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Upon this Structure, Light

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Upon this Structure, Light

 

Isaac doesn’t know where he is. There is sunshine, it is very warm, but not uncomfortably so. It feels like the kind of warmth you feel when you step into the sunshine after experiencing a lifetime of freezing. It is pure bliss.

Still, he does not exactly know where here is, or why he has found himself in this place, or how. The day, month and year elude him. It seems that these things do not matter here in this place. All that matters is the sunshine, this eternal sunshine that always feels like the first sunshine to ever touch his skin.

He opens his eyes and the sky above him is of the most beautiful blue. It is the kind of sky and the kind of blue you could get lost in. Isaac considers it. He has never felt such a profound sense of peace.

Now that he is aware of himself and the sun, he lowers his gaze and takes in his surroundings. He appears to be standing in a field of tulips, and it goes on forever. There is grass, also, an infinite expanse of green meadows. Beads of dew spatter the leaves of grass. There are the tulips, and there is the grass, but it does not seem to be grass and tulips, but grass, and then tulips, and then grass again. They do not seem to be there together, at the same time, but at the same time, they are. Isaac cannot quite grasp what this means, but it is the most beautiful thing he has ever seen, and he considers getting lost in this view instead of the sky.

“Why are we here?” asks someone behind him. Isaac knows that voice, and he turns around.

He has no idea why Peter Hale would be here with him, but then again, he has no idea why he himself is here. Or how he got here.

Peter has asked the question like a teacher asks you something he already knows the answer to. He is waiting for Isaac to answer him, to figure out what Peter is getting at.

“Um,” Isaac says. Peter sighs heavily.

“Eloquent,” he quips. He repeats his question.

“Why are we here?”

“I… I have no idea,” Isaac answers honestly. “I don’t even know how I got here.”

“I think that’s beside the point, kid.”

“How did you get here?”

“That really is beside the point.”

Isaac looks back into the vast expanse of grass and tulips. He blinks against the sunshine. The sun is high. Somehow he knows that here, it always is.

“What is this place?” he asks.

“Who knows.” Peter shrugs. “The important question is: why are we here?”

“Yeah, but,” Isaac is so confused. “How would I know?”

“Isaac,” Peter says. It sounds urgent, the way he pronounces Isaac’s name for the first time, and Isaac turns to him. “You can’t know if you’re not looking.”

As soon as Peter has said this, Isaac realizes they are standing on a bridge. It looks like a regular bridge, paved. One where cars would pass. But there would never be any cars in this place, would there?

“It’s a bridge,” Isaac says.

“Yes, it is,” Peter says, rolling his eyes. Isaac really didn’t miss his attitude. “What kind of a bridge?”

“I don’t know, looks like a regular… bridge.”

“Does it lead anywhere?”

“I don’t know.”

“So look.”

Isaac looks. The bridge actually seems to go on forever just like the tulips and grass. He looks both ways, but cannot see any beginning or end to the bridge. That surely can’t be possible. Bridges start and end somewhere. That is their purpose. That is why bridges are built. What use is a bridge that doesn’t have that?

“It’s not… it doesn’t end anywhere,” Isaac says, frowning. “What the hell?”

“So,” Peter says. “Does it lead anywhere?”

“Not sure. If it doesn’t end, then probably not, right?”

“Right,” Peter sighs and looks into the distance. A soft breeze blows, bending the tulips gently. The sun is warm. Isaac wants nothing more than to get lost in this place.

“Then why are we on the bridge if it doesn’t go anywhere?” Peter interrupts Isaac’s thoughts. “Come on, kiddo. Don’t just accept this as it is. You’re smarter than that.”

Isaac shakes his head. “I don’t know. I don’t understand. I don’t know how I got here, and why. I don’t even care right now. It’s so… beautiful.”

“Yes, right.” Peter’s voice is laced with thinly veiled impatience and contempt. “This place is real nice. Wonderful. But maybe you should start wondering what the fuck this place is and why we’re here because I didn’t sign up for this. I have other shit to do. You should have noticed by now that the sun isn’t moving and there is no life here except for you and me. This should make you a little more suspicious.”

Isaac wants to disagree immediately. There is plenty of life around. All of the buzzing insects hopping from tulip to tulip, the birds that are chirping, can Peter not hear them? But then Isaac listens, and he realizes that the sounds are not there. He added them, because this place just looks like it would have insects and birds. It does not. Peter and Isaac are surrounded by sun and tulips and grass and dead silence.

“I…”

“Didn’t notice, I know. Well, now you have. So. If the bridge doesn’t lead anywhere, what’s it for?”

Isaac frowns. Now that he has noticed the silence, somehow the sunlight is less comforting. The breeze does not make a sound, either. It is still warm, but not peaceful anymore. Peter is disturbing the peace in this place. Isaac is almost angry at him, but not quite. The questions he is asking are finally getting through, and Isaac starts to wonder what the deal is with this stupid bridge that does not lead anywhere. He walks over to the railing (the bridge has a railing, has it been there the entire time?) and looks down. The sun is high up, but its light is as golden as it would be at dusk or dawn, which does not quite fit. It is casting shadows under the bridge.

“There are shadows under the bridge,” Isaac points out, and Peter nods.

“Good. Why?”

“What do you mean, why? If the sun shines on something, it creates shadows. That’s what happens.”

“Don’t take anything for granted,” Peter berates him. “You never would have seen the shadows if I hadn’t forced you to look. Now, think. Why are the shadows under the bridge?”

“The light creates them,” Isaac says. Peter smiles, or, well, he lifts one corner of his mouth a little. It is enough for Isaac to know he gave the correct answer.

“Exactly. See, there can be no light without shadow. Light creates shadows, and they’re always there, even when you can’t see them. Remember that.”

“Oh… okay.” Isaac looks over the railing again. The shadows under the bridge look incredibly cold compared to the warm, golden sunlight. The grass in the shadows is gray, withered. Dead. A terrible though occurs to Isaac.

“Peter. Am I dead?”

Peter sighs. “I’m not sure, actually. When I died, it definitely didn’t feel like this.”

“But…” Isaac waved his hands around.

“Yeah, I know. This place is not real. You might be dead. I can’t know. But this bridge, Isaac, it isn’t just a bridge.”

“And what else is it?”

“It’s a street.”

“But why doesn’t it start and end anywhere?”

“Because it doesn’t go anywhere,” Peter answers like it is the most obvious thing. Isaac does not understand.

“If I’m dead,” he says slowly, “then why exactly are you here with me?”

“Beats me. Maybe it’s got something to do with me dying. I’ve been there, done that. Which technically makes me the expert on dying between the two of us, I guess.”

“Yeah, well, you’re not helpful,” Isaac snaps. He leans heavily on the railing. Dead silence presses on his ears. Peter shifts behind him, but he keeps his eyes on the horizon that is and is not there.

“I’m trying, Isaac,” Peter says. “Try to remember. This bridge is a street, but this street isn’t going anywhere.”

“Yeah.”

“Light always creates shadows, even when you can’t see them, Isaac. Try to remember that.”

“Light creates shadows,” Isaac whispers to himself. He still doesn’t understand.

 

**********

 

Isaac is not on the bridge anymore. He is standing in a very small office, with a small desk and a small computer screen on it. He is staring at the screen intently, blinking because he can barely see anything in the dark, windowless office. It is a very stark contrast to the bright golden sunlight he had been standing in, and his eyes need to get used to the darkness.

Isaac has no idea how long he has been here, but it has to have been longer than a few moments, or minutes even. He remembers he was on a bridge, there was sunlight, and someone was with him there, someone he knew. That someone was trying to tell him something. Isaac does not remember what that was, but he knows he did not understand, so maybe it was not that important. For now, he figures, he should concentrate on getting out of this office and see where the hell he is now. See if there is a way out.

The office is cramped and stuffed full with cupboards overflowing with folders. Folders are stacked on the desk, on the floor. There is only a small space in the middle of the room where Isaac can stand and turn around. He picks up one of the heavy folders from a stack that is almost as tall as he is. He flips the folder open, but t is filled with empty pages. He frowns, opens another, then another. They are all empty, the pages are all blank.

A feeling of dread overcomes Isaac and settles in his stomach region. Whatever this place is, it is not right. Something is definitely wrong, here. He should not be here. Nobody should. He steps out of the office and lands in an open office space. All desks are deserted. Folders are stacked everywhere. Isaac picks up one of them, but no luck: the pages are blank. The computer screens on all desks are black. He can hear no sound save for his own breathing. The walls have no windows. Dim, cold neon lamps weakly illuminate parts of the hallway. Some of them flicker. The absence of sunlight makes him realize how very cold he is. He hugs his arms around himself, realizes he is wearing a t-shirt, and his arms are covered in goose bumps.

“Don’t panic, Isaac,” he murmurs to himself. “Just walk. Just walk out of here. There’ll be a door somewhere that says exit on it. There has to be.”

Isaac takes a deep breath, and steps forward.

There is a noise, a creaking of a floorboard behind him. Isaac freezes. He is not alone in here, oh God, it is some kind of monster, it has to be, and it killed all the other people in the building, and now it’s coming after him because he had to be so stupid and go and talk to himself, he should have known this is how it ends—

“Oh, thank fuck I’m not alone in here.”

That’s a voice, a human voice, Isaac’s mind registers. Male. Young. Definitely human. Isaac turns around.

It is a young man, maybe Isaac’s age. Muscular, brown hair, grayish, bluish eyes. And from the smell of him, he is definitely not entirely human, although Isaac cannot pin down what he is, which unsettles him. But for the moment, he looks trustworthy enough.

“I was about to say the same thing,” Isaac says.

“Right,” the guy laughs, nervously. He seems just as anxious about this place as Isaac is. “I’m Theo.”

“Isaac. Lahey.”

“Well, hello, Isaac Lahey. You have any idea how the hell we get out of here?”

Isaac swallows. “I was kinda hoping you knew.”

“Shit.” Theo’s shoulders sag. He looks around. “What is this place?”

The question stirs up something in Isaac’s memory, but he does not know why. He shrugs. “No clue. I looked around. There’s no one here, and all the folders are filled with blank pages.”

“You’re kidding.” Theo opens a few folders, sees for himself. He looks around, and Isaac can smell the apprehension rolling off of him in waves. He keeps looking over his shoulder like he expects something—or someone?—to jump out at him from the shadows.

Shadows. Something about light and shadows. Isaac shakes his head.

“Are you okay?” he asks. Theo looks at him, then, and seems to realize what he is doing.

“Yeah,” he says, which is a lie. “But, well, you’re a werewolf, so you probably already know that’s a lie.”

“Yeah,” Isaac says. “And what are you? I mean, I can tell there’s something… like, I know you’re not human, but…”

Theo smiles ruefully. “That’s a bit complicated, but I do have some werewolf in me.”

Isaac cocks his head, but decides it does not really matter at the moment. Theo does not appear to be a threat, and he is scared, more scared than Isaac, and Isaac himself is not happy, because the hallways are narrow and the ceilings low, and he has to concentrate very hard to not slip into old habits and break into a full-blown panic at the thought of being in an enclosed space.

“Sure you’re okay?” Isaac asks, to be polite on the one hand, because Theo is clearly not okay, but also out of curiosity.

Theo shrugs. “Let’s just say I’m not too fond of dark hallways.”

Isaac nods. “I’m not too fond of enclosed spaces, so here we are.”

Theo chuckles. “Great.” He combs his fingers through his mob of dark brown hair. “Two werewolves with phobias. How the hell do we get out of here? Where are we, anyways?”

“Well, it looks like an office or something.” Isaac looks around. “Though I’m not sure what it’s for, considering all the empty folders and shit.”

“Should we just, I don’t know, start walking?” Theo suggests. Isaac sighs, since he is all out of ideas, so they walk along the hallways.

Theo keeps looking over his shoulder, and his anxiety levels rise whenever they pass an open door. He really was not lying when he said he disliked dark hallways. Isaac, meanwhile, feels himself grow more and more nervous, because the hallways seem to become narrower, the ceilings lower, the longer they walk. Theo attempts to start a conversation, which Isaac is thankful for.

“Any idea how you got here?”

“None,” Isaac says. “I just realized at some point that I was standing in one of the rooms. I was staring at the screen, even though it was empty. I just… I don’t know. I just kind of was here.”

“Yeah,” Theo nods. “Same thing with me. I was staring at an empty whiteboard, but, well.”

They walk in silence again for a while. Isaac becomes worried that they have not found an exit yet. Theo is biting his bottom lip, always looking over his shoulder at an invisible threat.

“Where are you from?” he asks.

“Beacon Hills,” Isaac answers. “Why?”

Theo shrugs. “Just trying to take my mind off this… whatever this place is. It scares the shit out of me. So, Beacon Hills, huh? Me, too.”

“Seriously?”

“Yeah. Who would have thought? Such a small town, and yet here we are.”

“You think…” Isaac comes to a halt. “You think this has something to do with Beacon Hills? I mean, you’re a werewolf, or whatever. So you know. You know what kind of a place this is.”

“I do, yeah…”

“You know about the Nemeton?”

“Yeah…” Theo looks at him then. “Do you know Scott McCall?”

“Yeah, sure I do. I think every werewolf in California knows him, right? True Alpha and all.”

“Makes sense.” Theo drags his eyes around the dim hallway they are standing in, the dim conference room and office spaces adjourning. “This must be supernatural. There’s no other explanation.”

“Shit.” Isaac rubs a hand across his face. He is getting more anxious by the minute. What if this is some kind of fear demon, who feeds off of supernatural creatures’ phobias? Between him and Theo, they must have given the thing enough energy to last an entire lifetime by now. He voices his thoughts, and Theo raises his hands helplessly.

“It’s Beacon Hills,” he says. “Literally anything is possible. We fought some kind of fear demon thing a couple months ago.”

“You did?”

“Yeah, the Anuk-Ite… messed-up fucking thing. It stirred up all the fears in people, gave way to an entire army of hunters trying to take us out, like we were the problem.”

“That was the Anuk-Ite?” Isaac asks, confused. “I thought that was that old Argent guy. That’s what I heard.”

“Yeah, well, they sorta went hand in hand. I thought you said you’re from Beacon Hills? Weren’t you there?”

“No, I left a few years ago. Something happened and I just… needed to leave.”

Theo must sense his grief, because he pats him on the shoulder. “I get it. Where’d you go?”

Isaac shrugs. “Here and there. I spent some time in France, then I graduated from high school in New York, then stayed in Massachusetts for a while. I like the east coast more than I thought I would.”

“Heard they got crazy winters.”

“Yeah, it’s a change from the eternal sunshine in California to have actual snow and stuff.”

“Pretty cool.” Theo starts walking again. The brief conversation has calmed him down, and Isaac feels better, as well. He follows.

“Are the summers warm, at least? At the east coast, I mean.”

“Yeah, sure. It’s kind of a different mentality, but I kinda like it. Also not so many homicidal supernatural things that wanna possess you or destroy the universe.”

Theo laughs. “I guess the regular people are bad enough, huh?”

Isaac smiles. “Well, in Manhattan during rush hour… maybe.”

“Hey, did you ever go to Times…”

The question dies on Theo’s tongue as he stops and stares at one of the offices. Isaac stands still behind him, all of his anxiety returning with a vengeance. “What? What is it?”

“We’ve been here before,” Theo says.

“What?”

“This office. I found you in front of this office. This, right here, this is where we met.”

“Is it?” Isaac cannot tell. Everything pretty much looks the same to him.

“Definitely.” Theo says. “We’ve been walking in a circle the entire time.”

Isaac turns around. He cannot be sure, but since everything looks the same, Theo might as well be right. “I haven’t seen a single exit sign.”

“Or a door that didn’t lead into just another office.” Theo looks around. His heart thumps in his chest. “Shit. Shit. Shit! How are we supposed to get out of here if there are no doors?”

“No doors, no windows,” Isaac says. The walls are closing in on him again.

Theo is trying his best to stay calm. “You think this is some kind of dream, maybe?”

“Or maybe we are dead.”

“Well, I’ve been in hell before,” Theo says, “and this place kinda reminds me of it.”

“Wait, what? You’ve been to hell?”

“It’s kind of a long story.”

“So you were dead?”

“I’m not sure. Maybe. I don’t think so.” Theo closes his eyes, trying to calm his heartbeat. Isaac can tell he is failing. “But I died over and over again while I was there.”

“Well, that… sounds unpleasant.”

“Yeah. Which is why I’m not sure this here is hell. We’re scared, but we’re not dead. No one’s trying to rip our hearts out of our chests or anything like that. As far as hell goes, this place is pretty mellow.”

“But we’re caught in here,” Isaac points out. “This entire time we were looking for a way out, we were walking in a circle. There is no way out.”

“This place… the hallways don’t seem to lead anywhere, do they.” Theo takes one of the folders in his hand, leafs through it. “The folders are filled with blank pages, the computer screens are dead… and we are walking in a circle because we aren’t supposed to get anywhere. Folders with content would mean something, a place to start, a work in progress. But that’s not what this place is about. It’s not about getting anywhere. It’s about staying right where you are.”

“The hallways aren’t going anywhere,” Isaac says. He has an overwhelming feeling of deja-vu, like he has had a very similar conversation with someone else a very short time ago.

“Yeah.” Theo has a deep frown on his face.

“What if I’m dead?” Isaac says.

“We already talked about this,” Theo says, but Isaac shakes his head.

“What if you’re not dead, but I am?”

“But that doesn’t make any sense. Why would I be here, then? We’re here together.”

“But you already know what it’s like to die. You’d know, wouldn’t you?”

“I wasn’t even sure if I was actually dead. If I had been, it should have been a lot harder to bring me back. All Liam had to do was slam a sword into the ground.”

“But you’d know. You’re sure you’re not dead, but you can’t say the same for me.”

“Yeah, but—”

“This situation seems so familiar. Why? I feel like I’ve had this conversation before.”

“Well, I can’t help you with that,” Theo says, “we only just met. But I’m pretty sure I’m not dead. This must be some kind of dream, or a hallucination, or something. Just because we are caught in here, doesn’t mean that the world outside has stopped existing. Just cause it’s dark and cold and fucking creepy in here, doesn’t mean there’s no light on the other side of those walls.”

“Light creates shadows,” Isaac whispers, and now he knows he has heard that before.

Theo looks at the walls contemplatively. “We need to break through the wall,” he concludes.

“What do you mean?”

“If there are no doors, we need to make ourselves one.” Theo knocks on the wall. “It sounds thin,” he says, then turns around and takes a chair from one of the desks.

“Are you sure this will work?” Isaac asks, doubtful. “What if smashing this wall just leads us into another office?”

“Well, are you just gonna give up?” Theo looks at him with thinly veiled impatience and contempt. Isaac feels unsteady on his feet.

“The hallway doesn’t go anywhere, Isaac. It’s supposed to lead us somewhere, but it doesn’t do that. We’re here, but we don’t know what’s on the other side of that wall. So we break it down.”

 

***********

 

Isaac is standing on a beach and looking out at the wide expanse of the ocean. There is a sharp, cold wind blowing, and it tosses his hair around, cuts right through his clothes. But the sun is shining. He feels compelled to look up at the sky, and he sees a few gray clouds, rainclouds. But mostly, the sky is a very clear, light, cool blue. Somehow, this feels very right.

He wonders which beach this is. There is nothing there, though, when he turns around. Only sand in one direction and water in the other, so he knows this is not a real place. There are seashells lying around within his reach, the big ones, as large as his hand. He feels at home, at ease, but somehow he knows this should not be. He should not be here. Nobody needs to tell him this. Still he breathes in the salty air, blinks against the sun. It is set high in the sky. He wonders if he has to leave. This place seems balanced in a way Isaac has never experienced before.

“Isaac,” says someone next to him. Lydia Martin is sitting on a rock, looking at the ocean, the wind whipping her long hair around. She is just as beautiful as he remembers her to be, if not more. She is frowning.

“Isaac, what are you doing here?”

“Something’s not right,” he tells her, because something decidedly is not right.

“I know,” she says. Of course she knows.

“Can you tell me what it is?”

Isaac struggles to put it into words. “I… I’m not sure. I know I was in one place first, and then another, and both of them weren’t real because they weren’t going anywhere.”

“This place isn’t going anywhere, either,” Lydia points out, and she is right, of course. They have nothing but them, the ocean, and the beach without a beginning or end.

“If you were looking for life, you came to the wrong place,” Lydia adds, and he listens. No seagulls, no other sounds. Upon closer inspection, he realizes the seashells are old and brittle. They must have been lying here for decades or longer. The only sounds he can hear are the breaking of the waves and the rushing of the sharp wind in his ears.

“I know this isn’t where life is. I think I’m dead.”

Lydia frowns.

“Am I dead?”

“Did you come here on your own?”

“I’m not sure how I got here.”

“Did you meet someone before?”

“Yeah… two people, I think. But they weren’t there together. They tried telling me something. But they were dead, once.”

“Who?”

“I’m not sure.”

“Because you didn’t know them.”

“Because I can’t remember.”

“This isn’t life,” Lydia repeats herself. Isaac shrugs helplessly.

“I didn’t choose to die.”

“I don’t think you’re dead, Isaac.”

“But—”

“I’m a harbinger of death. I would know.”

“Okay. I don’t really know what that means.”

“It doesn’t matter. This isn’t life, but it’s not death, either.”

“Okay?”

Isaac feels alive, but at the same time he doesn’t. Why, he cannot say.

“Is this a real place?” Isaac asks hesitantly. It is a beach without borders. It can’t be real.

Lydia answers calmly. “Judging from the cold, I would guess it’s somewhere along the east coast. But no, this place isn’t real.”

Harsh wind blows the salty smell of the ocean in his face. Isaac shivers, but the clouds shift and let the sun shine through. The light lands directly on his face, and he is reminded of things. Light creates shadows that are always there. Just because it is dark somewhere, that does not mean there is no light. He also remembers sitting at beaches and loving the smell and the feeling of wind in his hair, feeling incredibly alive.

“Upon this structure, light,” Lydia says. She speaks very quietly, but he hears her over the wind nonetheless.

“What does that mean?”

“You said they were trying to tell you something. What was that?”

“I… something about light and shadows, and… streets and hallways that don’t lead anywhere? I’m really confused.”

Lydia shook her head. “You’re not dead. It’s good that you came here, instead of staying in the other places. But you have to fight this, Isaac. Don’t go into the water.”

“I won’t.”

“You have to stay on dry land.”

“I will.”

“Time is running out. The sun is setting.”

“It is?” Isaac looks up, and sure enough, the sun is much lower in the sky than it was a few minutes ago. It is low enough to shine directly in his eyes. He lifts a hand to block it.

“How can the sun set so fast?”

“Fast and slow are relative, isn’t that obvious? You make the sun set, Isaac. This is your choice.”

Isaac rolls his eyes. “No, seriously now. Could you just cut the crap with the speaking in riddles? I don’t make the fucking sun set. It’s the sun, for God’s sake!”

“Too much light can have the same effect as darkness, Isaac. With the sun in your eyes, you can’t see where the land ends and the water begins.”

“Lydia,” Isaac pleads. “I don’t understand.”

Finally, finally, Lydia looks at him. “I’ll help you. I promise I’ll help you. I think you’re in danger, and I’ll do everything I can to save you, but you have to stay on dry land. Promise me that.”

“Okay, I promise.”

“The sun is setting,” Lydia says. “Don’t fall asleep at the wheel.”

 

***********

 

After their victory over the Anuk-Ite, Theo had stayed at the fringes of the pack. Liam had told Scott about Theo’s fearlessness during the fight with the hunters, about his taking Gabe’s pain before the kid died. It showed that Theo cared, more than his words ever could. But still, Scott finds it difficult to trust Theo, and the chimera knows this enough to not press his luck too much. Consequently, Scott is rather surprised to see Theo calling him at 7 o’clock in the morning. Malia is lying next to him, her snoring interrupted by the ringing, and she jerks awake.

“Who the fuck is calling you in the middle of the night!” she growls.

“It’s 7 am,” Scott says. “It’s not the middle of the night.”

“Scott. Oh God.”

“It’s still kinda early, though.”

“Who is it?”

“Theo,” Scott says and frowns. Theo wouldn’t call him, especially not this early, if it wasn’t urgent.

“What? Why is that douchebag calling you? Like, at all?”

“He wouldn’t be calling if it wasn’t urgent.”

“So answer it.”

Scott sighs and complies. “Hello?”

“Scott? Hey.” Theo sounds tired, but normal.

“What is it?”

“So, this is probably nothing and I apologize for waking you up, but…”

Theo hesitates and it makes Scott the slightest bit uneasy. Hesitation is not really Theo’s thing, not even nowadays, when he is kind of trying to make up for his past deeds of murder and mayhem. So this must be something, Scott decides.

“We’ll find out if it’s nothing. Just tell me what’s wrong.”

“Well, I had this seriously messed-up dream last night, and. Well. I’m just gonna ask. Do you know someone named Isaac Lahey?”

Scott sits up. “Yes, of course I do.”

“Oh.” Theo sounds surprised, but not pleasantly so. “In that case, I really think we should meet. Like, as soon as possible.”

“What? Why?”

“Just, please. Can you meet me somewhere? Wherever you want. This’ll sound even more ridiculous if I try explaining it over the phone.”

Scott warily agrees to meet Theo at the animal clinic. Spending most weekends at his mother’s house has the advantage of being close to his mom, but also to Deaton and all the supernatural craziness going on in Beacon Hills, and the clinic has always been a safe space for him. He can bring Malia. It will be fine. However, how Theo would know Isaac even though Isaac has not been seen in or around Beacon Hills since Allison’s death, and what this has to do with Theo’s dreams, completely eludes him.

“Who’s Isaac again?” Malia says.

“Oh, not sure you remember him. He left Beacon Hills around the same time you entered high school.”

“Vaguely. Tall, blonde, pretty, right?”

“Yeah.”

“And why is Theo dreaming about him?”

“Since Theo doesn’t know Isaac, as far as I know, I have no idea.”

“This is weird.”

Just then, Malia’s phone rings. She rolls her eyes. (She rolls her eyes exactly like Peter and Derek do, but Scott would never tell her this. She would slash his throat for pointing out the family likeness.) “What is it with these early calls? It’s fucking Saturday!”

Malia checks her phone. “Great. It’s Peter. Just what I need.”

Scott frowns. “Answer it. If he calls you this early, it might be important.”

“As important as Theo having bad dreams? I doubt it.”

She answers anyway. “What do you want?”

“What a charming way to greet someone over the phone,” Peter says on the other end.

“Seriously, it’s 7 am. What do you want?”

“Well, I’ll just assume Scott is listening. Hello, Scott.”

“Hey Peter.”

“I had a rather unsettling dream about this one kid who got bitten by Derek back in the day. I’m sure you remember Isaac?”

A solid weight of dread settles on Scott’s chest. “Did you just say you had a dream about Isaac?”

“Yeah, and before you say anything, I know it may sound ridiculous to be worried, but this didn’t really feel—”

“Peter,” Scott interrupts him, “I don’t doubt you for a second. Theo had one, too.”

“One what?”

“A dream about Isaac. He just called.”

“Oh, well, that makes this thing a whole lot more interesting.”

“This can’t be a coincidence, right?”

“I can’t say for sure, Scott. But…” Peter sighs heavily. “I am about ninety-nine percent sure that what I had was not a normal dream. I know the difference.”

“Can you meet us at the animal clinic as soon as possible?” Malia asks.

“Sure.”

Scott and Malia are still sitting in bed, wondering what this may be about, when they hear Lydia calling from downstairs.

“Scott? Are you there? Scott!”

Scott gets up and steps out into the hallway. “Yeah, I’m here. What’s wrong?”

Lydia comes rushing up the stairs. “Scott. Something’s wrong with Isaac.”

 

***********

 

“So you all had dreams about Isaac last night.”

“It wasn’t a dream,” Lydia and Peter say in unison, while Theo shrugs. “I guess so.”

“This is so messed-up,” Liam comments from the window. Scott had called him and Mason, too. This seems to be a bigger issue, and he wants all helping hands on board.

“But if it wasn’t a dream, what was it? A premonition?”

“No. I don’t know. Maybe.” Lydia throws her hands up. “All I know is: Isaac is in danger, and he needs our help.”

“It can’t have been a dream,” Mason chimes in. “How would Theo just dream about someone he’s never met?”

“Yeah.” Scott looks at Theo. “And he just told you his name?”

“We introduced ourselves. His name sounds kinda familiar, but I wasn’t sure.”

“He’s the son of the old swimming coach,” Scott helps out.

“Right…” Theo scratches the stubble on his chin. “I think I know. Whatever happened to that asshole?”

“He died,” Lydia says. Theo nods, unsurprised.

“Well, I don’t really know about premonitions and that kinda stuff, but.” He shakes his head. “It can’t have been a dream. It was so real. Like I was actually there, and I was scared shitless, and he was, too. I could smell his fear. It was too real.”

“And how do we find out what these not-dreams mean? I mean, you say he’s in danger, but… how do we help him?” Scott looks at them.

“We need to find out what happened to him,” Lydia says matter-of-factly.

“And how do we do that?” Malia poses the obvious question from her position next to Liam.

“Let’s look at the parallels between our stories,” Peter says. “There are obvious parallels that might help up figure this out.”

“Okay then,” Scott nods and gestures them to start.

“Parallel 1: in all our dreams, he talks about dying, or thinking he’s dead,” Theo starts.

“Right,” Lydia says. “Parallel 2: we were all trying to tell him something important.”

“But we were speaking in riddles or something,” Theo adds. “I mean, I don’t really understand what I was trying to tell him. It felt like a dream to me, where you sorta already know what you’re supposed to be saying or doing. Cause it’s a dream. You know what I mean?”

“Yeah,” Peter nods. “It was about the same with me. I just knew what to say. But I need to point out the next parallel, since you apparently haven’t noticed it.”

Lydia rolls her eyes at his complacent tone. “And what would that be?”

“All three of these non-dreams took place in certain spaces. Special places. Particularly in the context of dying, if you catch my meaning.”

“I don’t,” Malia says.

“Me neither,” Liam admits.

“I do,” Mason says. Everybody turns to look at him. “Guys, seriously?”

“Just tell us,” Liam says, exasperated.

“Bridges, hallways, beaches. They’re all liminal spaces,” Mason says, like that explains anything. To Lydia, it does, because she inhales sharply.

“You’re right. Oh God. So he is dead?”

“Guys, wait,” Scott interjects. “You may know what you’re talking about, but I think most of us aren’t following.”

Peter explains. “Liminal spaces are in-between spaces. Bridges, hallways, beaches, doorways, stairs, elevators, airports. They’re connecting one place to another. According to legend, liminal spaces are places where the border between the world of the living and the world of the dead is especially thin. That’s why the Wild Hunt looked like a train station.”

“So what does that mean?” Scott asks. “Isaac died, and he is meeting people in liminal spaces to let them know? But why? And why the three of you, anyways?”

“That’s what I wanna know,” Liam agrees. “I mean, I get Lydia. She’s a banshee. But what about you two?” And he gestures at Theo and Peter.

“I think in my dream I mentioned something about dying and that maybe that has to do with it,” Peter says. “Isaac was wondering why I was there, too. That was the best explanation I had to offer.”

“And you?” Scott looks at Theo, who shrugs.

“I honestly have no idea.”

Peter looks at him and hums. “Didn’t little wolf over there free you from some kind of hell?”

Theo’s heartbeat quickens almost imperceptibly. Scott catches it anyways.

“Yeah, he did do that.”

“But that didn’t kill him,” Malia says.

“Daughter dearest, I wouldn’t be so sure.” Everybody looks at Peter, who looks at Theo, who looks at Deaton’s operating table, obviously wishing for the subject to change.

“What exactly did you experience, when you were down there?”

Theo sighs, and his heartbeat quickens a little more. Scott has never heard him talk about it, never asked, because he had never thought about it. He had assumed… well, he really had not assumed anything. Now that it has become relevant, however, he needs to know. If it saves Isaac, anything goes.

“Theo,” he says. “We need to know.”

Theo gnaws on his lower lip.

“Look, I know this might be…” Scott does not trust Theo, but he can smell anxiety and he cannot help but feel sorry for him. “… this might be hard to talk about, but, if it helps us save Isaac—”

“I died,” Theo says.

“Oh,” Malia says. “Okay.”

“Over and over and over again,” Theo says and looks at her. Scott looks at her, too, then, begging her to be quiet. Malia seems to understand and huffs, but does not prod Theo anymore.

“How many times?” Peter asks.

“I don’t know. I didn’t keep count.”

“Yeah, but, if you had to guess.”

“Peter,” Scott scolds him.

“I honestly don’t know, okay? A hundred times, five hundred, a thousand. More. Just… over and over and over again.” Theo does not look anyone in the eye at this point. “That’s why the place in my dream reminded me of… wherever I was. It was a circle. It was just a circle. It wasn’t there for any purpose but to stop us from going anywhere. If we’d kept going, we would have ended up at the same point over and over again.”

“So… the fourth parallel is that the three people this guy contacted in these liminal spaces are three people who know a thing or two about dying,” Mason concludes. “That can’t be a coincidence, can it?”

“All three places had the purpose of not going anywhere,” Peter says. “Which is why I doubt he’s dead.”

“You mean he’s caught somewhere in-between,” Lydia says, and he nods.

“I also think he was trying to contact Scott, but because he couldn’t, he got redirected, so to speak, to people in his vicinity.”

“I died, once,” Scott says.

“Yeah, cause Theo killed you,” Malia says, her glare directed at Theo, who sighs heavily.

“But you were dead for, what, a minute?” Peter continues as though Malia had not said anything. “I think me and Doctor Evil have you trumped.”

“So you’re saying being dead for one minute isn’t enough to be contacted by the almost-dead?”

“I’m pretty sure this isn’t exact science,” Peter says. “All I’m doing here is making assumptions. The fact of the matter is, we don’t know shit. But if I had to guess, I would say that Isaac’s still alive, or close to it, and he’s trying to let us know he needs help.”

“Okay, so where is he? And what happened to him?” Scott asks, and Peter looks at him like he is stupid.

“How the hell am I supposed to know?”

“Okay, what kind of places were they in your dreams? Like, any specific places?” Mason asks.

“Mine was a beach, and I think I thought it might have been somewhere at the east coast. It was cold,” Lydia says.

Theo raises an eyebrow. “Office building without any entrance, exit, or windows. Could have been literally anywhere.”

“I was on a bridge that didn’t start or end anywhere,” Peter says, “In a field of tulips. These aren’t real places.”

“Great. So we have some beach that might have been on the east coast, a building that no-one can get in or out of, and a field with flowers,” Malia says. “I don’t think this is getting us anywhere.”

“It’s not,” Scott says, disappointed. “Why would he try to contact me, anyways?”

“Because he sees you as his alpha,” Peter points out like it is the most obvious thing in the world. “I know he left after the princess died, but that doesn’t mean his allegiance’s changed in any way. He might have joined another pack just to belong somewhere, or he might have been living as an omega. But the only reason he would have contacted the three of us,” and he gestures at Lydia, Theo, and himself, “is that we’re in Beacon Hills, close to you.”

“But I spend most of my time in Davis now,” Scott argues. “I’m just here for the weekend.”

“And what good would it have done for Isaac to find someone in Davis to talk to if you’re here now?” Peter asks. “Seriously, sometimes I feel like I’m surrounded by children. Oh, wait. I am.”

“So he got hurt or whatever last night,” Theo concludes. Scott feels a little more hopeful.

“So there might still be time to help him?”

“If my assumptions are correct,” Peter says, “yes. Maybe.”

“Okay then. But how do we find out where he is?”

“What about Argent?” Lydia suggests. “They left together.”

“Yeah, but think about how long ago that was. I have no idea if they kept in touch.”

“He told me he finished high school in New York and then moved to Massachusetts,” Theo supplies.

“So you had time for small talk?” Peter asks.

“We tried to talk a little to distract ourselves.”

“Okay, well, if nobody has any better ideas, I’m gonna call Argent and ask him if he knows anything,” Scott says and fishes his phone out of his pocket. Before he can do anything, however, it starts ringing.

“Let me guess,” Peter says, “it’s Argent.”

“It is,” Scott says. His feeling of dread increases tenfold. He takes the call anyways.

“Hello?”

“Scott, thank God I reached you.”

“Is this about Isaac?” Scott cuts right to the chase.

“What – how the hell did you know?”

“Don’t tell me you had a dream about him, too.”

“A dream? What? No. He sent me a message last night. He said something big was coming, and that it was headed Beacon Hills. I tried calling him when I saw the message this morning, but he’s not answering.”

“I think I know why,” Scott says.

 

***********

 

Scott explains the situation to Argent as well as he can, and Argent promises to meet them at the animal clinic ASAP. At that point, Deaton comes through the door and looks surprised at seeing so many people in his place of work. “Do I want to know?” he asks. So they attempt explaining it to him, too, which turns out to be a great idea, because Deaton makes some phone calls and does a little research and hands them the news.

“A thunderbird seems to be heading our way,” Deaton says and slams a big old book on the metal table.

“Thunderbird,” Scott repeats, looking at the illustrations on the opened pages.

“Yes. Now, that in itself would not be worrisome. Thunderbirds are legendary creatures of power and strength who, according to mythology, make the thunder with their wings and throw lightning on the creatures of the underworld. But they’re generally seen as good omens. They’re not evil.”

“So why are we worried then?” Liam asks. “Because we are, right?”

“Yes, we are,” Deaton says. “The thunderbird headed here should not be headed here. I don’t know why it is. The Nemeton should be keeping it away, not drawing it in. That alone should tell us something about this creature. Additionally, I looked up something because of what one of my acquaintances pointed out to me. People have disappeared in thunderstorms recently.”

He digs a folded map of the US out of a closet and spreads it out on the table before handing Scott a handwritten list. “These are the places where the storms happened where people disappeared. Read them out to me.”

Scott starts, and Deaton marks them as they go along.

“Winterset, Iowa.”

Deaton marks it.

“Milton, New York.”

Deaton marks it.

“Shermantown, Nevada.”

“Cleveland, Ohio.”

Scott patiently reads out each city as Deaton marks them down on the map.

“And the last one is Revere, Massachusetts.” Scott looks at the map. “Wow.”

The red dots Deaton has drawn on the map for each place Scott read out form a line that spreads across the entire continent, from one end right to the other, and it looks like a giant arrow pointing directly at Beacon Hills.

“The thunderbird is headed here,” Deaton says, “and I suppose it is taking people along the way.”

“Did you write them down in chronological order of the storms’ occurrence?” Lydia asks, and Deaton nods.

“But how can it be headed here if the last town where it took people is on the other side of the country?”

“Because thunderbirds don’t exist in time and space the way we do,” Deaton says. “They aren’t bound to those restrictions. They move freely in-between spaces, so they don’t know what a distance is. But the fact remains that the occurrence of the storms forms a line, and I have reason to assume it will end in Beacon Hills.”

“Revere,” Lydia whispers. “Revere Beach.” She looked up at Theo. “You said Isaac said he lived in Massachusetts?”

“Yeah.”

“Was he still living there? Or had he moved? When you talked.”

“I don’t know. He said something about staying there for a while, I think. But nothing more.”

“You think he was taken there?” Scott taps the red dot marked Revere.

“Yes.” Lydia looks sure. “I knew it was a beach on the east coast. Isaac felt at home on that beach, I could tell. I have a feeling. I’m pretty sure that’s where he was taken.”

“It would explain his in-between status, why he has sought you out in liminal spaces. That’s where the thunderbirds live. But it’s no place for humans, or werewolves. Everybody that thunderbird has taken is trapped there.”

“Including Isaac,” Scott says.

“So how do we get those trapped people out?” Liam asks. “If the thunderbird managed to take them there, there’s gotta be a way back.”

“And that,” Deaton says, “is what I don’t know.”

Peter, who has listened silently the entire time Deaton explained, speaks up. “I have read a lot about thunderbirds. I think there are rituals for interacting with them, although as far as I remember, most sounded rather painful.”

“Research!” Mason says enthusiastically. “It’s time for research on thunderbirds. I’ll tell Corey to meet me at the library.”

“I’ll join you, I guess,” Liam sighs.

 

*************

 

Theo is not quite sure what he is supposed to be doing while Liam and Mason head off to the library and Deaton retreats to do his own research. Scott is on the phone with Argent again, talking about this Isaac guy, and Theo does remember him, vaguely. His father was a shitbag, he knows that, too. Everybody knew. He supposes nobody misses him.

Malia and Lydia are talking about what a space in-between living and dying looks like, and Theo has no interest joining that conversation because he already knows what it looks like; also, he is sure they do not want him to talk, anyways. So he just leans against the wall of the room and thinks about the time he pulled a spider out of his back here. He put two and two together later on. It must have been the Anuk-Ite, and he supposes he could have been the second half to it, had he not gotten that thing out from under his skin.

Malia’s father is not talking either. He is staring at Theo with an assessing look on his face. Theo knows about everything there is to know about that man, and even if he did not, he perceives Peter Hale as a very strong, very intelligent, very sarcastic man who has some kind of aura surrounding him that gives even Theo the creeps. He is picking his battles wisely, nowadays. The last time he tried to fight Scott, it got him sent to hell, and Peter didn’t even exist at that point, so Theo thinks to himself it is better for him if he stands next to Peter instead of opposed to him.

“So, hell, huh,” Peter says, smirking slightly. Theo stands up.

“Look, I don’t know what I’m doing here, so if you don’t need me, I’ll—”

“You can’t leave,” Scott says, hanging up the phone. “We don’t know how to deal with this yet. It might be relevant that he came to you, too.”

“So I’m just supposed to sit around here and do nothing while you guys try to figure out how to enter some kind of purgatory?”

“We need to save Isaac,” Scott says.

“Since when does this ‘we’ include me?” Theo asks the obvious question. They do not want him in their pack, Malia continues to make that very clear. Even now she is glaring at him.

“Yeah, Scott, since when does it? Since when does it include me, for that matter?” Peter pipes up surprisingly. “I mean, don’t get me wrong, I’m all for stopping an ancient creature from destroying my collection of cars. But it’s not like me and the freezer kid were awfully close.”

A strange mix of sorrow and anger crosses Scott’s face when Peter says the word ‘freezer,’ but Theo does not get the reference. Scott sighs. “Look, saving Isaac and saving your cars go hand in hand at this point. It’s not just about Isaac. It’s about all of us. Please.”

Peter grins. “Ah, Scotty-Scott. I’m just pulling your chain. I don’t have anything to do today, anyways. Just make sure Malia stays out of harm’s way.”

“I can take care of myself, you know.” Peter gives her a look and they have some kind of staring contest. If Theo wasn’t so wary of both of them, he would call it cute.

“Theo?” Scott looks at him. And really, where does Theo have to go? So he sits on one of the uncomfortable metal stools. “Guess I’ll stay then.”

Deaton comes in and slams a giant old book with the title ‘Nanabush’ written with artful script on the front into his lap. “You can make yourself useful.”

So Theo reads. It distracts him from the others and from his thoughts, and at the same time he is not alone, so it is a win-win situation. Unfortunately, the book is not useful. It says a lot about thunderbirds, where they live, how they were created, by whom, and why, but it does not say anything about thunderbirds taking humans, or other human-like creatures, from the human world. It does not say much about humans interacting with them, either. There is one instance where the text mentions a human climbing their mountain in his sleep, but there is no explanation on how one can do that, or what that would achieve other than being struck by lightning and dying.

Theo tells Deaton, who studies the passage Theo showed him. “Interesting,” he says.

“It is?”

“Yes. Considering you were asleep when Isaac contacted you.”

“I think I wasn’t, though,” Theo says, which causes Malia to frown.

“You said it was a dream,” she argues.

“Yeah, but,” Theo shrugs helplessly. “It felt like a dream, but at the same time it felt too real. We know what dreams are like, and this felt too real.”

Deaton looks thoughtful. “So what would you propose it was?”

“Maybe I was actually there, in that place.”

“They weren’t actual places,” Malia says. “I thought we’d covered that.”

“Yes. However,” Peter says, looking just as thoughtful as Deaton does. “You can be in two places at once, can’t you. And you can see things that feel like a dream and be wide awake simultaneously. If anyone knows that, it’s Lydia, isn’t that right.”

Everybody looks at Lydia. “I also felt like I was actually there, wherever it was.” She shakes her head. “That doesn’t help us, though.”

“Or maybe it does,” Deaton says. “It might have been a translation mistake. Maybe the text doesn’t mean sleeping, it means dreaming. You can dream while you’re awake.”

“So whoever wants to climb the mountain of the thunderbirds has to dream he’s doing it,” Scott concludes, “and then he’s doing it?”

“I don’t think it’s quite that simple,” Deaton says, “but, yeah, something along those lines. Dreaming is transporting the mind into a liminal space, after all. Between what is real and what is not.”

With that piece of information found, they all keep searching a little more, or most of them are. Peter is on his phone, and Theo suspects he is browsing Instagram instead of researching, not that Theo can blame him. This is boring as shit and does not seem to offer any more helpful stuff after the one vague passage about dreaming up a mountain that Theo found.

Then an hour later, Mason calls to tell them he has found something, and to get over to the library. Theo does not even ask if he has to tag along. He just does, following them in his car. He knows the way to the school, after all.

In the library, Mason shows them what he found. “So there’s this ritual, it’s this kinda thing where you have to hold something silver and throw mountain ash at a creature to ban it from this reality, and that would usually mean that it has to be a human to do it, right? Cause werewolves can’t really touch silver, and they definitely can’t touch mountain ash, right? But, I mean, there wasn’t any detail about that in this book, so Corey googled it, and he found some illustration of it, and now I’m pretty sure that the creature described in this ritual is a thunderbird, but the creature throwing mountain ash at it is, well…”

They all look at the picture Corey has printed out, and it definitely does not look human.

“It’s a werewolf,” Corey points out superfluously.

“It’s a were-something,” Peter says. “The full moon indicates that, but there’s no telling if that thing is actually a wolf, or a coyote, or whatever. All we can say for sure is that it has a tail.”

Scott’s shoulders sag. “But how the hell are we supposed to do a ritual where one of us has to touch mountain ash? It’s impossible.”

“But it’s not,” Lydia says after a few seconds of silence.

“No?” Liam looks at her, eyebrows raised. Then his eyes become big. “Oh!”

“Oh, what?” Scott says, as Mason also says, “oh!”

“We know someone who is at least part werewolf, and who has no issues handling mountain ash,” Lydia says.

Theo has been studying the print-out of the illustration and only half-listening. Everybody is looking at him now, and he can only assume that that is very bad. “What?”

“You can touch mountain ash,” Scott says.

“Well, yeah…”

“Can you touch silver?”

Theo shrugs. “I think so.”

“He’s a science experiment,” Peter reminds everyone. “He’s part werewolf, but whatever he is, he’s no exact thing. The book doesn’t say anything about what the outcome may be if it’s some kind of weird hybrid were-mish-mash, does it? Maybe we should consider the possibility that sending Doctor Evil in there makes everything worse instead of better.”

Theo would be offended, hurt even, by being described as a science experiment or a ‘weird mish-mash.’ He really would be, except now that he has caught on to the conversation, he starts to understand where this is headed, and he does not want to participate in some kind of ritual where he has to square off with a bird the size of a boeing that, according to the illustration, has claws which are about ten feet long, and that, oh, right, controls lightning.

“I am not doing this,” Theo says. “No. No way. This’ll get me killed. I know you won’t be crying any tears about my demise, but, no. Just no.”

They all start talking at once, it seems, and Malia’s voice is the sharpest when she snaps, “You can’t just—”

But one loud “GUYS!” from Scott shuts all of them up. He looks at Theo and says, “Can I talk to you outside?”

Theo follows, slowly, feeling all sorts of emotions tumbling down on him, amassing on his shoulders until he feels about ready to sink into the ground again. Hello, sister. Want your heart back? So take it, then. It’s not like anyone will miss me up there. At least here I know what to expect.

Scott turns around when they are out of hearing range of the library. “You don’t have to do this.”

“Bullshit,” Theo says.

“You really think I’d force you to do something this dangerous?” Scott asks him, almost offended, and Theo laughs a very bitter laugh.

“Look, dude. You may not want to, but your posse in there has basically already decided. Save Isaac, save the world. You’re all ready to throw me under the bus, and I totally get it. But I’m not walking straight into a suicide mission without any incentive. We don’t know if this can actually work. Like Peter said, I’m a ‘were-mish-mash,’ I could make it all even worse.”

“I am not throwing you under the bus,” Scott says. He is very angry. “I get that you don’t wanna do this. I really do. I’d do it if I knew how. I don’t, but I’ll call Deaton. He might know something about how I can do it. I’ve broken through a mountain ash barrier before. Maybe I can throw mountain ash, too. Nobody’s gonna throw you under any bus as long as I have any say in this. They’ll get it.”

Theo feels his own anger rising at so much self-sacrificial bullshit. “So then you’ll die. How is that better?”

And then Scott actually frowns and says, “But if I save my friends, and Beacon Hills, wouldn’t that be worth it?”, and Theo actually wants to punch him in the face because he just does not understand it. He has never felt such deep affection for anyone that he would have willingly died for them. Love. That is the word. Love. Scott loves. He loves so much and so unconditionally, he is actually willing to try anything to be the only one that dies.

“How in the hell did you get like that?” Theo asks. “Where’s your sense of survival? Why are you so willing to sacrifice yourself?”

“You saved Liam when you were fighting the Ghost Riders,” Scott says. “He told me. You saved him from being taken by them. That was a kind of self-sacrifice, wasn’t it?”

“That was different. I knew being caught in the wild hunt wasn’t a sure death sentence. Peter got out of it, so I knew I could, too, and I did. This—”

“This,” Scott says, “isn’t a sure death sentence, either. It’s dangerous, for sure. But nobody said anything about death.”

“Don’t be an asshole. You know just as well as I do that this isn’t safe.”

“If you wanted safe,” Scott points out, “you should have left Beacon Hills, I guess.” And Theo would have, if he had anywhere to go, but he doesn’t, so he stayed, and slept in his car. Embarrassingly, he suddenly feels tears stinging at his eyes, and all fight leaves his body. He already knows what dying feels like, and maybe, just maybe, if he does it one more time, he never has to do it again. Let that be his incentive, then. At least he will not have to die again. What is one more death? And if he goes out in some self-sacrificial gesture, he may go to some more cozy hell, like the office building where he met Isaac. Or even better, maybe there is no hell and all he will encounter is nothingness. So Theo shrugs and focuses all of his concentration on not letting those stupid tears fall. He can’t even remember the last time he cried.

“You know what, whatever. I’ll do it.”

Scott is confused, surprised, grateful, worried, anxious, wary. The mixture of smells distracts Theo from trying not to cry, and one stupid little tear escapes his eye. Theo wipes it away immediately, more embarrassed than ever.

“What do you mean, you’ll do it?”

“Let’s just do the fucking ritual. What difference does it make?”

“You mean…” Scott suddenly radiates compassion, and Theo wants to punch him again. How can one person be so disgustingly good? If Scott didn’t have such a great pack, he would have died ages ago, Theo is sure of it. (But then again, he is a True Alpha, and they would never exist without a great pack.)

“If what you’re saying is it doesn’t make any difference whether you live or die, that’s not true. Maybe I don’t trust you, but I have no reason to want you to just walk off a cliff or something. If you wanna help us and do the ritual, that’s awesome. But I’ll promise you that I’ll do everything I can to make sure that you won’t die.”

“And I’m just supposed to trust you on that.”

“I’m not the one running around, lying and deceiving all the time.”

Theo has not done that in a while, actually. But he has not trusted anyone in so long he cannot remember how that works. He also knows, however, that Scott, because he is such a dumb, lovey-dovey idiot, barely ever tells a lie to anyone, and that he probably meant every word he just said, even that bull about it mattering whether Theo dies or not.

“Whatever,” he says. “I said I’ll do it. Let’s just go back inside and tell the puppy parade before they form some sort of lynch mob to convince me.”

“Theo. I promise.”

Reciprocity is one of the few human concepts Theo fully understands, so he says, “And what do you want in return?”

Scott looks very frustrated, but he eventually sighs and says, “I want you to honestly try and do it right.”

“Fine. I promise,” Theo says mockingly.

“But first I’m calling Deaton to see if there may be any way that I can do it.” And Scott already has his cellphone in hand. Theo just does not understand. He already agreed to do it, why can’t Scott just let this go? Let someone else take the heat, for a change? But he knows there is no point in asking. Scott and Theo are speaking different languages, and every question Theo would like to state would get lost in translation. He retreats back into the library and tells them that he will do it. He expected more of a pleased reaction, but Liam looks kind of sad, and Mason worried, and even Malia does not look as happy as he had expected. Maybe they weren’t as far out of hearing range as they had thought.

Scott comes back from his talk with Deaton, who has no idea how to make a werewolf touch silver or mountain ash, so at least one thing works out as expected today. Most of them decide to go back to Deaton’s and prepare the ritual with him. They still need to figure out how the entire ritual thing works and where they will do it. They also need to find out when the thunderbird arrives in Beacon Hills, which will be soon, Theo thinks. He can smell rain.

Malia stands next to him suddenly, as he is about to get into his car. “You know you don’t have to do this, right?” she asks gruffly. Theo is appropriately surprised.

“Malia…”

“We can’t, like, force you to risk your life for us.” She looks pissed at having to say these words, but Theo can detect no lie, so she might actually mean it.

“S’okay. I’ll do it anyways.” He makes to get into the car.

“Why?”

“Does it matter why?” Theo asks, honestly curious as to what Malia thinks. She shrugs, then, all pragmatist like her father. “I guess not. I just wanted to tell you that.”

“Did you figure that all out on your own?” Theo asks, because there is no way Malia just said this without anyone telling her. She is still too heavily connected with her feral side, in which there is no space for things like forgiveness, empathy, going easy on people. Theo likes that side to her because he understands it so well.

“No,” Malia admits as she walks over to where Scott is waiting next to Stiles’ truck. “Liam and Mason did.”

Theo realizes that while he and Scott had been outside, talking, with Theo making an ass out of himself for crying like a bitch, the rest of the puppy parade had talked this over, as well. And apparently Scott’s attitude had infected Liam, and Mason is too nice like Scott anyways, so that makes sense why nobody broke out into dance when Theo told them about his decision to do the ritual.

He starts his car and heads to the animal clinic. He supposes if he is doing the ritual, he needs to be around for preparations.

 

************

 

Argent arrives at the clinic in the afternoon, which Scott is grateful for. Somehow Chris Argent always seems so in control of a situation he makes everyone else feel a bit more assured. His presence helps calm Scott down, and he hopes it has the same effect on everybody else.

A storm is brewing outside, and Deaton takes the leaden-colored clouds as a sign that the thunderbird is close. They have to draw the thing in somewhere so they can perform the ritual, and it is Theo who reminds everybody of the lightning rod they used to trap the Ghost Rider. They are kind of making this up as they go along, and luring the thunderbird in by concentrating lightning seems like an okay idea. Plus the shed is not too far off from the Nemeton, where Deaton assumes the Thunderbird is headed. It might work.

Theo is withdrawn, tired, and nervous, and probably regretting this. Scott is very upset that he cannot do this, that someone else has to risk his life for him, even if it is Theo; and when they were talking, Theo had suddenly exuded such an insurmountable amount of loneliness that Scott knows why he is doing this, and he is very confused as to why no one else seems to have picked up on it. In the end, it is Liam who comes up to Scott to share his worries.

“Why’d he agree to do this?” Liam asks quietly. Scott and Argent are loading Argent’s vehicle with ammunition, because you never know what might happen, and some sort of sacred stones that Deaton says they should use to form a circle, that it might help draw the thunderbird in.

“It’s complicated,” Scott answers, because he is not sure it is his place to talk about Theo’s feelings. Liam rolls his eyes.

“Really.”

“He just – it’s just complicated, okay. I promised him I’d do whatever it takes to protect him, and I think he believes me.”

“Mmmmh.” Liam does not appear convinced. “And what if he’s doing it cause he hopes all the terrible shit he’s done will be forgiven?”

“Cause I’m pretty sure he’s not expecting forgiveness or anything like that,” Scott says. He imagines that someone who does not understand concepts like trust and forgiveness would not expect anyone to express trust and forgiveness towards them.

“I just…” Liam hesitates. “I just don’t want… I dunno.”

“Yeah, I don’t want him to do it just because he thinks we’re expecting him to, either,” Scott says. “But does he really seem the type for that?”

“No, I guess not,” Liam concedes. He looks like he has more to say, but then he goes back inside and helps carry more sacred stones.

It is 5 o’clock in the afternoon when they have assembled in front of the shed with the lightning rod, but it is dark enough to be the middle of the night. The sky is the color of lead, with streaks of vomit-green, and it is lit up by lightning every ten seconds. Scott, Mason, and Liam have formed a large circle with the stones. The wind is picking up, but Scott can still hear Theo’s heart beating over the noises, and he is certain everybody else with enhanced hearing can hear it, too. Nonetheless, Theo is still here, and he accepts the jar of mountain ash and the silver dagger that Deaton hands him.

At some point, Liam argued that Parrish could also touch mountain ash and why weren’t they asking him? But Deaton explained that the ritual asks for a werewolf, or another creature guided by the moon. Also, Parrish would just burn the mountain ash if he touched it, and that was not what was supposed to happen. Scott is still pleased that Liam would stick up for Theo like that. Not too long ago, Liam felt an intense hate for the chimera, and Scott cannot fault him for that because he did, too. But hate is an empty emotion that hollows you out. Liam seems to slowly understand that, and the fact that Theo fought by his side more than once must have helped.

Lightning strikes the rod, again and again, and then the wind becomes so strong that Scott thinks they are standing on the edge of a hurricane. He can hear the flapping of giant wings, and a scream so loud he has to cover his ears in pain. The thunderbird is closing in on them. No one can see it, though. Theo is stepping forward, shaking with fear, but he has a tight grip on jar and dagger.

“I have no idea what I’m doing!” he shouts at Deaton over the wind.

“You have to step into the circle!”

“And then what?”

“Throw the mountain ash!”

“And what the fuck is the goddamn dagger for? To give that thing a pedicure?”

Deaton shakes his head. “You’ll know what to do, the ritual will guide your hand!”

“Oh great, great, great,” Theo says to himself. “The ritual will guide me. Well, in that case.”

“Theo, I promised,” Scott shouts at him. “I meant it.”

Theo looks at him and his face appears almost impassive. Resigned. He blinks against the storm and walks forward until he is standing directly in front of the stone circle. And then the earth shudders. The storm increases until it almost throws all of them off their feet, and then it lessens slightly, and then the thunderbird is just there. It is gigantic, and gray, and looks more like one of the monsters from the most recent Godzilla film than a bird. Theo seems frozen in place, and Scott is this close to shouting at him to move because they do not have time for this, but it is already incredibly hard to just stand still and not run away from that thing, so how hard must it be to force yourself to walk towards it?

“Dream of the mountain!” Deaton shouts at him, and Theo seems to steel himself and takes a step forward, into the stone circle. He lifts the jar of mountain ash and throws it in the general direction of the bird, and it seems so ridiculous now, that they thought this would work, Scott thinks. They would need a boatload of mountain ash, barrels and barrels of mountain ash, the thing is so huge. One jar can never be enough. The storm will just blow it away, and then the thunderbird will kill Theo, or trap him in limbo with Isaac and the other people, and Beacon Hills will still be destroyed, and Scott will have broken a promise.

The mountain ash is not blown away. It settles into a circle around the thunderbird and Theo and now Scott knows with absolute certainty, without knowing how, that the person inside the circle is not Theo anymore. Theo lifts his right arm, still holding the silver dagger in his left hand, and slits open his entire forearm from elbow to wrist. Liam shouts, “What’s he doing?”, but Scott thinks this must be what Deaton meant. The ritual is guiding Theo’s actions now, and it will take from him whatever it needs.

The thunderbird is screaming again, flapping its giant wings, but it cannot seem to leave, and Theo slams the bloody dagger into the ground and lifts his left hand again. One of Argent’s knives flies out of its sheath on his belt and lands directly in Theo’s hand.

“Did you see what just happened?” Malia yells to Scott, and she is very scared right now. Everybody is. This is really not what any of them expected.

“Yeah!”

“You think that’s normal?”

“None of this is normal!” Peter yells back.

Just then Theo lifts Argent’s knife and slams it on top of the silver dagger, and the earth starts shaking, and Scott’s ears suddenly hurt so much it takes him a few seconds to understand Lydia is screaming. The power of the banshee echoes through the forest and rushes through Theo and the thunderbird like a wave of sound and blinding light. It becomes brighter and brighter and brighter. Scott cannot look anymore, he has to cover his eyes.

And then it is completely quiet. The storm has stopped. The earth is not shaking anymore. It feels outlandish, for a moment, to have steady ground under his feet, after shaking for so long. Everybody has to blink for a moment to get used to the darkness of the forest again, although it is not as dark as before. The clouds are not leaden anymore. The sky is clearing up. A familiar scent hits Scott, and he looks up quickly. Argent beats him to it.

“Isaac!” he shouts, and sure enough, the lanky figure tumbles out from dozens of other people, who are standing around where the thunderbird was before, confused and disoriented and scared.

“Chris,” Isaac says, beyond surprised. “Scott!”

Scott cannot believe it. It actually worked. There is Isaac. A bit older, still lanky, though. And looking appropriately spooked, considering the conditions of their reuniting. Scott runs over to him and they end up in a bear hug that lifts Scott’s feet off the ground for a second. Isaac is taller than he remembered.

Argent joins them and Isaac hugs him, too. Then he looks around, at the ground, where smoke is rising from the remnants of the mountain ash. “I’m not even sure I wanna know,” he says and laughs shakily.

“It’s a bit complicated,” Argent says, but he exudes relief, and he is smiling. “We’ll tell you all about it once this situation is settled.”

“Yeah, okay,” Isaac says. He frowns and looks around. “But where’s Theo?”

“Oh…” Scott is overcome with dread. “He was here… he was standing right here!”

“He was here, I saw him,” Isaac says. “He was tearing down the wall.”

At that point, Liam shouts, “Scott! Over here!”, and Scott turns to see Liam, Mason, and Deaton hovering around a motionless figure on the ground.

“No,” Scott whispers as he rushes over. “No, no, no. No.”

“He’s not breathing,” Deaton states as Scott approaches.

“Theo!”

“What do we do?” Liam asks, wanting to touch Theo but not daring to. Theo’s right forearm, the one he slashed open, is in terrible condition. The wound is wide open and gaping, showing no signs of healing, and oozing black goo. Black lines have started infiltrating his chest where Deaton has pushed up his shirt to listen to his heartbeat.

“We need to get him to the clinic,” Deaton says. “And we need him to start breathing again.”

“Is he dead?” Scott asks. He is shaking. But Liam shakes his head.

“I can hear his heart beat,” he says. “It’s really weak, but if you listen closely…”

So Scott listens, and he hears a very faint, slow thump-thump.

“It won’t keep beating for very long if he’s not breathing,” Deaton says.

“So we need to trigger his healing,” Scott says. “Maybe I can try taking his pain?”

Deaton nods. “Okay, try it.”

Scott crouches next to Theo, and he hates himself, because this is all his fault. He had told Theo he did not need to do this. But Theo said he would and Scott promised that this would not happen. Scott is sure he might have come out of it better. Scott is an Alpha, after all. Theo does not heal as quickly as the others, anyways, because he is a chimera. Corey does not heal all that quickly, either. God, Scott never should have let him do this.

As soon as Scott touches Theo’s intact wrist, white hot agony flows through his veins, and he cannot help but scream.

“Scott!” Liam sounds alarmed. Scott has his eyes shut tight against the pain, and he cannot focus on anything but that. Fire in his arm, fire in his chest. “Oh God,” he grounds out. “This is… the most intense pain… I’ve ever felt… why – aaah! – why does it hurt so much?”

The searing pain spreads into his other arm, his head, his stomach. Tears sting Scott’s eyes. He screams again.

“Scott, you need to let go,” Deaton says to him, but Scott shakes his head.

“I can’t let him die,” he growls.

“He’s breathing, he’s breathing!” Liam says after a few more seconds. Deaton and Mason forcefully pry Scott’s hand off Theo’s wrist, and Scott collapses. It takes him a few moments to pull himself together – precious moments. They do not have time. Malia runs over to them when she sees Scott on the ground.

“What’s going on?”

“We need to… get him to the clinic,” Scott says. He is out of breath and feels exhausted right down to the bone. He does not know how he makes it to his feet, but with help from Malia and Deaton, he does.

“Are you okay?” Malia asks. Scott shakes his head.

“Theo is… I took his pain. It’s… intense.”

“We need to get him to the clinic as fast as possible,” Liam says, already running towards Stiles’ truck, but Scott calls him back. “No, wait, let’s use Theo’s truck.” As much as Scott loves Roscoe, the old thing has too many problems, and they do not have time for any of this. Also, he figures, if Theo makes it through this, he will be happy knowing someone took his car back.

Lydia comes over to them. She is very pale, and she also looks exhausted. The scream must have taken a lot out of her. It was loud, even for her.

“Lydia, are you okay?” Scott asks. Malia is still holding him upright, while Deaton and Liam are carrying Theo’s body over to his car.

“I’m okay,” Lydia says, sounding unsure of it herself. “What about Theo?”

“He’s not okay,” Malia says.

“Can you take Roscoe back to the clinic?” Scott asks, and she nods. He hands her the keys, and then Malia helps him over to Theo’s car. Deaton is shutting the door to the backseat.

“Mason and I will be right behind you,” he says to Scott, who just nods and moves towards the driver’s side. Malia stops him. “Where do you think you’re going?”

“I’m driving.”

“No, you’re not. You can’t even stand on your own.”

“Yes, I can,” Scott says. He is feeling better already. Still exhausted, but not on the verge of collapsing anymore. His healing is already kicking in. “Malia, get in the car. We seriously don’t have time for this.”

Isaac is jogging over to them. “Is he okay?” he nods towards Theo’s unmoving body in the backseat, head cushioned by Liam’s lap.

“He’s…”

“Yeah, I can see he’s not okay,” Isaac says. “It was a stupid question.”

“You can catch a ride with Deaton and Mason, they’re headed right for the clinic,” Scott says, pointing over to where Deaton is getting into Mason’s car. Isaac knows Deaton, and he nods and runs over to them.

“Guys,” Liam says as Scott gets into the car and slams the door shut. Malia hands him the keys that someone must have fished out of Theo’s pocket.

“What?” Scott says distractedly.

“I think he’s living in this thing.”

“What?” Malia asks. “He’s living in his car?”

“Yeah.” Liam is looking around, and Scott can smell dirty clothes and food residuals and suspects he is right.

“I don’t get it,” Malia says. “Cars aren’t for living. They’re for driving.”

Scott starts the car and starts heading for the street as fast as he dares. Everything makes more and more sense now. Why Theo exuded loneliness. Why he had almost started to cry when Scott told him that maybe he should have left Beacon Hills. And now he has a dying Theo and a mountain of guilt to carry around.

“Homeless people live in cars,” Liam is attempting to explain to Malia.

“But homeless people don’t have cars,” Malia says. “How would they pay for them?”

“I don’t know,” Liam says, “but maybe you can ask Theo when this is all over.” He sounds very angry, but Scott knows that is Liam’s default setting whenever he needs to deal with fear, or sadness, or worry, or insecurity, or basically any emotion that is not happiness.

“Theo can’t be homeless,” Malia says. “He doesn’t look homeless.”

“Well, if there’s one thing we know about him,” Scott says, “it’s that he’s really good at pretending.”

“I think he stopped breathing again,” Liam suddenly says, sounding panicked.

“What?” Scott wants to turn around, but he has to focus on the road. “Wait, we need to pull over so I can—”

But then he hears Liam yell in pain from the backseat, and he knows Liam is taking some of Theo’s pain.

“Liam, stop! It’s too much!” Scott does not want Liam to do this, he should not have to, it is Scott’s fault after all. Liam does not say anything, probably already beyond words. He just keeps alternating between growling and screaming. So Scott just keeps driving, because what else can he do?

“It’s not working,” Malia says. She is listening intently to Theo’s heartbeat.

“What… do… we… do?” Liam growls, and Scott can see in the rearview mirror that he is turning, probably his body’s reaction to the pain.

Malia hesitates for a second, then she grumbles, “I can’t believe I’m doing this.” She reaches out a hand and wraps it around Theo’s ankle. Immediately her face turns into a grimace, and her eyes well up. “Oh GOD,” she groans. “What – ah – why does…”

Malia gives up trying to talk, just holding on for as long as she can, until Scott is sure he can hear something that sounds like an intake of breath where there was none before, and he orders them in his Alpha voice to let go. They do, and then Liam hurls out the window, while Malia wipes some sweat off her brow with a very shaky hand.

“Is he breathing again?” Liam asks, and Scott watches his reflection rub at his eyes.

“I think so,” Scott says, because he has to.

“You’re not dying,” he says. “You’re not dying. Damnit!”

Malia is shaking next to him. Liam is dry-heaving. And Theo is doing nothing. The clinic seems impossibly far away. Scott’s phone rings. Malia fishes it out of his jeans pocket, and it is Stiles. God, Stiles. Rarely has Scott missed him more than right now. Malia puts him on speaker.

“Scott?”

“Stiles!”

“What the fuck is happening with you guys? I just talked to Lydia, she said something about ancient rituals and a big bird and a storm and that Isaac’s there? And then something about Theo? What did he do?”

Scott does not even know where to start. “It was a thunderbird, and Theo managed to do something, and apparently it helped, but…”

“A thunderbird? Okay. That sounds vaguely impressive. And what happened? And what does it all have to do with Theo, of all people?”

“He’s dying,” Malia says bluntly. Pain tears through Scott’s chest.

“The thunderbird?”

“Theo.”

“Oh.”

“He’s not dying,” Scott says, “because I’m not letting him.”

“Okay,” Stiles says, sounding stressed out, “this is obviously a bit too complicated to explain over the phone. I’ve already booked a flight. I’ll be there as soon as possible, alright, Scotty?”

“Alright,” Scott says around a huge lump in his throat.

“Hold on tight. Love you, buddy.”

“Love you, too,” Scott says, and then Stiles hangs up and Scott is left alone with this situation. Because Malia is right, Theo is dying, and no amount of hope will change that, and even the taking of pain does not seem to have any lasting effects so far.

“You know, Malia,” Liam says from the backseat, “sometimes you just need to shut the fuck up.”

Finally, finally, they arrive at the clinic. Deaton, Mason, and Isaac are right behind them, and Deaton and Mason carefully carry Theo into the clinic, while Isaac meets Scott at the front entrance, which gives him a chance to introduce Isaac to Liam and Malia.

“Thanks, you know,” Isaac says, grinning this adorably insecure smile, and Scott can basically see Malia’s heart melt. God knows how Mason must have blushed, being in a car with Isaac for that long. Isaac sort of does that to people. “For saving me, I mean.”

Liam shrugs. He still looks pale and vaguely sick. “S’what we do.”

Deaton calls them from inside. “He’s not breathing!”

Scott tries taking his pain again, but after only five seconds his legs go out, and then Isaac does his best, and it is enough for now. Deaton cuts off Theo’s shirt, and they can see that the black lines from his mauled right forearm have spread over his entire chest, into his neck and left arm, down his stomach, probably spreading down his legs, as well. The forearm itself is completely black by now, and it looks dead.

“What’s wrong with him?” Scott asks, fighting through the renewed pain and nausea to look imploringly at Deaton. The doctor, however, can only shake his head.

“Something in the ritual must have gone awry. It may have been the fact that Theo’s not a whole werewolf. Or it may have been Lydia’s scream. The banshee’s scream probably served to re-close the gate after Theo opened it with the ritual, but it might have been too much.”

“So what do we do?” Liam presses on.

“I…” Deaton looks at them desperately. “I don’t know.”

“What?” Scott thinks he misheard. He must have. Deaton always knows what to do. Always.

“There’s nothing we can do at this point. If his healing doesn’t kick in, and taking his pain cannot trigger it, there’s nothing to do. I could try to treat the wound, but even the nine herbs can’t rectify this amount of damage.”

“The nine herbs saved Peter when he was completely burned,” Malia says.

“But he’s a werewolf, and he’s strong, and he was conscious,” Deaton says, shaking his head. “I mean, we can try, but I assume it will do nothing for Theo at this stage.”

“So you’re saying…” Scott does not want to form those words. He promised.

“There is only one possibility left I can think of, and even that only has a fifty-fifty chance of saving him,” Deaton says and looks at Scott.

“What is it? We have to try!” Scott immediately says.

“You have to give him the bite.”

Stunned silence falls over the room.

“How… how would that help?” Isaac asks, confused. “Isn’t he already a werewolf?”

“No, he’s a chimera,” Liam says. Isaac looks more confused, and Liam waves a hand through the air. “It’s a long story.”

“He’s part wolf. Part coyote. Part human. The normal rules don’t apply to him,” Deaton explains. “In most matters, I guess he would have to be considered human.”

That jolts Scott out of his stupor. “You think it’ll save him?”

“It worked with Hayden, right?” Liam reminds him. “It has to work with Theo, too.”

“But Hayden wasn’t actively dying after an ancient ritual,” Mason argues. “That was completely different, right?”

Deaton nods and adds, “So it might not work. It might be too late.”

Scott shakes his head. “But I can’t just bite him.”

“Why not. Because it would make him your beta?” Peter says as he barges in, Lydia right behind him. “I thought you’d jump at the chance to execute some semblance of control over Doctor Evil.”

“It would make him pack,” Malia says, disdain bleeding through on the word ‘pack.’ She obviously does not like the idea. But Scott shakes his head again.

“Because I can’t bite him without talking to him first. Hayden told me she wanted to be turned.”

“I didn’t,” Liam says.

“But that was different…”

“Cause you saved my life,” Liam says, looking at Scott. “How’s this any different?”

“I just…” Scott looks at Deaton. “We don’t know if it’s gonna work, right? What if I make it worse?”

“It obviously can’t get any worse than this,” Lydia says quietly from the door.

“If I could just talk to him about it,” Scott says imploringly, gazing over at Theo’s immobile form. The black is spreading. It has reached his chin and upper left arm. Currently, he is breathing, but they all know it can give out any second.

“Maybe if we take some more of his pain,” Liam offers, but Scott knows they can’t. They have already taken too much. Then Peter sighs theatrically.

“Fine. I’ve been burned alive, what, three times now, I’m pretty sure I can take more pain than you.”

“Be careful,” Scott says, because even though Peter is still Peter, he has helped them considerably with this thing, and Scott knows he does want to help now, even if he is mostly doing it for Malia and to get into Scott’s good graces. Peter ignores him in favor of walking over to the table. He unceremoniously wraps a hand around Theo’s ankle and immediately doubles over with pain. Scott watches as the trademark black lines travel up his arm.

“Oh, wow. Wow. Wow. Yeah. That’s a lot of pain. Wow.” Peter keeps his eyes closed and growls, probably to stop himself from screaming.

“Maybe you should let go,” Malia says, involuntarily worried. Peter tells her to “shut up,” harsher than he usually would be with her. Scott can see him dig the claws of his free hand into his thigh. To have something to hold on too, maybe, or as a distraction. Still he manages to hold on longer than any of them, until Theo suddenly takes a sharp breath and his eyes flutter open briefly.

“Let go now,” Malia snaps at her father and yanks his hand away. Peter goes tumbling to the floor, and Malia drags him over into a corner. “Idiot,” she mumbles, and Peter foregoes answering her for puking into the nearest trash can.

Scott steps closer to the table. Theo’s eyes flutter open and closed, and he is whimpering, still obviously in a large amount of pain.

“Theo?”

“Scott,” Theo turns his head slowly to squint at him, “what… what’s… happening?”

“Something went wrong,” Scott says, guilt throbbing in his gut. “I’m so sorry.”

“So… it didn’t… didn’t work?”

“It did, actually,” Isaac says, stepping close to Scott. “Hi.”

“Isaac,” Theo seems very surprised.

“But you’re hurt,” Scott says.

“Yeah, I can tell,” Theo says, whimpering again. “It hurts. It hurts everywhere.”

“There’s only one thing we can think of to help you,” Isaac says and looks at Scott.

“And what… what is it?”

“I have to bite you,” Scott says, and Theo immediately closes his eyes.

“No.”

“What?”

“I said… no.”

“You don’t want the bite,” Scott says dumbly.

“No.”

“But… why not?”

“Cause you don’t want me in your pack, Scott. You’re only offering it cause I’m d—” Theo lets out a gut-wrenching scream of agony, and his eyes roll back in his head.

“If you’re planning on doing it, you have to do it now,” Deaton says urgently. “He doesn’t have any more time left.”

And Scott knows he is right. The black lines are spreading into his face by now, they are everywhere. Scott desperately wishes for Stiles to be there and tell him what to do. Stiles is his moral compass, his heart. Stiles hates Theo and is a lot less trusting than Scott, but he is so smart, and way kinder than he would ever admit to himself. Scott needs Stiles right now, but he is not here. So Scott looks to the next best thing: Malia and Liam. Malia stands next to Peter, arms tightly crossed, and she does not know what to say. Liam’s gaze tears through Scott, and Scott knows what he will say before he does it.

“Bite him,” Liam says.

So Scott takes Theo’s left wrist, which the black has not reached yet, and feels the turn coming, feels his eyes flash, his teeth grow, and then he bites down hard.

It feels very different to when he bit Liam, or Hayden. He is dimly aware of Theo screaming again. It feels like he dunked his face into a bucket of ice water. Images appear and vanish before his eyes in quick flashes. A bridge over water. A dark corridor. A girl ripping his heart out of his – Theo’s – chest and showing it to him. The sensation of falling. Surprised, Scott lets go as his fangs retreat. He stumbles backwards and lands on his ass, and Isaac is by his side.

“Did it work,” Scott asks Deaton imploringly. “Did it work?”

“I’m not sure, but… look,” Deaton says.

The black lines are slowly retreating out of Theo’s chest and face and stomach, until the gash in his forearm is the only wound left. Oh, and the bite on the other arm, of course. Neither seem to be healing, but the gash is not oozing black goo, now. Just regular-looking blood. Theo is wheezing and unconscious, but he is not screaming anymore.

“It’s working,” Liam breathes, sounding as relieved as Scott feels.

“We still need to treat those wounds,” Deaton says, also very relieved, as he starts gathering bandages and disinfectant.

“Why aren’t they healing?” Mason asks.

“He has been through a great deal of stress. It’s normal that it will take quite some time for him to recover from this.”

“If he does,” Lydia says, her head cocked. She is looking at Theo with a strange expression on her face. Like she is zoned out. Scott is alarmed.

“What do you mean?”

“Something’s wrong with him,” Peter says from his corner. He is still dry-heaving a little, and he looks very pale. “That’s what she means.”

“Wrong?” Deaton steps forward to look at the bite. He touches Theo’s arm and draws his hand back in surprise, a shocked look on his face. He touches Theo’s forehead next, then his neck, then the open gash.

“What is it?” Scott asks.

“He’s freezing.”

Scott touches the skin right next to the bite, and Deaton is right. It feels like… well, like Theo’s arm has been dunked into a bucket of ice water.

“What the hell is going on now?” Liam sounds very angry again. Scott can’t fault him on it. He is about ready to smash something himself.

“I’m not sure,” Deaton says as he begins to hastily wrap the sluggishly bleeding gash in gauze. “But we need to get him to an actual hospital now. They can treat hypothermia.”

“There’s no way this is normal hypothermia,” Lydia says. She seems to have snapped out of her temporarily zoned-out state. “This must be something magical. I felt something… strange.”

“Yeah, well,” Deaton says. “I don’t know what can cause magical hypothermia. I do know about normal hypothermia, and it’s treated in Beacon Hills Memorial. So, if you will.”

Isaac and Mason jump forward to lift Theo off the table. He is completely still now, but his heart is beating and he is breathing normally.

“Jesus,” Mason murmurs as he holds one of Theo’s legs. “Dude’s like ice. I can feel it through his jeans.”

Liam grabs a hold of the other leg, even though he looks way too weak to do this. “Yeah,” he whispers. “I wonder what this is. Why can’t he just be fucking okay now? Hayden was.”

“That’s definitely not how this is supposed to go,” Isaac agrees.

They start carrying Theo outside, to one of the cars, and Scott follows them slowly, exhausted beyond imagination, and reeling from the sensation of having his heart ripped out of his chest and seeing it beat one last time while being held in someone else’s hand.

 

************

 

Stiles finds them in the hospital. It is Sunday morning, he has been on his feet all night, catching the first plane to fly in the general direction of the west coast, almost missing a connecting flight from Seattle to Los Angeles, and then renting a car to get from LAX to Beacon Hills. He could have rung up his dad to pick him up, but really, Stiles does not want to stress him out like that. Stiles got his license re-issued after he had lost it in the Wild Hunt, and he is perfectly capable of renting a car. Granted, he rents it with his dad’s credit card information, but that is beside the point.

When Stiles arrives at Beacon Hills Memorial, only Liam, Scott, and Mason are there. He wonders dimly if Malia and Lydia have gone to the restroom, until he remembers who it is they are worried about here. It makes sense for the two girls to not have the desire to spend all night in a hospital wondering whether a homicidal psychopath is going to make it or not.

Scott and Liam are napping, and they look completely at ease with their surroundings, which having a parent working at the hospital will do to you. Mason does not seem as happy to be here, and he is the only one awake enough to notice Stiles when he enters the waiting area.

“Stiles! You made it,” he says and gets up, and Stiles briefly wonders if he should hug him. Mason and him have never been that close. Mason frees him from having to make that decision and hugs him tightly.

“Great! We’re hugging now,” Stiles says and pats him on the shoulder.

“How are you?” Mason asks as he lets go.

“Exhausted. Been up all night. But this kinda sounded like an emergency situation, so… here I am. Ready for an emergency.” Stiles yawns heartily and stretches.

“Well, the emergency’s already been taken care of,” Mason says. “All we’re doing now is waiting.”

“Waiting for what?”

“To see if Theo wakes up.”

“Really?” Stiles gapes at him. “That is all I came for?”

“Stiles,” says a familiar voice behind him, and Stiles turns and sees actual Isaac Lahey standing there, looking tall and lanky and tired and undeniably Isaac.

“So I didn’t mishear. You had something to do with all of this?”

“Stiles,” Isaac grins and hugs him, too. Stiles is rather confused.

“Yeah, great, more hugging. Can anyone please explain to me what the hell is going on?”

Isaac wakes up Scott, which wakes up Liam, and after Scott hugs Stiles with relish, and Stiles hugs him back, because Scott is Scott and that is that, they all sit down and explain to Stiles what exactly has been going on. Isaac also explains how he perceived it all, so to him, Theo is some kind of self-sacrificing hero, which is in equal parts ridiculous and astounding, since apparently Theo did sacrifice himself. When Scott gets to the part where Theo refused the bite, he stops him.

“He seriously didn’t want it?”

“He said, ‘you’re only offering it because I’m dying’,” Scott says with a sigh.

“Which is true,” Stiles says. “I mean, if he hadn’t been dying, you wouldn’t have offered it.”

“Cause it wouldn’t have been necessary. I don’t go around offering the bite to people. I’m not an asshole.”

“Sure, sure,” Stiles says. “I guess I’m just confused as to why Theo didn’t jump at the chance. If he becomes your beta, he could take your Alpha status from you. That must have been an incentive.”

“Stiles,” Liam says, “I don’t think you understand. Whatever happened yesterday, it just… he’s not that person anymore.”

“You don’t seriously believe that.”

“I don’t know, Stiles,” Scott says. “You and I both know what Theo’s capable of. But something’s changed. I told him he didn’t have to do it, you know. The ritual. And he got so angry at me. Like, really angry. I didn’t get it. And then…”

“He’s living in his car,” Liam says.

“Oh, I feel so sorry for him.”

“He doesn’t have anyone. He’s got nowhere to go,” Scott says.

“So what, Scott? Think about all the things he did to you. And you,” and he points at Liam. “Is all of that just forgiven and forgotten now?”

“No, of course not,” Scott says. “But would you have just let him die?”

“He didn’t want the bite,” Stiles says, and Scott looks down at his knees, obviously guilt-ridden.

“I know. And I did it anyways. I just couldn’t let him die. I promised.”

“I told him to do it,” Liam says and levels Stiles with a glare.

“Seriously? Why?”

“Because we don’t let people die,” Liam says, angry. If this was a cartoon, smoke would be coming out of his ears by now. “You would’ve done the same thing. Don’t pretend.”

“I—”

“I don’t know about that Theo,” Isaac interrupts him. “I mean, they told me all about him. The fucked-up things he did. But he saved me, and a bunch of strangers, and Beacon Hills.”

“But—”

“So I don’t know about you, but I can’t hate him.”

“But he—”

“Didn’t Peter do all kinds of fucked-up things?” Isaac says. “Didn’t he try to kill all of you at some point? Didn’t he manipulate Lydia into bringing him back from the dead?”

“Yeah, of course he did, cause he’s Peter, it’s what he does. Why are you talking about Peter now?” Stiles asks, exasperated.

“Because Peter’s pack now, right? So what makes him so different from Theo?”

“Peter’s not pack,” Mason says.

“What?” Isaac says.

“Yeah,” Scott says. “He said he didn’t want to be.”

“Then someone should tell his scent,” Isaac says, “because he sure smells like pack. And he acts like it, too.”

That shuts all of them up for a minute. Stiles attempts to process this new information. And maybe Liam is right when he says that Stiles would have done the same. He does not believe that people can ever really change, not in their deepest nature. But Isaac is right, of course. Peter has done terrible things, and they let him stick around. Almost all of them have done something terrible, almost all of them carry some sort of guilt on their shoulders. Right now, Stiles is too tired to figure this out.

“Fine,” he says. “Whatever. I need to sleep, and I wanna see my girlfriend.”

“Lydia and Malia went home. They needed sleep,” Scott says.

“And where’s everybody else?”

“Argent and Corey stayed after the ritual to help sort it all out,” Mason says, “y’know, there were dozens of people there from all over the continent, with no clue as to how they got there. Corey should be coming in any minute now, he said he’d meet me here.”

“Peter went home too,” Scott adds. “He took too much of Theo’s pain and felt pretty shitty.”

“What a messed-up world,” Stiles says. “Peter taking pain from people. Theo sacrificing himself. Isaac showing up out of a giant bird’s butt. I seriously have no idea what to expect anymore.”

“I did not come out of its butt,” Isaac corrects him. “I was in another realm.”

 

***************

 

Theo stands on a bridge. It is paved like a normal pedestrian bridge. Left and right to it is grass. The sun is shining. He is freezing. The sunlight gives off no warmth at all, even though it shines so golden. The frost-covered grass is a very pale, grayish sort of green. In the distance, the sound of a train.

People are walking past him. He cannot see their faces. It is like they are wearing black hoods that cover them, only Theo knows they are not wearing hoods. He just cannot look at them. An insurmountable sadness is weighing on his shoulders, and he wonders if it would not be easier to not walk, to just lie down here on this cold bridge and stay.

Peter stands next to him.

“This bridge is going somewhere,” he says, like Theo should know what he is talking about. He pats Theo on the shoulder. “Better start walking, kiddo.”

“How do you know?” Theo asks.

“I’ve walked this way before. I always walk this way.”

“Where are they going?” Theo points at the faceless people walking in the opposite direction.

“You don’t wanna go there,” Peter says. “You know, they’re really trying their best, but you have to want it, too.”

“Want what?”

“You know, Doctor Evil. Just walk.”

Somewhere in the real world, Theo Raeken opens his eyes.