The first thing Liam says after Scott has finished laying out assignments for the hunt for Monroe is, “You’ve got to be fucking kidding me,” and the situation doesn’t really improve from there.
The McCall pack—and Theo, who currently exists in a sort of Schrodinger’s Cat state of simultaneously being a welcome guest in the McCall household and having been told in no uncertain terms that he’s not allowed to leave it without the Sheriff’s and Argent’s express permission—are all arrayed around the McCall living room, the space just barely large enough to accommodate them, which means that Liam’s jarring interjection sets off a Rube Goldberg-esque sequence of accidental elbows and unintentional knees as various members of the pack jerk in surprise. Mason nearly smacks Corey in the face with a startled gesture and Derek just barely manages to keep Stiles from dumping his glass of soda all over himself, Derek grabbing and straightening the glass a half-second before Stiles would have been wearing it, while Scott—holding court at the front of the room—cuts himself off mid-sentence and blinks at Liam stood across from him, visibly thrown.
Sat backwards on a chair that he’d dragged over from the dining room table, Theo huffs out a low, quiet breath, his chin dropped onto his arms folded over the back, and pointedly says nothing. Earlier in the kitchen when Scott had been finalizing the details of his plan with Argent, Derek, Malia, and the Sheriff, Theo had told Scott he’s never going to agree to this and Scott had thought that he was being unnecessarily pessimistic: Scott had said have some faith in him, and Theo had assured him that it wasn’t Liam that Theo lacked faith in. The second comment had been hands-down one of the stupidest things that Theo has said in recent memory—Argent’s eyes narrowing over Scott’s shoulder—but the first had been absolutely true.
And more to the point, as currently being demonstrated: the first had been right.
“Liam—” Scott starts, tone gone baffled but also a little wary; it wasn’t like Liam had been particularly subtle in his word choice but his scent had gone hot, too, and Theo can see all the supernaturally-sensed pack members shifting out of the corner of his eye.
“I’m not staying,” Liam cuts Scott off instantly, shoulders squaring and nostrils flaring; daring Scott to argue.
Which of course Scott does: “Liam, you can’t come. You and Mason and Corey still have the rest of senior year to get through.”
“Yeah, of course,” Liam snaps back, “Because graduating is so much more important than hunting down the genocidal mass-murderer who just tried to kill us all.”
What he means is: the genocidal mass-murderer who killed Brett and Lori. Theo knows Liam cares about the other supernaturals murdered during Monroe’s brief—if not brief enough—reign of terror, and he knows that Liam cares about all the hypothetical supernaturals that might become Monroe’s next Brett and Lori, but. He rolls his shoulders, the scent of Liam’s anger instinctually winching the muscles between his shoulder-blades tight; Liam’s eyes immediately snap to his at the movement and Theo meets them without thought, looks back for the few seconds that Liam holds his gaze before Liam drags his attention back forward, to Scott.
“Graduating is important,” Scott protests, a hint of frustration creeping into his voice, “I know you know that, so don’t—”
“Then I’ll do it after,” Liam interrupts, half-stating, half-bargaining, “I’ll take a semester off. It’s not like Lydia’s mom wouldn’t understand.”
“You know what they say about assuming…” Lydia mutters, quietly but just loudly enough to be heard. She gives everyone a dry look when they glance over at her, her head propped up against the arm of the couch, and raises one slim, unimpressed, and perfectly communicative eyebrow.
Scott looks at Liam and widens his eyes pointedly, gestures in Lydia’s direction, clearly trying to seize on Lydia’s statement as an insurmountable obstacle to Liam’s proffered plan. But Liam’s jaw just tightens, and in the face of his failed compromise, he defaults right back to stubbornness.
“I’m not staying,” He snarls, the barest hint of gold bleeding into his eyes, and Theo has to tense his muscles to keep himself from straightening instinctively, too used to keeping tabs on Liam, at this point; the shift under his skin too used to responding to the shift under Liam’s.
“Liam,” Scott starts to bite out, then visibly stops himself and exhales heavily, “Chris, Malia, Theo, and I are all going. We’re going to find her, between the four of us. We’re going to take care of it.”
“What, like you ‘took care of it’ the first time?” Liam sneers, and Theo feels his spine go rigid in shock, even given his conscious efforts to stop it; can feel the atmosphere in the room snap taut as everyone else’s does, too. When he looks over at Liam, his expression is fierce, unapologetic; his scent is less so but that matters less than his words, and they all know it.
Dragging his gaze away from Liam, Theo looks at Scott, expecting to find him staring at Liam, except that Scott is staring at him, searching Theo’s face intently. Theo recoils some in surprise, though his eyes narrow in the next second. Scott’s expression spasms, too quick for Theo to identify what it is but slow enough for him to identify what it isn’t; it isn’t embarrassed, or caught. Scott turns back to Liam but Theo doesn’t, just keeps studying the side of Scott’s face, the muscle jumping in the corner of his clenched jaw.
At least he does until Mason suddenly finds his voice, says, “C’mon, Liam, that isn’t fair,” admonishingly.
Liam turns towards Mason, mouth already half-open in a snarl. Beside Mason, Corey starts to tense, his arms tightening around the throw pillow he’d sat in his lap in an attempt to make more room on the couch, but Scott interjects before the argument—or that argument, at least—can escalate further.
“It’s fine, Mason,” Scott tells him gently, gratitude warm in his voice. It isn’t fine and that’s something else that they all know, but Scott keeps going before anyone can try and force the issue, just refocuses on Liam—who’d refocused on him—and starts to say, “Look, school isn’t the only reason we need you here—,” clearly trying to change tactics, but Liam isn’t having any of that either.
“Don’t try and tell me that you need me here to protect the town,” Liam warns him sharply, one hand cutting through the air in front of him like he was physically cutting through Scott’s argument.
“We do need you—” Scott replies, voice starting to rise, his pulse—which had been admirably steady—rising with it.
“No, you don’t,” Liam interrupts forcefully and just as loudly, then again when Scott’s expression twists with frustration and Scott goes to open his mouth, “ No, you don’t. Derek is staying and so is Parrish, and without the Anuk-ite, Monroe doesn’t have the rest of her army—”
He spits the last word with enough vitriol that Theo has to fight down the urge to react again, his mind automatically click-click-clicking through all the times the last few days that he’s seen Liam’s eyes catch on one of Monroe’s former followers at Raley’s grocery store, or the coffee shop near the school; all the times that he’s had to clench a hand on Liam’s arm or knock him purposefully with his shoulder, say something smug and biting and guaranteed to get a reaction: all the times he’s had to draw Liam’s flickering-gold gaze away.
“—so between the two of them and the rest of the BHPD, coming back here would be suicide, and she knows it,” Liam concludes, glaring at Scott in open challenge.
Scott’s eyes flick to the Sheriff, clearly looking for an ally, but the Sheriff just grimaces, shakes his head slightly. The movement means, he’s right, means, I wish I could tell you what you want to hear, but ultimately it means that the Sheriff can’t. Scott stares at him, brows pulled together, and Theo can practically see him cycling through other options, arguments; can see him realizing that he has none left. Liam hadn’t been persuaded by the need to graduate and he hadn’t bought what Scott had probably thought was going to be his trump card when Liam had snarled don’t try to tell me that you need me here to protect the town, and there were other cases Scott could try to make, but they’d be equally useless. Theo watches all these thoughts cross Scott’s face and then he watches as Scott closes his eyes and sucks in a long, deep breath through his nose.
Don’t do it, Theo finds himself thinking, though he isn’t even sure what he’s silently trying to warn Scott against, just stares at the side of Scott’s too-calm face intently and thinks again: don’t do it. Except even as he thinks it the second time he can feel the muscles in his back stiffening, catches Derek’s, Malia’s, and Corey’s shoulders going tight, too, Malia’s and Corey’s expressions going a little hunted and Derek’s a little resigned. Suspicion starting to curdle in his gut, Theo fights his own shying instincts and runs his gaze quickly over the rest of the room, sees that even the humans have tensed, though they probably don’t know why, and realizes what’s happening a split-second before Scott’s eyes open alpha-red.
Theo nearly concusses himself trying to further lower his already-low head, still braced on his forearms braced on the chair, the involuntary movement snapping his teeth together hard enough to make his ears ring. Across from him on the couch Malia’s and Derek’s eyes have gone blue, their heads tilted down and away from Scott, and Theo realizes dazedly that his own eyes must have flared. That Liam’s eyes—Liam hunched in on himself still stood across from Scott, Theo barely able to see him out of the corner of his eye, his neck straining as his conscious mind tries to turn it and his instincts keep it glued forward, towards Scott—must have flared, too. Fuck, Theo snarls in silent frustration, Scott’s alpha authority weighing on him like an actual, physical presence, and grits his teeth.
“Liam,” Scott murmurs, and Theo wonders if anyone else can hear the quiet, almost definitely involuntary noise Liam makes, the sound half a whimper. Theo’s hands spasm where they’re frozen against the chair back, pressure at their tips like his claws are trying to lengthen, and Theo finds himself staring horrified at Scott when Scott’s eyes snap to his, the pressure already heavy on the back of his neck getting heavier. Scott studies him for a few seconds, and then he turns his red-eyed gaze back to Liam, and Theo has to swallow down his own relieved sound, the taste in his mouth gone metallic with adrenaline.
But even with the force of Scott’s alpha presence, which Theo knows has to be ten times worse for Liam—ten times worse for an actual member of Scott’s pack, for the only beta that Scott himself had ever bitten—Liam still manages to speak before Scott can continue.
His voice wavers, and cracks, but Theo can hear the steel woven through his words when Liam repeats, “I’m not staying. And if you—if you try and order me to—” Liam continues, his voice getting stronger as he goes; strong enough that Theo finds it cutting through some of the weight holding his head down, “—I’ll find a way to follow you, or just go after her alone.”
By the time he’s finished speaking, Theo finds he can raise his head—Scott’s concentration lapsing in surprise, maybe—and so he does, stares at Liam. He doesn’t look as defiant as he had before Scott had given up on negotiation and switched to command, his shoulders hunched up and his expression shaky, sweat at his hairline and at his temples, but his fists are clenched and he looks resolute. Theo watches him and thinks immovable object, darts a look at Scott and finds himself holding his breath and wondering how much of an unstoppable force Scott is prepared to be.
He must not be the only one wondering, either, because from the pin-drop silence of the room, the house, everyone else is holding their breath, too. But Scott—is Scott, and after a few long— long—seconds of studying Liam, of searching his cracked-open expression, he closes his eyes again. When they open back up the next instant, they’re back to their human brown, steady and level and heavy at the corners.
“Okay, Liam,” He agrees—gives in, surrenders—quietly, “Okay.”
Theo heaves out his huge, held breath as the weight disappears from the back of his neck and he straightens immediately, his arms dropping off the back of the chair and his shoulders rolling as he moves, suddenly desperate to shake off the overwhelming feeling of Scott’s alpha authority. Scattered around the rest of the room everyone else is shifting, too, Malia tossing her head roughly and Corey’s white-knuckled fingers loosening around the pillow, Derek’s head coming up with a quiet exhalation and all the humans blowing out their own held breaths.
But Theo barely notices them, attention caught and held by the unsteady gasp Liam gives as his shoulders slump, his head falling down loose on a suddenly-boneless neck. He’s got his eyes squeezed shut when Theo’s gaze snaps over to him at the sound, his mouth open as he pants for air, and Theo nearly stands before his better sense kicks back in and drops his ass right back down. The movement causes his chair to skid on the wooden floor with a muted screech, but everyone else must still be digging themselves out from underneath the just-broken heavy atmosphere because Liam is the only one who jerks at the noise, his eyes wide and his expression blown open when he looks over at Theo, their eyes locking.
They’re both startled out of their unintentional staring contest a few beats later when Ms. McCall murmurs Liam’s name gently, says when both he and Theo—and everyone else, for that matter—look over at her, “I’m not trying to argue, but have you thought about how you’re going to explain your absence to your parents?”
Liam immediately blanches, his scent dropping like a stone; Theo accidentally catches a lungful of it on his next inhale and feels his own pulse shoot up, Liam’s sudden flood of anxiety cramping his own chest. Grimacing, Theo glances back over at Liam from Ms. McCall and sees him staring at her, his mouth opening and closing silently as it hits him, apparently for the first time, what the collateral consequences of his insistence on joining the hunt for Monroe might be.
Luckily Scott interrupts Liam’s clearly panicked, looping thought process when he says, “The truth. Tell them the truth,” and gives Liam a small, sympathetic smile when Liam’s wide-eyed gaze snaps to his, adds gently, “I’ll go with you, help you.”
“I’ll go, too,” Ms. McCall offers, mirroring her son’s smile when Liam looks at her, “I’ll need to get their sizes anyway for their Parents of Supernaturals Club shirts, now that they’ll be joining.”
The attempted humor pulls a short, hiccuping laugh out of Liam, strained as it is, his scent briefly leveling off before tanking right back down. Human nose notwithstanding Ms. McCall must sense it, because she mutters aw, kid, and stands from where she’d been curled up in one of the loveseats, pulls Liam—who resists for half a second before abruptly changing course and surging into her—into a hug, rests one cheek against the top of his head. Theo jerks his gaze away from them quickly, feeling weirdly voyeuristic as Liam wraps his arms around her in return, buries his face against her shoulder.
“I’ll go as well,” The Sheriff announces, and groans as he leans back in the chair that he’d retrieved, like Theo, from the dining room table. He stretches out his legs and crosses his arms, gives the room a wry grin when everyone looks over at him, “One parent earnestly describing the supernatural world might be an accident, two—and the Sheriff—is more likely to be confirmation.”
Scott smiles thankfully, nods in acknowledgement, but Liam doesn’t respond, his face still hidden in Ms. McCall’s shoulder. Grimacing down at the top of his head, Ms. McCall keeps stroking her fingers across his back and asks Liam, “When did you want to do this?”
But it’s Scott who absently answers, the heels of his hands now rubbing roughly over his face and blocking his view of his mom’s intended question recipient, “Tomorrow, maybe. We still have a few days before—”
“Tonight,” Liam interrupts abruptly, his head jerking up and swiveling around to look at Scott, terror and anxiety writ plain across his face, “Please.”
Scott blinks at him for a moment but then—after quickly glancing at his mom and the Sheriff—nods with another of those small, soft smiles. His agreement acts as an immediate, undiscussed signal and the rest of the pack start to stand, shake out their sitting-stiff limbs, check with each other about who needs rides where; pack meeting over. Malia wanders over to Scott and bumps against his side, keys in hand, while Stiles—ever the contrarian—leans back further against the couch and begins nudging Derek, who’d stood up, repeatedly with a socked foot, Lydia pressed up harder against his side as a result and rolling her eyes. Jackets already on, Mason and Corey spend a minute checking in with Liam—who’d stepped out of Ms. McCall’s arms after giving her a wobbly, grateful smile—and then head out with a wave and a chorus of goodbyes after Liam assures them, sounding at least seventy-percent believable, that he’s fine; that he’s going to be fine.
Theo for his part just folds his arms back over the back of the chair, sinks back down and digs his chin back into his forearms, trying to see if he can turn the proverb out of sight, out of mind into truth; his eyes flick to Argent talking with Scott, flick away. His chest is still tight, Liam’s roiling scent still burning in his nose, but he ignores his urge to look at Liam, keeps his eyes glued to the join of the wall and floor opposite him and waits for an opportunity to slip upstairs to the guest bedroom where he’d been staying since the showdown at the hospital and school.
He’s focused enough on sensing the right moment that Scott calling Theo startles him, his head snapping up to stare at Scott, wide-eyed. Scott, stood by the garage door with Liam, Ms. McCall, and the Sheriff, jerks his chin towards the door in a clear instruction and says, “C’mon, come with us.”
He says it gently but also implacably, no room for argument. Theo stares at him, brow furrowing in confusion, but Scott just looks levelly back at him, doesn’t offer any further explanation. What the hell, Theo thinks, mind whirring through possible reasons Scott could want him to come, but as he’s pulling up and discarding them he ends up looking at Liam, finds Liam looking back at him; when their eyes meet Liam gives him an unsteady half-smile, and Theo swallows, starts to push himself up from his chair. Then he remembers and freezes, darts a wary glance at Argent.
Argent’s eyes are narrow and his jaw is working unhappily, but after a moment he nods once, sharply. Theo’s about to look away, finish standing, thinking gift horses, when Argent makes a small movement with his crossed arms, purposefully drawing Theo’s attention back to him—and doing so without alerting anyone else to that fact—and waits until Theo has refocused on him to mouth you stay with the Sheriff. The or else is unspoken but perfectly implied, and Theo feels his teeth grit and his nostrils flare as he drags his gaze up from Argent’s lips to his eyes, stares back at him.
“Right,” Theo tells Scott after a long, stretched second, and pushes himself the rest of the way to his feet.
“Well, that...explains some things,” Mrs. Geyer says blankly an hour later, after a combination of Liam, Scott, Ms. McCall, and the Sheriff have tag-teamed as good of an introduction to the supernatural world—and Liam’s place in it—as they can.
She’s staring at Liam’s shifted face, at his glowing eyes and pointed ears; at the sharp fangs showing behind Liam’s parted lips and his clawed hands dangling by his sides. From his place leaned back against the wall Theo watches her watch her son, feels a burn on the side of his face that means Scott is back to watching him, fights the urge to look over at Scott. It hadn’t done him any good the last three times he’d caught Scott doing it, Scott merely meeting his eyes thoughtfully before looking back at Liam, or rejoining the conversation, and Theo is positive it won’t do him any good this time, either. Instead he shifts to loosen up his tense back muscles, refocuses on his senses split between Liam and his parents.
Liam still reeks like a nervous wreck and his racing heartbeat keeps trying to drive up Theo’s own, but while his parents’ scents had initially gone from wordlessly bemused as Liam had dragged them over to sit on the couch, to wordlessly stunned after Liam and the others had gotten into the meat of their explanation, the one thing Theo can’t smell from them is fear. Theo isn’t sure Liam can smell its absence—thinks he probably wouldn’t trust it even if he could—but the few times that Liam’s scent and pulse had spiked—and the few times that Theo had zeroed in on him, had slowed his own breathing, forcibly calming his own heartbeat—Liam had settled quickly. Now, as Liam lets the shift fade from his face and hands, both his scent and pulse calm further, and this time—Liam darting disbelieving glances at his parents from underneath his ducked brow—stay calm.
“That explains a lot of things,” Dr. Geyer agrees, and gives Ms. McCall a glare that’s eighty percent playful and twenty percent professionally annoyed, probably remembering all those times that Liam or Scott or some other Beacon Hills supernatural would be wheeled into Beacon Memorial only to walk out shortly afterwards having experienced a medically miraculous recovery. Ms. McCall tries and mostly fails to smother a laugh, her mouth splitting in a wide grin, while beside her the Sheriff just raises his eyebrows and makes a face: welcome to the insanity.
Mrs. Geyer gives them all an absent smile, but her attention drifts almost immediately back to Scott, who straightens some under the scrutiny. She smiles absently at him, too, but the smile fades soon after as she runs her eyes over Scott’s—currently human—features. Theo doesn’t know what she’s looking for and apparently neither does Scott, because his scent starts to sour slightly as the silence drags.
“So you’re a special kind of werewolf—an alpha,” Mrs. Geyer confirms slowly, and Scott nods, a little warily as he—and everyone else in the room, including Liam—waits for the other shoe to drop, “And Liam is a werewolf because you bit him.”
Scott recoils slightly, eyes going wide, but before he—or his mother, her mouth already opening, her gaze on her son’s surprised expression—can say anything, Liam blurts out, “To save my life. Scott bit me to save my life.” He says it a shade too loudly and in a tone that’s pitched a little high with sudden alarm, but he says it firmly, and his voice is even stronger when he adds, “I’d be dead if he hadn’t.”
He gives Scott a wobbly smile when he’s done that Scott returns, Scott’s scent clearing as he does. The sight of them grinning dopily at each other is pretty par for the course but Theo still has to swallow down a snort, glance away from them. Then Mrs. Geyer takes in a quick breath—preparing to speak—and he flicks his eyes back over to her.
“In that case—thank you, Scott, for saving my son’s life,” Mrs. Geyer tells Scott warmly, and this time when she smiles at him there isn’t anything absent about it at all.
Scott blinks, just as thrown as before, if in a different direction, and even if Theo couldn’t sense the sudden heat to Scott’s skin, he’d be able to see it as Scott colors. His blush deepens as Dr. Geyer echoes his wife’s thanks, and then—Theo unable to stop himself this time from rolling his eyes and huffing out a low breath—Scott brings one hand up and scratches awkwardly at the back of his neck, says you’re welcome, sincerely but clearly with no idea how to gracefully accept their gratitude. It almost seems to help, though, Scott’s honest if unsophisticated demeanor dispelling some illusion of werewolf mythos, maybe; the last of whatever tension had been in the room cracks and disappears.
Or it does until Mrs. Geyer looks back at Liam and asks, “Can I see, again?,” and Liam’s pulse shoots through the roof while his scent heads the opposite direction and tanks with anxiety.
Theo goes rigid before he can help it, eyes flying to Liam and fixing there; his sudden interest must alert the others because they all look at him and then, when they realize where he’s staring, at Liam. Scott’s the only one who doesn’t follow suit, his eyes still on Theo and searching his face. This time Theo is about to snarl what, consequences and his poor chances of getting an answer notwithstanding, but he hears Liam draw in a shaky breath and his gaze jerks immediately back to him.
“Okay,” Liam agrees quietly, and shifts.
Dr. Geyer stays where he is, his attention flicking between his wife and his son, but Mrs. Geyer unfolds herself from the couch, comes forward.
“Can I?” She asks once she’s stopped in front of him, fingers outstretched to take hold of one of Liam’s hands, and Liam nods after a brief hesitation; he doesn’t offer his hand forward or otherwise move—and Theo can practically see his muscles trembling with tension—but he lets her carefully cup one of his clawed hands between her palms, pull it up between them.
Theo can’t—won’t—look away, but out of the corner of his eye he can see Ms. McCall glance at Scott, at the Sheriff. If Scott glances at him Theo doesn’t notice, his attention riveted on the way that Mrs. Geyer is slowly running the pad of one finger over the curve of one of Liam’s deadly claws.
She does it to each claw on the hand she’d retrieved, and then she slowly lowers it back down to Liam’s side. For a moment Theo wonders if that’s going to be the end of it, but then realizes that the reason Mrs. Geyer had paused was to check for permission again, her head ducking low to search Liam’s helplessly downcast face. When he gives a shaky nod she reaches up with one hand, runs her fingers over the tip of his pointed ear, tugs lightly on Liam’s ridiculous shifted sideburns to go with his ridiculous hair; presses her thumb to the corner of his lips and the fangs just behind them.
“Yep, that’s what I thought,” She tells Liam after she’s finished her seeming inspection, and brings her other hand up to cradle his face between her palms, “Still my son, just a little bit...furrier.”
Theo has to immediately jerk his gaze away, both because seeing Liam’s face crumple in shock and gratitude before he surges—still shifted—against her, his clawed fingers curled protectively against his palms as they wrap around her and his still-fanged face buried against her shoulder, does something to his chest, and because a low hollow opens up in his gut at the sight. Even still he catches a lungful of Liam’s scent gone soaked through with raw, stunned joy, which only further snarls up the mess inside his ribcage and Theo grimaces, brings a hand up and rubs at his sternum. Then he remembers whose heart is beating underneath it and drops it away like he’s been burned.
A half second later he jerks hard enough to crack his shoulders back against the wall behind him when Mrs. Geyer suddenly asks, several feet closer to him than he remembers her being, “You okay?”
Theo looks at her a little wildly, his eyes flicking immediately, automatically over her shoulder to where Dr. Geyer is now hugging his son, Liam’s still-shifted face pressed against his collarbone. As Theo looks Liam gives a wet-sounding laugh at whatever his dad is whispering in his ear, his clawed hands—still curled in careful fists—tightening around Dr. Geyer’s back.
“Theo?” Mrs. Geyer presses gently, and Theo’s gaze snaps back to her, “It is Theo, right?”
“Yeah,” Theo replies reflexively, rotely. Behind Mrs. Geyer, Scott, Ms. McCall, and the Sheriff have all started paying attention to them, and Theo barely manages to keep the sudden spike of panic that bolts through him from his face, “Yeah. It’s—it’s Theo.”
Mrs. Geyer smiles gently at him, a soothing-a-wild-animal smile, and Theo grits his teeth, forcibly pulls his frayed thoughts back together. He’s almost managed it, too, long hard years of brutal habits kicking in, except then Mrs. Geyer frowns thoughtfully between him, and Liam, and Scott, and she asks, “So did Scott bite you too, then?”
Theo realizes instantly that she’s asking for the same reason that he himself had stared at Scott earlier in the McCall kitchen and wondered what the hell: she’s wondering what he’s doing here, since he hadn’t said a word throughout Liam’s and the others’ explanation. If Scott had bit Theo then that’d be a straightforward reason: Theo would be here because he’s a member of Scott’s pack, a concept which Mrs. Geyer had learned about only twenty minutes ago but seems fully prepared to embrace with all the determination of a mother that loves her son, unconditionally and without regard to supernatural bite wounds or completely upended world views.
But that’s not why Theo’s here. Theo doesn’t know why he’s here, and for a wild second Theo considers telling her that. He looks at her and sees Scott over one of her shoulders, Liam over the other, and imagines saying I don’t know why I’m here. He’d come because Scott had told him to and he didn’t argue because Liam had given him that wobbly half-smile, but Argent nearly hadn’t let him out of the McCall house because one time he’d convinced Liam to try and kill Scott, and when that hadn’t worked had killed Scott himself.
But he can’t tell her any of that, so instead he just answers the question that he can answer, says, “No, I—I’m not a werewolf.”
He’s already preemptively tensing because telling her what he isn’t just raises the question of what he is, and that’s a conversation that he has no desire to have, but Liam unexpectedly comes to his rescue.
“He’s a chimera,” Liam tells his mom simply, easily, the shift faded from his face and hands and his eyes steady on Theo’s face. The way he says it there’s no shade of hidden context, no hint of what a chimera is, or how one is made; he says it the same way he and Scott had said werewolf, exactly how Ms. McCall had said werecoyote and the Sheriff had said banshee: just another type of supernatural creature, “He’s half-werewolf, half-coyote.”
“Oh,” Mrs. Geyer says gamely, and then immediately and without looking reaches back to smack her husband in the chest with the back of her hand, tells him, “No,” and only then looks back to give him a dry, knowing look.
Theo’s completely out at sea until he switches his gaze from Mrs. Geyer to Dr. Geyer and sees the expression on his face, medical professional curiosity writ plain across it. Maybe chimeras were just another type of supernatural creature but for someone with the wall of degrees that Liam’s dad has, the name alone would raise all sorts of interesting potential implications. Dr. Geyer blinks, and then laughs, curiosity fading, and catches his wife’s hand, uses it to pull her into him, kisses her cheek. His other hand is still resting on Liam’s arm and Theo has to swallow at the unbroken chain of them, the touch-completed circuit they form. Liam frowns and tries to catch his eyes but Theo just ducks his head, looks away.
“We should get going, huh, Scott?” Ms. McCall suddenly announces, and raises her eyebrows pointedly at Scott when he looks over at her, brow furrowing.
“Oh! Yeah, we should,” Scott exclaims when he catches on, and turns back to the Geyers and Liam with a wide smile, “Liam, let me know if you—need anything.”
He’d started strong with the first part but finishes awkwardly with the second, because no matter how innocuously he’d tried to make that offer, Scott can’t lie for shit, and now everyone in the room knows—including Dr. and Mrs. Geyer, who’d been the only two who hadn’t already—that Liam has something else to talk with his parents about. The something else is the fact that in a few short days Liam will be leaving to go hunt down a genocidal mass-murdering werewolf hunter and it isn’t going to be a comfortable discussion.
Originally Scott had thought he was going to be staying for that conversation, right up until the point when Ms. McCall had jerked him to a stop in the Geyers’ driveway and glared at him until Scott had focused on her. You can’t be there when he tells them, she’d told him bluntly, and had spoken over Scott’s baffled reply when she’d added, if you’re there, they’re going to think he’s going because you’re making him. Scott had immediately muttered clearly I can’t make Liam do anything, but had yelped and agreed when Ms. McCall had reached over and smacked him. Ten feet behind them and walking next to Liam, Theo had heard them, but Liam had been too distracted, too tense; Scott had had to stop him—Ms. McCall, the Sheriff, and Theo continuing to head for the Geyers’ front door—and tell him.
Now Liam just looks at Scott, nods sharply. If he’s a little more pale than usual no one comments on it, Ms. McCall and the Sheriff beginning that awkward-but-necessary goodbye dance with the Geyers, all polite pleasantries until the true absurdity of what they’re doing seems to hit them, and they all stop at once. They all break into helpless laughter after that, Scott and Liam joining in and the leftover tension in the room dissipating. The goodbyes are easier, after that, less stilted, and they divide into two groups: Liam and his parents staying put, Scott, Ms. McCall, and the Sheriff heading for the front door.
Theo darts one last look at Liam as he straightens off the wall, preparing to follow Scott, sees him looking back and wonders, for a moment, at Liam’s furrowed brow. But he can hear the front door opening and so he grimaces, pushes off the wall and goes to catch up with Scott and the others.
Outside Scott is walking backwards and talking animatedly with his mom, with the Sheriff, practically bouncing on his toes. As far as Theo could tell Scott hadn’t been hoping for disaster, but experience had taught him to expect it, and that Liam’s reveal had gone better than anyone could have anticipated is clearly buoying his spirits. Theo’s willing to bet that part of it is genuine joy on Liam’s behalf—on his beta’s behalf—but the other part of it is satisfaction: the relief of having done this one thing right. Scott had told Liam to tell the truth minutes after he’d tried to leverage his alpha authority over Liam to make him do something that Liam didn’t want to do, and the former didn’t necessarily make up for the latter, but Theo thinks Scott is probably doing some sort of accounting in his head.
The thought of accounting—of scoresheets, of balance-keeping—does something complicated to Theo’s chest and he stops, reflexively and without his brain’s conscious input. Halfway down the Geyers’ driveway he stops and finds himself digging with one fist at his sternum; at the heart, not his own, underneath.
“Scott,” Theo says, suddenly.
He doesn’t say it loudly or with any particular emphasis but Scott stops immediately. He stumbles a bit as he does it, momentum interrupted, but recovers quickly and gives Theo his attention, smiles bright and wide at him, still riding high on the last hour. Behind him the Sheriff pauses, too, his expression creased and content but ready and willing to slide into crime-scene-wariness, and Theo flinches, sees Argent mouth you stay with the Sheriff again but shoves the memory away.
“Can I meet you back at the house?” Theo asks.
He hadn’t meant to make it a question; he’d meant to say I’ll meet you back at the house, but. When he looks up from where he’d unconsciously lowered his head to watch the heel of his palm rub at his chest, Scott is frowning at him, nose in the air. Scott isn’t Derek, who’d learned from birth how to catalogue emotions by their scents, and he isn’t Malia, who’d spent half her life growing up wild even if she still had trouble translating from coyote to human, but he’s learned, over time, and more importantly: he pays attention.
“Everything’s fine,” Theo interrupts him before Scott can pose the question, “I just...I haven’t been able to run since—since everything.”
He puts a special amount of emphasis on run and winces, only half theatrically, when he says everything, and sees the moment Scott gets it. Probably Scott’s drawing some kind of connection between what just happened with Liam being accepted as what he is, and Theo doesn’t disabuse him of the notion. It might even be partially true. But if it is, it isn’t anymore than partially, and Theo feels a knot of tension in his gut unwind when Scott gives him a quick smile and nods without further inquiry.
“I bet Liam and his parents wouldn’t mind if you borrowed their backyard to shift in,” Scott points out, “That way I can take your clothes, leave them on the back porch for you. I’ll leave the backdoor unlocked.”
“That’d be great,” Theo tells him, and ignores the way that a muscle in the Sheriff’s jaw has started jumping, “Thanks, Scott.”
Even though it’s maybe only the fourth or fifth time Theo has been to it, Theo finds the bridge where he’d stood and watched Tara die effortlessly.
The first time he’d been to it had been for—obvious reasons, the second with the police. The other times he’d come for theatrics, like that night when Stiles and Liam had followed him, back when Stiles had been the only one smart enough and suspicious enough to see through Theo’s lost little werewolf act. This time he pads slowly onto the old and weather-beaten wood, the boards creaking as he sets one paw and then another down, though they go silent when he stops, stood on all fours with his fur rustling in the light breeze, and stares down at the sluggishly rushing water.
Earlier with Scott he’d chosen his words carefully and his implication that he hadn’t been able to fully shift in some time had been purposeful. It’d been the cleanest way he could come up with to explain his sudden desire to disappear for a few hours in the thirty seconds between the urge to come here striking him and him saying Scott’s name, and so he’d gone with it, but he’s—glad now. A little relieved. Werewolves are werewolves no matter what form they take, but it’s a little—easier, like this. Seems a little more clear-cut without a human brain to overthink all the human baggage stuffed inside of it.
It shouldn’t be easy, Theo finds himself thinking, the voice in his head half a snarl, and he gives a lupine whine before he can help it, has taken two steps back from the railing before he can stop himself. It blocks his view of the water somewhat and that helps for a split-second before it doesn’t, and this time when Theo snarls at himself it isn’t accidental. Forcing himself back forward, he stares at the night-black water for a few seconds and then snaps his teeth, annoyed with himself. He hesitates a moment longer, and then he crosses over the rest of the bridge to the other side, where the shore leading down to the creek is steeper, but lined with large, flat-sided rocks.
The stones wobble under his paws as he steps out onto them but having four legs instead of two acts as his saving grace, his body automatically shifting to counterbalance itself as he carefully picks his way down to the water. He can feel the chill of it even from a few feet away, the prick of it against his pelt getting sharper as he gets closer and closer to the edge. This is unforgivably stupid, Theo informs himself; the chances of the water being cold enough, even in late fall, to pose a danger to him in his full-shift form is low, but it isn’t exactly none. Theo keeps going anyway.
He can see himself in the reflection of the water when he peers out into it, and that seems both unforgivably insulting and like a lie besides, gold-flared eyes peering back at him that should be blue, that would be blue if it weren’t for the Doctors perverting the rightful way of things, and so Theo reaches a paw forward, slaps at the water to disrupt it. The cold is a shock even though he was expecting it and he bites back a yelp and withdraws, then hesitates, paw still upraised.
Completely, unforgivably stupid, he thinks again, but it—doesn’t stop him.
The splash he makes when he half-dives, half-jumps into the water echoes throughout the forest but Theo barely notices it, his system briefly seizing at the sharp bite of the water, even through his fur. Tara had only been three-quarters submerged, her feet firmly on the ground if too quickly hypothermic to do her any good, but she’d been human and taller than him, besides; Theo scrabbles for the bed of the creek with his hind legs but can’t find it, his claws raking through the silt and mud but not sticking. His front legs don’t do him much good, either, his paws pulling at the rocks along the shore but not doing much more than sending them tumbling into the water with him like miniature, self-contained rockslides.
Shit, fuck, Theo thinks frantically. The water is too high for him to put all fours on the creek bed and he realizes quickly that he isn’t going to be able to pull himself back onto the steep, rocky shore with his full-shift front legs, and that—leaves only one thing. Calling himself every possible name in the book, Theo braces himself and shifts back.
“Fuck,” He shouts as the cold hits his human skin, immediately freezes his lungs.
As a human he can stand, the water barely up to his chest, his feet finally catching on the shifting mud of the creek bed. He can feel stones digging into the soles of his feet as he does it, as he forces himself—teeth chattering and fingers and limbs feeling clumsy with cold—to grab for the rocks on the shore, start hauling himself up and out of the water. Once he’s managed to scramble up to the top he immediately flops naked onto his back, stares panting up at what he can see of the sky through the trees.
“That was possibly the stupidest thing you’ve ever done,” He tells himself, his syllables harsh and bitten-off as his teeth chatter and his body shivers violently. It’s a pretty big accomplishment considering that he’s done a lot of stupid things, but those other things had points, were means justified by certain ends, even as completely fucked-up as those ends had been, but jumping into the freezing cold creek where he’d watched his sister die was just—Theo doesn’t know what it was.
He shifts back to his full-shift form quickly, desperate for the warmth of his pelt and his increased healing. Even still he heads—limbs still jumping and wracked with shudders—for the shelter of the roots of a nearby tree, curls up underneath them and the small ridge they form to stay out of the breeze until his shivering stops.
When he gets back to the McCall house an hour later, fur dry but still feeling his muscles occasionally ripple with the memory of phantom cold, Scott has indeed left his clothes folded and piled on one of the deck chairs on the McCall’s back porch. Theo shifts and pulls them on quickly, grabs his shoes instead of putting them on and slides open the sliding glass door, slips in as silently as he can. The house is dark and Theo breathes a sigh of relief, heads for the stairs.
Except when he rounds the corner into the hallway on the second floor, Argent is leaned inside the doorway of Ms. McCall’s bedroom and backlit by the light coming in through her windows, his arms crossed. Theo startles backwards, badly, and wonders where in the hell his senses are, why they hadn’t caught Argent’s obviously awake heartbeat, the bitter edge of the displeasure in his scent.
Stood frozen and harshly breathing by the top of the stairs, one hand still holding his shoes and the other where it landed against the corner of the wall to catch himself, Theo stares at Argent staring at him and waits. Theo isn’t sure exactly what conversations Argent has or hasn’t had with Scott about Theo’s situation but he’s also not naive enough to think Argent wouldn’t choose to beg forgiveness rather than ask permission if he thought it was in the best interest of the McCall pack. Swallowing, Theo realizes he has no idea what to say in his own defense and eventually settles on nothing; decides nothing is the most likely to not dig him any further into the hole he’s already in.
But as the silence drags, as Argent studies Theo’s face—whatever it’s doing, because Theo may not be physically cold anymore but all his thoughts still feel frigid, and fractured, and sharp—something in Argent’s face flickers. The displeasure in his scent stays where it is but falling layered over top of it is something else, something ashy and heavier, slowly burying it. Theo hasn’t recovered enough from his idiotic jaunt in the woods to decipher it and honestly he isn’t sure he could regardless, but for all that the scent of whatever-it-is coats the back of his tongue and throat cloyingly, there’s also—warmth to it, banked liked coals. Some of the hard lump of panic in Theo’s chest starts to melt.
He looks back up at Argent, hadn’t realized that he’d let his gaze drift down to Argent’s chest, to his heart—his heart, the one he’d been born with—beating steadily inside it. When he does he sees the muscle in the corner of Argent’s jaw flicker once as Argent clenches it, and then Argent exhales out a long, slow breath, and jerks his chin wordlessly towards the guest bedroom.
For a second Theo can’t move, shock rooting his feet to the floor, but then his instincts—all those hard-earned habits that let him survive the Dread Doctors; that let him survive the McCall pack, at least for a little while—kick in and he lurches forward, edging past Argent still leaned inside Ms. McCall’s doorway and watching him through narrow eyes. He makes it to the guest bedroom and stops, knows he shouldn’t even as he turns his head to look over his shoulder back at Argent.
Argent meets his eyes briefly, but just briefly, and then he pushes off the doorway and turns, disappears back into Ms. McCall’s bedroom. Swallowing, Theo jerks his head back forward, away from the now-empty space of Ms. McCall’s doorway, and forces himself to walk forward into the guest bedroom even as his ears helplessly catch the sound of Argent climbing back into bed, as he murmurs soft, soothing things to Ms. McCall as she stirs at the movement.
Once inside the guest bedroom Theo drops his shoes and eases the door shut behind himself, leans back against it and puts his hands over his face for the space of a single breath; two. Then he pushes off of it and staggers the three steps forward necessary for his thighs to hit the edge of the bed, lets himself fall down face-first onto it. The springs of the mattress creak a loud and asthmatic protest and Theo winces, swears at himself, but when he stretches out his hearing to check, Scott’s and Ms. McCall’s heartbeats are still sleep-slow, and Argent’s is quickly heading that way. Fuck, Theo thinks, but it’s directionless, tired; it’s just a raw statement of fact.
He doesn’t realize that he’s fallen onto his phone until he feels it digging uncomfortably into his hip, and for a moment he’s too exhausted, too drained—too something—to do anything about it, but then he sighs and rolls over onto his back, reaches down and fishes it from his front pocket. He hadn’t meant to check it, his hand already moving to toss it carelessly onto the nightstand beside the bed, but the movement causes the screen to light up and he sees the notification before he can help it. For a moment he hesitates, his phone held hovering in the air above his head, and then he bites his lip, brings it back down.
Liam’s text when he opens it says thanks for coming tonight and nothing more, and Theo grimaces, locks his phone screen so he doesn’t have to look at it anymore.
Thanks for coming tonight but Theo hadn’t done anything but stand there uselessly, right up until the point where Mrs. Geyer had asked so did Scott bite you, too, and then Theo had nearly cracked open the whole still-festering mess of the Dread Doctors and Theo right there in the Geyer-Dunbar living room. I’m not a werewolf, Theo had said, and it had been—continues to be—true, but it’d also veered dangerously close to forcing Liam to admit—the question what’s a chimera left hanging unanswered in the air between all of them—that he’d brought a spy and a murderer into his parent’s house.
That thought lingers, grows teeth and bites, and Theo reacts before he can stop himself: he unlocks his phone and types back I didn’t even say anything helpful.
He doesn’t realize how late it’s gotten until after he’s already hit send, but it doesn’t matter; even as he’s blinking owlishly at the time in the corner of the screen, the little gray dot-dot-dot of Liam typing pops up below his response. After about fifteen seconds Liam’s reply comes through, and Theo squints at the short missive, curiosity piqued because no way it took Liam that long to type out don’t be a dick.
Theo’s still wondering about that, his thoughts still feeling sluggish and slow but less—barbed now, less sharp, when another text pops up underneath it: Why didn’t you stay?
Stay where? Theo replies immediately. He has a feeling he knows but even still trapped in his head the assumption feels a little dangerous, a little run-through with sparking current; the exact feeling like when Theo had put his hand too close to the electrified fence caging Liam and Hayden in that one time.
At my house, after Scott and his mom and the Sheriff left, Liam answers instantly, and Theo frowns, confused, until Liam adds: I know Scott had to leave because, whatever, his alpha authority. Another few seconds pass and then: But I thought Scott told you to come so that you could stay, help me explain the whole situation with
Theo stares at the end of Liam’s text, that hanging with, jarring in its incompleteness, but even after ten seconds Liam hasn’t completed his sentence and the screen stays blank, no dots to indicate Liam typing. It’s not like Theo needs Liam to clarify who he means but the omission feels oddly significant and Theo, for a split-second—and only a split-second—hovers his right thumb over Liam’s name at the top of the screen where one tap would set Liam’s phone to ringing. Then he pulls it back down and types out: I don’t know why Scott ordered me to come.
It’s the complete and total truth but it still feels meaningless, like a feint or a distraction; like Theo had answered the wrong question, even though he’d answered exactly the one that Liam had asked. Theo stares at his own response and the squirming feeling in his gut gets worse, and worse, and finally he gives into it, gives into the pressure weighing on his tongue, types out: Did you, but then stops.
He doesn’t send it but he doesn’t delete it, either, just leaves it sitting starkly in the message box at the bottom of the screen. Liam doesn’t send anything either and Theo realizes he must be waiting, must be watching the little dots that means Theo is still typing this time, and wavers. But the squirming in his gut hasn’t gone away and the pressure on his tongue is getting worse, not better, so Theo grits his teeth and finishes typing out his question, sends it before he can change his mind.
Did you want me to stay?
It sits there unmoving in the middle of the screen for five seconds, ten, fifteen, and then it jumps up a level as Liam starts typing a response. Theo waits, eyes glued to those infuriatingly innocuous dots, his breathing gone shallow like he’s fighting his own instinct to freeze, but then the dots disappear. The dots disappear and no message takes their place, and Theo frowns, stares at the screen, the twist in his chest getting tighter, and tighter. Then the dots reappear and Theo exhales out his unintentionally held breath, all in a rush, except that they vanish again quickly.
What the hell, Liam, Theo thinks, except there’s no real heat to it. There’s no real heat to it but there is concern, which only deepens as the dots appear and reappear several more times, all without any replies coming through. Theo nearly asks but then stops himself. He really stops himself, purposefully clenching every muscle in his body to keep his thumbs from reaching for the keys, or Liam’s name at the top of the screen lit up like some kind of beacon. But he can still see the screen, the there-and-then-not of Liam typing and then deleting whatever he’d written, again and again, and finally Theo has to lock his phone so that he can’t see it anymore.
Instead he drops his phone onto his chest, right over his sternum—over his sister’s heart—where he’ll feel it vibrate with Liam’s response, whenever it appears, and covers his face with his hands again. It’s something of a mistake though, because they smell like the water of the creek, like the mud that he’d gotten all over his skin as he’d scrambled human-shaped out of the freezing water, and he bites back a hurt noise, squeezes his eyes tightly shut.
But he doesn’t take his hands away from his face.
He wakes up sometime later with a harsh, jagged gasp, his body instinctively jackknifing upright and his fingers scrabbling at his sternum; at the phantom memory of his sister’s hand cracking open his ribs and reclaiming her heart. The movement causes his phone to thump heavily onto his thigh and Theo stares down at it uncomprehendingly, for a moment, and then he remembers. It’d fallen facedown so Theo can’t see the screen, though he can see the muted glow of it against his jeans from where it’d automatically activated. Swallowing, Theo reaches for it, turns it face-up, instead.
There’s nothing, no notifications, just the default wallpaper that the phone had come preprogrammed with and Theo had never changed. The bottom dropping out of his stomach, Theo forces down his disappointment and unlocks it. But there’s nothing in the text thread, not even the dot-dot-dot of Liam still typing and then deleting a response, and Theo closes his eyes and exhales out a harsh breath.
Then he locks his phone and tosses it somewhere onto the bed beside him, lays back down, still in his jeans and jacket; still on top of the covers. He lays back down and rolls over onto his stomach, closes his eyes and brings his hands up to clutch at the pillow beneath his head, digs his fingers into the fabric until he feels it start to pull, start to give, and then he forces himself to breathe out, relax.
Did he want me to stay? Theo wonders hazily, sleep already pulling him back under, but the silence of the house doesn’t answer him, and neither does Liam, Theo’s phone dark and still and silent below him on the bed.
Three days later and Theo is watching Liam climb into the backseat of the Jeep, Malia already in the front seat talking to Scott, who Theo can see turning the key with his face already half a wince.
Scott’s expression of almost comedic surprise when the Jeep’s engine turns over on the first try draws a snort out of Theo and he shakes his head, pushes off the passenger door of Argent’s hulking SUV so that he can open it, haul himself inside. Argent glances at him from the driver’s seat when he does but then turns back to the tablet he’s got balanced on his thigh, the screen open to a satellite map of southern Oregon. Leaving Argent to his last-minute compulsive detail-checking, Theo slumps back in the passenger seat and lets his head fall sideways, finds his eyes drifting thoughtlessly to the side mirror and the miniature versions of Scott and Malia and Liam all talking animatedly inside it.
It isn’t long before Argent finishes whatever he was doing with the map and he locks the tablet, then leans over the back of his seat to tuck it back into his bag in the back. Exhaling out a low, huffed breath, Theo takes it for the signal it is and straightens from his slouch, pulls on his seatbelt as Argent starts the engine, throws it into gear and hits the gas. Scott pulls onto the road behind them, and that’s it, as anticlimactically as possible: the beginning of the hunt for Monroe.
Theo’s just turned his head back forward, eyes squinting against the early-morning sunlight streaming in through the windshield, when Argent says, “Tell me about this pack we’re going to see.”
“Oh, are we pretending that that’s the reason I’m in here, with you?” Theo asks, faux-sweetly, head tipping against the back of his seat to look over at Argent.
“I can multitask,” Argent answers mildly, one hand reaching up to retrieve a set of sunglasses hooked over the sunshade above his head. He flicks them on, then turns just enough that he can look back at Theo, eyebrows rising pointedly over the frames, “The pack, Theo.”
Huffing, Theo crosses his arms, lets his head fall back against his headrest as he closes his eyes and concentrates, pulling up the knowledge from where it’s buried, deep and hazy but there, like all the facts and minutiae that he’d memorized—that he’d had to memorize—during his time with the Doctors. He finds what he’s looking for and slowly opens his eyes, lets the glare of the sun scour away the phantom feeling of the perpetual damp of the Doctors’ various operating theaters on his skin, lets Argent’s coffee in the cup-holder replace the half-rotting smell of them as they’d stood arrayed behind him and demanded, just like Argent had, that Theo tell them about this or that pack.
“The Chemult pack,” Theo tells Argent, and forces his fingers to unclench from around his biceps, can feel the bruises he’d left healing even as he says, “Twenty members strong last I’d heard. One of the oldest and strongest packs in the continental United States, and their alpha can turn into a full-shift wolf the size of a pony, so I’d strongly recommend against fucking with her.”
“And?” Argent presses, when Theo doesn’t automatically continue.
“And,” Theo repeats in an exaggerated drawl, but then he tells him.
In the flesh Ailene Storo gives exactly the impression of someone who can turn into a wolf the size of pony, and while it is overwhelming—Theo can see Liam’s wide eyes in the reflection of the glass door leading out into the auto shop’s lobby, the Chemult pack arrayed around one side of the shop’s bay and the five present members of the McCall-pack-and-Theo around the other—to Theo, at least, it doesn’t feel like a threat so much as a presence; something to take comfort in, or not; depending. Still, Theo stays as far back behind Scott, Argent, Malia, and Liam as he can, his own words of warning to Scott— I’m not a member of your pack and they’re going to know that the second they smell me—echoing in his own head. After Theo had said it Scott had asked does that...matter?, and Theo had stared at him in complete disbelief.
“You know, from all the crazy rumors we’ve heard around what’s been happening in Beacon Hills the last few years—not to mention what that little Hale brat I used to babysit said—I figured you’d be...taller,” Ailene tells Scott after he’s finished introducing himself and Argent, Liam, Malia, and Theo all fanned out behind him.
For a moment Scott doesn’t seem to know how to respond, his mouth falling open in muted surprise, but then he must catch the flicker of the grin on Ailene’s lips, the corners of her eyes crinkling up and the good-natured amusement warming her scent, because he laughs, helplessly. His tightening shoulders reverse direction and he brings a hand up to scratch ruefully at the back of his neck, looks up at her from underneath a ducked brow as he replies, “Yeah, I, uh. I figured I’d be taller, too.”
Ailene laughs at that, loud and delighted, and behind her the rest of her pack loses the last of their tension. Or most of them, do, anyway; Quentin Storo continues to watch Scott silently, his stare just a few degrees from becoming a glower, and watching him, Theo has to force down a flicker of paranoid intuition before he can get his neck to turn to allow him to refocus his gaze on Ailene.
He keeps his other senses on Quentin, though.
“So, uh. Derek said that you’d seen Monroe?” Scott prompts as the last of Ailene’s laughter fades away.
It’s not the most graceful or diplomatic segue but Ailene seems to take it for what it is; seems to take Scott for what he is. Even still some of the amusement slides off her face and she sighs, gestures back to one of her people, who comes forward with a tablet, hands it over. The bay is quiet as she unlocks it and starts flicking through screens, until finally she finds whatever she’s looking for and holds it out to Scott.
“After we got Derek’s message about your renegade hunter, we went through and checked the area. Deputy Carlyle over there—” Apparently-Deputy-Carlyle gives a sloppy salute when Ailene gestures to her, “—found her and some of the people you all had flagged on surveillance footage from a rest stop near Collier State Park.”
Scott takes the tablet and studies it for a moment, then passes it over to Argent, who’d come forward to look at it over at Scott’s shoulder. Catching a glimpse of the screen as it changes hands, Theo can see Monroe, flanked on either side by Rossler and Richmond, all of them in shitty gray-scale but still perfectly recognizable. From the poorly-hidden bulges under the latter two’s jackets they’d been armed, and Theo feels his teeth grit. Then he catches a lungful of bitter scent and his head snaps up.
Except it isn’t Quentin like he’d half-expected, it’s Liam, his focus also on the surveillance footage and his eyes glued to Monroe’s face, his jaw clenching hard enough that the muscles behind his jaw jump and judder in sharp relief. Scott’s distracted but Theo isn’t the only one who notices the sudden burn to Liam’s scent, who seems to realize the potential danger; Theo catches Malia’s eyes as they jerk to his from where she’d been staring at the side of Liam’s face and Theo shakes his head in as subtle a warning as he can. Malia frowns but then her attention flicks away from Theo, out across the bay, to where Quentin’s expression has gone a little sharp, a little sly, his eyes now on Liam instead of Scott.
“When was this?” Argent asks, and Theo barely manages to stop himself from jerking in surprise, his attention drawn instantly back from Quentin to the conversation with Ailene.
“A week ago,” Ailene answers, “But that’s not the biggest problem.” Her lips twist in a grimace and she exhales out a harsh breath through her nose, “With a warning for the graphic content, swipe right.”
Theo drops his attention back to the tablet in Argent’s hands just as Argent does as Ailene instructed. Then he sucks in a sharp, involuntary breath as he sees the picture of the body on the screen, the distended black veins and the mottled red patches of skin. There’s dried spittle flecked around the dead man’s mouth—foam, Theo finds himself thinking instantly, he’d foamed at the mouth—but still it takes Theo a moment to nail down what’s bothering him the most.
There’s something wrong with the man’s eyes, and Theo feels his expression slacken in surprise as he realizes that the man had died with them flared, and in death they hadn’t faded back to human like they usually do. Staring at them, Theo feels the hairs on the back of his neck trying to rise, the emptiness of those blank eyes somehow managing to translate even through the screen.
“That’s not wolfsbane poisoning,” Theo finds himself saying, uneasiness turning the edges of his syllables soft and slow.
When he realizes that he’d spoken aloud he looks up, catches Argent’s narrowing gaze, and fights back a flinch. But after a moment Argent just holds out the tablet towards him, raises his eyebrows when Theo hesitates. Grimacing, Theo takes the few steps forward necessary to put him in reach of the thing and takes it, turns it so that he can get a better look at it. He’s in the middle of flaring his pinched fingers wide over the worst of the visible damage on the man’s upper arm to make the tablet zoom in, when Liam steps close enough to put him just behind Theo’s left elbow as he stares down at the picture, too. But Theo ignores him, focuses on the body.
“This can’t be wolfsbane poisoning,” Theo murmurs as he swipes at the screen to change it’s focus, eyes running over every bit of damage he can see, “Some of the symptoms look similar, but it’s too...aggressive. This is something else.”
“How do you—” Scott starts to ask, and Theo’s head snaps up—as does Argent’s, surprisingly—in clear warning. Meeting Theo’s eyes, Scott seems to realize what hole he’d nearly thrown them all down and cuts himself off abruptly.
Luckily Ailene winds up speaking over him as she also replies to Theo’s statement, “That’s what we concluded, too. Problem is that we’ve got no idea what it is.” Then the quality of her silence shifts, and Theo looks over at her, sees her studying him, a shrewd—and not altogether friendly—sort of curiosity in her eyes, “Sounds like you might have an idea, though.”
Shit, Theo thinks, but clamps down on his pulse before it can spike and alert a room full of werewolves—most of them unknown—to his sudden discomfort. But speaking of holes, he’d already dug himself this one, so he shakes his head, tells her, “Not from this. Not enough of one, anyway.” He hesitates, fingers hovering over the tablet’s screen, then gives in and says, “I’d need to see the body.”
Ailene grimaces and then blows out a frustrated breath, “I’m afraid that’s not possible.” She nods at the tablet in Theo’s hands, explains, “He wasn’t one of ours. Arjun Kshatriyas. He belonged to a pack back east, but the company he worked for has business in the area, he’d been coming to town at least once a month for the last couple of years.” Ailene sighs, and grief sours her scent, “We found him three days ago, and sent his body back home to his pack yesterday.”
Damn it, Theo thinks, and looks back down at the screen; at what looks a hell of a lot like an injection site on the man’s upper arm.
“We can, however—” Ailene starts slowly, and Theo flicks his eyes back up to hers, “—take you to where we found him. Our people couldn’t find anything, but maybe you will.”
Theo nearly drags his gaze to Argent before he stops himself, looks to Scott, instead. The effort’s more than a little wasted, though, since Scott is looking at Argent, and Theo nearly snorts out a humorless laugh before he stops himself from doing that, too.
Argent must nod, or otherwise signal Scott, because in the next instant Scott turns back to Ailene, “That’d be great, if you don’t mind.”
Ailene nods, sharply, and is already half-turned to say something to one of her people behind her when Liam suddenly speaks up. Theo closes his eyes in a brief, preemptive wince.
“What about the surveillance footage?” Liam demands, “If Monroe was at that rest stop, we need to go there, look for—for something. Clues to where she went, or whatever.”
Theo can hear Deputy Carlyle mutter ‘if’? incredulously, but it gets mostly lost underneath Argent turning to Liam and saying, “She was there a week ago, Liam. The chances that we’re going to find anything now are slim to none. Besides—” He adds, turning to check with Ailene as he says it, “I’m betting you and yours gave the place a pretty good run-down.”
Ailene nods affirmatively but Liam’s already talking, again, and his tone isn’t particularly friendly as he replies, “So you didn’t find anything. Like you said, maybe we will.”
Theo’s spine straightens with a snap just as the temperature in the bay drops a few chilling degrees, the members of Ailene’s pack shifting behind her. A handful of the ones that were sitting climb to their feet, and those that were standing all lose their easy postures, their relaxed shoulders. Or all of them do besides Quentin, anyway, who doesn’t just stay seated but leans farther back, a satisfied smirk starting to curl up his lips. Theo feels his already tense muscles tense a little further, catches Argent’s and Malia’s doing the same around him.
But Scott, bless him, just hisses, “Liam,” and then turns to look at Ailene, his embarrassment all over his face, “I’m sorry, that was out of line.”
Theo preemptively flinches but Scott whips his head back around to glare at Liam before Liam can open his mouth, and after a stretched-slow second Liam subsides with a huff, his eyes jerking away from Scott and his arms crossing.
“It’s fine,” Ailene says, and Theo wonders if Scott realizes that Ailene isn’t really talking to him; behind her, her pack relaxes, some, though they don’t completely lose their tension. “He’s right, actually.” Ailene continues, and Theo snaps his attention to her, but she’s looking at Liam, her smile more than a little appraising, “You know this hunter and her people better than we do. Maybe you will find something we missed.”
Practically holding his breath, Theo darts a look at Liam, but releases it as quietly as possible when he sees the look on Liam’s face; a little chagrined, a little embarrassed. Liam tries to return Ailene’s smile and doesn’t manage to pull off more than a half-grimace, but Ailene just lets her own smile soften and turns back to Scott.
“Why don’t we divide and conquer,” Ailene suggests, “Me and my people will take you to the rest stop where Monroe and her two hunters were spotted, and I’ll give the address of where we found Arjun’s body to your...friend, so he can go take a look.”
She looks at Theo as she says the last part and Theo fights to keep his expression neutral, they’re going to know I’m not a member of your pack flashing through his head, but Ailene’s gaze doesn’t linger; she returns her attention to Scott. Then his brow furrows as he catches her wording, and this time can’t stop his eyebrows from rising as he realizes what she just did, the diplomatic sleight-of-hand she just pulled. Giving Theo the address without giving him an escort was a message, partly to the McCall pack but mostly to her people, I’m trusting them and so you will, too, and Theo stares, watches as the last remaining tension still running through the members of the Chemult pack—Quentin notably excepted, his posture still easy as can be—fades.
“I’ll go with Theo, if that’s alright,” Argent suddenly says, and Theo glances over at him in time to see that while he’s ostensibly asking Scott, he’s looking at Ailene.
She gives a nearly imperceptible nod even as Scott replies, “Yeah, that’s probably a good idea. Thanks, Chris.”
“Great,” Ailene says, “Shall we?”
Thirty minutes later, after Theo has shut the passenger side door of Argent’s SUV and slowly approached the grimy glass doors of the abandoned office building they’d been directed to, he carefully reaches out a hand and tries the handle as he asks, “So did you come with me to help or to keep an eye on me?”
They’re locked, as expected, and Theo’s studying the glass panes and trying to decide how likely they are to be alarmed when Argent puts a hand on his shoulder and—mostly gently—encourages him out of the way. Theo steps to the side and raises his eyebrows as Argent crouches down, fingers sliding a slim black leather case out of his pocket as he does. As he pulls out a tension wrench and one of the lock picks from the set, he flashes a look up at Theo and replies, “Like I said, I can—”
“Multitask,” Theo finishes, interrupting, and snorts, “Right.”
Argent gets the door unlocked quickly and pulls it open as he straightens back up, holding it open for Theo. Rolling his eyes, Theo steps past him and into the building, stepping around strewn-and-faded painter’s paper and other piles of abandoned construction supplies. He’s squinting at the faded directory on the lobby’s wall when the door swings shut behind Argent and the afternoon sunlight—already winter weak—fails to do more struggling through the dirty glass than light up the room’s many dust motes floating through the air. Theo just blinks and then opens up flared eyes, but behind him Argent pulls a flashlight from god knows where and clicks it on.
“She said conference room 108, right?” Theo asks, glancing over his shoulder at Argent for confirmation.
He can’t help the way that his expression goes a little judgmental when he sees the gun in Argent’s non-flashlight-holding hand, but Argent just gives him an equally dry look back and answers, “108, yeah.”
Letting the matter drop, Theo tells him, “This way, then,” and starts heading down the lobby’s hallway, past the elevators towards where it splits into two.
He’s just hung a right, his eyes searching for and then quickly reading each of the panels declaring the various rooms’ numbers when Argent suddenly says, “You realize someone’s going to have to talk to Liam.”
“Clearly,” Theo snorts, reading 102, 104. Then he pauses, turns to frown at Argent as Argent—ignoring Theo’s momentarily-halted forward progress—keeps moving right on past him, “Wait. Why are you telling me this?”
This time it’s Argent who looks over his shoulder to give Theo a dry look, and Theo huffs, starts moving again even as he counters, “ Scott’s his alpha. I’m just—”
He cuts off, gagging, when Argent palms open one of the doors to conference room 108. Argent’s head snaps back to stare at him in alarm but Theo can’t do more than flap a hand in his direction to try and indicate the lack of danger, his mouth and nose buried in his other bicep to try and keep out the overwhelming stench of death and rot and sickness that wafts immediately from the room.
“How can you not smell that?” Theo demands incredulously after a few seconds, though he admittedly regrets it when he gets another suffocating mouthful of stench.
Argent loses interest in him quickly once he accepts that Theo’s not in any actual danger, his attention back inside the room as he runs his flashlight—the barrel of his gun following it in lock-step—over the floor and walls.
“Maybe it’s my lack of supernatural senses,” He deadpans, and Theo makes a face at his back, the expression half a sneer even half-smothered in his arm as it is.
He follows Argent into the room though, his arm still held protectively over his face. There’s enough muted sunlight coming in through the grimy windows that he lets the flare of his eyes fade, though Argent keeps his flashlight lit. Letting his eyes fade helps lessen the stench of death and disease, anyway, his sense of smell becoming less sharp in turn as he releases his hold on the partial shift. Still, Theo spares a moment to briefly despair for how long it’s going to take his sense of smell to return to normal, but then he shoves it aside, focuses on the room.
It’s dominated by a single faux-wooden conference table, which had, at one point, been covered in a thin layer of dust before something—something like a convulsing body—had been shoved on top of it. Now the dust is streaked with random and uneven sections of wiped-clean areas, and one end of it is marked with what was clearly a puddle of something and is now a crusty white oval. That’s where his head— where Arjun’s head—must have been, Theo thinks, the correction in the middle unthinking, automatic. He only realizes he’s done it after a few seconds have gone by, and then he straightens some, his arm drifting slowly away from his mouth as he stares at the oval in unseeing surprise.
For his part Argent hadn’t stopped moving, and by the time Theo shakes himself out of his thoughts and refocuses on him, he’s already on the other side of the table and slowly circling it. He keeps running his flashlight-and-gun combo over the dusty and dilapidated chairs as he goes, and that’s the reason that Theo spots the handful of seat cushions missing dust, too; some of Monroe’s hunters had taken a seat to watch the show, apparently. Theo feels his jaw clench.
Once he’s satisfied that the room’s given up the last of its secrets or whatever, Argent stops pacing around and reholsters his gun, then sweeps his flashlight up and over the table, pauses it over the dried white oval of foam. Theo watches the frown on his face deepen and waits, isn’t disappointed when Argent speaks a few moments later.
“Three weeks,” Argent says, “Three weeks since Monroe and her people fled Beacon Hills and we’re all but positive this is the first body she’s dropped. But why here? Why now? And why like this?,” he concludes, nodding at the dried foam still highlighted in the circle of his flashlight.
Maybe Argent had meant his questions rhetorically and maybe he hadn’t, but either way Theo’s been thinking about them, too, and so he murmurs, “Because it’s been three weeks.”
Argent’s attention snaps to him and he studies Theo’s face for a beat. Theo’s about to explain—he hadn’t actually been purposefully going for vague and mysterious—but Argent, unsurprisingly, doesn’t need him to, “You think her followers were what, starting to lose faith?”
“Wouldn’t you?” Theo retorts, “A little over three weeks ago and Monroe and her goons were practically untouchable. They had the whole town. They’d already killed, what, a dozen or so of Beacon Hills’ supernatural citizens? And they’d identified the rest. Except then a bunch of snot-nosed teenagers, led by their do-gooder alpha, ran them out of town with half their numbers and a jar of dirt.”
Theo stops, stares at that innocuous-seeming white oval; at the streaks that Arjun’s shoes had carved through the dust on the table as he’d convulsed. He exhales out heavily.
“They should have been riding high, and instead they’ve been three weeks on the run,” Theo concludes quietly, “I’m willing to bet she had to do something. Faith—even the kind of faith those sadistic fucks like Rossler and Richmond were willing to give her—only gets you so far.”
Argent exhales out just as harsh of a breath, sweeps his gaze around the room, his eyes lingering briefly on the dustless chairs Theo had noticed earlier.
“So this was opportunistic,” Argent decides, “Gerard would have taught her to recognize lone wolves.” Argent must anticipate Theo’s question because he quickly adds, “It doesn’t matter that he was part of a pack on the east coast. Out here, he was alone.”
Except then Argent huffs out a jagged, frustrated breath, shakes his head roughly.
“But that still doesn’t explain the method of death. The—whatever it was. The poison,” Argent complains, gesturing to the dried-up puddle of foam, “Why kidnap him and bring him here just to inject him with something? Why not just shoot him? Hell, why use something other than wolfsbane, at all?”
Theo looks where he’d indicated—where enough foam had apparently flowed from Arjun’s mouth to pool beside him—and feels a cold, cold knot of certainty take up residence in his gut.
“Because as opportunistic as this was, she was still seizing an opportunity,” Theo tells him slowly, the realization coming to him even as he says it, and he looks up, meets Argent’s eyes when Argent glances over at him, “The map. The map Scott and Malia found at Gerard’s warehouse.”
Argent’s too locked-down and verging on compulsively controlling to do something as uncouth as pale, but his expression slackens with disquiet as he realizes what Theo’s implying.
“They wanted to wipe out all supernaturals,” Argent murmurs, gaze briefly drifting into the middle-distance.
“Can’t do that one at a time,” Theo agrees, grimacing, his mind’s eye pulling up the picture of Arjun Kshatriyas’ distended black veins and mottled red skin, the dried foam flecked around his mouth.
Argent’s lips look like they really want to let loose a fuck, but he’s not uncouth enough for that, either. Instead he rubs the fingers of his free hand over his forehead and stares down at the conference table, though Theo’s willing to bet he’s barely seeing it. The uneasy silence of the room means they’re both confident in their shared analysis and they’re both equally uncomfortable with everything that it implies, but there’s still something bothering Theo.
“Where would Gerard and Monroe have gotten something like this, anyway?” Theo asks, looking at Argent when Argent looks at him, “Monroe was a high school guidance counselor, not a biology postdoctorate. And unless you’re telling me Gerard had a hidden talent for genetic research, either of them getting their hands on what is clearly some kind of—of werewolf-specific engineered bio-weapon doesn’t make any sense.”
A flicker of something crosses Argent’s face, but it’s too fast—and the room too dim—for Theo to fully catch. And anyway, Argent takes a deep breath the next moment and says, “I’m guessing Gerard found it.”
He says it in this weirdly specific tone of voice, heavy with implication and even, potentially, a little shame, and it takes Theo five seconds longer than it should for him to put the pieces together.
“You’ve got to be fucking kidding me,” He says incredulously, though it’s not that he doesn’t believe it, just that he doesn’t want to believe it; he doesn’t want to believe that Scott and Argent could have been that stupid, “I thought you and Scott destroyed the Doctors’ operating theater in the sewers.”
“We did,” Argent replies, and while his expression stays neutral enough his voice takes on a hint of warning; catching Theo’s tone, maybe, “After the Beast was defeated, and after Gerard had—”
He hesitates, but Theo has no interest in catering to his familial hang-ups right now and interrupts, finishes for him, “After he’d escaped. After you let him escape, and apparently after he’d had time to raid the Doctors’ operating theater for anything he found interesting.”
“Careful, Theo,” Argent murmurs in response, and for the first time something other than the sickening stench of rot and death makes it through to Theo’s nose, and Theo swallows as he breathes in the rising scent of Argent’s slow-boiling anger, “If we’re going to start assigning blame, if I were you I’d remember that I only had to cure my father so that he could help us stop Sebastien after you helped the Dread Doctors resurrect the Beast.”
Theo clamps his mouth shut and just watches Argent carefully, all at once aware of how alone he is, currently, a lone not-even-wolf in a room with an Argent. An Argent that he’d just pissed off, and Theo swears at himself, viciously and creatively, but doesn’t move, or say anything, or otherwise dig himself any deeper into the hole he’d cracked open wide beneath his own feet with his idiotic, too-glib observation. But after a few, long, torturously slow seconds, Argent breaks their staring contest and looks back at the table. Theo heaves out an unsteady breath and closes his eyes, briefly.
“If it was something Gerard took from the Dread Doctors… Back at the auto shop it looked like you recognized the symptoms,” Argent finally says, as if the last thirty seconds of tension hadn’t happened at all, “Is that because you’d seen something like it when you were with the Doctors?”
Somehow nodding his head feels like one of the hardest things he’s ever done, but Theo grits his teeth and does it, explains, “The Beast was always, always, the Doctors’ main focus, but mad as they were, they were still...scientists. They experimented.”
“So what experiment produced his symptoms?” Argent asks, jerking his chin towards the table where Arjun Kshatriyas had foamed at the mouth as his veins turned black; as he’d died with his supernatural eyes flared open.
“I don’t know,” Theo admits, and grimaces when Argent gives him a hard look, rakes both his hands roughly through his hair and takes a few restless steps away from him, his anxiety from earlier combining with this sudden anxiety forcing his feet into nervous motion, “I don’t know. They performed dozens of experiments over the time that I was them. Hundreds. And I never needed to know the details. Not unless...not unless they needed me to bring them certain—ingredients.”
He has to look away from Argent as he says the last part, his mind’s eye pulling up perfect images of Mason, of Corey; of Josh and Tracy.
Of Theo, himself.
But Argent just orders, “Think, Theo. Much as I think your talents have been completely wasted on you, you’re too smart not to have paid at least some attention. You recognized the symptoms. From what?”
“I don’t—” Theo starts to deny again, but then he forces himself to stop, take a deep breath and let it stream harshly back out through his nose, “The picture isn't enough to go on. If I could have caught a scent, maybe…” Then he hisses out a frustrated breath, explodes, “But all I can smell in here is days-old rotting cadaver.”
When he forces himself to look back up at Argent, Argent is watching him thoughtfully.
“What about Malia?” He suddenly asks, and Theo doesn’t know what the hell he’s talking about, until suddenly he does.
“Her nose is more sensitive than mine,” Theo realizes.
“If she can catch something, do you think…?” Argent presses, eyes intent on Theo’s face.
“Maybe,” Theo answers immediately, “If she can catch something, and describe it to me… It’s worth a shot, anyway.”
“I’ll call her,” Argent says, hand already reaching for his phone.
Theo nods and looks briefly away, his eyes drawn like magnets back to the dried-up puddle of foam on the table, but his attention snaps immediately back to Argent in the next second. For a moment Theo thinks that Argent had just been insanely fast on the draw, that he’d already unlocked his phone and found Malia’s number, but then he realizes that Argent’s phone is vibrating because he’s receiving a call, not making one. Theo’s brow furrows and he looks up at Argent just as Argent looks at him, equally confused.
And equally concerned.
“Scott,” Argent greets carefully after he’s swiped his thumb across the screen to answer the call and brought his phone up to his ear.
He listens for a few seconds, his brow pulling tighter and tighter before his expression suddenly goes slack in surprise and alarm, his scent—gone hot with anxiety and not a little fear—managing to cut through the still-overwhelming stench of the room.
“We have to go,” He tells Theo shortly as he hangs up, but Theo is already moving, had already started heading towards the doors the second he’d overheard Scott say Liam and Quentin.
Theo lasts exactly ten minutes into the resulting drive, his knee bouncing restlessly, and then he blurts out, “Do you think Ailene is going to—”
“I don’t know, Theo,” Argent cuts him off, immediately and harshly.
“Well what if she does?” Theo demands, turning to look at him, “What are we going to—”
“I don’t know, Theo!” Argent yells, and then—Theo jumping in surprise—he slams a hand against the steering wheel, “God damn it!”
“Fuck,” Theo snarls, and turns his face to the window, stares out of it for the remainder of the ride, teeth grinding.
When they arrive at Collier State Park Rest Area, Liam and Malia are sat at one end of an outside seating area strewn with weather-beaten picnic tables, the Chemult pack—including a bloodied Quentin, who’s surrounded by four stone-faced werewolves—at the other, and Scott and Ailene are stood in the seeming no man’s land between the two groups. Ailene’s arms are crossed and her head is tilted down towards Scott, whose mouth is moving rapidly and whose hands are buried in and tugging roughly at his hair. Even through the windshield Theo can see the hunch to Liam’s shoulders, the way he’s bent protectively over his stomach, the front of his shirt—and his bracing forearms—stained red. He doesn’t seem hurt, though; true to form, he just seems pissed, glaring across the way at Quentin.
Argent brings his SUV to a screeching stop in the parking lot and Theo’s about to reach for his door handle when he realizes that Argent isn’t, looks over. He stares at the gun that Argent is double-checking—Argent sliding the magazine loose and studying it before popping it back in, pulling the slide back check the barrel—and then flicks a look up at Argent, who looks back, jaw clenched. Fuck, Theo thinks again, and rips his gaze away from Argent and his gun, shoves open his door and jumps down.
“Chris, Theo,” Scott breathes when he sees them coming, relief clear in his voice, “Thank god, I—”
But Argent just ignores him and looks Ailene dead in the eye as he and Theo come to a stop in front of her, says in a tone stiff with formality, “Alpha Storo, please allow me to formally apologize for Liam’s behavior. It was a clear breach of your hospitality, and I swear to you, it will be handled.” Then he hesitates, and some of his formality cracks and gives way to the fear that Theo can smell souring his scent as he lowers his voice and all but begs, “Please. This is a young pack, and these kids—”
Over Argent’s shoulder, Theo can see it on Scott’s face as the realization sinks in that something else is happening here—something that Scott, and Malia and Liam now staring open-mouthed at them, too—hadn’t understood. Scott pales, and jerks to look at Ailene, wide-eyed and with his pulse picking up, his scent starting to curdle with apprehension and anxiety; his mouth opens but Theo shakes his head as subtly as he can. But Ailene just cuts Argent off, one hand waving through the air in a clear—if gentle—signal.
“Mr. Argent. Chris,” She says, and gives him a small—if strained—smile when Argent snaps his jaw shut, “That’s not necessary.” She sucks in a deep breath through her nose, exhales it out just as slowly before she continues, “Quentin provoked Liam. And frankly, if Liam hadn’t beat us all to it—” Here she pauses to turn and glare at Quentin over her shoulder, before turning back to Argent with a flat, frustrated grimace on her face, “—me or one of mine probably would have given it to him worse.”
Argent doesn’t seem to know what to say, and Theo wouldn’t say a word even if he could think of anything— they’re going to know I’m not a member of your pack—but he stares at Ailene in open-mouthed surprise, almost too stunned to remember to breathe. Scott looks between all three of them and then back at Malia, at Liam, and then finally back to Ailene. She smiles slightly at him, then refocuses on Argent, expression sobering.
“Look, Chris,” She tells him quietly, and then abruptly raises her voice, the members of her pack all straightening as she does, “As alpha of the aggrieved pack, I’m declaring this the end of the matter.”
Behind her, every member of the Chemult pack briefly bows their head in acknowledgement, and Theo forces himself past his instinctive disbelief to sweep his eyes over their faces, looking for any sign of discontent. He doesn’t find it in anyone’s face except Quentin’s, whose upper lip had curled up in a snarl as he glared at Ailene’s back. Chancing a glance at Ailene, Theo can see that she knows, her pupils flickering a brief, bright red, but beyond Quentin’s apparent chaperones stepping in a little closer to him, she doesn’t react.
Instead she huffs out a rough exhale and half-smiles, half-grimaces at Scott, at Argent, “I think the best thing for everybody at this point would be to take the rest of the night off, huh? Take a breather, reconvene tomorrow morning.” She drops one hand to her pocket, fishes out her phone, “I’ll text you the address of a motel a couple of miles from here. A friend of mine runs it, he’ll give you a good rate on rooms.”
“Thank you, A—” Scott starts, and Theo can visibly see him debating whether to call her Ailene or Alpha Storo; can see the guilt and self-directed beratement that he hadn’t, and still doesn’t, know enough to decide either way. Apparently Ailene can see it, too, because she gently cuts him off
“Ailene, Scott,” She tells him, and quirks him a small smile, “Just Ailene.”
Scott stares at her for a moment, his expression still raw with a mix of confusion and fear, both a bit directionless since he clearly still has no idea what they’d miraculously just dodged, and then he returns her smile, “Then—thank you, Ailene.”
He stays standing with Argent and Theo as Ailene turns and rounds up her pack—including her still-scowling brother, whose attempt to snarl at one of his chaperones cuts off abruptly when Ailene snarls at him—and leads them back to their cars. From the way that he keeps glancing at Argent’s face Scott is waiting for some kind of signal, and it isn’t until the last of the Chemult pack’s cars have left the parking lot and are out of sight down the road that he gets it, Argent slowly closing his eyes and exhaling out a slow, harsh breath.
“Let’s go,” Argent orders Scott finally, quietly.
Scott studies him for a moment longer and then jerks a harsh nod, swallows, “I’ll get Malia and Liam.”
“Scott,” Argent calls abruptly, stopping Scott in his tracks as he looks over his shoulder at Scott and Scott looks back, “Liam comes with us.”
They’re back in Argent’s SUV less than five minutes later, Argent staring straight out the windshield with his face a stony, blank mask, Theo in the passenger seat with one elbow braced on the door’s armrest, one hand over his face. His sense of smell is still completely fucked from being in that conference room where Arjun’s body had rotted for the few days it’d taken the Chemult pack to find him, but even still Theo can smell Liam’s blood from where Liam’s sat in the backseat. It makes the hard, twisted thing inside of his chest clench tighter, all the panic he’d been swallowing down on the ride over gone calcified, even short-circuited as it’d been when Ailene had raised her voice and ordered I’m declaring this the end of the matter; Ailene’s pulse had been steady but there’s a part of Theo that still can’t believe it.
But this time it’s Liam that can't keep his mouth shut during the drive, only he doesn’t last thirty seconds, let alone ten minutes, “Okay, can one of you say something? You’re beginning to freak me out. I know I shouldn’t have—”
But Argent just flicks a hard-eyed glare back at him in the rearview mirror and orders, “Stop talking.”
“What?” Liam replies, startled, “Argent—”
This time Theo’s the one who interrupts, “Seriously, Liam. Shut up.”
He turns his head just enough so that he can glare at Liam in the gap between the front seats, his head still resting heavily on his bracing hand. Liam stares back at him for a long moment, but then he closes his still-open mouth and slumps back against the seat, turns to look sullenly out the window. Exhaling out a heavy breath, Theo turns his head back forward, doesn’t mean to catch Argent’s gaze on the way but does, their eyes locking for a brief moment. Then Argent returns his attention to the road and Theo returns to trying to breathe past the suffocating smell of the cab and the way that his lungs still feel twisted up and wrong.
They pull into the motel that Ailene had sent them to twenty minutes later and Argent throws the SUV in park, undoes his seatbelt and shoves his door open as Scott pulls the Jeep into a spot a few spots down, Malia in the passenger seat beside him. The two of them get out and start to approach the SUV, and Liam seems to take that as some kind of a signal, reaches for his own seatbelt.
“No,” Argent spits out, pivoting quickly to face Liam through the still-open driver’s side door, “You stay in the goddamn car until I get back, do you understand me?” Liam doesn’t say anything, just stares at him in mute shock, but Argent doesn’t seem to care, just jerks his head around to glare at Theo instead, “You stay with him.”
Then he’s gone, slamming the SUV’s door behind him and going to meet Scott and Malia. Scott glances over his shoulder as the three of them head for the motel room’s office, but he doesn’t protest, just jogs a little to catch up with Argent as Argent strides forward, anger—and his still-present fear, the scent of it still clogging up Theo’s nostrils along with Liam’s blood—lengthening his stride. Theo watches them disappear into the building and then frees himself from his own seatbelt before blowing out a long breath and burying his face in his hands, raking his fingers roughly back through his hair.
“Okay, you know what?” Liam suddenly announces from the back, and Theo whips around to look at him just as Liam finishes releasing his seatbelt and starts reaching for the door handle, “Fuck this.”
“Liam!” Theo warns, but Liam is already out of the SUV and slamming the door behind him, so Theo swears and scrambles for his own door.
He gets it open and throws himself out, rounds the hood of the SUV to chase after where Liam is now striding angrily away towards the woods bordering the motel. His attempt to shove his door shut only partially succeeds but he leaves it hanging half-open in the twilight, concentrates on closing the gap between himself and Liam. He isn’t exactly sure what he plans on doing once he catches up to him; he just knows he needs to.
“Liam, would you just—” Theo snaps as he gets close enough that he can grab the sleeve of Liam’s flannel, drag him to a stop.
Except that Liam unexpectedly goes with the momentum and rounds on him, shoves him when he’s back to facing him. Theo stumbles back a few surprised steps before he manages to find his footing, and then his surprise morphs quickly into anger.
“Liam—” He starts, chest already rumbling with half a growl.
“No,” Liam interrupts, one hand rising to jab at the air between them, “No! You weren’t there. Argent wasn’t there. Neither of you get to come swooping back in and start acting all high-and-mighty when you don’t even know—”
He cuts off, and Theo doesn’t know why until he hears the steady tread of footsteps and looks over his shoulder to see Argent, Scott, and Malia already returning from the office; Ailene must have called ahead and gotten their rooms ready. Argent’s face is one big storm-cloud but Scott just looks distressed, and Theo can see him speed up a little as he catches sight of Liam and Theo and correctly interprets the situation.
Except that Liam doesn’t let him speak, either.
“And you,” He snarls, glaring at Scott, “You just stood there, let him say those things—”
Scott makes it to Theo’s side and wisely stops, hands up and patting the air in front of him in a gesture that means calm down and is guaranteed only to further rile Liam up, “Liam, please. I know—”
“Clearly you don’t!” Liam interrupts, all but yelling, and that’s it; Theo can see curtains flicker inside some of the motel rooms, can see some of the foot traffic on the sidewalk bordering the street pause and turn to stare.
Ignoring Scott—and ignoring Argent—Theo storms forward and closes a hand around Liam’s left bicep, starts dragging him towards the tree line. When Liam tries to rip his arm out of Theo’s grip, Theo just tightens it, hard enough that he ends up engaging some of his supernatural strength, and snarls at him, flare-eyed and fanged-mouth. Liam’s surprise is enough to jolt some of the fight out of him, at least long enough for Theo to yank him into the woods. Behind them, Theo can hear Argent order Scott to leave them, but doesn’t bother to listen to what they do next, just keeps dragging Liam forward until they’re deep enough in the woods to be out of human-earshot at the motel and then tosses him forward, plants his feet and glares at him when Liam whips around to glare at him.
“What the hell, Theo? I’m not a child, you can’t just—” He starts to say, but Theo cuts him off.
“You want people to stop treating you like a child?” He demands viciously, “Then stop goddamn acting like one! ”
That draws Liam up short. He actually physically recoils a few inches and stares at Theo, mouth dropped open, “Theo…”
But Theo’s anger has melted all that hard-and-calcified panic inside his chest, and with it back in his veins and quickening his pulse, he finds he can’t look at Liam anymore, has to whirl around and pace a few steps away, hands burying in and then clutching at his hair.
“Do you have any idea what just happened?” Theo demands, and spins back around to glower at Liam, “ Any idea what you almost did?”
“It was just a fight, Theo,” Liam protests, but his voice wavers uncertainty, like he’s not sure he really believes what he’s saying, “I know it—it embarrassed Scott and Argent, or whatever, but—”
“Embarrassed...?” Theo repeats incredulously, “You think this is about embarrassment?”
“Well, yeah—” Liam starts to argue, but all the panic in Theo’s chest solidifies and rushes up, out of his throat.
“She could have killed you! ” He shouts, and this time it’s Theo who gets close enough to shove Liam back a few steps.
“Wh—what…?” Liam stutters, eyes wide and fixed on Theo’s own.
“You heard me,” Theo spits out, getting up in Liam’s face, though he doesn’t shove him again, “You’re a guest in her territory, and you attacked one of her pack. For christ’s sake, Liam, you attacked her brother. Provoked or not, under pack law, she could have demanded Scott hand you over.”
He pauses to let that sink in, sees understanding wash over Liam’s face in the way that it washes all the color out of it.
“And what do you think Scott would have done then, huh?” Theo asks him, and because his hands are itching to shove Liam again he instead reverses direction and walks back a few steps instead. Shaking his head in furious, freaked-out disbelief, Theo rakes his hands once more through his already severely disheveled hair and then drops his arms down as he tells Liam hoarsely, “Jesus Christ, Liam. You nearly started a goddamn pack war.”
Saying it dredges up the feeling of sitting trapped in Argent’s SUV, wondering what the hell kind of scene they were going to drive up to. Liam and Quentin got into a fight could have meant a lot of things, and coming from Scott—who hadn’t understood what that meant, who still didn’t—it meant even less. Theo had stopped asking the second time Argent had snarled I don’t know and slammed a hand against his steering wheel, but that doesn’t mean he’d stopped imagining what could have happened. He covers his face with his hands and wheels away, needing to put some space between himself and Liam.
Except Liam grabs his arm, pulls him back around as he says, voice cracking, “I didn’t—I didn’t know. I didn’t know that.” Theo just shakes his head again, goes to yank his arm out of Liam’s grip but Liam tightens it, forces him still, “I’m sorry, okay? But you didn’t hear what he was saying.”
“What he was…?” Theo’s beginning to feel like some kind of half-hysterical parrot, stuck repeating back the idiotic things Liam keeps saying, but: “Did you not hear what I just said? It doesn’t matter—!”
“It does matter!” Liam interrupts, raising his voice to be heard over Theo. When Theo has cut himself off and instead is glaring at Liam in mute outrage, Liam repeats, “It does matter.”
He looks away, touches his tongue to his bottom lip. The cool evening air and the smell of trees and raw dirt all around them is helping clear the last of the lingering stench of rot and death from Theo’s nose, which means that when Liam’s scent dips with grief and an anger burning so low and slow that it’s almost something else, Theo catches it.
“He said they deserved it,” Liam finally explains, looking back at Theo. When he sees that Theo doesn’t know who he’s talking about, he clarifies, “Quentin said that—that all the werewolves, and all the other supernaturals that Monroe and her people killed…He said that if they were so pathetic that an amateur like Monroe and her inbred followers could take them out, that they deserved to be taken out of the gene-pool.”
Theo stares at him, the scent of Liam’s grief eating at the fury and terror still burning its way through his veins. But:
“And what, you believed him?” Theo demands furiously, Liam’s eyes jerking up to his own, “Why did you even care?”
“Because they didn’t deserve that!” Liam shouts back, “They didn’t deserve to have some—some fucker like Quentin run his mouth about them!”
“‘Them,’ huh,” Theo says, and watches Liam’s throat bob as he swallows, his eyes darting away from Theo’s face, “Except you don’t mean ‘ them,’ do you?” He presses, and ducks his head to force Liam to look at him again, though Liam just jerks his head away the other direction, “You mean Brett and Lori.”
Liam’s attempt at a neutral expression cracks right open at their names, his face twisting up with pain. Theo throws up his hands, pivots away from Liam in frustration before turning back to him, arms still out and gesturing roughly between them as he yells:
“Brett and Lori are dead, Liam! They don’t care—!”
He hears more than feels his nose break, the crack of the bone snapping seeming impossibly loud as his head jerks back. He stumbles a few steps back under the impact, one hand coming up automatically to cover his furiously bleeding nose, the other held between himself and Liam in a reflexive defense, though Liam doesn’t move to hit him again. He doesn’t move at all, in fact, just stays stock-still staring at Theo, his bloody-knuckled hand held frozen in mid-air, like he’d completely forgotten about it.
Painful as the break had been, it heals almost as quickly as Liam had broken it, though Theo still has to lean over and spit out a mouthful of blood onto the ground, has to rub the back of one hand over the bottom of his face to try and remove the worst of the blood that had already streamed over his lips and chin. Grimacing, Theo shakes his bloody hand once in a completely ineffective attempt to clean it, his eyes on Liam the whole time.
“Brett and Lori are dead, Liam,” Theo repeats flatly, and watches as Liam’s jaw clenches, his fists clench, even as the fist he’d used to hit Theo falls back down to his side, “They can’t care what anyone—fuckers like Quentin or not—says about them. Which means this isn’t about them. It’s about you.”
That seems to throw Liam for enough of a loop that his rigid posture cracks, his fierce expression splitting down the middle with his confusion as he says, “What are you…?”
“Tell me something,” Theo interrupts, and leans over to spit out another mouthful of blood before he straightens back up and looks Liam dead in the eye, Liam’s spine snapping straight again, “How many times a week do you dream about watching Brett and Lori climb up that ladder to the street?” Liam just stares at him, his chest beginning to rise and fall even more rapidly, and Theo wipes more blood off his face, presses, “How many different ways have you imagined, where you do something different, and they live?”
“Why are you saying all this?” Liam demands shakily, though he doesn’t move; doesn’t try to walk away or lunge forward: he just stays staring at Theo, pain all over his face.
“Because you are angry,” Theo tells him, “You’re just not angry at Quentin. Or Scott, or me. Hell, you’re not even angry at Monroe, not really.” He waits until Liam meets his eyes to finish, telling him, “You’re angry at you.”
The blood on his face has started to dry, Theo can feel it setting into an itchy crust over his upper lip, his chin. He can’t help touching his tongue to his lips, to where it’s drying there, too, cracking and flaking as he’d talked.
“Three things cannot long be hidden, Liam: the sun, the moon, and the truth,” Theo reminds him, and smothers the feeling in his chest that starts squirming when he sees Liam flinch, full-bodied and jerky, “You nearly just got yourself and the rest of us killed. At least be honest with yourself about why.”
Liam’s fists are clenched so hard that they’re shaking, but surprisingly Theo doesn’t catch the scent of any of Liam’s fresh blood in the air; Liam had kept his claws sheathed. Dragging his gaze up from Liam’s hands to his face, he finds Liam watching him, his expression shifting through a startling and too-quick array of punctuation marks before finally settling on a shaky sneer.
“You want to talk about honesty?” He asks, and Theo feels his breathing start to slow at the absolute chill in Liam’s voice, “Fine. I have a question of my own, then. Why are you here?”
“What?” Theo replies, can feel his brow furrowing in confusion even as that squirming thing in his chest goes tight like an animal cornered.
“Why are you here, Theo?” Liam repeats mercilessly, taking a step towards Theo as he does, “Why are you here, helping Scott with the hunt for Monroe?”
“You know why,” Theo snaps, uncomfortable with this sudden turning of the tables, “I didn’t have a choice. You heard Argent and the Sheriff, they gave me two options after the hospital: go with Scott and help him stop Monroe, or Argent would help the Sheriff find a jail cell that could hold me. Or there was always the unspoken third option—” He adds, words gone sharp and pointed, “—where they’d just cut their losses and put me back in the ground.”
“Oh, I heard them,” Liam sneers back, “Except for the part where you know, and I know, and so does everyone else, that that’s complete bullshit.”
“What are you talking about?” Theo demands, “You think Argent wouldn’t—”
“You could run!” Liam interrupts him, near-shouting to do it, “You know how, and you’re good at it. Especially way out here, away from Beacon Hills. If you disappeared, there isn’t a thing Argent or the Sheriff could really do about it. They don’t have the time or the resources, considering our other real problems, to go chasing after you. Not to mention that Scott probably wouldn’t even let them, not with the way that he just wants all of this to be over, for us to be able to go back to our lives.”
Theo just stares at him, jaw working, and Liam smirks meanly, a vicious sort of victory all over his face.
“No, Theo. You’re not here because anyone’s making you,” Liam concludes bitingly.
If Liam’s expecting some kind of response Theo can’t give him one. He can’t do anything, really, but stare at him, expression gone pole-axed and breathing gone shallow in surprise. Liam watches him for a few long, stretched seconds, and then he starts nodding slowly, mouth pursing.
“The sun, the moon, and the truth, Theo,” Liam repeats waspishly, and then he starts walking back in the direction of the motel. He pauses when he reaches Theo, though, still stood stock-still and unmoving, and leans in close to him as he snarls, “You want me to be honest with myself? You first.”
Then he continues walking, shoulder knocking against Theo’s own, and leaves Theo standing there in the woods, alone. Theo doesn’t try to stop him, or turn around to watch him go. He just closes his eyes, tips his head back, and breathes.
He just breathes.
Two nights later and back in Beacon Hills, Theo ducks his head some to stare at the sheer rise of Derek’s apartment building as Argent pulls up to it, plays with the keys in his hand as he counts up to the seventh floor; 713, the sticky note attached to the key-ring had said.
Theo’s expecting a quick drop-off but Argent throws the SUV into park, turns off the engine. Closing his eyes and sighing, Theo slumps back against the seat and tips his head to the side to look at Argent, raises his eyebrows in a clear question: what now?
Argent just holds out a hand, palm up, and says, “Truck keys.”
Theo feels his expression spasm, stares at Argent in annoyed disbelief, “You can’t be serious.” When Argent fails to look anything other than, in fact, completely serious, Theo throws up his hands and looks away before looking back, mouth twisting in frustration, “You and the Sheriff already impounded my truck. What exactly is the point of demanding my keys, too?”
“The point,” Argent tells him, “is that up until today you were staying in the McCall’s guest bedroom.”
He doesn’t add where I could keep an eye on you, but he doesn’t need to. Theo just glares at him and—even as his better sense is screaming at him not to—asks, faux-brightly, “Oh, so you are admitting that you’ve moved into the McCall’s house, then.”
Argent’s expression doesn’t so much as flicker, though his pulse briefly jumps. Rolling his eyes and huffing out a rough, irritated breath, Theo presses his shoulders back into the seat so that he can raise his hips, get his hand into his front pocket to fish his keys out.
Slapping them into Argent’s still-upraised palm, he slouches back down and demands, “Is that all? Or are there some conditions I need to be aware of? You know, be in by midnight, check-in with Derek every twenty-four hours, or else?”
“You sure you want to be giving me ideas?” Argent asks mildly, and Theo huffs but relents. Ignoring his admitted dramatics, Argent slides Theo’s keys into his own pocket and says, “I’ll call Deaton and tell him to expect you and Malia tomorrow morning. Malia will pick you up.” He adds, before Theo can open his mouth to snidely ask if Argent expects him to walk to Deaton’s, or whatever.
“Fine,” Theo agrees peevishly, and this time doesn’t wait for an official dismissal, just reaches for his door handle and gets out.
There’s absolutely nothing in apartment 713 when Theo unlocks it and rolls it open, his single duffel bag of belongings slung over one shoulder and the bagged air mattress Argent had given him held in one hand. Standing framed in the doorway and looking out into the massive, empty space, Theo finds his irritation with Argent draining away to leave a muted sort of reluctance in its wake. Theo can hear and smell the other residents of Derek’s building, but it’s not quite the same as listening to Ms. McCall and Scott murmuring in the McCall kitchen, or breathing in the scent of a house permeated with the smell of the McCall family and the McCall pack. But Theo only gives himself a few seconds to hesitate on the threshold, and then he grimaces at himself and forces himself forward, rolls the door shut behind him.
Habit has him swinging through each of the spaces on the first floor, to include the equally-bare kitchen and sizable balcony, and then he heads up the completely impractical wrought-iron spiral staircase up to the second floor loft. Tossing his duffel and the bagged air mattress to the side, Theo sidesteps the conspicuously empty stretch of the loft’s space and moves for the attached bathroom. He’s absentmindedly checked it out and is just washing his hands with his one find—a wrapped-and-dusty bar of supermarket brand soap, tucked away in the far back corner of the cabinet under the sink and probably overlooked when the last tenant moved out—when he realizes he doesn’t have any towels, grimaces down at his dripping fingers.
He’s in the middle of scrubbing his hands dry on the front of his shirt, his jeans, when he steps back into the loft and then frowns, his ears catching the front door rolling back open. Moving for the loft railing, Theo leans against it and looks down at where Scott is carefully stepping inside, several bags slung over his forearms and back. Scott looks up when he realizes that he has Theo’s attention, and Theo can see the instant Scott spots his wet shirt because he makes an apologetic face.
“Sorry,” He tells Theo, and holds up one of the bags, which Theo can now see contains a handful of towels and washcloths through the thin plastic, “Guess I was a little late with these.”
But Theo just squints at him, asks, “What are you doing?”
Something flickers across Scott’s expression, but it’s too fast—and Scott ducks his head away too quickly—for Theo to fully catch. He can’t mask the way his scent dips, though, and Theo feels his brow pull together as he stares down at him.
“What, did you think we were just going to stick you in an empty apartment with no supplies?” He asks in turn, and a little snappishly. Theo feels his eyebrows climb, but at least that answered the question of whether or not Scott still felt guilty about—in his mind—having fucked-up that first night with the Chemult pack.
“In most cultures, giving someone a rent-free apartment is usually considered a significant enough gesture, in and of itself,” Theo eventually responds mildly, his tone carefully free of surprise or sarcasm or anything, really, except dry observation.
Scott colors, some, “Yeah, well.” He mutters, “Welcome to Beacon Hills.”
Theo ends up helping Scott unload the various bags he’d brought over, the two of them working in a silence that’s only slightly strained as Theo accepts the bag of towels to take upstairs, or cluelessly instructs Scott to put the dishes and silverware Scott pulls out of another bag wherever in the kitchen when Scott asks how he wants them. They end up tag-teaming the mattress for no other reason than that Scott seems weirdly determined to see Theo settled into his new, now only mostly bare apartment, and Theo—doesn’t want to fight him on it. Instead he braces his elbows loosely on his knees as he sits and waits with Scott for it to inflate, both their eyes on the slowly-filling mattress.
“Liam talking to you yet?” Scott suddenly asks, his gaze flicking up to Theo’s from across the mattress.
“No,” Theo answers after a second, and then he sighs and runs a hand through his hair, adds, “Not really.”
Part of Liam’s silence had been pure circumstance, admittedly. After Theo had finally cleaned as much of the blood off his face as he could and forced himself back out of the forest and to the motel that first night, he’d found Scott and Malia seated and waiting outside one of the rooms they’d reserved, while inside Argent read Liam the riot act. He’d waited with them in silence, until Argent had come out just long enough to shove a room key into Theo’s hand and direct him to the one single room they’d reserved with a very communicative glare. So Theo had slept alone, and Argent had stayed in one of the double rooms with Liam, Scott and Malia on the other side.
Then, the next day, after they’d gone to meet back up with the Chemult pack at the rest area and Liam had made his own, stilted-and-uncomfortably-formal apology, Ailene accepting and Quentin—stood behind his sister and with an expression on his face like he’d swallowed a lemon—making his own, Theo had gone back to the abandoned office building with Malia while Liam stayed with Scott and Argent and the Chemult pack. By the time they’d all reconvened it’d been late, since Liam had, in fact, been able to pick up Monroe and her people’s scents and he—along with Scott, Argent, and the Chemult pack—had followed it as far as they were able, while for her part Malia had been able to pick up something from the conference room where Arjun had died, though she hadn’t been able to put a name to it.
Anyway, all it means is that while Liam had said probably less than ten words to Theo since he’d left Theo standing in the woods alone that night, part of that had just been sheer absence.
But part of it hadn’t.
“Sorry,” Scott says, wincing. Then he shakes his head some, frowns as he comments, “I’m not sure why he’s mad at you, anyway. Argent’s the one who tore him a new one, and I’m the one who—”
He stops abruptly, mouth twisting unhappily, and Theo suddenly doesn’t want him to finish his sentence, so he tells Scott, “He’s not mad at me. Or he is, but it’s not...about Chemult, anyway,” he finishes lamely.
He can practically taste the curiosity in Scott’s scent, but he can also see Scott resisting the urge to ask in the way that he seems to forcefully swallow down the question, his throat bobbing. Luckily the mattress finishes inflating a few seconds later and gives them both the excuse to drop it, Scott leaning back to fish the sheets he’d brought over from one of the plastic bags and tossing one end to Theo. Between the two of them they get the set stretched over the mattress, and then get the blanket Scott had also pillaged from his house laid over top it.
That done, Scott climbs to his feet and stretches, then colors and drops back flat to his feet when his stomach rumbles, loudly.
“Long drive,” He explains wryly, lips quirking, and Theo snorts and nods his agreement, smirking and looking absently away, out the massive windows taking up most of the outside wall of the apartment.
Except then Scott says hey with a frown clear in his voice, and Theo glances back up at him from his place still on the ground.
“What are you going to do for dinner?” Scott asks when he sees he has Theo’s attention.
Theo opens his mouth to instinctually say that he’d go pick something up, but closes it again when he remembers that not only does he not have his truck, he doesn’t even have his truck keys.
Flushing now himself, Theo looks away from Scott and grimaces, “Order something, I guess.” He tells Scott, already trying to calculate how much cash he has left in his wallet. Not much, he knows, but.
A hand suddenly enters his field of vision and Theo startles some, darts a look up the attached arm to Scott’s face. Scott gives him a somewhat unsteady smile and flicks his outstretched fingers in invitation, “C’mon, you can come eat something at my place, and then I’ll run you back.”
Theo just shakes his head, “That’s not necessary, Scott. I’ll figure it out.”
But instead of accepting Theo’s demurral, Scott just closes his eyes and inhales in a deep breath, exhales it out slowly as he opens his eyes, meets Theo’s frown with a smile that’s more than half a grimace as he says, “Theo. I think the most generous interpretation of the last week is that I only mostly fucked up everything I tried to do, instead of completely. So can you please help me do this one thing right, and let me make sure you at least get a decent meal?”
Theo stares up at him in open-mouthed surprise for a few seconds, taken aback. But then he closes his jaw and reaches up to clasp Scott’s still-outstretched forearm with his own, lets Scott haul him to his feet.
“After you,” He tells Scott quietly, one arm gesturing out.
Malia picks him up the next morning, as promised. She immediately points her car towards Deaton’s and refuses to detour to Emmalee’s Bakery so that Theo can get the largest cup of coffee they have until Theo, playing dirty, offers to pick her up a half-dozen maple-glazed donuts, and then she makes the necessary turn sharply enough that Theo has to bite back a curse and grab at the door handle. Then he spends the rest of the ride nursing his coffee and occasionally yelping eyes on the road as Malia ignores it in favor of retrieving another donut to unceremoniously stuff in her mouth.
They miraculously make it to the animal clinic in one piece, and Theo spills out of Malia’s car as quickly as he’s able, glaring at her. It’s entirely pointless, since she doesn’t notice and wouldn’t care even if she did, so Theo huffs and downs the last of his coffee, throws it away in the clinic’s trash can as he follows her into the back. Deaton looks up at them as they appear, his hands braced on the examination table in front of him, several dozen closed glass jars arranged before him. Theo starts absently cataloguing them, trying to think if there are any obvious gaps; Deaton gives him a look like he knows what Theo’s doing, and Theo just rolls his eyes, positions himself against the wall opposite Deaton.
“You really think this is going to work?” Malia demands as she steps up to the table across from Deaton, her skepticism all over her face.
“We won’t know until we try,” Deaton responds in that irritatingly level tone of his, and reaches for the first jar.
Malia works her way through the first two dozen jars quickly, Deaton having barely enough time to open the jars and offer them to her before she’s shaking her head and saying no. Theo’s starting to share her skepticism when she pauses over one jar, and eventually takes it from Deaton to bring it closer to her nose, eyes closing as she inhales deeply. Attention piqued, Theo pushes himself off the wall to come closer, senses stretching out to catch a better hint of the scent as well.
“Malia, that’s just wolfsbane,” Theo protests once he’s realized, his mind automatically pulling up his memory of the picture of Arjun’s body that Ailene had showed them, with its too-aggressive-for-wolfsbane symptoms.
“I don’t know what to tell you,” Malia retorts, and takes another deep drag of the air over the jar, “This is definitely—” Then she hesitates, frowning, “Wait. It smells less…”
Both she and Theo startle some when another jar appears in front of Malia’s face. Deaton raises an eyebrow when they both look over at him.
“You need a goddamn bell,” Theo mutters, and then squints at the jar Deaton is holding out.
Deaton just waggles it, a little, before finally relenting and explaining, “This is the jar that you smelled immediately before the wolfsbane. Try scenting them together.”
Oh, Malia mouths, and reaches for it. She holds the two jars together and then positions them both under her nose, her eyes closing as she takes a deep breath. Watching her face, Theo knows the second before she opens her eyes and says, “That’s it, that was the scent,” that it’s the correct combination.
Brow furrowing, Theo reaches forward and plucks the second jar from Malia’s hand, Malia protesting hey! in annoyance as he does it. Studying the label—in Celtic, because Deaton is nothing if not dedicated to being an extremely irritating asshole—Theo double-checks he’s translated the rune correctly by bringing it under his own nose, inhaling.
“This is burdock root,” Theo says once he’s sure, and looks up at Deaton, who does, at the very least, look mildly thrown as he stares at the jar, too, “That doesn’t make any sense. Burdock root isn’t a poison, it’s a detoxifier.”
“Why would Monroe give a werewolf a detoxifier?” Malia asks blankly, glancing between them.
“She wouldn’t have,” Deaton answers slowly, “But remember, it’s most likely that Monroe got the poison she used from Gerard, who stole it from—”
“The Doctors,” Theo finishes unthinkingly, unintentionally cutting Deaton off. He looks up when he realizes what he’d done but Deaton just nods, unperturbed.
“Any ideas?” He asks Theo.
“I don’t…” Theo starts to say, then trails off. There’s something tickling at the back of his mind but every time he tries to grasp it, it slips through his mental fingers like smoke.
He’s still frowning down at the jar in his hand when the bell over the clinic’s door sounds, and he looks up sharply—Deaton and Malia doing the same—to see Argent appear in the exam room’s doorway. His expression is tight and his scent is unsettled, tinged with something that, when combined with the lingering scents of the herbs Deaton had been having Malia smell, makes Theo’s mouth fill unpleasantly with saliva. Theo works his jaw to try and banish the feeling.
“Mr. Argent,” Deaton greets, “From the expression on your face, I dare say you’re not bearing good news.”
Argent grimaces at him, then turns back to include Theo and Malia too as he explains, “I just got a call from Ailene. Her calls to her allied packs bore fruit: a pack in Lakeview, Oregon, thinks they’ve spotted Monroe and her band.”
Malia just frowns at him, confused, “Why is that not good news?”
Argent exhales out a heavy breath, and when he answers, he’s not looking at Malia; he’s looking at Theo, “Because they found another body.”
Even with Argent’s overwhelming and perfectly-communicated sense of urgency, it still takes them a few hours to organize enough to be ready to leave.
Theo ends up riding with Argent over to Scott’s after a pit-stop at his new apartment to pick up his bag, Deaton’s jar of burdock root tucked into his pocket and feeling incongruously heavy the whole way there. It quickly becomes clear why Argent had told Malia that he’d take care of getting Theo to his apartment and then over to Scott’s, Malia leaving to go gather her own things, but he needn’t have bothered. When he demands what did you learn?, all Theo can tell him is the bare minimum that he and Malia had figured out before Argent had showed up, which is that the Doctors’ poison had contained wolfsbane and burdock root.
“That doesn’t make any sense,” Argent points out irritably when he’s done, and Theo widens his eyes and shrugs in a gesture that means what do you want me to do about it; Argent huffs and turns back to the road.
When they get to the McCall house, Scott is tracing a lazy circuit around the driveway, his phone held before him and his mouth moving. Theo realizes he’s on a video-call just as his ears confirm it, his hearing picking up Ailene’s pleasantly wry voice along with that of a second woman he doesn’t recognize: Jyoti, undoubtedly; alpha of the Lakeview pack. Theo frowns at Scott through the windshield as Argent pulls his SUV to a stop alongside the sidewalk, but the expression isn’t directed so much at Scott as at the situation.
After Argent had dropped his bombshell of an announcement at the animal clinic, Malia had looked at him, practical as always, and asked when they were leaving. Theo had expected Argent to say tomorrow—Lakeview was still five hours away, and that was in perfect traffic—but Argent had said now. He’d meant as soon as possible, of course, but his actual statement had lent the situation a sense of both gravitas and absurdity that had left Theo and Malia staring at him until he’d rolled his eyes and clarified. It’d been a weirdly jarring moment for Theo; it’d been the first time he’d seen Argent do something so pettily human, or at least do so in Theo’s presence.
Argent’s reasoning had been clear, at least; he didn’t want to risk the body decaying past the point of Theo being able to pick up something reliable this time. The Lakeview pack was estimating time of death as sometime within the last two days, but they also didn’t want to stick the body in a freezer and risk destroying the evidence of the Dread Doctors’ poison. Theo had thought they—and Argent—were probably being a little ridiculously superstitious, but who knew; it was a supernatural poison they were dealing with. The usual rules didn’t apply.
Now, sighing, Theo tries to reign in his instinctive dislike of the situation and only partly succeeds. It’s the rushed diplomacy that he doesn’t like, necessity requiring that Scott and Jyoti condense the majority of the formalities of two packs meeting into a half-hour video-call brokered by Ailene, but it actually seems to be helping Scott, based on the easy slope to his shoulders that Theo can see. So much of Scott’s life the past few years had been responding to emergencies; he does better in them. It’s peacetime, downtime, that trips him up; Chemult had shown that clearly.
Theo steps out of Argent’s SUV just as Liam comes out of the front door, his own duffel bag slung crossways across his back and two travel mugs of something in his hands. The something ends up being coffee; Theo can smell it as Liam gets closer. His attention peels unintentionally away as Argent rounds the front of the SUV to go join Scott on the call, but it gets pulled back to Liam almost instantly because Liam doesn’t veer off towards the Jeep like Theo had expected, but keeps coming towards him.
“Here,” Liam says as he stops in front of Theo, offering forward one of the coffees.
It’s a peace-offering, not an apology. Liam isn’t sorry and isn’t going to be, and that, weirdly, makes something in Theo’s chest unwind; neither one of them had owed the other an apology for the other’s truth that they’d laid bare, except for maybe the tone they’d used to deliver it in. Reaching forward, Theo accepts the coffee and takes a sip, feels his eyebrows flicker in surprise when he realizes it’s fixed exactly the way he prefers; lightly sugared, no cream. Liam looks away from him and his expression doesn’t change, but his shoulders ease, some; his scent gets a little less tangled.
Over in the driveway, Scott wraps up his call and says, “Okay, Jyoti and her pack are going to meet us at the warehouse where they found the body. They thought you’d want the chance to go over the scene of death, too,” he adds, looking at Theo, and Theo has to fight not to find Scott’s complete obliviousness to the fact that he just announced all that to anyone bothering to listen in on his street a little—charming.
“Great,” Theo tells him, hiding his amused smile behind the lid of his coffee mug, “Good thinking.”
Malia pulls up just as he finishes speaking, and she’s barely parked her car and gotten out before Argent is moving back for his SUV and saying, “Yes, great. Good thinking all around. Now let’s go, we’ve got to get on the road.”
Behind him Malia rolls her eyes and walks into Scott’s arms when he opens them for her, but after Scott has pressed a fond kiss to Malia’s temple, they both head for the Jeep. Theo’s about to turn to reach for the SUV’s passenger side door when he realizes that Liam hasn’t and isn’t moving.
Argent notices, too.
“What are you doing, Liam? Get in the Jeep,” He orders as he reaches the SUV’s driver’s side door and pulls it open.
Liam just stays stubbornly where he is, his eyes on Argent—except for when they briefly flick to Theo—as he says, “I want to ride with you. I want to know...I want you to tell me...” He hesitates just long enough to resettle his tensing shoulders, and then he concludes, “I want to know about pack law.”
Theo feels his eyebrows shoot up and his gaze darts to Argent before he can help it. Argent isn’t looking at him, though, his body already half inside his SUV, his arms braced one on the roof of the car and one on his open door as he studies Liam, as he searches his face. Three nights ago Argent had given Liam a short, biting, and loud overview of exactly which tenants of pack law he’d broken when he’d gone after Quentin, and then—over Liam’s objections that Theo already fucking yelled at me about all this, is this really necessary—went on to tell him in perfect, gory detail what could have happened to Scott and the rest of the McCall pack, even those back in Beacon Hills, if Ailene had been a different kind of alpha. Theo had sat outside with Scott and Malia overhearing all of it while Malia and Theo had avoided looking at each other and Scott had dropped his head in his hands.
“Fine,” Argent agrees abruptly, and finishes climbing into his seat, his door slamming afterwards like a perfectly scripted bit of auditory punctuation. Theo looks back at Liam, who shoots a look at him, his expression a little unreadable, but then he heads for the backseat and climbs inside without another word, so Theo exhales out a low, quiet breath, and moves for the passenger seat.
Liam listens and asks questions—Argent doing the bulk of the lecturing and answering, with Theo occasionally speaking up when prompted by Argent, or when he has... real-world experience to inform his understanding—right up until they step out of the SUV at the warehouse in Lakeview, and Argent finally cuts him off with a wry Liam, and a pointed glance at the unfamiliar cars scattered around the lot. His voice is warm when he does it, though—gently amused—and Theo may have run out of coffee an hour out from Beacon Hills, but he finds his chest still feels infused with heat, like there’s an ember stuck cradled just beneath his ribs.
That feeling lasts precisely as long as it takes them to meet up with Scott and Malia—jogging towards them from where they’d parked a few spots down—and reach the warehouse doors, and then it’s immediately buried under a wave of nausea as the scent hits his nose. It’s not as bad as the conference room where the Chemult pack had found Arjun’s body, but Theo still has to brace himself against the way his stomach tries to roil.
Malia rolls with the sudden stench with her usual casual aplomb but Scott and Liam both falter, Scott’s expression going a little green. Liam’s does the same, but only for a moment, and then he goes sheet-white and has to lean over the brown-and-not-particularly-decorative bushes to the side of the entrance as he gets sick. Scott makes a noise and moves for him, but Liam straightens, the back of one palm held pressed up against his mouth, and shakes his head.
“Jesus,” He complains, and then squints at Theo and Malia, clearly affronted by their comparative composure, “How are you just standing there?”
Malia just shrugs, “Sometimes deer would start to rot in the Preserve, if they got stuck somewhere no one could get to them.”
Including me, she means, and Theo’s just snorted a laugh and then immediately regretted it when it causes him to inhale a larger mouthful of the stench than he’d been prepared for, when Argent murmurs, “I assume for Theo it’s long exposure.”
He isn’t looking at Theo—his attention is on the small windows leading into the warehouse proper as he peers inside—and the comment feels more offhand than deliberately pointed; a question that Argent had probably asked and answered for himself when Theo had, relatively speaking, recovered quickly enough in Chemult with Arjun’s body to still be of use. Still, Theo has to resist the urge to flinch, has to resist the memories that try to surface of all the bodies that had appeared and disappeared in the Doctors’ operating theaters, because Argent’s right, and the Doctors had allowed some of those bodies to—linger.
“Maybe you all should head inside,” Scott suggests gamely, his complexion still pasty when Theo’s attention snaps to him, broken out of his train of thought, “Give Liam and me a moment.”
Argent just glances back over his shoulder at Scott and reminds him, “We can’t,” with a gentle, sympathetic grimace.
Scott stares at him for a moment, his head clearly scrambled by the smell, and then he colors, “Right.”
“I’m okay,” Liam offers up, but he’s still half-hunched over the bush like his subconscious is less confident in the words coming out of his mouth; he tries to nod solemnly at Scott when Scott looks over at him but the movement causes his face to lose what color it’d regained, and he bends back over, though he doesn’t throw up again.
Through the accident of circumstance Theo is standing within arm’s reach of Liam, and his hand is already on the back of his neck, slipping under his collar to get at skin, by the time he realizes he’s moved. Liam gives a choked gasp as Theo siphons off his nausea and twists his head around to look up at him, and Theo somehow—miraculously—manages to simply raise his eyebrows in silent challenge, even though mentally he’s just as surprised as Liam clearly is.
“Oh, I—didn’t know that was a thing,” Scott says, once he’s realized what Theo just did; Theo narrowly resists the urge to say neither did I, and instead just takes his hand back, Liam straightening slowly as he does.
He ignores Liam’s curious stare as Malia, without prompting, reaches forward and lays her palm against the side of Scott’s neck, siphons off his nausea, too. Scott grins at her and brings her hand up so that he can press a quick kiss to it, and then he looks at Argent, nods.
Inside, Jyoti and her pack are ranged around the warehouse, clustered in groups of threes and fours. Jyoti herself looks completely unbothered by the stench of death and poison coming from the body of the young woman a few feet away from her, but most of the members of her pack look as pale as Liam and Scott, some of them with the backs of their hands pressed up against the bottoms of their noses, and one younger-looking man had apparently given up on dignity altogether and just pulled his shirt up over the bottom half of his face. It’s not intentional on the Lakeview pack’s parts, but it helps; Theo can see some of the tension drain from Liam’s back and shoulders as he notices their discomfort, too.
“Alpha McCall,” Jyoti greets Scott as they come in, “I welcome you to Lakeview pack territory.”
“Alpha Saravanan,” Scott says in turn, “On behalf of my pack, I thank you for your hospitality.”
When he’d said the same thing to Ailene in Chemult—the formal call-and-answer provided to him by Argent over greasy diner burgers when they’d stopped on the way north—he’d sounded smooth, easy; maybe a little amused, like someone who knew that the stilted diplomacy of it all was necessary but still found the whole process a little absurd. Now he sounds stiff, wooden, and his scent holds a sour edge—detectable even with the body in the room—that speaks to his anxiety; Scott now having a better idea just what exactly he’s agreeing to. Theo can see Argent shift slightly out of the corner of his eye, Argent catching Scott’s disquiet, too.
Except that all the decorum of the room immediately wobbles and then falls apart when Jyoti suddenly says, “Right, great. Please get over here so that we can conclude this absurdity and release the members of our packs that don’t need to be here. Joaquin over there is already about to vomit all over your crime scene.”
“Hey, fuck you,” The werewolf with the shirt over the bottom of his face says cheerfully, while around him the room ripples with amusement as various members of the Lakeview pack grin and laugh.
To his credit it only takes Scott a few stunned seconds to reorient himself to the new, relaxed atmosphere, and then he loses hold of his startled laugh and does as Jyoti had asked, stepping forward so that they can clasp forearms and lean in once on the right, once on the left; baring their throats to each other. This part he’d stumbled over in Chemult, his practice with Argent notwithstanding, but either the second time’s the charm or Jyoti’s icebreaker of a request has put him at ease, because Scott pulls it off smoothly and steps back.
“Okay, now can we—?” Joaquin starts to ask, his voice muffled by his shirt.
“Yes, yes. Go. Wait outside,” Jyoti cuts him off, one hand up and waving towards the door. The other she uses to pull the scarf she’s wearing up around her face, holds it over her mouth with a heartfelt groan, “Sorry for the complete lack of dignity.” She tells Scott as three-quarters of her pack immediately move for the doors, muttering and murmuring to each other. Even though Theo can’t see her mouth—buried in her scarf as it is—he can see her nose and the corners of her eyes wrinkle when she grimaces, “We’re not used to this kind of thing.”
Scott gives her a small, understanding smile in return, “I wish I could say we weren’t.”
“Yeah, you know—originally I was pretty convinced that either Ailene or Hale were just making shit up,” She confesses wryly, but then the amusement fades from her voice as she looks back down at the dead young werewolf, “But then, well.”
Scott starts talking to her then, asking questions about how they’d found the body; about where they’d spotted Monroe. Theo keeps half an ear on their conversation—and another half on the three remaining Lakeview pack werewolves, who move so that they’re arrayed behind Jyoti as she talks with Scott and the others—but most of his focus he puts on the body as he steps closer and then steps around it, kneels down by the dead woman’s head. This close the distinctive smell of burdock root mixed with wolfsbane is unmistakable, and Theo taps a finger against the outside of his pocket where Deaton’s jar is tucked away, his eyes running over and around all the symptoms he can see: distended black veins, mottled red skin, foam dried around the mouth.
The same as Arjun’s.
He jerks in surprise and bites back a swear when Malia says from above him, “It’s the same scent.”
She’s standing off his left shoulder and as much as she’d been talking to him, she’s not looking at him; she’s looking at the dead werewolf.
“And it’s another lone wolf,” Theo adds quietly, attention drifting back to the body; he’d overheard Jyoti explain to Scott that the woman had been a student at a nearby college, with a pack just across the border in Idaho.
Malia’s eyes flicker blue and her scent kicks up with anger, but it fades as quickly as it’d come, and she kneels down next to him, reaches out to hover her fingers over the distended black veins on the woman’s arm.
“So?” She asks, and looks over at him, her narrow-eyed stare penetrating, “Do you recognize the poison?”
“Yes,” Theo tells her, and sees the rapid-fire series of expressions flow across her face as she first looks surprised, then triumphant, and then confused as she realizes that Theo doesn’t seem victorious, or even particularly pleased. Jaw working, Theo sighs and then looks at her, says with a very specific amount of emphasis, “I just can’t remember where or when I came across it.”
Then he blinks and jerks, because the warehouse has fallen dead silent and when he looks up, he sees that everyone—McCall and Lakeview packs alike—are staring at him. Only Scott, Liam, Argent, and Malia beside him have the necessary context to unravel the hidden meaning in Theo’s statement, and he can see their expressions twisting in confusion and then slackening in surprise as they realize what he’d meant. I hope you kept a copy of Valek’s novel in your goddamn purge, Theo thinks, meeting Argent’s eyes, and sees a muscle in Argent’s jaw jump as he clenches his teeth.
Jyoti for her part is studying Theo thoughtfully, “Ailene said you were some kind of specialist.”
The only reason that Theo’s pulse doesn’t jump is because he’s prepared for the question, had worked out his response with Argent after Chemult when they’d realized they were going to need some kind of explanation for Theo’s unusual expertise, and one that didn’t involve the Doctors. So instead of panic at Jyoti’s curious-but-wary inquiry, Theo just slips right into the half-truth of it as he says:
“Not me, specifically,” Theo tells her as he climbs to his feet, “But I used to work for several supernatural specialists, yes.”
It comes out smooth, no jagged edges of uncertainty in his voice or dips in his scent for Jyoti’s potential suspicion to catch on. Beside her Scott and Liam aren’t quite as polished, their eyes jumping around the room and their shoulders tightening, but their discomfort isn’t obvious enough to raise a significant flag, and besides; they’re all still surrounded by the dead werewolf’s poisoned scent: discomfort is to be expected. Jyoti studies him for a moment longer and then looks away, towards the dead woman.
“Her name was Robyn Clabaugh, and she wanted to be an engineer, figure out how to build things to help people. People like this hunter of yours, the one who did this to her,” Jyoti informs him, and her eyes when she looks back at him have brighter, redder highlights than they did before, “She didn’t deserve this.”
Theo takes it for the unspoken order that it is, swallows and then tells Jyoti, “With the information that I have now, I believe I can—find a way to jog my memory.”
Jyoti watches him for a long, stretched moment, her gaze gone evaluating, and then she nods, once, sharply.
“Good,” She tells him, then turns back to Scott, “Our county coroner is... supernaturally uninformed, but the coroner across the border in Siskiyou County is a friend of Shohreh Khorasani’s. Shohreh’s sending one of her pack, who’s also a Siskiyou County deputy, to come retrieve Robyn’s body. They’ll process it, keep it and any evidence...preserved. In case you need it.”
Scott nods, his face lined with an empathetic sort of grief as he meets Jyoti’s eyes, “We’re going to stop Monroe, Jyoti. I promise.”
Some of the stony hardness that had stolen over Jyoti’s face as she’d talked about Robyn cracks and she gives Scott a somewhat unsteady smile, starts talking with him about logistics: a nearby motel for the McCall pack to crash at, an invitation to breakfast at one of Jyoti’s pack member’s houses; the promise of a visit to where the Lakeview pack had spotted Monroe after they’d eaten.
Theo listens to it all but also doesn’t, his eyes drifting thoughtlessly to Liam’s face, gone hard like all the stoniness from Jyoti’s expression had just made its way onto his instead. We’re going to stop Monroe, Scott had promised, and he’d meant it with every fiber of his True Alpha being, but Theo still can’t help flicking his eyes over Liam’s fists gone clenched tight against his biceps, over Liam’s grinding jaw and his tense shoulders.
Promises, promises, Theo thinks, and flicks his eyes up to meet Liam’s, and doesn’t know whether it’s a trick of the light when he catches a flash of gold inside them.
“So the Dread Doctors would just like, randomly decide to take your memories sometimes?” Liam asks a few hours later from out in the main area of his and Theo’s shared motel room, his mood significantly improved by the McCall pack’s stop at a Chinese restaurant in town where he and Scott had, between the two of them, eaten enough orange chicken to choke a horse.
Theo gives his reflection in the bathroom mirror a dry look and doesn’t respond, just keeps brushing his teeth, because answering would not only mean removing the brush from his mouth but also giving Liam the same reply that he’s given Liam five times already. Which is that, yes, sometimes the Doctors would just, like, randomly decide to take Theo’s memories. Theo leans over and spits, and not even the aggressive chemical freshness of the toothpaste in his mouth can fully cover up the phantom taste of electricity and iron coating his tongue; the taste he’d always, always wake up to after the Geneticist had held Theo steady so that the Pathologist could wield his electromagnetic glove and scramble Theo’s brain.
“That’s really fucked up,” Liam muses, and shifts on the cheap motel bed that he’d claimed; Theo can hear the rusted springs groan, “Why did you let them?”
“Right,” Theo snorts, briefly turning on the water so that he can rinse his mouth and toothbrush, “Because refusing to cooperate was a realistic option.”
When he steps back through the open bathroom door, Liam is nodding like he hadn’t just asked a completely idiotic question, but Theo finds that he can’t hold it against him. Liam doesn’t have any real frame of reference for the type of relationship he’s analyzing after all, not really. The only master Liam has ever really known is Scott, and Scott is more like a constantly embarrassed camp counselor than anything like what the Doctors had been to Theo.
And anyway, when he gets a good look at Liam’s face, Liam sat up against the wall with his legs stretched out before him on one of the two double beds, there’s a wrinkle between Liam’s brows and a thoughtful twist to his lips that Theo can’t help but puzzle at. Liam catches him looking and makes a different face, but Theo still leans up against the bathroom doorframe, asks, “What?”
“What, what?” Liam parrots obnoxiously in return, and Theo rolls his eyes, reaches back behind himself to flip off the bathroom light before pushing off the doorframe and heading for the unoccupied bed.
It leaves them staring at each other in the weak circle of light cast by the lamp in between their two beds, Theo initially flopping onto his stomach and then rolling onto his side to look at Liam as he presses, “That look on your face, what.”
Liam nearly dodges the question again, Theo can see the thought cross his face like it’s emblazoned on ticker-tape across his forehead, but then he wrinkles his nose and says, “I’m just conflicted. On the one hand, that’s a terrible thing to happen to someone, especially repeatedly.”
“And on the other?” Theo prompts dryly, already having an inkling of where Liam’s going.
“On the other hand,” Liam continues at a slightly louder volume, as if Theo hadn’t just interrupted him, “At the time it was happening to you, you really fucking deserved it.”
Theo should be insulted, probably, but mostly he’s just amused. Still, he reaches behind his head and takes hold of one of the pillows, whips it at Liam in response. Liam yelps as it—based on the sound it and Liam makes—connects solidly with Liam’s face and Liam goes tumbling onto his back on the bed and then almost immediately onto the floor as he overbalances.
“Go to sleep, Liam,” Theo orders, hoping but not really expecting that Liam can’t hear the smile in his voice as he reaches over and flicks off the lamp.
A couple hours later though and it’s Theo breaking the silence of the room as he jackknifes upward with a loud, horrified gasp. Still half-asleep and with the dregs of the nightmare clinging to him, he stares unseeingly at the blank wall opposite him and then has to rip back the blankets and lunge for the bathroom as his stomach rolls. His legs get tangled in the sheets and he hits the ground on his hands and one knee, just barely manages to free himself in time to make it into the bathroom and over the toilet before he’s vomiting up half-digested beef with broccoli and the eggrolls Malia had browbeat him into splitting with her.
“Fuck, fuck,” He pants, one arm braced over the toilet bowl and his forehead pressing hard against it.
Squeezing his eyes shut doesn’t help because every time he does, the scene from his nightmare—the Doctors standing over him, preparing to steal more of his memories, only this time they’d reached up and removed their helmets first, and it’d been Tara, and Josh, and Tracy staring impassively down at Theo—plays out against the back of his eyelids. Moaning weakly, Theo rolls his forehead against his forearm and then hunches down as his stomach rolls again and he vomits up another mouthful of bile and half-digested food.
“Theo, jesus,” Liam rasps from somewhere behind him as the light in the bathroom clicks on, his voice hoarse with sleep, but Theo can’t turn around to look, his stomach and back cramping as his body’s wracked by another spasm.
Except then he feels cool fingers against the back of his neck, some of his nausea immediately flowing away, and he jumps, jerks to look up at Liam before he can help it.
“Shit, did I do it wrong?” Liam asks, a little panicky, and starts to withdraw his hand, “It worked earlier, when you did it to me.”
One of Theo’s hands had reached up and caught Liam’s retreating fingers without his conscious input, and Theo blinks, stares at Liam in blank shock as Liam stares, equally wide-eyed, back down at him, and then manages to stutter, “No, it—it was working.”
“Okay,” Liam says, carefully, a little warily, and tugs his fingers gently out of Theo’s grip so that he can replace them against the back of Theo’s neck. Theo’s nausea instantly starts to lessen and he gives another weak groan, drops his head back against his forearm, Liam following him without a word to keep their skin connected.
“I didn’t know werewolves could siphon nausea. Earlier, when I did it,” Theo finds himself confessing for some unknown reason, the admission half-mumbled against his arm, “I mean, I know I’m not a werewolf,” He corrects, almost a little drunkenly with the way that Liam’s fingers are pulling away not only his nausea but also the pain of his cramping muscles, “Like you told your mom, but. I didn’t—I didn’t know.”
“Oh,” Liam replies blankly, clearly unsure why Theo’s telling him this or what he’s supposed to do with this information, but he doesn’t take his hand away, “Why did you—how did you know to do it, then?”
“I don’t know,” Theo tells him, his honesty sounding as raw as his throat feels, “You just seemed...I just wanted…” He hesitates, the feeling of Liam readjusting his hold making him shiver, before he helplessly repeats, “I don’t know.”
“Okay,” Liam says gamely, “Well, uh. Thanks for winging it, I guess.”
“Sure,” Theo mumbles nonsensically, only really half-aware of what he’s saying, “You’re welcome.”
He isn’t sure how long they stay like that, only that after some slow stretch of time, his nausea pulled away and kept at bay by Liam’s fingers still resting just under the edge of his collar, Theo tries to straighten, embarrassment starting to creep in to replace the clinging nightmare-logic that had sent him scrambling in here in the first place. He makes the mistake of putting his hand on the cool tile of the floor to help lever himself upright when he does it, though—Liam’s hand falling carefully away from his neck as he moves—and he’s instantly hit with a perfect sense memory of how equally cool the concrete of the sewers had felt beneath his fingers when he’d turned on Josh, both figuratively and literally, the night he’d killed him. Choking on a gasp that’s almost more of a panicked sob, Theo falls back to his knees and dry-heaves again, his eyes squeezing shut.
“Jesus,” Liam hisses, both hands coming up to catch Theo as he wobbles unsteadily, one on his shoulder, one on his opposite arm. When he first gets ahold of Theo neither of his hands are touching skin, and he makes a small, dissatisfied noise and slides the one on Theo’s arm down over the fabric of his sleeve until his fingers are wrapped around Theo’s bicep and holding tightly as he resumes taking Theo’s nausea.
“Isn’t that making you feel sick, instead?” Theo asks him hoarsely, tilting his head from where it’s back to resting on his bracing forearm so that he can half-look up at Liam from underneath his other arm.
“Shut up,” Liam orders, and doesn’t take his hands away, or stop.
A minute or so later Liam mutters something too low for Theo to catch and reaches over, flushes the toilet before he drops carefully to his knees. The action snaps Theo out of it, some, and he tries to push away from Liam, tries to stand again with his arms braced behind himself, but he doesn’t even get a quarter of the way there before his fingernails slip against the tile, the sound almost exactly like the ones his claws had made as they’d scraped over the bones of Tracy’s ribs, her spine, the night he’d buried his claws in her back. Liam just curses and reels him back in as Theo’s elbows collapse, though he ends up more holding Theo up than positioning him back over the toilet, one of Liam’s arms braced across Theo’s chest and Theo’s head lolling against Liam’s shoulder.
“Would you quit trying to stand up,” Liam snaps, his fingers spasming around Theo’s arms and his words ruffling Theo’s hair, Liam’s chin close enough to almost be digging into the top of Theo’s head, “Just—just wait, okay? Wait until...whatever this is passes.”
“I don’t know what this is,” Theo tells him, the words half-slurred and made even more incomprehensible for the way they’re spoken into the meat of Liam’s shoulder.
Liam just—unexpectedly—huffs a raw, quiet-sounding laugh against the top of his head, “You don’t know a lot of things tonight, huh?”
I don’t know a lot of things, period, Theo thinks, but doesn’t say, just squeezes his eyes shut and presses his forehead a little harder against Liam’s shoulder.
His thoughts have slowed to a syrupy crawl, the steady beating of Liam’s heart so close to his head keeping time, by the time Liam suddenly gives a surprised jerk. The movement jars his shoulder against Theo’s forehead and Theo reels backwards instinctually, far enough that he can see Liam blinking dazedly in the washed-out lighting of the bathroom, apparently having started to drift off. They stare at each other in blank shock for a few seconds, and then Liam releases his hold on Theo—it takes him a few seconds to untangle his fingers from the fabric of Theo’s shirt—and scrambles to his feet.
“We should, um,” Liam says, palms scrubbing roughly over his sweatpants, his eyes darting everywhere around the room but Theo’s face, “We should try getting some more sleep.”
“Yeah,” Theo agrees automatically, rotely; his chest and arms prickling with gooseflesh in the sudden absence of Liam’s heat.
Liam meets his eyes then, though it’s an involuntary action if the way that his fingers briefly clench is any indication, and then he mutters, “Right,” and darts past Theo out of the bathroom.
Theo could follow him with his senses or, hell, just stand up and follow him out of the room, but instead he goes back to looking at the blank stretch of floor where Liam had been and then sighs heavily, drops his head into his hands. He stays like that for the space of one breath, two, and then he gets to his feet—his hands kept firmly off the tile—and staggers, his legs cramped from having been contorted into awkward positions for so long, over to the sink.
He brushes his teeth quickly to get rid of the sour taste of sick in his mouth, spits and wipes a hand over his mouth when he’s done. Every cell in his body is screaming don’t as he tips his head upwards, still half-bent over the sink, and catches his reflection in the mirror. The face looking back at him looks pale, and drawn, and he closes his eyes, replaces his toothbrush and steps back out into the main room, hits the light as he goes.
Liam is already back in his chosen bed with the covers pulled up to his chin, his back to Theo. Something in his chest twisting painfully, Theo stares at the blanket-covered lump of him for a few seconds and then swallows, forces himself to look away and climb back into his own bed. Even settled onto his back he can’t resist turning his head to look back over at Liam, at where his shoulders have gotten even higher up towards his ears than they were a few seconds ago, and so Theo grits his teeth against the thanks, against the I’m sorry, against the half-dozen other words knocking around the prison of his mouth, and closes his eyes, just silently repeats go to sleep, go to sleep, over and over to himself.
Except sometime later he wakes up with a startled, jerky gasp, his eyes flying open as he feels his mattress dip and the blankets lift. Theo snaps his head to the side to watch Liam as Liam gets first one knee up on the bed and then the other, as he shoves irritably at Theo’s shoulder when Theo just stares at him in blank shock instead of moving to give him more room.
“Liam, what the hell are you doing?” Theo finally manages to hiss, “You’ve got a perfectly good bed five feet away.”
“Yeah, so be grateful for my sacrifice and move over,” Liam snarls quietly back, shoving more forcefully at Theo’s shoulder. When Theo doesn’t move, Liam gives up and rolls his eyes, sits back on his heels and—looking everywhere but at Theo—explains, “You were starting to have another nightmare, okay? And I figured...well, whatever,” He hesitates, then suddenly declares, “I figured I wanted to get some sleep tonight, so just—shut up and move over, okay?”
“Oh,” Theo says dumbly, “Liam, I’m—”
Liam cuts him off, “Be less sorry, and more mobile,” he orders, and shoves at Theo’s shoulder again.
This time Theo goes, partly out of shock and partly out of—be less sorry, and more mobile. It seems to satisfy Liam, anyway, since he flops down onto his stomach after Theo’s resettled on the far side of the mattress. He keeps his head turned towards Theo as he does it, and so Theo’s looking at him as he gingerly settles back down on his back, as he lays his head back down on the second of three pillows his bed had been stacked with, the third and final one having been thrown at Liam earlier.
It’s because he’s looking at Liam that he sees Liam’s expression spasm with something, uncertainty or a question or something, but then Liam shakes his head—apparently at himself—and briefly squeezes his eyes shut. When he opens them back up, his expression is smoother, though his eyes are a little heavy as he meets Theo’s.
“Go to sleep, Theo,” He orders quietly, a reversal of the same order that Theo had given Liam a few hours earlier, and Theo, after a few long seconds of studying Liam’s face—Theo closes his eyes, and does.