malia curls into him, nodding. "Little things. But...but she's dead."
"Yeah," he says, and touches two fingers to her chest, under her collarbone. "But she's still here. She'll always be here."
"She's dead," she says again, testing the words against her tongue. "My family's dead."
"No." Scott's voice takes a hypnotic turn, she can feel her eyelids fluttering shut. "You have a family, Malia."
"Who?" she whispers. "Tell me."
He turns on his back, taking her with him so her head is on his chest. "I'm your family. We're your family, and we love you."
"Best of all?" She's so drowsy all of a sudden, fighting to stay awake to catch his answer.
"That's right," he says, so soft, like he's soothing a child. "We love you best of all."
She falls asleep, his skin hot against her cheek.