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Yellow is the Last One to Go

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Yellow is the Last One to Go

 

Peter Hale dreams. Ever since he came back from the dead as the result of a DIY resurrection experiment and a lot of dumb luck, he has very vivid dreams. He would not have taken notice of this, but he never had vivid dreams before. At least, he would never remember in the mornings. Ever since the worm moon, this has changed. He dreams of a bridge, in the middle of a green field rich with tulips, a bright, golden sun shining in a perfect cloudless sky.

Peter is never alone on that bridge, but all the people there are passers-by. He is the only one who always stays. Occasionally, he thinks he knows someone, but he cannot see their faces, and it does not matter. They are only dreams, anyways. Some people go in one direction, others go in the other direction. Peter always stays, but the sun is always shining, and the grass is always green, and Peter feels whole when he is in this place. He feels at home. He has roots on this bridge.

So these dreams are not nightmares. They are just very vivid-feeling, recurring dreams, and of course he wonders, but he never tells anyone, because they are only dreams, and whom would he tell? The only person caring about him even remotely is Derek, and he would not care if Peter had weird dreams. Add to that, he has adapted an ancient ritual he only half remembered the components to. Naturally, there would have to be side effects. And as far as side effects go, this is not the worst.

Then one night, he is on the bridge again, but this time he is alone with only one other person, and the guy turns and it is Isaac Lahey. Peter can see his face. No one else is passing through. Tulips and grass seem to be switching places, and Peter understands: this is a different bridge. He immediately knows that this is not normal. In the morning, he calls Scott, because he just knows something is wrong. Peter feels slightly foolish calling Scott about this, but then it turns out Theo has had such a dream, as well, and some things change.

See, he has always known something about this Raeken kid is off. Ever since the very first time he came into contact with Theo when they were fighting the Ghost Riders, Peter has known there is something about this kid that irks him, intrigues him. Not in a negative way, however. Peter likes people who intrigue him, because these people are not boring. Also, Theo is a cold-blooded killer, and Peter can relate to that. Lacking as much innocence as Peter himself, Theo is not part of the pack. Peter exists around the pack. He technically is pack by blood, but he does not dwell on that. He needs a pack to survive, and his stint as an Alpha gave him only this, so this is what he will take. Maybe some day he will kill some other Alpha and take Malia and leave. Sure, she will miss Scott, but if she is anything like her father (or her mother, at that), she will get over it. Until then, Peter takes what he can get.

Theo is wary around him and Peter can respect that. Then Theo does this stupid ritual, basically dies in the process, and Peter even takes some of his almost insurmountable pain from him, only for Scott to give him the bite and something going terribly wrong, and Peter has had enough of that kid. The bite takes, but Peter, strangely enough, can feel waves of cold rolling off Theo, the kind of cold that sinks into your bones like it is meant to stay there. Something is wrong, wrong, wrong, and the banshee knows it, too, so Peter assumes Theo is dying and goes home.

He feels miserable. Why he had felt compelled to help, he will never know. It was futile. Theo is dying, because you do not mess with ancient rituals unless you have the dumb luck Peter has. Peter would like to eat, but he feels too nauseous. So he only sips on a tall glass of water, curled up on his $3.000 couch, with a bucket on the floor in case he needs to vomit again. His head pounds a painful rhythm into his skull. He shivers. He falls asleep.

And in his fucking dream, he is standing on his bridge again, people passing through one way or the other, and Theo fucking Raeken is standing there like a lost puppy, shivering in a coldness that Peter cannot feel. Some things change when others do not, Peter knows exactly which direction to send Theo in.

He tells Theo to walk.

Theo walks.

And Peter stays on the bridge. He always stays.

 

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

 

Theo feels very cold. He vaguely remembers pain. A lot of pain, actually. So the ritual went south. He knows. It is what he expected, and also he vaguely remembers that Scott told him so. He does not know when or why, or where, but that does not matter. He must be dead. So he is cold, and that is okay. Well, not okay. But he is floating around in nothingness, and if there is an afterlife, being cold and alone is not the worst thing to happen. He can get used to this. He will have to.

Then he hears a heavy sigh that is not his own, and he feels, in his freezing limbs, something soft, like a blanket. Theo feels dread. And then more dread. Because feeling blankets and dread means that he is not dead. Dread gives way to a slight flicker of hope. Maybe it did not go all that wrong? The ritual? All he has ever learned with the Dread Doctors is perseverance, resilience. A flower can grow tough if you never give it enough water, if it wants to live.

“Theo?”

Theo flinches at the unexpected voice. He cannot place it, and that scares him. He kind of wants to keep his eyes closed and pretend he is dead. Somehow he has a bad feeling.

“Theo, are you waking up? It’s Liam.”

Theo frowns. Right. Liam. He might still be dead, and he is in hell, a hell where Liam gets to torture him with breaking his nose and asking stupid questions.

“It’s okay, you don’t have to be afraid. It’s okay, you’re safe.”

The coldness in his limbs still feels like it belongs there, but Theo figures that he must really be waking up. He must be reeking of anxiety, which is what Liam is noticing now. Better open his eyes and see where he is at.

Theo blinks open his eyes and flinches at the bright lights. The flinch gives way to an even bigger flinch when it jars his head, which feels like lead. The bigger flinch makes him aware that his entire body is a throbbing, thrumming pain, and he cannot suppress a tiny whimper of discomfort. It jolts Liam out of his chair by the foot of his bed.

“Theo! You’re awake! Finally!”

“Shut up,” Theo grounds out painfully.

“What?”

“Shut up, stop shouting.”

“Oh, right,” Liam says guiltily. “Uh, sorry. I… I’ll go get Scott.”

Theo looks around the room as far as he can without moving his head. He is in a hospital. He cannot smell anything, which should worry him, but he has to deal with one problem at a time, so figuring out how he got here is first on his list. Possible sensory issues and that damn coldness are delegated to second and third for now.

The door opens and Scott McCall enters. He looks relieved/worried/guilty, with that always present undercurrent of compassion that annoys Theo to no end, always has, even when they were little kids. He clears his throat awkwardly before speaking. Liam is standing next to him, looking sort of anxious, but what would Liam have to be anxious about?

“Hey, Theo. Glad to see you’re awake,” Scott says.

“Oh yeah?” Theo says, confused.

“Yeah, we were worried. You were out for almost twenty-four hours. We, uhm, we weren’t sure what… well,” and he scratches his ear.

“What the fuck happened,” Theo asks. “That’s what I wanna know. Why does everything hurt?”

“Well, you remember the ritual, right?” Liam says when Scott seems at a loss for words.

“Yes, of course,” Theo says. He wants to roll his eyes at how exasperatingly stupid this question is. “I remember. How the hell could I forget.” His voice cannot even carry the amount of disdain he usually reserves for that kind of stupidity.

“What exactly do you remember?” Liam asks. Theo thinks.

“Not much. I remember thinking that this’ll never work, that it’s gonna get us all killed, blah blah blah blah, then I threw the sorry excuse of a mountain ash stash at the thing and after that I don’t know. There’s some blurry memory of you telling me something went wrong. I was dying, I could feel it.”

Theo gingerly lifts a hand and gestures at the bed. It hurts. “And so now I’m here. Not dead, apparently.”

“No,” Scott says. “Not dead.”

“How’d that happen?” Theo asks, because he is very confused.

“Well…” Scott says. “I offered you the bite, remember?”

Theo does remember, now. It is coming back to him in flashes. “Yeah… now that you mention it. I do. And I said no.”

“Right,” Scott says.

“So then what happened?” Theo asks, and he is feeling a slight surge of panic at the possibilities of what Scott may be insinuating.

Scott and Liam exchange a look, and oh, that look is one of guilt. It has to be. Theo’s heart starts racing. He faintly hears a very rapid, highly annoying beeping sound that he realizes is the heart monitor, monitoring his heartbeat. Which is rapid.

“What did you do?” he asks. “Scott. What. Did. You. DO!”

“I had to bite you! You were dying,” Scott says, pleading with his eyes, wanting Theo to understand, but Theo is beyond comprehension at this point. He feels a rush of adrenalin. His heart is pounding in his ears, and for a moment he forgets the immense amount of pain he is in and he lifts his head to look at his arms. They both hurt equally, and both forearms are wrapped in thick bandages. They feel detached from his body. These are not his arms.

“Theo,” Liam says.

“You…”

“Listen. It was… we had to make a decision…”

“You bit me.”

“It – it was a complicated situation—”

“I told you I didn’t want it and you bit me.”

“You were dying and Scott felt so bad about—”

“I said no and you did it anyways!”

“You were dying!” Liam snaps at him, already angry. “We saved you!”

“You had no right!” Theo shouts. “You had NO right!”

“But you were dying! What were we supposed to do?”

“NOTHING! You were supposed to do… NOTHING!”

Panic is threatening to drown Theo. He barely hears what else Liam has to say in defense of Scott over the rushing in his ears. Scott gave him the bite. He is Scott’s beta now. He is someone’s BETA by blood. Oh God. This is the situation Theo never ever wanted. He wanted his own pack, people he would have control over, people who would look to him for decisions, he wanted power, and now he has the exact opposite of that. He has no control, he is BEING controlled, because an Alpha has power over his betas, he tells them what to do. Theo is a pawn. A pawn. He is Scott’s pawn now just as he was the Dread Doctors’ pawn. All and any semblance of control he had gained when the Doctors died has been ripped away from him. A connection has been forced on him.

He has been chained. A dog put on a leash. Theo wants to scream.

“I told you I didn’t want it and you did it anyways. I don’t want this. I don’t want this. I don’t WANT this!”

“Theo, are you insane? Keep it down, Jesus!” Liam says, looking back at the closed door in worry. “We’re in a hospital, there are other people here—”

“I don’t give a flying fuck who else is here! I don’t—” Theo breaks off. He can barely breathe. “I don’t want this. I told you. Oh God, oh God.”

“You were dying.” Scott’s voice finally rings out. Hesitant. Guilty. Good, Theo thinks. Let his guilt eat him up until it KILLS him. He lifts his gaze until he is staring at Scott, those chocolate-brown eyes that supposedly can do no wrong.

“You should have let me die.”

“Theo—” Liam wants to butt in again, but Scott puts a hand on his arm. Liam stops, and Theo’s stomach lurches. This will be him now. Scott says, jump, and Theo will say, how high. Nausea blooms in his stomach.

“Why should I have let you die?”

“Cause it wasn’t your decision to make, Scott, you fucking idiot. It was MINE. MY decision. My life. Mine.”

Theo lies back down and puts a detached-feeling, ice-cold hand over his eyes. “My life. My decision. Only my decision. You took that from me, Scott. You took it from me. I told you I didn’t want it. I told you. I told you.”

“I’m sorry.”

Theo lets out a choked laugh. “Fuck you.”

“I don’t… I didn’t know you would… I just wanted to save you. You were dying and I’d promised you I wouldn’t let it happen,” Scott attempts to explain. “I’d promised you I would try anything. I should have been the one to do this ritual. It wasn’t your job to protect anyone, it was mine, and I couldn’t do it. I made you a promise. I wanted to keep it.” Theo does not want to hear it. He does not care about any explanations. He is chained down, someone’s pawn. He feels so lost and desperate and empty. The heart monitor’s beeping is still rapid, and he feels tears sting at his eyes again, because why not. This is the first time in a long time that Theo thinks tears are kind of justified. He did not want this. He even said so. And it was not enough. This is not death. This is not hell. This is worse.

“You want to save people all the time, Scott, and yet you never ask if they wanna be saved,” Theo says. His voice sounds choked up. He is way past feeling embarrassed. “You just do it. And you don’t do it for them, you do it for you. Cause it makes you feel better. Just. Fuck. Fuck you. Fuck you.”

“Theo, I—”

“Just shut up. I don’t wanna hear it.”

“I…” Scott swallows thickly. “I’m sorry.”

“Fuck off. Leave me alone.”

Theo feels paralyzed, weighed down. He will be a pawn. He will be controlled. He will be everything he never wanted.

He wants to be dead.

 

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

 

Liam is speechless. The grief rolling off Theo in waves is pungent and painful and real. Next to him, Scott is a throbbing beacon of guilt, and Liam is not faring much better. Had he not told Scott to do it, Scott may not have done it. Theo is sniffling, and Liam realizes he is crying, actually crying, and even though Liam is pretty sure Theo’s last comment about Scott saving people to feel better about himself was only meant to hurt Scott, Theo really is not happy. He is not grateful. He about as far from being grateful as someone who has just been saved from death can be.

Liam chances a look at Scott, and the pain on his face physically hurts Liam. He needs to fix this, and fast.

“Theo—”

“I told you to leave me alone.”

“But…” Liam is not even sure what he is supposed to say. He might have expected some resistance, or Theo being an ass, but not this.

“Oh, right, I almost forgot. What I say doesn’t count for shit, right?”

“No, of course not…”

“Cause I don’t deserve to make my own decisions. Cause I’m a monster. Creeper. Why’d you ever get me out of hell, anyways?”

“Because—”

“That was a rhetorical question, Dumbar! I don’t give a shit. Leave me the hell alone.” Theo sits ups slowly, wiping his eyes. “Or better yet. I’ll leave.”

“What? You can’t leave,” Scott says.

“I can, and I will,” Theo says, throwing off the blanket and swinging his legs over the side of the bed. He looks at the IV’s attached to his left arm like he is considering ripping them out.

“No, stop,” Liam says, and Theo scoffs.

“You ain’t gonna stop me. You ain’t the boss of me. I’ll go wherever the fuck I wanna go and you—”

Theo stands up and reality must come crashing down on him, because he promptly collapses to the floor, even hitting the back of his head on the bed frame in the process.

“Jeez,” Liam says, and he and Scott immediately rush over to Theo to help him back to bed. Theo is struggling weakly, tears of frustration dropping from his eyes.

“Fuck off, don’t touch me!”

“Theo,” Scott says as gently as he can, “we’re trying to help—”

“Get the fuck off me! Leave me alone!”

As soon as Theo is back beneath the covers, Liam and Scott step away. Theo looks defeated and hopeless. Now that he has figured out that he cannot leave, he just lies there and stares at the ceiling. Liam taps Scott on the shoulder, who flinches and looks at him in shock.

“Maybe we should,” Liam nods towards the door. “Y’know.”

“Yeah.” Scott nods like he is in a trance.

“The others’ll wanna know how he’s doing.”

“Yeah.” Scott follows him, downtrodden.

When they get to the waiting area, Isaac, Mason and Corey look up at them. Isaac grimaces.

“So from the sounds of that,” he says, “this didn’t go over so well.”

“It really didn’t.” Liam sits down heavily next to Mason, who frowns at him.

“Was he really upset or was he being, like, Theo about it?”

“Oh, he was upset. Trust me.”

“But why?” Isaac asks. “You saved his life.”

“Apparently he still thinks his life isn’t worth saving,” Scott says. He is still chewing on what Theo said about him, obviously, but Liam thinks there must be more to it.

“He kept repeating that we went against what he wanted. Like, we took his decision from him. He kept saying, ‘my life, my decision,’ over and over again.”

“Huh,” Mason says, and Liam looks over at his best friend. Mason is the smartest person he knows, and he always has some kind of insight into things. “What?” Liam says.

“I mean, you did totally go against his wishes. He said he didn’t want the bite. So he’s got a right to be upset about that.”

“Yeah, but,” Liam shoots a glance at Scott, whose guilt is eating him up. “We saved him. I didn’t wanna be bitten either, but Scott saved my life.”

“Yeah, but that’s different, though,” Mason argues. “You didn’t wanna die, and you had no idea about the bite and what it would do and stuff.”

“But Theo didn’t wanna die either, right?” Liam says, although he is not so sure.

“Well, it sounded like he would have preferred dying,” Isaac says. He looks very conflicted. “Didn’t he say something like, ‘you should have let me die’? I didn’t catch all of it from here, but I think that was the gist of it.”

“Theo’s a control freak,” Corey says. “I mean, I guess I know him best out of all of you, and the one thing I know about him, which he always made clear, is that he’s an absolute control freak. He hates situations when he’s not in absolute control. Like, he’s obsessive about that. He’s power-hungry cause it makes him feel strong to be in control.”

Mason nods at what his boyfriend is saying. “And for a total control freak, this must be the worst-case scenario. It makes sense why he would emphasize how it was his decision to make, not yours.”

“So he’s having a total meltdown because we took his control away?” Liam says. “Kinda makes sense, I guess.”

“I didn’t think about it like that,” Scott says. “I didn’t consider it that he would be so upset about it. I just… I just couldn’t let him die if I had the opportunity to save him, right? I… I don’t know. I don’t know anything anymore.” He leans forward and buries his face in his hands.

“Hey,” Mason says gently. “He’ll get over it. He’s Theo. He’ll adapt, make do. That’s what he’s good at.”

“But I don’t want him to make do,” Scott says. It is muffled by his hands. “I want him to be happy he’s still alive.”

“You can’t always make everyone happy, Scott,” Isaac says. “And you can’t always save everyone. You’re still human.”

Scott looks up at Isaac, and some kind of unspoken exchange happens between them that goes right over Liam’s head.

“You’re right,” Scott says and sighs. “I know that. But I need to try at least.”

“I know,” Isaac says. His words seem to carry more weight than Liam can comprehend. He knows those two fought together and that some people were lost in those fights, and he feels sorry for them. Liam understands how Scott could not let Theo die, not if there was a slim chance of saving him. Too many things and people exist only for destruction; Scott and his pack try to fix as much as they can. Still, Liam is starting to understand Theo’s point of view.

Scott stands up then. “I guess I should go get my mom. Tell her he’s awake and stuff.”

“Yeah, good idea,” Liam says. “I’ll come with you.”

“We should get home, though,” Mason says and looks at Corey. Both of them are beyond exhausted.

“Yeah, it’s fine. You should all go and get some rest,” Scott says. Then his gaze lands on Isaac, who smiles slightly.

“I don’t have anywhere to go,” Isaac says. “All my stuff’s in Massachusetts.”

“You can crash at my mom’s, dude. She won’t mind. I already talked to her.”

Isaac’s smile widens. “Thanks. Just like old times.”

“Yeah. The guest room’s been empty since you left.”

“Alright.” Isaac gets up with Mason and Corey, and they turn to leave. Before they do, Isaac stops again and looks at Scott and Liam. “Hey, I don’t know if it helps Theo any in this situation, he might not even care at all, but… just tell him I said thank you, okay? For saving me and all.”

Scott nods at him. “Will do.”

While Mrs. McCall is in Theo’s room to check him over, Scott and Liam stand outside the door. “You think I should call Derek about this?” Scott asks.

“I don’t know. I mean, what can he do now?”

“Not much, I guess. Maybe talk to Theo. I don’t know. I just think he’d like an update on what’s happening here. Also he cares about Isaac, so I’m sure he’d like to know he’s okay.”

Through the closed door, they hear Theo snapping at Mrs. McCall and then groaning in pain.

“Yeah, sure,” Liam shrugs. “Call him.”

Another groan.

“What did you think about what Isaac said? About Peter?”

Oh right. Liam had totally forgotten about that. “Peter being pack? Well. I didn’t think he was. Wouldn’t we have noticed?”

“That’s what I was thinking,” Scott says. “But then again, sometimes you don’t see something change when it happens right in front of you. We were just so used to him always being around, cause of Malia, that maybe he has started smelling like pack and he doesn’t even know it himself.”

“Is that possible?”

“Anything’s possible when it comes to Peter,” Scott says, and Liam has to agree with him.

Mrs. McCall opens the door, looking worried. “Hey guys.”

“Mom, what’s wrong?”

“Theo’s not doing so well,” she says. Behind her Theo is writhing in pain, eyes pressed tightly closed.

“Is he still cold?” Scott asks when she has closed the door behind him and Liam.

“Yes, although it’s gotten a little better. For normal human standards, he is still cold, and for werewolf standards, I guess he should be freezing. But I’m more worried about the pain.”

“Shit,” Theo grounds out, clutching his stomach.

“He wasn’t in so much pain when we talked to him a couple minutes ago,” Liam says, alarmed. “Shouldn’t he be getting better, not worse?”

“Well, since I’m still a human nurse, despite all my other qualifications,” Mrs. McCall says, “I don’t know. From what you told me, however, I was expecting more of a generalized pain, and now it’s focused on the stomach, and that’s… peculiar.”

“It still hurts everywhere else, too,” Theo says. “My stomach’s just… worst right now.” He takes a long breath and then groans again, curling up further. “Godamnit.”

“I think we should call Deaton about this,” Mrs. McCall says. “I don’t know what else to do. He’s awake and coherent, so that’s positive, but everything else that’s going on, I have no idea.”

“Deaton didn’t really know what to do, either,” Scott admits. “This isn’t really a… there are no books or case studies about this kinda thing.”

“How’s the bite looking?” Liam asks, scratching his chin. “Maybe it’s not taking, after all?”

“Yeah, we should check that out,” Scott says and takes a step towards Theo, who growls at him.

“Get the fuck away from me,” he hisses. “You’re not checking anything out.”

“Theo, something’s obviously wrong—”

“Yeah, and whose fault is that?”

Scott’s mouth snaps shut, and Liam gets angry. “This is NOT Scott’s fault—”

“FUCK you.”

“Boys!” Mrs. McCall holds up her hands. “Do you really think that yelling’s gonna solve any problems?”

“There wouldn’t be any problems if Scott had just let me die,” Theo says, before he is wracked by another bout of pain. Mrs. McCall sighs. Liam admires her capability to stay calm.

“I’m not saying that you dying would have been a great loss for the world,” she says, “considering all the things you’ve done. But Scott saved you and now you’re here, so you’ll have to make the best of it, and that includes me checking on your injuries.”

Theo growls at her.

“Scott’s not going to touch you, trust me, I’ll make sure of that. I want my son as far away from you as possible. I, however, am a nurse and I just need to do my job. Understand?”

Theo’s eyes are tightly closed again, and he does not react.

“Theo.”

Mrs. McCall steps towards him, but before she reaches him, Theo’s eyes fly open as he lets out a scream of agony, and then he leans over the side of the bed and throws up.

“Jesus,” Mrs. McCall says and jumps away to avoid being hit by the black goo that Theo spits out. It is a lot, and Liam is slightly disgusted and surprised that a stomach can hold so much stuff. Then he thinks he has lost his mind because in the middle of the giant puddle of black, something seems to be moving.

“Scott, do you see that?”

“I do,” Scott says and slowly edges closer to the puddle. Liam reluctantly follows him. Mrs. McCall stays where she is, probably too shocked to do anything. Scott and Liam hesitantly lean over the puddle, and in the middle of it is something that looks like a… fish.

“Is that a fish?” Liam says, because it cannot be.

“Oh God,” Theo murmurs, and when Liam shoots him a look, Theo is wearing an appropriately horrified expression on his face, considering what has just happened.

“I don’t know what that is,” Scott points out the obvious. “But whatever it is, it looks alive.”

“This is not happening,” Theo says and curls up again, closing his eyes. “This is just not happening.”

“What the hell do we do with this?” Liam asks. Could this get any weirder?

“Maybe we should get that thing to Deaton,” Scott says, staring at the thing in fascination. It cannot be more than two inches long, and it is black, writhing around on the ground like a fish out of water.

“Yeah,” Liam says. “How?”

“I’ll get you a box,” Mrs. McCall says before fleeing from the room.

“Hey Theo,” Scott says, “how are you doing over there?”

“This is not happening,” Theo says. “Also, fuck you.”

“How’s the pain, though?”

“Yeah,” Liam says, because Theo seems to have calmed down a great deal now that this… thing has been expelled from his body.

Theo shrugs without opening his eyes. “Now it just hurts everywhere again.”

“Not so sure we can call that an improvement,” Mrs. McCall says, re-entering the room with a small cardboard box in hand. “But at least you’re not screaming and growling anymore. Here, sweetheart.” She hands Scott the box, who looks at it, then looks at the fish-thing on the floor. Then he looks at Liam, who looks back at him expectantly.

“So, do you wanna…” Scott says with a hopeful gaze.

“Hey, you’re the Alpha,” Liam says. “You do it.”

Scott sighs. “I was afraid you were gonna say that.”

With a disgusted look on his face, Scott crouches down and reaches his hand out toward the thing. It starts flapping around a little more, and Scott looks at his mom, who shakes her head. “Oh, no, no, no, don’t you dare look at me with this. This is far too supernatural for my tastes. I’ll leave this one to you.”

“Maybe it’s not supernatural at all, maybe Theo just ate a live fish,” Scott says.

“Theo’s still here,” Theo says. “And no, I did not do that.”

“This is super gross,” Scott says.

“For God’s sake, Scott,” Theo says, “just get that thing into the fucking box. I need to pretend this never happened, and I can’t do that with this thing still here.”

Scott sighs with a resigned look on his face before reaching out his right hand and getting the tail end, or what Liam thinks may be the tail end, of the fish-thing between his index finger and thumb. He lifts it gingerly and it flaps around helplessly. Scott quickly drops it into the box and closes it. Then he hands it off to Liam, who holds it as far away from his body as possible.

“Off you go, then,” Mrs. McCall says. “I’ll get the clean-up crew.”

“This is not happening,” Theo says to himself.

 

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

 

Peter is woken up from a deep sleep by the ringing of his phone. He decides to let it ring, instead taking inventory of his body. The nausea is gone, which is great. His head still hurts, but only marginally. Blinking, he sighs and sits up. He still feels weak and drowsy, but all things considered, he is a lot better.

His phone starts ringing again. Peter snatches it off the coffee table. It tells him that it is 4 pm. The missed call, as well as the incoming one, are from Liam, and Peter decides to answer, even if it is just to listen to the kid lament Theo’s death and how guilty Scott feels and how guilty that makes everyone feel and how they all have feelings about their feelings, blah blah blah.

“What do you want?” Peter snaps into the receiver. “I was sleeping.”

“Oh, yeah, sorry,” Liam says. He does not sound sorry at all. “It’s just, we kinda need someone who knows about supernatural stuff.”

“So ask Deaton,” Peter says and yawns.

“We did. We’re at the animal clinic, and Deaton said I should call you.”

Peter rolls his eyes. “Oh, well, in that case. I was still sleeping and I didn’t wanna be disturbed.”

“Yeah, I know, but Theo—”

“What about Theo?” Peter asks, confused. “He’s dead, isn’t he?”

“Oh, no, no, he’s not!” Liam says. “He’s at the hospital, and he wasn’t doing so well, but he woke up a couple hours ago and he seems to be okay for now.”

“Huh,” Peter says. How very strange. He was so sure the kid was dying. Then he dimly remembers dreaming about Theo, on his bridge. This memory makes him feel slightly queasy. Why would he dream about Theo? And why did he not die? This makes absolutely no sense.

“That’s… good? I guess? Or maybe not?”

“It’s good,” Liam says, although he does not appear convinced by his own words. “But, well, some strange things happened, and those don’t really look… good.”

“What things?” Peter rubs at his eyes and decides to make himself a coffee.

“Well… Theo’s still really cold and he’s in pain, and he’s not really happy about the fact that Scott bit him even though he said he didn’t want it.”

“Yeah, that was to be expected, wasn’t it,” Peter says as he spoons expensive coffee into the filter cup. “That doesn’t really concern me, though. If the kid doesn’t care about living, then you should let him figure that out on his own. Of course I know that’s not so easy for Scott McCall, True Alpha, who always assumes he has a say in what everyone should think or do.”

Liam huffs.

“What else,” Peter says.

“Theo puked up a fish,” Liam says.

“Oh. Some people have all the luck.”

“It was really weird,” Liam says. “He puked up this giant load of black goo, and then there was this fish-thing in the middle of it, so we took it to Deaton. And he said it’s some sort of pilot fish, which attaches itself to bigger evils. You know, like in that one Doctor Who episode, The Christmas Invasion?”

“No, I don’t know.”

“Okay, well, doesn’t really matter. Anyways, Deaton says these things are a really bad omen, and they usually attach to witches and stuff like that.”

“Witches, you say?” Peter inhales the smell of freshly brewing coffee. “Sounds like you got it all figured out perfectly fine without my help.”

“Yeah, but, what Deaton doesn’t get is why it was puked up by Theo, of all people. Like, what’s he got to do with that?”

“So ask Theo, then,” Peter says.

“But he doesn’t know anything. He was totally horrified when he saw that thing in the middle of his puke.”

“Not my problem.”

“Could you just come by the animal clinic?”

“I just made myself a cup of coffee.”

“You could drink it on the way.”

“I could, but I won’t, because this is none of my concern.”

“But if there are really evil witches coming, it would become your business.”

Peter frowns. “No, it won’t. Not if I just stay out of their way. Which, by the way, is a method you people should try for a change.”

“Oh please,” Liam says, exasperated. “Like you stay out of evil’s way all the time. You say you do and then you don’t, cause of Malia, or cause you want us to think you’re cool, or whatever.”

“I’ll have you know that I don’t need anyone to think I’m cool,” Peter says. “I’m hanging up now.”

He does, not caring about Liam’s indignant protests. He switches his phone to silent and sits back down on the couch. He remembers the dream. He remembers Theo. He was not as surprised at the news that the kid survived as he should have been. But Peter sips his coffee and keeps this information to himself, because it is nobody’s business but his.

 

***********

 

Lydia and Stiles are staying at the Sheriff’s house, mostly because Stiles is too lazy to move away from his bed, so Lydia, who has not been on the road all night, resigns herself to sitting in his room and watching him attempt to stay awake. So far it is a losing game, and Lydia looks on in amusement as Stiles nods off and begins drooling on his pillow. Sighing, she gets up carefully so as to not wake him. Stiles has been awake for thirty-six hours because Scott needed him. He deserves his rest.

On bare feet, Lydia walks along the hallway. Her stomach is growling, even though she had lunch two hours ago, so she decides to have a snack. Usually, the Sheriff does not pay much attention to his diet, Parrish, with the assistance of Mason and Liam, has taken it upon himself to make sure the Stilinski house always has a full fridge. Lydia’s mom helps, too. When Stiles comes home, the foods needs to be there, because a hungry Stiles is something else that no one wants to deal with.

Smiling softly at her boyfriend’s antics, Lydia descends the stairs silently. The entire house is completely quiet. Then she hears it.

It sounds like a giant machine, from an old factory. A dull, distant thud, thud, thud, stomp, stomp, stomp. Metal crashing on metal. An unbelievable force that crushes life. Lydia stands completely still, barely breathing. The noise stops, then continues, louder this time. Like the machine is closer now.

Lydia does not know how she knows that it is a machine, but she knows. A giant thing. Old. Rusty. Ancient. Probably without any function safe for making noise. It does not produce, it only destroys. Letting out a shaky breath, Lydia carefully walks down the rest of the stairs and turns left.

Where the Stilinskis’ living room should be, there is a giant factory hall. It is completely empty, but she still hears the noise, still faint, but steadily growing louder, until she has to press her hands on her ears to keep it out. Its is dark, the moon falls in through the tall windows, even though it is four in the afternoon and the sun should be shining. In the middle of the hall, there is a door. It is red. Lydia walks toward the door. She does not really want to open it, but she knows she has to. This is why she is here: to open the door. Or should she?

Lydia hesitates in front of the door. It stands there, in the middle of the vast hall, alone and isolated. She should open it, but she is so deathly afraid of what she will find behind this door. Is her fear a sign? Should she listen to it? Or should she do what the door so obviously wants her to do, and open it?

There is a noise behind her, but it is not the stomp, stomp, stomp, thud, thud, thud, of the machine that she hears. That noise has ceased to exist without her noticing; no, what she hears behind her is breathing.

Someone is standing behind her, breathing down on her.

Lydia is rigid with fear. She cannot turn around. She cannot run. So she stays where she is.

A hand settles on her shoulder. The breathing continues. Lydia chances a look at the hand from the corner of her eyes. The hand is a dark, mossy green. The fingers are very long. They do not seem to end in claws, or the transition is seamless.

Lydia wants to shake off the hand, but she cannot move.

“Open the door,” the thing behind her whispers in her ear.

Lydia swallows drily. She cannot move.

“The more these die, the more those die,” something whispers.

Lydia reaches out to the door on autopilot. She does not want to see.

Behind the door is a world of white. It is just white, nothing but white. Lydia seems to be floating through a sea of white, blinding light that does not come from one specific source. She floats until she stands in front of a white curtain, and she pulls the curtain to the side, and oh, there is a giant blue eye that stares at her and she stares back and the eye seems to be screaming but no, that is Lydia; she hears the stomp, stomp, stomp, thud, thud, thud, of the machine, it presses down on her, she cannot breathe, she dies, she dies, she dies—

 

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

 

“And then Stiles found me and brought me back,” Lydia ends her story of the vision she had at Stiles’s house. Stiles had immediately told her they should head to Deaton’s, because that is what they do when something strange happens: ask Deaton. If he does not know, they ask Peter, but Stiles prefers Deaton, definitely.

“Man,” Scott says.

“That’s messed up,” Malia says.

“What d’you think that means?” Liam asks Deaton, who has listened to Lydia with a very worried expression on his face.

“Well, usually that means that someone’s gonna die, right?” Stiles points out the obvious. Deaton sighs.

“I’m not sure exactly. But, combined with the pilot fish, this concerns me very much.”

“Pilot fish?” Stiles asks. So Liam and Scott launch into the story of how Theo puked up a live fish at the hospital, which, okay, gross. Deaton hands him the jar in which he is keeping the thing. It flops around like a fish. Apparently, that is some kind of supernatural warning sign that something really bad is headed toward them. Stiles makes a face. Of course, it makes sense, what with the Nemeton, and the fact that Scott can attract trouble even without being in Beacon Hills.

Lydia is still shaky and pale from her vision, which sounded like a pretty bad one this time. Still, she frowns. “And why exactly did Theo… produce this pilot fish?”

“That remains unclear to me so far,” Deaton admits. “The ritual was bound to have side effects, but Theo’s condition is, as of now, still a complete mystery.”

“I tried talking to Peter about it, but he hung up on me,” Liam says. “I didn’t even get to tell him that we talked to Derek and he should be here any time now.”

“Really, it’s that serious?” Stiles says, surprised.

“Well,” Malia says and gestures at Lydia, “apparently, now it is.”

Then everything starts happening at once.

Derek arrives at the animal clinic, only to vomit black goo on their feet and collapse. Then Malia does the same. Then Parrish calls Deaton to tell him he is feeling an extremely strong draw from the Nemeton, and that something is definitely wrong. Liam calls Peter again, who does not answer, so he calls Mason and tells him and Corey to go by his place and see if they cannot convince Peter to come to the animal clinic by telling him that something is wrong with Malia. Deaton frantically examines Derek and Malia, but cannot say exactly what is wrong with them. Lydia clamps her hands over her ears and exclaims that she hears that noise again, and then she says Deaton should check on their right shoulder, where the green thing had touched her in her vision. Deaton finds an ugly, dark green mark on both Malia and Derek’s shoulder and declares this a curse, and a dangerous one, as well.

Twenty minutes later, Mason and Corey call back, and Stiles hopes it is to tell them that they managed to convince Peter to join them. Instead, they say that they found Peter in his living room, motionless on the floor, barely breathing, barely alive. Liam yells into the receiver that they should check his shoulder. Peter has a dark green mark. He is cursed, too.

Then, as if all of this has not been enough, Scott’s mom calls from the hospital, to let Scott know that Theo’s condition has worsened considerably, that he is unconscious, has a high fever, and a strange green mark on his right shoulder. Theo is cursed, too.

Deaton shakes his head. “This curse is a very strong one. Only an experienced witch could have pulled this off. If she is targeting werewolves, you are in grave danger,” he says to Scott, who does not take his eyes from Malia’s shaking form.

“I feel fine,” he says.

Deaton takes the phone from Liam and tells Corey and Mason to bring Peter to the clinic, as well. “I cannot help him if he is so far away.”

“What about Theo?” Scott asks, and Deaton shakes his head.

“He’s already receiving medical care, and your mother knows what she’s doing. If we cannot unravel this thing quickly enough, you need to call her and tell her to use the nine herbs on him.”

“Why don’t we do that right now?” Stiles asks. “Use the nine herbs. Look at them,” he gestures wildly at Malia and Derek, who are in terrible shape. “They need help right now!”

“Cause I would like to know who is interested in killing werewolves with such a powerful curse,” Deaton says. “Any other wolves in the area who may be suffering the effects of this would profit more from a general solution than an individual one.”

“He’s right about that,” Scott admits.

Derek moans and opens his eyes. “I feel like shit,” he declares, shivering. “What the hell is going on?”

“Curse,” Stiles says. “Someone’s trying to kill you, as per usual.”

“I didn’t even do anything,” Derek says.

“Some people don’t need a reason,” Liam says. Then he looks up. “Mason and Corey are here.”

A minute later, Mason and Corey stumble in, carrying Peter, who looks dead by Stiles’s standards.

“Derek, do you think you can sit?” Deaton looks at him apologetically. “I need to examine Peter.”

“I’ll try my best,” Derek says, sighing heavily. He is very weak, and when Scott and Stiles help him slide off the operating table, Stiles feels that he is burning up. Still, Peter seems to be in worse condition. When Mason and Corey, with help from Liam, hoist him onto the table, he does not react, his head listlessly rolling to the side.

“He looks a lot worse than Malia and Derek,” Liam voices Stiles’s thoughts. “Why’s he so much worse?”

“It would help to know the curse,” Deaton says impatiently while examining the mark on Peter’s shoulder before taking his pulse. By the look on his face, it cannot be good.

“Mmmmh,” Malia seems to be coming to. She is blinking heavily, before turning her head to the side. Her eyes land on her father. “What… what’s wrong? What happened?”

“Someone’s casting curses on werewolves,” Scott explains, stepping over to her, trying to console her.

“Then why aren’t you sick?” Malia blinks at him sluggishly.

“That’s what we need to find out,” Scott murmurs. Malia cranes her neck to look around Scott at Peter, who still has not moved at all. His breathing is very shallow. Malia must be able to hear his heartbeat, so that might make her feel slightly better, but Stiles knows that even though Malia tries not to care too much, she does care about her father. Anyone would feel something if they saw their father dying right next to them. Stiles still cares about Malia a lot, and if he can spare her this experience, he will try his hardest. So he wipes a hand over his face and turns to Deaton.

“Okay, so, we need to find out what kinda curse this is. How do we do that?”

“Well, first of all, there’s the fact that not all of you are sick,” Deaton says. “Did someone call Isaac and ask him if he is feeling okay?”

Scott looks alarmed. “I’ll call him right now.”

“Good. So, Scott and Liam are completely fine. What makes them completely different from Malia, Derek, and Peter?”

“They’re all Hales,” Stiles says, but Mason shakes his head.

“Theo’s cursed, too,” he reminds them, and Stiles sighs. “Right. So unless Peter was screwing around more than he told us back in the day, the Hales are not the answer.”

“Isaac’s completely fine,” Scott says, relieved, when he hangs up the phone. “He said he’s coming here.”

“No, tell him to meet you by the preserve,” Deaton says. “Parrish said he feels a strong activity from the Nemeton, so someone needs to check it out, and Isaac knows where the Nemeton is.”

“Good idea,” Scott says. “I’ll call him right now, tell him to meet me there.”

“I’m coming with you,” Stiles says, because he feels completely useless here, with three suffering, possibly dying werecreatures.

“Me, too,” Liam says, and Stiles presumes he feels just as useless. Mason and Lydia are the superbrains here, if anyone can help Deaton figure it out, it is those two.

Stiles turns toward his scarily intelligent girlfriend, who still looks pale, but not as shaken anymore. “You gonna be okay?” he asks her quietly, and she shrugs.

“I’d be a lot better if I knew that Malia and Derek aren’t gonna die anytime soon.”

“Yeah, we’re working on that.” He gives her a brief kiss, and then he and Scott and Liam are out the door, Scott on the phone with Isaac, Liam assuring Corey that someone should stay with Deaton. Corey looks happy that he gets to stay with Mason. Those two are way too cute.

In front of the animal clinic, they run into Parrish and Argent, who decide to join them on their quest to the Nemeton. In the car, Scott gets another call from his mom. Seems like Theo is faring barely better than Peter at this point. Stiles struggles to feel much for either of them. Theo can die for all he cares, and Peter does not die anyway because he can weasel out of any dangerous situation. Stiles is not exactly sure about that right now, because Peter did look kind of dead, but he refuses to feel any real kind of worry for him. Killers do not deserve worry.

And that is when it hits him.

“Dude,” Stiles says, because it is so obvious, why did they not see it before?

“What,” Scott says distractedly.

“What do Malia, Derek, Peter and Theo all have in common?”

“I don’t know,” Scott says.

“Anger issues?” Liam pipes up from the back, and Stiles snorts.

“Liam, if anger issues were the problem, you’d have been dead half an hour ago. Think about it. What do they all have in common?”

“Stiles, this is really not the time for guessing games.”

“Well, let me ask you something, Scott. If Theo’s a werewolf now, what would be the color of his eyes?”

“Oh shit,” Scott says.

“So… the curse goes after werewolves with blue eyes?” Liam asks.

“Werewolves who’ve killed innocents,” Scott says. “Well, werewolves and werecoyotes.”

“Sounds like someone’s got a vendetta, don’t you think?” Stiles says. He feels a little bit proud that he figured it out. Scott nods. “Call Deaton. It might be relevant for saving them.”

It is relevant, as it turns out. Deaton says that the evidence points towards a revenge curse, which means that the nine herbs would not help, which is not good news. The involvement of the Nemeton in such a simple thing as a revenge curse also explains why the curse is so powerful. The Nemeton is not meant for petty revenge schemes. Its magic is way too powerful.

“There must be something on or nearby the Nemeton,” Deaton says. “A shrine. An extraordinary constellation of rocks. Something strange. You’ll know when you see it.”

“And what do we do when we find it?” Stiles asks as they stop the cars when the deep forest of the preserve begins. Isaac is already waiting for them.

“Destroy it. But you have to do it, Stiles, you or Argent. This curse is specifically for supernatural creatures, so humans are the only ones safe to come near it.”

“Really? Not even Parrish?”

“Maybe. The rules for hellhounds are a lot more complex. But I would not risk it.”

“Got it. Find the shrine, destroy it, all’s well in the world, right?”

“Hopefully,” Deaton says, which is not what Stiles wants to hear at this point. Malia could be dying. Derek could be dying.

“Oh, and Stiles?”

“Yeah?”

“You need to burn it. Whatever it is, even if it’s just a pile of stones. Burn it.”

“Roger that.”

Argent and Parrish arrive right behind them, getting out of Parrish’s squad car. Argent gives them a nod and greets Isaac with a one-armed hug, while Parrish gives them a half-smile and a solemn “hey, guys,” and then they are off.

It takes them way too long to find the goddamned Nemeton. They should know where it is by now. There’s enough daylight to see clearly where they are going, but they cannot seem to find it. Stiles has the distinct feeling they are going around in circles. Then it suddenly feels like something breaks, some kind of boundary gives way. Stiles turns to his left and immediately sees it. Parrish is already on the way there, smoking like he is about to go up in flames.

“Found it!” he says. The others turn around in surprise, but they follow him and Parrish, who is still smoking, but not burning yet. Being near the Nemeton unsettles his hellhound, Stiles presumes. He can feel Isaac, Liam, and Scott squirming, and even Stiles can feel a certain electricity in the air. He turns to Argent.

“So Deaton said to look for anything unusual—”

“Like that?” Liam points to a large pile of stones, surrounded by a mountain ash barrier, with a single big claw, probably a werewolf’s, lying on top of it. The pile has been arranged directly by one of the Nemeton’s biggest roots.

“Yeah,” Stiles says, “like that.”

He wants to say something else, like, Deaton said the humans should destroy it, so everyone take a big step back. But Parrish suddenly goes into full hellhound mode, his uniform falling off of him in ashes, and he roars and gives the pile a good ol’ kick, which sets the whole thing ablaze. Stiles feels some sort of pressure wave go through him like an explosion, and it throws Scott, Liam, and Isaac onto the ground, but Stiles, Argent, and Parrish are completely unaffected. Then the stone pile burns like a little campfire. It is all rather anticlimactic, really.

“So was that it?” Liam asks while climbing to his feet.

“The shrine’s destroyed,” Isaac says.

“According to Deaton, that should do it,” Scott says. He fishes his phone out of his pocket. “I need to call Deaton, tell him it’s done.”

When Deaton answers, Scott tells him what happened. Stiles can only hear Scott’s end of the conversation since he does not have freaky werewolf hearing, but he reads Scott’s expressions pretty well at this point. Scott’s face goes from proud that they have done it, to relief, to… something else. Liam and Isaac, who have been listening in, have matching expressions of shock on their faces, and Stiles looks at them expectantly.

“What? What is it?”

Scott hangs up the phone and clears his throat. “Well, Malia and Derek are gonna be fine. My mom rang through to let them know Theo’s probably gonna make it, too.”

“And?”

“And then Deaton said that Peter already died like ten minutes ago.”

“Oh.” Stiles does not really know what to say to that.

Argent sighs heavily and lowers his eyes. Isaac, who probably felt the most attachment to Peter, considering he had lived with him and Derek for a while, frowns deeply. Liam has a lost puppy dog expression on his face, and Parrish looks kind of disappointed. None of them look deeply upset, but they must feel what Stiles is feeling at this moment: complete and utter confusion.

“Is… are they sure he’s dead?” is all Stiles can come up with.

Scott, who has a heart way too big for the world, looks at him and is honestly grieving. “What do you mean?”

“I mean… it’s Peter. He doesn’t just die.”

“Everybody dies at some point, kid,” Argent says. “Peter just fought that fate more insistently than anyone else you ever met. Doesn’t mean he couldn’t die.”

Stiles swallows. His throat is kind of dry. Argent is probably right. Peter Hale had seemed like this larger-than-life creature who would always, always come out alive. He had been in the Wild Hunt for months and then broke through the barrier, getting burned alive in the process, and he survived. He died, actually DIED, and even came back from that. The idea of Peter actually dying and not coming back seems entirely ridiculous.

“You okay, Scott?” Parrish says. He seems the least affected by the bad news. Stiles looks at his best friend, his brother. He can see that Scott is anything but okay.

“I… yeah… no. I just hoped nobody would have to die anymore, y’know.”

Solemnly, quietly, they make their way back to the cars and head for the animal clinic. When they get there, the mood is glum. Malia is lying on her side on the table, looking at the dead body of her father, silently weeping. Derek is sitting on the floor, his face a wall of stone. Seeing them is what finally makes Stiles realize that this is real. This is not fake. This is not a scheme or anything. Peter is dead, actually dead.

Mason and Corey are sitting in one corner, and Mason is wiping tears off his face. “He woke up, just a few minutes before he died,” he explains to Stiles. “I was looking right at him and then he just… wasn’t there anymore. It’s just crazy. I looked into his eyes and he died.” Corey hugs him tighter.

Derek blinks slowly, listening to Mason. He does not cry, but he does not do anything else, either. He is barely even breathing. Isaac sits down beside him, offering him silent comfort. Argent stares at the dead body for a while, before looking at Derek.

“What are you gonna do now?” he asks. Stiles thinks it is quite a brutal question to ask Derek when the body is not even cold yet, but then he remembers how Argent handled the death of his own daughter. He handled it because he needed to.

“I need to call Cora,” Derek says, sounded distracted. “I need to tell her… she needs to know.”

It is a quite strange situation that Stiles finds himself in. He does not really feel like grieving, but still a chunk of his life appears to be missing now, and is that not what grieving is, beholding this gap that has appeared? Malia, who has had a rather ambivalent relationship with her father, tells Stiles that she feels like someone ripped her arm off. She does not mean the physical pain. Stiles has lost his mother, so he knows a thing or two about such a loss. It feels like you have lost a limb, and sometimes, for a split second, you think, oh, I have got to tell mom about this, as you would think, oh, I need to brush that fly off with my hand, and then you remember that you cannot do this because that thing you want to do is impossible because what is necessary to do it is missing now, has gone away, never to return again. It ripped a hole in Stiles the size of the Grand Canyon. Malia was not nearly as close to Peter as Stiles had been to his mom, but they had been getting there, and now they will not get any closer.

Derek seems almost numb. He has lost another relative, even if it was his homicidal, egotistical uncle. Now, only he and his sister remain. Well, and Malia.

Later, when Stiles and Lydia are driving home, he asks her if she knew it was Peter who would die. Lydia shrugs.

“Somehow, I had a feeling,” she says. The sadness on her face is the sadness mirrored in most other faces: it is not grief about Peter, exactly, so much as it is grief that someone had to die at all. Also, Lydia and Malia are close, and seeing Malia mourn her father has not left Lydia untouched.

Derek wants to burn the body ceremonially. Of course, Malia will be there, so Scott will, too, for emotional support. Isaac will be present, as well, for Derek. Argent has also decided to go, partly for Derek, partly to commemorate the fact that the last survivor of the Hale fire has passed, and to atone for the crimes his sister has committed. Stiles and Lydia are NOT going, for obvious reasons, but they have decided to just sit on the couch with his dad and maybe light a candle or something. Nothing dramatic, but they do need to acknowledge what has happened.

At home, his dad cracks a cold one and leans back into the couch with a heavy sigh. “So Peter Hale’s dead, huh? Now, there’s something I didn’t see coming.”

“I know, right? It’s kinda weird,” Stiles says.

“I remember when I used to be afraid of him,” Lydia says. “It seems like a lifetime ago.”

“It wasn’t, though,” Stiles says. “He was just always there, so we got used to him.”

“But he was the one who started it all,” Lydia says. “He bit Scott. Who knows what else would have happened if he hadn’t?”

“Guess we’ll never know,” Dad says. He checks his watch. “When were they gonna start with the ceremony?”

“At midnight,” Lydia says. Stiles thinks that it is such a Derek thing to do, to do a ceremony at midnight. It also exudes a certain irony, to burn Peter’s body, considering how many times Peter had burned when he was alive. Somehow it makes sense. He checks his phone. It is fifty minutes until midnight, so they have not started yet. He is very tired, but for some reason, he wants to stay awake. If only to make sure that this is really the end. He can take a day off if he tells the college people that a friend’s father passed away.

Lydia yawns and stands up. “I’m thirsty. You need anything from the kitchen?”

“Nah, I’m good,” Stiles’s dad says.

“Me, too,” Stiles says and smiles at her. She gives a tired smile back and leaves for the kitchen. The atmosphere is solemn, but comfortable. The unlit candle sits on the living room table. They are going to light it at midnight. Dad reluctantly agreed to do it when Lydia reminded him that Peter was one of the few relatives Derek still had left, and Malia’s father, and that they should do it if only to pay respect to those two, who have suffered a real loss. This is a weird situation, having to mourn a homicidal maniac, but maybe, on some base level, Stiles will miss him, just the slightest bit. It was Peter who played a significant role in getting Stiles out of the Wild Hunt, after all.

The sound of glass breaking wakes Stiles from his ruminations, and he shares an alarmed look with his father. “Lydia?” dad calls. “Are you okay?”

An ear-piercing scream is the answer. It shakes the entire house, and Stiles and his dad clamp their hands over their ears and rush toward the kitchen, where Lydia is kneeling in the floor, surrounded by glass shards. She stops screaming and Stiles puts his hands on her face.

“Lydia. Lydia. Look at me. What’s wrong? What happened?”

Lydia only says one word, and Stiles knew it, he knew it. He KNEW this was not the end.

Lydia says, “Peter.”

 

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

 

Peter stands on the bridge, his bridge, and enjoys the view of the tulips and the green fields. A slight breeze carries the heavenly smell toward him, and he deeply inhales. He does not remember falling asleep, or feeling sleepy, at that, but it is quite alright. Here he feels whole.

He has a song stuck in his head, it is “Always on my Mind,” the Pet Shop Boys version. Boy, the eighties were the shit. Peter hums to himself contentedly.

Little things I should have said and done
I never took the tiiime
You were always on my mind
You were always on my miiind…

People are passing him by, some walking in one direction, others in the other direction. He looks at them, those who walk in the one direction with distorted blurs where their faces should have been. The people walking in the other direction, however, Peter realizes with a jolt, do have faces, their features becoming clearer the further they walk. All this time he has dreamed of this bridge, and this is the first time he notices that they have faces? But a lot has changed, has it not? He has seen Isaac here, and Theo. Peter wonders. Why does he always stay?

He does something he has never done before: he starts walking. He remembers telling Theo which direction to take, and something compels him to walk the other way. He does not understand it, but he walks in the direction of the faceless people. He wonders if he will lose his face, as well. What happened before this? He had been on the phone with Liam. Then…

The faceless people walk away from him, and Peter realizes he is walking, but not moving. His legs are walking, but he is not going forward. He is walking in place. People come and go, but Peter always stays.

 

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

 

Derek is staring at the fire slowly growing. They have decided to do the ceremony at the preserve, where they will remain undisturbed, near the spot where Peter fell out of the portal to the Wild Hunt. Malia chose that spot, and Derek appreciates it. It holds a special meaning for her, a place where she connected with her father.

The body is lying a few feet away from everyone, wrapped in a sheet that Deaton painted artfully with symbols that will keep Peter safe. Out of respect for the Hale family, Deaton was willing to help with the ceremony, and the very last thing Derek wants now is for someone to think he can use Peter’s remains for some kind of spell. Peter Hale was doubtlessly a powerful creature, and if the news spreads that he is dead, Deaton has argued that the possibility of scavengers expressing an interest in his remains definitely exists.

Argent is standing on the other side of the fire, also staring into the flames. He is nursing a beer. Derek can only guess what is going on in his mind, but he can smell guilt over the ashy, hot aroma of the fire. Ah. Kate, then. Derek sighs as he feels his own portion of guilt. He is not in the habit of romanticizing a person’s deeds after their death, but he cannot help but think of what his uncle may have been like, had he not had to watch his entire family burn to death and then stay locked inside his own head for years. Peter was always of a more reckless nature than most other Hales, but Kate’s act of violence was what broke him. A wave of sorrow washes over Derek, and he assumes that it must be because he still has not called Cora (he just could not bring himself to do it), but then Malia is standing next to him and he realizes it was her sorrow he felt.

Both of them still feel slightly weakened from the remnants of the curse, but Malia looks worse. It is not the curse that has hit her harder, Derek thinks. It may well be the grief. Malia has spent such a long time living as a coyote she is still occasionally challenged when it comes to comprehending and working through human emotions.

Scott is next to Malia, and he gives Derek a sympathetic look. Malia’s eyes are still leaking tears, and she angrily wipes them away.

“This is stupid,” she says. “I don’t even know why I’m crying.”

“It’s normal,” Derek says. “You lose someone,” he shrugs. “You need to give it an outlet.”

“Did I really lose someone?” Malia says, still wiping at her face. “He was never there for me.”

“He didn’t know you existed,” Scott argues.

“He tried to kill me!”

“Only because you were on my side,” Scott says, and Derek almost laughs.

“He tried to kill YOU!” Malia says exasperatedly. Scott shrugs.

“Well, that’s just Peter.”

Malia sniffles and keeps wiping more tears away. “I don’t understand why I’m crying,” she says. “I wanna stop, but I can’t.”

“Eventually, you will,” Derek says, because he knows from experience. Then he smiles. “You know what Peter would say if he could see us now?”

“What?” Malia asks, giving up on wiping. Scott puts an arm around her and she leans into him, grateful for the support.

“He’d tell us to wipe those disgusting tears away, that people die and we should get up and keep going.”

Malia nods and sniffles, wiping snot rather inelegantly from her nose. Scott smiles a little. “Yeah, that sounds like Peter alright.”

“Hey, by the way,” Derek says. “You said there was something else you needed to talk about, apart from what happened to Theo, and that you didn’t wanna talk about it over the phone.”

“Oh,” Scott says. “Right.”

He looks at Isaac, who is standing a bit further off chatting to the spontaneous addition of the group, Liam, before looking back to Derek. “Oh, it’s nothing, really. It’s not important now.”

Under normal circumstances, Derek would insist on knowing, but he is about to bury family, so he figures that it really cannot be important now. So he just nods. “Fine,” he says and throws another log into the fire. It needs to be big enough at midnight that they can lower the whole body into it and watch it burn. Derek did not get to do this with any of his other relatives, so he wants to do this right. A sharp pain winds itself through his chest when he thinks about all of the people he has lost. His sister. His mother. So many lives.

“I hate this,” Malia says. “This sucks.”

Derek looks at her and meets her gaze, and he figures “this” refers to mourning, so he nods.

“I hate this, too,” he says, and then he gives her a one-armed hug because she is family and everybody else present is grieving for them, but the two of them are sharing something in this instance. Derek wants to find the good in this situation. If it brings him and Malia closer together, maybe he will be able to deal.

Then a howl rips through the night, loud enough it seems to shake the ground they are standing on. Something changes in the air, something significant, it feels like Derek can seize it and hold onto it if only he tries hard enough. Where did the howl come from?

The sheet wrapped around the body moves. The body moves. It howls. Peter howls. Over the howling, they can hear the scream of the banshee, and just like that, Derek’s grasp on reality is stolen from him because this cannot be, right? He is dreaming. He must be.

He must be.

Claws rip through the sheet and the runes and somethingsomeone roars again somethingsomeone with glowing blue eyes and somethingsomeonepeter hurls itself at Argent with sharp teeth and sharper claws but then Scott knocks itHIM down. It crumbles to the floor in a heap. Scott stares wide-eyed.

“This is impossible, right?” he asks, panting. Derek does not answer, because Peter is DEAD.

 

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

 

And so life continues. Peter cannot quite fathom how it would, but it does. He is lying in a bed, in the hospital, in the room next to Theo. Peter can smell him, his sickness, his coldness, and his depression. The sunlight feels brighter, his skin seems more sensitive, his hearing sharper, his sense of smell keener. It is not completely clear yet what has happened, but he does remember dying. He was in the animal clinic, and he opened his eyes and saw Malia, dying, and Derek, dying, and then the black kid who is Liam’s bestie, whatshisname, looked at him and asked him if he was okay. Then Peter felt his heart stop in his chest. It hurt. All colors bled from his vision. Yellow was the last one to go. Then, he died.

And yet, Peter marvels, he is not dead.

He remembers dreaming of the bridge, of not being able to move, and he finally admits to himself the possibility that these dreams are not dreams at all. They are something else. He said that the bridge where he met Isaac was not a real place, but, apparently, depending on the definition of a “real” place, it might just be.

He remembers coming to life, his heart beating, pain, everywhere, just pain, and he had to roar. Wrapped up in a sheet, he came to, everything was pain, and he could not see, but through all of his agony, he smelt a fire, and fear overcame him, because in his personal hell, fire would be it. He jumped up, smelt Argent and thought, yeah, fire and the Argents, this must be hell, then. Then, nothing. Now, hospital.

The door opens, and Scott, Malia, and Derek come in. Melissa follows after them, gorgeous as always, and closes the door behind her before walking over to him and checking his stats.

“Well, I don’t know if I can say you’re alive, but medically, you are,” she says, scrutinizing the monitor. “You have a heartbeat and everything.”

“Great,” Peter says. He wiggles the finger with the clip that measures his pulse. “Can you pull this off, then? It’s pinching.”

Melissa tugs the clip off with a little more force than necessary. Peter smiles at her.

“How are you feeling?” Derek asks him. Peter looks around the room and then at his hands.

“Alarmed, yet pleased.”

“How’d you do it?” Malia asks.

“Do what?”

“Come back from the dead, asshole!” she snaps.

“Whoa, language!” Peter holds his hands up.

“Seriously,” Scott says. “How’d you do it this time?”

“I have no idea,” Peter answers honestly. Malia scoffs.

“Look, I know you like drama, but we actually thought you were dead,” she says, and Peter can smell the grief on her. It hurts him. “A warning would have been nice.”

“Malia,” Peter says, “if I’d known this was gonna happen, trust me, I would have told you so.”

“Bullshit,” Malia says. “Now tell us what you did. Did you sell your soul to the devil? Is that a thing? Does the devil exist?”

“I did not sell my soul to anyone,” Peter insists.

“So what did you do? I know you know how to do this. Scott told me you’ve done it before.”

“Yes, I have,” Peter says, “but—”

“It had to be a different ritual this time,” Derek says. “The worm moon is still months away.”

“I didn’t do any ritual.”

“Peter,” Scott says, “you were dead. Like, dead-dead. Proper dead. You smelled dead, you looked dead. So you must have done something.”

“But I didn’t do anything,” Peter says.

“Peter,” Derek says, “if this is another one of your schemes—”

“Scheming WHAT, exactly?” Peter’s patience is running thin. “I don’t even know what happened. One minute I was on the phone with Liam, listening to him yammering away about how Theo puked up a fish, and the next thing I know, I’m dying, and now I’m here. Could anyone just maybe explain to me what exactly happened?”

Scott looks at him in alarm. “Talking to Liam’s the last thing you remember?”

“Yes. Well, I remember coming to at the animal clinic just before I, y’know. Died.”

“So you have no idea what happened?” Malia asks.

“None.”

She presses her lips together and stares at him hard, as if she can squeeze the truth out of him just by staring hard enough. Then, she relents.

“Okay, I guess. I believe you. I guess.”

“Thank you,” Peter says.

“Sorry I yelled at you.”

“I guess it’s quite alright, considering the circumstances. I’m sorry I died.”

“Now that apologies have been exchanged,” Melissa says, “maybe we could try and find out why you’re not dead, then.”

“Yeah,” Derek says. “If you didn’t do it, someone or something else did. And we need to know how and why.”

“Just before you find out how and why I came back from the dead, could you just tell me how and why I died, in the first place?” Peter inquires politely, and then he listens to the mess about some witch’s revenge curse cast on werewolves who have killed innocents. It reminds him of Theo next door.

“And how’s Doctor Evil doing?”

Scott sighs heavily. “Not all that great. I mean, he survived the curse, but I think he would have preferred not to.”

“Right,” Peter says. “That problem. Well, if you want to hear my informed opinion—”

Derek rolls his eyes.

“—just let him work through this on his own. He’ll get used to it, or he won’t, but somehow, he doesn’t strike me as the type to react well to group therapy sessions or interventions. Just leave him be.”

“He’s in a dark place,” Derek says, “and I barely know him, but even I can tell Peter’s right. He doesn’t want help, at least not yet.”

“Yeah,” Scott casts a worried look at the wall behind which they know Theo lies. “I wish I could, though. Help.”

“Meh,” Malia shrugs.

“And he puked up a fish,” Peter says.

“Yeah,” Derek says, shaking his head at the sheer absurdity of the situation. “Deaton says it’s a pilot fish, it attaches itself to bigger evils, leeches off of them. What we don’t know is, what kind of evil is it, and why did it show itself with Theo.”

“Unless Theo’s the big evil,” Malia says, and Peter hums.

“I don’t know much about these pilot fish thingies, but if Theo really was the evil that it attached to, it wouldn’t have been expelled from his body. It would’ve wanted to stay there to feed on him.”

Malia makes a face. “Gross.”

“Indeed it is. But it sounds more like Theo’s the messenger in this case, not the message.”

Derek frowns. “The messenger of what?”

“Of bad things to come,” Peter says.

“This is Beacon Hills,” Malia says, “do we really need a messenger for that?”

 

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

 

Life continues. Theo cannot fathom how it would, but it does. He lies in his bed, in Beacon Hills Memorial, and stares at the ceiling and struggles with comprehending how this is his life. Too weak to get up on his own, he has to rely on help all the time, and it fuels his hate for Scott and what he did. Theo hates being dependent, and now he is basically an invalid, dependent on everyone for everything, and all he wants is to get his strength back so he can leave. Scott’s mom is surprisingly nice to him, considering what Theo has done, and he surmises she feels sorry for him. Why would she not, he is a pitiful creature, needing help to go to the bathroom, to clean himself. The first time he manages to stand up by himself, he looks in the mirror and flashes his eyes. They are an electric blue, and Theo almost breaks down crying because Scott did not just steal Theo’s independence, he stole his eyes, too, his whole being. Theo is someone else, and he can barely recognize himself.

Liam keeps visiting him, for some strange reason, just rattles off tale after tale, about some curse that almost killed Theo and Malia and Derek. It did kill Peter, and then Peter came back from the dead, just like that. So Peter admits to having strange dreams about a bridge, the same bridge that he saw Isaac on in his vision, and he lied about this, or something. Theo does not really care, he only catches small shreds of Liam’s intricate, long monologues. Theo just stays in bed, because he cannot do much else, and stares at the ceiling and wonders what he can do in order to kill himself.

Jumping from the hospital roof? Well, probably, now that he is a full werewolf, his healing factor will have sped up. So that may not be a sure way to die.

Go find himself a group of hunters? Well, depending on how capable they are, they may not manage to kill Theo even if they try really hard. Plus, they are hunters and Theo would not want to give them the satisfaction.

Throw himself in front of a train? That seems a possibility. But then again, Theo hears about those stories on the news, how people were run over by trains and miraculously had barely a scratch on them. So that is a no.

Shoot himself in the head with a silver bullet? Where would he get a silver bullet? He could ask Argent. What a farce. Like he would ask that guy for anything.

He could always just leave. He has nothing keeping him here in Beacon Hills, Theo reminds himself. Scott may expect him to stay now, want him to be a good, obedient beta, but that is not happening, under any circumstances. So Theo just lies and waits until he is strong enough. He has nothing to do but wait.

His senses are slowly returning, and he can smell the sick of the other patients, as well as his own stench. The bite has fully healed by now, but the slash on his other arm is still gaping, it just will not close up and heal already. Liam says that Deaton says it is because this is not a normal wound and that maybe it will leave a scar. It smells like an open wound smells, of flesh knitting itself together, and of the coppery tang of blood. There is some other smell in it, though, something Theo cannot put a finger on, and that is probably the reason why it will not heal. It has something to do with this stupid ritual, the worst mistake Theo has made since thinking it would be a great idea to have his sister’s heart transplanted into him by a group of people who called themselves the Dread Doctors.

The door opens to interrupt Theo’s musings, and he expects Liam to return, to tell him about lacrosse practice or something to that effect. But it is not Liam, it is Peter who takes a seat next to his bed and gives him a semi-genuine smile.

“Why, hello there, sunshine,” Peter says, and Theo wonders why he always has to be so damned obnoxious. What Theo says is, “What are you doing here?”

“Oh, well, the little wolf said all you do all day is stare at the ceiling and wallow in self-pity, so I’d thought you might like some company.”

Theo stares at him.

“Also, I wanna talk to someone, and since most people I know don’t wanna listen to me unless I impart some piece of supernatural wisdom, and you’re weak as a kitten and can’t run away from me…”

Ah, Theo thinks. World order restored. His gaze returns to the ceiling.

“…I figured I’d just talk to you. It’s okay if you don’t wanna say anything, I don’t really care. Y’know, I thought I’d try the Sherlock Holmes method and buy myself a phrenology bust that I’d use to bounce ideas off, but then that just seemed sad.”

Theo sighs.

“So anyways, I don’t know how much little wolf told you about what’s been going on since you did this incredibly stupid thing of a hero sacrifice that didn’t turn out quite like you planned it, but I came back from the dead. And, well, I might have, could have, mentioned that ever since the last time that happened I’ve been having dreams. Only they weren’t dreams, but how was I supposed to know that? I’m only a werewolf, after all, I don’t know everything, do I?”

Theo’s head hurts. He figures he may be thirsty.

“But almighty Deaton just had to give me shit for it. ‘You should have known better,’ blah blah. I don’t really think he knows all that better, either, but well, that’s not the point. Together we kind of managed to decipher the meanings behind these dreams. Or, non-dreams. They’re not exactly visions, either. It’s unclear what they are. But we figured that whatever this is, this bridge, it may be a passage way. Between the world of the living and the world of the dead.

It explains why there are always people passing me by, walking in different directions. I saw you there, if you remember. I don’t always recall everything perfectly, but I do know I saw you there, after the ritual, I fell asleep, and there you were, on the bridge. I think I sent you off in one direction. Isn’t that fascinating?”

Theo cannot help but listen now. So Peter saw him on a passage way between the world of the living and the world of the dead?

“And I mean, don’t get me wrong. At first I was rather… glad that this happened. I mean, this time I didn’t even have time to make preparations, I had no idea what hit me, one moment I was on the phone, the next I was dead, and then I’m alive again. I’d call that dumb luck. Even more than the last time. But, well…”

Peter scratches his beard.

“You know what makes a life, right? Life begins, it progresses, it ends. That’s the way it works. It’s not a full circle, more like three quarters of a circle. You’re born, you live, you die. That’s how it works for everything that’s alive. People, animals, plants, bacteria. Life begins, and it has to end. And now I’ve started wondering what the consequences are, if you take one of those aspects out of the equation. If life begins and progresses, but never ends, what are you left with?”

Immortality, Theo thinks. That is insane.

“Immortality,” Peter says and looks out the window, deep in thought. “It’s insane. A year ago I would have said, yes, give me immortality, give me eternal life, I want it all. Hell, I would have killed anything and everything, everyone, for that. I would’ve sacrificed Malia for that without a second thought. Some things, they just change when you really start considering them. Sometimes, you don’t know what you want or need until you have it.

I mean, what am I, if I can’t die? Can I die? Was this a one-time thing? I don’t know. I’m not exactly keen on finding out whether Deaton is right, I’m not gonna shoot myself in the head just to test a theory. But what if it’s true? It takes something away from me. That’s what it is. That’s what I’m afraid of. What I didn’t consider before. I guess I should’ve expected that the worm moon would come with a price, I just wasn’t expecting it to be so high.”

“Aren’t werewolves basically immortal?” Theo asks. He just cannot help himself. Peter throws his hands up in fake awe.

“It talks!”

Theo rolls his eyes. “Seriously, though. I thought werewolves were basically immortal. Wounds heal really fast, We don’t get sick. Satomi was really old.”

“Yes, of course. But we’re living, breathing beings. We can live for hundreds of years, but we can be killed, and we can die a natural death of old age. It just lasts longer if you can heal yourself from all ailments. But life is a process that starts and ends. Start to finish.”

“What’s so bad about not finishing?”

“Asks the kid who’s accused Scott of not letting him die?”

“Asks anyone,” Theo says, annoyed.

“Well, have you ever seen that movie from the eighties, Highlander?”

Theo shakes his head.

“It hasn’t aged all that well, but the message still holds up. No one wants to live forever unless everybody else can do it, too, because if you’re the only one, you watch everyone and everything you know die around you, and it leaves you with nothing. No one, no place you can stay, nothing but a growing mount of possessions. Things. I like my things, don’t get me wrong. I love my cars, my exclusive wardrobe, my furniture, my guitar with a signature from Eric Clapton. But I don’t think I’d wanna keep those things forever if that means I get to watch Derek and Cora and Malia get old and waste away while I stand by and nothing changes.”

“Mh,” Theo says, because he does not know how to respond to that.

“And the soundtrack is amazing. Boy, the eighties were a golden age for music.”

Theo sighs. He wonders why he has answered Peter at all, since he managed to ignore everything Liam had to say successfully till the very end. Maybe he feels like he can talk to Peter because Peter does not really care. Peter does not love him, Peter does not hate him, and most importantly, Peter does not pity him one bit. Theo does not quite understand why, but it helps.

“So… a phrenology bust, huh?” he says eventually.

“I was thinking about calling it Leopold.”

“You obviously thought this through.”

“I did. Oh, and before I forget it.” Peter bends down to pick something up. “I brought you something.”

He throws a thin, well-read paperback at Theo. It hits him in the face.

“Ow!”

Theo picks up the book, rubbing his nose. “In the Neighborhood of Zero?”

“Thought you might like to read something while you’re here.”

Theo looks at the subtitle. “This is a memoir. From World War Two.”

“I know.”

“Where’d you get it?” Theo opens the book to leaf through it. It looks thoroughly used.

“It’s mine,” Peter answers. “I’ve read it three or four times, figured I got everything out of it I could get.”

“So… what, you’re giving it to me?” Theo asks, confused.

“What, I can’t give people gifts?” Peter looks at him innocently.

“What the… as far as I know, no, you’re not just handing out gifts to people at random.”

“Well, this isn’t random, you stupid little idiot.” Peter takes the book from him and opens the book to a specific page. Then he starts reading.

“Hitherto I had felt my life to be irrelevant, or rather, that it had been relegated to the margins by unnamed forces I had assumed were far more important than I was. Facing the stark image of its instant termination, my life suddenly took on infinite possibilities of body and mind, possibilities of which I was never or had only intuitively been aware, the potential of empowerment, of real freedom, I would say now, if this word had not been corrupted as it has by modern democracies. And that this empowerment was not only a potential in me but in every human being on the face of the earth. Everyone, high and low, has a history. I vowed, without understanding the vow, and despite knowing my extinction was imminent, that if I ever returned to the world, I would dedicate myself in the name of this life to resisting those various inhuman forces, no matter their provenance, that marginalized groups of human beings—denied them histories—in order to feed their own, central, will to power.”

Peter snaps the book shut and throws it at Theo again. This time it lands safely on his chest, which feels strangely tight.

“In other words,” Peter says, “get the fuck over yourself and accept your situation. You’re not dead. Now make the best of it.”

Theo presses his lips together. It is not that easy, he wants to shout.

“Listen to Spanos. You can live your life in freedom, make something of it. Or make nothing of it, whatever you want. You’re too young to cross the finish line.”

“But I can’t live in freedom,” Theo says.

“Says who?” Peter asks, surprised. “Don’t be a little shit, now. Leave, if you want. Live as an omega. Be someone’s bitch. Or kill yourself. Drowning may work. But if I may impart some unsupernatural wisdom on you: you got another chance at life, so I’d use it, if I were you. Shit, I got a third chance at life. I may get a fourth and a fifth one, too, and you don’t see me crying in a corner over what I’ve lost.”

“I didn’t want the bite.”

“And Scott, the monster, is feeling so guilty he’s this close to killing you himself if that means you won’t be mad at him anymore. That’s how he is. It’s annoying as fuck, but he makes a tolerable alpha most of the time. You could have done a lot worse. You could have had my nephew as an alpha. Jesus, you would have died a long-ass fucking time ago if you had.”

Theo swallows thickly. He thinks of the changed color of his eyes. The wound on his arm that will most likely leave a permanent scar. He is very tired. Here in the hospital, his nightmares are much more vivid than when he sleeps in his car. Every time he wakes from one of those nightmares where Tara makes an entrance, he sits up in his stupid hospital bed and is not sure whether he has woken up from a nightmare or is actually back in hell. Some nights, this process repeats itself three to four times. He touches the book’s cover, where it lies on his chest, over his heart. Her heart.

“Why are you being nice to me?” he asks.

“Am I being nice? I mean, true, I gave you a book, that was very nice of me. But I’m also telling you to stop being a little bitch. Stop whining about what’s happened to you, and start making something happen. That’s why I brought you that book, and not Harry Potter or some shit. Thought it might offer you some perspective.” Peter stands up. “And if you’re freaking out about Scott using his alpha status to execute control over you, you and I both know that Scott has no interest in that. He prefers trust and all that touchy-feely stuff.”

Peter walks over to the door, but before he leaves, he turns back and smirks at Theo. “Well, yeah, I am being nice to you. Maybe I like you, kiddo. You’re a killer, like me. It would be a shame to see you let that talent go to waste and get all mushy like the rest of them.”

“I did some pretty messed-up things to Malia,” Theo reminds him, and Peter shrugs.

“And you taught her some valuable lessons in the process, I’m sure. Now. I got places to go, things to do. You, read the book, and stop feeling sorry for yourself. See you around.”

Peter slams the door behind himself, and Theo picks up the book. His mind replays what Peter read out to him. In the moment of imminent termination, life takes on an infinite amount of possibilities, was it? And considering it, Theo knows Peter is right, Scott, if he even knows about the power he can execute over his betas, would never use it. Scott is kind. Theo keeps forgetting that because kindness has not played a central role—any role, really—in his life for a decade or more. Not everyone is like the Dread Doctors. Trust and forgiveness need to be learned, acquired, and Theo has skipped those days in the school of life. He is not sure Peter actually wants him to acquire those capabilities, because he, like Theo, knows that life is dangerous when you trust and forgive. But Peter also knows that Scott needs people around that remind him of this. If there was, hypothetically speaking, a space for Theo in the pack, it would be as the one who does the dirty work, he reckons.

Theo has done nothing but dirty work for so long he does not know how to do anything else. He would be okay with that. Hypothetically, of course.

 

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

 

When Scott and his mom check on Theo later on, he is reading a book and looking marginally better than before. He barely spares them a glance, but responds to Scott’s “hey” with a curt, stiff “hey” of his own, which is definite progress from the whole routine of cussing and ignoring.

“Who gave you that book?” Mom asks with a look at the cover.

“Peter.”

“Peter Hale?” Mom asks, sharing a confused look with Scott.

“How many Peters do you know?” Theo says snarkily, but yet, Scott somehow senses that something about him has changed. He appears slightly more… settled.

“I guess… I wasn’t expecting him to go around handing books to people,” Mom says and stands next to the bed. “I’d like to check on you now, so if you could stop reading for a sec.”

Theo sighs and lays the book aside. She measures his pulse and looks into his eyes, then undresses the gash on his arm.

“It’s still not healing,” she observes, “but otherwise it looks fine.”

“Not healing at all?” Theo asks, looking alarmed.

“Well, even for a human, the progress seems very slow. Considering your supernatural status, it should have already disappeared. It just looks like it has no intention of healing.” Scott’s mom frowns. “There’s no infection, however. I could stitch it together for you, if you want.”

Theo considers the gash in his arm. Scott looks, too, and it looks nasty, wide open, pretty much down to the bone, but dry, no blood. It smells slightly weird. Scott says so, and Theo nods slowly.

“I smell it, too. Don’t know what it means. You think if you don’t stitch it together, it’ll just stay this way?”

Mom shrugs. “No way of knowing. I could give it a try, though.”

“Does it hurt?” Scott asks, since Theo seems talkative today. He shakes his head.

“Not really. It’s kinda uncomfortable, but not painful.”

“Well, then,” Mom says, “I’ll go get a suture kit.” First, she takes off the stethoscope she carries around her neck and listens to Theo’s heart. “Sounds good,” she says. “And you’re finally reaching a normal temperature.”

“Normal for humans, or normal for werewolves?” Scott asks.

“Humans. But we’re getting there. Be right back.”

Scott’s eyes follow his mom as she leaves to retrieve a suture kit. Then he looks at Theo again, who is still examining his arm.

“Theo, I’m sorry,” Scott says, because he is, and he needs Theo to understand.

“I know that,” Theo says.

“I did what I thought was right.”

“I know that, too.”

Scott wants to ask him for forgiveness, then stops himself, because if anything, Theo should be the one to ask Scott for forgiveness, should he not? After all he has done? But Theo would never. Could never do that. So Scott opts for a different route.

“Look, “Scott says. “I know you’ve changed. You’ll probably never admit to caring about anything, cause maybe you just can’t, I don’t know. But I know you care cause you showed me. Several times. When you saved Liam from the Ghost Riders. When you took Gabe’s pain so he could die in peace. When you sacrificed yourself to save Isaac and Beacon Hills. So maybe you can’t say it and that’s fine. Cause something changed, and I don’t need to hear it to know it. And I’m sorry, again, that I bit you even thought you didn’t want it. But, if you want to stay. Be part of the pack. Y’know. It’s… I’m not telling you to stay. But I’m also not telling you to leave. It’s your decision. But if you wanted to join the pack, I’d be totally okay with that.”

Theo frowns at the ceiling and stays silent for a while.

“Most of the others won’t want me to stay,” he eventually says. “Malia and Stiles probably still want to kill me. Can’t fault them for it, if I was them, I’d be the same.”

“They’d accept it, though,” Scott says, because he knows they would. If Theo continues to show he cares, eventually Malia and Stiles will see it.

Theo sighs and looks at the book he is still holding in his left hand. “When Peter gave me the book, he said I should stop being a little bitch and get the fuck over myself, and that this book would give me some perspective.”

“What’s it about?” Scott asks, deciding to humor Theo for the moment.

“Some guy who fought in World War Two, got captured, and had to work in a POW camp,” Theo says. “Later, he’ll be witness to the bombing of Dresden, but I’m not there yet.”

“Sounds messed up.”

“It is. Guess Peter’s right, there are worse things than this,” Theo says and gestures toward the giant gash in his right arm.

“Yeah,” Scott says. “It can always get worse.”

“I’m making my own decisions,” Theo says then. “If I wanna leave, I’ll leave, and you won’t stop me.”

“No, of course not,” Scott says.

“Okay,” Theo says. Scott blinks.

“So, that’s it? You’re staying, then?”

Theo shrugs. “It’s not like I got anywhere to go, anyways.”

“Well…”

“I don’t even know what to do with myself.”

“You could finish high school,” Scott suggests.

“I’d have to repeat senior year.”

“Yeah.”

“I’d be a year older than everybody.”

“You could play lacrosse.”

“I hate lacrosse.”

“But it would give you something to do,” Scott shrugs. “A reason to stick around apart from the pack. Oh, right. We also have to do something about your living situation, right?”

Theo looks alarmed. “What do you mean?”

“I mean that you’re living in your car, dude. That’s not good, especially now with the hunters.”

“That’s my problem to solve,” Theo says and frowns deeply. He looks like he really wants to cross his arms, but cannot, because his right forearm is gaping open to the bone.

“Oh, come on! I’m not telling you what to do, I wanna help!” Scott says, exasperated.

“Well, maybe I don’t want your help.”

“That’s how a pack works. We help each other. That kind of includes accepting help from time to time.”

In that instance, his mom comes back, suture kit in hand. She looks from Theo to Scott and back. “Okay, what did I just walk into?”

“I wanna help him and he doesn’t want it,” Scott says, angrily, and his mom looks for a brief moment like she has to suppress a smile.

“Well, how about that, sweetheart: you can offer him your help anyways, and then Theo can decide whether or not it will benefit him to accept it.” She then looks at Theo, eyebrow quirked. He murmurs something like “whatever” under his breath and leans his head back. The conversation seems to have drained him of his remaining energy, and Scott is reminded of the fact that he is still very weak.

“So you talked to Peter?” Mom begins in a conversational tone as she dons new gloves and wipes disinfectant over the edges of the gash. Theo flinches when it stings.

“He just came by,” he says.

“Did he just give you the book and leave?”

“No, he also told me about his return from the dead.”

“How about that?” Scott’s mom starts suturing the gash together, without anesthetics, and Theo closes his eyes, but does not otherwise react.

“That must hurt, though,” Scott says, because he knows that his mom has not forgiven Theo anything, either.

“It’s fine,” Theo says through clenched teeth.

“I’ll give you morphine if you ask for it,” Mom says, and there is the tough woman that has saved Scott time and time again.

“I’m good.”

“Sure?”

“I can take it.”

Their gazes meet then and they seem to be having a silent conversation with each other that Scott is not included in.

“It’s fine to ask for help from time to time,” she says at some point.

“I’ll know when to ask,” Theo responds, and Scott’s mom nods slowly. Then she continues with her work, and Scott, unsure as to what has just happened, leaves the room to call Malia.

“We need to talk to Peter,” he says when she picks up.

 

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

 

“Excuse me, can you repeat that?” Peter says, looking at Scott like he is insane. Malia looks a bit angry, but resigned.

“He said,” she says slowly, “that he wants you to buy an apartment for Theo.”

“WE want that,” Scott corrects her, and she rolls her eyes.

“I wouldn’t go that far.”

“But you agreed that it’s too dangerous for him to live in his car, on the streets.”

Malia shrugs.

“What I don’t understand,” Peter butts in, “is how in the hell this concerns me. Like I said, it’s not my problem that he’s homeless.”

“But you like him,” Malia says.

“I most certainly do not.”

“You gave him a gift. That’s how you express yourself. Like Tony Soprano. You don’t know what to say, so you give me gifts. Cars, sunglasses, necklaces, envelopes with money.” Malia looks at her father expectantly, and Scott raises an eyebrow. He knew about the one car, not the other stuff.

“You’re my daughter. I can give you stuff, that’s perfectly acceptable.”

“Yeah, well, you officially gave Theo stuff, too.”

“It’s just one old book that I’ve already read several times.”

“He also said you gave him advice,” Scott says.

“Well, someone had to tell him that he’s being ridiculous with his self-pity. None of you were willing to do that.”

Malia scoffs. “Go figure that the two psychopathic killers I know would get along well. Adopt him already.”

“Look,” Scott interrupts them, “I appreciate it. He was doing a lot better when I saw him earlier. My mom stitched his forearm together, and he said he’d be okay to try and be part of the pack for a while. But, he can’t be living on the streets. For one, he’s still way too weak for that, and he can’t stay at BH Memorial forever. And there are still too many hunters sneaking around at night for it to be even remotely safe out there.”

Peter scrutinizes Scott for a while. Then he shakes his head. “Maybe I like that guy a little. He’s got some balls. And you know that you need more killers in your pack, so I’d be all for that. But giving him an old book and buying an apartment for him are two vastly different pairs of shoes.”

“It doesn’t need to be fancy,” Malia says. “A broom closet would do. But Scott’s right, we can’t just send him back to the street, he’ll be dead within the hour.”

“And since when would that idea not fill you with joy?”

“Since he did this stupid ritual, maybe,” Malia admits grumpily and crosses her arms.

“Why?” Peter looks at her challengingly. Scott thinks he knows what Peter means. All of them have taken pain from Theo after the ritual, Peter most of it, and Scott remembers the sheer intensity of it, the all-encompassing agony that felt unlike anything else he has ever felt before. This kind of thing does not leave you just like that; it sticks. Sometimes, Scott wonders if some of the pain he took that day may not have been more than just the pain caused by the ritual. Maybe some of that pain is years old. Maybe some of it was Gabe’s pain that Theo has carried around with him ever since.

“Well, if he sacrificed himself and all that, it would be a total waste to let him get killed right away, wouldn’t it?” Malia says instead, arms still crossed, and Scott is once again reminded who her parents are.

“Okay, so, hypothetically speaking, if I did actually go ahead with this bogus maneuver and bought an apartment for Doctor Evil,” Peter says, “what exactly makes you think he’ll accept it? Cause I’m pretty sure he won’t.”

“He won’t if it’s coming from me,” Scott agrees. “But if you do it, y’know, just toss him the keys, I think he’ll be okay with it.”

“What makes you think that?”

“Cause he read your book and took your advice.”

Peter frowns and crosses his arms, and him and Malia look so much alike in this moment that Scott has to look away because it is too weird.

“This is not a yes,” Peter says, “but… I’ll see what I can do.”

 

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

 

And that is how Theo ends up with an apartment a few days later.

He has been at the hospital for two weeks, and he is about ready to explode from lying still for so long. He can go to the bathroom by himself now, and if after taking a shower he is so exhausted that his knees shake, nobody needs to know that. Scott’s mom keeps checking his arm and appears confused as to the healing progress, which is, well, not happening.

“I mean, the wound looks good and all,” she says, prodding the stiches. “But usually, one would expect that a cut that has been sutured together would at some point start healing.”

“And this one’s not?” Theo asks.

“Not even a bit,” Scott’s mom says. “The stitches are all that’s holding it together.”

“So if you pulled them out…”

“I would get a nice look at your radius and ulna.”

“Better not pull the stitches, then, I guess,” Theo says.

“No, better not,” Scott’s mom says and wraps fresh gauze around his arm. “I don’t know how long this is gonna hold. I might need to pull them anyway at some point and replace them with new ones if it doesn’t heal at all.”

“Sounds fun.” Theo sighs and closes his eyes. He has reached a point where he just accepts that he has a gash in his arm that does not hurt and does not bleed and also does not heal. So if he has to walk around with stitches in his arm forever to keep his bones from being exposed, well, that is that. It is just another punchline in the cosmic joke that is the life of Theo Raeken.

He can feel the eyes of Scott’s mother on his face as she tapes the gauze into place.

“You seem to be doing better,” she says.

“Better than what?”

“Better than when you were dying, and then agonizing over the fact that my son saved you.”

Theo opens one eye to gaze at her. She is looking very thoughtful, but also determined. Sometimes Theo thinks that if he had had such a mother, he would have grown up into a completely different person. His bones would not be exposed. None of him would ever have been.

“You killed my son,” Scott’s mom says then, and ah, they are having that conversation now.

“I remember,” Theo says, closing his eye.

“How do you feel about that?”

Now Theo has to open his eyes and stare at her in disbelief. “How do I feel about that? How do YOU feel about that?”

“I am very, very angry. VERY angry.” And she looks very angry, as well. “However, I’m also not blind and I know that you’re not the same person who did that.”

“Maybe I am,” Theo snaps, although he evidently is not. He does not even look the same. His eyes have changed color. He owes Scott his life. He does not even know if he can still do a full shift; he has been too weak to even think about trying. Scott’s mother seems to read his mind, because she grips his arm so tightly that it hurts, but Theo does not flinch. He was not lying when he said that he could take it. From her, he would have to.

“This,” Scott’s mom says, “is the gaping reminder that you’re not the same person. And I need to thank you for saving the city by doing what you did. I also need to tell you that if you ever, EVER, try to hurt my son again, I will dismember you and hide your remains where no one will find them.”

“Sounds reasonable,” Theo says after a moment of silence.

Scott’s mom nods, and then Peter says from the door, “This is so touching, I should have brought tissues for all of us.”

Theo has not heard him coming, which unsettles him a little. Scott’s mom is positively spooked for a moment, but she recovers quickly.

“The same goes for you, by the way,” she says.

“The dismembering?”

“Yes.”

“Duly noted, Melissa. Duly noted. If you do ever wanna go on that second date, just let me know.”

“Why’re you here?” Theo asks, because he can see that Peter is holding a book in his hand.

“I’m giving you stuff,” Peter proclaims. He tosses the book to Theo, who catches it this time.

“The Gallery, by John Horne Burns.”

“Also about World War Two. I think you’ll like it.”

“What’s with all the war literature?” Theo wonders, and Peter shrugs.

“I like history.”

“So does Liam.”

“He can borrow them.”

“I’m done here,” Scott’s mom says, “so if you could step aside.” She gestures to where Peter is blocking the door, and he makes room for her with a smirk.

“Thanks,” Theo says, because he really does appreciate it. The other book is amazing and Theo is almost through. He does not understand why Peter is giving him books, but he will not look a gift horse in the mouth.

“Anything else?” Theo asks when Peter does not leave.

“Yeah,” Peter says and reaches into his jacket pocket. What he tosses then is not another book, however, it is a set of keys. Theo catches them and looks at Peter in confusion.

“And what are these?”

“Oh, nothing. I just bought you an apartment. You can move in anytime.”

“You…”

“And the way I understood it, Isaac’s moving in with you. Apparently, he’s finally gotten his head out of his ass and realized that he should be closer to his Alpha, and he doesn’t want to move in with Melissa because he would have to listen to her and Argent boning, which, awkward. I mean, he didn’t name that as a reason, but I imagine it is.”

“I…”

“You got time to settle in on your own, though. He’s gotta fly back to Massachusetts, figure out his shit, pack, all that stuff. I don’t think you have a lot of stuff, considering you’re living out of your car, though, so your move’ll be quick and painless. Or, well, at least it’ll be quick,” Peter says with a look at Theo’s arm.

“I’m not moving in with Isaac,” is all Theo can think of saying.

“Looks like you are. And don’t have a meltdown now about how this is your life, blah blah. I know that already. This is mostly about Scott and Liam, I think,” Peter says. “They feel oh so sorry and want you to be okay, or something like that. If it were up to me, I’d let you go right back to being a hobo, but Malia strong-armed me into buying that damn apartment—”

“Malia?!” Theo cannot believe what he is hearing.

“—and now that it’s there, why not use it? You have to admit, what with the hunters out there, sleeping behind four walls and a roof that aren’t made of tin sounds a bit safer, don’t you think? If you hate it, move somewhere else, although I’m pretty sure you can’t afford that. That’s why I was manhandled into buying it for you in the first place. Poor, poor Theo, doesn’t have anybody and doesn’t have a place to live.”

“I don’t want pity,” Theo says, because he does not. It feels dirty and disgusting, and shameful. He likes Scott’s mom, he can respect her, because the last thing she feels for him is pity. Peter and his scorn are also easier to take than the idea that Scott and Malia (Malia?!) pity him so much they convinced Peter to spend money on him so he does not have to live in his car.

“And how do you get rid of the pity?” Peter asks. Theo shrugs.

“Well, for starters, you could stop fucking pitying yourself. Then you could go eliminating the things that make people pity you. Get out of the hospital and live in an apartment, for example,” Peter says impatiently. Theo looks at the book in his hands, then at the keys.

“I’m not a charity case,” he says, and Peter has the audacity to laugh at him.

“Kiddo, you’re such a charity case that you let the pariah of Beacon Hills give you books and let hot nurse McCall stitch your arm together because you can’t heal it yourself, and after all this, you’re willing to go back to living in your car cause you’re too fucked up to know how to ask for help. You’re a charity case if ever there was one. Do you even have furniture?”

Theo does not know what to say. The advantage of having a Peter Hale in his life, he supposes, is that he does not care to spare his feelings, so he can speak the harsh truth. That seems to be a Hale family trait, if what Theo knows about Derek is anything to go by. Still, it hurts.

“Didn’t think so. I see a trip to IKEA in your immediate future.”

So Theo has an apartment now. He does not really want it, but he does not know what exactly he would want. As Peter leaves, Theo wishes he could go back to the start, maybe do this all over again. He knows it is impossible, so he stays where he is, bare bones and books and all.